Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Carlson colours the Synopsis again

The world is divided into those who enjoying colouring their Synopsis and those who do not. Well, that's one way I like to divide the world up. I was taught to colour the Synopsis by Ed Sanders in his lectures on the Synoptic Gospels in Oxford in the mid 1980s and I was captivated by this straight away. There's no question that it is an ideal way of getting familiar with the data in the Synopsis. And everyone who has tried it at any length will have reached the stage where they become quite frustrated by it because it's never as easy to apply as you might wish. I did make the mistake as an undergraduate, though, of beginning to colour directly in my copy of Greeven's Synopsis. So I now always advise students to photocopy first and then colour; always avoid defacing books if possible, especially with coloured pencils.

I have just been teaching the Synoptic Problem and Redaction Criticism to new first year students over the last couple of weeks, so it is nice to have the topic of colouring the Synopsis come to light again on the web courtesy of Stephen Carlson's post today Multi-color Synopsis @ Synoptic Problem website, which draws attention to the relaunch of his colouring project, probably the first attempt to colour the Synopsis on the internet back in ?1996. Here's the first page of the new Synopsis:

John's Imprisonment

The first noticeable thing is the excellent and necessary move to unicode fonts from the Symbol font used in the earlier version, at the time a necessary evil. The second thing to notice is the colouring scheme, which Stephen explains in the blog entry, and which is continuous with the earlier system. One of the things that is fascinating about the business of Synopsis colouring is how different systems appear intuitive to different people, and I suppose this shows differences in how we find it helpful to view things. I remember looking at the way that other students did their revision and being surprised by how different it was to the way that I organised my own. I feel the same way now when I see how colleagues organise their hand-outs. This is something of a round-about way of saying that I don't at this stage find Stephen's scheme as intuitive as my own (explained in The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze, with English examples here and blogged on here), which to me has the advantage of giving at-a-glance visual clues to what kind of agreement one is dealing with. For example, since Mark is red, a purple in Matthew will tell us straight away that there is some Marcan material in Matthew here since purple has red in it. Or when I look at green material, I see something with no red in it whatsoever, and this is double tradition (Q) material, i.e Matthew (blue) + Luke (yellow). And so on -- I like the combinations and the way that the colours merge into one another and contrast with one another. For me it creates a kind of colour map of the Synopsis, representing visually the way in which the different agreements and disagreements are networking with one another.

But I didn't begin this post with a view to discussing again my own preferred scheme, but to commend Stephen on the re-launch of an excellent project.

Update (Wednesday, 23.32): Stephen Carlson comments and comes up with the great idea of using user-defined CSS (cascading style sheets) to override Stephen's own colour choices. I've followed Stephen's instructions and have adjusted the style sheet but can't seem to get it to achieve the desired result. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong there; is it just me? One comment, though: even if I can get it to work, Stephen's scheme works with triple tradition agreements = default / black text, and so not separately encoded, whereas mine works with triple tradition agreemnents as brown (i.e. expressive of blue+red+yellow, Matthew+Mark+Luke), so in order to get from Stephen's scheme to mine, the default text would also need to be encoded and not just left.

I've been thinking a little more about my scheme too and want to pose this question: what do we think we are doing when we colour the Synopsis? Well, for me one of the goals is to create a visual map of the way in which the different agreements network together, i.e. to find a way of visually presenting the contours of a given passage that one can pick up straight away. It's a bit like diagramming Greek grammar. The way the primary-colours and combinations scheme works is to present to the reader with a one-look demonstration of the different degrees of agreement and disagreement. I am not sure if I am finding a clear way to articulate this yet, and at the root of my inability to articulate it may be some misunderstanding on my part of how, for example, Stephen's scheme works, e.g. I am more familiar with primary colours and combinations in painting and paint-mixing than I am with "the primary colours of light", but in the latter does blue+red+green = black (Matt+Mark+Luke = triple agreemnt) in the same way that blue+red+yellow = brown on my scheme? It's probably just my ignorance showing here.

Update (Thursday, 16.02): Catherine Smith helps me out with the Primary Colours of Light with that link to a nice diagram. The diagrams here bear out my concern. The top one could be re-labelled according to my colouring scheme for the Synoptics, replacing blue / red / yellow with Matthew / Mark / Luke, purple with Matthew + Mark orange with Mark + Luke, green with Matthew + Luke, brown with Matthew + Mark + Luke. In fact, it occurs to me that that would be a useful way of my demonstrating my colouring scheme. But the same is not true for the primary colours of light in relation to Stephen's scheme since the latter has a rough adherence to the combinations but not a complete adherence.

One other thing -- Stephen corrects the CSS in his post on Synoptic Colors but I still can't get it to work for me. I am probably being Mr Thicko on this but can't work out what I am doing wrong.

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