Monday, December 31, 2007

The Forensic League--- The Great Debaters

Denzel Washington has only put his hand to directing two movies-- the story of Antwon Fisher, and now The Great Debaters. This one differs from the previous effort in that Washington is also playing a very major role in this movie. The 'Great Debaters' is based on a true story, but with lots of liberties taken. For example, while it is certainly true that the Methodist College, Wiley College in Marshall Texas did have a debating team that went to the national finals in the 1930s, they did not debate the Harvard Crimson-- they debated USC! Furthermore some of the main characters in the film are purely or mostly fictional, including 3 of the Wiley debating team, and this becomes all the more misleading when in the closing credits we hear about their supposed later exploits. Then it would also appear that this was not the first time an all black college had debated a white one, though surely it was one of the first times.

If you want more on the lack of care in researching this film see the review at
by Kam Williams.

Despite all of these missteps, the movie very effectively conveys the central issue the film wants to raise-- namely the besetting sin of racism as it plagued, and still plagues our nation at various profound levels. Both Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker (and a young man named Denzel Whitaker.....hmmm, whose son could he be) put in excellent performances in this 2 hour and 3 minute film, which is beautifully shot and certainly is effectively dramatic.

But I must confess to being troubled by the liberties taken with the truth in this film. If one wants to present us with a story that confronts us with the truth about our racist history, isn't it important to get the story straight whilst doing so? I am less concerned with minor liberties taken, such as adding fictional characters to fill out the drama, but when the central characters themselves are not all representations of real persons, and the closing credits lead us to suppose they are-- then what? What happens is the real courageous story of someone like James Farmer Jr. gets short changed, a man who later went on to make a difference in the battle over civil rights.

I personally found this film moving and poignant as an example of historical fiction. It is rated PG 13 as there are some violent scenes (a lynching), and one compromising situation. But basically this film is worth a family with older children viewing it together as a conversation starter about the issue of racism. The acting is first rate and the range of character depicted is helpful and interesting.

When I was driving home after seeing the film with one other person we were reflecting on the remarkable fact that with all the many and diverse immigrations into and immigrants in this country it is in fact amazing that we have not had more battles between various ethnic groups, and more civil wars over such differences as one group or another jockeys for position in our culture. I do not mean in any way to diminish the struggles we have had, what with the atrocities committed against not only native Americans and African Americans over the centuries. But still-- is there a more diverse country in the world in terms of ethnic diversity? I don't think so. And yet we have bonded and banded together reasonably well on the whole.

It is a good thing indeed that we have been dealing with this issue of racism over the course of the last century. But dealing with an issue, and overcoming the problem are two different things. And many of the mechanisms we are using to correct the problem (such as affirmation action hiring) are inadequate to actually address the root of the problem.

For at the end of the day, at the root of the problem is not mere ignorance, but human wickedness, or as we would put it--- original sin. Information without human transformation is inadequate to deal with such besetting sins. But correct information is a good start. And this film helps in the consciousness raising.

But what is required is not merely an intellectual awakening, or even a spiritual awakening, but a moral renewal of the heart and soul. A heart warming experience which in no way renews and transforms a person's conscience and prejudices on various deep ethical issues, may be chicken soup for the soul, but it is not fully what the Bible refers to when it speaks of a person becoming a new creature in Christ. Look for a moment at Romans 12 and see what the renewal of the mind and life amounts to in Paul's view.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Stars Come out at Christmas-- 'Charlie Wilson's War'

It is not often that one has both an all star script writer (in this case Aaron Sorkin of ‘West Wing’ fame), and an all star cast (Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Phillip Seymour Hoffman) in a sort of harmonic convergence which results in an excellent film, but ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ is one such film. Coming in at a svelte one hour and thirty seven minutes, this film has no filler, and gets right to the point with almost no back story at all. Unveiled before our very eyes are the inner workings (and pratfalls) of Congress, and how things get done, even things of international importance, when someone is persistent enough. That someone in the first place is a Houston socialite named Joanna (charmingly played by Julia Roberts), and in the second place is played by a hitherto unknown philandering Texas Congressman by the name of Charlie Wilson a.ka. Goodtime Charlie.

In a story too unlikely not to be true, said socialite goads said lassez faire Congressman into action in support of—wait for it, the Mujahadeen, Muslim tribesman fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The gist of the story is about getting enough guns and supplies to that Mujahadeen so they in turn will kick Soviet hind quarters right out of Afghanistan—which as it turns out was one of the inaugural signs of the fall of the Soviet Empire.

