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September 13, 2013

Victory to the People
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:02 PM * 313 comments

Those who love sausage and the scriptures shouldn’t watch either of them being made.

How shall I begin this?

There are three topics that one is not supposed to talk about in the wardroom: sex, politics, and religion. We’ve had recent threads about both sex and politics, so it’s time for religion. To that end, here we go.

Way back when, there was a popular show called Jesus of Nazareth. Unfortunately it was canceled by the network after just three seasons, leaving behind a small but very devoted fandom. The fandom spread. Some of the fans told and retold all the episodes of the show that they had seen. Others copied out samizdat versions of the tie-in novels. Yet others wrote original fanfic.

I pass lightly over the years, the times of persecutions, the Christians being thrown to the lions, the meetings by night in the catacombs (which is why, to this day, people entering instruction to convert to Christianity are called “catechumens” (actually this is a false etymology; the word comes from the Greek for “someone being instructed” but the other story is more fun)).

Back to the Bible: lots of Christian fic out there. By the time you got to a copy of a copy of a retelling of a conflation it was getting hard to figure out what had been an episode of the show and what was someone’s AU RPF.

The centuries passed. Much in this manner:

  • First century: Christ and the apostles are alive. People who knew Christ and the apostles are alive.
  • Second century: People who knew people who knew Christ and the apostles are alive.
  • Third century: People who knew people who knew people who knew Christ and the apostles are alive.
  • Fourth century: It’s anyone’s game.

So, the fourth century rolls around. We have Constantine. Ever since the Battle of Milvian Bridge (against Maxentius, one of Constantine’s co-emperors), Constantine had been using Christian symbols. (He’d seen a vision of Christ the day before, who said “In this sign (In Hoc Signo, abbreviated IHS) shall you conquer,” and went with it.) Constantine began carrying either a cross or a Chi-Rho (accounts differ). Constantine beat Maxentius and became Emperor of the West.

Then came the Edict of Milan, where the Emperor Constantine and his co-emperor Licinius (The Wicked Witch Emperor of the East), decided that Christianity was no longer illegal. The Church could come above ground. Hurrah!

But! Two heads can’t wear one crown. Constantine and Licinius got into a war against each other. We had the Battle of Adrianople. The Battle of Hellespont. Finally the Battle of Chrysopolis, and Constantine was sole Emperor. So, since Christ had delivered victory, Constantine said, “Okay, I’m a Christian now! By the way, what do you guys believe, anyway?”

To which the answer was, “Depends on who you ask. In which town. On what day.”

Constantine was a Roman emperor, and a military man. So he said, “Right. Figure it out and tell me. I’ll believe anything you say, but get it all in one sock.” He called NiceaCon One, and invited all the BNFs and SMOFs of the Christian world to have a business meeting and hammer it out.

So, all the bishops of the world went to Nicea. Depending on who you ask, there were either “more than two hundred” (Eusebius of Caesarea), or 318 (Athanasius of Alexandria). Athanasius may have been counting non-voting members since he himself was there as the secretary of Bishop Alexander of Alexandria.

Reportedly only five bishops from the Latin west attended, not including the Bishop of Rome (Pope Sylvester I — but he did send two priests as legates).

The big question was the Creed, or What Do We Believe, Anyway? (Other questions included “What Do We Do With the Christians Who Supported Licinius?”, “What Do We Do With Christians Who, Faced With Persecution, Said, ‘Sacrifice To Zeus? Hoo Boy Yeah! Me an’ Zeus, We’re Tight!’”, and “Can Guys Who Have Been Castrated Be Deacons?” But I’m going to skip all of those to get to the main event.)

In coming up with a creed, the biggest question was “What is the Nature of Christ?” One side, led by the pious and scholarly Arius, held that Jesus was the first and greatest of God’s creations (that is, essentially, Top Angel). The other side, championed by Athanasius, held that Jesus was actually Totally God Since Forever. Both sides had copies of old fanzines to support their views.

(When Constantine heard this he said, “Can’t you guys just get along? Why not agree to disagree like every other friggin’ philosopher since Plato was a pup, and get on with your lives?” to which both sides answered “No!!!!eleventy!!!” and thus Nicea.)

At the time Athanasius was best known for his blog, Athanasius Contra Mundum. (The top of every page was marked with a flashing icon labeled “Breaking!” while the bottom of each page said, “Must credit Athanasius!”)

Much of what we know about Nicea comes from Eusebius of Caesarea, who live-blogged the whole thing.

High points of the con included the day when Nicholas of Myra (yeah, that St. Nick; AKA Santa Claus) punched out (some say slapped) Arius. Nicholas was promptly hauled off, stripped of his episcopal rig, and thrown in jail for breach of the peace. St. Nick, though, had been imprisoned and tortured under Diocletian. This was a walk in the park for him. While he was sitting in jail that night, Jesus and Mary arrived to visit. Jesus said, “Nick! Why are you in the hoosegow?” To which Nicholas replied, “It’s for love of You, lord.” So, Jesus said, “This won’t do,” and gave Nicolas back his stuff and a prayerbook. Anyway that was Nicolas’s story and he stuck to it.)

Then there was the day when Eusebius of Nicomedia proposed his own Creed. Eusebius of Caesarea reported that it was “hooted” by the rest of the delegates, and only got seventeen votes. Eusebius of Nicomedia got all butthurt over this, and remained pissed off for the rest of his life. (As it happened, Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia had both been students of Lucian Martyr in Antioch. Anytime in Church history you see the words “of Antioch” stand by for things to be … odd.)

What with this and that the Council of Nicea eventually did come up with a creed, and it pretty-much followed Athanasius’s ideas, even though it included one word, homo-ousios, meaning “of the same substance,” that had occurred nowhere in Christian or Jewish religious writings up to that point.

When the council voted on a final creed, all but two signed on. (Speaking of signing on, the lists of who did sign exist, but having been copied and recopied variously number 218 or 220 bishops.) Eusebius of Caesarea, who had been an Arian up to then, became an enthusiastic Athanasian.

Some time after that, Constantine went to Eusebius of Caesarea and said, “Yo, Pamphili!” (Eusebius’ friends called him “Pamphili”), “You’ve got the biggest collection of fanzines in the world. How about you put together the teaching anthology?”

Eusebius of Caesarea said, “Right on it, boss!” and set to work. This was to be a bible (that is to say, “book”) containing all the same works in the same words in the same order for the fifty churches in Constantinople so that they could all quite literally be on the same page.

Earlier, Eusebius of Caesarea had written a history of the church (for which he was, centuries later, roundly smeared by Edward Gibbon). In that he’d included a list of Christian writings which he organized into Accepted, Disputed, and No Way. So he took his accepted list, removed the Arian books, the Gnostic books, and anything else that didn’t match the Nicene Creed, and filled up the gaps with Disputed books which, similarly, weren’t Arian, Gnostic, or otherwise unorthodox (orthodox = straight belief), and thus had his canon (canon=measuring stick).

So, how to organize them? Fortunately, Eusebius had a model to follow. So it’s time to drop back to the second century to look at the first Christian bible.

This was produced by Marcion of Pontus (sometimes called Marcion of Sinope), AKA The Pontic Rat. Marcion was the first to notice that Christians needed an orthodox canon. Marcion was also a strict literalist. So when it said in Genesis that God was walking in the Garden, and asked “Where’s Adam?” it meant that God had a physical body, and wasn’t omniscient. Therefore, the God of the Hebrews wasn’t the same as the Heavenly Father of Christ.

Marcion decided that only Paul was authentic, so his list of orthodox scriptures included only the Gospel of Luke (which he attributed to Paul) and ten letters of Paul. Since, according to Marcion, the Hebrew material was inauthentic, he removed all references to Hebrew scriptures from his bible, and, since he viewed Christ’s earthly body as purely symbolic, removed the Nativity story from Luke.

In one of the great examples of second-century fanwank, Tertullian of Carthage wrote five different books against Marcion, including in one of them the classic line, “Shame, shame, shame upon Marcion’s eraser!”

On another occasion, Marcion went all fanboy on Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and said, “Do you know who I am?”

(A brief digression: Polycarp had been ordained by John the Apostle, knew Philip the Apostle and possibly other apostles; the Blessed Virgin Mary had lived in his diocese until her death, dormition, assumption. Polycarp had been a strict Trinitarian from way back, and would eventually be martyred.)

Anyway, there’s Marcion saying, “Don’t you know me?” And Polycarp answered, “Yes, I know you! You’re the first-born of Satan!”

Right. Marcion’s bible had been deprecated, but the organizational format was there, and Eusebius used it; Gospels in front, then the other stuff. Every book that was in Marcion was also in Eusebius. So we can draw a straight line from Marcion to Eusebius of Caesarea.

Of Eusebius’ fifty bibles, none, two, or maybe four copies or partial copies survive. The exact table of contents is a matter of … some dispute. Which isn’t to say that sometime next week, in some castle on the Rhine, someone will find an old book propping up the back leg of a wardrobe that hasn’t been moved since the fifteenth century and there it’ll be, one of Eusebius of Caesarea’s original bibles that great-great-grandad brought back from the Fourth Crusade.

(Despite a later claim by St. Jerome that the Council of Nicea had come up with a list of orthodox books, no one else, including people who had been there, ever mentioned such a list.)

In a minute we’ll get to some of my favorite apocryphal (apocryphal = “secret” or “hidden,” as opposed to apocalyptic, that is “revealed”) works. But first the rest of the history of the canon.

Eusebius of Caesarea had his bible, promulgated all over Constantinople. Meanwhile, down in Alexandria, Athanasius had become the bishop. He continued to be a … controversial … figure. (He managed to get exiled five times by four different emperors.) But he also had an important job in the Church. Alexandria had the best astronomers so it was his job to determine the date of Easter every year, and let all the rest of the churches know. So every year Athanasius sent out a Paschal Letter naming the date of Easter. Since he was going to the expense of creating and sending these letters anyway, and since “Easter this year is on the 15th of March, pass it on” doesn’t take up a lot of room and he had an entire sheepskin to fill, Athanasius took the opportunity to let the world know what else he was thinking. And one year what he was thinking was what books should be in the Bible. So he listed them. Where Eusebius of Caesarea had eighteen books in the New Testament (and may or may not have included earlier Hebrew books as an Old Testament), Athanasius listed twenty-seven books. And he included an Old Testament. His criteria for selecting books for the Old Testament were these: Since he didn’t read Hebrew, they had to come from the Septuagint (a bunch of Hebrew religious writing that had been translated into Greek by seventy scholars, hence its name). The books he selected were those that either a) included the genealogy of Jesus, or b) contained prophecies that were fulfilled in the New Testament.

So when you hear someone say that the New Testament must be true because of all the prophecies from the Old Testament that are fulfilled in it, the answer is, “Well, yeah.”

Despite these (now three) bibles, there still wasn’t an official list. So later still, at Carthage-Con 3, end of the fourth century, the bishops came up with a final list. Folks who had already put together a bible based on Athanasius were all “Dude! We just spent a whole bunch of money getting those other books! Are we going to have to do it all over again?” and the answer was, “Nope, we’re just making it official.” Which is why Athanasius got to define scripture. (Also at the end of the fourth century: CONstantiople, where the Nicene Creed was expanded and finalized.)

Another digression: Arius hadn’t just dropped off the face of the earth after Arianism was declared a heresy. He went to live with his old pal Eusebius of Nicomedia and wrote endless letters setting forth his position, apparently believing, as is so common in on-line discourse today, that if he just explained it one more time everyone would agree with him. Eusebius of Nicomedia proved that he, himself, wasn’t an Arian by claiming that he was a bishop, while Arius was only a presbyter, so there was no way he was going to follow that guy. Eventually Eusebius of Nicomedia was the guy who baptized the Emperor Constantine. As for what happened to Arius, he was one day short of being fully reconciled into the Catholic Communion when, on his way to church up in Constantinople, he felt a bout of diarrhea coming on. He asked where he could go to move his bowels, and was pointed to one side of the forum. Once there, he shat out his dung, and his intestines, and his liver, and his spleen. Thus was God’s justice rendered on the wicked heretic.

Now, finally, the fun part.

Among the books that Eusebius of Caesarea was considering were the Apocalypse of Peter and the Apocalypse of John. He had to have an apocalypse, the end of the world, because he’d started with the Gospel of John at “In Principio.” Nice symmetrical bookending. But he had several Apocalypses in his Disputed list and none in his Accepted list. What to do?

He had many objections to the Apocalypse of John, starting with What Was He Smoking, and moving on to Too Many Contemporary Political References and I’m Not 100% Sure John Was The Guy Who Wrote This. Eusebius preferred the Apocalypse of Peter, where Jesus takes Peter on a long tour of Heaven and Hell. And after Christ explains all the tortures of the damned, according to category (quite Dantesque), Peter says, “Hey, Josh. You and me go way back, went fishing together, been out drinking, talking philosophy ‘til dawn, and the whole time You’ve been all peace and love and forgiveness and mercy. Isn’t this a little dark for You?” And Jesus replies, “Yeah, Pete. I know. I’ve got to have a hell because it’s a logical necessity, but I never liked the place. Let me tell you a secret, just between you and me: I’m not going to actually put anyone in here. I’m going to save everyone.”

So Eusebius of Caesarea thought about this and said to himself, “If everyone gets saved why will anyone bother believing in Christ and being good and doing good works and loving their neighbor?” so he went with the Apocalypse of John with the seven seals and the great beast and 666 and all that instead.

Speaking of tours of Heaven and Hell, there’s the Book of Enoch. This is in the Old Testament of the Ethiopian Church, but didn’t make it into Athanasius’s list. (Since Ethiopia didn’t belong to the Empire they didn’t care.) Enoch himself gets about one line in Genesis. But it’s in the Book of Enoch, all about his adventures after being taken up to Heaven by the angel Uriel and told the secret history, that we get the story of the Watcher Angels. Angels, as I’m sure everyone knows, get all turned on when they see human women’s hair and they go on and seduce and boink those women. The women then have children who turn out to be man-eating giants (don’t you hate when that happens?) Which is where the “giants in the earth” come from in Genesis (right before the story of the Flood). Didn’t make the cut because it doesn’t include the genealogy of Jesus or any New Testament prophecies but this story, the Book of Enoch, would have been known to Paul and he’d have no way of knowing that it would be left out of orthodox scripture a few centuries later; that’s why he admonishes women in church to cover their hair, because angels hang out around churches and you don’t want them to pull out the flowers and chocolates, do you?

But every woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered, disgraceth her head: for it is all one as if she were shaven. … Therefore ought the woman to have a power over her head, because of the angels.
1 Corinthians 11:5-10

Enoch inspired the 16th century con artist Edward Kelley, Dr. Dee’s running buddy, to come up with the Enochian Alphabet for communicating with angels. (What the angels said was “Edward Kelley should totally boink Mrs. Dee.” Dr. Dee was all, “Well, if the angels say so we don’t have a choice.” What Mrs. Dee thought of this I don’t know.)

Let’s see: other fun books. There’s The Adventures of Superboy The Infancy Gospel of Thomas. This one didn’t even come close to making it into the bible. It consists of three sets of three miracles and three lessons, and has the child Jesus throwing one of His little friends off the roof of His house then raising him from the dead (among other astounding things).

Or The Adventures of Paul and Mary Sue Acts of Paul and Thecla, in which the beautiful and virtuous Thecla is more apostolic than the apostles. Everyone (including a long string of pagan Roman officials, lions, the weather, and God) loves her the minute they see her. Christ needed John the Baptist to baptize Him. Thecla baptizes herself. After escaping from many perils she returns from Alexandria to Rome by digging a tunnel under the Mediterranean.

Tertullian pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head, and said, “O for heaven’s sake, would you stop reading that thing in church?”

The Acts of Paul and Thecla was widely translated, and at least one real, historical martyr took Thecla as her inspiration to stay strong when facing her own death.

More seriously, there’s the Gospel of James. The Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) was clearly familiar with this book, since he used a big chunk of it in writing the Koran. The Blessed Virgin Mary is mentioned by name more often in the Koran than in the Bible (Miriam is a very popular Islamic girls’ name), and she is a perpetual virgin there. The Annunciation is in the Koran. Jesus gets a virgin birth in the Koran; it’s an article of faith among the Muslims.

I know you’re wondering how that worked, seeing as Jesus’s brothers and sisters are mentioned by name in the Gospels. According to some the Blessed Virgin didn’t stay a virgin, so get over it. According to others, the same word could be used for “cousin” as well as “brother,” so they were cousins. Totally cousins. But the Gospel of James has an ingenious explanation, which I really, really like.

Okay, so there’s this nice young lady named Mary. She’s “in trouble” (if you know what I mean) so the local honchos go to a duffer named Joseph, known for his piety and learning, has a good business, and say, “Hey, Joe. This kid, pretty girl, good family, is all pregnant and won’t tell anyone who the father is. Your wife is dead, your kids are grown, how about you prevent a scandal. Want to be a mensch and marry her?” And Joseph replies, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to do her any good. Like you said, I’m old and Viagra won’t be invented for another two millennia.” But Mary says, “I’m good with that!” So they get married. Thus Jesus’s brothers and sisters are really His half-brothers and sisters from Joseph’s first marriage, and Mary stays a virgin. Problem solved!

(James was one of Jesus’s (half) brothers, so he would have been in a position to know.)

So why didn’t this one get into the Bible? Because … it’s like this. When you’re writing Tom Swift novels Tom Swift has to be in every chapter. In the Gospel of James Jesus doesn’t show up for a long, long time. It starts, not with Mary, but with Mary’s parents. Then it gets around to the Immaculate Conception (that is, Mary herself is of miraculous birth so that she doesn’t have Original Sin (the Sin of Adam) on her soul. (The Immaculate Conception is one of the two times the Pope has claimed infallibility.) Since she didn’t have Original Sin, and she never sinned afterward (the nuns were fond of showing pictures of Little Girl Mary helping her mother sweep the house and wash the dishes), she would never die, since death is the punishment for Original Sin. Therefore Mary must have never died. But where is she? Answer: She was assumed, still living, into heaven. And the Assumption is the other time the Pope has asserted infallibility.

Joke Digression: Jesus is teaching, and the people bring before Him a woman caught in adultery and ask Him what to do with her (hoping to catch Him ignoring the Law). Instead He says, “Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” Suddenly this big old boulder comes flying out of the back of the crowd. And Jesus says, “Mom! Stay out of this!”

Anyway, the Gospel of James doesn’t make it into the book because it would unbalance the anthology. But that doesn’t stop everyone from acting as if it were part of the Bible.

Next fun book: The Shepherd of Hermas. This may have made it into Eusebius of Caesarea’s bible; at least one surviving 4th century bible contains it. But Athanasius didn’t list it, so out it goes. But do we still believe it? Any time you see a little devil sitting on a person’s left shoulder whispering temptations into their ear, and a little angel sitting on their right shoulder, that’s out of the Shepherd of Hermas. (Note: The shoulder-angels and devils also made it into the Koran.)

