Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Throwing Bones

I have a fun Sunday School class.

It is an adult group that I lead, and they happily follow me down whatever rabbit hole I end up walking.  Most of the time, I stay in the bounds of theological sound-itude.... but not always.

Last week, we threw dice and gambled in the church library.

Well, kinda.

The class is a four-part look at the archaeology of stuff that shows up in the story of the days leading up to Jesus' death.  So, of course, the first class has to be a dry recitation of what it means to cast lots.  Scriptural references, with scientific names, a discussion of the anthropological value of auguries, a brief discussion of scapulamancy and heptascopy (I wrote both of those words on the board, and told them that using them in public was a time-honored way of bringing any party to an early close.)

And then I pulled out the astragali.  No longer was this simply an anthropological treatise on prehistoric gambling.  Four knucklebones, from a deer (no longer available on etsy).  Labeled with the appropriate number for the appropriate side - 1, 3, 4, 6.  Deer was available, and I figured that "cleaves the hoof, chews the cud" is close enough.  It didn't HAVE to be sheep.

(I am, however, in communication with a sheep farmer.  He has promised to let me attend the next slaughter and butcher session.  After laughing at me for believing that sheep have knuckles...).

And then we each took a turn rolling the bones.  Maybe we weren't gambling for the robe of Jesus at the throne, but the winner ended up with my bow tie, somehow.

Well, almost everyone took a turn.  One woman declined - whether from superstition, or fear of gambling, or just an odd germ phobia, I don't know.  But everyone else joined in and had a good time. 
We used some old texts from Greece to 'tell the future' based on the bones (which might explain the one class member's reluctance) and we scored the throws using rules to a game that was recorded from an Augustus letters (an inveterate gambler, that one). 
Through it all, we started to understand better what the purpose of 'casting lots' was during the 1st Century.
Truth is, it really all comes back to wanting to figure out what God wants.  If I could have used some sort of device to determine whether I was being called to the ministry, do you think I would have used it?  I'd have jumped at the chance.  If I could have consulted an oracle to determine that that miserable ex-girlfriend was a bad match?  You bet. Figure out who was at fault for the failure on my project?  Hand me those dice, Jonah.
In Acts, the early church leaders cast lots to determine which of two disciples should replace the recently deceased Judas as the apostle. 
(My church leaders seemed less enthusiastic about the idea of using dice to determine the replacement of our associate pastor, regardless of how firmly my idea is based in Scripture...)
For the record, here are the scores:
Name Throw Score Throw type
Cathy  3333 LOW vulture
Don 4331 11
Molly 4333 ?
Edna 4431 12
Elaine 4433 14
Bill 4441 13
Jane 6433 16 senio
Gwen 6433 16 senio
Michelle 6441 14 senio
Beth 6441 14 senio
Holly 6443 17 senio
Ann - No  throw
So..... Holly had the highest throw. She wins the bow tie!

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