Re: Next you'll tell me there wasn't a flying reindeer there named Myrrh.

1

I don't think I've ever heard of this. Why not this time of year?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:20 PM
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Census_of_Quirinius


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:23 PM
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I've heard this, based on astronomy.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:23 PM
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4

Why would this time of year be inappropriate?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:28 PM
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Why would this time of year be inappropriate?

Stanley's probably looking at the thermometer outside, "walk cross country? fuck that"


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:32 PM
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4: Because everybody's too busy doing Christmas stuff and John Kyl would have pitched a hissy fit.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:36 PM
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1, 4, 5: My inability to answer Ned's and teo's question with anything other than, "Um, because...it's cold?" is part of what leads me to think I made it all up.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:38 PM
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8

Palestine/Judaea can get fucking cold in winter (saith my late mum, who would know, having been there in the army). But who knows what time of year Molly and Joe would have been traveling, assuming they existed. Certainly Luke doesn't specify. Large scale bureaucratic enterprises in antiquity tended to take a long time, due to the absence of intertubes etc. So it's quite plausible that people could have been allowed to turn up any time in a specified year.

I believe there's some evidence that some early Christians celebrated the incarnation in early summer, but they wouldn't have had any more clue than us, in reality.

Anyway, all good religions have a midwinter festival. Don't be a grinch about it.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:42 PM
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7: I think I've heard this before too, Stanley -- that the Census was done after Passover, so clearly Jesus wasn't born on or near December 25.

I think this might be something that anti-Christmas Christians say.



Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:44 PM
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10

Some evidence... some early Christians...


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:45 PM
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11

Seems like it would've made more sense to schedule his birth for the spring, but they'd already used that for the resurrection.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:45 PM
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12

"Because it's cold" is an excellent reason to avoid loads of stuff. Thank god it's my Friday, because Christmas traffic plus snowstorms is endless traffic accidents, the most mind numbing miserable work ever. TA's mostly consist of standing around in shitty weather, doing paperwork, and resisting the urge to club malingerers who think the accident is going to be their lottery ticket.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:46 PM
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13

Certainly the high-school Latin class version of this was that "the celebration of the birth of Christ was moved to December to co-opt Saturnalia."


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:50 PM
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14

I don't have time to bother digging around and linking to anything, but in both the particular protestant and catholic traditions with which I'm familiar, this is relatively common knowledge--christmas is the day set aside to commemorate the birth, for certain historical reasons I don't remember right now (having something to do with coopting a pagan holiday, probably?), not the actual birth date.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:50 PM
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My very vague memory is that there's no reason to think it didn't happen in winter, but there's also no reason to think that it did -- the midwinter date doesn't show up until a few centuries AD.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:50 PM
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16

And I am totally pwned.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:51 PM
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17

I was recently informed that winter in Jerusalem is cold and rainy, while winter in Tel Aviv is quite pleasant. This was a matter of some practical import to me since I'll be visiting both in January.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:51 PM
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18

Somehow Christianity needs to be rearranged so that Santa Claus brings presents to baby Jesus.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:52 PM
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19

that winter in Jerusalem is cold and rainy, while winter in Tel Aviv is quite pleasant.

Aren't they close enough to each other to generally share a climate?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:52 PM
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20

there's no reason to think it didn't happen in winter

I think this is wrong--see 2.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:53 PM
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21

19: those darn mediterranean regions and their microclimates.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:54 PM
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17 does sound weird. On the other hand, I know the weather in Palo Alto and Berkeley are notably different, and Jerusalem is more inland, so maybe it's reasonable.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:54 PM
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17 & 19 both have some truth.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:54 PM
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24

Aren't they close enough to each other to generally share a climate?

Apparently not.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:54 PM
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25

I thought this was a well-accepted and generally uncontroversial point,

However! Given the statistics on how many people take creation/virgin birth/everything else literally, I am sure that this factoid is not well-accepted and uncontroversial.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:54 PM
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26

Isn't there something in the Bible strongly implying it's spring?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:55 PM
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27

I love you guys. Let's put the Christ back in Christmas!