The acting in this film is superb, and especially the Sorkin provided repartee between Hoffman and Hanks is classic. It makes one long for the good old days when we got to watch excellent episodes of West Wing with the same sort of zingers week after week.

Let’s be clear, Charlie Wilson is no Christian, indeed he has considerable moral flaws, not the least of which is all his womanizing, drinking, and use of ‘recreational’ drugs. A role model, Charlie is not. But what is so interesting about this film is that it is about just such a person having a crisis of conscience, or perhaps growing one over time, at least when it comes to the poor oppressed Afghan people. Charlie actually learns to care about the fate of someone other than himself, which is more than one can say for some elected officials for sure.

The ugliness and dirtiness of politics and war are shown for what they are, including how Israelis, Egyptians, Saudis, Pakistans and the U.S. might all end up in bed together for a ‘just cause’, or at least for the philosophy ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. And be forewarned that this is not at all a movie to take your children to— as it has more than its share of bad language, and compromising situations involving said Congressman. And yet, and yet, there are larger moral lessons brought to the surface in this film, not the least of which is whether aiding, rather than destroying, those we fear to have normal lives without oppression might not be a better way to win friends and influence people than seeking to eliminate them.

The film is not filled with pathos, there is a certain devil-may-care whimsy about it, which keeps the tone light even though the subject is serious. But it is a film that raises all sorts of ethical questions such as—if you had to choose between the two, would you want a Congressman who gets important and good things done but is a sleaze, or would you rather have the ethically pristine but totally ineffectual, or worse blundering, Congressman? This in itself is an ethical dilemma raised for the audience of this movie. It is a question worth pondering. This film has already garnered various Golden Globe nominations, and in a year where not many films have been Oscar worthy, this one will get some nominations. In the meantime you should go and see and decide for yourself about Goodtime Charlie and his righteous cause.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Recently Appearing on a Post Office Wall

Last seen: On CBS 48 Hours Mystery Christmas night 2007

Nicknames-- Gentle Ben aka. Gentile Ben

Known Associates: Those Wesleyan types-- also fond of Pentecostals, Mennonites, Amish, and other pacifistic sorts

Known to have Friendly Arguments with: Dispensationalists, Calvinists, Liberals, Agnostics, Atheists, and non-Evangelicals in General.

M.O.: Runs a large propaganda operation, claiming Jesus was born in Bethlehem and is actually the Son of God. Known to have animated discussions on blogs, in print, on TV, and does frequent teaching and preaching around the globe. Seems to be ubiquitous (whatever that means).

Reward: Paid in Biblical denarii. You've still got to render unto Caesar on April 15th however.

Domicile: Lives in Lexington Kentucky, but is often out of town.

Warning: If you apprehend this man he will not resist. This may surprise you, but he claims Biblical precedent. Something about 'what would Jesus do?' Be careful however, he is a runner. If interrogated he will persist in telling that Jesus story. Be prepared for a long harangue.

N.B. If you see this person lurking somewhere wish him happy birthday, as he has one on 12/30. If he responds positively, you'll know you have apprehended the suspect. He will have forgotten the advice of W.C. Fields about birthdays, to wit "be careful, too many of those things can kill you."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Yikes--That Faces Rings a Bell!

Over at they apparently do cloning, mind-melding and other such difficult tasks. Their latest efforts have produced that formidable tandem Bell Witherington, see picture included here.

Since I do wear glasses the least they could have done is give my left eyeball the benefit of a lens, but oh well. I'm not complaining-- after all, half of me is now 20 years younger and has a congregation of 11,000.

But the other half is still teaching at Asbury Seminary and lecturing and preaching around the world, and it's jolly difficult to keep up with one of those jobs, never mind two. So here's my suggestion. Rob and I should be uncoupled. After all we both have wives and families and they won't approve of this corporate merger, probably. They'd likely view it as a not so hostile takeover, but nonetheless, a takeover.

But I tell you what-- if Chuck is keen to see us work together, I'll make this offer. I'm happy to do a few jazzed up Nooma videos with Rob when he's ready. In exchange, I'd like to have him come offer some lectures on the Emerging Church movement at Asbury. Fair's fair.

Now I've got to figure out who that picture looks more like--- Velvet Elvis, or Sex God?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Poems

Several of you have asked for my Christmas poems-- here are several of the ones most requested.


A cold and listless season,

And full of cheerless cheer,

When hopes are raised and dashed again

And joy dissolves in tears.

