Maintaining focus

The chapter is getting there – it’s March 30th, and I have the rest of today and tomorrow to finish the draft – but keeping focus has been difficult. I start thinking about other things – books, ideas I haven’t finished or looked into – and an hour slips by. 4C’s is also looming, though I’m trying to set things up so that will be a relaxing, rather than stressful trip.

Early Christian dissertation getting clearer

Still hacking away at Chapter 2, but I had a discussion with my chair earlier this afternoon, to pitch an idea concerning Judas that has cleared things up. I thought I was going to have to write a very long Chapter 5 on the disciples – now, I think, it will center on Judas, with a smaller, more elegant argument.

For the unfamiliar, the entire dissertation has 3 goals.

The first goal is to present an approach to rhetorical criticism of the gospels – one with a “strong” authorship model (leaning towards the Farrier-Goulder hypothesis and the concept of the author in composition studies), half a ton of narrative theory (notably Walter Fisher), and a skeptical, secular viewpoint. This is the bulk of the project, requiring a chapter that gives an statement of intent and theory, and three chapters of exemplar case studies to demonstrate its value.

The second goal, requiring one chapter (Chapter 1!), is to argue that early Christian texts – including but not limited to the gospels – get short shrift in the big theories of rhetorical history, and that this is a salvageable situation, but it requires some readjustment of some basic assumptions about what makes ancient texts rhetorical.

The third goal is to discuss how the approach in goal #1 might be introduced to undergraduate and graduate students in rhetoric classes, with the pros and cons inherent in doing so. It will involve some historical poking into how ‘Bible as Literature’ has generally been taught in America, and likely argue for a more aggressive, rhetorical replacement, though we’ll see if it goes that far. That will be the final chapter, and with some luck, maybe I can test-drive some of it in a fall class.

Of the three case studies for goal #1, I’ve drafted two so far.

In the first, Chapter 3, I go through all the post-resurrection narratives of Jesus and argued that the Gospel of Mark ends where it does at 16:8 for Pauline reasons, to strip the apostles of the authority that they seem to have in 1 Cor 15, as the first witnesses to the resurrection. It’s not an argument that I’ve seen elsewhere, though I’m still reading, and it is a reasonable conclusion from a pro-Pauline, anti-disciple reading of Mark.

In the second, Chapter 4, I go through all the narratives mentioning John the Baptist, including Josephus, and argue that the Gospel of Mark invented a connection between Jesus and John for a variety of rhetorical purposes. This including a fairly lengthy (and necessary) discussion of Paul’s view of baptism and Josephus’s view of false messiahs.

What I’m thinking of for Chapter 5 is something that I noticed while finishing up translating Mark – Judas doesn’t seem to be a necessary part of the narrative. He’s only mentioned 3 times in Mark, at 3.19, 14.10, and 14.43-44, and Mark carefully defines him each time: ‘Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Jesus’ and ‘Judas, one of the twelve,’ once as his betrayal begins, and again when he arrives with the crowd.

I suspect this careful defining is because Mark’s audience didn’t know who Judas was. In 1 Cor, Paul refers to some sort of supper narrative as “the night he (Jesus) was being betrayed,” (the Greek is more literally handed over) but he gives no name, or an indication that it was one of the disciples, a group, the chief priests, etc who did the handing-over. The argument that Paul is making there would lend to using a “betrayer” as a stand-in for unworthy Corinthians, but he does no such thing. It’s a curious problem, and worth investigation. Someone, I’m sure, has explored this already, but as I discovered in the previous two case studies, there’s always something new to add.

Anyway, that future chapter has me excited. It’s also another opportunity to demonstrate, as the other two chapters did in passing, that the Gospel of John knows the Synoptics – the Judas material in Matthew-Luke-John, I feel, adds another nail. Too bad that my 1-chapter-a-month schedule forces me to wait until May to write it.

Ugh. Back to Chapter 2.

possible bump

There’s a premature argument out there that Obama took a serious hit in the polls from the Wright stuff, though it’s too soon to say if it will last. It’s a long time still until the next primary vote in PA.

In any case, I think his speech will be remembered, at least in history books, far longer than his pastor’s weird comments about AIDS and sheer anger toward the government. I suppose Wright’s harangues would shock someone with a combination of absolute patriotism and a social studies version of U.S. history. Wright went to Vietnam for six years; he can say whatever he wants as far as I’m concerned, though as with McCain, I wouldn’t elect him President.

As for Obama, I would; I can’t think of another politican that could have delivered the “we’re in this leaky boat together” message of his speech so well. FOX & co, who apparently now run Clinton’s campaign, ran for the hot irons – how dare he speak of national unity! What a disgusting concept! – but I think he’ll survive their tender ministrations. I figured the moment would come when the entire nation realized that he was black; it’s been surprisingly mild so far.

Among those licking their chops over the prospect of attacking Obama through Wright during a general election are such stellar ethical examples of communicators as Chris LaCivita, “… the Republican strategist who helped craft the Swift Boat commercials against Kerry…” and Rick Wilson, “… who crafted the 2002 ad tying then-Sen. Max Cleland to Osama bin Laden.” In other words, men who make their living smearing veterans to get Republicans elected, so yet another pointless war can continue to infinity.

slightly discouraging

The article I submitted on prose rhythm was rejected. Discouraging, but there is still a month or two to revise it some and send it somewhere else. Plus, either one of the chapters that I wrote in Jan or Feb are article-worthy with light revision, so I still have a good shot at a single-author Pub #2 (well, really pub #3, I’m third author on a forthcoming study) before I go on the market in the fall.

But it is disappointing news. I’d hoped for smoother sailing. And the news comes while I’m in the middle of a frustratingly difficult chapter that must be drafted before CCCC, and I haven’t fully sketched out the presentation for the conference yet (and, of course, it’s on prose rhythm). Right now, the schedule looks like I’ll have to write it on the train and in the hotel. Shouldn’t be difficult, just time-consuming when time is increasingly short.

Spitzer and Ferraro

Another politican, the Democratic governor of New York, has scandalized himself via patronizing an online brothel that desperately needed a proofreader. He has not resigned yet, or admitted guilt, putting him in Larry Craig territory; but Spitzer’s rep as an ethics reformer makes for an even bigger fall.

I admit to being cheered that he has been a prominent Clinton supporter. Possibly more annoying for Clinton, though, is Geraldine Ferraro, who has been making bizarre statements for several days.

Potter A to Z

Rowling sueing over a fan-made Potter encyclopedia.

Looks like a serious misstep on her part.

Rowling’s lawyers claim the Lexicon has no creative value and contributes nothing to the readers’ understanding of the Harry Potter series. Merely rearranging facts into an alphabetical order does not turn it into a secondary, scholarly reference work.

Au contraire. Arrangement is one of the five canons of rhetoric, recognizing that new meaning is created by applied order. Her lawyers are correct that a reference work offering no analysis is a tertiary, not a secondary source, but encyclopedias fall in the gray area between tertiary and secondary; any summary is the creation of new meaning, an observation that is easily confirmed by reading a poorly organized definition of a complex topic and comparing it to a well organized one. The widespread use of the online Potter Lexicon shows that it does offer meaning and utility not available elsewhere.

Rowling might as well sue the papers for publishing news about her and her books.