23 December 2007

What Propheteth a Man

Alan Jacobs is a professor of English at Wheaton College, and the author of a book on C. S. Lewis (not surprisingly I guess, considering the Wheaton College connection) that I haven't read. He is also the author of a translation of some of the Gnostic gospels that I have at least tasted. Speaking as one who has made his way through many of them in the "original" Coptic, sometimes at excruciating length while sitting in on the Nag Hammadi seminar Tuesday nights at the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity (how well I remember those golden evenings so long ago), Jacobs' poetic translations are a considerable improvement not only on the more scholarly translations available, but on the Coptic versions themselves. Of course for the most part we can only guess what the Greek looked like, and maybe they did resemble what Alan Jacobs has made of them in English.

It seems, however, that Jacobs is also no mean parodist. His review of Khalil Gibran's Collected Works in last month's First Things takes the form of a Gibran parody, and is really quite good. An excerpt:

And it is the voice of Sir Laurence
Reading the King James Bible
That I hear within me as I write these words,
Which echo resonates within and bequeaths to me
The Prophetic Strain,
At least as far as you know.
Once that voice enters the mind,
As it does when one has read hundreds and hundreds of pages of Kahlil Gibran,
Its abode is fixed within,
It refuses all notices of eviction,
It continues to loop within the sphere of one’s skull,
An earworm, dread and implacable.

This is sharp, accurate, and funny, and I hope some future Dwight MacDonald will include it in the next definitive parody anthology. The complete review appears here, and is well worth reading. And revisiting, for that matter. I conclude with one further excerpt:

The words I give you now are words of Life, and not Death,
Though I suppose the Prophet would proclaim that Death and Life are the same,
And that only the foolish would divide the two,
The Two which are One.
But He’d be wrong about that, I’m pretty sure.

[Oh, and thanks to Edward Cook at Ralph the Sacred River for turning me on to this.]

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