Posted by: Pauly Shore | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:55 PM
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28

The part of the nativity story that's inconsistent with December is that the shepherd's were out with their flocks. Calling everyone back to the place they were born is crazy at any time and was probably invented to make the fact that everyone keeps saying that Jesus is from Nazareth compatible with the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.


Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:56 PM
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29

25: Well, Jesus being born on December 25th of year 0 is not a point of doctrine for any Christian sect as far as I know. The virgin birth, for one, is.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:58 PM
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30

I have mistletoe!


Posted by: Pauly Shore | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 12:58 PM
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31

28 is right AFAIK.

25. I wouldn't worry about that. SBC types and Palinoids don't read the bible literally, because their heads would asplode if they did. They repeat talking points they've been told about the bible, and many of them are lies.

Stanley appears to be asking reality based questions.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:02 PM
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32

29. Truer than true, because there is no year 0. Dionysius Exiguus (Diminutive Denis) who invented the whole AD shenanigans, was working with Roman (or possibly Greek) numerals, which didn't have a zero.

Which is why there was a big fight about whether the 3rd millennium started in 2000 or 2001.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:07 PM
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33

8 is gospel, as far as I'm concerned. But there's something to be said for the idea/myth of a winter journey. Consider The Journey of the Magi, by T.S. Eliott:

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."

Etc. Worth reading in full.


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:08 PM
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34

grrr. "was" s/b "ways"


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:10 PM
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35

Well, Jesus being born on December 25th of year 0 is not a point of doctrine for any Christian sect as far as I know. The virgin birth, for one, is.

Are most people basing their dogmatism on what's written in doctrine, or on how they were raised?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:11 PM
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Yes to 33 - it's not like Joseph and Mary were supposed to have had a choice in the matter. ("Okay, if we're going to Bethlehem it should be in the spring when it's nice there, that frees up the winter for seeing your cousin in Cairo, and...")


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:12 PM
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33: Sure! It would be no big deal for Joseph and Mary to have to camp out in the summer in Bethlehem.

But then they might get heat stroke riding that donkey to Egypt.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:12 PM
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38

Does it really make any difference to anything if a bunch of people hold a particular opinion about the time of year this one guy was born? Christmas is on a particular day; it commemorates his birth; normally we commemorate someone's birth on the day he was born. It's not a huge stretch to draw that conclusion, nor does it seem to me to make you a dumb person.

I can say from my experience that when I was in college and reading a ton of "historical Jesus" stuff -- at which point I was willing to give up on the divinity of Christ, etc. -- I was still taken aback when a scholar said that it was incredibly improbable that Joseph would've taken a very pregnant woman on a moderately long journey only to give birth and then turn right around and go back.

That's because when you hear things a lot, you believe them. Until someone debunked Sarah Palin for saying it, for example, I would've assumed it was true that people thought buying Alaska was a boondoggle -- or assumed wrong things about any number of historical events, which I probably do still. And it doesn't matter whatsoever.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:13 PM
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39

Wow.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:14 PM
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40

The scholar also pointed out what #28 points out about the whole "return to your native city" thing -- do the Romans really care if everyone makes sure to check in at the place that their ancestor from nearly a millennium ago (i.e., supposedly King David in Joesph's case) was born?


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:18 PM
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41

It would have been actuarially unlikely for Jesus to be born in the Spring, because people didn't fuck much in Mid-Summer in that climate zone before air conditioning.

Uh, except that His father wasn't exactly "people." So, never mind.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:18 PM
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42

How many other similarities can we find between Mary and Sarah Palin?


Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:24 PM
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43

How many other similarities can we find between Mary and Sarah Palin?

Neither of them had abortions?


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:26 PM
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44

28 and 40 are the points I was going to make, painstakingly, on this stupid phone keyboard. And now I don't have to!


Posted by: emdash | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:26 PM
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45

43 made me laugh out loud.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:29 PM
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46

42: Neither of them are any good at shooting a rifle?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:32 PM
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47

Neither of them had abortions?

On at least one occasion.

40 is a very good point. The Romans were pragmatists. Shit, they practically invented the idea.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:44 PM
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48

On at least one occasion.

I am not having an abortion right now.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:47 PM
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49

All the best Jesuses were born on the actual solstice.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:47 PM
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50

Somehow Christianity needs to be rearranged so that Santa Claus brings presents to baby Jesus.

