Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

Posts Tagged ‘study’

Gospel Remakes and Sequels…

Posted by John Montgomery on August 5, 2010

It seems to me that there have sure been a lot of movie “remakes” this season. I’ve certainly not seen them all, but I have caught a few. My youngest son, Matt talked me into seeing the remake (more accurately – the prequel) of Robin Hood.

Now I grew up seeing Robin every Saturday morning played by Richard Greene. The plots were predictable and the outcomes always certain. I can still sing the theme song – some of you are old enough to remember.

Robin Hood, Robin Hood
Riding through the glen.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood
With his band of men.
Feared by the bad, loved by the good.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood.

Ridley Scott’s  latest version of Robin Hood tells the details of story that happened before our varied episodes of “robbing from the rich and giving to the poor” came to be told. This present version of the legendary hero stars  Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett.

Blanchett, of course, plays “Maid Marian,” but in a plot twist, instead of Crowe playing  Robin of Loxley (De Lockesly, Locksley), he is Robin Longstride, a happy archer who assumes Loxley’s identity to lead villagers against an invasion from France. Marian is the real Loxley’s widow and the plot develops – need I say more?

This past year during Lent, I focused on takes of Dicken’s The Christmas Carol. Actually, we had a small group at the church reading the original text (in English) and as part of the study we went back and looked at some of the remakes. The list is huge – see wiki article. Of course, this year’s remake was Jim Carrey’s version. With Three-D glasses and all along with Robert Zemeckis’ direction and the Disney animations, we soared across space and time until I was just plain dizzy.

Each remake is a little bit different and some give a significantly nuanced view to the story. Some remakes are more different than others. I was struck at how in Brian Henson’s 1992 Muppet’s take on the Christmas Carol, there were two Marley brothers, not surprisingly played by the well-known curmudgeons usually found weekly in the balcony for the TV show. (Is that where I got the name for this blog?) Of course, one of the most significant updates in Juhl’s script was the special music that punctuated the narrative.

Not surprisingly, the Muppet’s version was mainly aimed at the children. In that context, I was a bit taken aback when in the scene with the young boy and girl symbolizing want and ignorance, the young girl morphs into an obvious prostitute!

The best remake for me this season was the Karate Kid – Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith’s son, Jaden and Jackie Chan adapt the classic Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita movie setting it not in Southern California, but Beijing. I am told that there is a previous remake, this time with a young girl as the hero, but I have not seen it yet.  Chan’s movie was elegant. Of course, it it not about Karate, but Kung Fu. Nevertheless the parallels are obvious. Some are spoofs of previous scenes like the famous attempt to use chopsticks to catch the fly. With all due respect for Morita, Chan’s martial art routines are awesome. Morita is a great actor. Chan is a Master.

It’s actually been 26 years since Avidsen’s movie was first released. I rented the original and I was shocked at how much of the dialogue remained – in many cases, word for word.

* * * * *

It seems to me that “remakes” function on several levels. Sometimes, we get better information. I’m told that Scott’s Robin Hood is more true to the tradition.

Of course, remakes are not simply tales of the past, but speak in powerful ways to the present situation. In  our period where populist Ayn Rand fundamentalism is shouted back and forth at a political rally “robbing from the rich and giving to the poor” takes on the flavor of socialism and Marxist redistribution of the wealth.

Finally, a narrative pluralism goes a long way to form our imagination – building a deeper appreciation of diversity and some patience with divergent perspectives.

* * * * *

So… has occurred to me that we might talk about our various versions of the gospel narratives as a series of “remakes.” I don’t think it stretches the facts to say that Acts is Luke’s sequel. But is Matthew a remake of Mark? Luke is perhaps a remake of Mark and Matthew, and John…well that is another post. Not only do Matthew and Luke correct Mark’s questionable grammar, but they sometimes tell a different story.  They are not movies, but I believe that the more we can see the gospel narratives rather than simply hear them, the word is more powerfully expressed.

If all that had survived had been Mark, we would have not known that it was Peter with the sword in the garden. Mother Mary would not have been at the cross, in fact she would have been absent because she thought Jesus was crazy. Where is the Passover supper in John?

Now a blog post is not the place to detail all of the changes that accompanied the gospel remake process, we can do that later. I’ve avoided the question of lectionary. after all, would Men in Tights have even make the Robin Hood canon?

