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Listening to Luke’s version of John baptizing in the Jordan in Norwich Cathedral this morning, I unavoidably had in my head Pasolini’s interpretation of this scene in his Vangelo secondo Matteo/ Gospel according to Matthew, partly because Luke repeats Matthew. For example for both writers the Pharisees are not just the opposition, the ruling class, but a “brood of vipers”.

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the brain police turn up to watch the John the Baptist show

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But the words that seem to have particularly caught Pasolini’s imagination are these: “[the one coming after me] will baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire; whose winnowing fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

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‘Unquenchable fire’ in Italian is inestinguibile fuoco and John pronounces these words with rising passion. Except that the actor on the screen (Mario Socrate) does not pronounce them but someone else (Pino Locchi) in a dubbing studio. Such dubbing was common practice in post-war Italian cinema, and here it allows Pasolini to direct the voice to the right pitch of anger, creating a curious but effective disconnect between the image and the sound of the voice, partly because the synchronization of voice and lips is not absolutely perfect. In his mind, Pasolini is making of John a figure imbued with revolutionary anger, a Trotsky, a Che Guevara, in order to serve his picture of a gospel stripped of sentiment.

My preferred translation of the Bible is the King James Version, but listening to Pasolini’s film has revealed to me the beauties and power of the version in Italian.