Failing that, at least include a caganer


Posted by: Annelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:47 PM
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51

49: I thought the plural was "Jesi". 'Cause, you know, Romans and stuff.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 1:49 PM
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52

Romanes eunt domus.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 2:01 PM
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53

17: I was recently informed that winter in Jerusalem is cold and rainy, while winter in Tel Aviv is quite pleasant.

There is about 6°F difference in average temperature between the two, which is about what you would expect given Jerusalem's elevation of 2,000 feet (Bethlehem is ~2,500). Hard to see that there is any noticeable difference in rainfall--Jerusalem has 12.9 rainy days and 5.2 inches of rain on average in January while for Tel Aviv the numbers are 12.8 and 5.0. Both are fairly rainy, that is about 1/3 more total rain and days of rain than you get for any month in New Jersey for instance.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 2:17 PM
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54

53: Interesting; thanks.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 2:22 PM
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55

If it rains frogs while you're there, it's either a plague or someone's filming a sequel to Magnolia, which, either way, it's bad news.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 2:24 PM
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56

I can certainly imagine an occupying power trying to make everyone be registered in the town they (at least vaguely) come from and pay taxes. It's a sort of iconically statey thing to do. ("Of course I came from here....a millenium ago!" "OK, OK, just stamp his fucking form already, we've got how many others to do, and y'know what Petraeus says about contact with the administration.")


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 2:30 PM
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57

I like egg nog!


Posted by: Pauly Shore | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 3:11 PM
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58

But it makes me kinda gassy. Sorry, guys!


Posted by: Pauly Shore | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 4:03 PM
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59

But there's something to be said for the idea/myth of a winter journey.

John Donne perorates on this in one of his Christmas sermons (shepherds, wise men, paths full of snow but the travelers persist, etc., etc.).


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 5:09 PM
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56: bravo


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 5:13 PM
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61

But there's something to be said for the idea/myth of a winter journey. Consider The Journey of the Magi, by T.S. Eliott:
"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."

I had to learn this in school. We ended up adding in lines like, "We sought him in the basement / we sought him by the stair / But when we got to Palestine / Macavity WASN'T THERE!"


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 6:01 PM
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Wasn't that the Easter poem? "We sought him upon Calvary/ we sought him here and there/ but when we rolled away the stone/Macavity WASN'T THERE!"


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 6:05 PM
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63

Speaking of myrrh.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 6:10 PM
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64

I mean, I have no idea what season Jesus was thought to have been born in, but I don't think that Christians started celebrating Christmas in December, because it was supposed to be the actual date.

Christmas is just after the solstice. As chris y said, most religions have a feast just after the solstice to welcome back the coming of the light. Jesus is thought, in Christian tradition, to be the light and the life coming into the darkness etc. (See John's Gospel.) They were probably timing it around the solstice. Easter is a weird mix of the solar and lunar calendars, but it follows the spring equinox--again, as we get more light we have a festival.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 6:21 PM
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65

As long as we're talking about Christmas and the Bible, this deserves a link.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 6:24 PM
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66

"Er, well, um, if you're dropping by again, do pop in Heh. And thanks a lot for the gold and frankincense, er, but don't worry too much about the myrrh next time. All right? Heh. Thank you. Good-bye."


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 6:41 PM
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A cold coming we had of it, / Just the worst time of the year"

My head immediately changes this to "A BAD COLD HE HAD OF IT JUST THE WORST TIME / JUST THE WORST TIME OF THE YEAR FOR A REVOLUTION". I knew the Hamletmaschine playing off the lines before I had read the original. No Eliot fan here.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 6:42 PM
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68

56 is sounds all too plausible.

And since this is the nativity thread, a moment to note that one of my favorite 2-year-olds is currently obsessed with this luminously illustrated nativity story by the author of Grandfather Twilight. I don't think it's a religious thing, though -- she loves the peacocks.*

*What, there are no peacocks in your version of the nativity story? For shame!


