Friday, March 29, 2013

The Passion(s)

We're not religious but we do believe that knowledge of the Bible is central to Western cultural literacy.  Tim read to N. from the Old Testament a couple years ago, which N. really enjoyed.  This week he's been reading him each gospel's version of the Passion, one per day.  They began with Mark and ended today with John.  Tim reads to him from the King James translation and they occasionally look words up in the NRSV.  N. loves the King James language, and he likes comparing the four accounts.  They talk about context, audience, and effect: Luke's telling is longer and gives more details about Jewish rituals for his later non-Jewish readers, for example.  N.'s favorite line is Mark's "before the cock crow twice thou shalt deny me thrice" and we've talked about why Peter denies Jesus.  We also talked about the dramatic effect of Luke's differentiation between the two sinners -- one jeering, one repentant -- crucified on either side of Jesus.  What kind of dimension does this detail bring to the scene and the depiction of Jesus that is absent in Matthew and Mark?

Now we're off to enjoy some of the ancient pagan rites of the spring festivals onto which the Christian celebration of the Resurrection was grafted: egg dyeing!  Bunnies!  And around three a.m. on Sunday we'll be woken by the Moravian brass band that circles through our neighborhood playing hymns to (as a horn-player once explained to me) "waken all the sinners" and call them to sunrise service in the nearby Moravian cemetery.  Even in this we can see a wonderful amalgamation of ancient traditions reinterpreted by Christianity.  For me, this is the essential value of historicism, to examine the accretion of custom and to marvel in our constant adaptation and reinterpretation of our fundamentally human passion-tales. 

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