Christianity Doesn’t Have Early Sources

Rylands Library Papyrus P52I think the Bible is fascinating. It’s like the Iliad, but it consists of a bunch of short stories rather than one long, gorgeous narrative. And it isn’t nearly as interesting. But I do love the Bible in the same way. Ancient literature is awesome! It’s always interesting to see what stories different peoples tell themselves because of what it says about them. Just look at what postmodern literature says about us! Look at Waiting for Godot, which is a modernist work. It says that we are a people coming to terms with the fact that we have only each other to rely on and there is no God (or anything else) that will save us. Then comes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a postmodernist work. It says that we’ve given up on finding any meaning and we are going to just have fun playing word games and solving Sudoku puzzles.

Of course, not all of us feel this way. In fact, in America, the vast majority of the people have regressed and hang onto ancient religions to provide (mythical) structure and (mythical) certainty. I don’t especially have a problem with this. I know there are nice old people at Unitary churches throughout the nation who have concrete ideas of morality. They are better people than I am and I hope that I can become more like them over time. But they are a small minority. A very large fraction of Americans are people who believe that the Bible is the literal word of God.

Let’s start with the language that God speaks: Greek. I still find it interesting that most American Christians never much think about the fact that they only know their religions through a translation. And which translation? That in itself shows you how cultural Christianity is. Protestants tend to like the King James translation. Catholics tend to like the Douay-Rheims translation. I tend to perfer the New American Standard translation because it is said to be the closest to the original Greek. But increasingly, I go with King James, especially when it is a well known passage. But just what does it mean to go back to the original text?

Consider Theseus’ paradox: if you have an ax and over the years you are forced to replace the handle and the head, is it still the same ax? The same issue is discussed in the movie Blow Up. At the end, the main character is left with his final enlargement. But without the sequence of “blow ups” it is meaningless. It only has meaning in context.

Well, the earliest complete Bible we have is the Codex Sinaiticus, which is from roughly 350 CE. That is over three centuries past when old Jesus is supposed to have been killed and rose up and all that stuff. What’s more, it is missing much of the Gospels. Of course, the biggest thing that is missing from it is the end of Mark when Jesus shows himself to everyone. This is because that wasn’t originally in Mark. It is a later interpolation.

But do you see that little fragment there at the top of this article? That little piece of papyrus that measures 9 square inches? That’s the Rylands Library Papyrus P52. It is a fragment from John 18. And it is dated at roughly 125 CE. That’s roughly a century after old Jesus is supposed to have been killed and rose up and all that stuff. This is the oldest New Testament Bible fragment in existence!

In fairness, it’s a pretty damned good fragment. It is from when Pontius Pilate is interrogating Jesus. But the front of it only says:

the Jews, “For us
anyone,” so that the w
oke signifyin
die. En
rium P
and sai

I just think it is odd that Christians think their religion can be traced all the way back to this guy Jesus. I have no problem with people being mystical and thinking that the “feel” Jesus. Who am I to say? But a religion that has only 41 words (several only fragments) a hundred years after the events that are central to the religion? That strikes me as very weak tea indeed.

2003 The Italian Job Worse Than 1969 Version

The Italian Job (2003)After my recent disappointment with the original, 1969 version of The Italian Job, I figured I would give a try to the 2003 remake of The Italian Job. But I was wrong. It is not a remake. It just uses the title and the Mini Coopers and the traffic jam. The most remarkable thing about it is that the job is not in Italy. Oh sure, there is an “Italian job” at the very beginning of the film that goes bad, and the rest of the film involves a revenge plot stemming from it. But it takes place is exotic Los Angeles.

But okay, it’s a heist film. And Seth Green as the computer hacker actually does computer hacking, although the way he breaks passwords is all wrong, and not even as advanced as in War Games, made two decades earlier. But it still feels a lot more real than watching Benny Hill replace one computer tape with another. And the whole heist seems a whole lot more like something that would work. But that’s true of most modern heist films.