I skip over a ton of other works: The Acts of Peter, where we have a magical duel with Simon Magus, the perils of preaching chastity, and the answer to the question “Quo vadis?” The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (Gnostic.) The Very Secret Diary Gospel of Mark (which answers the question “Who was that young man wearing nothing but a linen cloak?”)

Which brings me around to my all-time favorite apocryphal Gospel: the Gospel of Nicodemus. Eusebius of Caesarea didn’t even mention it. Athanasius passed it right by. But as far as influence, you can’t beat it.

Nicodemus includes the Acts of Pilate, which is the report that Pilate sent back to Caesar in Rome (“You won’t believe the shit that just went down!”) It includes a great deal of detail found nowhere else on the Crucifixion. What kind of stuff? Well, the names of the two thieves crucified beside Jesus. They’re mentioned in the synoptic gospels but we get their names from the Gospel of Nicodemus: Gestus and Dismas (Greek for “Goofus” and “Gallant”). (Note: There is a St. Dismas Parish in Waukegan, Illinois.)

Six of the fourteen Stations of the Cross (which you will find in just about every Catholic church in the world) come out of the Gospel of Nicodemus (I live about a mile and a half from an outdoor drive-through Stations). These include Christ falling the first, second, and third time, Jesus meeting His mother, Jesus meeting the women of Jerusalem, and, most famously, meeting St. Veronica. That’s her first appearance. Veronica wipes the blood, mud, and spit from Jesus with her veil, which miraculously gets a picture of His face on it.

Even more important from the Gospel of Nicodemus, we get the Harrowing of Hell. Fanfic fills in gaps in the stories, and this one answers the question, “What was Jesus doing between His death and resurrection?” Answer: He went to Hell, and released all the virtuous dead. David, Moses, the prophets, and everyone else who would have been saved if only they’d have had the chance to hear about Christ. With Christ’s death salvation was now possible, and so they’re saved! (I’m not going to go into the ransom theory of redemption or the guaranty theory of redemption or the satisfaction theory of redemption or the recapitulation theory of redemption and whatnot. Just be aware that they exist.)

There probably isn’t a cathedral in Europe that didn’t at some point have a Harrowing of Hell stained glass window, sculpture, painting, or other representation.

So that’s Nicodemus, a minor character in the Gospel of John, who in his own book gives us St. Dismas, St. Veronica, the Stations of the Cross and the Harrowing of Hell.

This has rambled quite long enough. I do not pretend that I am speaking for the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, or even for serious scholarship.


Fun things, referring back to the Gospel of James: The Cherry Tree Carol (Sting)

Also, middle english mystery plays:

Maria
To my witnesse grete God I call,
Þat in mynde wroght neuere no mysse.

Joseph
Whose is þe childe þou arte with-all?

Mar.
Youres sir, and þe kyngis of blisse.

Jos.
Ye, and hoo þan?

The Pewtereres and Foundours XIII. Joseph’s trouble about Mary

That is:
To my witness great God I call
That never in memory worked any evil

Whose child is it you’re having?

Yours, sir, and the King of Heaven’s.

Yeah, and whose else?

Comments on Victory to the People:
#1 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 08:47 PM:

I have both Chaosium's game Credo, and a copy of the 1880 Apocryphal New Testament. I recognize many of the Nicean events as cards in Credo; the game lets you rerun Nicea.

#2 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 09:18 PM:

Lately I've been thinking it would be a really neat to do an indie video game wherein you're tasked with managing the council of Nicea, starting with setting up the invitations and ending with putting the big old "OFFICIAL CHRISTIAN BRAND BIBLE" stamp on the collection.

Now I *really* think that'd be a fun game, but even more fun would be all the research to make it possible.

It was reading Reza Aslan's Zealot that got me thinking that in the first place. Which brings me to an important question: I'm a total heathen unbeliever with that veneer of background in the scholarship that lets me ask the most base stupid of stupid questions, but what do actual scholars think of that book? I found it really fascinating, but I couldn't help being aware all through I was at the author's mercy for reading of ... well, most everything.

And this isn't because I doubt his scholarship, but just because sometimes I have the sense to ask what ocean I'm cast adrift in before sailing for shore.

#3 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 09:22 PM:

Credo is a totally great game.

Eusebius means "pious," if anyone is interested.

This is what the Catholic Encyclopedia says about Eusebius of Nicomedia

His work lived after him. He had trained a group of prelates who continued his intrigues, and who followed the court from place to place throughout the reign of Constantius. More than this, it may be said that the world suffers to this day from the evil wrought by this worldly bishop.

#4 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 09:41 PM:

Here, have this internet.

#5 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 09:55 PM:

Why am I now thinking of Barbara Hambly's "The Quirinal Hill Affair", aka "Search teh Seven Hills"?

#6 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 10:04 PM:

This seems like a good thread to ask about Reza Aslan's Zealot. Should I add it to the Neverending List?

#7 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 10:06 PM:

Hmm...I wonder what the folks leading the RCIA group I'm in would make of this?

Me...I'm ROTFL...and getting odd looks from the dogs and cats.

#8 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 10:09 PM:

#6, TexAnne, I found it fascinating, but see my caveat above on my lack of perspective. I'm really curious what more knowledgeable folks think of it.

It was certainly engagingly written, but again my perspective might be skewed by what I've been reading a lot of lately (early 1800's English cutlery texts).

#9 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 10:44 PM:

This might possibly be the best thing ever written about the bible.

Also, while skimming the bit about the Harrowing of Hell, my eyes managed to translate "guaranty theory of redemption" into "quantum theory of redemption", which would certainly be interesting.

#10 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 10:45 PM:

I love everything about this.

#11 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 10:57 PM:

Romanes eunt domus.

#12 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 11:21 PM:

Zak #2 but what do actual scholars think of that book?

We'd probably have to ask an actual scholar. (Myself, I just rush in where angels with PhDs in religious studies fear to tread.)

I haven't read the book. When I have, I'm certain that I'll have opinions.

Serge #5 Did you know that Jeffrey Burton Russell was Barbara Hambly's college advisor? I recommend any or all of his books.

#7 Lori I don't think the RCIA folks will have a problem with this (other than the rather flip tone). (As Tertullian said, "It is certainly no part of religion to compel religion.")

#13 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 11:43 PM:

I imagine NiceaCon One had panels like “Jesus — The Way And The Life or Just A Goddamn Hobby”.

#14 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 11:44 PM:

I've played Credo. Credo is totally great *idea* for a game. It's not a very good game. Sadly.

Yes, it totally deserves a remake. Hm. I wonder if I can get a game rejected from Apple's App Store for blasphemy...

#15 ::: Carrie S ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 11:57 PM:

A couple friends of mine spent a few weeks trying to make Credo into a better game. They gave up when they realized how many new pieces they would have to introduce to make their idea work.

#16 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2013, 11:58 PM:

Credo is great if you play it in the right spirit. That is, add some D&D and some Monopoly. You have to role-play the foo out of it.

#17 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 12:36 AM:

I'd never heard about Arius' death, though I *did* know about St. Nicholas punching him out. He's the patron saint of "Bakers, Brewers, Brides, Children, Greece, Grooms, Merchants, Pawnbrokers, Russia, and Travelers." I believe the reason he's the patron saint of brewers involves a story of a dismembered corpse in a barrel that he was said to have brought back to life. Seriously. (The pawnbrokers one (and the brides one!) should be obvious, given his well-known story of ransoming three young women out of a life of probable prostitution.)

#18 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 12:40 AM:

I used to live in San Dimas, CA. Finished 4th grade, had all of 5th grade at the local Catholic school. Which was not St. Dismas Elementary.

#19 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 01:19 AM:

Jim Macdonald @ 12... I didn't know that.

#20 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 01:23 AM:

Church history as fanwank, that explains so much. Foxe's Book of Martyrs would be the Encyclopedia Dramatica.

#21 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 01:45 AM:

Fanwank and flamewars. They spent their time hiding in the catacombs and snarking at each other.

Thinking of what they were doing as publishing letterzines, perzines, and apas makes a lot of the first couple of centuries understandable.

#22 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 01:47 AM:

18
Most people don't realize that St Andrew isn't the patron saint of earthquakes - it's St Emigdius. (There is a place in California named San Emidio. It's a wide spot on what used to be a railroad in Kern county, northeast of Maricopa.)

#23 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 02:31 AM:

In the Episcopal church where I sing on Sundays, it's been preached that the Apocalypse of John is a thinly-veiled anti-Roman tract, designed to foment their overthrow, and that it's all full of dog-whistles that people of the time would recognize.

It's either that or John was eating the funny mushrooms.

#24 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 02:57 AM:

I've read the Infancy Gospel of Thomas in translation, and it's very easy to see why it didn't make the cut. It's the one where Jesus keeps striking people who annoy him blind or dead, to the point where Joseph tells Mary that he's afraid to let the boy out of the house.

#25 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 03:21 AM:

So the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was written up as that Twilight Zone episode with Billy Mumy?

#26 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 04:00 AM:

The Apocalypse of St. Forry

And then they started arguing about the number of staples.

The End

#27 ::: Mongoose ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 04:11 AM:

Jim: I'm a Christian and I think this is awesome. It absolutely made my morning. Because for one thing it's the funniest take on Church history ever, and for another thing there's actually a ton of stuff here I didn't know. Applause!

#28 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 04:57 AM:

My God. It's full of stars...

So where would be a good place to start reading more about this kind of thing? Kind of a "church history for dummies"? I read "Saving the Bible from Fundamentalists" a couple of decades ago and that was enlightening, but there must be some reasonable bibliography for the dilettante?

#29 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 04:57 AM:

Xopher @23 - can't it be both?

#30 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 06:35 AM:

Michael @ #29

It's a dessert topping and a floor wax.

#31 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 07:18 AM:

Xopher @ 23... it's been preached that the Apocalypse of John is a thinly-veiled anti-Roman tract

"If you want to join the People's Front of Judea, you have to really hate the Romans."
"I do!"
"Oh yeah, how much?"
"A lot!"
"Right, you're in."

#32 ::: Em ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 07:25 AM:

Jesus is a Mary Sue (I bet there's some lost scroll someplace in which his eyes change colour depending on his mood, even.) Think about it:

- Mysterious child of protagonist from the first series, prompting lots of surprised "whoah, that guy had a kid we didn't even know about?!" when he shows up.
- Takes over the role of the protagonist from the original canon, rendering that protagonist much less important.
- Does not follow canonical rules laid down in original canon.
- Hated and persecuted by everybody (except a very perceptive small group) despite being Perfect and Wonderful.
- Dies tragically to save the world, after which everybody who hated him eventually realize the Error of Their Ways.

It's a classic!

Alternately, He has Risen again many a time in the form of various Mary Sues, and had many romantic adventures at Hogwarts, therefore confounding all of the followers who don't like the books much.

#33 ::: Em has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 07:26 AM:

My first gnoming. I'm so proud. I gather food is traditional - offering a proper Montreal bagel with cream cheese.

#34 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 07:32 AM:

I haven't read Reza Aslan's Zealot but I've read nothing but positive reviews of it. He seems to be well-respected as a scholar.

#35 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 07:37 AM:

Em @ 33... You should indeed be proud.

#36 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 07:43 AM:
"High points of the con included the day when Nicholas of Myra (yeah, that St. Nick, AKA Santa Claus) punched out (some say slapped) Arius."
Come on, Jim, Arius was totally trolling the Council of Nicaea (which you forgot to mention they were holding in a bar). He had that slapdown coming.

This is why I believe Saint Nicholas should be the Patron Saint of Moderators.

Furthermore, I believe that every year on the Feast of Saint Nicholas, each moderator should get to squash one troublesome user without having to explain anything to anyone.

#37 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 07:49 AM:

Em @32: I'd call that a reboot.

#38 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 08:06 AM:

BTW, the line "...Anyway that was Nicolas’s story and he stuck to it" is worthy of Avram Davidson. Well done.

#39 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 08:33 AM:

I really liked The Book: A History of The Bible by Christopher du Hamel. It's a history of *the book* part, tracing what we know and what we can know about the chains of who copied whose exemplar, who corrected whose and why, what stuck, what was declared heretical, etc.

#40 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 08:50 AM:

Considering that it is Yom Kippur, Jews should probably be praying for forgiveness of blasphemy just for reading this.

#41 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 09:12 AM:

Em, #32: it's a classic because of Christianity, not the other way around.

#42 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 09:13 AM:

This thread is the second thing in the past few decades to make me feel that my A.B. in Religion was not a waste of time. (The first was Gaiman and Pratchett's Good Omens, which anyone who enjoys this thread should read.)

#43 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 09:24 AM:

"quantum theory of redemption"

(Warning: This is from an atheist ex-Protestant, so it will be both ignorant and blasphemous, but this was too good to pass up. At least I have a physics degree so that aspect will be relatively clueful.)

I suspect that would be Protestantism, where redemption is clearly quantized; you're either redeemed or not, and there's no middle ground. (Purgatory could be viewed as a kinda-sorta-redeemed state, I suppose, but I don't know enough about it to say.)

In that case, sin is clearly the carrier particle, transitioning souls from redeemed to unredeemed. In the early universe souls originated in the redeemed state, until there was a phase transition at the Fall and now they start out unredeemed. The constant release of sin particles into the universe created an enormous imbalance, until the Resurrection produced an infinite source of anti-sin that could violate the arrow of time (which is why it's a miracle) and absorb sin in the past and the future, transitioning souls to the redeemed state.

Not sure how to get a superposition of states in here, though; it works better with the common misunderstanding of the situation (i.e. that Schrodinger's Cat is actually either alive or dead, you just can't know) than with the physical reality (that it's partly both.) I guess an omnipotent deity can be constantly collapsing the redemption wavefunction.

#44 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 09:41 AM:

What an absolutely wonderful post to wander back in on :-)

I should stop by here more. It's been awhile.

#45 ::: Thena is gnomed for brevity ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 09:42 AM:

Apparently the gnomes really like hanging onto contentless "Hi, I'm not dead and I really like this post" comments.

So. Am not dead, really like this post, sorry for inconvenience.

#46 ::: Mongoose ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 09:55 AM:

I linked this post on the Book of Face this morning. So far it's had three "likes", all from geeky role-playing Christians.

lorax @ 43: there's nothing new under the sun. I once wrote a very silly story involving a mashup of physics and Christianity. I didn't use sin particles (which need a name, really - how about "wrongons"? The antiparticle, therefore, would be the "righton"); I did, however, use quantum physics as the mechanism by which prayers were answered. And there's Maxwell's demon. And Beelzebub's office, which is... well, you'll see why he was chosen to be Lord of the Flies. And the Archangel Gabriel's heavenly coffee machine. And other lunacy.

#47 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 10:21 AM:

Absolutely brilliant.

Off to see if the library has Zealot

#48 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 10:29 AM:

A bit sideways, but bits of this remind me of Vidal's Julian, which I finally got around to reading last year. (I would shelve Julian with Graves's historical novels, if our shelves weren't already crammed.)

#49 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 11:00 AM:

I don't think I've mentioned how Nicolas became a bishop.

Here's how it happened: The old bishop of Myra died so the bishop from the next diocese over got the local presbyters together to elect a new bishop. And they couldn't agree, and couldn't agree, until finally the guy who called the conference said, "I swear to God, if you jerks don't get it together, the next guy who walks through that door I'm going to make him the bishop!"

Just then this young guy wanders in and says, "Hey, can anyone give me directions to the market?" And the visiting bishop says, "Guys, I'd like you to meet your new bishop! Say....what's your name?"

This was the young Nicolas, who went on to take the job seriously. He took care of the sailors by setting up lighthouses. He patrolled the waterfront. (Reportedly he had lengths of chain sewn into the ends of his sleeves to use as improvised blackjacks. (He was walking around at night carrying bags of gold, enough to allow young ladies to buy their way out of the game.)) Pimps, crimps, hustlers and thieves would dread A Visit From Saint Nicholas. You didn't mess with the bishop. He was also scholarly, devout, and really smart, so that when mysterious crimes were committed folks would go to Nicholas to help solve them.

He was tough. Imprisoned and tortured under Diocletian, he didn't break.

Nicholas is the patron saint of New York City.

If anyone wants to write Nicholas of Myra, Detective stories, well, feel free. Since it wasn't until Nicea that Canon Law forbid clerics from having young women living with them (mostly because until Nicea there wasn't any canon law) we can even give Nick a spunky female sidekick. Run it like the recent TV series "Elementary" where Sherlock Holmes is a recovering drug addict in modern-day New York and Lucy Liu is Dr. Watson, his live-in (but not romantically involved) sober companion.

#50 ::: Mongoose ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 11:10 AM:

Jim @ 49: that is too awesome for words. Where did you learn all this stuff?

*seriously wants to run with this idea, but honestly hasn't time at the moment*

#51 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 11:20 AM:

If you want really good fan wank where people have almost forgotten about what they were arguing about in the first place, there's 6th-7th century Byzantium with the Nestorians, Monophysites, Monotheletes, et nauseam.

And then they wondered why all the young fans decided to become Muslims.

#52 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 12:18 PM:

From The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel by Edward Gorey:

Scuffle and Dustcough have thoughtfully, if gratuitously, sent all the papers with reviews in them. They make a gratifyingly large heap. Mr Earbrass refuses to be intimidated into rushing through them, but he is having a certain amout of difficulty in concentrating on, or, rather, making any sense whatever out of, A Compendium of the Minor Heresies of the Twelfth Century in Asia Minor. He has been meaning to finish it ever since he began it two years and seven months before, at which time he bogged down on page 53.

To explain the title of this post: "Nicodemus" means "People's Victory" (in Greek).

For those who are interested in our writing: my novel The Apocalypse Door takes the Stations of the Cross as its structure. And folks will now recognize, I hope, why the ship in our novel Land of Mist and Snow is named USS Nicodemus. (You know my methods, Watson, apply them!)

#53 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 12:41 PM:

Michael 29: If he'd written an anti-Roman tract while tripping his brains out on shrooms, he'd probably have let the veil get too thin in places...good way to end up nailed to a coupla boards.

Em 32: his eyes change colour depending on his mood

Hey, that's not an entirely Mary Sue trait. My eyes have a splotch of yellow right around the pupil and are otherwise hazel to green. If I get angry suddenly, my pupils contract, and my eyes suddenly get dramatically yellower. I've scared the CRAP out of a couple of people that way.

Hated and persecuted by everybody (except a very perceptive small group) despite being Perfect and Wonderful.

Well, at the very end. Had big crowds following Him around singing Hosanna, remember? And He got kinda sick of it and told them "You guys have gotta hate your families if you're following ME around all the damn time." (This was later misinterpreted as a requirement, rather than an evaluation of their family feeling or lack of same.)

