Monday, April 19, 2010

"Und leider auch Theologie[...]"

Hunter S Thompson once remarked that he thought he could've enjoyed being a full-time sportswriter, but that before he took up that line of work he would've had to put a big hatpin through his frontal lobes, and then get a thesaurus, to make sure he didn't use the same adjective a dozen times in the same paragraph.

It may surprise you to know that I have daydreamed about becoming a pastor or priest. I'd have to perform the do-it-yourself hatpin-lobotomy first, of course, like Thompson before the switch to sportswriting that never was.

The title of this blog entry is from Goethe's Faust which is not only the most highly critically regarded piece of German literature, but also to this day the most-seen play on German stages, with hundreds of productions in an average year. It means "And unfortunately theology, too." Faust is sitting in his study at the beginning of the play, complaining that he's enegetically studied philosophy, law and medicine, "und leider auch Theologie." He goes on, "Da steh ich nun, ich armer Tor!/ Und bin so klug als wie zuvor." My translation: "Here I stand, a poor cuss!/No more clever than I ever wuz." Soon after that he swears he would sell his soul for some real wisdom, and the Devil appears and sez Okay then! and the fun begins. It's a great play. A lot of Germans dislike it because unfortunately they were forced to study it as children, just as many people in English-speaking schools are taught to hate Shakespeare.

Another very popular quote by Goethe, to judge by the number of Google hits it generates, is "Die Geschichte des guten Jesus habe ich nun so satt, dass ich sie von keinem, außer von ihm selbst, hören möchte." My translation: "I'm so tired of the story of sweet Jesus, I don't want to hear it again unless He tells it to me personally." (The originals are a lot better. Goethe was a great poet. I'm not.) Do I ever know how Goethe felt! Hence the aforementioned need for a do-it-yourself hatpin lobotomy.

Today I read a blog post by a very sincere young thing who's all excited about a project to "discover the words of Jesus" by studying Aramaic. The thinking goes that the Gospels were originally written in Aramaic. Never mind that the consensus of scholars is that the Greek versions we have are the originals. Never mind the well-known principle of something always being lost in translation. Never mind those incomprehensible owner's manuels which illustrate the perils of multiple tranlations of the same text. "News Radio" did an episode about this sort of thing: "I have skills. Monkey-strong skills.") Never mind that there have already been Aramaic translations of the Bible, going back to the days when people still spoke Aramaic! Never mind, never mind! Being religious means never having to make sense! Maybe it's this freedom which draws me to it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


I was talking with some people about Dan Brownlately, and it occurred to me that I might want to correct a few misconceptions he's spread.

*sigh* I know: around 600,000,000 people eagerly read everything Brown publishes, and as little as 5 or 10 may read this blog post, and as many as 4 to 8 or so of them may already be way ahead of me. Still. It ain't right, what he's doin'!

The Priory of Sion

In The Da Vinci Code,which, as Brown strenuously asserts whenever it suits him, is after all only a work of fiction, after the Acknowledgments and before the Prologue, on a page carrying the bold capitalized headline FACT: Brown states that the Priory of Sion was founded in 1099 and that its member included da Vinci, Newton and Victor Hugo.

In fact, the Priory was established in 1956, established and then described as being centuries old, by a man named Pierre Plantard, as part of his attempt to pass himself off as a descendent of the Merovingians, and therefore, he alleged, a descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

The Merovingians

Okay, this one is not so much a matter of fact as a matter of WTF. Why would someone choose precisely that dynasty, as their ancestors and as the descendants of Jesus? Why, that is, unless they had not heard the prevailing description of the Merovingians, taught in countless Intro to Western Civ classes, namely that they were horrible, disgusting, shockingly evil people, personally responsible for much of the Darkness in the Dark Ages?


...the prevailing, horrifying picture of the Merovingians comes mostly from one contemporary author, Gregory of Tours. And while I know of no particular reason to assail Gregory's reliability as an historian, historical spin was by no means unknown to ages before our own, and it is possible that our main historical source for the Dark Ages had some personal or professional feud with the Merovingians.

Now, regarding the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were a couple and had a child...

...I couldn't care less if this is true or not. Nor do I have any particular reason either to support this theory nor to throw doubt upon it. I got nothin'. Sorry, you'll have to look elsewhere for help on this one.

Concerning the Grail, however, which according to Brown and to Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln, and Richard Leigh,who gave Brown the idea, was the bloodline of Christ:

The Grail was first mentioned in the late 12th century in the epic poem on Percival by Chrétien de Troyes. If you attempt to establish the existence of the very notion of something called the Holy Grail earlier than Chrétien, then, I am sorry, my fellow scholar, but you must do so without my support. It's fictional, and it's mostly likely either a fictional chalice or a fictional stone, sought by the fictional knights of the fictionalized King Arthur's fictional Round Table.

But, but, the History Channel...

I know. I may write posts in the future similar to this one, dealing with stuff put out there by the History Channel.

So why d'ya watch the History Channel if you think it stinks so bad?

Because I'm weak. Often the subjects they cover are interesting to me, even if the treatment of these subjects tends to be excruciating, and they show lots of pictures of pretty paintings and medieval illuminations.