The only thing that really makes a heist film worth watching is that they usually star charismatic people. This is why Ocean’s Eleven worked so well, even though its heist was riddled with holes. The Italian Job is led by Mark Wahlberg, a man so uncharismatic that if Lawrence of Arabia were remade with him, people would mistake it for Koyaanisqatsi. Up next to him is the beautiful and talented Charlize Theron — also without discernible charisma beyond the cleavage she shows when wearing a cami that is two sizes too small.

In order to round out the crew, we have Mos Def as the fairly interesting munitions expert. Characters who are good at blowing things up are always interesting. And then we have to have Jason Statham, who plays Handsome Rob, who seems to be in the movie just because screenwriters are nerds and this is one of the few outlets they have for their sexual fantasies except for the stories they submit to Literotica. But I guess he does provide the same function for female viewers as Charlize Theron does for the males.

In some ways, the movie is less realistic than the original. At least in the original, three professional drivers were brought in to do the getaway. Here we’re supposed to think that when Theron’s character wasn’t studying everything anyone ever knew about cracking safes, she was learning to make Mini Coopers waltz. But okay, whatever. I like watching Charlize Theron driving around in a Mini Cooper as much as the next guy.

But what about those Mini Coopers? Why Mini Coopers? There was a very good reason for them in the original film. It was basically nationalistic. The British were giving the Italians a spanking. This was explicit. The English gangster (Noël Coward) was backing the job for the good of England and the Italian gangster (Raf Vallone) wants to stop the job for Italy. So the Mini Coopers were a symbol of British pride. What’s more, there were three cars, one each in red, white, and blue: the colors of the British flag. Well, we get the same thing in this new film but there is no reason for it. This is a film about a group of Americans sticking it to another American.

Speaking of that other American, I read this about Edward Norton’s role as the bad guy, “Norton took the role of Steve Frazelli, due to a contractual obligation he had to fulfill.” That makes me feel better about him because as I was watching the film, I was wondering why he took this role that is provided absolutely no motivation in what is a very mediocre script. The full extent of his character is when Wahlberg tells him, “Same old Steve, huh? Always thinking defensively. That’s why you’re always number two… You got no imagination.” Of course, he had enough imagination to rip off Wahlberg’s entire team at the beginning of the film. What he didn’t have was intelligence, because the entire plot depended upon him being stupid.

Don’t take this to mean it is a bad movie. It’s okay. But for $60 million, a lot more could be done. And in the end, the original film is more fun. This one takes itself very seriously in the same way that Mark Wahlberg takes himself very seriously. It is cookie-cutter filmmaking. And it includes its own indictment of the filmmakers, “You got no imagination.”

Racist Apologetics From Recent Mormons

Joseph Fielding SmithThere is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less…

There were no neutrals in the war in Heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits.

—Joseph Fielding Smith, LDS President
Doctrines of Salvation, 1954

Blacklist and a Culture in Decline

BlacklistThe television series Blacklist was recommended to me. I had seen an ad for it before it came out and it looked rather good. I have long been a fan of James Spader — at least since he got to play characters that weren’t trust fund babies (although he did them well). Since Netflix was pushing it on me, I decided to watch an episode. The first episode is very much like The Silence of the Lambs, but without the cannibalism. Later episodes stray from this formula and the series gets tired fast.

By far, the biggest problem with the show is that it has only one really compelling thing: James Spader. When he’s on the screen, all is fun. When he’s not, I was wondering why I was watching. Much of the show revolves around FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Keen. She is a profiler who seems to have no insights into human nature at all. She is married to the world’s perfect man — a fourth grade teacher who may or may not have a secret past along the lines of Jason Bourne with piles of cash, piles of passports, and a handgun. Really: it’s like they just went into the property department of Universal Pictures and stole the safe deposit contents from The Bourne Identity and put them in a wooden box.

