Archive for June, 2007
The content of the New Testament wasn’t fixed until long after Jesus’ death. As late as the 16th-century there were debates about which books belonged in the New Testament and which were apocryphal. Some books of “Apocrypha,” such as Esdras and Maccabees, were often printed in standard versions of the Bible. But apocryphal Gospels were never included.
Many of the most shocking Gospels were discovered only recently. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene was found in Cairo in 1896. A scroll of The Gospel of Thomas, a collection of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus and the most famous of the “Gnostic Gospels,” was found near Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. But the most shocking discovery was unearthed just last year: The Gospel of Judas.
The Gospel of Judas purports to be an account of a conversation that Jesus had with Judas Iscariot only days before Judas betrayed his master. In this Gospel, Judas is The Christ’s closest ally and confidant. He is the only one who Jesus tells about the realm of “Barbelo,” where earthly pains are unknown. Most shockingly, Jesus wants and expects Judas to “betray” him: only then can he be martyred and fulfill the prophecies.
There are discrepancies between the four Canonical Gospels of the New Testament, but none so dramatic as this. If The Gospel of Judas had made the original cut, we’d be living in a very different world today.
Read The Gospel of Judas here.
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Even people who’ve never heard of the Japanese printmaker Hokusai are familiar with his most famous image: a gigantic, stylized plunging wave that has been synonymous with the word “tsunami” for over a century. And what a remarkable image it is! All the violence of the ocean captured in three shades of blue. The yin and yang of the wave in the foreground and the sky in the back.* The tragic fate of the sailors who are about to be consumed. And the life-like quality of the wave itself, breaking into a mass of prehensile claws. With all of this, it’s easy to ignore the likeness, tucked away in the bottom-center of the print, of Mount Fuji.
In fact, Hokusai’s famous wave is only one image – the 18th – from a series called 36 Views of Mount Fuji (or Fugaku Sanju Rokkei in Japanese). The print of the wave (titled Mount Fuji from the Offing in Kanagawa) is undoubtedly the most famous. But there are many other beautiful images in the series.
In some of the prints, Mount Fuji is even more diminished than it is in the print above. Consider this picture of Mount Fuji from Owari, where the snow-capped mountain is only a tiny triangle inside the tub that an old peasant is caulking.
Perhaps the most serene image in the series is Mount Fuji from a Teahouse at Yoshida, a stark contrast to the infamous wave:
In some images, Mount Fuji is much more than a hidden triangle in the background, as in Mount Fuji from the Foot, more commonly known as the “Red Fuji”:
For all 36 views from Mount Fuji (and ten more besides), go here.
* For more on “yin and yang,” see the entry on Taoism: Week 48, Day 7.
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If any historical figure deserves his reputation as a “Renaissance Man,” it’s Benjamin Franklin. He is known as the author of the hilarious Autobiography; he is known as the diplomat who advanced the cause of American independence throughout Continental Europe; and he is known as the gentleman-naturalist who made a few original discoveries in the study of electricity.
Actually, that last bit isn’t quite accurate.
A better example of the gentleman-naturalist would be Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita and Pale Fire. Besides writing literary masterpieces in Russian and English, Nabokov produced original research in lepidoptery (the study of butterflies). Franklin did much more. His work on electricity is not only notable because of his achievements in other fields. It is notable because it ranks with the world-changing discoveries of Galileo and Copernicus, of Newton and Einstein.
The phenomenon of electricity was very poorly understood in Franklin’s time. For one thing, researchers thought electricity was a liquid. In fact, what we now know as “positive” and “negative” charges were thought to be two different “electrical fluids.” Moreover, nobody before Franklin made the connection between static electricity and bolts of lightning. We owe all of these discoveries to Franklin, the Founding Father who was also one of the founders of modern science. Franklin wasn’t a statesman who dabbled in the laboratory. He was a scientist who dabbled in diplomacy.
Want to learn more about Franklin’s scientific achievements? Read a fascinating introduction to “The Scientific Mind of Benjamin Franklin” by Jerry Weinberger here.
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Music01 Jun 2007 07:14 am
When Mozart set out to write Don Giovanni, he based it on Giovanni Bertati’s theatrical version of the Don Juan story. There were over a dozen versions of the story in Mozart’s time, and dozens more have been written since. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a time when “Don Juan” wasn’t a character everyone had heard of. (That’s why words like “folklore” come up so often when discussing the story, putting its origin in a far-off, mythical past.) But, like Peter Pan, another great myth that is actually the creation of a flesh-and-blood artist (J. M. Barrie), Don Juan was created by a single author: a 17th century Spanish playwright named Tirso de Molina. His most famous work, a three act play called El Burlador de Sevilla, introduced Don Juan to the world.
The story centers on Don Juan Tenorio, a 14th century nobleman of Seville. Don Juan is forced to flee Seville after spending the night with the Duchess Isabella, who had mistaken him for her lover Duke Octavia. In his absence, arrangements are made for Don Juan to marry Doña Ana, the daughter of the powerful Don Gonzalo. But, of course, Don Juan betrays her, and Don Gonzalo vows with his dying breath to haunt the philandering nobleman. He eventually appears to Don Juan in a cemetery and strikes him dead, but not before forcing him to eat a banquet of snakes, fingernails, and tarantulas.
Important as it is, translations of the play are hard to come by. A good project for a devoted intellectual who knows Spanish!
Speak Spanish? Read El Burlador de Sevilla in the original (PDF) here.
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