Busy, busy

This week I’ve had to stop working on 1 John and try to get caught up with some side reading in preparation with my “public” defense of the dissertation on Thursday (I already had a rigorous one and passed back in October). I read Words Well Spoken: George Kennedy’s Rhetoric of the New Testament, edited by Black and Watson, as well as The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences, edited by Richard Bauckham, today and yesterday. Brad handed me these with the intention that we would each pick one and review it, which isn’t a bad idea, but in the short-term, the notes I’ve taken from both should help me fill out some arguments that I made in Chapter 2 of the diss. So, yay.

I’m auditing a course on 18th-19th century rhetoric on Tuesday nights, and I should probably do the reading (well, re-reading) for that now. Time is getting tight.

Lincoln on Matt 18:7

As a quick followup to my note on Obama’s use of 1 Cor 13, I just realized that Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural makes a similiar interpretative leap. My impression of Lincoln’s speech, colored somewhat by Michael Leff’s “Dimensions of Temporality in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural,” which I have read a half-billion times, is that Matthew 18:7 is the lynchpin that holds it together:

Woe unto the world because of occasions of stumbling! for it must needs be that the occasions come; but woe to that man through whom the occasion cometh!

This is presented in Matthew as said by Jesus, right after the apostles ask him who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and he brings a child from offstage as a prop, before launching into a barrage on those who might corrupt such a child. “Occasions of stumbling” is better translated “temptations for sin,” though “stumbling blocks” is more literal and fair. Stumbling is a well-known OT metaphor for sinning. In his inaugural, Lincoln makes slavery the sin (possibly also the child) and the Union the “man through whom the temptation cometh.” As the theological logic goes, as America presented the opporunity for slavery to happen, it is collectively responsible for slavery – not just the South – and the war is not only divine punishment, but righteous punishment.

The problem with Lincoln’s usage is that Matthew’s Jesus is talking about individual responsiblity, not collective responsiblity, and certainly not the responsiblity of entire nations. That he is talking about individual responsiblity is clear from the Greek, which is literally “through the man which the temptation comes.” Lincoln got away with “exploding” the passage (which is “to that man” in the KJV, too) because for the last four years, practically every American had identified themselves with one side in a bitterly divisive war – Americans were not so much individuals as Northerners or Southerners, pro-slavery or anti-slavery.

Obama on 1 Cor 13

It is common for presidents to invoke God and/or Biblical passages in their inaugurals (Lincoln was very good at it in particular) but I have a bone to pick with our new President on his usage of 1 Cor 13:

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

This is undoubtably a reference to 1 Cor 13:11: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. The problem is the context of 1 Cor 13:8-12 (all Standard Version):

(8) Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  (9) For we know in part and we prophesy in part, (10) but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. (11) When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (12) For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

The passage right before this one is a discourse on love that is often said at weddings (it wasn’t at mine, thankfully, as I knew this comes right after it). Love, and the metaphor of child to man, as well as “the mirror dimly” are in the context of 1 Cor 13:10’s but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. That is a reference to Paul’s particular version of the second coming/judgment. The childish ways, the imperfect vision via the mirror, prophesies, speaking in tongues, and knowledge, being worldly things, will all “pass away” when “the perfect comes.” In other words, it’s eschatological!

I don’t think Obama meant to use 1 Cor 13:11 in its orignal eschatogical context, of course. He was using the passage in a generic sense, as a turning point, to call the nation to service and greater responsiblity in light of our democratic traditions -not calling for us to prepare for the end times and final judgment when the Messiah returns, as Paul is. The passage has a shallower, out-of-context “Stop acting like a kid and grow up” interpretation that Obama’s leaning on and that most people would pick up on even if they weren’t Christians.

Maybe I’m being too sensitive here, but I’ve been writing an article on 1 John, which is stuffed to the gills with eschatological ‘world is passing on’ thinking to let our new President slide on accidentally calling on all Americans to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

BTW, I liked the ‘nonbelievers’ mention in the speech, even though in his litany of religions he forgot the big Eastern three – Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.

Define “not fun” in a game

Ok, I think I can handle that. So I was playing the PC version of Mirror’s Edge, a game that is impossible to play without repeated trial and error deaths (the absolute peak technique of game design, of course) and I suddenly realized that I had done exactly the same sequence six times in a row only to be repeatedly beaten to death at the end of it by invincible ninja police.