But, having said that, in our multi-faith world, perhaps the more we focus on how each subsequent author told the gospel story differently, if we stop assuming that the texts say the same thing, the texts themselves might begin to form our imagination and our sense of hospitality in the face of real religious diversity.

I am glad that there are several versions of Robin Hood. I am glad that there are also four gospel traditions.

* * * * *

I’ll close with a small gift. My thanks go out to James F. McGrath who recently shared Duke professor Mark Goodacre’s You-tube fun on the synoptic problem. Enjoy.


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Conversations With Scripture – Borg on Mark

Posted by John Montgomery on February 18, 2010

180px-Marcus_Borg_speaking_in_Mansfield_College_chapelI really wish that I had Marcus Borg’s ability to write for a  lay audience. That may be, even more than the insights he shares, the key reason that I delight in his latest book,  published as part of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series, Conversation About Scripture.

The Gospel of Mark is by my count the seventh book published in that series which also includes work on John, Parables, the Law, 2nd Isaiah, Acts and Revelation. I didn’t immediately find much in Borg’s new book that was particularly new – he has already written some 22 books and leads workshops across the continent in a variety of local congregations. But it is nice, especially as my ongoing study focus is Taking a Second Look at Mark, to have it all in one place.

Following what for me is a very well written introduction to post-modern Biblical study and his particular approach, Borg looks at the Gospel in five successive chapters. Rejecting the false choices between fundamentalist literalism on the one hand and the popular put down of more metaphorical readings of scripture as “less than” worthy on the other, Borg reiterates his work with Metaphorical (Parabolic) Narratives in the text, an approach that looks instead for that which is “more than” the historical, literal events related.

While Borg slogs through the text beginning with what he calls the “overture,” his chapter divisions are less grounded in the actual flow of the narrative, but serve as stopping places to explore particular elements. Gospel chapters 1-3, as the overture, function to set the stage playing key recurring themes. In particular, Borg focuses like many scholars also do on the notion of “the way” as Mark’s central paradigm.

Chapter 2 in the study focuses on Mark 4-5 exploring the topics of parabolic teaching first and then miracles examined less as actual events and more as truth-filled stories, many grounded in the Christian Old Testament.

Let me take a brief tangent, simply thanking Borg for sensitivity to some of the more damaging images of the relationships between Jews and Christians that even today hang around especially in local congregations but unfortunately in some pulpits as well. His choice to speak of the Jewish Scriptures and the “Christian Old Testament” is a point in kind, although I wish he would not simply skip over the fact that these two books are distinctly different books. However, he makes a helpful start here. In his discussion of the Final Week (chapter five  Mark 9-16), he clearly reminds readers that the corruption of the nation’s ruling elites is not the corruption of the Jewish people.

Borg’s third chapter (Mark 6:1-8:21) returns to the theme of miracles, this time nature miracles and their echo in the Jewish creation tradition, particularly the stilling of the storm. He then also explores the growing rejection, not so much by the crowds, but by authorities and the predictable conflicts being foreshadowed in the text.

Chapter Four (Mark 8:22-10:52) explores what scholar John Donahue spoke of as the top of the arch, the story of the journey from the Galilee to Judea (finally Jerusalem). Borg rightly points out that this segment of the text begins with the story of the healing of the blind man in Bethsaida and ends with a second miracle of restoring sight of one in Jericho. In between (inside this sandwich), Borg looks at the three teachings of Jesus about the Son of Man and what is to happen to him. He also discusses in each associated pericope the misunderstanding at stake and the renewed call to follow “the way.”

In this chapter, Borg  also speaks to the issue of understanding the crucifixion and resurrection beyond the fundamentalist queion of whether these events really occurred – a misinformed, misplaced question that distracts from encountering the real meat of the narrative.

Then, Borg  wrestles briefly with other stories that emerge in these texts including the transfiguration and the disturbing questions of Jesus’ attitude to wealth.

