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Apr 30 2014

I Am on Wired Magazine’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

Logo for the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy, the title in 3D letters floating in a 1950s style cartoon version of outer space and Saturn.Bible scholar Robert Price and I were asked about our thoughts on the movie Noah on the Geek’s Guide to the Universe podcast, sponsored by Wired Magazine and hosted by David Barr Kirtley.

The episode (108) first features an interview with author Christopher Moore, who has been rewriting and merging Shakespeare tales from the perspective of different characters in them. This guy does a lot of interesting research for his fiction, and discusses that and how it led to the form of his latest book, The Serpent of Venice, a bizarre comedy-monster-bondage-erotica-horror novel blending Othello and the Merchant of Venice…not kidding, you might want to listen to this half of the show. They also touch on a lot of other things, like the aesthetics of hiding political values in fiction. They even talk about the Noah story a little (between minute 38:40 and 42:10), because Moore wrote Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal (which the host says is taught in seminaries, although that seems odd).

Our panel starts at 42:52 and goes a little over an hour from there. We laugh a bit and talk about everything Noah. Whether it was a good movie. How far it deviated from the Old Testament story. Where on earth the changes came from, or what the point of them was. What myths are for and how best to react to them. Why Christians who repudiate the film might be showing their true colors a bit more than they intend. You’ll get all kinds of info and analysis from both of us on how the writers of the film took genuine germs of ideas from the apocrypha and Talmud about the Noah tale and expanded them with their own creative additions. Want to know why there are rock monsters? Or why Noah is a militant vegetarian environmentalist? Or where the idea of that exploding crystal came from? Or where on earth they got the idea of Methuselah burning a million soldiers to death by shoving a sword in the ground? Or how the film is actually more Christian than the Bible story itself? Sci-fi and fantasy geeks will be especially amused.

We also ponder what the aesthetic point might have been behind various decisions the filmmakers made (director Darren Aronofsky, who co-wrote with Ari Handel), and compare how they treated this story with how other films treat mythical tales that are safely pagan (and thus no one notices or cares when they change everything). We even touch on the criticism that went around (like Greta Christina wrote about a while back) that the casting might have been a tinge racist.

Near the end (starting around 136:41) we go a little into my work on Bayesian method and the historicity of Jesus, and an unusual new project Robert Price is involved in that is well worth learning about, and whatnot. Check it out!

8 comments

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  1. 1
    David Barr Kirtley

    Thanks again for coming on the show, Richard. The idea that Lamb is being taught in seminaries is definitely a bit odd, but it is apparently a real phenomenon. Moore talks about it a bit at the beginning of this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rIEJJghx2I

    1. 1.1
      Richard Carrier

      Oh, thanks! I couldn’t find anything on that myself.

  2. 2
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    This sounds fascinating. I hadn’t given that film a second thought, but this is interesting.

    Moore sounds interesting, too. Sounds a bit inspired by Stoppard’s treatment of Shakespeare, maybe? (In the sense of other “characters’ perspectives”.)

    1. 2.1
      F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

      And it was truly good. I highly recommend it.

  3. 3
    Latverian Diplomat

    That was an enjoyable discussion. Multi-person interviews don’t always work, but you and Robert make a good pairing.

    On the example of the printing press being a surprisingly late idea. James Burke argues that the printing press doesn’t make economic sense in the absence of a cheap and abundant supply of paper. AFAIK, papyrus is more fragile and difficult to work with than paper, so that may explain the lack of a press starting up in ancient Alexandria (Burke doesn’t address papyrus).But since there’s no evidence they even tried, your point still stands, I think.

    A similar example that always gets me is the pendulum. It seems like the sort of simple mechanical phenomena the Ancient Greeks should have really grooved on, but it passed right by them.

    1. 3.1
      Richard Carrier

      James Burke argues that the printing press doesn’t make economic sense in the absence of a cheap and abundant supply of paper.

      That’s nonsense. The cost of the paper is not the issue. The press reduces the cost of human labor (one worker operating one press can produce over one hundred times the output over one worker hand-copying each unit, a massive increase in productivity). It also improves quality (fewer transcription errors). And achieves outcomes that cannot be met any other way (accurate reproduction of maps, schematics, and scientific drawings, a problem actually remarked upon in ancient Greek science treatises, so they were actually interested in solving it–Hero was even moved to invent the pantograph for the purpose, a clunky and quality-poor solution).

      Also, vellum was in wide use in antiquity (it was the major competing material, by which Syria competed with Egypt). Papyrus was simply cheaper (but note that when the printing press made it to Europe, countless books were printed on vellum; paper was just cheaper and thus more commonly used, but if even they could see the merit of printing on vellum…). And even papyrus can receive type (I do not believe the claim that it is more fragile–fresh papyrus is actually stronger than paper–I can only assume he meant it is rougher, especially on the verso, but that’s not a major obstacle, in fact, the screw press was already in use in antiquity to solve it, the very device later recruited to the printing press, to push type onto the papyrus rather than just flatten the papyrus).

      The pendulum is less surprising, insofar as the use for it is not as obvious. But it’s also a good example of an incredibly simple machine that they still didn’t think of. Although one should be wary of “they didn’t think of it” arguments; many of those are false and many more, though true, overstate the gain the technology provided over its predecessors (and these kinds of claims are used in Christian apologetics), so we should always check to be sure first, e.g. Flynn’s Pile of Boners and Lynn White on Horse Stuff.

  4. 4
    Latverian Diplomat

    Thanks for the references.

    With respect to suitability of papyrus for printing, that was my guess, not Burke’s, he doesn’t address that question.

    Aside from applications of the pendulum, I was thinking of it as an exemplar of a simple dynamic system with some nice mathematical properties that would be easy to observe but hard to explain from Aristotelian principles. One could imagine a world in which Aristotle or one of his contemporaries noticed these properties and how that might have sped up progress in physics.

    1. 4.1
      Latverian Diplomat

      Quick followup, having read through some of your Flynn article, I see that theories of motion made your list of things we can’t be sure the ancients did or didn’t write about. So, the pendulum and it’s influence on theories of motion certainly falls under in that category. I happily concede the point.

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