Erasmus and the TEXTUS RECEPTUS

I am in the middle of finishing the second part of the film about the 6 texts in the Bible that condemn Homosexuality. What is clear is that the evangelical enthusiasm for and often aggressive repetition of these verses on the internet is a bit misplaced. The verses are not at all as clear as they appear to be. More on this later when I have finished the film. Meanwhile, here is a page from the diary of some drawings of Erasmus. This is based on two different statues but the shape of the eyes and mouth is quite consistent and familiar from the Durer drawing and the Holbein paintings.

I wonder a bit about the importance of the “Textus Receptus” which is the Greek text lying behind the King James Version. The problem is that much of it is simply a translation from the Latin Vulgate back into what Erasmus supposed the Greek ought to be. Otherwise it is based on Byzantine texts and the Septuagint.

There is an interesting story early on when Erasmus is improving the latin “translation” of Paul’s letters. He write in 1512, “It is only fair that Paul should address the Romans in somewhat better Latin.” Then he adds, “I have already almost finished emending him by collating a large number of ancient manuscripts, and this I am doing at enormous personal expense.” I get the impression that the “emending” is a form of embellishing rather than translating as Erasmus does not mention any Greek originals and I think by this date had barely taught himself Greek (an interest in Greek began when he visited england in 1499 and was introduced to John Colet who was influenced by Patristics; he only seemed to start teaching himself, however after 1506). Of course, he talks in a later letter, “But one thing the facts cry out, and it can be clear, as they say, even to a blind man, that often through the translator’s clumsiness or inattention the Greek has been wrongly rendered; often the true and genuine reading has been corrupted by ignorant scribes, which we see happen every day, or altered by scribes who are half-taught and half-asleep”…

But what an interesting man.

 

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Is Putin Gay?

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Given all the publicity surrounding the anti-Gay propaganda law in Russia, (which merely makes national a series of local laws already passed in 10 regions of the Russian federation since 2006) it seems quite extraordinary that any Russian biographer would dare to spend time speculating about whether his President is Gay, yet a book by a man called Belkovsky does just that. The idea is not that Putin’s recent divorce is the result of some sort of homosexual fling, but rather that Putin is “latently” gay, spends too much time with his dogs and that this is the result of being the son of an alcoholic. The affair with gymnast Alina Kabaeva is some sort of “beard”. “The small Vladimir,” goes the text, “grew up practically without a father and without the love and care of his parents. He was a withdrawn and grim child. Putin was born the son of an alcoholic two years before his official birth date. His mother moved to Georgia with Vladimir, only for the child to be shunted off to Leningrad a short time later to the couple who would become the official parents of the future president.” It makes one almost sympathetic. Poor fellow. I was two months’ premature, but Putin, says the text, is two years’ premature: I was abandoned and so was he, it seems. So desperate was Putin for a real family that he identified Yeltsin as a father figure and Roman Abramovitch as his surrogate brother.

It seems that Putin spends most of his time with, and reserves all his affection for his two dogs, the Labrador Conny and Bulgarian shepherd dog Buffy. And then the writer goes on to look at his two daughters Mariya and Ekaterina. I cannot quite see where they fit into the story, though. Now, I will not speculate any further than Mr Belkovsky but the idea that Putin is gay sounds almost as far-fetched as the suggestion that Gordon Brown, or Prince Edward or even, God forbid our current Foreign Secretary might be harbouring homosexual tendencies.

There will never be any evidence for a “latent” homosexual tendency anyway unless Putin starts sharing hotel bedrooms. Even then, that would only be evidence of his parsimony. Much the same rumour mill went wild about claims made in the 1960s that the then Pope Paul VI was gay, and the claims have been published in a small book by Franco Bellegrande. Paul VI at the time challenged the claims publicly and demanded a day of prayer for the perceived insult. In fact, what he actually got was a weekend of sniggers. Maybe, Belkovsky suspects Putin has been surfing the internet to whet his curiosity and that his internet history is about to be made public by Edward Snowdon? Somehow, I think this is unlikely. Maybe this story is there to mock all the sporting photo-opportunities, those bare-chested manly poses with fishing tackle in the snow, or maybe the author was thinking, on June 30th last year when Putin signed into law Article 6.21 about the Queen’s answer to her son Hamlet when he asks her if she is enjoying the play, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.” We shall never know, unless Belkovsky is silenced forever or imprisoned. then we would really smell a rat. That is not going to happen.

 

Anyway, for all that, Putin remains a joy to draw. I will post pictures of Paul VI later- many of the recent Popes have been fun to draw.

Alternative Comedy

 

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The Young Ones was gross, silly and outrageous written by Mayall and Ben Elton (who went on to doctor “Black Adder”), mixing farce, absurdism and political jibes (“the bathroom’s free, unlike the country under the Thatcher junta”). Of the four main characters, Neil is the easiest to caricature, and was the easiest to bully in the show so maybe that says something. Rick, the Rik Mayall character, is the hardest to define and to draw. He puts forward a series of outrageous views and is generally ignored. So, if Neil is Wendy Craig, the “wife”, then Rik is essentially a reworking of the Nicholas Lyndhurst character in the Carla Lane sitcom “Butterflies”. I think both series ran for about 25 episodes in all, though “Butterflies” seemed to be going on for ever (and I loved it). Strange, the impression both shows made. The “Young Ones” began in the last season of “Butterflies”. There really is no link between them except that both series, whether they intended it or not, are strictly formulaic. I think the father figure in “Butterflies” gets a better deal than the “Mike” character in “The Young Ones”. But on to the formula of the classic family sitcom, Carla Lane added introspection while Mayall added punk anarchy. Very brave to commission the “Young Ones”! Rik Mayall turned up in Black Adder and was tremendous. A fine performer and writer and he will be missed.

