Sunday, December 31, 2023

Ralphies 2023

Wow, what a crazy year. Lots of ups and downs. But there is one thing solid in an unstable world: the Ralphies. 

Movies: Did I see any movies at all? I’ll give the Ralphie to the only one I remember watching (online): Spider-Man Across the Spiderverse

TV: On the other hand, there was a lot of fun TV.  Murder at the End of the World was good, especially for Emma Corrin’s performance. Bob’s Burgers became my main go-to late in the year (a wholesome show with fart jokes). The Chosen provided much fodder for Ralph, as you might have noticed.  But the Ralphie goes to The Americans, which absorbed me (and even moved me) deeply. Yes, I watched the whole thing in 2 months. 

Books: So many books, so little time. For fiction, the Ralphie goes to Fugitive Telemetry, a novel in the Murderbot series (which I love). For non-fiction … well, I haven’t finished reading it, but of course I have to give a Ralphie to this volume. *blush* 

Music: Listening has shifted from album-based to song-based, because of the ubiquity of streaming services, and I’ve succumbed.  Some of my favorites were Bang Bang, by Momma; Psychos, Jenny Lewis; Woman on Fire, BEL; Goner, girlhouse; and from the past, That Old Black Magic, Louis Prima and Keely Smith (and she was the best singer of her era, you can’t deny it); and Me & Magdelena, a gem by the Monkees (!). But the Ralphie goes to I’m In Love With You by The 1975 (dumb name for a band, great song). 

Sports: Nice to see the Longhorns return to being good, and the Bengals are hanging in there as I write. But the Nats were awful again, and will probably be awful again in 2024. No Ralphies! 

All right, my children, that’s it.  If the Republic still is standing next December --which is far from certain-- I’ll see you then. 

Monday, September 04, 2023

Little lamb, arise (Chosen 5)

 This post is mainly concerned with the episode in The Chosen (season 3, episode 5) dealing with the raising of Jairus's daughter (see Mark 5:37-41 and parallels). In general, the episode is well done, as are all the healing miracles in this series (I say nothing about the cringey ending, where Jesus and the disciples go swimming in the Sea of Galilee fully clothed). 

I was interested to see that the healing words spoken by Jesus in the episode were "Little lamb, arise!", representing talitha kum(i) ταλιθα κουμ, a Greek transliteration of Aramaic טליתא קומי. (Mark 5:41). But, although the word טליתא "girl" is originally derived from a word meaning "lamb" (or perhaps just "young of an animal"), in Aramaic, throughout its dialects טליתא means just "girl" (as טליא talya means "boy").  The scriptwriters evidently got hold of an idea that etymology equals meaning; and this particular idea is often used sentimentally in fundamentalist homilies (like this). 

There are a thimbleful of occurrences in very late Aramaic texts where טליתא or טליא means "lamb," where the writers are actually using a borrowed Hebrew word טלה taleh, which does mean "lamb." For instance, in the Babylonian Talmud, Bava Mesia 47a we find ומשכה לפרה, ולא משכיה לטלא, "he pulled the cow, but did not pull the lamb," both "cow" and "lamb" are Hebrew. 

So the proper rendering of the Aramaic sentence is just "Girl, arise!" By the way, the standard Aramaic word for "lamb" is אמר immer (fem. imra), while in Hebrew it is כֶּבֶשׂ keves (fem. kivsa). 

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Chosen (4)

 Currently I'm into season 2, but these comments are wrapping up season 1.

