been supporters of the creative and good folks over at Improv Everywhere, and we especially enjoy their annual ‘No Pants Subway Ride’. here is a taste of what went down at this year’s:
been supporters of the creative and good folks over at Improv Everywhere, and we especially enjoy their annual ‘No Pants Subway Ride’. here is a taste of what went down at this year’s:
Dr King’s birthday and here at RQT we are more than happy to try to continue Stevie Wonder’s vision of a world party to celebrate peace and remember the legacy of a truly great man.
Happy Birthday by
Well, what can I say. It’s been another year hasn’t it, undeniably, and as such Christmas has nearly arrived towards the end. 2012 has been an averagely poor year for us, bringing only a few highlights.
Of course the big story of our ‘year’ came in July courtesy of Grenada’s second year at University results, for which he achieved a grade of 56.8% – which actually represents a much better achievement than it sounds like it does, given the squalid living conditions for which his landlord refuses to take responsibility. Also, of course, we were also delighted by Amy-Brenda’s end of Year9 contemporary/Latin dance interpretation of Dickens’ Edwin Drood, which she and three-friends not only single-handedly wrote, choreographed and starred in, but also got rave reviews for in the parish magazine.
As for us olds, our year has been somewhat dogged by health. For me, the light-relief of February’s ‘passed with flying colours’ general check-up having been tempered by March’s childhood-Polio diagnosis. Still, the maddeningly small, orange tablettas non-regulariados I’ve been taking from Brazil seem to have made a real difference and I’m now able to be back fully in the shed at weekends. For Angela, 2012 is probably best forgotten what with turning 44 and her tetraphobia (fear of the number four) being as you know worse than ever.
Signalling, as it did, the passing of Angela’s mum Kathy May, May was hard. We all miss her, and prefer to think less of how she was toward the end and more about the good times.
Moreover, we were as a family of course particularly saddened by this year’s deaths of astronaut Neil Armstrong, film director Tony Scott, the several recent children in Newtown, Connecticut and former Liverpool defender Gary Ablett. As I’m sure were you all. RIP.
Nevertheless, those of you who’ve been asking will be pleased to hear that the saga of the internet has finally rectified itself in more or less our favour. Virgin Media remain insistent that the service was ‘perfectly within acceptable realms of the service offered’ and that routers do not and never have burned cats, and are also still refusing to withdraw the public decency claim against my brother-in-law and lawyer-at-law David, but a man did recently come out to refit a new box and the speed now seems to have settled down at only slightly less than Steven at number 11 usually gets, for a much more palatable £19.40/month.
I am personally disappointed not to be able to announce an end to my on-going and sour feud with our local Liberal Democrat member of parliament Adrian Dobless over the frequency and quality of waste removal, nor my spat with our neighbour to the east, Neville, over his unsightly fencing and dog. Perhaps 2013 will prove itself more diplomatic.
Likewise we are all sad not to be able to welcome our Georgian friend Brijan (pronounced like the English) for Christmas again this year as a result of him not having been able to get a visa.
Sarah’s late-October ‘announcement’ about a Spring wedding with her current Hindu boyfriend is still very much in discussion, but needless to say we are proud of everything she has achieved in her job at Littlewoods (department store, NOT bookmaker).
Well, given that I can hear that a courier has apparently come to the door with a parcel for a Michael Limble, sorry Lambert (I misheard Angela), who obviously does not live here, I should go and sort that out. As such, little now remains other than to wish you all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS from all of us and send our very best for 2013 (how odd it feels writing that?!).
greetings tellybox fans
summer has gone, and it’s that time of year when i share my thoughts and opinions about the treats that are being offered up by bosses in TVville for our Autumn/Fall delectation. please accept my apologies that this year’s offerings have arrived so late, but for some reason i’ve just not been able to sit down and get this post written before now. in my defence, there is a lot to consider this year, in fact, that in order not to overface you i’ve divided things up into two posts, this first one will handle shows from the States and a subsequent one will examine British programmes.
