The Amanuensis

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The Amanuensis is a story written by shukyou and illustrated by serenity_winner. It ran in Issue 27 and can be found at and

It has a really stupidly long author's note.


A Jewish Christian scribe is called into service.

That morning, as he'd done every morning for the last fifty years of his life, Akiba ben Levi rose from his low mat, sank to his knees, and prayed for the end of the world.

From "the story of the scribe who wrote down the Revelation According to John, and of John, who is kind of unstuck from time"


The Amanuensis is unconnected to other stories or universes.

Author's Notes[edit]

All right, if you're a scholar of religion and/or somone who's spent too much time around the legends that crop up around Biblical literature, you probably have a very good idea of what was going on in that story to constitute the layer beneath the love story. For the more normal people, though, here's some possibly illuminating information:

As is the case with many of my more alienating religious stories, this one was devised when drmoonpants dared me to use my education for evil. The idea was to cling to the 'folklore' part of ths month's theme -- after all, as no less a scholar than teaches us, the amount of stuff that has cropped up around the Bible to correspond with what's in the Bible is huge. Owing to reasons of certain imagination adventures sprung from certain pieces of fandom, I picked the first century, and owing to reasons of I teach a class on it, I decided to stick with the Bible.

The whole story takes place in approximately 95 CE (or AD, for the non-academics), twenty-five years after the fall of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, on an island near the Greek coast called Patmos -- which is a fairly famous place, as far as Christian history is concerned, because it's supposedly the place where a fellow named John (Greek: Ioannes), in exile, wrote the last book of the New Testament. Often grossly incorrectly called 'Revelations' (and you can be sure that anyone who calls it that hasn't spent a lick of time with it), the Revelation or Apocalypse of St. John the Divine is about as fantastical a vision as I've made it out to be here. It is, in my opinion, a much-maligned book, because it's pretty much only either loved by the fanatics who think the United Nations is the first step to a One World Government, or hated by the people who hate those fanatics. (It has, of course, significant historical antecedents, but I have ignored them here because, well, folklore.)

As raininariver pointed out on her first read, yes, I am crossing my Johns. There are basically three major (non-the-Baptist) figures named John related to the New Testament -- Jesus' (beloved) disciple, the author of the fourth gospel, and the author of the Revelation. Tradition tends to conflate all three; for the purposes of the story, I am only combining the first and the last (though leaving the possibility that the two of them together might one day write the fourth gospel, if you take a particularly late approach to its dating). I'm also following the Book of Mormon's lead and coupling the figure of the composite John with the legend of the Wandering Jew, who's supposed to roam the earth until Jesus comes back -- and then, as if it weren't messed up enough already, taking all that and adding to it the sentiments from Apocryphon of John, an early 'gnostic' text that suggests John (the disciple) got a bunch of Secret Knowledge from Jesus.

The moral of today's story: KNOW YOUR JOHNS ... and then mix-and-match at will. At the end of the day, I only feel perfectly justified in squinting until things line up because Christian tradition has basically gotten off regularly on doing this for the past 1900 years.

Akiba, however, doesn't have a specific historical counterpart, nor do Naissa and Rhene. I do, however, like the idea of demonstrating what ecumenical parties both early Christianity and the Roman Empire were by having a household with Jewish, Greek, and Roman names all together. 'Akiba' is a variant I like of the Hebrew 'Yaakov', which eventually becomes both the names 'Jacob' and 'James'; it also comes off as a little nickname-y, and thus I like it even more, since that suits Akiba's general sweetness.

Yes, there are even historical liberties being taken besides those, some for deliberate plot-related reasons, some for 'that's the way I liked it'. One of the most notable things I decided to ignore is that the story says John exiled to Patmos to work in the copper mines, which sounds a lot less fun than hanging out with a nice guy and two pretty ladies.

However, a funny story about historical accuracy: when serenity_winner (who did such an amazing picture, geezy creezy) first sent me the image, Akiba didn't have a beard -- and, upon seeing his bare face, for the first time, I realized, oh, crap, he should have a beard! However, I didn't want to be a butt, so when I wrote her back telling her how much I loved it, I said, ha ha, I totally forgot that the guy should have a beard, but you know what, we'll pretend he's taken up the Roman fashion or some such. But she said, when she wrote back, that she'd wanted to give him a beard all along, and had only refrained because I hadn't specifically mentioned it! Thus: Akiba has a beard, as he should, and all is well.

One of the other reasons I decided to stick with the first century is that it's actually a good way to get away without having everybody just 'Jesus Jesus Jesus' all the time -- which I wanted to avoid, no matter how accurate, because I know it's alienating if you're mostly used to having Heavy-Duty Christian Talk used on you as a battering weapon (and thus not really something you want in something that's supposed to be a porn story). By 95, the entire New Testament hasn't even been written yet, much less compiled, much less distributed to the general Christian public. Combine that with a family of two converts and a Jewish Christian, and have them all be fairly paranoid about being called out as Christians, and there's not going to be copious amounts of Christ-talk.

Of course, owning up to being a Christian and getting martyred for it was supposed to be quite a big thing, even though this is still at the earliest part of the whole Christians-to-the-lions trend, which doesn't really get going until into the second century. Israelite religion, however, has a much older trickster tradition -- look at the story of Jacob's stealing Esau's birthright -- and historically Jewish responses to the tell-the-truth-to-the-evil-empire-or-save-your-skin dilemma have tended toward the skin-saving, largely because of the reasons Ioannes gave. If you consider what a fundamental piece martyrdom plaed in the early Christian communities, though, and couple it with the story of Peter's denying Jesus, you can understand why Naissa was upset.

The Roman Empire had a very special place for Jews, and thus let them live as their own little minority within the Empire, a sort of respected third category between the awesomeness of being a Roman citizen and being foreign nubbish. (Jews weren't too thrilled about it, of course, and rebelled several times against it -- but I'm just saying, it could've been worse.) Christians, however, were condemned as atheists -- I know, right? -- because they didn't worship the Roman gods, and thus were a threat to Roman piece and stability, which was ensured by proper devotion to the gods.

The word amanuensis, by the way, describes Akiba's function in this story; most famously (as far as Biblical stuff is concerned), Paul employed one when he was writing most of his letters. Though literacy was fairly high in the Roman Empire -- at least, compared to a lot of the rest of the ancient world -- it would have made sense to have someone like Akiba on hand in a remote place like Patmos.

I'm not going to go through and call out all the scriptural references stuck throughout, mostly because if you care, you probably get them already, and if you don't get them already, you probably don't care. I will, however, answer questions about particulars, if you care and if you have any.

And lastly, if you think I'm going to hell for this, please know that I will not accept your condemnation unless it cites authoritative texts appropriately.