Jehoiachin or Jehoiakim?

Jehoiachin or Jehoiakim? Elijah or Elisha? I’m not confident that I can tell them apart. If ever I have cause to refer to either of them, I always check which one it was. It’s a long time since Jehoiachin (or was it Jehoiakim?) featured in my thinking, though I can recall a bit about the history in which they were major players.

Perhaps my days in Sunday School were deficient, but I suspect not. I have vague memories of studying Judah’s history, but the minute details have long been forgotten. The same applies to much of what we learn at school. The further we are away from “the best years of our life”, the less we remember from all those years.

A recent survey, perhaps by the University of the Blindingly Obvious, found that many adults could not recall some of the basics they had learnt at school – such as Pythagoras’ theorem, a single line of any Shakespeare play or how to multiply decimals (without a calculator, of course).

But does it matter? Most of us can live without a detailed knowledge of trigonometry, but when it comes to knowledge of the Bible it might be seen as slightly different. Some people take great pride, in a good sense, in knowing Biblical facts: the order of the kings of Israel, how many Tamars there are in the Bible (not to mention who the first Tamar’s husbands were), or the three angels mentioned by name. Such details have been described as Trivial Pursuit knowledge. A more up to date description might be knowledge suitable for the BBC television programme ‘Pointless’.

It is only since the invention of printing, by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440 in Germany, that Bibles have become widely available. Before then, the possibility of owning a Bible was virtually nil. Even after 1440, many people were unable to read, so they still could not acquire that “Trivial Pursuit” knowledge. Their understanding of the contents of the Bible was acquired by looking at images in church, or watching Mystery Plays which told the important stories from the Bible. For an example of a modern interpretation of a Mystery Play about Adam and Eve, watch this YouTube video:

They were a good way to get the basic messages of the Bible across, but there was no possibility the ordinary illiterate person could acquire the detailed knowledge of the Bible which some of us have, or aspire to have.

But, and this is the important point, lack of that knowledge did not prevent them from being Christians, who in some cases would be willing to die for their faith. And nor should we be too concerned if we can’t remember the difference between Jehoiachin and Jehoiakim. What is really important is what is in a person’s heart, not their head. Knowing Jesus, not knowing about Jesus.

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