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 6:44 PM
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69

Thanks Witt! I was looking for a good nativity book for my three year old. Despite going to Sunday school every week, I don't think she's ever gotten told the Christmas story, as revealed yesterday when she started mixing her toys in with the creche I'd set up. Her toy rhino both nudging baby Jesus, and her explanation was that "the rhino is eating this bad baby because he was bad" which I'm pretty sure isn't anywhere in the canonical New Testament.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 7:05 PM
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70

Man this place has fallen so far: McManus but no Emerson and peacock jokes?!


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 7:09 PM
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71

Her toy rhino both nudging baby Jesus, and her explanation was that "the rhino is eating this bad baby because he was bad" which I'm pretty sure isn't anywhere in the canonical New Testament.

If you would be a bit open-minded, I think you'd see that we could have avoided a whole lot of heartache along the way if things had gone this way.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 7:09 PM
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69: Uh, hello? Noah brought the rhino to visit with Jesus. Well, two rhinos, technically.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 7:09 PM
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73

Jesus would forgive me for failing to close my tags.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 7:09 PM
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Jesus would forgive me for failing to close my tags.

The rhino, on the other hand...


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 7:16 PM
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75

64.1: That's what I was taught. They just said the date was picked to replace the Roman feast because a) nobody knew the day when Jesus was actually born, b) everybody wanted a celebration then, and c) the Church didn't want a pagan celebration any day.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 7:21 PM
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Her toy rhino both nudging baby Jesus, and her explanation was that "the rhino is eating this bad baby because he was bad" which I'm pretty sure isn't anywhere in the canonical New Testament.

But the Apocrypha contain some pretty wild stuff, if the History Channel is to be credited.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 7:37 PM
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77

We three kings of Orient are
Tried to smoke a rubber cigar.
It was loaded, it exploded
We two kings of Orient are
...

Still a kid staple?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 7:47 PM
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78

Not to my knowledge.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 7:49 PM
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79

I remember that one well, Stormcrow, and from a lot closer than Moby.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 7:54 PM
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80

We three kings of Orient are/ Tried to smoke a rubber cigar./It was loaded, it exploded/We two kings of Orient are

I knew the last line as "Carrying us all afar." Other than that, yes.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 7:58 PM
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They don't even use loaded cigars in movies anymore. I never did see one in real life. I did see a loaded cigarette go off, because I loaded it myself. Dad wasn't that mad, but I could tell that doing it again wouldn't be a good idea at all.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 7:59 PM
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82

"But when we got to Palestine / Macavity WASN'T THERE!"

This made me laugh.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 7:59 PM
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83

Maybe it is regional. I'm older than heebie.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 8:00 PM
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84

Maybe I learned it from someone even older than Moby Hick. Like Stormcrow or something.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 8:02 PM
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85

Re apo's link waayyy up top: the contention that census-taking is necessarily against Jewish law is bizarre to me... Having read the linked passage, it just doesn't follow that *taking* a census is bad.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 8:03 PM
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86

Maybe the census had a short form and a pork form?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 8:04 PM
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87

69: Also, Baby Jesus is indeed being bad if He sneaked into the manger before Christmas Day.

/Absurdly old-fashioned.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 8:14 PM
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88
I was recently informed that winter in Jerusalem is cold and rainy, while winter in Tel Aviv is quite pleasant. This was a matter of some practical import to me since I'll be visiting both in January.

MEETUP!


Posted by: Awl | Link to this comment | 12-20-10 11:45 PM
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The part of the nativity story that's inconsistent with December is that the shepherd's were out with their flocks

Not inconsistent at all wih the highly unpleasant realities of subsistence animal husbandry. Shepherding isn't a good career.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12-21-10 12:48 AM
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90

77. Not heard that version:

We three kings of orient are
One in a taxi, one in a car
One on a scooter, tooting his hooter
Following yonder star


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-21-10 1:56 AM
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89: I dunno. You don't keep your livestock out all night in that kind of winter. (Snow, cold rain, temperatures down to freezing). You bring them back down into the fold.
Come on, you're Welsh, you should know this stuff. I bet you don't know anything about pit props either.

I liked Old Possum's Book of Practical Epiphanies.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-21-10 1:58 AM
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92

While I too secretly harbour a belief that Christ was born in Wales (there is family conflict here; my son thinks he was born in Henley-on-Thames), I think mainstream Christianity has the event happening somewhere in the Middle East.

