Be careful what you pray for




What do a praying mantis and a maniac have in common? Well, both descend from the ancient Greek word mania, which meant the same as it does today — madness characterised by “excitement and delusion”. It’s similar to enthusiasm, which comes from Greek enthous, indicating possession by a god, theos being god and en- indicating the entry of the god into the human mouthpiece. Such a person, you might say, has in that moment been engodded.

That engodment of the individual leads to mania, in which prophecy may come forth, and the person hearing the divine message is a mantis.
That’s what the oracle of Delphi was called, because she entered a trance state to hear the voice of the god (in this case, Apollo). The priestly assistants who then translated the message to the inquirer were called prophets. They didn’t prophesy, because the mantis did, but were messengers or interlocutors.

All this is in Ancient Prophecy: Near-Eastern, Biblical and Greek Perspectives by Martti Nissinen. It’s a rather academic work, so unlikely to be read by today’s prophets, who take the term upon themselves and give it the widest possible meaning. Presumably it now includes the gospel of self-enrichment.

Last week, in this paper, the Rivers of Living Waters Ministries advertised its Easter Miracle Fest in Vanderbijlpark this Easter weekend. It will be led by Archbishop BS Zondo, and it offers those who attend “thousand times more blessing”, as promised by Deuteronomy 1:11. Trouble is, that’s not really what Deuteronomy 1:11 says.

My King James Version has the verse so: “The Lord God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, as he hath promised you!” (Yes, there’s a Daily Sun exclamation mark.) What is being promised here is a lot of descendants, not a lot of money — and the promise was made to Abraham, forefather of all Jews and Arabs. Preceding verses make the meaning clear, speaking of how “God hath multiplied you … ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude”.

Attendees at the Easter Miracle Fest should take care, then. Next thing they’ll be giving birth to triplets, quadruplets and quintuplets as God multiplies them.

The King of Kings International Ministry, which will hold a Power to Create Wealth conference on April 14 in Midrand, is slightly less misleading when it quotes Deuteronomy 8:18, in a modern version: “But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors.”

The “covenant” is the God-promised conquest of Canaan by the Israelites and their seizure of the wealth of the natives, whom God commands to be massacred — men, women, children and pets (see 21:16).

Let’s hope these money prophets don’t read much more of Deuteronomy.

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week. Read more from Shaun de Waal

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