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On the town

Sarah Dean

Picture the scene: a couple of first-century Jewish blokes are queuing up for their lunchtime falafel meal deal in a market in Jericho. 'So whereabouts you from mate?' 'Up north.' 'Oh yeah, whereabouts? My wife's family's from Galilee.' 'A small place you won't have heard it.' 'Let me guess Tyre? Sidon? Sodom?' 'No' 'Well thank goodness for that!' "I'm from Chorazin.' 'Oh..' An awkward silence descends. I hadn't heard of Chorazin until it came up in the lectionary recently. The town is mentioned briefly in two of the Gospels and it is not good. Jesus and his disciples visited Chorazin and neighbouring Bethsaida, where they preached and performed miracles. The Bible tells us that the Chorazinians collectively shrugged and said 'Whatevs.' Jesus explains in his teaching 'Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.' The tiny town where I grew up, Manningtree, is mentioned in Shakespeare and not in a good way. In Henry 4th Part 1, Prince Hal chides his greedy and cowardly companion Falstaff by listing the various ways he has heard others refer to him including a 'swollen parcel of dropsies', a 'stuffed cloakbag of guts' and 'roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly.' At the time Manningtree was famous for it's Whitsun Fayre where this Elizabethan equivalent of a deep fried mars bar was the centre piece and heavy drinking was the norm. The killjoy goody two-shoes Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins had lived in Manningtree earlier in the century, so perhaps gaining a reputation for debauchery was one way for the town to rebrand once he was gone. If you visit Manningtree today - if your train breaks down on the way to Norwich for example - you can still get historically hammered in one of the Elizabethan pubs and there is rather nice sculpture of the Manningtree Ox in the high street - the belly lights up at night! The only other footnote in history that mentions Manningtree is that a certain Margaret Hilda Roberts worked for a local plastics firm in the 50s. Of course it wasn't until long after she had left that people realised they had had a significant figure in their midst. Perhaps if Matthew Hopkins had been around at the time, people might have noticed her sooner... In the NIV the section featuring Chorazin is entitled 'Woe on unrepentant towns'. I googled Chorazin to see how the present day town is dealing with the notoriety and it seems 'The cursed town' continued to be a centre for paganism for a while after Jesus was around, was destroyed by earthquake in the fourth century and rebuilt but never to its former size. The population dwindled in the intervening years. A negative name check by the Bard is definitely not the same as your home town being singled out as unrepentant by Jesus. But I'm pretty sure Manningtree residents in Elizabethan times grew weary of the assumption that they had loose morals just because of where they were from. Thankfully this is no longer an issue for current citizens - except for the fact Manningtree is in Essex...