Nomadic herdsmen don't have the luxury of your posh "folds"; even if they'd brought their sheep down from the mountains (which I am not sure they would since the FAO notes on care and husbandry of the Awassi sheep have the grazing season in the winter, which makes sense given the dryness of the summer), they would still be outside in the fields with them, because they'd be nomads and would have neither bungalows nor second-hand Range Rovers. Nomadic middle-eastern shepherds rarely compete in point-to-points and often vote Green rather than Tory or Plaid Cymru.


and what the hell:

Local Boy Makes Good, by Harri Webb

When Christ was born on Dowlais Top
The ironworks were all on stop
The money wasn't coming in,
But there was no room at the Half Moon Inn

The shepherds came from Twyn y Waun
And three kings by the Merthyr and Brecon line,
The star shone over the Brecon's ridge
And the angels sang on Rhymney Bridge

When Christ turned water into stout
A lot of people were most put out
And wrote letters to the paper
Protesting at such a wicked caper

When Christ fed the unemployed
The authorities were most annoyed
He hadn't gone through the proper channels
Said the public men on the boards and panels

When Christ walked upon Swansea Bay
The people looked the other way
And murmured, this is not at all
The sort of thing that suits Porthcawl

When Christ preached a sermon on Kilvey Hill
He'd have dropped dead if looks could kill
And as they listened to the Beatitudes
They sniffed with scorn and muttered "platitudes!"

When Christ was hanged in Cardiff jail
Good riddance, said the
Western Mail.
But daro, weren't their faces red
When he came to judge the quick and the dead


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12-21-10 2:36 AM
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That's a fantastic poem. Warms the cockles of my atheist heart.

Would first century Judaean shepherds have been nomadic (transhumant)? It was one on the more densly populated and intensively farmed regions of the empire, so I'm not sure where they'd have gone looking for alternative pastures.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-21-10 3:00 AM
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I'm thinking mainly of the Bedouin, who are basically nomadic shepherds and who lived in the Judaean desert, but you might have a point there. In general, even the most intensively farmed areas will have some places like Wales or Yorkshire where arable isn't practical - you don't have shepherds at all where you can have more or less anything else. A couple of religious websites seem to suggest that there were some communal fields outside Bethlehem where nomadic shepherds were allowed to settle their flocks in winter, but this appears to be mainly in the context of coming up with arguments why it isn't ridiculous to believe that Baby Jesus' birthday happened to coincide with the winter solstice, so frankly I believe they might be lying.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12-21-10 3:17 AM
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95

I don't think they were nomads, no. They'd have had houses and sheepfolds.
Those Awassi sheep, although interesting, are a desert breed, and Bethlehem isn't in a desert: it has a Mediterranean climate and gets more rain every year than Marseilles or Sicily or Athens. It also gets distinctly chilly in winter.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-21-10 3:19 AM
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96

Very good poem by the way.

this appears to be mainly in the context of coming up with arguments why it isn't ridiculous to believe that Baby Jesus' birthday happened to coincide with the winter solstice, so frankly I believe they might be lying

See also "the Eye of the Needle was a special gate into Jerusalem!"


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-21-10 3:26 AM
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hmmm, I am less sure of this now. However - although Bethlehem isn't in a desert itself, it's jolly convenient for the Judean desert, and I would therefore guess that the local shepherds might be Bedouins (Google turns up this travel piece). I think this might be quite theologically important now, as it would obviously have very different connotations if these were local Jewish shepherds (who I agree on balance wouldn't have been likely to be out with their sheep in December) or if they were Bedouin (who I think quite likely might have been).


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12-21-10 3:33 AM
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98

Shepherding isn't a good career.

Only if you're going to be all materialistic about it.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-21-10 5:29 AM
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99

God bless ye unitarians
Let nothing you dismay
There's no historic evidence
There was a Christmas Day.

No one knows when Christ was born
No matter what they say

Glad tidings of reason and fact
Reason and fact
Glad tidings of reason and fact.


Posted by: A song I saw at PZ Myers' Place | Link to this comment | 12-22-10 6:05 AM
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100

I like this interview with the innkeeper.


Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 8:37 AM
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101

The popular story is incoherent anyway.

