Blur Circle

Steve Yost's weblog

January 16, 2003
More Miles
More on Jack Miles' Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God

Reading Miles' book gives a fresh way of looking at the Christian Bible, particularly the New Testament: as a completed literary work whose main character -- God -- is complex, fascinating, changing through time and ultimately deeply meaningful. We can interpret this kind of reading in many ways: A completely secular slant provides at the minimum a well-told story (and Miles relishes and illuminates the inner and exterior conflicts), and possibly a look at a great story's creation. For the religiously disposed person, it calls for a sort of slight suspension of belief, i.e. a pretense that this is a work of historical fiction, letting us observe the effect of this great story on us in a different light. We can also see that given the limits of our human minds, any conception of God is incomplete and flawed, and thus likely to change over time. But Miles doesn't go very close to Christian apologetics. He simply does all he can (and that's a phenomenal amount) to make the story come alive.

On page 113, after getting really rolling with the story and the fascinating illumination of its surrounding history, Miles steps back to examine his approach, coming to a discussion of Albert Schweitzer's influential views:
Jesus believed, Schweitzer concluded, that by his own agency and, finally, his own death, Rome would fall, history would end, and God's Kingdom would be established for all time.
More recent scholarship tends to believe that this and related, more or less learned scriptural identifications were made not by Jesus during his lifetime but only about Jesus after his death. So it may well have been, yet tht protagonist of the Gospels as we encounter him on the page acts as if he has made these identifications himself, and on this literary datum may be grounded an interpretation in which historical speculatiojn about the remembered mind of Jesus yields to literary speculation about the imagined mind of God at that historical juncture. ... It is proper to a literary classic that it touch readers generation after generation, century after century, in ways that transcend the intentions of the originating author. ... The reading in this book ... admits history roughly to the extent that it is admitted in the interpretation of a historical novel.
It struck me often that we have teaching stories -- Aesop's Fables, Sufi teaching stories, etc. And at the very least from Miles' perspective, this is one of the greatest teaching stories in history -- a story that caused a great revolution in the concept of God for a large part of the world, from God as a concrete interventionist in national and personal histories, in beneficience or genocidal wrath depending on our ability to follow God's laws, to being personal as shown by the example of becoming a human, and moving from the vengeful "an eye for an eye" to "if someone asks for your garment, give him your cloak as well" and finally bridging the gap between sadly flawed humanity and the unfathomably perfect God by dying a miserable human death and overcoming that.

Next I want to get to the Appendix II I mentioned, where Miles talks about the hypertextual (he doesn't use that word) nature of the Christian Bible and also about postmodern Biblical criticism.

[update: Jack Miles' webmaster posted a link to the discussion above (maybe because the discussion surprisingly comes up first if you Google for "Jack Miles Christ"), so I'll do the favor and also link to Jack Miles' web site. Now to find the time to read all his online articles.]

January 13, 2003
Miles Christ

Just finished reading Jack Miles' excellent book Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God. This post is just a bookmark to come back and discuss some of the things that David, AKMA, and others might be interested in if they haven't already read and discussed this book. There are references to both the Bible's textual (even hypertextual) manifestation, and to postmodern biblical criticism. On the latter, I think I have a lot of catching up to do before I can comment intellegently, so I'll just provide quotes.

In any case, I highly recommend the book. Actually the Appendix II was the most interesting for me. I think it'd be great if Jack made it available on its own on the web. Until then, I found that he's written several articles at Beliefnet.

January 10, 2003
Halley Party Fun Time Spicy Noodles

What a great time today, meeting all these excellent people at Halley's 1-year-of-blogging party. Happy HallyVersary! There were seemingly a minimum of five animated conversations happening at any moment, most of them two-way at least (proving that blogging doesn't necessarily turn us into broadcast-only beasts). All of we males did our best to prove our Alpha-ness to Halley without revealing that we'd actually read those posts (it's my reptile brain forces me to read them, the way I go into a trance looking at the checkout counter magazine covers).

Seriously though, what fun! Thanks to everyone who came and especially to David and Halley for organizing it.

I just started reading about the LazyWeb concept -- a concept that's delightful to me because it's about evolutionary programming: development in response to needs, where the strongest needs with the greatest visibility are likely to get done first and best. The difference between this model and the usual software startup is sort of a question of how much pressure there is in the faucet. With a startup there's the pressure of quick completion due usually to the infusion of cash by expectant investors, or at least due the fact that you've assembled a bunch of smart people for a specific purpose. Using the faucet flow analogy, you get turbulent flow because of the high pressure. It's chaotic (and also pretty exciting). With evolutionary (LazyWeb) development, you get a smooth laminar flow. Things get done when the demand rises high enough. It's more efficient in many ways, if you can wait long enough (though there needs to be a critical mass of attention to keep the flow going).

LazyWeb's slogan is "If you wait long enough, someone will write/build/design what you were thinking about." In the dot-com era, it was more like "If you're thinking about something (a web site idea usually), someone is already writing/building/designing what you're thinking." I found that to be true so often for myself, that I named my company Internicity, which derives from a blunt smashing together of 'Internet' and 'synchronicity'.

January 07, 2003
power laws and Amazon's also-bought lists
I haven't posted in awhile. Maybe I'm laying low while the new year's resolution storm blows over. Also, I've been writing in my own private paper journal with a pen. There's a certain pleasure in just that physical act, and since I'm not a my-life-on-the-web blogger, it's a place to record more personal reflections.

Anyway, David's link to Adina Levin's post about Valdis Krebs' diagram prompted me to post this in her comments section. I'm leery that not many people read blog comments, so here's my comment:

I'm not a statistician, but the networks of books shown by Amazon also-boughts, being a sort of highly connected social network, seem like a good case for a power-law distribution. I think this means that there are bound to be peaks and valleys of influence.

That said, I'm not sure what to make of Krebs' chart. When I go to, I don't see *any* of the links he shows in Amazon's also-bought list for What Went Wrong. It could be that Amazon's lists are very dynamic, which calls into question the validity of the chart.

Still, I'm convinced that there certainly will be circles of influence of ideas that don't overlap much. Though they've always existed in social networks, they're better defined by things like the also-read lists. Tools like that, because they weigh against random browsing, could be causing the power-law distribution to be more pronounced, i.e. we do become more tightly grouped in our communal views.

Of course there's a power law distribution of blogroll links too. Has anyone mapped that? I've seen the map of all blog links, but it's too dense to reveal distributions.