Saturday, December 15, 2007

Judas Is Still Judas

April D. DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University in Houston, has an interesting take on a controversial religious text:

Amid much publicity last year, the National Geographic Society announced that a lost 3rd-century religious text had been found, the Gospel of Judas Iscariot. The shocker: Judas didn't betray Jesus.

Instead, Jesus asked Judas, his most trusted and beloved disciple, to hand him over to be killed. Judas' reward? Ascent to heaven and exaltation above the other disciples.

It was a great story. Unfortunately, after re-translating the society's transcription of the Coptic text, I have found that the actual meaning is vastly different. While National Geographic's translation supported the provocative interpretation of Judas as a hero, a more careful reading makes clear that Judas is not only no hero, he is a demon.

Several of the translation choices made by the society's scholars fall well outside the commonly accepted practices in the field. For example, in one instance the National Geographic transcription refers to Judas as a "daimon," which the society's experts have translated as "spirit." Actually, the universally accepted word for "spirit" is "pneuma" - in Gnostic literature "daimon" is always taken to mean "demon."

As a Catholic, I think it only natural to be interested a controversial piece of non-canonical Scripture. Needless to say, society's conceptions of Christianity have evolved somewhat as we have entered the modern day, and further examinations of such revelatory historical evidence as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of Judas will continue to provide us with a more detailed and nuanced image of the history and theology of early Christianity.

However, DeConick's last translation surprises me. In Plato and Xenophon's four works on Socrates, much attention is paid to the latter's daimonion, whose voice guides Socrates in his convictions and actions. Contrary to Professor DeConick's assertion in the article, daimonion was typically translated as "spirit" in the edition I read; this seems to be a widely-held translation among scholars of philosophy. Indeed, I find it difficult to believe Professor DeConick would characterize Socrates' "inner voice" as that of a demon or as possessing demonic influence. The vagueness of the final sentence prevents the reader from definitively discerning whether pneuma is "universally accepted" across ancient literature with common ties to Coptic-language texts, or if this universal acceptance applies only with regards to Gnostic texts.

At any rate, it is all but certain that theologians and Christians alike will never accept the accounts of the vilified betrayer Judas as canon. Nevertheless, further examination of these early texts can only be beneficial to understanding some of the earliest schools of thought within what is now the world's largest religion, and while DeConick's final assertion may seem spurious, such oversight as hers is necessary, as this case clearly demonstrates.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Art of Repartee

The "money moment" of tonight's Democratic debate, according to Andrew Sullivan. I'm inclined to agree when he says,

[This is] one of those split-second responses in which political authority is passed from one person to another.

It's rather refreshing to hear that horrible cackle getting shut down, especially with such a seemingly nonchalant, off-the-cuff remark. (She does it again after his response, but you know it's got to be the laugh of someone who's trying not to show how much it stung -- notice how the audience's applause ramps up after his retort, too.) It's doubly refreshing to hear him say he'll take talent wherever it comes from. It's that kind of pragmatism we desperately need going forward.

(Full disclosure: For those of you who didn't catch my similar disclaimer in my post on Obama and Bloomberg, I am an Obama supporter.)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

"This Is Madness!"

On an entirely nonpolitical note (I've resolved to try to do more of these), I was curious earlier today to discover the answer to what would seem to be a pressing question of the Internet 2.0 era: namely, what is the most-watched video on YouTube, that paragon of procrastination?

Now you can know.

With 67,125,891 views as of this post, "Evolution of Dance" ekes out a narrow lead of just 4 million views over its nearest competitor. (That competitor, incidentally, is the music video for the horrendously vapid Avril Lavigne dirge "Girlfriend." How it garnered more than 63 views, let alone 63 million, utterly baffles me.)

What does this say about the culture and mindsets of those who come to YouTube? Perhaps it's that its visitors really aren't as strange, self-absorbed, or idiotic as the "YouTuber" stereotypes variously suggest, but rather ordinary people with an eye for humor and nostalgia for simpler days. (Alas, the 1990s, I knew ye well...)

Perhaps the more important question is this: how did a six-minute video of a comedian performing various dances from three decades' worth of music, of all things, garner so many views? I'll leave the theorizing up to you, dear readers -- I haven't the faintest idea.