as far as i’m concerned it’s something of a vintage in terms of returning series in the US, with quality reigning over quantity – however, i have to say that i’m less enthused by the new offerings than i would like and suspect the opposite is true where they are concerned.
however, let’s just pause a moment to honour some shows to which we are wishing farewell as they prepare to wrap up for a long Winter sleep. last night, for example, saw the finale of another great season of Louie. i laughed (a lot) i cried (a bit) and the cameos by David Lynch are perhaps my favourite of all in the three seasons so far. while the final episode of this season was in the tradition of the more muted, reflective ones, the scene where Louie attempts to reattach the doll’s eyes, and in particular his use of the phrase “shit on my father’s balls” was up there with my favourites.
the other big loss to me was The Newsroom, which wrapped at the end of August and was definitely my favourite new show of 2012 so far. despite having possibly the sappiest credit sequence in television history and being sort of a remake of his comic-drama from 2006/7 Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – which i liked but was, despite being not really very similar, deemed too similar to 30 Rock to be renewed – Aaron Sorkin’s latest TV offering really grabbed me.
the performances were pretty much all-round excellent, with Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Olivia Munn (xxxx) and Sam Waterston deserving of special praise. possibly most impressive of all, however, was Dev Patel, who for the first time ever did acting that i didn’t TOTALLY HATE, but actually sort of liked. quite incredible. however … i don’t know what it is about Sorkin, but i always seem to like the stuff everyone else hates (A Few Good Men, Studio 60) and vice-versa (The West Wing, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, Moneyball). i’m honestly not trying to be contrary, but if my track record is anything to go by, despite being renewed for a second season, The Newsroom might want to watch it’s back.
anyway, not wanting to dwell on what has passed, let’s turn to the shows that are being being unwrapped and placed back on the shiny shelf. (nb. when it comes to stuff i’ve already seen, whilst i will be mentioning some aspects, i will, as always, try hard not to drop any significant spoiler-bombs.)
for those of you who aren’t up to speed with any of the returning series mentioned but would like to be, this post comes to you sponsored by BBC iPlayer, 4OD, Hulu, HideIPVPN (which is just my favourite of the many online services that can help you to watch Hulu when not in the US or iPlayer when not in the UK) and probably most importantly of all watchseries.eu, which is the place to go to catch up with previous or current seasons of pretty much any major series that has so far eluded you. the internets are brilliant, peeps, use them.
• Treme: top of the tree, the long awaited return of the brilliant New Orleans-based drama created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer, who as far as i’m concerned are giants among men in a metaphorical world where being able to reach high things is a sign of wisdom, decency, truthfulness and beauty. wheel number one of what i’m calling ‘the Sunday Trike of Awesome’, season 3 began Sunday last and is already right back up to speed. David Simon has always stuck to the same logic – “follow the money”. with two years now between itself and Katrina, NOLA (and the Tremé in particular) still has a long way to go. housing is still the hot topic, and there’s plenty of green notes to be made, if you know the right people. meanwhile, everyone else will just have to keep fighting just to stay put. [HBO, Sundays, 10PM ET - or here]
• Boardwalk Empire: Sunday Trike of Awesome wheel number two stands in the shape of season 3 of Terence Winter’s artfully crafted, cruel and awkward prohi-era surviveathon. there are some series that it’s really not worth going back and starting on if you missed the boat first time round, but this is not one of them – for those who’ve been slow on the uptake hereabouts, you really need to get on board. that having been said, i won’t add too much by means of comment on this season other than to say that as long as Chalky White is around to see what becomes of AC under the redoubled if not exactly untroubled Thompson regime and to witness the inevitable increase in focus on New York and Chicago then i’m happy. [HBO, Sundays, 9PM ET - or here]
• Homeland: wheel three is season 2 of Showtime’s big hitter from last Autumn (which i only caught up with when it was broadcast here in this Spring). as regular readers might remember, i took a few episodes to get into Homeland – again, the credits were a significant turn off – but i eventually became hooked. you might also remember, however, that despite my enhookedment, i had some reservations concerning both its sexual ethics and the role of mental illness. in the end, i was sad to see that it fell into a couple of the mental illness pitfalls that i’d laid out, and i’d say the whole thing about sexuality still has a way to go before all the cards are on the table. however, reservations not withstanding, this time round it has definitely been upgraded to my ‘watch US broadcast’ list.