Now, granted, the game is focused around the concept of running, or in this case, parkour with occasional gunplay. But there’s a game that did the first-person anti-shooter far better, and that was Thief. It was generally pleasureable to die in Thief (much like it is generally pleasureable to die in the many variations of GTA) because it tended to be my fault. I was not artifically constrained in some way from preventing my demise, say by making my character completely unable to defend herself (cough Mirror’s Edge cough) despite her clear ability to run, jump, climb, kick, and punch at or beyond Olympic levels. Now Thief‘s protagonist, Garrett, ran like he was wearing jackboots made of solid lead (and it sounded like it, too, especially on a marble floor) but he could defend himself in a pinch. I never felt like Thief‘s mechanics had been purposely designed to make me die violently if I made a wrong turn in a situation where left or right were equally valid choices.

This brings me to the matter of multiple paths. There are some real choices to be made in terms of where Faith (the protagonist of Mirror’s Edge) can run/jump/climb in the rooftops/sewers/dystopian structures that populate the game’s levels, while still evading/pursuing her antagonists. But those choices are tiny and trivial in the face of otherwise ruthless linearity. The game has no goals other than getting to the next checkpoint. It’s pretty, it’s stylish, and it can be exhilirating, but in the end, at its heart, it’s a twitch-dependent console game, and I continue to get older and crankier about finding an acceptable balance between arcade and intellect in a PC game. I’ve given up on ME; at this point I’d rather go run and jump across the rooftops of Memphis, where the chance of being clubbed to death by police is slightly lower. There is also the added benefit of only dying once.

Such stubborness leaves me in a temporary rut, games-wise. I finished The WitcherThe Enhanced Edition recently, after a long delay, and I was surprisingly pleased with it, especially since it began in such a pedestrian, generic-high-fantasy manner that H and I were positively cackling. But gameplay turned into a series of increasingly gray moral choices, the likes of which I’ve not seen since, say, King of Dragon Pass (although, frankly, nothing can touch that game, and absolutely nothing has been made like it since). I also finished GTA 4, which I believe I’ve already mentioned that I was very pleased with. But there’s not much out there to wait on. More content for Fallout 3 is almost here, including a rumored removal of that annoying level cap, and well as Godfather 2 late next month; still, I feel a drought coming on.

Obama’s people

The NYT has a really interesting set of photos up of Obama’s inner circle, so to speak – the Cabinet appointees, key senators and House members, White House staffers, etc. Looking at them in a linear fashion, as they are presented, is arresting. Obviously they are all on the cusp of doing something tremendously important, and their roles are different; looking at them, though, I am reminded that a government is only as good as the people chosen to run it.

MacDonald solution to Synoptic Problem

In Richard Carrier’s very detailed report on the recent Jesus Project conference, he mentions a large array of very interesting papers, though Dennis MacDonald’s caught my eye the most. Apparently he’s proposed a new solution to the Synoptic Problem that involves the “sayings of the Lord” mentioned by Papias. Carrier seems very impressed by it, but while I respect both Carrier (having read much of his stuff and cited it heavily in my diss) and MacDonald (even though I am skeptical about much of his claims in his Homeric Epics book), I can’t help feeling much like the lady in those Wendy’s commericals from the 1980’s – “Where’s the beef?” (or in this case, “Where’s the Greek manuscript?”).

I’ve seen too many big, fluffy buns at this point to get excited about a reconstruction of a text of which we only have a nebulous title, and only Papias’ fragmentary, out-of-recovery-from-original-context word that it even existed – and that word comes to us only through the highly (cough) trustworthy Eusebius, who thinks he has a letter from Jesus in the original Greek. Granted, it’s a slightly better situation than that of Q, where there is neither a title nor a manuscript, but it’s still nothing to hang a hat on.

I really, really, REALLY would like for someone to come along and clear the SP up, but until then, I’m going to sit on the FGH. That said, I would be interested in seeing MacDonald make the case for a link between Luke’s preface and Papias’s remarks on oral historiography. I don’t see it, myself, particularly, as Carrier points out; it demands a very early date for Papias that doesn’t fly.


I critiqued Witherington’s ‘socio-rhetorical’ commentary on Mark in my dissertation for its conservativism and disregard for evidence,  so I don’t find this incident particularly surprising.

As an aside, It’s a little frightening to realize that I did gain a little knowledge in the course of getting a PhD: I knew all the references to Pliny, Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Origen by heart without the blog’s author citing them.

As another aside, I’ve tended to interpret Origen’s comment in the CC on Josephus not believing that Christ was the Messiah is not evidence of Origen having read the FJ; rather, it’s just Origen’s snarky way of saying that Josephus was a Jew, a fact self-evident to anyone that has read even a snippet of the Antiquities. There’s a half-ton of sarcasm in the CC that should not be underestimated.