The search for endless family

The search for one true Friend

Leaves questers tired, disconsolate

With questions without end.

Best find some potent pleasure quick

Some superficial thrill

Than search for everlasting love

When none can fill that bill.

So hide yourselves in shopping

And eating ‘til you burst,

Use endless entertainment

As shelter from the worst.

And hope at least for truce on earth,

Though warlords rattle swords

As if to kill could solve our ills

We seize our ‘just’ rewards.

Mistake some rest for lasting peace

And calm for ‘all is well’

And absence of activity

As year end’s victory bell.

But what if Advent is no quest

Despite the wise men’s star

What if Advent isn’t reached

By driving from afar?

What if Good News comes to us

From well beyond our reach?

What if love and peace on earth

Are more than things we preach?

What if a restless peace

Is what He did intend

Until we open up our lives

And let the stranger in?

What if a peaceless rest

Is not the Christmas hope

What if nothing we could do

Helps us truly cope?

What if there is a bonding

With one who rules above

Who came to us in beggar’s rags

And brought the gift of love?

The God shaped hole in every heart

Is healed by just one source

When Jesus comes to claim his own

Who are without recourse.

So give up endless seeking

Surrender is required

The one who is the Lord of all

Cannot be bought or hired,

He’s not conjured into life

By pomp and circumstance

By Yuletide carols boldly sung

By fun or drunken trance.

He comes unbidden, unawares

Fills crevices of souls

He comes on his own timely terms

And makes the sinner whole.

‘We shall be restless’ said the saint

‘Until we rest in thee’

And find that we have been reborn,

Our own nativity.

How silently, how silently

The precious truth is given

And God imparts to human hearts

The blessings of his heaven.



Creatures of habit,

Day after day

Go about life,

The same old way.

Nothing disturbs

Their orderly routine

All must be neat,

And all must be clean.

They’re making their lists

And checking them twice,

Trying to make sure

Their work will suffice.

Impatient by nature

They don’t suffer fools

Gladly or otherwise

Because of the rules.

A place for everything

For all there’s a place

Don’t touch the guest towels

But please wash your face.

They insist on living

Orderly lives,

And of course only marry

Orderly wives.

Their homes antiseptic

Their cars always clean,

Their food always healthy

Their meat always lean.

Like ants in an ant hill,

Repeating their tasks

Rest in repetition

Ignore the mask.

Chaos is forbidden

Experiment absurd

Don’t ask for creative

Don’t mention the word.

Creatures of habit,

By whose design?

Is this just human,

Or is it divine?

What if we found

That ordering our sphere,

Is just a misnomer

For controlling our fear?

Fear of the truth,

Fear of falling

Fear of the unknown,

Fear of our calling

Fearing to let go,

Fearing to try,

Fearing to live,

And fearing to die.

Perhaps if we surrender

Control of our lives,

And offer ourselves

To all seeing eyes

We’d find a new freedom

Though not out of bounds

For when he controls us

The order’s profound.

Let go of the death grip,

You have on your life

Inhibit your habits

Without artifice.

Accept serendipity,

Free by design

Eat the new manna

Drink the new wine.

Come to the manger

Kneel at the throne

Realize your ruler

Won’t leave you alone.

Celebrate Christmas

Deliverance declare

You’re freed to inhabit

A creature’s full share.

Dec. 1 2005


Holidays are hollow

Unless they’re hallowed well,

For holidays are holy days

The time for truth to tell.

There’s time to spare

Time to waste

Time to make amends

Time to do most anything

Even make new friends

Holidays, a good time

For writing poetry

A silent, subtle indolence

Inspires creativity


He came in incognito,

A thinly veiled disguise

The not so subtle son of man,

A human with God’s eyes.

The messianic secret,

Left many unawares

A God had walked upon the earth

And shared our human cares.

We did not see his glory,

At least not at first glimpse,

It took an Easter wake up call,

Before it all made sense.

The truth of Incarnation,

Of dwelling within flesh,

Shows goodness in creation,

And Word of God made fresh.

Standing on the boundary

Twixt earth and heaven above

A Jew who hailed from Nazareth

But came from God’s great love.

Born of humble parents,

Installed inside a stall

This king required no entourage

No pomp or falderal

No person was beneath him

No angel o’er his head,

He came to serve the human race

To raise it from the dead.

His death a great conundrum,

How can the Deathless die?

But if he had not bowed his head,

Life would have passed us by.

Though we are dying to be loved,

And long for endless life,

He was dying in his love,

And thereby ending strife.