There are two narratives: In Matthew, Joseph and Mary are living in Bethlehem; he has a business there, she has a baby; three magi turn up with gifts and casually mention they'd seen the king and asked him about the baby; Joseph and Mary get scared (an angel tells them to flee); they run away to Egypt while all the babies in Bethlehem get murdered; when they get up the courage to leave Egypt, they go to Galilee rather than back to Bethlehem because it's not part of Herod's domain. In Luke, Joseph and Mary are living in Nazareth where he has a business; he has to go to Bethlehem on business, something about taxes and census, while she's heavily pregnant; they get there, can't find lodging, get put up in a stable where Mary has the baby; shepherds, told by an angel, come to adore it; their business concluded, they go home to Nazareth.

These are irreconcilable narratives (which hasn't stopped biblical scholars from trying to reconcile them). It isn't just the dates. The details which establish the dates aren't even necessary to the narratives. Matthew's story would hold up if the bloodthirsty tyrant in it weren't Herod. Luke's story would hold together if the journey weren't tax-related. But they can't both be true.

Modern American popular Christianity has constructed a synthetic narrative -- The Christmas Story -- which mostly follows Luke, but with Matthew's magi stuck in (though the timing of their visit is left vague, perhaps to avoid the question of how long Joseph and Mary were stuck in that stable). The rest of Matthew is suppressed. The Flight Into Egypt and The Slaughter of the Innocents are subjects for baroque painting, but not for American Christmas pageants.

So asking questions about the Christmas Story is a waste.

[/grinch]


Posted by: jim | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 9:00 AM
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Modern American popular Christianity has constructed a synthetic narrative -- The Christmas Story -- which mostly follows Luke, but with Matthew's magi stuck in

I don't think you can blame this on modern Americans, given paintings going back to the Quattrocento and probably earlier that show magi, shepherds, and barnyard animals surrounding the baby Jesus.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 9:07 AM
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101: To play devil's advocate for a second, here's the version I'd learned. Could you be more explicit about where the contradiction is?

Joseph and Mary are living in Nazareth, they have to go to Bethlehem for a census. There they can't get room at the inn and Jesus is born and visited by shepherds. At the same time as Jesus's birth a star appears in the sky, the wise men see the star and follow it to Bethlehem. Meanwhile Mary and Joseph have decided (for reasons unknown) to stay in Bethlehem for the time being with their new son. (Perhaps they didn't want to travel with a newborn?) It takes much of a year for the wise men to actually get to Bethlehem bringing their gifts. Then Mary and Joseph run away to Egypt to avoid Herod's slaughter of *all kids under 2* (so of course, this wasn't just after Jesus was born, otherwise he'd have just killed the newborns). When they're done in Egypt they move back to Nazareth.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 9:24 AM
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To play devil's advocate for a second, here's the version I'd learned.

I'm not a Christian either, but isn't that kind of extreme?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 9:27 AM
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Also, Matthew doesn't specify how many Magi there were, only that they brought three kinds of gift. I believe that in some eastern traditions there are twelve wise men. But scripture merely says, a number greater than one.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 9:38 AM
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103: A nice try at reconciling the irreconcilable. But it fails by denying Luke 2:22 and 2:39 (which say that they went back to Nazareth via Jerusalem as soon as they could) and Matthew 2:23 (which implies that Joseph hadn't been to Nazareth before).


Posted by: jim | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 10:16 AM
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which implies that Joseph hadn't been to Nazareth before

Matthew 2:23: And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: "He shall be called a Nazarene."

The implication's there in English, but it's the kind of thing that could easily show up in translation. Is there the same implication in the original?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 10:25 AM
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102: I tend to take the tradition of nativity painting as mostly allegorical rather than portraying a narrative. So magi and shepherds are both there together to make a point. Even the specific mix of beasts has a meaning. But perhaps I read too much Panofsky at an impressionable age.

105: Matthew doesn't specify a whole bunch of things. It's a very sparse narrative. (Probably why the synthetic narrative takes so heavily from Luke, which is much more detailed.) But that the magi were in one-to-one correlation with their gifts is a very old tradition (and they're even given names).