season 2 premiered on Sunday, but don’t worry i won’t give anything away. he’s made it all the way from tutoring a terrorist’s son in Afghanistan to sitting in the US Congress, but deep down i think we all know that he’s still, he’s still Brody from the hole. expect a lot more drawn-out squinting and secret Muslimising to distrustful music from Brody, and pestering from the CIA plus drawn-out ambiguity over how long it will take her to remember the link between Brody and Nazir’s son (that inconveniently solidified in her head seconds before her ECT began) from Carrie. [Showtime, Sundays, 10PM ET - or here]
• New Girl: i’m still not really sure why i like New Girl quite as much as i do. but i really do. like it. in spite of her name, i’ve always liked Zooey Deschanel and she’s definitely one of the reasons it works so well, but the thing i wasn’t really prepared for was the writing being so consistently great. from the outside it might look a bit flyaway, like it’s on the same level as something trivial like The Big Bang Theory, but it’s not. it’s actually really good. I can honestly say that i desire nothing more from season 2 than more of the same, please. [Fox, Tuesdays from 9th Oct, 9PM ET - or here]
• Vegas: let’s start with CBS’s headliner, which sets out to tell the story of the early days of Sin City seemingly by mainly pitting just-in-from-Chicago casino boss Vincent Savino – played by Vic from The Shield (Michael Chiklis) looking more like a bulky Bruce Willis than ever – against Ralph Lamb, Dennis Quaid’s brooding old-skool-Nevada-rancher/lawman. at the start of the pilot, grizzed ol’ man Lamb, who was a distinguished MP during the war, is installed as an emergency Deputy Sheriff while the current Sheriff hides from some mobsters that he double crossed and ‘ratted out’ to the authorities. Lamb just wants to run his ranch in peace, but, since that stupid big dam got built, the small city that’s sprung up near his land is becoming a pain in his skinny, Lee-clad ass.
what he doesn’t want is planes to fly over his land, or fancy, arrogant Italian out-of-towners to climb above their stations. what he does want is to punch people in the face and wear his Stetson. can you guess who’s the Sheriff of Las Vegas by the end of the first episode? it’s good to see that Carrie-Anne Moss is slowly working her way back from Matrix-enduced shame, i’ve long rated her as an actor, and to my eyes she looks far better in a shift dress now than she did in leather trousers back then. while there is some crossover in terms of style, content or arc, Vegas definitely doesn’t have the requisite seriousness to be on par with Boardwalk Empire, or Mad Men, or Scorsese’s Casino, and after the pilot i can’t say whether it’s going to turn out to be worth watching at all, but i’d like it to be, so i’m in for at least the first three episodes. [CBS, Tuesdays, 10PM ET - or here]
• Revolution: J.J. Abrams has really taken the whole ‘EPing a TV series is the new directing a movie’ thing to heart, but should we trust him after Lost? well, Jon Favreau directs the pilot of this slightly odd post-technopalyptic sci-fi-a-rama and despite it being slightly infected with the dreaded expositionitus, and genuinely containing of the lines “It’s happening, isn’t it?!”, “Family? Kid, I don’t even know you!” and “You know, I didn’t ask you to come back”, i almost liked it. basically, one day, everything electronic and also (for some unexplained reason) engines stopped working and fifteen years later a fragile society is living hand-to-mouth in a part wild-west, part medieval Europe type scenario. this society is ruled by some sort of warlord and one family is keeping a very powerful secret from him and everyone else.
