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October 20, 2003

Another holy rating system
Posted by Teresa at 11:54 AM *

Ship of Fools, always one of my favorite websites, has come up with a weighted scoring system for judging the apocryphality of New Testament apocrypha. Short version:

Horrible and graphic deaths, 5 points. God talks directly to everyone, 10 points.
Friendly lions, 15 points.
Talking statues, 20 points.
Simon Magus makes a pest of himself, 25 points.
Random miracles, 30 points.
Really obvious anachronisms, 35 points.
The Devil gets beaten up, 40 points.
The Romans are the good guys, 45 points.
Jesus gets medieval, smiting right and left: 50 points.
Even shorter version: New Testament apocrypha are what you’d get if you handed the New Testament to a bunch of comics writers and said “Here’s the existing continuity—see what you can do with it.” (via Almeda’s Journal)

Comments on Another holy rating system:
#1 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 12:24 PM:

But we do that already...

#2 ::: Derryl Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 12:41 PM:

That fits in well with the analysis of the Left Behind series that Fred Clarke is doing over at Slacktivist. First entry at:


#3 ::: ben ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 12:44 PM:

Funny you should mention this. I saw Neil Gaiman do a talk this weekend, and he mentioned the apocrypha as an example of myth in Christianity.

His comment that Joseph saying to Mary about the child Christ: "We can't let him leave the house anymore, too many people are getting hurt," (his paraphrase) is almost straight from the back story in a super-hero comic book, was the funniest thing I've heard in a long time.

#4 ::: Chad ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 12:53 PM:

Sounds like the basis of a good drinking game to me.

(I apologize if that was shallow, crass or rude.)(But not in a really heartfelt way.)

#5 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 01:20 PM:

I always liked Fin Fang Foom. Can he appear in the next gospel?

#6 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 02:30 PM:

Oh, WOW. I've taken links from Making Light and shared 'em on my journal before, but never before has it gone the other way. Hee hee hee. I feel so loved. Now I just have to try harder to find pithy original stuff, I suppose.

*gasp* *choke* *faint*

#7 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 02:59 PM:

Jon Meltzer: I thought that Fin Fang Foom was already there, in Revelations.

#8 ::: Neil Gaiman ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 04:12 PM:

Ben is quite right. The Gospel of the Infancy of Christ is like the childhood of Superboy, without any rules about not killing people.

He does some great infant miracles too -- raising a dead schoolfriend from the dead to let everyone know that it wasn't Jesus but another kid who had pushed him off a roof is another great bit.

#9 ::: --kip ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 04:27 PM:

Of course, it's always the big company-spanning crossovers that screw the pooch, continuity-wise...

#10 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 06:43 PM:

Alan Bostick gets a No-Prize.

#11 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 06:55 PM:

Tells truth about chopping down Father's favorite fig tree, 5 points

#12 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2003, 11:21 PM:

Jon, Alan gets a No-Prize for beating me to it. Curses! Foiled by a power outage and a DOS attack!

Neil: Just so. It makes me wonder whether exegetical criticism wouldn't have come along far more rapidly if only the people doing it had read enough comic books. They'd have learned to spot that moment when the narrative leaves the path of strict rectitude, and wanders off into "Wouldn't it be cool if ...?"

The things that people think and the ways they think about them are complicated enough; but the world inside one's head isn't nearly as gnarly and complex as the world outside it, and the difference shows.

#13 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 02:24 AM:

Someone help me, please! I am beset by a vision of the Bizarro World Jesus ... !

#14 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 03:40 AM:

"Me want five thousand Filet-O-Fishes. To be go."

#15 ::: Elric ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 09:45 AM:

"Him am totally healthy. Him look happy. Me make dead!"
"Bizarro Jesus Loses!"

#16 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 09:48 AM:

You'll notice that on Smallville, everyone who crosses Superboy winds up dead, dead, dead.

#17 ::: Bill ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 11:07 AM:

Ah, Ship Of Fools left off my favorite, from the Gospel of Peter: TALKING CROSSES.

#18 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 11:21 AM:

Maybe that counts as 'talking statues,' Bill. I know the article (instead of just the list) does discuss randomly-speechifying inanimate objects.

#19 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 10:50 PM:

Well, speaking in defense of the Apocrypha writers, given the number of talking bushes, possessed pigs, creatures with supernumerary heads, gratuitous fig-tree nuking, and finally golden hemmoroids...well, it really does seem they were following the chronology in a reasonable fashion.

Then there are the great copyediting mistakes of the Bible, the best of which IMHO was dropping the story of Lilith from Genesis, but then forgetting to cut the subsequent referrence (Isiah 34:14)

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 08:04 PM:

Kevin, this baby copyeditor-to-be noticed the patch jobs in Genesis, and was suspicious. Lilith wasn't the worst of them.

#21 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 08:06 PM:

Mike, it's the usual Bizarro logic problem: does he dunk people in sand instead, or dunk them but forget to let them up again, or ignore baptism entirely?

#22 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 11:01 PM:

Teresa, he could just give them a bath in clean water. I heard a sermon recently that said that early baptisms were really ordeals, because the Jordan was basically an open sewer...remember that 'cleanliness is next to godliness' is a fairly recent concept. I recall also the saints who called their body lice "pearls of Christ." Being clean was a luxury, so being dirty was eschewing luxury and identifying with the poor.