Posted by: jim | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 10:35 AM
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107: katokysen. 3rd person singular aorist of katoikeo: to settle in, colonize, dwell, inhabit. Aristotle uses the passive to for a city just founded.


Posted by: jim | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 10:45 AM
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I think the Matthew 2:23 argument is pretty weak, I just don't see a strong implication that he'd never lived there before. Your Luke 2:39 argument seems stronger to me, but it really hinges strongly on how the word "when" is used in Greek, which I'm not qualified to speak to.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 10:47 AM
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107. καὶ ἐλθὼν κατῴκησεν εἰς πόλιν λεγομένην Ναζαρέθ, ὅπως πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τῶν προφητῶν ὅτι Ναζωραῖος κληθήσεται. The English is actually a fairly literal translation. There's no definite article or comparable circumlocution to suggest that anybody interested in the narrative had ever thought about Nazareth until Joseph wandered into it. Definitely, "he set up home in a city called Nazareth".

I find it a little strange, because if you google Matthew 2:23, the first hit is a discussion which says that there is no mention of any such prophecy in the Old Testament.

Also, if Matthew was at least partly writing for a Judaean readership, as is usually assumed, wouldn't it have been more natural to speak of "The city called Nazareth" (τὴν πόλιν λεγομένην Ναζαρέθ)? I mean, if I were writing for an American readership, I wouldn't say "a town called Peoria", I'd say "the town of Peoria", because I'd expect everybody to have heard of it.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 10:48 AM
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112

We three kings of Orient are/ Tried to smoke a rubber cigar./It was loaded, it exploded/We two kings of Orient are

See also.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 11:09 AM
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110. It's the sort of when that could equally be translated 'as'; literally: "As/when they finished all the [stuff] under the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, into [the] city of themselves Nazareth." Note that the Greek doesn't actually say "had finished..." but "when they finished... they returned..."

Now I'm walking back 111.3 a bit, because this doesn't use a definite article either, which may be a feature of biblical Greek that I'm not familiar with, since it's clearly implied.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 11:13 AM
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114

Man there are a lot of smart and knowledgeable commenters here.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 11:16 AM
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And you.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 11:21 AM
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Yeah, I can't read Greek, but I'm having a party!! Who wants to get drunk and join team stupid?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 11:24 AM
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I have the Hebrew first draft of the New Testament. I've been meaning to get it out and see what it says, but I never think of it when I'm in that file cabinet and can never find the key to that file cabinet when I think of it.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 11:27 AM
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118

All I can recall is that St. Jude's last name is O'Brien.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 11:30 AM
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113: Hrm, that does sound pretty solid.

The usual riposte at this point would be that you should interpret the unclear passages in light of clearer ones, comparing scripture to scripture. So since the other passage is quite explicit we must be missing something in this passage. For example, could all the stuff they were required by law include fulfilling the out of Egypt prophesy?

It's around this point that my patience with playing the devils advocate wears thin. But I do think it's generally pretty hard to *prove* a contradiction in a text.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "pause endlessly, the go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 11:48 AM
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119: If I were trying to reconcile the two stories, I'd say that for some reason Luke just wasn't interested in (or wasn't familiar with) the flight into Egypt. He knew and cared about the birth, knew and cared about the ultimate return to Nazareth, and either didn't know or wasn't interested in the intervening detour.

It looks to me not so much like a clear contradiction, as a puzzling gap in Luke's knowledge.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 12:17 PM
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121

Hyberbole and a Half blames Kenny Loggins

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/


Posted by: Tasseled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 12:30 PM
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120: Well, just the fact that there are four officially accepted versions of the life of Jesus, suggests that each one is incomplete. Actually I never really understood what the Church Fathers were thinking when they codified the New Testament the way the did.

But then the Book of Genesis has two different versions of the Creation story right after each other.

I think that I could do better!

And yet these faith survive and prosper.

Maybe that is the proof of the existence of the Old/New Testament God.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 12:38 PM
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121: Man, she's funny.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 12:42 PM
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124

I've laughed at a few of her posts, but most of them, including 121, which I've seen linked about a dozen places now, do nothing for me.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 12:45 PM
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It's the drawings. They're hideous and incompetent, but in the context of the stories, I find them hysterical.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 12:46 PM
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121: Man, she's funny.