we’re supposed to be wondering about this small, silver USB drive/scarab necklace thing that might be the key to what happened to the tech, but i spent the whole time trying to work out how twenty somethings in a small isolated community could have perfectly fitting jeans, leather jackets and make-up so long after the end of all mechanised industry. that, and why, despite relying on basically the same physical principles, guns fire and oil lamps burn, but combustion engines don’t work. why fifteen years after it fell (hilariously unrealistically) from the sky, there’s a perfectly untouched plane sitting in the middle of a field, why, if you lived in a world where someone holding a crossbow sideways above their head can repel downward blows from a sword at close quarters, would you not do mostly stabbing motions in that situation instead, and why the goofy, multi-millionaire former Googledouche has brand-new-looking glasses. in fact, i was just beginning to think that, by failing to properly think through the implications of its starting premise, it had fallen into the same trap as 2009 mega-flop FlashForward, when Giancarlo Esposito (the fabulous Gus from the fabulous Breaking Bad) showed up. that, on its own, has bought it another episode.
• Last Resort: submarine, blaa blaa, Pakistan, missile strike, blaa, defying orders, fired on by own team, blaa blaa, T-1000 is an angry one, backup communication network, NATO early-warning station reminiscent of the control room from Jurassic Park on a remote island (always with the remote islands), local gangsters, blaa blaa, Washington, now shit’s got serious. etc. the pilot previewed weeks ago and i’ve been left with little inclination to seek out further episodes. [abc, Thursdays, 8PM ET - or here]
• Elementary: Jonny Lee Miller as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes living in Brooklyn with Lucy Liu’s Dr Joan Watson, what could be boring and or ridiculous about that? if it continues to be as bad as the pilot, i’m guessing that by episode 3, the only people watching will be Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ lawyers. i’m out. [CBS, Wednesdays, 10PM ET - or here]
• Arrow: this is one of the few Fall shows that will be broadcast in the UK this year, with Sky One having picked it up and due to put it out a month or so behind The CW from late Oct. it’s a teen-drama version of DC’s Green Arrow very much in the mould of Smallville, and i imagine it will strike the right sort of chords among its target demographic. i found the pilot pretty meh, but it’s very clearly not meant for me. [The CW, Wednesdays, 8PM ET]
• Go On: despite Friends and several terrible movies, i actually really like Matthew Perry and, as you know, thought his work in Studio 60 (his last significant TV role) was excellent. here he plays a widowed sportscaster who’s undertaking counselling. i’ve long thought that group therapy scenarios are ripe fodder for comedy, which is one of the reasons why, along with two friends, i’ve been working on a screenplay for a sitcom which is set in just such a context. who knows if we’ll ever actually produce anything polished, let alone do anything with it, but the constant risk, however, is that in the time that we’re dealing with our creative blocks something else comes along and occupies a similar space – a 30 Rock to our Studio 60 if you will. happily, while i sort of like Go On, i’m fairly sure it’s not treading on our toes too much. [NBC, Tuesday, 9PM ET - or here]
• three real stinkers
- Neighbors (abc): weak concept, poor acting, cheap gags. terrible.
- Partners (CBS): no, guy who was in Numb3rs and The Newsroom, just no.
- Ben and Kate (Fox): über-corny family sitcom. derivative and sloppily written.
in response to those
who’ve been asking to read it, below is the transcript of the sermon that i preached last Sunday.
as always, comments welcome.
Holy Innocents, Fallowfield
23rd Sep 2012 (16th after Trinity)
- Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22
- James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
- Mark 9:30-37
I wouldn’t want to suggest that the average week in the life of a biblical scholar is dull, but this past week certainly couldn’t be described that way. The standard mid-September routine – which usually consists of trying to forget all the things people said at the summer conferences that really annoyed you, trying to remember where you put that post-it note that you wrote yourself in July listing all the things that need to be done before the start of the new year and (unless your lucky enough to be on research leave) running round trying to make sure your students have all the course materials they need – was, this time round, bluntly and fascinatingly interrupted.
On Tuesday, as I’m sure many of you saw, the story broke that Karen King, a Professor of Early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, had published a fragment of papyrus that appears to be part of an unknown text that has somewhat playfully been dubbed The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. The fragment, which is around the size of a business card and thought by those who have published it to date from around the fourth century CE (c.275-425), has text written on both sides in Coptic, the language used in Egypt between the 2nd and 17th centuries CE. Among the eight lines of text the fragment contains, appear phrases that translate as something like: “Jesus said to them, “my wife”, followed on the next line by “she will be able to be my disciple”.