Teresa 36: Furthermore, I believe that every year on the Feast of Saint Nicholas, each moderator should get to squash one troublesome user without having to explain anything to anyone.

I can't agree. I think that this privilege should be strictly confined to days ending in 'y' in years that are not odd numbered leap years. And the number should be no greater than the total number of users on the system.

That said, let's remember this next December 6. A good time to renew the Permissions to Moderators and so forth.

#54 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 12:42 PM:

Yow... where do the Books of Paradise, and (separately) the Gospel of Judas, fit in?

#55 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 12:48 PM:

Whatever brought this on, I hope it brings on more of it. Uncle Jim's Bible Story Hour is packed with both giggles and learning.

#56 ::: Mongoose ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 12:57 PM:

elise @ 55: hear, hear!

#57 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 01:14 PM:

Jim, illiterate in matters of early Christianity as I am, I love this with a deep, deep, deep love.

Also: I would so read a series of Nicholas of Myra, Detective books. With or without Lucy Liu.

#58 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 01:29 PM:

My grandfather used to be great friends with a Chester Nicodemus who later changed his name to Donald Mace. Some time after, they fell out with one another, but not before Grand-Dad named his second kid after Mace. Every now and then, I try a search for Nicodemus/Mace, but most of the hits I get are for my uncle, and the rest are just lists of names.

Other than that, me too, great article, and kudos. I stumbled upon two collections of the too-apocryphal-for-prime-time writings (later on, a friend gave me an edition with both books in one compendious cover). I particularly like how they (and Joseph Smith) all have little numbered paragraphs and plenty of thees and thous and shalts, in a two-column format with circles and arrows and a descriptive paragraph on the back, because that's how you know it's not a hoax, not a parable, not an imaginary story, but the real Word!

#59 ::: Kip W hath been begnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 01:34 PM:

I wanted to say it in Latin, but feared that 'abgnometa' (best guess in the time I was willing to put in) was perhaps too obscure, in the sense of not clearly advertising the gnoming.

I'm editing a book with pictures of chocolate chip cookies — I'm sure the client won't miss one.

#60 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 02:31 PM:

This is the best thing since the Kevin Smith movie Dogma.

Coincidentally, I've been listening to the excellent History of Rome podcast since May. It covers everything from the founding to the fall -- 1,200 years. And I just listened to the episodes about Constantine and his relationship to Christianity. I'm now hearing about a promising young fellow named Julian.

#61 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 02:40 PM:

I'm feeling a near-irresistible urge to explain why Martin Luther threw some books out of the Bible. But that will require that I explain Purgatory, which will require a side-trip to Limbo, and folks will wonder "Why don't Catholics believe in Limbo any more? Why did you believe in Limbo to start with?" to which the answer is "The Greek Fathers thought Limbo would be a good idea. What can I say?" Then I'd have to explain Indulgences, and after that it just gets sad.

#62 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 02:43 PM:

Russell Letson #48: Me too.

Jim Macdonald: It's fascinating that divine revelation ends up being decided by committee.

#63 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 02:47 PM:

Mitch, if you're interested in Julian, you might like (and everyone else here who's been following along might like) Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson.

(For those who don't recognize the reference, even though Arianism had been declared a heresy at Nicea, four of the next five Emperors were Arian Christians. The fifth was Julian the Apostate, who was a pagan, but supported the Arians anyway because he needed the support of the army, which was mostly Arian. This sad state might have continued had not Clovis, King of the Franks, become a Catholic, kicked some Arian tail, and converted everyone back to Catholicism.)

#64 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 02:50 PM:

Mitch Wagner @ 60... With Alan Rickman as an angel, and Alanis Morrissette as God, what could go wrong for the Universe?

#65 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 02:53 PM:

61
My favorite graffito (I took a picture of it), seen in an underpass years ago, is:
Who sold you your indulgences?

I figure it was someone who was more than usually historically literate.

#66 ::: Mongoose ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 02:58 PM:

Jim @ 61: was that the Apocrypha? I knew someone threw them out, but I didn't know it was Martin Luther, although that makes a lot of sense because the Catholic Church still uses those books.

So did Handel, or at any rate his librettist(s), since he wrote at least two oratorios based on the Books of Maccabees (Judas Maccabaeus and Alexander Balus). I am a huge fan of the latter work, and was sufficiently interested to do some digging around for historical background. Never do this with an artistic work you really love; I now live with the knowledge that the only character in the oratorio who is even halfway true to history is Jonathan, who isn't given his full name by Handel's librettist, but who is clearly Jonathan Maccabaeus, brother of Judas of that ilk. The other characters... well, I reckon that librettist should have got several points on his artistic licence.

#67 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 02:59 PM:

Fragano @62: "It's fascinating that divine revelation ends up being decided by committee."

Given that it all started out with a troika, what can you expect?

(Coulda been worse--say, a trilateral commission. . . .)

#68 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 03:07 PM:

Nicholas is also the patron saint of Amsterdam.

I suspect that when the Amsterdam class was extended to create the New Amsterdam object, the patron saint property was inherited with the class. (Note that in the 2.0 version, the name property was overridden to New York)

#69 ::: David ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 03:23 PM:

I have taught Credo in class with some success. Someone design me a 45-minute open-source version of Credo for up to 35 players (in teams).

Ready. Go!

Anyone?

#70 ::: David Perry ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 03:26 PM:

So there are a number of people asking about Zealot. I am not a Biblical scholar, but Biblical scholars have said a number of mixed things about the book.

Here's one: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-carey/reza-aslan-on-jesus_b_3679466.html

Highlights:

"First, Zealot has formidable strengths. Aslan has done a great deal of homework, offering material that will instruct many specialists from time to time. The most important thing Aslan accomplishes involves setting Jesus in a plausible historical and cultural context. Indeed, more of the book may involve Jesus' contexts than direct discussion of the man himself. Someone very like Jesus could easily have existed in Roman Galilee. Aslan's Jesus is thoroughly Jewish, passionately committed to Israel's welfare and restoration. Aslan appreciates how Jesus' activities amounted to resistance against Roman domination -- as well as against collaboration on the part of Jewish elites. Many scholars would agree."

"I would add that Aslan provides some of the most helpful discussions I have yet encountered regarding the accounts of Jesus' healing ministry and of his resurrection. These stories represent minefields for any historical investigator. Aslan handles them with sympathy, imagination, and critical judgment."

"At the same time, I have some serious reservations about Aslan's portrait of Jesus, and I suspect that most professional biblical scholars will share some of them. First, the book contains some outright glitches, things a professional scholar would be unlikely to say. Aslan suggests there were "countless" revolutionary prophets and would-be messiahs in Jesus' day. Several did appear, but "countless" is a bit much. Aslan assumes near-universal illiteracy in Jesus' society, an issue that remains unsettled and hotly contested among specialists. At one point Aslan says it would seem "unthinkable" for an adult Jewish man not to marry. He does mention celibate Jews like the Essenes, but he seems unaware that women were simply scarce in the ancient world. Lots of low-status men lacked the opportunity to marry. Aslan assumes Jesus lived and worked in Sepphoris, a significant city near Nazareth. This is possible, but we lack evidence to confirm it."

"Finally, Aslan seems to have bought into an outdated model of Christian development. According to that model, Jesus was a mighty prophet, but it took decades for the idea of Jesus' divinity to take shape. Aslan imagines a Jewish Jesus tradition that developed without the trappings of a divine Jesus. It took the Hellenized Paul and his circle of Gentile converts to start the church on the path to Nicea. Paul, Aslan asserts, "created" the figure of Jesus as "Christ."

Contemporary scholarship is undermining that familiar model."

I hope that's useful.

#71 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 04:16 PM:

The Bible has been described as an Ace Double: War God of Israel backed by The Thing With Three Souls.

Mongoose #66: Yes, that's what the Protestants call the Apocrypha. (Which is even more apocryphal than the above-cited Gospel of Judas et blooming cetera. There were a lot of non-canonical books.)

Luther tossed out first and second Maccabees, which contains the scriptural justification for praying for the dead. (Henry VIII of England disputed Luther's action, which is what got Henry the title "Defender of the Faith" before he had his own little problem obtaining a divorce and went his own way.)

So, praying for the dead. This implies that praying for the dead must do some good. If the souls are in hell, no amount of prayer will help them. If they're in heaven, no prayer is needed. So, if we pray for the souls of the dead, that implies they're somewhere else. So, what is that Somewhere Else? Answer: Purgatory, the place of purification. Essentially the souls of the saved-but-still-marked-by-sin (which is to say, pretty much everyone, since even the just sin) are told to sit in the corner and think about it until you're good and sorry for what you did, young man.

Prayers for the dead reduce the time they spend in Purgatory (helping them understand Just How Wrong They Were that much quicker, I guess).

This gets us to indulgences. Rather than relying on the kindness of strangers to pray for you, you can get time off for good behavior by taking certain actions yourself. Sometimes you will see indulgences listed as "Five days indulgence." What this refers to is that the merit of performing certain actions or saying certain prayers is the same merit that you would get by repenting in sackcloth and ashes, or fasting whilst wearing a hair shirt, or one of the other gaudy activities, for five days. What that merit might be is up to God, but we figure He'll be just about it.

Plenary indulgences grant remission of all temporal punishment due to sin. Partial indulgences grant just part (the time period as above).

One of the abuses that Luther saw among certain vain, worldly, and greedy churchmen of his time was the selling of indulgences. This was the ecclesiastical equivalent of selling diplomas. Rather than going to the expense and taking the time of going to college for four years, send twenty bucks to prestigiousaccrediteduniversity.com and get a beautiful diploma suitable for framing delivered to you by a uniformed government employee!

This was, indeed, an abuse, and a scandal. But it didn't justify tossing out Maccabees, where we find, not only prayers for the dead, but the Miracle of the Lights which is the origin of Hanukkah. So Luther fired the first shot in the War on Hanukkah, predating the War on Christmas by a hundred and fifty years.

Indulgences are still available today: For example I refer to them in one of the Crossman short stories ("Selling the Devil" available wherever fine e-books are sold):

His career as a fraudulent raiser of demons had been small stuff by this world’s standards—there were men in the corporate towers of Wall Street who worshipped Mammon and Lilith with a singleness of purpose that would have made this boy look like he made First Friday every month.

"First Friday" is the indulgence you get for attending Mass and taking Communion on the first Friday of every month for nine consecutive months, provided you do so with the intention of gaining the indulgence, and with no attachment to sin (even venial sin) in your heart.

Anyway. This all brings us around to Limbo. The question that vexed the minds of the supremely logical Greek Fathers was this: Suppose you have a complete innocent whose only sin is Original Sin which has not been remitted by being baptized. To send this soul to Hell, there to be tormented for eternity by demons, would be manifestly unjust. To send it to Purgatory to repent for its sins would be ridiculous since it had nothing to repent--what would they say, "Sorry I was conceived"? And to allow it into Heaven would be impossible, since it is marked by sin and only those who are free of sin may enter.

Thus, there must be another place, called Limbo (meaning "the boundary"). This is located in a corner of Hell, but one into which Satan and his demons cannot enter. There the soul is granted perfect natural happiness, but not perfect supernatural happiness (which would require entrance to Heaven and the full beatific vision).

Works out all neat and complete.

But Limbo was never a defined doctrine, and, in 1992, with the revised catechism, the last of it vanished. The thinking is that while the sacraments (e.g. baptism) bind humans, they don't bind God, who can do anything He jolly-well pleases. Further, we read in scripture Christ saying "Let the little children come to me; do not hinder them" as an explicit statement that He intends to save the unbaptized infants.

Right now Limbo is a possible theological opinion that has neither been explicitly condemned nor accepted by the Church.

#72 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 04:43 PM:

P J Evans @65 My favorite was

"In your heart, you know it's flat."

#73 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 05:14 PM:

72:
LOL! (There are place where it certainly looks flat. The Central Valley, where you can be out of sight of anything higher than a radio tower, in all directions.)

#74 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 06:36 PM:

I've got Zealot on hold at the local library and am looking forward to reading it.

Regarding praying for the dead, and asking (in prayer) for the dead to pray for the living: I've always loved the idea of the Communion of Saints, that the living and dead are part of a transcendent community, a loving fellowship which renders human time irrelevant. And though I suppose it's logical that prayers for those in hell cannot be efficacious, it's also true that no one knows or can know if someone is in hell.

Maybe no one is...

#75 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 06:39 PM:

Jim @#71
Do you know if there are any of Luther's 95 theses on indulgences that the modern Catholic church would still disagree with? I have slogged through them, and he didn't reject indulgences outright.

#76 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 07:14 PM:

I don't understand why prayers for souls in Hell cannot be efficacious. The end of the Book of Jonah makes it clear that God can change God's mind about decisions God has made, even ones already given to a prophet to proclaim. (And by the way line customer-service people everywhere can empathize with Jonah's irritation...giving people bad news you didn't want to give them, and then being overridden by the supervisor, is enormously frustrating; you're made to look like the bad guy—a fool, an incompetent, or even a malicious liar—when if you'd had your choice you wouldn't have enforced the harsh policy in the first place.)

So God could decide "You know, I'm just not feeling as vindictive as I was before I became a Father. Now that I have a human child, I have a kinder judgement for human failings. Maybe I'll just let everyone out of Hell."

And the parable of the widow and the unjust judge (at least the way it's been preached in my presence) indicates that you should keep praying ceaselessly until God hears you. So why can't Christians pray for God to let the sinners out of Hell?

I'm sure these arguments aren't new and that there's Catholic theology that refutes the heck out of all of them. I just don't understand, and I don't think it's only because I'm a Pagan.

#77 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 08:12 PM:

St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa, proves quite convincingly that everyone, up to and including Satan, must one day be saved.

Aquinas's argument is essentially this:

Nothing that exists is 100% evil, since existence in itself is good.

God's mercy is infinite.

Over the length of eternity anything that is even the smallest fraction good must therefore receive mercy.


But Aquinas came a long while after the Greek Fathers who reasoned out the ideas of Purgatory and Limbo.


As far as Luther and his theses: Here are the 95 Theses And here is the Pope's response (finding fault with 41 of them, but not, sadly, linking to which exact one he was refuting each time). The Pope gave Luther 'til the 10th of December to recant those 41 theses. Instead, on the 10th of December, Luther publicly burned the Pope's letter. After that the gloves were off.

In my opinion, Luther was right that there were real abuses going on. But he was also trolling.

#78 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 10:13 PM:

A God who is omniscient and perfectly good ought not to change his mind about anything, because any decision he makes was always eternally perfect to begin with. But, of course, the Bible depicts God changing his mind all the time.

I get the impression that some Jewish thought on this simply rejects the idea that God's decisions are always and eternally right. You're supposed to be willing to critique them with well-supported argument, if necessary.

The Christians tend not to go this far but are all over the place on what is actually going on. There's the scary dispensationalist idea that the actual, absolute and indisputable definition of right and wrong changes from time to time.

#79 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 10:36 PM:

A God who is omniscient and perfectly good ought not to change his mind about anything, because any decision he makes was always eternally perfect to begin with. But, of course, the Bible depicts God changing his mind all the time.

I'm fond of the idea that perfection is not a phoenix; there is more than one perfection and multiple ways to be perfect or perform perfection.

And that a perfect decision in one time and place may require perfecting when situations change.

Thus God can be right, yet change His mind and still be right.

And also that "perfect" need not imply "changeless".

But these are all the opinions of an ex-Catholic Pagan whose last Sunday School class was more than 20 years ago, so.

#80 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 10:59 PM:

#71, Jim: Specifically, that was a line from the great SF editor Terry Carr, about his then-boss, Ace Books editor-in-chief Donald A. Wollheim -- that if Wollheim had published the Bible as an Ace Double, it would have been War God of Israel backed by The Thing With Three Souls

#81 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 11:01 PM:

#77, Jim: Aquinas and Chesterton converge on this. The real miracle is that stuff is. I mean, WTF!? Amirite?

#82 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2013, 11:24 PM:

The older I get, the more I think that Indiana Jones explained it all.

"I don't know. I'm making this up as I go."

#83 ::: Chris Lawson ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 12:08 AM:

Jim, that's a great piece, but the link you've provided to "Eusebius was smeared by Gibbon" is the most blatant bit of fannish apologetics I've seen for a long time.

You've got Gibbon saying that Eusebius "confesses that he has related whatever might redound to the glory, and that he has suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace, of religion." Then the author tracks down the original quote in which Eusebius says that he does not want to write about the schisms in the early church because "we have decided to relate nothing concerning them except the things in which we can vindicate the Divine judgment." And in a later chapter: "I judge it more suitable to shun and avoid the account of these things...I consider it most proper to tell and to record, and to present to believing hearers in the history of the admirable martyrs." And this is presented as if to rebut Gibbon.

And then in the second example, he criticises Gibbon for quoting Eusebius saying "It will sometimes be necessary to use falsehood for the benefit of those who need such a mode of treatment." But then he tracks down the original Eusebius which has a chapter title that translates from the Greek as "That it is necessary, sometimes, to make a lie/fiction a remedy for the service of those who need such a process." So how does our fannish friend deal with this?...well, by firstly claiming that maybe it wasn't Eusebius but some mysterious, previously undetected "later editor" who added that chapter heading, as if that makes any difference to Gibbon's criticism of the text attributed to Eusebius. And then, just in case you don't find that convincing, our fannish friend defends Eusebius anyway by pointing out that the Greek word pseudo doesn't necessarily mean "lie" but can also mean ordinary "stories/tales" or "that which is not true". Firstly this hardly negates Gibbon, and secondly it's a falsehood itself. Pseudos always refers to lying/cheating/deception/deliberate falsehood in Ancient Greek (check out the Perseus Tufts dictionary: every word starting with "pseudo" in the major Greek classics can be found here). It's only as a modern English prefix that it has a broader sense of meaning.

I decided not to read any further "examples". Really, this is a pretty desperate attempt to protect Eusebius's reputation from his own writings.

#84 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 12:28 AM:

Lori Coulson @7:

Hmm...I wonder what the folks leading the RCIA group I'm in would make of this?
Jim is my godfather. I've never doubted his accuracy, but when he was my sponsor in RCIA, I didn't necessarily repeat all of his more colorful explanations to Sister Ellen and Father Bob.

Matt McIrvin @78:

A God who is omniscient and perfectly good ought not to change his mind about anything, because any decision he makes was always eternally perfect to begin with. But, of course, the Bible depicts God changing his mind all the time.
That theory only works if God is alone in the universe. As soon as He added free will and independent intelligent entities to the mix, changing His mind in response to changing circumstances became a necessary option.

#85 ::: Nonie ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 01:11 AM:

Jim--Still laughing myself rather indelicately sick over this. Nobody before you has *ever* been able to make me care about scriptural history, much less understand it as a version of fanwank and (unfortunately literal) flamewars!