  • Jesus likes to hug. A lot. Not complaining, I've just never thought of Jesus as a big hugger. But why not?
  • Erick Avari's performance as Nicodemus was excellent, kudos to him. 
  • I like the diversity of this cast, both as to gender and to ethnicity. But I'm not comfortable historically with Mary Magdelene being a de facto disciple.  Surely a single woman would not have traveled around with 13 single men? 
  • The Romans, in the last episode of Season 1, don't like the attention Jesus is getting, so they put up a notice in "Aramaic, Latin, and Greek" that is to say "By order of Rome, and punishable by detention and imprisonment, religious gatherings outside the synagogue and Hebrew school are strictly prohibited. The teacher known as Jesus of Nazareth is wanted for questioning." Then a scene shows a Roman soldier posting the notice: 
    Not Aramaic (or Latin or Greek, natch) but Modern Hebrew and not very smooth at that (and in fact a couple of lines are obviously missing). I know that the prop is meant only for verisimilitude and not meant to be historically accurate, but still this is pretty inept. (And it started my mind down a rabbit hole: How would you say "religious gatherings" in ancient Hebrew or Aramaic? I don't think there was even a word "religious" in either tongue.) Couldn't they find a scholar  (ahem) who could produce a decent prop in the ancient languages?
  • It's axiomatic that every portrayal of Jesus is a kind of mirror image of the age that produced it. In the '60's we had Godspell, with a hippie Jesus.  Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ reflects the conservative Catholic piety of its producer.  This Jesus is an evangelical Jesus.
  • Which is not to say it's bad by any means. I do enjoy this show, and its kind heart.  I nitpick because it's my job. 

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

The Chosen (3)

 Continuing with reactions to The Chosen ...

The episode of the wedding at Cana in Galilee was overall well-done, I thought ... but sooo slooooow. This series has a problem with pacing. It was a nice touch having Thomas present as a wine wrangler. 

But my job is to nitpick! It was this episode I think that began at the pawnshop, which displayed a sign in typeset (!) Hebrew (!) טובין משועבדים, which means "pledged goods" in Modern Hebrew. In both modern and ancient Hebrew (and Aramaic) the notion of pawning is expressed by the root משכן, so I'm not sure where they got their expression. 

I also have a beef with the presentation of John the Baptist's imprisonment. The Pharisee Nicodemus visits him in a Roman prison, where he has been put because a Pharisee laid an information against him (because John called them a "brood of vipers," Matt. 3:7). But it's explicitly said in the gospels (e.g, Luke 3:19-20) that Herod Antipas, tetrach of Galilee, imprisoned John because John had criticized him for marrying Herodias, his brother's wife. Neither the Romans nor the Pharisees enter into it.  Since the biblical scenario has all kinds of dramatic possibilities, I'm not sure why the script ignores it (and so far the script doesn't mention Herod at all). 

Watch this space for more carping to come!

Monday, August 07, 2023

The Chosen (2)

 Forging ahead with The Chosen ... (see previous post)

I'm about at the 4th episode, season 1.  The miraculous draught of fishes (Luke 5:1-11) was very well done, I thought, and vividly presented.  High marks to whoever wrangled all those fish for the filming. 

I'm not so happy with the staging of Jesus' teaching: the hearers seated in rows before him, while he stands and talks, like a Sunday School class. That just felt wrong. In those days, the students stood and the teacher sat, if possible at an elevation that had speaker's and hearers' heads at the same level; or else the teacher would walk and talk and the students followed. (Notice that in Luke 5:2, Jesus sits down.) (I told the rector of our church this years ago, and he said, "Wow ... if I could sit, I could preach for hours.") 

In fact, there is too much sitting going on in this show.  At mealtimes, everyone is shown sitting on chairs around a table. But, back then, if people sat down to eat, it was usually on the ground; but if a table was present, the diners would recline at an angle and reach for food in front of them:

This actually makes a number of scenes in the gospels easier to imagine, such as the notice in Luke 7:38, that the woman who anoints Jesus "stood behind him, at his feet"; or the disciple "whom Jesus loved" "leaned back against Jesus" at the Last Supper (John 13:23). It'll be interesting to see how the producers stage these scenes.

I know I'm carping, and in general, this is a good show (so far). But my concern is that people will watch it and think they're getting the Bible straight, instead of seen though a modern-day filter.

Many thanks to this site, from which I lifted the illustration. 