Bizarro Jesus changes wine into water: hey, I can do that! Well, beer into urine. Does that make me the Bizarro Christ, or the Anti-Christ, or what?

Bizarro Jesus makes fig trees thrive.

Bizarro Jesus' disciples stick needles through the eye of a camel, to prove they're going to heaven. And they do -- right away, once the poor blind camel catches them.

Bizarro Jesus tried to escape the Man at Gethsemane by substituting a fake 'Jesus' made of bread and wine. "No, no, THAT my body! Me just loaf of bread, jug of wine -- and thou."

Bizarro Jesus rode into Jerusalem on his ass...tearing hell out of his robe, and he couldn't sit for a week, not to mention the rope burns.

/mildly offensive free-associating

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 11:30 PM:

Chris, that culture was heavily into baths and ritual cleanliness. I have real trouble believing they'd use noticeably foul water. And the later celebration of bodily uncleanliness was for the sake of the voluntary self-mortification. It wasn't uncleanliness for its own sake.

Patrick used to do a great riff on how the Bizarro universe functioned as a refutation of the dialectical analysis of historic processes by demonstrating that "opposite" is an inherently arbitrary choice. In the Bizarro universe, do they stop for green traffic lights and zoom off when they turn red? Do they ignore traffic lights, since we observe them, or congratulate and reward their citizens who break the traffic laws? Or do they not have traffic signals at all, in opposition to our having them?

#24 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2003, 03:25 PM:

Maybe that's what made people think J the B was icky? I don't know. Just speculating.

Re Bizarro "opposites," yep to all that. My Bizarro stuff was intended purely for amusement.

#25 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 01:13 AM:


What, in your opinion, is the most egregious copyediting mistake in Genesis? And the Bible as a whole?

I'm fond of the Lilith story, simply because when "you hear the voice of Lilith screaming in the night," what she has to be screaming is "You cut my scene!"

#26 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 01:56 AM:

So what sort of dialectic did the Bizarro Hegel come up with?

#27 ::: Stuart ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2003, 01:25 AM:

A number of loose thoughts here.

A common feature of settlements in what we call the inter-testamental period were the Mikvah, the ceremonial baths. Frequently they were large and elaborate and this in an arid land. Ceremonial cleanliness was very important to these people and you must grasp that this is a much different concept than the idea of sin or the absence of sin.

The Gospel of Mary has a story that is one of my favorites: the mid-wife who delivers Jesus is amazed to discover that Mary is still a virgin after she has delivered. She reaches out her hand to touch and confirm what she sees and it is burned off because of her unbelief.

The whole virgin Mary business grows out of the fact that the Jews in Alexandria who translated the Hebrew bible to create the Septuagint translated the Hebrew word almah (Isiah 7:14, meaning young woman) with the Greek word parthenos (meaning virgin). This was used as the proof text by the gospel writers that the mesiach (the annointed one) would be borne by a virgin.

One of the ironies of New Testament exegesis is that fact that great efforts are made to show that Jesus is a Davidic (military) messiah when he clearly is not. He is much more convincing as a Mosaic (prophetic) messiah. The messianic expectations of first century Jews were much more complex than the New Testament does justice to.

First century Jewish and early Christian exegesis was much more free-style and metaphorical than later more logical approaches to the bible. Look at the leaps of logic that Paul makes.


I would love to get you into a discussion with my daughter (working on her PhD at Harvard) the bible scholar. She can read the texts in their original languages. I can see how she is constrained in what she can see in the text by the hermanutic she has absorbed during her education.

She spends so much time down at the lowest level of examining the text that she has a hard time seeing the forest for the trees. At the same time there is much to criticize about Wellinghaus and the documentary hypothesis as it is frequently applied to biblical scholarship. Yet, as you point out, even someone reading the bible in translation can sense the discrepancies in the narrative.

#28 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2003, 01:54 AM:

As I summarized in The Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide:

Apocrypha: [Greek: apokrupto = "to hide away"]: although technically the
term for false, doubtful, spurious editions withheld from
circulation, Jerome (5th Century) incorrectly applied the term to the
non-canonical books of the Old Testament (i.e. the Septuagint and the
Vulgate) which were not included in the Protestant editions of the
Bible; the 1539 Bible said that was "because they were wont to be read
not openly" -- which is absurd; the Authorized Version of 1611 did
include the Apocrypha; which consist of:
* I Esdras, II Esdras
* Tobit
* Judith
* additional verses of Esther
* the Wisdom of Solomon
* Ecclesiastes
* Baruch
* some of the Epistle of Jeremiah
* the Song of the Three Holy Children
* the History of Susanna
* Bel and the Dragon [of special interest to Fantasy readers]
* the Prayer of Manasses
* I Maccabees, II Maccabees
There are also New Testament Apocryphal Gospels, including:
* Acts and Teachings of the Apostles
* Epistles
* Apocalypses
* the Acts of Pilate
* Protavengelium
* Pseudoepigraphia

This is an example of an encylcopedia entry which I throw in as I write them, since my tech is pre-blogular, but I add to my domain almost every day. I often stick them in the middle of a list of authors, alphabtically, to make browsing more fun. The above quote was buried in:

#29 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 05:48 PM:

Kevin Andrew Murphy said, "Teresa, what, in your opinion, is the most egregious copyediting mistake in Genesis? And the Bible as a whole?"

And I'm still curious. Footnote please? :->

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