I know, right? Not since I first read Mimi Smartypants have I been so overjoyed by the existence of the internet.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 12:48 PM
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125. I concur. The drawings are just minimalist enough for one's imagination to fill in the blanks. Of course, it is probably funnier if one had similar bizarro memories of childhood.


Posted by: Tasseled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 12:49 PM
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The drawings are the highlight, that I'll grant.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 12:49 PM
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The dog-related posts are my favorite. Something about the weird cartoony dog drawings seems to capture the essence of dogness.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 12:52 PM
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I have trouble reading her, because she straddles the hilarious and the agonising so exactly that I have to mentally go and hide behind the sofa about three times in every post.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 1:01 PM
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The PARP and CAKE ones made me laugh so hard I nearly peed myself.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 1:11 PM
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As for the Bible chatter, I'm just jealous that the Nazarene Creed was better than the Tallahassee one.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 1:20 PM
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I think the PARP one will always be my favorite. The dog ones are funny because her dogs look exactly like my neighbors' dogs, although with very different personalities.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 1:21 PM
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Yeah, I don't get 124. "God of Cake" may be the funniest thing I've ever read. Sometimes when my mind wanders, I find myself thinking, "In that moment, I was a god - the god of cake - and I was unstoppable."


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 1:21 PM
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121, etc.: The one about moving with dogs nearly killed me.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 1:24 PM
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The cake post was funny. I just looked through a lot of her archives, and I don't which "the PARP one" is.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 1:25 PM
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Backing up half a topic, everybody has to go and read this now, in case they're run over by a donkey or something.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 1:27 PM
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The PARP one is "The Party", the one where she goes to the dentist the same day as one of her friend's birthday parties.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 1:29 PM
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Oh, okay. I read that one. I can't remember if it was funny or not.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 1:35 PM
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Hyperbole and a half shows the inadequacies of the synthetic narrative. Think. If the young Allie Brosh had had The Slaughter of the Innocents to work with, what could she have accomplished?


Posted by: jim | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 1:45 PM
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A ways back in the archives, there's "Dinosaur". It's a less refined example of her style than the works to which we are now accustomed, but I like it, because it's true: geese are fucking scary.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 1:54 PM
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geese are fucking scary

"A goose don't give a fuck, man! They're crazy!"


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 1:58 PM
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One day I started obsessively reading far back into her archives, back before she started adding art. Earlier on, she sounds less funny, and more like a crazy person. The artwork has a big impact on the tone.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 2:16 PM
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geese are fucking scary.

To say nothing of swans!


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 2:27 PM
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145

Hmm, geese and swans, you say? Intriguing.


Posted by: Quietly Understated Dauphne du Maurier | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 3:18 PM
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http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/03/how-fish-almost-destroyed-my-childhood.html

That one's my favorite. Or was last time I checked.

But for some reason I feel like it's getting old? Still I find that I really like her.

But I would argue that her drawing style is not, in fact, incompetent. It's the opposite of that. That ineffable, comical-essence-thing that she manages to capture all the time is freaking hard to do, like how short stories are way harder to write. Or at least good ones.


Posted by: donaquixote | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 3:22 PM
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I linked to this version of the Christmas story earlier, but I'm linking again because it was at the end of another thread, and 137 reminded me that the first innkeeper is especially awesome.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 3:48 PM
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But there's something to be said for the idea/myth of a winter journey.

Just ask Schubert. Or, I guess, Wilhelm Müller.

"Fremd bin ich eingezogen,
fremd zieh' ich wieder aus..."

You could listen to it in August and feel cold.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 8:28 PM
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Thanks, Smearcase, that's a really great, um, cover. I'm more familiar with it sung by baritone.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 10:11 PM
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Quasthoff is a real artist. Yeah, I'm most used to baritone, too, but while I was clicking around after Goerne (not to be found on youtube) I tried the Schreier and it caught my ear. Plus, hey, Sviatoslav Richter is no slouch as a backup band.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 10:31 PM
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Schreier's great, Schreier plus Richter is awesome. Have you seen Richter: The Enigma? If not, you ought.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 12-23-10 11:20 PM
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