Perhaps the incognito

Belongs instead to us,

Who play at being human,

And fail to be gold dust.

But there was once a God-man

Who played the human’s part

And lived and died and rose again

Made sin and death depart.

Yes now through a glass dimly,

We see the visage royal

And feebly honor his great worth

And his atoning toil.

We cannot see his Spirit,

But moved by its effects

We are inspired to praise his worth

And pay our last respects.

Yet that too brings him glory

That too makes a start,

The journey of a million miles

Begins within one’s heart.

And someday we shall see him

And fully praise his grace,

Someday when heaven and earth collide

And we see face to face.

He comes in blinding brilliance,

A not so veiled disguise

The not so subtle Son of God,

A God with human eyes.

Love and Blessings to All you out there is Bloggerville during this holy season.

'The Glory=Salvation of God'-- 'All Flesh will see it Together'

One of the major and glorious choral sections in Handel's 'Messiah' has the choir singing over and over about 'the glory of the Lord, which all flesh will see together'. This is, of course, a repetition of Isaiah 40.5.

Luke, at Lk. 3.6, as is his want, is drawing on the LXX rather than the MT version of Isaiah 40.5, as there is a salient difference between the two versions. Lk. 3.6 reads "and the whole human race will see God's salvation'-- the other directed rescue work of God. The term 'glory' in the Hebrew has been rendered as 'salvation' in the Greek translation of Isaiah 40. 5. Apparently the translator of the LXX was convinced that glory=salvation here. Now this is very interesting indeed, and there are several minor points to unpack.

The first of these is the oft noted universalism of Luke, by which I mean that Luke stresses not that all human will eventually be saved, but that it is God's purpose and intent that all will be saved. Thus here the emphasis is on 'all flesh will see God's salvation'. This is simply the Lukan way of saying what we find in John 3.16-- God so loves the world and sent his only Begotten to save the world, not condemn it.

In Lk. 3.6 we have an echo of the speech of Simeon in Lk. 2.30-32-- "For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel." Both Gentiles and Jews, both the previously non-elect, and the elect will be included in this revelation and salvation. Notice as well how the term glory parallels the term revelation in Lk. 2. 31-32.-- in fact the Greek literally reads 'a light for/unto revelation of the Gentiles and [for/unto] glory of your people Israel'. The revelation is for the Gentiles just as the glory is for Israel.

The second thing to stress about the quotation of Is. 40.5 in Lk. 3.6 is that since Luke follows the LXX here rather than the MT we must assume he agrees with the LXX rendering of the text, and is comfortable with the equation 'glory=salvation' here. What then does it mean to say God's salvation, which the whole race will see, is equivalent to God's glory? In the context of the Lukan discussion, he has already prepared us for the answer to the question in Simeon's speech in Lk. 2.32. Light of revelation to the Gentiles and light of glory to Jews is just two parallel ways of discussing the very same subject, which is salvation.

God's glory is manifest not only in revealing himself to both Gentiles and Jews. It is not just a matter of the demonstration of the divine presence or character to the world. No, Luke presses further for listen to what Simeon says before Lk. 2.32--- "For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared according to the face of all the people" (a literal rendering). In Lk. 2.30-32 then we hear in close succession about salvation, revelation and glory, all closely associated. The term salvation of course makes clear the end or aim of the revelation, and also the glory. The aim is the rescuing, saving, redemption of both Gentiles and Jews.

Here I think, in our wonderful Christmas story is as clear a revelation of the other-directed character of God, which involves God revealing, saving, and bringing glory to his people.

Luke was not the first to associate Isaiah 40.5 with eschatological salvation. We find this idea at Qumran as well at 1QS 8.14-15; 9.19-20, but also in Bar. 5.7 and Testament of Moses 10.3-4. It appears there were many thinking along these lines about Isaiah 40.5, associating glory with God's redemptive work. And here is the punch line. The glory of God is most revealed when God indiscriminantly saves people, whether they are part of his chosen people or not. The salvation 'which all flesh will see' reveals the real heart and character of God-- which is other directed, and self-sacrificial, even to the point of giving up his only Begotten Son. In other words, God doesn't just exhibit a covenant love to those whom he has always and already promised redemption, help healing-- his Jewish people. God comes and saves those he has made no promises to, and has had no covenant relationship with at all! Paul explains further the nature of this radical indiscriminant love in Romans 5--"You see at the right time , when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly... while we were still sinners, Christ died for us...when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son...'