As for Saint Mary-Sue Thecla: BWEEEE!

--Nonie

#86 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 01:53 AM:

Jim - I read Julian Comstock. And loved it. I need to read it again.

The period of the late Roman Republic through the Julio-Claudian emperors is deservedly a great breeding ground for stories. But the period from Diocletian through Constantine seems very rich as well. But there doesn't seem to be much literature about it, to my surprise.

#87 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 01:53 AM:

Jim - I read Julian Comstock. And loved it. I need to read it again.

The period of the late Roman Republic through the Julio-Claudian emperors is deservedly a great breeding ground for stories. But the period from Diocletian through Constantine seems very rich as well. But there doesn't seem to be much literature about it, to my surprise.

#88 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 01:54 AM:

Argh, double-post. Sorry!

#89 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 01:56 AM:

The thing to remember about God's changing His mind is that God is in eternity -- that is to say, outside of time. Everything is a perpetual now; the past, the present, and the future are as one.

This is very hard for us, living in time, to wrap our minds around.

#90 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 02:33 AM:

It's ineffable, innit. I'll 'ave 'nother pint.

#91 ::: Fooferan ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 03:15 AM:

So, Martin Luther was all like, Dude, the Old Testament is totally Jewish, right? It's like their Bible, right? And I checked and see, the Jewish Bible TOTALLY doesn't have Judith or Baruch, and what's this crazy sh@ about Bel and the Dragon? (Luther, despite being a Church guy, totally didn't mind saying the word "sh@", because he was German, and, like, the Germans have like 20 words for sh@.) So this guy Luther, I think he was a monk - no - priest - no - professor - no - heretic - no - Junker Georg - no - pastor - um, whoever he was, he took all those crazy bible/not-bible books and stuck them in, what should he call it, oh yeah! Apocrypha! Cuz that means hidden, and he hid them in the middle of the book. Note: This was before he opened a pickle barrel, found a nun, and ended up marrying her - because she insisted. (Best thing he ever did. She brewed him the finest beer and managed to feed the eleventy-seven students, vagrants, pastors, and other degenerates he kept bringing home.)

#92 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 04:37 AM:

That whole story you tell of St. Nicholas: Bishop by chance, roamed the docks taking down thieves with chains hidden in his robes, buying girls out of debt, surviving torture by a ruthless tyrant, deductive skills so great he could solve crimes nobody else had the answer to. That is so much better than Santa Claus. He wasn't Santa Clause. He was the freakin Batman!

#93 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 05:20 AM:

Em @ #32:

I agree with Teresa that Jesus is more of a next-gen reboot.

For my money, the Mary Sue in the canonical Gospels is the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, especially if you accept the common theory that he's a stand-in for the author.

#94 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 07:36 AM:

Matt McIrvin #78: More to the point, that gets into both the "omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, pick two" issue. In practice, between the Bible and later thought (including Nicea) you're really dealing with at least two distinct gods.

In the Torah, you've got a tribal god whose most distinctive features is the lack of an idol, and his "jealousy" -- that is, unlike other gods of the time, he forbade his people to worship the gods of tribes or places they might be visiting, or to do anything that even looked like they might be worshipping another tribe's gods. (That's most of what the kosher and related laws are about, specifically forbidding the sacred practices of the Israelites' various neighbors of the time.)

By the time of the Jesus tales, you're already seeing a lot of classical-Greek influence: Still basically a Sun Child born of the Storm King (and you can bet that a lot of his listeners knew about the Promethean prophecy), but now there's much more abstraction and less reaction to the surround, and that progressed over time to where both the Christians, and the surviving Jews, were using logic and and inference to deduce features and characteristics of their god.

#95 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 09:00 AM:

Hmm. My first sentence in #94 is malformed. I'll close the "both" by nothing that the other half of the "pick two" problem is "the problem of evil".

#96 ::: Doug Burbidge ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 09:59 AM:

And Jesus LOLed, saying unto them, "Doodz! R0xx0r!"

#97 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 10:07 AM:

Dave #95 That's called the Problem of Theodicity. One answer to that is that this is the best possible logically-consistent universe in which free will can exist.

Another answer is that the greatest of evils -- fires, floods, wars, murder, slavery -- take place in the blink of an eye compared to the soul's life in eternity, and radical evil is necessary for radical joy to be possible.

Jeffrey Burton Russell (recommended above) wrote a four-volume scholarly history discussing the question, and a one-volume popular summary (among his many other works). Again, I recommend them.

God is really big on free will. It is the single most important thing to Him. Else we have the bit from Svengali:

Trilby: Oh Svengali! I love you!

Svengali: Silence, child. It is only Svengali ... talking to himself.

As to how I come to know this stuff: I had twelve years of Catholic education. My high school library had attractively-bound, fully footnoted, editions of all the extra-canonical books in translation (Book of Enoch, Book of Jubilees, Gospel of Judas, Lives of Adam and Eve, Third Maccabees, Fourth Maccabees, and so forth and so on) because how can you say you understand your religion if you don't know all this stuff? As Tertullian said, "Reason, in fact, is a thing of God, inasmuch as there is nothing which God the Maker of all has not provided, disposed, ordained by reason — nothing which He has not willed should be handled and understood by reason."

Later on, in college, I majored in Medieval Studies, which involved reading pretty-much every word ever written in Middle English (along with much else). The monks wrote a lot of saints' lives, and discussed the history of the Church ... endlessly. I went to the University of Rochester, home of the The Rossell Hope Robbins Library. Rossell Hope Robbins wrote the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology; the library held his book collection, including his marginal annotations. I read a lot, and have a pretty good memory for text.

This has informed all my writing since. The Mageworld series, for example, in addition to being space opera, is also (in the first three volumes) my refutation of the Manichean heresy. (The Long Hunt, aside from being space opera, is also the Acts of the Apostles (for Crom's sake, when the heroes go to an upper room, have tongues of flame descend on them, and meet the Holy Ghost, what did you think we were doing?) mixed with sixth-century Byzantine politics.

I don't suppose I have to mention that our Peter Crossman stories are overtly, blatantly Catholic-didactic (along with being hard-boiled private-eye mysteries)?

So, that's me.

#98 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 10:34 AM:

What gets me about the whole Bible fandom is that they want to claim originality for their swipes.

Hey, those Mithra guys have some great ideas! We'll just change the names a little. I like the sound of this one, but Ahura Mazda sounds like an Swahili light bulb, so we'll put something else in there.

Seriously, guys, instead of filing the serial numbers off, just write good honest slash… I mean, crossover fic. Jesus and Thor team up (after sparring briefly, due to mistaken identity) and save the world from Baal, just in time for a big Duvali production number!

#99 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 11:18 AM:

Speaking of Ahura Mazda, Manicheanism was originally a Zoroastrian heresy that proved so powerful that it jumped across to become a Christian heresy, a Jewish heresy, and an Islamic heresy.

#100 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 11:25 AM:

Jim Macdonald (99): Four for the price of one!

#101 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 11:34 AM:

Oh, and we forgot the filking! Martin Luther loved a good tune, and he loved setting his fandom's words to a good tune from someplace else. After all, why should all the good songs go to those who write them?

It's not just that he set other words to the tunes that makes them filks, but that he did them all in service of his fandom.

#102 ::: Mongoose ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 11:36 AM:

Jim @ 97: that does it. As soon as I have the money to buy more books, I will be getting some of yours, and also more than likely recommending them to my sister, who's a Catholic. (I'm not. I don't find I fit very easily into denominations, because they always want you to believe Proposition A which is unique to them and not believed by other denominations, and they usually make it so important. Now me, I can worship anywhere, just so long as they believe the basics. I just have trouble actually becoming a full member. So at the moment I kind of float, which isn't very satisfactory either.)

Actually I really want to be able to buy All The Books, not just yours; I'd love that new 21st Century SF anthology. But until someone decides I'm good enough to be paid to do a job, that isn't going to happen, unfortunately.

#103 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 12:24 PM:

Jim Macdonald @97: Digressing a little, I'm the University of Rochester's fifth or sixth Medieval Studies minor in a very long time; one of my friends Made The Thing Happen about two years ago, just in time for him to graduate with one. Also, I sent this post to the current president of the Medieval Society (she was properly amused).

#104 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 12:34 PM:

estelendur #103 Hey there!

My advisers were Professor Peck and Professor Hahn. Is Medieval House still there, with the stained-glass window by Pehr the Perfect and the half-timbered basement by Bettelheim?

#105 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 12:37 PM:

Jim Macdonald, I don't suppose you're still anywhere near Rochester, are you? I was thinking you might be in NH these days.

U Rochester has the distinction of Walter R. Brooks's papers. He invented Mr. Ed and wrote the "Freddy the Pig" series, which is seriously under-represented in my library.

DIGRESSION WARNING. Oops, too late.

#106 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 01:05 PM:

But getting back to great flame-warriors of the 2nd Century: Irenaeus of Lyons!

Of Irenaeus's many works, only two survive in full, both in translation. (Mere fragments remain of his original Greek).

One is On the Detection and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called (which everyone calls "Adversus haereses" (that is, against heresies) because it takes up less space). The Latin translation of the full document survives. (The other of his writing that survives in full is Proof of the Apostolic Preaching which exists in an Armenian translation. The rest -- snips from his articles in other people's Usenet posts are the only traces.)

Alas for this discussion here, Irenaeus's "How God Is Not the Source of Evil" is lost.

Adversus haereses was from Irenaeus's long-running flamewar with Valentius (not the Valentine that made saint--the other one). Valentine the Gnostic claimed that there was Super Secret Hidden Knowledge that only those in the gnow gnew.

Irenaeus's argument, in its simplest form, was, "Listen. I'm a bishop. I was instructed and ordained by Polycarp. Polycarp was instructed and ordained by John. John was instructed and ordained by Christ Himself. If there was any secret knowledge I would bloody-well know it. But no such secret knowledge was passed down to me. Therefore, it doesn't exist."

Irenaeus wasn't all flamewars, though. He urged the Pope not to get all doctrinaire on the date of Easter, saying words to the effect of "When the Guard arrests us and we're hanging side-by-side in the Flavian Amphitheater nobody's going to ask us, 'Hey, when's Easter?'"

Irenaeus was a contemporary of Tertullian. Irenaeus made saint, Tertullian didn't. (Part of the reason Irenaeus was in Rome was to ask the Pope what to do about the Montanists, who had just arrived in Lyons. (The Montanists believed in the New Prophecy, which was continued revelation. They also had female bishops and preachers.) Tertullian, unfortunately, was a Montanist. Even though Montanism was never formally declared a heresy, that wasn't the brand of Catholicism that eventually won out.

Irenaeus's opinion on the date of Easter (which didn't match the Pope's) didn't win out either, so there you go.

#107 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 01:52 PM:

Jim Macdonald @104: Medieval House has long been turned into a frat house, alas (which the frat has probably been kicked out of by now, but it means that I've never been in it). My aforementioned friend says that the president of MH decided to disband it, because he was getting too many warm body applicants and not enough Medievalist applicants. I should see whether I can get into the house to look around, though.

Peck and Hahn are still here, but I think Peck is finally retiring this spring. :( I had Classical & Scriptural Backgrounds with Hahn last year, and Myth & Fairytale with Peck; both were fantastic.

#108 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 03:06 PM:

Teresa @84: Having only been in inquiry for a month, and attended the first group RCIA meeting last week, I'm not yet certain just how much of a sense of humor the good Father and Sister have...I have no doubt as to Jim's accuracy, I'm just hesitating over sharing the post. Maybe in a month or two.

It is something of a jolt to be reading a Bible that is in modern English, I was brought up on the KJV.

Xopher: One of the Fatima prayers has a line: "Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of your mercy." FWIW.

#109 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 03:42 PM:

Jim @12: I don't know the group well enough yet to be sure they'd get a laugh out of it. I've already had the pleasure of introducing Sister Ruth to divineoffice.org.

BTW, I really enjoyed The Apocalypse Door.

#110 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 04:05 PM:

Jim @52:

For those who are interested in our writing: my novel The Apocalypse Door takes the Stations of the Cross as its structure.
Spotted that when your main character got into a discussion of face-washing with a woman named Veronica.
And folks will now recognize, I hope, why the ship in our novel Land of Mist and Snow is named USS Nicodemus.
The re-staged allegorical tableaux were fun.

Jim @97:

The Mageworld series, for example, in addition to being space opera, is also (in the first three volumes) my refutation of the Manichean heresy.
It disturbs me that I know that. Ditto, how I figured out that the Mageworlders pbhyqa'g or gur onq thlf gurl jrer vavgvnyyl znqr bhg gb or.
(The Long Hunt, aside from being space opera, is also the Acts of the Apostles (for Crom's sake, when the heroes go to an upper room, have tongues of flame descend on them, and meet the Holy Ghost, what did you think we were doing?) mixed with sixth-century Byzantine politics.
Okay, you caught me out on the traditional Byzantine political practices.
So, that's me.
With the exception of Jane and Claire, I do sometimes wonder how your other editors cope.

#111 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 04:21 PM:

TNH #119:

Ditto, how I figured out that the Mageworlders pbhyqa'g or gur onq thlf gurl jrer vavgvnyyl znqr bhg gb or.

And you said it in the original Erassian! Hurrah!

With the exception of Jane and Claire, I do sometimes wonder how your other editors cope.

I wonder how our readers cope. Weirdly, most of our fan letters are from teenaged women, retired intelligence officers, and assorted priests and nuns.

#112 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 04:36 PM:

TNH@111: I do sometimes wonder how your other editors cope

To quote an early editor of ours, speaking to the next person up the food chain, "Be advised, this is the book where Jim Macdonald does away with the concept of linear time."

(This was after she'd talked him down from five time loops to only three. )

#113 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 04:42 PM:

Lori Coulson @108:

Teresa @84: Having only been in inquiry for a month, and attended the first group RCIA meeting last week, I'm not yet certain just how much of a sense of humor the good Father and Sister have...I have no doubt as to Jim's accuracy, I'm just hesitating over sharing the post. Maybe in a month or two.
There were lots of things I didn't mention to my instructors. I felt uncomfortably exotic as it was.
It is something of a jolt to be reading a Bible that is in modern English, I was brought up on the KJV.
Same problem here. I hardwired the KJV when I was young, and I doubt I'll ever stop automatically translating scripture into it.

The reading that trips me up worst is from 1 Corinthians 13. We always get halfway through it before my brain does a sort of reorienting backflip, says "Oh! It's through a glass, darkly," and I thereafter know where I am.

#114 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 04:45 PM:

Drat. That should have been "@110."

#115 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 05:03 PM:

The reading that trips me up worst is from 1 Corinthians 13

I must admit that I don't think the KJV is at its best when translating Paul*, especially if you're hearing it read rather than reading it yourself. And that's leaving out the issue of accuracy. And in that passage especially, I think 'love' works much better than 'charity', partly because of meaning drift over the years.

For Isaiah or Jeremiah you can't beat the KJV, but for Paul I'd rather have something more modern and less ornate.

* ok, the author of the epistles traditionally attributed to Paul, if you prefer.

#116 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 05:18 PM:

Debra Doyle @112:

To quote an early editor of ours, speaking to the next person up the food chain, "Be advised, this is the book where Jim Macdonald does away with the concept of linear time."

(This was after she'd talked him down from five time loops to only three. )

The wonderful thing is that it's his natural turn of mind: five time loops? Sure, why not! Whereas if I had invented literature singlehanded, it would at most contain a few simple single-loop time paradoxes. (There would, however, be a lot more essay-length footnotes.)

#117 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 06:08 PM:

I like the Bible-as-Ace-Double thing. If it were TV instead, the OT would be Desert Trek, and the Gospels would be Desert Trek: The Next Generation. Maybe the Book of Mormon would be Desert Trek: America. Or maybe Deep Wilderness Utah.

Jim 106: Irenaeus's argument, in its simplest form, was, "Listen. I'm a bishop. I was instructed and ordained by Polycarp. Polycarp was instructed and ordained by John. John was instructed and ordained by Christ Himself. If there was any secret knowledge I would bloody-well know it. But no such secret knowledge was passed down to me. Therefore, it doesn't exist."

Wow, what an asshole. That only works if ordination is a wholesale telepathic transfer of knowledge from which the ordainer has no ability to hold anything back. Was this guy stupid, or did he just think everyone who'd read him was?

(The Montanists believed in the New Prophecy, which was continued revelation. They also had female bishops and preachers.)

And ultimately were forced to move out West and become cowboys. C'mon, someone had to say it.

Lori 108: There have always been Christians who wanted to believe in a God who was kind, because they themselves were kind (and/or in great need of kindness). There have also always been Christians who believed in a cruel, vengeful God. I leave an evaluation of them as an exercise for the reader.

I know which kind of Christian my Christian friends are. I shun the other kind; they scare me (not theologically; I don't trust them not to knife me for my shoes).

#118 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 06:15 PM:

117
Well, maybe that's why silphium is extinct.

#119 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 06:35 PM:

Oh, fuck me. As many times as I've read the Mageworlds books, I never caught on.

#120 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 06:47 PM:

"They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you... my only son."

#121 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 06:49 PM:

#117 Xopher

Yeah, "What an asshole!" does describe St. Irenaeus, bishop and martyr (which is why you'll find me mostly quoting Tertullian,* neither bishop nor martyr), but that is not the whole of his (many) argument(s) against gnosticism. If you'd like to read all five volumes in modern English, they're right here.

#119 ::: TexAnne

I hope I haven't ruined the books for you!

------------

*The guy who gave us the saying, "Out of the frying pan, into the fire."

#122 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 06:57 PM:

Thanks, Jim, but I think I'll skip it!

#123 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 07:03 PM:

Jim, 121: No, there's enough else to recommend them that I'll probably forget by the second chapter or so. (Unlike Narnia, which is thinly characterized *and* has dubious theology. You, I trust.) It's just really embarrassing, as a twice-degreed medievalist and an Episcopalian. I should have noticed!

#124 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 08:09 PM:

TNH #116: I take it that you experienced massive squee over Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

#125 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 10:09 PM:

Xopher @116, perhaps instead of stupid he was merely confident enough in himself and his teachers to believe that the entire chain would have been considered worthy of said secret knowledge: "I am sufficiently awesome, and clearly everyone before me was too." Which still makes him an asshole, albeit a very specific type.

#126 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 10:20 PM:

Or, here's a thought, Irenaeus might, just maybe, have TRUSTED HIS TEACHERS. If they'd had secrets, they would have told him, because that's how Christ-based teaching is supposed to work. Was John a dick? No. Would he have kept salvation-related secrets from his most trusted student? No. Was Irenaeus sick and tired of lazy and/or misinformed people thinking there was a shortcut? I dunno, is everybody here sick and tired of PublishAmerica? COME ON.

Not that I have any dearly-held bedrock philosophies about the teacher-student relationship, or anything.