Convention for farce is very important. It is about setting up a discipline which can then be broken and leads to confusion, embarrassment and all many of intrigue. With a television series, that convention can be established early on and later episodes are all about manipulating the characters. This is the way Commedia works and more historically the way Roman comedy works too-

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(eg: Plautus or frankly the Sondheim update “A funny thing” which had Richard williams titles or the British TV spin-off “Up Pompeii”). Stock characters with predictable responses to given situations…and just to look back at Rik Mayall, the commedia technique is mostly based on physical violence.

Islamic extremism and mis-use of the word “fundamentalism”

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I despair of broadcasters who use the term “fundamentalism” as a catch all for the types of Islamic extremism that we would all broadly condemn. The problem with words that are vague and also loaded is that they take on a life of their own and pop up all over the place. Today, there is a fairly heated debate about the presence of extremism in some schools in the Midlands. There is a debate about who should take responsibility for this- the home secretary, Theresa May or the Education Secretary, Michael Gove. The shadow Home Secretary points out that the argument involves a betrayal of the principles of Cabinet government and that what is said privately and what circulates in letters between ministers should stay private so that the Government can present a united front on important issues that have been debated. The principle is that when a Minister rejects the consensus position adopted by the Cabinet, then he or she should resign. It is not honourable to take the spat out of the Cabinet room.

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I drew the faces at the top because I was actually interested in lip movement and the reporter on the BBC had the most dynamic lip movement and seemed to be always on the edge of a smile or a gleeful whinny. The shadow Home secretary has one of the longest necks I have seen! William Hague has almost no lips.

Now to the issue about Fundamentalism. This began or was identified in the 19th Century as a branch of extreme Protestantism influenced by German Pietism and that reacted against liberal modernist approaches to bible interpretation. The term “Fundamentalism” became popular in the 1920s. But it emerged from evangelical christianity with a number of different emphases- it was never just a matter of believing that every word in the bible was “literally” true, though the theme of some sort of biblical “inerrancy” dominates the movement. The absolute fundamentalist movement was a reaction to modernism and a retreat to the “fundamental truths” in the written bible. Some scholars would see pre-1962 Catholicism and Orthodoxy as fundamentalist Churches, too and the Society of St Pius X would be a good example of Catholic fundamentalism. What is written down cannot be wrong or interpreted in any other way.

The problem with Fundamentalism and Christianity is that Jesus spoke Aramaic, the Christian Bible was written in Greek, translated first into Latin (the Vulgate) and then into english and other languages at the Reformation. The acceptablity of the books of the bible were decided by councils in the early Church, and as Dan Brown so cleverly (!) explores, there remain copies of some texts that did not get the approval of the Church. Some of the “Apocryphal” books however circulated along with the canonical books and provide for instance all the exciting details of the Christmas story which are found in Greek icons and in Giotto’s frescoes- the ox and the ass, and the presentation of the virgin in the Temple (The Gospel of Pseudo Matthew and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary). The ambiguity of what was and was not canonical was resolved by the Church. The only way that Protestant Fundamentalism can survive, therefore, is by a careful use of Greek and Hebrew texts or by claims that the English text was itself the subject of direct divine inspiration. This obsession with ensuring the correct texts led to the collection of some of the most important and antique manuscripts but these manuscripts highlight the fact that a single word can change the meaning. They also make it clear that we should never confuse antiquity and authenticity. The two words are certainly not interchangeable when it comes to the study of Christian texts.

As the Twentieth Century developed, Fundamentalists took on some of the more Right-wing political campaigns of America, and there are some, for instance, who see the establishment of the State of Israel as an important political event because it ushers in the final age.

Islam, in contrast to Christianity developed very quickly and the Koran was a complete text at a very early point in the history of the Religion. There has been very little debate about what texts in the Koran are correct and indeed how they should be understood. In this way, Islam is by its nature a fundamentalist religion. To talk about “islamic fundamentalism” is therefore to talk about Islam in General.

But two major developments in Islam happen towards the end of the 20th Century. The first is the power of Wahhabiyism (and its possible link to people like Ayman al-Zawahiri) and the second is the role of The Ayatollah in Iran and the way he “interpreted ” Islam to respond to a specific political situation.

In the 1960s, the Ayatollah Khomeini was exiled to France for 17 years and was exposed to Marxist political ideas there. For him, then, the 1979 revolution was not about a return to “fundamental” principles, but about a rejection of the West and an alignment of Shi’a Islam and iranian nationalism with Shia clerics taking an increasingly political role in the running of the Nation. (Nation-hood is a modern concept) In addition, the concept of “Istishhah” or martyrdom, takes on a nasty interpretation during the Iran-Iraq war and, of course, later with 9/11. Ayatollah Khomeini declared Mohammed Hossein Fahmideh a national hero for his suicide bombing of an Iraqi tank in November 1980. Fahmideh is generally recognised to be the first suicide bomber. Khomeini’s is a serious interpretation, or frankly a reversal, of the very clear condemnation of suicide by the Prophet and in the Koran. (2.195 and 10.56) “Do not throw yourself into destruction” and “It is HE who giveth life and taketh it…” This incident alone is enough to make it clear that whatever term is used to describe the Islamic message put forward by Khomeini, “fundamentalism”, a belief in the literal truth of the written text, it most definitely is not!