Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pentecost Effect

Shaman: Enter. I had expected you sooner. The entrails of the she-goat indicated yesterday as the time of arrival.
Constantine: Yeah? Well, you can't rely on anything these days, can you?
Where'd you learn your English then?
Shaman: You hear English. I do not speak English...
Constantine: That's neat. The Pentecost effect. You could get a job at the United Nations.
- Hellblazer #1
by Jamie Delano, John Ridgway, and Alfredo Alcala

Ah, the Pentecost effect.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs -- in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."
- Acts 2:4-13 (NRSV)

Now that I think of it, this Pentecost effect, as John Constantine calls it, appears quite often in the science-fiction genre. There's the Babel Fish from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the translating capabilities of the TARDIS in Doctor Who, for example. I suppose it's a simple way to explain how multiple peoples from multiple worlds and times could readily communicate.

In a way, that was one of the purposes of Pentecost: spread the Gospel to as many people as possible. The best way to give a message to someone is to do it in their own language. So it appears this worked well. But skeptics and critics are everywhere (rightfully so, mind you) and some apparently attributed the scene to an excess of alcohol. Honestly, I rather enjoy that this minor note was included in the official canon of Scripture. Here it is recounting a great miracle, but then slips in that some folk on the scene were saying, "Nah, they're just drunk!"

Does no one else laugh at that?

Of course, later in verse 15 Peter protests that they can't be drunk because it's only nine in the morning. I guess Peter never watched Mad Men.

And now I just started thinking, "What if Don Draper had been one of the 12 disciples?"

This is why I probably shouldn't be allowed to write things.

Anyway, the best way to communicate a story to someone is in a language they understand. A universal language would be excellent for this. Unfortunately, such a language does not exist (and no, Esperanto doesn't count). So, the authors of the New Testament used the next best thing: Greek. Yay Greek!

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