#127 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 10:31 PM:

Even with total trust, everyone in the chain except Christ is fallible. They could have left something out by mistake, or failed to absorb it when their teacher gave it to them. And (though this thought is contrary to the prevailing thought of the time) knowledge increases; secrets could have been created since the initial revelation.

#128 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 10:34 PM:

94: Well, there's Job in there too, which makes the argument that humans are actually incapable of resolving that trilemma correctly because (after all) they do not understand the divine nature/situation adequately.

#129 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2013, 11:34 PM:

The secrets of the gnostics weren't little things that could have just slipped one's mind (like mentioning 'goldfish' in the cover letter tells editors that you're on the inside and they should buy your manuscript). The gnostics had big stuff, like that the material world is evil, that the God of the Old Testament was evil because He made the world, that Christ was an illusion (because if He had a material body it would be evil, and stuff like that. But they weren't going to share their knowledge with hoi polloi because salvation wasn't for everyone.

As far as Christ keeping secrets, in the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Christ takes Mary aside and explains all kinds of secrets to her. And Peter gets kinda pissed by this because there shouldn't be any secrets among the Apostles. But John takes him aside and explains that if Christ wants to have secrets and only share them with a few, well, it's God's call on how He's going to spread His message, right? (The Gospel of Mary Magdalene didn't make in into canon because it was gnostic, y'see.)

(Christ spends all night in private explaining secrets to a beautiful young man wearing nothing but a linen cloak whom He has just raised from the dead in the Secret Gospel of Mark. But the slashiness of that one was so thick that not even the gnostics wanted it.)

#130 ::: Kayla Rudbek ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 12:09 AM:

77, 79: So my instinct that Diane Duane's Young Wizard series shows the Catholic imagination (vs Harry Potter which shows the Calvinist imagination) is correct!

#131 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 07:39 AM:

Xopher @ 117
Also, if he was in a position of having super sekret teachings, it's exactly what you would expect him to say. Just part of the official cover-up.

#132 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 08:13 AM:

re 129: Well, there has been persistent opinion that the Secret Gospel of Mark was Morton Smith fanfic.

I suppose this makes James Blish the St. Paul of Trekdom.

#133 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 08:56 AM:

Secrets? This is why one of my grad school political theory essays on the Straussian school was headed "The Gospel according to St Leo".

The idea that there really is a secret teaching known only to an inner circle of initiates is one that keeps cropping up. I keep hearing about the RC church a lot. Overwhelmingly from people whose knowledge of the Catholic church seems to come from Dan Brown novels or the equivalent thereof.

#134 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 09:48 AM:

#130 Kayla Rudbek

Nah. Harry Potter is pretty darned Anglican. For Calvinist you have to look at Stephen King.

#135 ::: Phersv ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 10:11 AM:

#77 St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa, proves quite convincingly that everyone, up to and including Satan, must one day be saved.

I am not a theologian (or even a theist) but I don't think Aquinas ever said that.

On the contrary, what you describe was Origen's thesis and Aquinas was not Origenist.

Aquinas believed that persons who did a mortal sin deserved eternal punishment and could never reach redemption (see Summa contra Gentiles, III, 144 and IV, 93).

#136 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 10:45 AM:

#127 Xopher

knowledge increases; secrets could have been created since the initial revelation.

Entropy increases; therefore knowledge = entropy?

#137 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 10:53 AM:

Speaking of gnostics, biblical fanfic, and time travel, there's Richard L. Tierney's "Simon of Gitta" series, a sequence of Cthulhu Mythos stories set around the time of Christ (and indeed, in the capstone novel of the series, Simon meets Christ, who is nice enough, and his invisible twin, what with it being kind of a prequel to The Dunwich Horror, which is itself the story of the Second Coming). Larger-than-life in many ways. Tierney's time-traveller John Taggart previously came along with the Exodus in The Winds of Zarr, which also has Ancient Astronauts, and is dedicated to Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, H. P. Lovecraft, and Cecil B. DeMille...

#138 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 11:29 AM:

Brenda Kalt @135: Yes.

#139 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 11:46 AM:

Jim Macdonald (#129): As far as Christ keeping secrets, in the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Christ takes Mary aside and explains all kinds of secrets to her.

"If you call the cable company and tell them you're going to cancel, you can get a free month of premium channels!"

#140 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 12:32 PM:

And now I'm thinking of the scene in "Elf" where Santa, played by Ed Asner, gives Buddy the Elf advice before leaving the North Pole for the first time, to visit New York: "First off, you see gum on the street, leave it there. It isn't free candy. Second, there are, like, thirty Ray's Pizzas. They all claim to be the original. But the real one's on 11th. And if you see a sign that says 'Peep Show,' that doesn't mean that they're letting you look at the new toys before Christmas."

#141 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 12:52 PM:

Oh, and here's another translation problem I ran across. In my explorations of prayers and prayer books, I happened to pick up a copy of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary (English/Latin).

So I'm reading through a psalm that's all about entering the court of the Lord with joy, when several verses in I hit "let us lament before God who made us" and I'm thinking, say what?!

So I pull up Douay on the Kindle and it agrees with "lament;" but when I check NABRE, that says "kneeled." Even more puzzled, I check the Latin verse and the word in question SEEMS to be "ploremus."*

Now, it's been a long time since I took Latin (over four decades) but the closest I could come translated it as "implore" or "beg" which is NOT "lament" by a long shot.

Color me puzzled.

*ploremus coram Domino qui fecit nos.

#142 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 01:28 PM:

Lori Coulson @140:

My Latin is strictly classical, not ecclesiastic, but in the classic sense the verb ploro means something like "cry aloud" or, transitively, "cry over." So I think it'd be pretty easy for that to develop into both the meaning of "mourn" (which is already there, really) and "beseech for aid", which would be an appropriate response to one's God, especially in times of need.

Which I suppose doesn't explain why a translation would choose "lament" when God is clearly in the dative, there, and the surrounding context doesn't sound all that sad.

#143 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 02:36 PM:

Xopher @117, re the Fatima prayers, they were dictated by the Lady to the children, so I'd say she's a fairly good authority on the situation.

And she's the reason I'm in RCIA. She had been trying to get my attention for quite some time, and in February of this year I finally realized that and began to listen to her.

And as St. Louis de Montfort says Mary is always pointing us toward Jesus.

#144 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 03:35 PM:

Tolkien is the Catholic imagination (and I've already heard the [i]Ainulindale[/i] read at one worship service; admittedly it was at Mythcon). Lewis is the Protestant imagination, but I've never been quite sure if it was Anglican or Presbyterian or that mysterious amalgam called Englishness.

(And Dante? Where does Dante come in?)

#145 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 03:43 PM:

Re 130: There is no way Harry Potter = Calvinism

Voldemort = Calvinism I might buy -- the elect being pure bloods would fit the template.

#146 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 04:16 PM:

Xopher @117:

Jim 106: Irenaeus's argument, in its simplest form, was, "Listen. I'm a bishop. I was instructed and ordained by Polycarp. Polycarp was instructed and ordained by John. John was instructed and ordained by Christ Himself. If there was any secret knowledge I would bloody-well know it. But no such secret knowledge was passed down to me. Therefore, it doesn't exist."
Xopher: Wow, what an asshole. That only works if ordination is a wholesale telepathic transfer of knowledge from which the ordainer has no ability to hold anything back. Was this guy stupid, or did he just think everyone who'd read him was?
Irenaeus' argument is the same one I would have made in his position. Recollect that he's having to prove a negative. In real-world arguments where you have to convince your hearers (as opposed to just winning on points), that often means you have to argue, not just that the thing doesn't exist, but that it can't exist.

Also, teaching back then was a direct person-to-person interaction. If there were secret doctrines that significantly altered the basic Christian message, John would have to have known them, and he wouldn't have kept them from Polycarp. If for some conveniently mysterious reason John had tried to hide them from Polycarp, it wouldn't have worked, because what you understand about a subject reshapes the way you think and talk about it. You know how that one works: even if you don't know what the secrets are, you know when there are secrets being kept.

The same goes for Polycarp teaching Irenaeus.

The Christian message was news to be spread, not a secret to be kept. It's still not a secret. "Have you read any of the literature on that subject?" is one of the stock answers I give atheists who are grousing about doctrine. (Spoiler alert: they haven't.) Vast amounts of material, from basic to advanced, is available online, and more goes up every day.

Fragano @124:

I take it that you experienced massive squee over Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.
I did! Also, I'm mentioned in the acknowledgements.

Fragano @133: IMO, "There are unacknowledged secret teachings" = "I am about to propose a massive retcon that suits my own agenda," or more simply, "I am pulling a fast one."

#147 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 04:59 PM:

Fade Manley: Thanks -- I remember just enough Latin to get myself in trouble, and the phrase just looks wrong to me.

The line before "lament" is about falling down before the Lord and adoring him, so I really couldn't figure out why one's emotional state would change so abruptly.

#148 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 05:15 PM:

Xopher @ 117

There have also always been Christians who believed in a cruel, vengeful God. I leave an evaluation of them as an exercise for the reader.

As an aid to the reader, I will note that the Anabaptist tradition tends toward a belief in God's vengeance, specifically because of their belief that humans should never arrogate vengeance to themselves.

This post was awesome, and I sent it to my priest; I'm fairly certain she will enjoy it as well.

#149 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 05:28 PM:

C. 128: I don't understand how anyone can believe that the God depicted in the Book of Job is benevolent, or cares about humans at all except as pieces on a chessboard. All the killing and suffering inflicted, essentially to win a bet! That God is either pretty damned indifferent to human suffering or got suckered by the adversary, or both.

Brenda 135: Why stop there? Children grow and so does Japanese knotweed; therefore children == Japanese knotweed.

Teresa 145: I don't see why the teachers (except the First One) couldn't have forgotten some stuff, or underemphasized something so the next teacher forgot it. Not everything that will prove critical seems so right away (otherwise Muhammed, p.b.u.h., would have established a clear line of succession).

Moreover, things could have happened to Christians since the time of Christ that generated new insights that John may not have been aware of, and thus could not have taught to Polycarp.

It's all dependent on the teachers all being perfect human beings and perfect teachers with perfect memories, and having perfect knowledge not only of what they'd been taught, but of everything going on in the world.

(If Christian doctrine holds that once Christ ascended there was no further knowledge to be found, that God would never again reveal anything to humans, you can discard that last point. If it doesn't, couldn't there be revelations of which John was unaware, or that came after his time and that Polycarp was unaware of, etc.?)

In all humility I must confess that it could well be that I just don't understand. If so, I'd like to. What I know of Christianity comes from a limited amount of reading, and listening to sermons for a couple of decades in an extremely liberal Episcopal church.

SamChevre 147: As an aid to the reader, I will note that the Anabaptist tradition tends toward a belief in God's vengeance, specifically because of their belief that humans should never arrogate vengeance to themselves.

There's that line somewhere about "vengeance is mine, saith the Lord," but the idea that humans should not take vengeance doesn't necessarily imply that God will. I'll trust you on the Anabaptists, though, since I know next to nothing about them.

#150 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 05:30 PM:

Just as a note, I'm not being derisive or sarcastic in the above. I'd really like to understand if I'm really not understanding.

#151 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 06:05 PM:

Xopher: It's not so much that there are small differences of detail between (say) Irenaus and Valentinus (and the other gnostics), which might well be covered by your explanations; it's that the differences are Large and Significant ones (e.g., just who is the Father of Jesus? Is the God of the Old Testament good or evil?) which seem very hard to explain as just two separate chains of tradition remembering different details, or just as minor adjustments or developments.

Also, while one should always be careful about rhetorical exaggeration, Irenaus' argument isn't just "My teacher had it this way!" but "Lots of other disciples of disciples of apostles are teaching my way!". Admittedly, not too far removed conceptually from "the lurkers support me in e-mail", but he's not just appealing to his own chain of instruction here.

#152 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 06:07 PM:

Xopher @ 148

I think the difference between your postulates and the Gnostic "secret knowledge" is the sort of knowledge being talked about. Refinements, details, applications to new circumstances--those can be learned or forgotten over time. But the Gnostics postulated something much more fundamental; their claim (as I understand it) was that the entire story was a falsehood intended to appeal to the masses, and the actual knowledge was something entirely different.

Against that sort of a claim, I think Irenaeus makes sense. "If there was some underlying truth and this was all a deliberate cover story, I would know" makes sense in a way that "I know every detail everyone ever did" does not.

#153 ::: SamChevre has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 06:11 PM:

Remember, O most gracious gnomes and gmomads,
that never was it known
that any one who implored thy help
was left unaided.

#154 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 06:28 PM:

You have to read Job as an early piece of Speculative Fiction: it's not trying to relate a True Story about God, and certainly not that God actually does make such bets. It's supposed to be a bit ironic anyway considering that according to the thesis we cannot actually understand how such a bet does or does not manifest God's benevolence.

#155 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 07:08 PM:

The other key thing about Job is that it wasn't his fault -- his misfortune wasn't a punishment. It's an unusual scriptural example of bad things happening to good people (in contrast to good people being persecuted, which is in there all the time).

Fred Clark at Slacktivist is worth reading, as usual
If you've ever read Job, you're familiar with the frustrating ending of that story. Not the tacked-on happy ending spelled out by the Greek-chorus narrator in the epilogue, but the actual ending to the story's central argument.

and

And that’s how the character of God starts off, just listing all the incredible things he’s created as a way of bolstering his authority and trustworthiness. But then it starts to get away from him a bit. God starts grinning goofily at the thought of all these amazing creatures and the argument morphs into more of a reverie about just how freakin’ cool all this stuff he created has turned out to be.

#156 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 07:34 PM:

On Job:
At Slacktivist, the theory is that it's intended as a play, or at least a dramatic reading. Whether it makes more sense that way is - Idunno.

#157 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 07:37 PM:

Tony 150, SamChevre 151: Ah, there was something I wasn't getting! Thanks.

That leaves only the idea that any of the teachers, or Irenaeus himself, could have been outright lying. Which I bet the Gnostics didn't claim (except anonymously in the comments).

C. 153: So it's just yet another challenge to Biblical literalists, whose position is risible anyway.

#158 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 09:04 PM:

re 156: Well, not really, because if one starts from literal infallibility then one of the conclusions that one draws from Job is that it is righteous for God to have done this thing. If one is going to come at it with a fixed morality by which one passes judgement on the God of the story, the immediate and corresponding problem is that the story is already saying that this approach is unsound. There comes a point where it's no longer an argument one can win, but merely a dispute that one can choose not to participate in by refusing the premises. Personally the more strongly presenting problem I see with most literalist presentations which actually attempt to deal with this (my impression is that they aren't really all that interested in Job) is that they can't resist the contradiction of trying to work out a system of divine morality from the tale, when the point is, after all, that people cannot do that correctly.

#159 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 09:32 PM:

God in His ineffability put Job in the Bible as a parable of what can go wrong with "innocent people have nothing to fear."

#160 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2013, 11:19 PM:

Someone really needs to write a story about a practicing necropath.

#161 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 01:33 AM:

Eusebius of Caesarea stated that the Hebrew writings contained fables, stories, and other fictions for the benefit of those folks who learned best that way; that they were true on the allegorical level but not necessarily on the literal level. Lucian Martyr (Arius's teacher) claimed that the Hebrew writings were literally true. Because of this, he corrected the translation of the Septuagint.

Marcion was also a literalist (and some classify him as a gnostic because some of his beliefs were similar to some gnostic beliefs). Tertullian refuted him by taking some verses that Marcion himself accepted (from Luke 5:36-37):

And he spoke also a similitude to them: That no man putteth a piece from a new garment upon an old garment; otherwise he both rendeth the new, and the piece taken from the new agreeth not with the old.


And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: otherwise the new wine will break the bottles, and it will be spilled, and the bottles will be lost.


Yet it is demonstrably true that some people do indeed sew new cloth onto old garments, while others put new wine into old bottles. So either Jesus was mistaken, or Jesus was speaking allegorically in order to help people understand a deeper truth.

#162 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 02:24 AM:

#135 : Phersv

You may well be right.

However see Summa Theologica Question 99. God's mercy and justice towards the damned, Article 2. Whether by God's mercy all punishment of the damned, both men and demons, comes to an end? Which, it seems to me, leaves the door open.

(BTW the reason your post was gnomed was the broken link.)

#163 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 08:06 AM:

So I've gotten that saying wrong all those years. I like it better my way. New wine into old bottles is ecologically sound.

#164 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 08:53 AM:

On Jesus and allegory, what do Literalists say about parables? Do the literalists think an actual man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho? What was his name?

If Jesus in his own words told stories which were not literally true in every word in order to instruct people, then surely other bits of the Bible can be equally useful for instruction without necessarily being literally true.

#165 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 08:58 AM:

Regarding the new wine into old bottles: I suspect a change in winemaking practices -- in the time between Luke and Tertullian, they may well have figured out how to, say, vent gas from secondary fermentation.

For the clothes, plenty of people would patch an old garment with a piece of new cloth -- but they mostly wouldn't trash a new garment to do so (unless they've already written off the new item for other reasons).

#166 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 09:29 AM:

Wasn't the analogy originally "old wine in new skins"?

An old dried-out goatskin would burst if any additional fermentation took place.

That area had a lot more goats than forest to cut down to make glass, and glass-making takes a LOT of wood.

#167 ::: Michael Mooney ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 09:42 AM:

Re (St) Dismas: Lawrence Block makes a big thing of St Dismas being the patron said of theives. Or at least Bernie, his burglar character, does. As he would.

#168 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 09:48 AM:

Carol Kimball @166--I'm not sure they were even using glass for winebottles at that point. I think that for large-scale storage and transport, it was clay amphorae. If these weren't well-glazed on the interior, whatever had been stored in them originally (olive oil was another big stored-and-transported-in-amphorae commodity--and so was garum, the notorious fish sauce) would have permeated the clay body--sort of the way the fat permeates cast iron when you season ans cook in it*. So whatever else had been in the old amphora would taint the new wine--which (even if you were lucky enough to be using an old wine amphora, might be a different type of wine) could be very bad indeed.


*For similar reasons, boubon is supposed to be aged in new wooden barrels, freshly charred on the inside. ON the other hand, some distillers take advantage of what's been in the barrels before--Laphroaig uses old sherry casks for their aging.

#169 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 10:13 AM:

The first obvious fable in the Bible is in Judges: it's a favorite of mine.

The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us. But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.

I often think of it when I look at elected officials.

#170 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 10:28 AM:

Re. wine in bottles, I don't think (Based on stuff I read about the history of glass I read a few years ago) big glass bottles were strong enough, cheap enough etc to use for transporting things at that time, so reckon Fidelio and Carol are correct. It was still very much a material for showing off and taking centre table, rather than the dull every day transportation of liquids.

