Background to Jas.C.Brooke
An unusual but logical path to Biblical Scholarship
I didn't start out as a Biblical Scholar. I didn't learn Greek or Hebrew. The only languages I was interested in were programming languages. During my A-level years at school, my focus was the ZX Spectrum home computer and learning how to write computer games. And back in the 1980's, that was something you had to teach yourself. Everything was so basic. Everything you wrote had to go back to first principles and be developed starting at the lowest level: I learned how to oscillate a loud speaker before I could produce waveforms, to produce instrument sounds. Only then could I develop sound drivers to produce music. Similarly, I learned how to draw lines on a bitmap screen and how to produce 'multiplication' functions before I could multiply matrices to transform points to move polygons to form and animate 3D objects for computer games.
A decade later, when I started training to be a Methodist Local Preacher, I wanted to approach Scripture the same way. I wanted to get back to first principles, to the earliest texts and the sources of traditions.
Prior to encountering the ZX Spectrum, my ambition was to compose music for a living, but the careers advice I received at school turned me away from that dream: I needed to learn to differentiate between dreams and reality! OK...
The electronics that had most interested me, before my hopes were dashed, were Casio music keyboards. I owned a Casio MT-31 and a PT-30 (pictured left). The latter was like the then popular Casio VL-1, only better! I could create and edit tunes on the PT-30 then save them to cassette tape... Wow!.. at the time!
In 1984, with tapes for the PT-30 gathering dust alongside the program tapes for the Spectrum on my modular smoked plastic cassette rack, I wondered: Could I write a program to 'load' the PT-30's music data into my computer? Could I make a home computer 'compatible' with the musical keyboard in an era when being 'incompatible' was the norm?
So I wrote to Casio, asking for details of how the PT-30's data was stored to tape. Their reply simply conveyed their unwillingness to divulge such information. Was the dream dashed? Did I have to accept 'reality'? The challenge was on: I wrote a program to sample the sounds from the tape, enabling me to study the 'noise' and work out the data format. Within days, I had decoded the data format and written a 'loader' program: I was loading PT-30 tunes from tape and playing them on my computer. And here began a hunger to explore the 'impossible' and make it possible!
That same hunger motivated my many attempts to push '80s home computers to their limits. It led me to create the first ZX Sepctrum emulator, which allowed me to load and play Spectrum software on the PC back in 1989. It motivated me to create highly optimised code so that 3D games could run smoothly on the PC when it was still a DOS-based 'business only' machine (F29 Retaliator 1991).
My background in computer programming undoubtedly set me up with skills which have led to the Gospel-related discoveries I have made in more recent years. The ability to weigh up and 'debug' a problem is applicable beyond computer programming. Logical thinking is essential, but lateral thinking moves you beyond the presumptions which often cause people to make a wrong judgement.
Back in 1976, New Testament scholar John Robinson raised concerns about assumptions upon which Biblical scholars unquestioningly base their work (Redating the New Testament). He was right to do so: There are a number of widely accepted views which seem logical but show a failure to think outside the box. Likening the study of the Gospels to solving a jigsaw puzzle, I have found that a number of pieces have been discarded, thrown outside of the box, or put in the wrong place because theories have become accepted 'fact' on which other theories are then made.
But more than anything, computers and the games industry had enabled me to defy the advice I was given at school: 'Reality' does not consist only of what we can already see and know. There is nothing wrong with chasing a dream and facing a challenge!
In 2003, I stepped away from computer programming, believing that God wanted me to focus on the Gospel according to Mark. I had already started exploring its structure, scratching at the surface. I was sure there was something to unearth. But a business advisor advised me, once again, to put 'reality' before the 'dream'. I pretty much did for a few years…
Then, in 2009, a friend who always weighs things up before she gives an answer - even if you ask "How are you?"! - listened carefully to my aims regarding Mark's Gospel. She suggested I ditch anything else and continue my research. So I took up the challenge afresh and she (Martha Urwin) joined in my efforts. We found the work was immediately rewarding: We identified a layer of material that was added to the Gospel after a particular point in time. Once removed, the remaining text has an identifiable structure which shows that it is intact and that it predates the added material - And its date-range of authorship is surprisingly early!
As a Christian, I've seen God's hand in it all: The particular skills, abilities and experience I gained long before I became a self-trained Biblical Scholar have enabled me to unearth the Original Gospel embedded within our present day 'Gospel according to Mark'.
More on this breakthrough at a later date…
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