The Book of Hezekiah

18 Oct

I am in the process of organising a ceilidh. (23rd November at Adelaide Place Baptist Church, do come along if you’re in Glasgow.) Finding a date that worked for the venue and the band, and didn’t clash with any popular events or holidays, was a bit complicated and protracted, and no doubt there will be all sorts of headaches to come about layout, first aid provision, audio, catering and so on (in fact I’m giving myself a headache now just thinking about it). However, one thing that I didn’t have to give any serious thought to was the start time: 7.30pm, of course, as is prescribed in the Book of Hezekiah.

Hezekiah is a book of the Bible that contains all sorts of useful instructions and information about Christian living. This is where it says (in chapter 3, “Times and Seasons”) that morning church services should be held at 11 (or 10.30, at a pinch) and evening ones at 6.30, but that all other evening Christian events (or in the case of the ceilidh, events with Christian venues and / or organisers) should start at 7.30. This chapter also lays down the exact amount of time one should remain in one’s seat after the service, depending on the solemnity of the final hymn, depth of the sermon and proximity to communion (Eucharist), before one can make a foray towards the biscuits.

If you’re of a religious persuasion at all, you may be wondering where Hezekiah is in your Bible, and why you’ve never come across the 7.30pm rule written down. I mean it sounds familiar, but you can’t quite place it. Minor prophets, maybe, all those tiny books tucked away at the end of the Old Testament that you only come across accidentally when trying to find the start of Matthew at Christmas? Or, if you’ve gone so far as to check the contents page of your Bible and find it’s not there, maybe it’s in the Apocrypha, that land of exotic and forbidden scriptural delights?

No, I’m afraid the Book of Hezekiah, while very useful, doesn’t actually exist. It’s just a Christian joke, but one with a point. It’s an unwritten record of our shared assumptions and habits. Tea and coffee should be served after the service, not port and sherry. Why? Because thus is it laid out in Hezekiah 5:12. It should be served by women, of course, as is prescribed in the following verse. Women must also lead the Sunday school and clean the church,  of course. The Book of Hezekiah’s not great on gender liberation. These instructions may change in the future. One of the unusual things about Hezekiah, compared to other Bible books, is how it alters its content from one generation to the next.

Then there are the moral precepts that you know are right, but that you just can’t find anywhere else in the Bible, like the prohibition of gambling or the command not to lie. Yes, the ninth commandment almost says you shouldn’t lie, but not quite, so you need the Book of Hezekiah to fill the gap. This is less of a problem for Catholics of course, who can draw on both scripture and tradition. Protestants (like me) base their beliefs, in theory, sola on scriptura, meaning that when scripture lets you down, you have to turn to Hezekiah.

Now I’m not saying that you should lie and gamble. Nor am I advocating a departure from the authority of (real) scripture, although it is worthwhile to bear in mind that while Bible+ has its dangers, the sola scriptura approach also has potential weaknesses. No, what I’m saying in a rambling sort of way is that you should question your assumptions, even if everyone else in your church holds the same assumptions. What are they based on? If you don’t know, maybe you should find out, and decide whether or not you should keep them.

“For in the critical examination of the assumptions, wisdom is found,” as it says in Hezekiah 1:6.

(But the ceilidh will still be at 7.30pm – I’ve printed the tickets.)

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3 Responses to “The Book of Hezekiah”

  1. Joe December 4, 2013 at 12:35 am #

    love this post. Hezekiah also says that women can be missionaries and teach Sunday School. That’s it.

    • kcmurdarasi December 4, 2013 at 9:03 pm #

      Thanks! But don’t forget women’s very important ministry of hospitality – which, as is explained in Hezekiah, means making the tea and coffee.

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