But hey, it's an excuse to post a link to the Corning museum of glass with photos of amazing period glassware:
http://www.cmog.org/collection/galleries/roman-glass

#171 ::: Mongoose ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 11:41 AM:

Wine in bottles - pretty sure the word is translated as "skins" in the KJV, although that obviously isn't solid evidence, the KJV not being the most accurate translation in existence. However, on the basis of the historical evidence alluded to by other people here, I suspect it probably really was skins that were being talked about.

And this is where you get the next layer of fun with Scripture: translation. (You obviously get this layer of fun whenever anything has to be translated, but when it's material that people are going to be basing their lives on, it becomes a lot more important.) I'm an Italianist, not a Greekist, so I don't actually know what the original Greek word in the NT is which can be translated as either "bottles" or "skins". However, whatever the word is, it doesn't matter. The translator has a problem with it, come what may.

It's like this. At the time the NT was written, at least one common meaning of Word X was "vessel in which wine is sold, carried around and stored". History suggests that this vessel was normally made of skin, and the etymology and semantic space of Word X may well reflect that. But here and now, the word that means "vessel in which..." and so on is almost always "bottle" (or occasionally "winebox", but that's exceptional).

So, you're translating this parable, and you've got a choice. Do you say to yourself, "Ah, yes, Jesus was talking about vessels for carting wine about," and translate as "bottle"? Or do you say, "Yes, Jesus was talking about vessels for carting wine about, but in this particular context it's important that they should be skins, because bottles don't tend to burst if you get secondary fermentation in them, whereas the goatskins which were familiar to his audience, they would do that"?

For further reflection - and rather than allowing me to get started on the subject of translation, because if I do I will never shut up - I can highly recommend Umberto Eco's Mouse or Rat?, which goes into some detail about exactly this kind of issue.

#172 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 11:41 AM:

Michael Mooney (#167): St. Dismas is also the favorite patron saint of Poul Anderson's character, Nicholas van Rijn.

SamChevre (#169): That parable makes me think of people who are good at their jobs and are therefore promoted to management.

#173 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 11:49 AM:

Goldfish. Got it.

#174 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 11:49 AM:

Jim Macdonald #77: You're forgetting that fine oul Oirishman Eriugena who, back in the ninth century, refuted the proto-Calvinist Gottschalk by, as Helen Waddell so nicely put it, "refuting sin and hell". As universalism means that the divine mercy is infinite and all will be saved in the end (even old reprobates like me) it has a certain positive flavour.

Plus Eriugena had a fine wit (he responded to Charles the Bald's query as to the difference between a sot and a Scot -- the pun's identical in Latin -- by saying "the breadth of the table, sire").

#175 ::: Fragano Ledgister is off with the wraggle-taggle Gnomies o! ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 11:51 AM:

I have nice sweet grapes that I would be happy to share. Also a brand-spanking new book contract that the gnomes can help me fulfill.

#176 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 11:52 AM:

Xopher:

In Job - and in some other contexts - it appears to me that you are reading it, and contemplating the Hebrew God or Christian God, as if God were a person; just some guy, who's being mean to people arbitrarily. Given, the book of Job tells the story specifically that way - or at least the beginning seems to.

But it seems to me (granted, I'm coming at this as a Buddhist) that the whole point of Job is after all his misfortunes and after all the suffering of his family, at the point where Job realizes something akin to a Zen realization. When Job finally personally experiences God, he directly sees that God is not anything *like* a person, that God embodies everything about the universe and something more besides: amazing, terrifying, awe-inspiring, ecstatic, painful, wonderful, horrible, and from our limited viewpoints, apparently arbitrary. When he confronts THAT face to face, he can do nothing but accept it with joy and peace. That personal realization and heartfelt acceptance is where the story really ends, dramatically.

I view the bits after that as an afterword for the readers who have to know how all the characters ended up.

#177 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 12:30 PM:

#171 ::: Mongoose
...Umberto Eco's Mouse or Rat?,

Alas, the Denver Public Library findeth it not. Their closest suggestion is a book on how to decide between rats, mice, hamsters et. al. as pets, oddly looping back, or might be addressed in a different discussion opened by Teresa.

Rats. So to speak.

#178 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 12:35 PM:

Xopher 157 : Or, of course, theGnostics are talking out of the cave of the flying monkeys when they say that there was a Sooper Sekrit Teching that hadn't been passed on to anyone else but them. :)

#179 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 01:02 PM:

One interesting aspect of Simulation Argument is its surprising compatibility with Gnostic epistemology. Gnosticism holds that material reality is an illusion concealing a truer reality, and that souls are sparks of the divine that have become caught in the illusion.

The Simulation Argument's concordance with the first point is rather obvious. The second takes a bit of work: imagine you are a super-mind in the post-human future interested in creating a high fidelity recreation of the past. However, the past sucks, with pain and suffering and all that, and to create any self-aware entities and subject them to that reality would be clearly immoral. Assuming that we are not, as is so often the case with this kind of speculation, a mind that has immeasurable knowledge and power but the morality of a four year-old, this is self-evidently not permissible.

However: there is no moral prohibition for *imagining* pain and suffering yourself. If you are a super-mind, imagining a hi-fidelity recreation of the past, imagining that part of your own mind is a self-aware entity within it, and even imagining that you don't know that it is a simulation--it's no more than an exercise in moral sympathy; reading the diary of Anne Frank raised to the nth degree. Provided that it all happens within your own consciousness. In other words, the only morally viable solution to the Simulation Argument is that all the sentiences within the simulation are literally part of the super-mind that is running the simulation within itself--along, presumably, with the demiurge that authors the simulation world.

We are all just fragments of God, seeking to return to the whole.

(Not that the Simulation Argument is very plausible, ultimately.)

#180 ::: Jeff R. ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 02:28 PM:

So, a sort-of-related question that I've been wondering about for a little while that someone here might be able to answer:

What's up with the word 'heretic'? I mean, it means "clear sight" or something like that, so how did people go around calling people that in the original language while still holding the position that they were the ones who were wrong? Was there an obligatory 'so-called' that got dropped when the word moved into other languages, or was discourse back in those days actually as strongly steeped in irony and sarcasm as we moderns' is?

#181 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 03:53 PM:

re 180: Actually the root is αἵρεσις, meaning something chosen (that is, selected) or taken.

#182 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 04:09 PM:

Mongoose @171: The word is ἀσκός, and if you look it up in Liddell, Scott, and Jones it's pretty clear that it refers to containers made of skin or hide.

Jeff R. @180: I'm not sure where you're getting "clear sight" from. The well-attested etymology of "heretic" derives from a Greek word meaning "choice". So a heretic is one who has chosen something else to believe than the right opinions espoused by the main Church.

(I find it interesting that the medical procedure called "apheresis" is related; the details are beyond the scope of this post, but I can talk about them if anyone's interested.)

#183 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 06:39 PM:

Niall 164: Believe it or not I do know some literalists who believe that all the parables had to have happened exactly as related. This shows that they don't understand what a parable is, but literalism is a kind of ignorance anyway.

Less extremely, they believe that since the accounts of the Loaves and Fishes in different Gospels give different numbers of people fed, it must have happened more than once. They don't admit fallibility on the part of the Gospel writers, because they must have been guided by God (all the hacking in the OP here notwithstanding).

David 182: So a heretic is one who has chosen something else to believe than the right opinions espoused by the main Church.

Not according to...was is Augustine? Who said that if you believed things out of personal conviction or reasoning, rather than out of obedience to the Church, you were still a heretic even if you believed all the same things as the Church.

In the tradition of "hard cases make bad law," we have "hard questions make bad theology." That one is particularly poisonous.

#184 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 07:05 PM:

Xopher @157:

That leaves only the idea that any of the teachers, or Irenaeus himself, could have been outright lying. Which I bet the Gnostics didn't claim (except anonymously in the comments).
That's the real virtue of an exclusive cult: you can preach doctrines that wouldn't otherwise survive scrutiny.

When I try to imagine the Gnostics making the "Everyone's wrong except for us, and the obvious interpretations are all incorrect" argument, my imagined Irenaeus starts looking like Jim in his "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" mode.

Heresiarch @179:

(Not that the Simulation Argument is very plausible, ultimately.)
But ingenious! I hadn't heard it before.

Jeff R. @180 et al.: Thomas Aquinas has a good basic definition of it. This is from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

St. Thomas (II-II:11:1) defines heresy: "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas." ... "The right Christian faith consists in giving one's voluntary assent to Christ in all that truly belongs to His teaching. There are, therefore, two ways of deviating from Christianity: the one by refusing to believe in Christ Himself, which is the way of infidelity; ... the other by restricting belief to certain points of Christ's doctrine selected and fashioned at pleasure, which is the way of heretics. The subject-matter of both faith and heresy is, therefore, the deposit of the faith, that is, the sum total of truths revealed in Scripture and Tradition as proposed to our belief by the Church. The believer accepts the whole deposit as proposed by the Church; the heretic accepts only such parts of it as commend themselves to his own approval.
Some years back, I was told that heresy consists of overvaluing or overemphasizing some doctrine to the detriment of all the others. Which all fits.

#185 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 08:01 PM:

I'm not familiar with Eco's Mouse or Rat? but I can comment on a point raised above:

Marcion was not actually called "The Pontic Rat." he was called "mus Pontus" which you could render as either "The Pontic Rat" or "The Pontic Mouse." The images and connotations are very different for English speakers.

If the Ante-Nicene Fathers has been speaking modern English they might have called Marcion "The Pontic Fruitbat."

(It has also been said that no one in the second century understood Paul except Marcion -- and Marcion was mistaken.)

#186 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 08:14 PM:

It's one of those phrases that is conjugated for first, second, and third persons.

  1. I have favorite Bible verses.

  2. You pick and choose what to believe.

  3. He or she is a heretic.

#187 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 08:33 PM:

Yeah, "You pick and choose what to believe." Sometimes called "cafeteria Catholics."

My own definition of Catholic is "Someone with an obscure doctrinal disagreement with the Pope."

#188 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 09:14 PM:

Good point about wine coming in skins... There may still have been some change in practices, but on the other hand Tertullian may just have been abusing the difference between "nobody does THAT" and "it's impossible to do that".

#189 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 09:45 PM:

Remember this is second century fanwank. With all the wankiness of fanwanking everywhere.

#190 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 10:15 PM:

I suspect wine in skins was what you brought home from the market; it was shipped in amphorae, because they're easier to deal with.

#191 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 11:38 PM:

I think he meaneth, "No *sensible person* putteth new wine in old bottles ..."

#192 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2013, 11:46 PM:

"No True Scotsman putteth new wine in old bottles..."

#193 ::: JIm Lund ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 12:04 AM:

Off topic a bit, does there exist a project to assemble an online library of ancient written works intended to be complete? Before you laugh too hard, if you start back far enough--say 3000 BCE--there is hardly anything to compile. And then the project can work forward until the project spreads out too much.

There are practical problems--images vs symbols and alphabets, fragmentary or derivative manuscripts, arguments over translation, historical translations versus modern ones, organization by region or language, but they have all been worked over by scholars and traditional publishers. The result would look like a cross proto-Project Gutenberg / Wiki.

It seems that most of the ancient manuscripts are referenced in fragments in medieval studies books and rare manuscripts. I hear about this stuff by third hand descriptions rather than by to links to online reference copies.

#194 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 08:19 AM:

Xopher, #192: However, true scotch whisky is always matured in old barrels (part of the definition includes not using previously-unused barrels).

#195 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 08:42 AM:

CD @ 194, which begs the question; where do those scotch barrels come from, if you can never used new barrels? Sooner or later they have to wear out, don't they? Do they just throw out the first batch in the new barrel (that sounds wasteful to me) or do they get the barrels from some other fermenting process that doesn't require old barrels?

#196 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 08:52 AM:

Cassy B @195--Old wine barrels are popular choices, especially those from port and sherry. I've heard of used bourbon barrels being shipped over as well.

#197 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 08:58 AM:

Fidelio @196, Cool. Now I'm wondering whether first-batch-from-old-sherry-barrel tastes differently from first-batch-from-old-wine-barrel (and different wines, at that...) Note this is purely hypothetical, since all alcohol in any form tastes like paint thinner (hypothetically) to me....

But I find discussions of wine/beer/liquor flavors understandable if I just mentally translate to, say, cheeses.... (Does that sound weird? It's not meant to sound weird.)

#198 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 09:12 AM:

TNH #146: I consider Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell to be a novel in the Tolkien class of fantasy. One of those that changed the genre for the better.

IANARC, but my mother is a cradle Catholic and some of it rubs off. I've come across weirder conspiracy theories: The secret Anglican plot is one I especially cherish; no one ever let me in on it, and I was confirmed and all. You'd think that friendship with priests, deaconesses, and even bishops would let me in to the inner sanctum. But, no. I've done better with the Catholics, at least they allowed me to take a perfectly illicit photograph of the Botafumeiro the last time I was in Compostela.

#199 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 09:26 AM:

Cassy B @ 197

Now I'm wondering whether first-batch-from-old-sherry-barrel tastes differently from first-batch-from-old-wine-barrel

Absolutely. It is generally labeled, but it's pretty noticeable even without the labels.

Bourbon must be aged in new barrels; Scotch must be aged in used barrels. This works out well for everyone--the "standard" barrel for Scotch is a used bourbon barrel. Generally, Scotch finished in something else will be labeled as such. (Look at the Glenmorangie site for a good example.)

More on-topic--Xopher @ 183

Are you talking parables, or miracles? (I maintain that the miracles happened, and that a parable could have happened (Parable of the Sower) while a fable could not have happened (Fable of the Trees)--but that's a linguistic distinction--Scripture clearly includes both.)

#200 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 09:45 AM:

Cassy B @197--Balvenie uses old Madeira barrels for some of their product. The practice is spreading to high-end tequila and rum, as well.

Try googling 'Scotch wine barrel' for more.

#201 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 12:05 PM:

heresiarch (#1709): The Simulation Argument is interesting but it doesn't matter.

I love my wife, I want to do well at work. I'm hungry for breakfast now but I want to get a couple more things done before I break.

If the universe is a simulation: Well, I still love the part of the simulation that is my wife. I want to do well at my simulation of work. And my simulated belly wants me to put some food in it.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden (#184): As you (and Jim) may know: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence was originally stated by Carl Sagan with regard to UFOs. What he meant to say was that if you're just talking about some mundane event like a car accident, the evidence of three eyewitnesses is acceptable to anybody. The red car ran a red light and T-boned the blue car.

But if you're talking about something extraordinary -- like extraterrestrial visitors -- well, ordinary evidence like a few eyewitnesses doesn't cut it.

I have found this to be an incredibly useful rule of thumb, over time. It applies particularly well to political conspiracy theories (Obama Muslim Kenya sleeper agent, etc.).

It's also useful in personal life. If someone tells you that he saw your best friend in Starbucks the other day, well, that's an ordinary event, so you can believe they were in Starbucks. If someone tells you your best friend betrayed you, well, that's an extraordinary event, so you'd better get some extraordinary evidence before plotting your vengeance.

#202 ::: D. Eppstein ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 02:07 PM:

Jim @ 193: for Greek (from Homer to the fall of Byzantium), there's the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae corpus. I don't know about other languages, but I expect similar projects exist.

#203 ::: D. Eppstein has gnoméd been ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 02:12 PM:

It's a bit early in the day here yet for strong drink, but I can offer fresh-squeezed orange juice.

#204 ::: D. Eppstein, doubly gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 02:45 PM:

Maybe unlinking my name will help.

#205 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 04:58 PM:

#198 ::: Fragano Ledgister

What effect do you think Jonathan Strange has had on fantasy?

#206 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 05:55 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @205: You didn't ask me, but one thing I think its massive monetary success did was convince publishers en masse that 'Victorianish' is a valid fantasy setting to scratch the serial numbers off of, as much as 'medievaloid' or 'Renaissancey'.

Certainly the number of books published after JS&MN encompassing that kind of setting seems much larger than those published before ... though I might not have been looking in the right places.

#207 ::: mimi ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 08:48 PM:

Cassy B @197 - I recently visited the Jameson distillery in Dublin (well, what used to be the distillery before they ran out of room and upped stakes for Cork) and they said they age their whiskey in old port, sherry, and bourbon barrels, and then mix the three different results together.

A few months ago, I went to a small rye whiskey distillery in Northern Virginia (Catoctin Creek); apparently US law requires that whiskey (and bourbon) be aged in new barrels, so that's what they do. Some of their used barrels get sold to a local guy who ages maple syrup in them, and that stuff is amazing.

I've been considering experimenting with doing my own liquor aging; there are a few websites out there that will sell you new barrels. But it will probably be awhile before I get around to it.

#208 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 09:29 PM:

It may seem peculiar from someone who cannot stomach the result, but I love to learn about process, and I have to say, the process of bourbon- and scotch-making is fascinating. Thanks to all who have put in their two cents.

#209 ::: Jim Lund ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2013, 11:10 PM:

@202 D. Eppstein: Thanks, the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae corpus is just what I was looking for! But unfortunately, it is currently a dead resource locked up behind a subscription wall, and AFAICT only available offline (on CD!). And worse, its existence no doubt discourages scholars from building a parallel open resource.

#210 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 12:25 AM:

There's a great deal of Latin and Greek online at perseus.tufts.edu, albeit not everything extant.

#211 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 06:43 AM:

fidelio @ #168:

I have always heard that it was the US cooper-makers and logging industryu that pushed that into practice.

Most Scottish whisky is aged in ex-bourbon casks, shipped from the US, with other woods (sherry, madeira, cognac, wine, ...) just used for finishing. Specifically madeira and port barrels darken the whisky something fierce, so those are almost only ever used for finishing.

Then there's the multi-finished whiskies, for an extra complex taste.

Cassy B @ #197:

Yes, to some extent.

SamChevre @ #199:

More like "four Scotch barrels started their lives as five bourbon barrels" (they're shipped as staves and re-assembled to barrels in Scotland, but the whisky cask is typically larger than the bourbon cask, so uses more staves of a given size).

#212 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 09:22 AM:

Ingvar @211--That would not surprise me in the least.

#213 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 09:35 AM:

More like "four Scotch barrels started their lives as five bourbon barrels" (they're shipped as staves and re-assembled to barrels in Scotland, but the whisky cask is typically larger than the bourbon cask, so uses more staves of a given size).

That makes for an interesting definition of "old barrel"!

#214 ::: Laura Runkle ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 10:39 AM:

Xopher@149
It helps a lot to recognize that Job was written in two parts. The core, much older part of Job is the stuff starting at about 2:9 to 42:6, (From "sucks to be you" to "sorry I asked.") while the rest of it is a later frame. I'm sorry I don't have my citations - it's been more than one flood and many years.

Two things to understand about the later frame - First - God is not the cause of the misfortunes that come upon Job. Second - Job didn't cause these by things he did. He didn't bring it on himself as righteous retribution. I am not a theologian, nor do I play one on TV, but these are pretty important points to comment upon in order for the underlying story to be clear.

