Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Deconstruction of a Myth

Now for a more serious line of thought...
It is a strange fact that I spent a year at St. Joseph's College Seminary studying for the Catholic priesthood. It was during that year that I met Pope John Paul II during his San Francisco visit in 1988.
During that time, I would have described myself as a 'liberal Catholic' and I think most at that seminary would also have labelled themselves that way, as opposed to the Camarillo seminary in Southern California (St. Joseph's was in Mountain View, just SE of San Jose). The Camarillo seminarians were very conservative, they still wore albs with tassles during vespers and matins.
I distinctly remember a stained glass window in the chapel that depicted an exorcism. It showed a priest with missal and holy water sprinkler before a child in a chair, and out of his back, fleeing the scene, was this very red demon (it reminded me of that deviled ham logo, you know the one with debonair, red devil's horned head on the wrapper) with a pitchfork swathed in hellish flame. I remember snickering at that window then, and I snicker even more at its recollection now. What a superstitious lot we Christians are.
Btw, if you're wondering what I was doing at Camarillo when I was supposed to be at St. Joseph's, our class visited there for a week. Tradition.
In any case, it was there at the seminary that my mind began its metamorphosis to rationality and adulthood. It was there that Fr. Bonsor S.S. (the S.S. stands for Society of St. Sulpice, not the Gestapo though one could argue that) taught me about Biblical Criticism in Theology 101.
This was the beginning of my awakening from the chrysalis of organized religion.
You see, all is not as it seems....
I was taught by my father (who during my youth was a staunch and ardent Catholic) that the miracle of the Four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the ones who wrote the gospels of the New Testament) was that they all agreed with each other though they were written in different places at different times.
But what I discovered is that the gospels agreed so much BECAUSE each writer copied material from the others. During the 60's or 70's CE (Common or Christian Era), Mark (or whoever he/she was, the names were added later to give credence to its contents) wrote his gospel. Have you noticed that when preachers and pundits quote the NT, that they quote Mark the least? Why is this? Simply because what is found in Mark can be found also, for the most part, in Luke and Matthew with added details. Mark is the shortest of the canonical gospels and if you read it in the original Koine Greek, it is devoid of literary bells and whistles, curt, to the point, with a bevy of run-on sentences. In other words, it reads like it is being told by oral transmission, i.e a dictation.
Because of this similarity between these three gospels, they are called synoptic (syn = same, optic = to see, in other words, they look the same when compared to each other).
This is a matter of some controversy among scholars.
Some put the order the synoptics were composed at:
  • Mark, then Luke then Matthew
  • Mark, then Matthew then Luke
  • Mark, then both Matthew and Luke simultaneously

Some even deny that Mark was the first gospel, but the consensus of opinion (including mine) is that Mark was first. This is known in the field as 'Markan priority'.

I will continue with this thread tomorrow. House M.D. is on. Can't miss it.


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