Somewhat tragically, this is exactly the kind of thing that puts a skip in the steps of biblical scholars and, more to the point, causes them to drop everything and take to emailing all their friends, composing blog posts and seeing if they can’t get themselves a slot as an ‘expert’ commentator somewhere. And then, as if scholars aren’t special and excitable enough, there is the media. The headline of the first article on the subject, published in the Boston Globe, read ‘Harvard Professor identifies scrap of papyrus suggesting some early Christians believed Jesus was married’. It wasn’t long, however, until outlets that prefer to run with shorter, less nuanced headlines containing fewer qualifications, got hold of the story and therefore sentiments more like “Academic claims Jesus had a wife” and “New Gospel proves Jesus was married” soon followed.
Aside from the somewhat tongue-in-cheek name she has given to the text, to her credit, King has courted very little of the tabloid sensationalism, having been very clear from the outset that she was not claiming that the fragment suggested anything about whether Jesus had actually been married, but only that, if genuine, it was evidence that a certain early Christian community understood him as having been. Now, as I’m sure many of you know, the difference between these two positions is huge, and is crucial to understanding both the history of early Christianity and the New Testament texts.
I remember as an undergraduate being involved in an outreach event whose goal was to present everyone on campus with a copy of Mark’s Gospel. It was a nationally coordinated mission, and the texts had been produced in their thousands, and looked like a 40-year-old-Christian’s perception of what the average 18 year old thinks is stylish, with ‘The Gospel of Mark’, having been replaced with the far more informative title ‘Identity’. I remember flicking open the embossed, silver cover and reading, on the first page, that the booklet contained “an eye-witness account of the life of Jesus”.
Hmm. As it turned out, the more questions I asked of those who were in charge of the campaign, the clearer it became that this idea of an eye-witness account was central to the mission’s message. I pointed out several times to various people that as far as scholars are concerned the Gospel of Mark is very unlikely to be either the work of a disciple, or based, as one tradition holds, on the preaching of Peter, and that even if it had been, the notion of an eye-witness account is a misleading description of what a Gospel is. None of that, however, seemed to sway anyone’s commitment to the agreed line.
Despite the scholarly consensus and the fact that the contents of the synoptic Gospels (that is Matthew, Mark and Luke) are very difficult to reconcile, many Christians seem to believe that rather than complex, theologically motivated pieces of literature dating from at least a generation after the life of Jesus, the Gospels are basically journalistic accounts which accurately record historical facts. What is more, despite that lovely note at the end of John’s Gospel that aptly demonstrates that by the early 2nd Century it was well acknowledged that only a small proportion of the events of Jesus’ life had ever been written about, there are some for whom if it’s not in the book, it couldn’t possibly have happened. Jesus, for these people, is an entirely known commodity, and anything that doesn’t fit their image is basis for a scandal.
And so, back to the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. What perhaps amused me more than the over-excited scholars or ludicrous headlines, were the group emails, links to blog posts and Facebook group invitations that I started receiving from various Christian organisations or activists, the majority of which seemed concerned with making sure I knew how to combat the utterly false claim that Jesus had been married. Whereas for the skittish scholars this was (primarily) a matter of intellectual rigor – of making sure people had correctly understood the implications of the finding and had not overstepped the evidence, for these groups it seemed more like a matter of quashing heresy, or even blasphemy. The tone of the many of messages painted the whole thing as a bit like an attack, in the face of which ‘we’ all simply needed to remember our training.
One seminarian from Kentucky pointed out in an interview that the Coptic word hime, which King translated, following convention, as ‘wife’, might simply mean ‘a woman that cooks and cleans for a man’ and might not connote anything sexual at all. However, as Simon Jenkins wryly pointed out this week in his otherwise relatively dull Guardian article, that statement probably tells us more about the Kentuckian seminarian than it does about Jesus.
