Word Wednesday: “Ordeal”

UnfortunateEnglishFor our word feature this Wednesday we return to the great little word book Unfortunate English: The Gloomy Truth Behind the Words You Use by Bill Brohaugh (Writer’s Digest Books, 2006). Taking our final selection from the second main part of the book – “It Pains Me to Say: Words of Assault, Torture, Bloodletting, and Death” – we choose the word “ordeal” today. This word too has an interesting history, including a tie to the justice of God, as you will see. Here’s the entry under this word:

No one wants to suffer through an ordeal. The taxing experiences we call ordeals try your patience, your durability, your ability to cope.

They once tried, in a legal sense, your criminal guilt or innocence.

And guilty or innocent, you would literally suffer through a literal ordeal.

If your wounds didn’t fester after carrying a red-hot bar nine paces, you were innocent. Lucky you.

If you could retrieve a stone immersed in boiling water and didn’t develop blisters, you were innocent. Lucky you.

If you managed to walk an obstacle course of nine red-hot plowshares without incurring injury, you were innocent. And, small detail: You had to do it blindfolded.

If you didn’t drown after being thrown into a pool of water with a millstone tied around your neck, you were innocent.

These and other variations of ordeal (as in the phrase ‘trial by ordeal’) lasted until the 1200s and were based on a concept called judicia Dei. If God protected you, allowing you to survive or remain scathed only to a certain degree, God was issuing His judgment of innocence. The weakened and nonlegal sense of ordeal had arrived by the mid-1600s.

Makes your daily ordeals a little less trying, doesn’t it? (pp.60-61)

Civil War Bibles on Display at the Dunham Bible Museum

Tour of the Museum.

Gettysburg-CivilWarThe first three days of this week (July 1-3) mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863). There are many remembrances of this significant battle taking place, including at the battle-scene itself, but perhaps none as unique as the one at the Dunham Bible Museum at Houston Baptist University in Houston, TX. Out of their great collection, they are hosting a special display of Bibles and hymnals from the Civil War era.

You may read more about this display in their latest newsletter, (click on “Summer 2013 at the top of the list). Once there you may also sign up to receive the newsletter free. Below I have copied the section that notes this special Civil War display. While you are at their website, be sure to take a tour of the museum. The museum has one of the finest Bible collections in the world, let alone in the U.S.

They Read the Same Bible
July 1-3 marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the largest battle on the North American continent and the turning point of the American Civil War. To mark this Civil War sesquicentennial, a special exhibit of Bibles from the era will be at the Dunham Bible Museum from June 16 –December 13, 2013. This exhibit was well received when first presented three years ago, and it is fitting it be remounted for the Civil War sesquicentennial.

The exhibit’s title is taken from President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, given a little over a month before he was assassinated. In his insightful meditations on the Civil War, Lincoln pondered over the fact that both sides, “read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. … The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

All of the twenty Bibles or hymnals in the exhibit are from the Dunham Bible Museum’s collection. They include Testaments belonging to soldiers of both sides, many with personal notes or poems in them. The rarest volume is a New Testament printed by the Confederate Bible Society; only 11 known copies of the Testament exist. One of the Testaments captured by the Union as it was shipped through the blockade to the Confederacy is also on display.

The exhibit includes a facsimile of a book owned by Abraham Lincoln – “The Believer’s Daily Treasure”, a small devotional of Scripture and poems. It’s interesting to note the devotional for April 14, the day Lincoln was assassinated, and wonder if he read the text that day:


“Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” John v.39

Lord, thy teaching grace impart,
That we may not read in vain;
Write thy precepts on out heart.
Make thy truths and doctrine plain;
Let the message of thy love
Guide us to thy rest above.

To read about a special Michigan connection to the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg on this very date of July 3, check out this recent post at the “Seeking Michigan” website.