Dark Knight

No spoilers, but well, that was the best Joker I’ve ever seen. I would have never thought Al Franken’s voice would be scary, but apparently all you have to do is add a bunch of knives and subtract any sense of morality, and bingo, perfect Joker.

I also appreciated the similarity between Dent’s voice and Batman’s near the end.

Random news

Got the article out the door finally! Work on the English website can now commence in earnest, as well as pre-commitee edits to the dissertation.

Longtime readers, of which there may be two or three, know I am a fervent fan of the 1998 PC game Thief and its 2000 sequel Thief II. Occasionally, clever people design additional levels for these games, usually using the Thief II engine, as Thief III was a console-driven mess. These fanmade levels can be on par or better than the canonical levels. I played three recently released levels in the last week or so, Ominious Bequest Gold and the two missions of Broken Triad, all by the same author, and I was mightily pleased. They should be played in order. The plot is remensicent of the Trilby cycle (is there a better name for it?) by Yahztee, save Garrett’s dry and relatively unflappable wit makes him a far better protagonist.

Taking stock

It appears that the current dissertation draft only needs minor revisions, which I’ve agreed to do by August 15th. At this point, a Chapter 6 seems unnecessary to make the pedagogical point that I wanted to make; I can do it instead with an extended conclusion. After that, it goes to the committee.

I keep hitting snags with the prose rhythm revision. It’s hard to keep motivation on something that felt ‘done’ a year and a half ago and now feels like ‘done 1.532’. But if this job extends beyond next week, I might as well abandon it, and I am completely unwilling to do that. It will go out.

I have been thinking that if the dissertation continues to shape up, I should start to plan another large project. I have several ideas.

One idea would be to write a more detailed account of Origen’s conception of communication, an account far more detailed than the survey I gave in Chapter 1. The amount of detail and translation involved would be book-length, easily.

Another is to take the original idea for Chapter 6, exploring a pedagogical approach to teaching the gospels as rhetoric, and write a definitive review that contrasts composition’s approach to religion with the cultural pedagogy of other insitutions of American religious education. I have seen several articles and books, as well as a dissertation or two, that have moved in this direction, but no one has went gonzo, so to speak, on it.

I could also continue to spit out article-length case studies. There are problems with Luke-Acts authorship that need exploring, as well as Luke’s knowledge of topoi, and I have been thinking about a piece on Luke’s motivation for writing. A strong rhetorical take on the disciples in Mark is needed, too.

Another idea would be to examine the use of religious citations by certain contemporary political figures in their autobiographies. I have one fellow in mind in particular – not Bush. I think it would make for a really interesting little article, especially if I poked around to see if such usage was common.

I’ll be in a better place to make the decision on what to do next after this July revision is done and the dissertation is out to the committee, of course.

Strange little article on Judas in the NYT

With an even odder quote:

Still, scholars also suspect that if Judas as the great traitor hadn’t existed, Christians would probably have invented someone like him to legitimate the messy process of their religious separation from Judaism. The likeliest candidate for an alternative Jewish bad guy, they say, would be Caiaphas, the high priest who handed Jesus over to Pontius Pilate and the Romans.

Hrm. The first part of this quote may be more probable that those unnamed scholars think, but not for the stated reason. As mentioned before, I’ve come to think Mark’s Judas is an attack on the disciples more than on the Jews. As for the high priest, the gospels can’t even agree on what his name was.

Time travel thought experiment

Here’s a thought experiment that I’ve been musing on since finishing the draft of my dissertation.

Let’s say you have access to a time machine, and you have one round-trip ticket to any location or time period in the past. If you took this opportunity to try and solve the Synoptic problem (and only a scholar would bother with such a triviality) where would you go, and when?

To simplify the parameters, you can arrive at any time, and come back whenever you like. And let’s also say that you will be able to question anyone you want without worrying about significantly changing history.

Here’s my vote.

I would not send myself. I would find someone a little younger and more charismatic with a talent for picking up languages. Tipping my hat to Philip Jose Farmer, a 25-year-old Richard Francis Burton would be ideal. The more Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic they know before they leave, great, but the ability to learn in the field will be far more useful. Besides, if they beam into Alexandria and expect Erasmian pronunciation, they’re going to get a shock.

Our intrepid adventurer will need to move freely about the Mediterranean. Given the target date will be somewhere in the 1st century CE, he could do worse than be a Roman merchant with citizenship, combining legal protection with a cover story of looking for new markets. A small fortune in newly minted coinage based on currency of the period would also help. An early task would be to find a money exchanger. Also, it would not be a bad idea to hire a guide or bodyguard.

As for time and place, I should eliminate some choices first. Chasing the authors of the four gospels is the least promising idea. We don’t know where any of the gospels were written – Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem – and if we try to chase the authorship of Mark, we’d not only have to deal with the Jewish revolt (65-73 CE) but face the real possibility of arriving too early or too late by a nose. Our time-traveler could spend years sailing around the Med without finding an author, and if they went too early, without finding a gospel, either.

A better plan, I think, is to look for Mack’s Q1, a passion narrative, or a proto-Mark in the mid-50’s CE. There are three people that our time-traveler should look for – Paul, Peter, and James – and they shouldn’t be too hard to find, assuming they exist. Jerusalem would be the place to start. Interviews with these individuals should be enough to determine if there is a saying source in existence, and what the status of the Jesus narrative is. If a bright young man named Mark is found furiously scribbling down whatever Peter says and mumbling something about the ‘messianic secret’ to himself, that tells us one thing; if Paul doesn’t know who Judas is, that tells us something else; if James takes our adventurer in hand and shows him a papyrus that begins with John the Baptist coming out of the wilderness and complaining about vipers, then we learn something else.

Going later than the 50’s is problematic. If our time-traveler goes in the 60’s, Paul-Peter-James will be probably unavailable for conversation. Going earlier than the 50’s is also problematic – early Christian writings don’t appear until the 50’s, so our adventurer might undershoot the first compositions.

But why bother with the Synoptic problem, you say? Why not hunt the historical Jesus? Well, that’s even harder. The location is easy enough – Jerusalem – but which year do you go? 35 CE, or even 30 CE, risks being too late. Let’s say our time-traveler goes in early 26 CE to be completely safe and not miss the first year of Pilate’s governorship. As Pilate is prefect for a decade, they may have a ten-year wait. Meanwhile, they get to search the city and countryside with nothing to go on but the one of the most common, if not the most common, first name in 1st century Judaism. An unpromising task, and even if successful, I wonder if the man located could tell us much about the religion that follows.

Probably the most limiting factor to the entire enterprise is the technology level of the 1st century. Even with mastery of the local dialects, locating anyone could take a very long time. No newspapers, yellow pages, telephones, emails, or reliable and speedy post (the cursus publicus, instituted by Augustus, was for government use, and only moved 50 miles a day). Paul’s letters would have traveled more slowly through private channels. Sometimes I wonder if early Christianity, or at least Paul’s version of it, benefited from converting someone who owned a reliable ocean-going vessel.