The plot arc of the first season is what I call “kitchen sink” writing. There is so much junk thrown into the story that absolutely anything could be really going on. Red, the James Spader character, could be Keen’s real father. Or he could be a friend of her father who while he lay dying made Red promise to watch out for his daughter. Or he could have killed Keen’s father. Or maybe her father is not dead. It could be any of these things and more. And this is to mention nothing of Red’s past. Or Keen’s husband. The problem is that the show is not going anywhere. It is bouncing around and then the writers will decide which place to stop.

In a sense, this doesn’t matter. People love this. My father is addicted to Resurrection. People enjoy the journey. The problem is that stories dependent upon mysteries that are never well explained always leave a bitter aftertaste. I remember how much I like Twin Peaks, only to find the ending totally disappointing. It isn’t that I had a problem with the father being the murderer. It was that the ending was random. What’s more, it didn’t even comply with the plot up to that point.

On a micro-scale, Blacklist works equally badly. Each episode flits around. The main plot of each show would fit easily inside a half hour. So that leaves the other commercial television half hour (21 minutes) for side “drama.” Often in the middle of some ticking time bomb plot, Keen and Red find time for some banter — often on a park bench. Not that I’m complaining! The main plots are without exception boring and totally unbelievable. All the people on the blacklist are so clever that the FBI doesn’t even know they exist. But then they are caught through various mistakes that such clever people would never make. It is like Edward Snowden starring in “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs.” Oh my God! He’s calling from the extension upstairs!

A very troubling aspect of the series is its casual use of torture. In this way, Blacklist is the intelligent man’s 24. But of the half dozen episodes I watched, this seemed to go away. I hope that is a trend. Torture itself doesn’t go away. But I have no problem with torture. Growing up, I watched a lot of cinematic torture. What has been really bad since 9/11 is that we see the supposed good guys torturing. This is sick and an indication of a culture in steep decline.

Despite everything, I still found myself draw to the show. Harry Lennix as the Assistant Director of FBI counterterrorism adds a lot of humanity to a show that has too much disregard for human life — especially in the form of Keen’s partner Donald Ressler and torturer in chief Meera Malik. But after a while, everything is flying off in all directions. I came to realize that I didn’t really care what happened to any of these characters. And in that way, I am right with the producers. But the sad thing is that this is that Blacklist is an above average show. And that doesn’t speak well of us as a people.

Political Writer H G Wells

H G WellsOn this day in 1866, the great writer H G Wells was born. He is best known for novels like The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds. But I’m not very interested in them. I just don’t find science fiction all that interesting.

But apparently, he didn’t either. All those books were written in the late 1890s. After that, he spent much of his time writing about politics. He was a proponent of socialism. But during his lifetime events changed quite a lot and he eventually came to see the best kind of system as the social democracies we see today in Europe.

I find his position on Zionism very interesting because it so follows along with mine. Throughout most of his life, he was against Zionism because he considered it exclusionary. He felt that all the races should interbreed, so that we could all get on with the business of being human. I’m totally with him on that. Whenever I hear people talking about keeping races pure (which I do sometimes regarding Africans and Jews), it sounds like madness. If there is anything good to come of globalization, it must certainly be that we can get past this mythical idea of race.

The problem is that there are always people who will divide us. I still find it amazing that people hate Jews, when in terms of “race” they just seem like white people. Yet the Nazis based a whole nation-cult-genocide on it. After seeing what the Nazis had done to the Jews, Wells changed his position. I find myself again with him. But in my mind, Zionism ought to be a temporary thing as the people of the world get on with their interbreeding to make us all a bunch of beautiful brownish people. Unfortunately, I think that Zionism tends to perpetuate the “purity of the race” thinking. But that discussion is well above my pay grade.

What’s perhaps greatest about Wells is that he really was a thinker. And as a result, he managed to annoy and offend just about everyone. I’m not saying that that is a good in and of itself. But he was idiosyncratic. And he followed that. And I admire it.

Happy birthday H G Wells!