So then it comes back to the case of "Duuuude - God *let* Satan do this to Job? How could he? He knew Satan had bad plans! He should have protected Job!" Which is, in fact, the point of the whole free will thing, and the whole "I know you're trying to, but I don't think you really understand" thing.

But I don't see the outer framing story as a really nasty bet about "Can you break this?" Instead I see it as "Totally not Job's fault, you can't say that he brought it on himself, nor can you say that God did it to him."

#215 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 10:51 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz #205: For me, Jonathan Strange with its blend of allohistory, fantasy, early nineteenth century novelistic tropes, and elements of Regency romance had the dual effect of making fantasy open to a history that wasn't the conventional one of masculine heroism (though that was present), a faery that was both dangerous and yet accessible, and a world in which people like myself could be present. Clarke calqued her fantasy on the real multicultural history of the early nineteenth century as well as on the multicultural reality of early twenty-first century Britain.

Tolkien was deliberately seeking to construct a fantasy world that could provide a mythos for England, on the basis of the late modern rural life of the Midlands. Clarke creates a mythos on the basis of post-modern Britain projected backwards to its multicultural origins in the Regency period. The result is a story that speaks to a wide variety of people, and does things that other writers, Neil Gaiman in American Gods for example, have also learnt to do: connect simultaneously to multiple audiences and bring them into the worlds they have imagined. because they can find themselves in those worlds.

#216 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 01:16 PM:

#206 ::: Elliott Mason

I'm not sure how much Victorian fantasy is influenced by JS&MN, and how much is the result of the rise of steampunk.

#215 ::: Fragano Ledgister

That sounds to me like trends which were happening anyway rather than influenced by the particular book, but I may be missing something.

#217 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 04:03 PM:

#152 ::: SamChevre
But the Gnostics postulated something much more fundamental; their claim (as I understand it) was that the entire story was a falsehood intended to appeal to the masses
So basically Irenaeus = NASA engineer facing the nth person who thinks that if they harass him enough, he’ll break down and admit the Moon landing was faked?

#218 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 04:36 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @216 (in response to Fragano Ledgister @215)--I think there were works* that were approached fantasy in historic contexts more modern than the Renaissance, but when a book has a big success, it encouranges other writers to develop ideas they may have, and it gives publishers some confidence that there's a market for such things. I'm sure steampunk hasn't hurt matters any, but a book like JS&MN can act as a catalyst between potential works and possible publication.


*Much of Stevermer's work, with or without Wrede, for example.

#219 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 05:05 PM:

>So basically Irenaeus = NASA engineer facing the nth person who thinks that if they harass him enough, he’ll break down and admit the Moon landing was faked?

That's actually a pretty good way of putting it.

(I wonder if this "the Founder had the Secret Teaching that only I know" shtick applies in other religions than Christianity -- I think the Lotus Sutra may be a similar thing in Buddhism...)

#220 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 05:20 PM:

Tony Zbaraschuk: Then there are religions/groups that actually do sort of work that way, like what (little) we (actually) know about Mithraism, or some historical periods of Masonic lodges.

If NOTHING actually worked that way it'd be far more trivial to push off the people trying to insist EVERYTHING works that way. :->

#221 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 05:44 PM:

This is just to say
I have put the old wine
That you were saving
Into the new I CAN'T DO IT

#222 ::: Teka Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 05:54 PM:

So a "Job's comforter" is basically someone being terribly hlepy, correct?

#223 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 06:47 PM:

If I never see the so-called word "hlepy" again it will be too soon.

"Hlepy" is a way of disparaging people who try to help, but in the wrong way (according to the person who needed the help in the first place).

If someone ever says to me, "You're being hlepy" my response will be, "Then fuck you. You're on your own."

#224 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 07:03 PM:

See, Jim, to me (I've been over in the DFD threads a lot, where that word is really useful for helping hurt people get past the outsider-imposed scripts about what they're supposed to want or supposed to feel), if I were to tell someone they were hleping me, what I would be trying to say is "I know and love you (enough to have explained hlep beforehand), but please please what you are doing right now is unintentionally hurtful. Please back off, or ask what help I need, instead of snowing me under with things that make it worse."

Do you have a better way of saying that, without the four-letter word? Because my longer version is too long for actual conversational use.

#225 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 07:04 PM:

Jim, you know the story of the guy who stalled out and couldn't afford a two truck and flagged someone down and asked him to help him push his car to the side of the road...which someone then proceeded to call a tow truck? And the original guy said "I can't afford a tow truck, which is why I didn't call one myself. Please help me push"? And the someone said "you need a tow truck"?

Sometimes helping in the wrong way is really harmful. It's not always a matter of preference, and you, Jim, are vastly more likely to give appropriate help than most people, and therefore people turning down your help are more likely to be doing so for stupid reasons.

#226 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 07:07 PM:

tow* truck, not two truck. FFS, Xopher.

#227 ::: JimV ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 07:08 PM:

RE: "The Christian message was news to be spread, not a secret to be kept. It's still not a secret. "Have you read any of the literature on that subject?" is one of the stock answers I give atheists who are grousing about doctrine. (Spoiler alert: they haven't.) Vast amounts of material, from basic to advanced, is available online, and more goes up every day."

Oh, so there's some stuff which wasn't included in my (roughly) 15 years of Sunday School, Church, Evening Youth Service, Daily Vacation Bible School, and Release Time (from public school) Religious Education which explains all the contradictions, the lack of correspondence with reality, and the way many Christians act on Mondays through Saturdays (cover it up, stonewall, move the priest to another parish)? Okay, then.

I'm with Feynman: this whole universe is just so we could partake in a brief morality play before graduating into one of two or more other universes? The stage is too big for the play.

I enjoyed the post. How anybody could see how the sausage was made - no divine revelation in sight, just lots of tall tale tellers, every word written, edited, translated, and published by humans - and still take it semi-seriously floors me. Not that what I think amounts to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

#228 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 07:16 PM:

Elliott, the fact remains: If someone says "You're being hlepy" my response will be, "Then fuck you."

Xopher, the guy who called the tow truck should pay for it. Pushing the car to the side of the road doesn't solve the problem.

My response to the person if he said "You're being hlepy!" would be, "Then fuck you, you're on your own." Because if he needs a tow truck wishing that he didn't need one won't change the situation.

#229 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 07:19 PM:

And as I understand it, being "hlepy" isn't actually calling the tow truck, it's suggesting that the guy might want to call a tow truck.

#230 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 07:46 PM:

That's why I was asking for help with wording, Jim, so I don't provoke that reaction out of people like you.

And calling the tow truck may overwhelmingly be MORE hlepy than just suggesting it, because now the person who can't afford one is committed to paying for them showing up.

#231 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 08:13 PM:

No, the person who called the tow truck is on the hook for paying for it. The other guy can truthfully say, "I didn't call you," and tell the tow driver to take off.

The word "hlepy" is a way of sneering at people of good will who genuinely care.

#232 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 08:24 PM:

It's a true story, Jim. The guy just wanted to get the car out of a dangerous intersection. The story is here.

#233 ::: Christian B ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 08:29 PM:

Ah, church fathers. All I can remember now from my reading of Tertullian is that
(a) he believed, with the Taliban, that shaving was a sin, implying as it did that you knew better than God what you ought to look like; and
(b) he believed that one of the joys of the saved in heaven was looking down at the damned in hell and doing the full Nelson Muntz.
He ended up a heretic (though a very influential one) because he refused to forgive people who'd apostasized during the persecutions, while the official church needed their expertise and was prepared to make allowances.

#234 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 08:34 PM:

Hlepy as a neologism is an attempt to wordify, concretely, the known phenomenon that includes, say, a hyperactive dog 'helping' you make the bed by jumping on the sheet and playing tug with it. And other things humans do to each other out of good will ... or determination on the part of the help-er that THEY KNOW BEST about the help-ee, rather than asking -- happens a LOT from parents against children in dysfunctional families.

A related phenomenon is the people who get everyone else the gifts they really, really want. The year Aunt Agatha found a great inexpensive real-down comforter and decided everyone in the family needed one, even the people who already know they dislike down bedding ...

You wouldn't hlep in an Aunt Agatha way, Jim, because you're more self-aware and empathetic than that. And I think you're probably less prone to hlepiness at all because you actually listen and often ask questions first, before proffering help.

That doesn't make it NOT a very useful word, or at least a concept to wordify so we can look at it all in one place.

Not that any of this has anything to do with the top post. :-> But the wordification of that concept and the ability to call it SOMETHING (instead of not being able to think about it coherently) is something that a lot of the DFD regulars have strong, positive emotional reactions to, because that wordification (and the examinations it makes possible) has had massive positive effects in our lives.

Or mine, anyway.

So seeing it paired instantly and angrily with "Fuck You!" gave me some serious emotional whiplash.

#235 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 08:44 PM:

Jim, I use the word "hlepy" as a way for ME to be mindful that MY advice may be unwelcome or actively harmful. I don't call other people "hlepy" (or "helpy"); I preface my own suggestions to people who are coming from a difficult place with "please ignore this if it's hlepy", because I recognize that since I don't know the situation perfectly, my thoughts may be inapplicable or even actively harmful. This is especially true in interpersonal relations; my relationship with my parents was by no means perfect but I never had to fear (for example) kidnapping by them.

I'm owned by two cats. They love to "help" me. Their "help", while adorable, often extends the task to double or triple the time it would take otherwise. I know they mean no harm; what term would you use for this (other than "help" with scarequotes)?

#236 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 09:04 PM:

Jim! Don't do this!

#237 ::: Teka Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 09:23 PM:

I feel as though I triggered an explosion. My half-joking little comment wasn't intended to do that, and I apologize if I triggered anyone. I'm a bit stunned. Part of it is that I've never quite understood the term "Job's comforter" and the h-word seemed to sum up what I think the meaning is nicely.

I know there was an early medieval church official, Venetian, I believe, who was quite incensed at a Byzantine princess who married into Venetian aristocracy and insisted on using forks to eat. FORKS! Fingers weren't good enough for the likes of her! He was positive she'd burn in hellfire.

#238 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 09:38 PM:

For a long time folks thought that perhaps Bishop Irenaeus had exaggerated the Gnostic beliefs. Their writings were mostly lost; what we knew about them was what their enemies said.

Then, in 1945, a clay jar turned up in the Egyptian desert containing a bunch of fourth century Coptic copies of gnostic books (the Nag Hammadi library) and it turned out that Irenaeus had been scrupulously fair in describing gnosticism.

Best guess about how they got there was that when Athanasius was bishop he passed the word that gnostic literature was right out. There had been a monastery nearby so the monks would have followed the bishop's orders but were unable to bring themselves to destroy their books. Instead, they preserved them the best they could, off site.

#239 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 10:23 PM:

Sometimes people of good will who genuinely care are nonetheless blind. I remember Syd telling us about the fellow she did some errands for, who rewarded her with a whole ham...at a time when she was living in a homeless shelter, with no access to kitchen facilities or refrigerated storage.

Also sometimes people don't have good will, such as the person who responds to, "How do I deal with this Windows problem I'm having?" with "Go to www.ubuntu.com/download...."

Yes, the word can be misused to sneer at people who don't deserve it. There are lots of words that can be used that way, and that doesn't make them not useful.

#240 ::: David Goldfarb is gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 10:24 PM:

Probably for the inclusion of a ".com" URL. Oops.

#241 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2013, 10:46 PM:

Actually they had found gnostic texts in the Oxyrhynchus papyri (aka rifling through antiquity's wastebasket) which were mostly collected around the turn of the century. They didn't really understand what they were at the time, though.

#242 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 02:23 AM:

When helpiness* is offered out of good will but lack of thinking-it-through, I sometimes call it weasel help.

When it's offered out of "I know better than you do what you feel and what you want/need, so I am going to ignore everything you say," then the appropriate response is FOAD. And if expressing my opinion that someone is being helpy causes them to say, "fuck off, you're on your own," that is an improvement in my situation because I no longer have to deal with their helpiness.

* I also dislike the spelling "hlepy", but that's because it feels to me like an unnecessary and non-useful elaboration on a word which already fits the required parameters.

#243 ::: iamnothing ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 02:25 AM:

Tony Zbaraschuk @219: I think the oral tradition in one of the Zen sects concerning their origin with a single major disciple and mind-to-mind transmission is a better example.

#244 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 02:31 AM:

Guys, I think it might be better if we tied off the "hlepy/helpy" discussion here.

#245 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 07:57 AM:

Jim @238:
Best guess about how they got there was that when Athanasius was bishop he passed the word that gnostic literature was right out. There had been a monastery nearby so the monks would have followed the bishop's orders but were unable to bring themselves to destroy their books. Instead, they preserved them the best they could, off site.

Thus proving the value of offsite backups.

Papyrus is extremely durable, particularly in the desert. We have some of the ancient works we do only because someone used the backs of the leaves for more ephemeral purposes and then threw them away.

One always wonders what else is out there, as yet unrecovered.

#246 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 08:08 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz #216: Jonathan Strange was a work of such major importance that it jumped the ghetto walls and attracted mainstream attention. I first heard of it on the bookchat programme of my local public radio station, when Susanna Clarke was interviewed. When I read it I was completely blown away in a manner that I had not expected.

There is an experience that I have, every time I've gone back to Britain in the past few decades, of finding it more and more my country. I'm not sure that it is one that is easy to put into words. When I left, I was someone who belonged but did not fit in. Each time I go back, it is to a place where, more and more I find I belong. Jonathan Strange is a novel that takes a world of fantasy and adapts the history of Britain in such a way that it makes that belonging possible, not just for me, but for a host of people like me. It makes me wish that there were writers like Susanna Clarke when I was a boy of ten and first entering into the realm of fantasy. C.S. Lewis, looking backwards into the late Victorian era, or Walter de la Mare, doing the same, just didn't hack it. Tolkien, when I encountered him in my teens, was a true genius, but his England was not mine.

Clarke opens up a world, and from my perspective, makes possible whole realms of the fantastic.

#247 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 08:59 AM:

I heard some coverage in a biographical discussion about Maimonides and his work of a trove of documents and texts originally buried beneath the Cairo synagogue. Burying is(/was?) the recommended method for properly and respectfully disposing of writing that might contain the Tetragrammaton, and at the time that congregation did it for basically any loose stuff lying around written in Hebrew, to be careful.

There was some amazing cross-pollination in theological and philosophical thinking going on in the Ottoman courts at the time (1200ish ff) amongst Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars -- it is possible (in the trove's letters in his hand and his published writings) apparently to track influences well-known Christian theological movements had on his thinking and vice-versa.

#248 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 09:06 AM:

Fragano, your comments on Jonathan Strange (#215, #246) are fascinating. I love the book, but I've never thought about it in these terms -- as a creation of a mythos based on "post-modern Britain projected backwards to its multicultural origins in the Regency period." And I'm struck by your report of its effect on you, helping you reclaim swathes of cultural heritage you previously felt no ownership of. This is something great fantasy can do at the top of its game.

#249 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 09:16 AM:

Elliott Mason @247--The documents in the Cairo Geniza have proved to be a treasure-trove--in addition to literary, religious, and philosophical works, there are a lot of legal documents and correspondence in the collection, which are also of great value. They started sticking things in there around 870 CE, and kept adding them until around 1880...

#250 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 09:19 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz, #216 -- Issues of quality aside, Jonathan Strange had an impact on publishing far beyond that of 99% of the genre-published works of steampunk or Victorian fantasy published since 2000 or so. It was published outside of genre, it actually was a global bestseller that sold in numbers well beyond what most genre works achieve, and it was read by hundreds of thousands of people who don't read a lot in our genre. I can assure you that it had a direct impact on what publishers view as commercially plausible, and that many books published since might not have been published (or might have been published in a much less ambitious way) were it not for Susanna Clarke's novel.

Mind you, Clarke is perfectly happy to be counted as One Of Us--heck, she's married to an SF&F writer, Colin Greenland.

It's also true that Jonathan Strange was one of those books bought by significantly more people than actually finished it (the classic example of this being The Name of the Rose), because Bloomsbury did a magnificent job of making the entire world curious about this very odd, very long first novel. But lots and lots of people did finish it, and many of them liked it a great deal. Meanwhile, from a publisher's perspective, sold is sold. It's clear that 19th-century elements are no inherent bar to commercial fantasy success--real mass success, not just success at reaching the niche-within-a-niche "steampunk" or "gaslight fantasy" markets. (Healthy though those are, relatively speaking.)

#251 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 09:41 AM:

PNH @250 It's also true that Jonathan Strange was one of those books bought by significantly more people than actually finished it

(Raises hand.)

I've bounced off it twice now. Fragano's comments have made me consider trying again.

#252 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 09:55 AM:

OtterB: It reads a lot like "Literary Fiction," meaning what they shelve under FICTION at the bookstore. The protocols and assumptions made about the things the reader will be interested in are radically different than those made in most spec-fic I've read, and I found it a difficult slog. I could only make myself put up with the prose (apologies to those who enjoyed that part; it was heavy uphill work to me) because I was fascinated by the worldbuilding.

I have retained almost no memory of about 80% of the content of the novel. Which is another thing it has in common with Tolkien ...

#253 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 10:25 AM:

I've bounced off JS&MN a couple of times-- as a result of this discussion, I'm going to give it another try.

I've finished Name of the Rose.

I managed a volume and a half of Remembrance of Things Past.

#254 ::: Porlock Junior ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 11:31 AM:

The remarkable #77, with its treatment of several mysteries, invites a couple of comments, since the thread remains open.

First, I am gobsmacked to learn that Aquinas was one of those soft-headed Universalists, believing that everyone would be saved. How the hell does tht fit into the whole structure of respectable Chirstian thought, with its eternal damnation and all. It's just kind of eternal?

(Was going to say bleeding-heart, but that seems an inappropriate insult what with the Sacred Heart and all.)

A mere sidelight: When Gutenberg invented printing (or, if you prefer, introduced printing from movable type into the Euroverse), how long did it take for someone to start printing business forms, and for what business? Readers will guess that it didn't take long, a few years, and that the forms were for Indulgences. Right. The British Library, of course, has a sample.

#255 ::: Porlock Junior ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 11:51 AM:

Oops. Apologies to Phersv@137. Here it gets too complicated for me.

Meanwhile, the Aquinas argument relies on an unstated assumption: that there are, or ever will be, only a finite number of souls.

If there were infinitely many, then he could pardon only the even-numbered souls and leave the infinity of odd souls still damned forever. Galileo could have told him this, if it weren't for a problem with chronology.

But with finitely many souls, he could indulge each one in succession and still have inifinite time on his hands, same as Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged.

(Then again, an infinite universe seems to have been problematic at one time, being apparently the main problem that got Giordano Bruno burned. Is an infinite creation still heretical? And does that mean God can't make an infinite universe? Is his infiniteness not as strong as the Continuum? Or was this just more of the slavish devotion to Aristotle?)

