Sword Drilling

Can you recite the books of the Bible from memory?

Can you do it in under a minute?

Can you do it on a single intake of breath?

I spent the drive to church this morning seeing if I could get the names of all 66 books of the Protestant Bible out in one breath.

Why? Not entirely sure how I got there. Something on the radio must've reminded me of the reverse alphabet song I learned as a child, so I switched off the [boring] radio and belted out a few rounds of "ZYX, WV, UTSRQP ..." This, in turn, reminded me of how my father had memorized the books of the New Testament in reverse order. At one point in my childhood, he challenged all comers in the church to recite the book names forward faster than he could to it backward. He secret weapon was to out-shout his competitor, causing them to stumble from hearing the books in a different order than they were trying to recall. In independently timed heats, he would have lost more often than he did in simultaneous recitation. Since he was offering a whole dollar to anyone who could beat him (although it cost them nothing to challenge -- that would be, gasp, gambling), it behooved him to stack the terms in his favor.

And this reminded me of my childhood efforts to rattle off all the books of both testaments in less than 30 seconds, which pushes the limits of intelligible human speech. A major component of this quest was breath control -- one can rather easily get through either testament on one deep breath, but pausing between Malachi and Matthew to refill ones lungs can waste an entire precious second.

In my auto-bound experiments over the next 17 or so miles, I noted at least three variables affecting performance on this challenge.

One, you need to have the material down cold so that you don't have to even think about what comes next. I accomplished this before I was 12, so it's just a matter of dragging the names out of long-term memory. I found that under pressure, I can falter a bit. Once I caught myself smashing 1 Peter up against 2 Corinthians, in a desperate subconscious attempt to foreshorten the New Testament on my rapidly failing breath.

But the place I'm most likely to stumble is the Major Prophets. Once I get to Hosea, I'm home free, but I often cannot recite Isaiah through Daniel slowly. I also can't do it starting with Isaiah. But if I back up to the Psalms or so and get a running start, I can blast through on auto-pilot. It's firmly ensconced in my long-term memory, so much so that I have trouble accessing it if I think about it too hard.

Two, lung capacity. I would probably do better at this if I were in better aerobic shape. Odd incentive to ramp up my exercise routine, but -- whatever works, eh?

Three, not wasting breath on the recitation. After a couple of attempts with stumbling over Leviticus and 2 Samuel, I started improving breath control, which let me consistantly get past 2 Corinthians and through the Pauline epistles at least as far as Thessalonians. I would start croaking out 2 Peter, and even made it to 3 John. But Jude and Revelation remained elusive -- my chest ached, and I could mouth the words, but no sound would come out. Finally, a couple of times, I managed to coax my vocal cords to form a feeble, staccato "Jude. Revelation!" Then I gasped for breath and laughed at myself and the inanity of my quest.

I discovered in this exercise that if pure speed were one's goal, a single breath would not be the optimal strategy. Yes, a second full breath steals time, but it doesn't require a full breath to finish out the New Testament. Sneaking a quick inhale after Colossians allows one to pick up speed for the homestretch, rather than laboriously forcing out the Pastoral and Catholic Epistles.

My lungs were burning by the time I got to church, but I had more fun than listening to the radio.


Robin said...

Funny, I was telling Sally Ritter about the Bible book recitation contest just the other day. The first technique I used (vs. Wes Herbert, as I recall) was, upon hearing the "go" signal, to spin around so that my back was to the audience and then recite the books in the correct order. So not only was I providing instruction in the books of the Bible; I was also providing a grammar lesson illustrating the various meanings of the word "backwards." My memory is hazy as to whether I ever had to fork over a dollar.

I still stumble over the Minor Prophets. I'm good up to Hosea. The last time I bought a new Bible, I sprang for the thumb index -- an extra five bucks well spent. I may be aging but, thanks to modified weaponry, I can still hold my own in a Sword Drill.

I'm glad to see that you're making good use of your time.


Rachel said...

My recollection is that you had to pay up at least once, possibly twice, but not more than that.

The one winner I remember was a young mother, who, now that I think of it, was probably equipped against your distraction strategy from some years experience tuning out the superfluous noise of young children. She was also a PK, or at least as deeply seeped in the evangelical subculture. She may have also been the one who was concerned that the contest bore a disturbing resemblance to gambling.

It also seems that one of the boys a few years old than me (so maybe junior highish?) gave you a real run for your literal money, although you may well have just barely edged him out by increasing the volume.

Then again, my "memory" could just be making all this up.

Rachel said...

Malachi. What's so hard about that?

You're the one who taught me the HaZeHaZeMa pnuemonic for the last five, which cuts the memorization down from 12 units to eight, as long as you can also remember how to unzip hazehazema.

(Yes, yes, I'm one to talk, given that I still have trouble with IsaiahJeremiahLamentations-
EzekielDaniel. I think I get tripped up on the order somehow -- not sure if "Lamentations" belongs in the middle, paired with its author, or at the end, because it's the one not named after a person, and once I'm second-guessing myself, the whole momentum unravels.)

Sorry to tell you, but a thumb index is definitely cheating.

Sarah said...

Y'all need the song.

I can't actually chant Hosea through Malachi--I can only sing it. Try Here

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