My local PBS station shows Downton Abbey in a most helpful way. Every Sunday, the preceding week's episode runs an hour before the current episode, so I get to see each one twice. This really works for me, because I can watch once for the story, and once for the craft of of how the story is presented (acting, direction, set dressing, costuming, and most of all, the writing). I often notice small details I missed in my first enthralled swoon.The same thing sometimes happens with books. You may know that I reread Little Women every year in Christmastide. I am too embarassed to tell how many repetitions it took before I noticed all the homeopathic remedies the March family used, or that Marmee was "a born singer".
I miss things all the time in scripture, even though I've read the Bible more than once over the years, and in different translations. I have a strong sense of the arc of the stories, but bits I could swear were not there the last time I looked keep appearing, little word-bomb epiphanies.
(Which is why I don't have a Kindle. With that kind of inattention to detail, when would I notice that They have changed what Jane Austen wrote?)
And hearing the story is so necessary to me that I have taken to solitary reading aloud, coming full circle 'round to the kids to whom I used to feel so superior in elementary school because they moved their lips and whispered when they read. Mrs. Peel stares at me. My comeuppance is here.
It's when I hear it "for the first time" that I notice what I missed.
For instance: on at least three occasions. recorded in the gospels, Jesus is goes away from or ahead of the crowds and of most of the disciples, taking with him only Peter, James, and John. They were the witnesses when he raised Jairus' little girl from the dead, they were the witnesses to his mountaintop conversation with Moses and Elijah, and they were with him in the garden at Gethsemane, where they gained their reputations as the sleeping guys, because when he said "stay awake," they fell asleep, and not just once.
Last Sunday's gospel reading we Luke's account of the Transfiguration, that meeting of Jesus, Moses and Elijah. I noticed two things. First, the same guys who were later going to sleep through Jesus' deepest despair almost missed his transfiguration because they were "heavy with sleep". I had not caught that before. Second, there is a pretty big difference in translation between the RSV (Revised Standard Version) which is what I read at home, and the NRSV (New RSV), which is used in The Episcopal Church and others.
Here is the RSV: And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.
Here is what I heard in church: Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.
Well, then! They got sleepy, and either did or did not fall asleep. I rather think they did. Getting sleepy would not be such a big deal, but falling asleep is worthy of mention. Either way, their heavy-liddedness in the garden was clearly not without precedent. I love Luke for including this detail (even if it didn't happen that way) for what it gives to the story.
Putting belief aside, as a writer I am often taken by the stylistic differences between the four gospels. Matthew is almost professorial, Mark is immediately-suddenly-at-once breathless, Luke inserts little details the way Madeleine L'Engle puts the making of peanut butter sandwiches into her stories of interdimensional travel, and John is swept away by light. In fact, one of the reasons I prefer the RSV at the moment is that these differences seem less smoothed-out in translation.
And translation is always the rub, isn't it? Events translated into memory, memory into words, words into different languages, languages altered by time. Add cultural differences and editorial slant, and wow, it's amazing any two people sitting next to each other on a church pew can agree on anything about scripture. We don't even need non-believers in order to get into arguments and have schisms. I once lived in a small country town that had a First Baptist Church on the main drag, and an Independent Baptist Church up the hill.
It doesn't take a historian to figure out what happened. Some little thing, I'm sure, that hadn't been noticed before.