Marginalia, no.225

…to disarm the tempter.

~ Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Gibbon and Jesus have at least this in common: that neither is generally appreciated for his comic sense. That’s too bad. Jesus interrogates the crowd about John the Baptist: “What did you come out to the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? A man in soft clothing?” It depends on the delivery, I suppose, but I always thought it might have earned him a laugh. Gibbon above is referring to Origen’s infamous self-castration, carried out in obedience to the gospel command to remove offending members. Gibbon expands in a footnote: “As it was his general practice to allegorise Scripture, it seems unfortunate that, in this instance only, he should have adopted the literal sense.”


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