The assumption, in many of the responses that I read was that ‘we’, as Christians, would be horrified by the idea that people might suddenly be incorrectly believing that it had been proven that Jesus had a wife. Now, while I am slightly amused that some people have managed to reach that conclusion on the basis of Prof. King’s research, what I’m definitely not is horrified. After all, Jesus may well have been married. In fact, as has been pointed out many times, it would have been very unusual for someone of his age, cultural heritage, religious affiliations and social status not to have been.
Here, then, is the crux – if we wish to believe and argue that Jesus did not have a wife, we must bear in mind that we do so not from evidence, but from a lack thereof. There is nothing in any of the accounts that we have that either clearly states or clearly denies that before, during or after his ministry Jesus got married. And the same could be said for all kinds of other aspects of his experience. Of course, it’s very easy to fill in the gaps in the texts with our own ideas or those we have inherited, and that’s not necessary wrong – after all, tradition and experience are perfectly valid sources for theological enterprise. However, if the notion of an historical Jesus is to be of any use to us, then we need to remember which ideas are based on what. If we are wise, I suggest, we should not aggressively defend the historical truth of a concept of Jesus that has been constructed at least partly in a-historical terms.
The early Christian communities, it seems, were well aware of this danger of co-opting a figure like Jesus for this or that theological agenda. We heard in last week’s and today’s gospels of how, when Jesus told the disciples that the Son of Man must suffer, be rejected, die and be raised, they were confused, or offended – Peter even taking Jesus aside and attempting to correct him. It seems that the disciples thought they knew well what they messiah would and wouldn’t do, and if they were going to follow Jesus, they needed him to conform to their preconceptions. When Jesus rejected Peter’s correction and continued talking about death and resurrection, it seems that the group simply could not understand what he meant, and were afraid to ask. Maybe, like those that the writer of the Wisdom of Solomon calls ‘ungodly’ in today’s first lesson, they assumed that a truly righteous person would be spared the indignity of rejection, torture and death? Perhaps they thought dying was too weak, too human a fate for God’s chosen one?
And yet, as we know, the key theological innovation of the faith that developed in the wake of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was the idea that God could, and did, become truly human. We know that in the early centuries that idea proved very difficult to come to terms with, but I think it still has the power to shock and disturb people, even those of us who confess it aloud every week.
Of course, those early gentiles who were attempting to harmonise the fledgling Christian faith with the fundamental principles of classical Greek theology – i.e. that God was eternal, ever-present, all-knowing, all-powerful and utterly unchangeable, in other words thoroughly incapable of becoming human – well, let’s just say that they especially struggled. But they were not the only ones, and that was not the only sticky issue. As it became clear that the end of the world, as preached by Jesus’ followers and mentioned in several New Testament texts, was not as imminent as had first been thought, difficult decisions had to be made about how Christian communities should live: who could join? Who should lead the communities? What was the status of women? Should Christians get married? Where did sex fit in? What about children?
Perhaps this new fragment is genuine, perhaps it will turn out not to be – there are already articles circulating that argue, on the basis of a seeming reliance on a particular version of the Gospel of Thomas, that it is probably a modern hoax. In a sense, however, it really doesn’t matter. Either way, I think we do well to note and learn from other people’s and our own reactions to the mere possibility that it might be an authentic indication of what a certain early community thought about Jesus. How much variation in terms of belief about Jesus are we willing to acknowledge in the early Church? Indeed, how human are we prepared for Jesus to have been? How many of the gaps in the Gospel texts do we need to be filled in with inferences, suppositions or possibly-outmoded traditions?
The essence of Prof. King’s argument is that, if genuine, this fragment, and the longer text to which it once belonged, are just a small part of a section of early Christian history that is often ignored, or even wilfully obscured – a history that witnesses to far more diversity in terms of belief and practice than many modern Christians are comfortable with, but also a history that demonstrates how the early communities grappled with many of the issues with which we’re still struggling.
Perhaps Jesus had a wife, perhaps he did not, but I think attending to whether or not we’re open to the idea of him having shared that particular human experience can highlight important things about how we are reading, interpreting and engaging the scriptures, the traditions of the Church and our individual and collective experience.
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