Friday, August 04, 2023

The Chosen, some quick reactions

 I started watching "The Chosen" on Netflix, based on the recommendation of a friend. It's the first show about Christ I've seen since "The Passion of the Christ" (which I have professional reservations about). 

In general, the production values are good, and so are the performances. (I've seen the first episode and part of the second.) In this respect, it stands up well next to other hit shows on Netflix and other streaming services -- well enough to make me want to keep watching.

I see a couple of weaknesses, though, and they are shared by almost all films about Christ.  First of all, the Romans are portrayed as a constant oppressive presence in Capernaum, where the action (so far) takes place. This is not historically accurate. Capernaum was in Galilee (not in Judea, as stated at one point), and Galilee was under the rule of Herod Antipas. Antipas was a client king under the Romans, true, but the Romans didn't control Galilee directly. It was under Jewish control. (The Romans did have a direct rule over Judea, though, in the person of the governor Pilate and Roman soldiers could be called on as needed, although they probably didn't walk the streets like military police.) So although the show sets up the Romans as bad guys, it's unlikely that this was the case in Capernaum (and I do wish they wouldn't keep pronouncing it "Caper-num." Caper-nay-um, please.)

Secondly, as is typical, the Jewish population is shown wearing Bedouin-type clothing, which fits the Western "Orientalist" view of ancient Palestine. However, based on ancient depictions and descriptions, the inhabitants of Palestine dressed the same as everybody else did in the Greco-Roman period, i.e., with a basic tunic (a big shirt reaching to the knees) and a mantle (like the Roman toga) worn over that. In terms of clothing the Galileans and Judeans and Gentiles and civilian Romans were no doubt indistinguishable. 

We haven't seen much of Jesus so far, but in his look he appears to be a break from the Euro-Christ image we've seen so much of.  So high marks for that. 

Maybe I'll write some more on this show, who knows? But I'm not bored, so far. 

Friday, December 30, 2022

New! More! Ralphies!


Almost let the Ralphies slip this year; we can't have that! It's been a year with a lot of ups and downs. But let's get to the awards …

Movies: Are they still making movies? I didn't see any in the theater. If I have to pick one for the Ralphie, I guess it would be The Blue Dahlia, which I watched online.

TV: In the nature of things, I can only remember the most recent shows watched.  For drama, I would pick Under the Banner of Heaven, very intense and historically interesting.  For comedy, I will agree with the vox populi and pick Wednesday; much better than Stranger Things 4 (which I watched while in Israel),  entertaining but incoherent.  The critical favorite Andor  I didn't enjoy particularly; there was almost no sci-fi element in it at all (although festooned with sci-fi signifiers, like spaceships, they played almost no role in the story itself).

Books: I gave the Wheel of Time umptilogy a try, but petered out after the 4th book. The Ralphie goes to All Systems Red, by Martha Wells, vol. 1 of the Murderbot Diaries. Well done. 

For non-fiction, the Ralphie goes to The Constitution of Knowledge, by Jonathan Rauch. Who would have thought a book about social epistemology would be so engrossing? But a special tip of Ralph's hat also goes to J. F. Collins's Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin, which was a helpful vade mecum to my re-entry into the world of Latin. I'm going to need Latin for my next project. Also I had a book published, which is gratifying.

Music:  The Ralphie for Album of the Year goes to Big Thief's Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, which is among the best I've ever heard and probably my favorite since Sufjan Stevens's Illinois (although very different in style and genre). I can't pick just one song for you, but here's the title track. I love the way Adrianne sings the word "recoil." For songs, there were too many to pick just one; some of the ones I particularly liked: "Speeding 72," Momma; "PBR," Bel; "Billy Toppy," Men I Trust; "Seasons Change," MorMor; "Higher," Sault; "Blue Bones," Billy Nomates.  For covers, "Fourth Time Around," by Yo La Tengo.

OK, pilgrims, that's it for another year. I'll see you at this same corner next year around the same time.