#256 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 12:39 PM:

Porlock Junior @ 255: I'm slowly making my way through a book on Georg Cantor and his influence on Christian theology and philosophy. If I find any answers in there, I'll let you know.

#257 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 12:42 PM:

In defense of esoteric, secret knowledges (mind you it's not a whole-hearted defense), sometimes there are insights or beliefs which it is not a good idea to bandy about freely, either because they're liable to get you killed (eg. taqiyya) or because they are very easy for novices to tragically misapprehend (eg. Kabbalah). In those cases, "let's lie about this to outsiders" or "you can only study this under the direct supervision of a master" make a bit of sense.

On Job, there are two concrete examples God points out that form my (non-Christian, atheistic) understanding of the story. The first is Behemoth: you don't get Behemoth. Sure, tail like a cedar, bones like iron. But you don't ask why Behemoth? It's just there; you do not expect to encompass it within your power. When things amaze you with their beneficence or awe you with their magnificence you don't demand explanation: why do you think suffering alone has to make sense? The second is: "Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?" One being's suffering is the precondition of another's satisfaction, and God must encompass them all.

#258 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 01:04 PM:

#254 : Porlock Junior

I have since been corrected: That wasn't Aquinas but rather Origen of Alexandria. Still, it makes sense to me, and fits better with a God who is both just and merciful.

Yes, sinners are condemned to everlasting hell. This is just. Yes, God saves them. This is merciful. Thus both conditions are fulfilled.

As to an infinite number of souls, if we assume a Second Coming, Last Day, End of the World, and Final Judgment, then we are assuming a finite number of souls.

Dies Irae, y'all.

#259 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 03:00 PM:

PNH, #250: I'm reasonably sure that I finished The Name of the Rose -- but I could be wrong, because I have absolutely no memory of what the book was about except "monks and flagellation". This does not bode well for my trying to read JS&MN, even though I have fannish friends who waxed as rhapsodic about it as they do about Austen.

#260 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 03:12 PM:

Fragano @246: So, Susanna Clarke has accomplished a great work of transformational magic. I'm delighted for both of you, but at bottom I'm not surprised. Great fantasy sometimes has the power to transform the world at a moment when we're looking away from it to read a book.

My beef with less-than-great genre fantasy is that it reshuffles the furniture over there while doing nothing of any especial note to readers here.

#261 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 03:39 PM:

I never read "The Name of the Rose", but I saw the movie. When F.Murray Abraham's carriage finally showed up and went past the locals waiting by the side of the road, my wife and I turned to each other and said:

"EVERYBODY expects the Italian Inquisition!"

#262 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 03:44 PM:

Lee @259 ...I have absolutely no memory of what the book was about except "monks and flagellation".

The end is about comedy and (rot13 for spoilers) cbvfba.

I do find JS&MN lags somewhere in the second half, which makes it very like most 19th century novels I've read.

#263 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 04:09 PM:

Serge, the movie was a piece of art in its own right, but a travesty as an adaptation of the book. For one thing [spoiler for book] gurl qba'g fnir gur tvey be xvyy gur onq thl in the book.

Of course, the movie adapts only the plot of the book, which is perfectly appropriate, but not really what the book is about. The story is only a frame for some rather interesting discourse on semiotics. It is, for example, the first place I encountered a clear explanation of de dicto and de re. Confusion and deception between the two is the linchpin of many a joke, but I'd never had names for them or had it explained so clearly. It's a plot element in the book, but its use in the story supports the semiotic discussion, rather than being primary (in my humble opinion).

I should reread that book, now that I'm remembering what I liked about it.

#264 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 06:20 PM:

On The Name of the Rose, if you have a copy, look for the first physical description of William, and then at A Study in Scarlet.

I am reliably informed that the original in Il nome della rosa is a word-for-word lift from the Italian translation of A Study in Scarlet, but the translator missed it and gave us a translation of a translation, instead of just giving us the original again.

#265 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 07:48 PM:

255: I could construct a good Thomist argument that scripture teaches that there will be a finite number of souls on earth. After all, it has a temporal beginning and will have limited span of years before the old earth passes away; therefore, given the finitude of the material there can thus be a limited number of souls born in that timeframe, which are the ones that in need of salvation.

#266 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 08:02 PM:

265
And a sufficiently large number is, practically speaking, indistinguishable from infinity, to anyone who isn't a god.

#267 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 09:51 PM:

PNH #248: Thank you. I wasn't sure I'd communicated my point, and I'm glad to see I had. As I said, Jonathan Strange bowled me over, and I've been praising it ever since.

Re your #250: I did finish The Name of the Rose, and I hadn't even read much Aristotle at the time (the early 80s) either. I had, however, read the entire Holmesian canon and could detect Sherlock, er, Thomas of Bradwardine at 50 paces. I found the mystery of the hidden Aristotelian treatise in the finis Africæ fascinating. I understand that Jonathan Strange sold well beyond genre; as I said, I first heard of it on a local NPR bookchat programme.

TNH #260: I agree on less-than-great fantasy.

#268 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 10:24 PM:

#266 P J Evans

And a sufficiently large number is, practically speaking, indistinguishable from infinity, to anyone who isn't a god.

An infinite number of mathematicians walk into a bar. The first calls for a beer. The second calls for half a beer. The third calls for a quarter of a beer. The fourth calls for an eighth of a beer, the fifth for a sixteenth of a beer. ... the nth calls for 1/2n-1 beer....

The mathematicians are still ordering (indeed, there's still an infinite line stretching out the door) when the bartender pours two beers and says, "Gung'f lbhe yvzvg."

#269 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2013, 11:03 PM:

268
Here, have another internet. (They make ni9ce bookends, I hear.)

#270 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 12:50 AM:

I'm another who bounced off Jonathan Strange. I also bounced off Bly's Possession. I'll have to try them both again some day; people whose tastes I respect have raved about both of them. It's possible I just wasn't in the right mood for either. With Possession, I could see that it was well written from a craft standpoint; it's just the the characters entirely failed to engage me. I'm not sure about Strange. It might have been the characters, or maybe something else. I dunno. Perhaps I'll like it in five years or so; stranger things have happened.

#271 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 12:57 AM:

Jonathan Strange sat on my To Read shelf for a long time. When reaching for the next book, I always picked something else because it was just so HUGE. I like to carry my book on the bus to read, and tomes are a hassle. It finally went into a stack to sell back. Now that I have a Kobo reader—and hearing this praise—I should give it another chance.

#272 ::: Mongoose ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 04:36 AM:

Jim: *applause*

I've read Jonathan Strange. I found it an absorbing story, but there was one thing about it that bugged me and that nobody here has yet mentioned, so I'm starting to think perhaps it was just me. Did anyone else find the period style inauthentic? Not horribly so - it was a pretty impressive attempt - but just enough "off" for it to jar now and again.

#273 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 06:44 AM:

I too bounced off JS&MN the first time; then I read The Ladies of Grace Adieu and decided to give it another shot. The second time worked. Then I got the Nook version and ran through it in two days--apparently the size of the object makes a difference. (But I still have the enormous hardcover because it's so pretty.)

#274 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 08:17 AM:

Xopher @ 263... the movie was a piece of art in its own right, but a travesty as an adaptation of the book

So I had heard.

#275 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 08:20 AM:

About books that understandably get lauded, but from which some of us bounce off...
For me, it'd be pretty much anything by Kim Stanley Robinson.

#276 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 09:19 AM:

Serge Broom @275: His Mars epic is the only thing he's ever written I've actually read and enjoyed like a normal book. Some of his short fiction I made it through in a 'weird experience' kind of way, but it wasn't comfortable or ordinary. And none of the rest of his longform can get me past its first chapter without total boredom.

#277 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 10:42 AM:

Re Kim Stanley Robinson: I find most of his writing emotionally impenetrable, but I have warmed to The Years of Rice and Salt. I tried to read it when it was first published -- nuh uh. But a couple of years ago I picked it up again, and found much of it enjoyable, though I had to give myself permission to skim in spots.

#278 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 12:27 PM:

I like a good bit of Kim Stanley Robinson-- in particular, 2312, and I've got The Memory of Whiteness on my to reread list.

#279 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 12:38 PM:

A little while after Mike died, when I was still in the very deeps of grief, I was talking to Patrick about various things, and he said I should read The Years of Rice and Salt. It was a very good thing to read right then. I've since recommended it to various friends, particularly non-science-fiction-reading friends, and some of them have loved it a lot. (The one who loved it most worked in refugee camps in Cambodia for years, and is one of the friends I talk about diverse religious stuff with.)

#280 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 12:39 PM:

I loved Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books, reading them as they were published. I recently read Icehenge and liked it, but I completely bounced off of 2312. The worldbuilding was lovely, but I just didn't care what happened next—so why keep reading?

#281 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 12:49 PM:

#280 janett

Because there's going to be more fascinating terraforming? I'll grant you that I found the part set on Earth the least interesting.

#282 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 05:16 PM:

Elise #279: I strongly agree on The Years of Rice and Salt. It's one of the finest allohistories I've read. Of course, I may be prejudiced in favour of UCSD PhDs (Benford, Brin, and Robinson) being one myself.

My first memory of Robinson's work is of reading The Gold Coast not long after having moved to San Diego. So that would be around the end of 88, beginning of 89. I enjoyed it.

#283 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 05:51 PM:

I bounce off a fair number of books, including several mentioned here. I console myself with the fact that I bounced off Lord of the Rings three times before I managed to finish it (the third time, I got through the first two books and didn't pick up the third). I rather enjoy the whole thing at this point, he says in slight understatement.

But it does mean that I usually put such books off as "not right for me now" rather than "terrible." I save the latter for books like Black Body, which I finished in terrible fascination.

#284 ::: Teka Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 06:16 PM:

I've found Robinson works best for me in the shorter formats. I also prefer his pre-Mars Trilogy writing, but even less-strong KSR is still worth reading.

#285 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 07:39 PM:

I managed to make it thru "Icehenge". Emphasis on 'managed'. And I did read Robinson's first Mars novel, but something rubbed me the wrong way. As for "2312", after a couple of chapters, I decided this wasn't for me and spent my reading time elsewhere. Considering the comments above, I do wonder how it made it to the Hugo finals.

#286 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 07:45 PM:

2312 was a spectacularly well-done volume of worldbuilding with a moderately interesting novella spliced in. It was great if you like that sort of thing, I suppose. I appreciate its charms but much prefer narrative.

#287 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 08:16 PM:

I have read nothing by KSR except The Years of Rice and Salt, which I found fascinating. It's the most ambitious alternate-history story I've ever encountered, simply because it (1) starts so far back and (2) looks at the results over such a wide swath of both Earth and time. The framing story is just a bit on the "meh" side, but the device of tracking the same (reincarnated) souls thru a series of lives provides continuity, and being able to tell who is who by the first letter of their names prevented me from becoming hopelessly confused. I do wish he'd spent a little more time on a couple of the shorter scenarios, though.

#288 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 10:13 PM:

I thought The Years of Rice and Salt was OK, though I also thought it had definite weaknesses; I enjoyed the Mars trilogy more. I think the KSR books I liked best were two books of the Orange County trilogy, the near-present semi-dystopian The Gold Coast and the ecotopian Pacific Edge.

And yet, I can totally understand bouncing off his books - I think I was always on the verge of it with most of them, and I'm not sure why.

...

I easily understand how one could bounce off Jonathan Strange..., much though I adore it. It seems for the first few chapters as though nothing much is happening, and then when things do start happening it's still not much, and very slow. But that's quite deliberate; the momentum of the plot keeps gathering pace and increasing its scope slowly but steadily, and expanding and expanding and expanding.... The prose style is also a bit misleading - it's not written in a modern style exactly, but it's also not actually written in 19th century prose, which most modern readers would collide with very hard; it's written in a style which suggests or evokes 19th century prose but is actually more modern (plus, amazingly wonderful footnotes.)

As you may be able to tell, I love this book, and have loved it more after each rereading - at least 3 rereads now, maybe more. (It may help that I'm a very very fast reader and so get through the "slow" part relatively quickly in clock time.)

#289 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2013, 11:16 PM:

I loved The Name of the Rose. It pulled me right through, and the discussions were fascinating for me. I thought the movie (described as a palimpsest) did fine by the story, and its use of esoteric discussions as background music for mostly silent scenes of plot advancement worked fine. I've read it repeatedly, and gone on to more Eco with enjoyment. Sadly, I can't read him in the original, but that never stopped me from enjoying Pirandello (who he reminds me of somewhat, maybe crossed with Robert Graves).

I feel like I should put in a disclaimer here. How's "not as braggy as I sound" work? Or maybe "I understand that this doesn't make me cool. Nothing does."

#290 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2013, 12:56 AM:

Several of my friends read 2312. All but one person were "meh" but the one exception absolutely loved it. There must have been enough of her ilk submitting nominations. I have agreed with her on other books.

I read The Name of the Rose in the mid-1980s. I have no clear memory of the book's contents, but I do recall how caught up in it I was, and how much I adored it. Hmm, sounds like an excellent candidate to re-read!

Tom Whitmore @ 283: A friend of mine bounced off of The Lord of the Rings twice, at the same point: The Fellowship is in the boats given to them in Lórien, and reaches the stretch of river with the carved Kings of Gondor, and Aragorn starts reciting his lineage. I can't recall if he ever managed to soldier through. He did love the movies.


#291 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2013, 04:54 PM:

Fragano #215 and others: Thank you for giving me another reason to reread Jonathan Strange, and another angle to view it from.

Speaking of that, though, I fully understand bouncing off JS&MN. I find that I have a hill to climb to get to the point where the book catches hold of me, and that remains true even now that I've read and loved it multiple times. The hill hasn't gone away with rereading, even though I fully trust that I'll enjoy the view when I get there.

#292 ::: NLC ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2013, 03:41 PM:

Cute

But to pick one specific error at random, "IHS" isn't latin "In Hoc etc"; it's Greek [iota]-[eta]-[sigma], the "standard" abbreviation for "Jesus".

#293 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2013, 04:19 PM:

NLC, I thought those were Greek letters, but I wasn't sure enough of my facts (especially with all the more knowledgeable people on this thread) to say so.

#294 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2013, 06:46 PM:

The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine by Eusebius Pamphilus of Caesarea


BOOK I:

CHAPTER XXVIII: How, while he was praying, God sent him a Vision of a Cross of Light in the Heavens at Mid-day, with an Inscription admonishing him to conquer by that.


ACCORDINGLY he called on him with earnest prayer and supplications that he would reveal to him who he was, and stretch forth his right hand to help him in his present difficulties. And while he was thus praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvelous sign appeared to him from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person. But since the victorious emperor himself long afterwards declared it to the writer of this history, (1) when he was honored with his acquaintance and society, and confirmed his statement by an oath, who could hesitate to accredit the relation, especially since the testimony of after-time has established its truth? He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, CONQUER BY THIS. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle. (2)

The story that IHS stands for In Hoc Signo is both ancient and widespread.

#295 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2013, 08:36 AM:

I've seen IHS expanded to Iesus Homini Salvator (or whatever the correct Latin form would be -- I blame my secular upbringing) in spots, but I can't remember where...

#296 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2013, 08:58 AM:

cd #295: My recollection is that the table of abbreviations in the Chambers's Dictionary I had in high school so listed it.

#297 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2013, 10:04 AM:

cd, the Missouri Synod Lutheran youth group I briefly hung out with in high school said it stood for "In His Service." I don't remember if they thought it really stood for that or were just giving it as a mnemonic, or were unclear themselves.

At any rate, people have been expanding non-acronyms as long as there have been acronyms. The tradition, of course, continues; one of my younger gay friends recently claimed with great sincerity that 'twink' was an acronym for "Teenage, White, Into No Kink." I tried not to laugh at him, I really did.

#298 ::: Jym Dyer ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2013, 03:58 PM:

✧ In this context, I have to wonder whether the Origen story (or thesis, if you will) is canonical or a retcon.

#299 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2013, 12:27 AM:

NLC @292:
"But to pick one specific error at random, "IHS" isn't latin "In Hoc etc"; it's Greek [iota]-[eta]-[sigma], the "standard" abbreviation for "Jesus"."

So why is it S instead of Σ? Why is only the one letter replaced?

#300 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2013, 01:10 AM:

cd #295 I've seen IHS expanded to Iesus Homini Salvator or whatever the correct Latin form would be -- I blame my secular upbringing)

That would be Iesus Hominum Salvator.

Since the IHS abbreviation wasn't used by anyone before the 8th century (four hundred years after whatever it was that Constantine saw), this is a silly objection. Next you'll be telling me that Vespasian didn't really have wasps living in his nose.

#301 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2013, 01:12 AM:

Jim Dyer @ 298: Most modern Origen stories are retcons. I miss the old days.

#302 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2013, 07:51 PM:

Here's an appreciative <groan> for John A's pun.

#303 ::: Tim ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2013, 01:42 AM:

The best argument for Christianity is that the Orthodox Church still believes what it wrote down in Nicea, and in the scriptures, including the ones written by saints who lived thousands of years before Christ, and it still produces saints who sometimes even work miracles, even today, when everyone "knows" that such things do not happen and never did.

The internet might be the best argument yet devised that truth does not come from written texts, but from the persons who write them, and is not recognized by comparison with other texts, but by persons who are looking for persons who know who the uncreated light comes from.

#304 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2013, 03:11 PM:

Tim: exactly the same thing applies to Hinduism. The Hindu temples still believe the things that were written down thousands of years ago, and Hindu saints still produce miracles, even today. Or don't you believe that that's the case, and if not, why not?

#305 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2013, 03:21 PM:

Oh, and Tim, just so you know? In spite of the irreverent tone of the post that begins this thread, the man who wrote it is a believing Christian. That doesn't prevent him from analyzing the events surrounding the Council of Nicea by analogy with current science fiction fannish politics. After all, the council members were just exactly as human as the members of your local concom, though the stakes were somewhat higher.

#306 ::: Mea ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2013, 12:43 AM:

Xopher at 297,

OK, I clicked on your comment on the "recent comments" section of the main Making Light page, and laughed out loud. I have now gone back and read the main posting, which somehow escaped me.

Jim, Xopher - you have made my waiting in transit space much more entertaining. Thank you. Haven't read the 300 comments in between yet, but there is a reason that I say far too often "well, I was reading this great blog and one person on it pointed out..."

#307 ::: Mea is gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2013, 12:44 AM:

Would the gnomes like some expensive airport coffee?

#308 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2013, 11:13 AM:

Mea@307: I've never seen anybody threaten the gnomes before. Seems to have worked, though.

#309 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2013, 05:31 PM:

I only just noticed this bit:
Anytime in Church history you see the words “of Antioch” stand by for things to be … odd.

John of Antioch, called Chrysostom, frex?

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