While I find this book helpful, it seems to me that as this book and the related Gospel are studied in a local parish, some scholarly consultation might be helpful. For Borg is not the last word (and I certainly don’t think he intends to be) but this study is better imaged as a “first word” that raises a whole series of issues that can be explored in the uture. This is why I do understand the rationale behind no footnotes (actually only five), the fact that there are only sixs other sources identified in what looks to be a bibliography seems to me to be less than helpful. So for example, Borg speaks of the event of the tearing of the curtain in the temple as the ripping of the cloth separating the holy of holies, but someone like Raymond Brown would beg to differ noting that there are probably several curtains. Or again, Borg’s statement that there is no historical precedent for the Barrabbas amnesty is frankly wrong.

Theologically, I find his point blank affirmation of what is called the “Messianic Secret” simplistic and his failure to distinguish between the Judean Messianic tradition and the Galilean Son of Man perspective problematic. Still, especially if a study group has access to additional perspectives, this is certainly a book that I would recommend.

Borg’s final chapter examines the week in Jerusalem culminating in crucifixion and resurrection and he is quite honest that he draws much of the summary material from his book written with Crossan, The Final Week. I might add that I love that book, so if I had a study group looking first at this resource, the next place I would take the group might well be to the fuller discussion in that book. Having said that, B0rg does extract important insights including the fact that on so-called Palm Sunday (not really a Sunday) there were two parades.

In that context, we are not surprised to find Borg’s work with empire (what he and Crossan call the “domination system”) mentioned throughout the commentary. Borg’s clear break with notions of Substitutionary Atonement are certainly there as well and may be more forcefully stated than in other settings. I’ve still got to work a bit on his suggestion of an alternative notion of  “participatory atonements.” Of course, Borg rehearses his, what for me is a helpful distinction between Faith (belief) as subscribing to a check list of  formal propositions and Faith (belief) as loyalty and trust. This description of paradign shift is found in a couple of his earlier books and often is the recurring subject of his seminars.

Without losing his perspective on Mark, I did find his regular comments as to how Matthew (less Luke and John) edited what Mark had first written. This features opens the door to further study of the larger Gospel tradition and its evolution.

As a part of the series, Borg’s commentary is followed by several pages of study questions and curriculum suggestions that offer a lot of  ways a group might take the study consistent with the actual membership. The author of these questions is not identified, but it is someone other than Borg. However, in his writing Borg also periodically stops the commentary and asks a series of questions as well.
This is helpful too and Borg is frank enough to say that he is puzzled at certain texts and honest enough to point out that scholars disagree at some places.



Well that’s the review.

Here is the commercial! Many of you are aware that for the last several months I have bee writing initial commentaries on Mark as well. This project started on the old 7 Village site, but has now in the process of being moved to my new journal site, Logos 2.0.

My study, Taking a Second Look at Mark, is still under construction, but in the meantime, I would love to put you on my mail list for when it starts again. In the meantime, please check out some of the previous posts.

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In My InBox (Week Two, July 2009)

Posted by John Montgomery on July 19, 2009

Christian-Muslim Dialogue

Recently, the folks over at IRD published a set of Guidelines for Christian-Muslim Dialogue. Of course, in spite of what appears to be a set of reasonable expectations, one guideline suggests that the participants need to be “orthodox” Christians – i.e.  read fundamentalists (or extremist evangelicals). It reads:

Make sure that the Christians entering into dialogue with Muslims have a firm grasp of an orthodox faith in the mainstream of the Christian tradition. Since their faith may be challenged and stretched in the dialogue, the Christian participants must know where the heart of that faith lies and where its bound­aries are. Churches do no favor to the Muslims by sending out Christian “representatives” whose own faith is uncertain, confused, self-contradictory, and unable to distinguish between confessional essentials and their own idiosyncratic views.

I guess that leaves me out!
For a different view, this week’s 30 Good Minutes featured Professor Diana Eck talking about the recent Muslim initiated letter to Christians, “A Common Word” and what an ppropriate response might look like. Dr. Diana Eck is  Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University and Director of the Pluralism Project. She is a life-long United Methodist.

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Posted by John Montgomery on January 13, 2009


“Only willful ignorance or intellectual dishonesty can account for the claim that the Bible is inerrant and infallible.” No truth-loving, God-respecting, Christ-honoring believer should be guilty of such heresy. To invest the Bible with the qualities of inerrancy and infallibility is to idolatrize it, to transform it into a false god.”

— Robert Bratcher – translator, Good News for Modern Man

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