The author of Mark

Doing some badly needed reading today, and I thought of an old question of mine: How did the author of the Gospel of Mark introduce the text to an audience?

There’s always been the assumption that it was done anonymously, but I’ve never read an explanation of precisely how that was done. Did he drop the scroll off at an early church like a baby in a basket and run for the hills? That seems a rather undependable delivery method, especially if there was only one copy.

Did he introduce himself as a former disciple or biographer of Peter, as the legend goes, and distribute copies from church to church? Seems unlikely, especially given my ongoing thesis that the author of Mark disliked Peter, the original disciples, and the Jerusalem church.

The only likely explanation I can think of is that the author of Mark was a disillusioned Christian preacher far from Jerusalem and that he wrote the text for his own use in church, mixing prophecy, myth, extent Jesus stories, and rhetoric in way that was particularly useful for him after the siege of Jerusalem. People hearing it read obtained copies to start their own churches, or to introduce the text to other churches (either when they relocated, or on their own initiative). He could claim any origin for it, but only if he wrote it post-70, when he knew all the principals were dead or far away enough to not easily contradict his tale. The other gospels sprang up out of a recognition of the persuasive opportunities provided by the new genre and dissatisfaction with some of its initial content.

Another thought I’ve had over the last few years is that the author of Mark is young, perhaps early twenties at most. I see a lot of writing patterns in the text that remind me of college writers that are smart, even brilliant – and on the verge of developing their own style – but are still held back by recurring usage problems and lack of planning.

New York and Obama

New York just legalized gay marriage. I doubt we’re going to see that particular civil right granted in Texas anytime soon, but it does prompt in me a mild criticism of the President. Where’s his leadership on this?

Now let me be clear, to borrow a common Obama line. The President’s beliefs on this issue (currently “evolving” the last time I heard him say something on the topic) are irrelevant to state law. The states continue to do what they want, despite the confused belief among many voters that Presidents singlehandedly decide whether or not abortion is legal, or if the 2nd Amendment is in effect or not.

I suspect Obama’s objections to gay marriage are more religious than political. I once considered writing him a letter to the effect that there was no scriptural basis for objecting to it, if that was indeed the reason he was on the fence. And yes, that’s right, there isn’t any scriptural basis. There is tradition, of course, but if you want a quote from Jesus or even the ultimate conservative document, Leviticus, that states men and men or women and women can’t be legally married, you’re going to be disappointed, because there is no explicit condemnation.

There IS condemnation of homosexual sexual acts in Paul’s letters and Leviticus, but that’s not marriage, and even so, not binding on any modern Christian. No modern Christian follows the countless injunctions in Leviticus – they’re really only useful as weak proof texts for saying “It’s in the Bible!” – and no modern Christian with a drop of feminism in their blood will pay attention to Paul’s behavioral preferences for Christians, given his injunction for women to keep their traps shut in church (possibly interpolated, but still).

There is the confused idea that Jesus “defines marriage as between a man and a woman” in Mk 10:2-12, but that ignores Mk 10.3, where Jesus’s reply is framed in the context of Moses’s command. As such, it’s not his reply as much as a restatement of a passage in Genesis, which concerns itself entirely with divorce and adultery.

Now if you want quotes from Jesus whether or not you should love other people, that’s easy. Mt 22:37-40 and John 13:34-35 are pretty unambiguous: love each other, and you’ll be cool. That’s Christianity at its idealistic best, cutting right through the weak civic piousness of Roman paganism. The reality, of course, is typically disappointing, at least to me.

Short contest – Identify Ten PC gaming badasses

If you can identify all ten, I will be suitably impressed and think of something apropos.

10. Third ring finger keeps itching? Surprisingly easy to keep bloodstains out of your white outfit? Manipulated by your descendants a thousand years in the future? Can’t walk where an insane, near-suicidal acrobatic leap could be done?

9. Aliens invading the earth and taking all our women? Prone to cheap porn and public urination? All out of bubblegum?

8. Rude neighbors? Nagging wife? Tempting widespread availability of firearms and explosives to solve minor problems involving common household errands?

7. Rough family life? Slowing down after 40? Terrorists and drug lords still out there no matter what you do? Can’t trust even the U.S. government? Night-vision goggles constantly chafing?

6. Male pattern baldness forcing you to shave, revealing socially awkward barcode tattoo? Poor fashion sense? Workaholic? Overall just feeling like another clone?

