Homer sometimes nods

During his long and distinguished career as editor of the Gospel Advocate (1939-1977), B. C. Goodpasture (1895-1977) wrote many outstanding editorials. To me, one of the most fascinating was titled “Homer Sometimes Nods.” Goodpasture ran this editorial more than once. In the July 27, 1967 issue of the Advocate he wrote: “The Roman lyric poet, Horace, says: ‘Even the noble Homer sometimes nods.'” This expression was intended to show that even someone as great as Homer sometimes “fell asleep mentally” and ended up saying things that were incorrect. The expression has now become an idiom in our language to indicate that we all sometimes err in what we say, however intentional such may be.

In his editorial Goodpasture went on to observe: “In his renowned Commentary, Adam Clarke, speaking of Naaman the Syrian, says: ‘He is not mentioned by Josephus, nor has he any reference to this history, which is very strange.’ Whereas, Josephus really says: ‘And when they sought to kill Ahab alone, but could not find him, there was a young nobleman belonging to King Benhadad, whose name was Naaman: he drew his bow against the enemy, and wounded the king through his breastplate, in the lungs.'”

The erudite editor further noted: “In his debate with Robert Owen, Alexander Campbell says, speaking of the unholy bargain of Judas: ‘He, therefore, covenanted for thirty pieces of silver, the sum for which Joseph was sold into Egypt, to deliver into the custody of the Sanhedrin the person of Jesus.’ Joseph was sold for twenty, not thirty, pieces of silver. The ‘Sage of Bethany’ nods at this point.”

I derive some comfort from the above thoughts. I have frequently “nodded” in my teaching, preaching, and writingnot intentionally, of course, but through misinformation, sometimes depending on a faulty memory without double checking my facts, and sometimes simply though carelessness. For example, a few years ago I was asked to deliver a major lecture at one of our Christian universities. In both the manuscript submitted for publication in the lectureship book as well as in the oral presentation itself I had Jesus entering the synagogue at Capernaum rather than at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21). How could I have made that mistake with the text right there before my eyes (to say nothing of the numerous times I had referred to that event in lessons and sermons)? You tell me!I simply “nodded”!

But then I “nodded” again in the same presentation. I referred to the two “unnamed” disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus following His resurrection (Luke 24:13-27), but verse 18 plainly says one of them was named Cleopas. (Here I am reminded that familiar scripture needs to be re-read, rather than relying on memory.) In neither of these instances did anyone call the “nods” to my attention, and those who proof-read the manuscript for the book did not catch either mistake. Only later, when I read the published lecture in the book, did I say to myself, “That’s not right,” and I was embarrassed by my sloppiness.

Now if in nearly sixty years of teaching, preaching, and writing these were the only times I had “nodded” I would not feel too badly about the matter. But, unfortunately, they are only two of various instances.My wife catches many of my glitches and corrects me, but often it is after the fact. (“Did you know that you said thus and so?” “No, I didn’t say that! Did I?” “Yes you did.”)

James wrote: “For we all stumble in many things.If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (3:2). While the context is not dealing precisely with the point of this essay, the language nevertheless is expressive of the fact that not only Homer but many of far less ability sometimes “nod.”

Hugh Fulford
Hugh’s news and Views

June 5, 2012