5. Commonly finding yourself fighting half the North Korean military by yourself? Constantly hunted by super-cold aliens that freeze your entire surroundings? Can’t use the bathroom easily in your nanosuit despite 24-hour workday?

4. Completely broke and living in a hovel because expenses following your income? Had your eye plucked from your head impromptu? Constantly manipulated by secret societies? Bad habit of finding yourself surrounded by the undead at night?

3. Shot in the head with a high-caliber revolver at point-blank range? Living in an apocalyptic wasteland with little food or water? Caught between a rock and a hard place?

2. Giant mining vessel filled with the undead? Alone in the dark? No firearms? Seeing things and going slowly insane?

1. Just got your Ph.D. in theoretical physics? Constantly chased by crack military units and bloodthirsty aliens? No combat training whatsoever?

Backlash – Duke Nukem Forever

I’m not sure why nearly all of the pre-reviews (and now, post-reviews) of Duke Nukem Forever are so negative. Conspiracies, as ever, are less appealing explanations than incompetence. So I thought I’d run down the list of complaints.

It’s not funny, and borderline tasteless. Subjective, of course, but I’m not sure what isn’t funny about it. I’m still chuckling. It’s not as pointed as Blazing Saddles, sure, but even that had fart jokes. Did I miss another politically correct bandwagon?

It’s on rails, instead of a dense map. Well, duh. Level design changed with better graphics technology. If all you have are gray walls and limited field of view, you build a maze; if you have power to spare, you build Half-Life 2 levels.

One technology that hasn’t changed much is storytelling. The stories that games tell seem no better now than they did in the days of Infocom, which is why it’s amusing that the story of DNF is far more detailed than that of its predecessor DN3D.

It’s a letdown.Well, you only have yourself to blame for that. The game delivers what it promised – Duke. If you now realize to your dismay that you really don’t like Duke, then, well, proceed to the last complaint…

It’s not exactly what I wanted. Boo hoo. Nobody gets exactly what they want. It’s permissible to complain, of course – sometimes I think that is the point of life, to complain, D. Adams’s 42 notwithstanding. And if many people complain about the same thing, then, well, the chances increase that the developer misread the market. But I place my vote in the “It’s what I wanted” camp.

Changing the question

Claiming that reason is the product of evolution seems awfully old hat to me, a bare-basement assumption if we accept Darwin. More interesting would be to ask if “reason” existed before it evolved in humans.  Logic didn’t, that’s pretty well established, but I can see a case for reason being a purely human activity that wouldn’t necessarily appear in all evolved sentient organisms.

Take an old-school sci-fi hive mind, for example; like in the fourth book of Donaldson’s Daedalus series; there’s no need to persuade anyone to do what the hive mind thinks is best for the hive. The hive mind would need fear to survive, though, and in the face of decision making beyond that, doubt… which would invite the creation of rationalization to manage that doubt, and therefore reasoning abilities.

Pope Benedict would have us think in humans that there is an additional layer of big-R reason above this, though, embracing, or consisting of, a soul. I agree there is another layer, but not with the soul stuff, and I see reason in action well before the church imprinted it with its peculiar ecclesiastical/mystical requirements.

As such, it’s possible to “reason” to 2+2=4, but 2+2=4 seems to be valid without reason’s help. If so, reason is not a hack that gets around our lack of direct experience of the universe, but a discovery, like the Curies finding radium.

No sense pretending

Yes, I haven’t written lately, mostly due to work. I’m trying to eliminate all outstanding writing projects before summer teaching begins tomorrow, so I don’t have to do the Ye Ole Traditional Summer Writing that English professors tend to do.  I’m happy to report I’ve almost succeeded. I have five things in some sort of review, so I can teach and do paperwork in June, and read in July, without feeling lazy.

What else? I’ve started reading fiction again. I think I’ve read a dozen books since the end of the semester. Ok, so most of them were by Lee Child. I’ve also added a page to the site on authors I like, which I’ll update as I continue a larger project of re-reading books I read in my teens and twenties.

I also finished what I consider my first serious woodworking project – a bed for the master bedroom. It came out a lot better than I expected; it is a variant of this design. I stained ours a somewhat darker color than that one. It’s solid and sleeps better than the set of springs we had. I try to learn one new thing with each project; here, it was why having a 6′ pipe clamp is far better that making a jig to drill 3/4″ holes into the end of a headboard.