Throughout the Psalms, and in various places in the OT, we hear about God vindicating the righteous, the upright, the holy. What is different about the Gospel, whether in Luke or in Paul, is the theme of the saving/justifying/setting right of the unrighteous, the sinners, the enemies of God, which has as its presupposition 'all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God'. This was a scandalous message then, and it still is now. How dare God do that?

The baby lying in the manger reminds us, not of the inherently righteous character of those God came to favor. It reminds us not of the inherently good character of all humanity. It reminds us that in spite of everything we have become, God still loves us, and has provided a means by which we may be saved, if we will but respond to the Good News, if we will but welcome this one child into our homes and lives.

Handel was right when he finished writing Messiah and said 'I did think I saw heaven open, and the glory of God revealed'. Indeed, what redounds to God's glory more than anything else is his salvation plan of other-directed love that includes the least, last, and lost, as well as the first, most, and found. The Hound of Heaven has come down, and is on the loose in the world, in the form of an unassuming, beguiling child. Christmas is for everyone, everywhere--- but will you merely 'keep Christmas', or will you give it away?

This is a Christmas message worth celebrating forever.

Monday, December 17, 2007

'I Am Legend'-- Where there's a Will.....

Okay so there are zombies in Manhattan, so.... what else is new? Everybody knows that-- just look at the number of Starbucks there are in New York. But seriously, Will Smith has come a long way since 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air', to say the least. His last two movies have shown a maturation of his acting skills, and a willingness to stretch out more than a little. This movie is, in that sense, a stretch as well. The movie is one hour 40 minutes, short by many standards, and the pace is quite slow at the beginning, as the director commendably allows the story to unfold gradually. The last thirty minutes of the film pick up the pace to a breathless rate. By then we have seen the loneliness, the angst, the anger, the pride of Col. Neville, who still thinks he can develop a vaccine, even a cure for the zombies, even though his failure rate after two years of trying was 100%. Hope springs eternal. This movie should have been called 'Good Will Hunting'--- but that title was taken.

Col. Robert Neville, a soldier and a scientist (as we discover from seeing the covering of Time with his picture on it stuck on his refrigerator) is apparently the last real man standing in Manhattan, looking for a cure for a disease that has either killed most of humanity or turned them into zombies. One Dr. Krippen apparently thought that the measles virus could cure cancer if used differently. Did it work--- NOT SO MUCH!!! In this movie medical research gets to be both the villain, and in the end the hero as Neville develops the vaccine against the plague.

Col. Neville is accompanied only by his trust German shepherd Sam, and in one sense, this movie is about a man and his dog. He keeps broadcasting on all AM frequencies hoping to find another non-zombie human, and then two show up, having driven to Manhattan from Maryland! They regale Col. Neville with the news there is a survivor colony in the Vermont mountains. When Neville presses 'Anna' on how she knows this, her answer is simple---'God told me'--- an answer Neville is not much inclined to believe (even though at the beginning of the film his wife prays for his safety as she and their child are leaving NY). Could it just be coincidence that Anna and Ethan drove up just as Col. Neville was about to give himself up as zombie food, and they saved his life? Or was that a singular providence of God? The movie actually raises this issue, and does so effectively.

Without spoiling the movie's ending, I will say that Anna was not 15% shy of plumb, and Col. Neville had not done all that laboratory work for nothing. In the end, Neville gets to be a self-sacrificial savior figure in more than one sense. Not soldier as savior in this film, but to some extent scientist as savior.

This movie has some very graphic CG scenes of zombies on the prowl, more than a little hungry, and as such it probably deserved an R rating rather than a PG-13 rating. Having said this, it may well be the best drama/sci-fi/suspense/horror flick out there during this Christmas season of slim pickins. It will probably not win any Oscars, but it is a film that is rather well done, and in various respects is thought provoking. The ability of the human race to survive requires a self-sacrificial savior-- at least now and again.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

What Christmas Meant to C.S. Lewis

Certainly one of my great heroes is C.S. Lewis, who, as providence would have, died on the very same day as J.F.K., but whose parting was not nearly as scrutinized as that of our young President. Our former Asbury student, Ben deVan, now teaching away in the Old North State (i.e. N.C.) has assembled a Christmas essay offering excerpts from Lewis. It was so good, I have decided to post it here. Enjoy.


Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn't go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a 'view' on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is
highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone's business.

I mean of course the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers. Neither of these circumstances is in itself a reason for condemning it. I condemn it on the following grounds.

1. It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to 'keep' it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out -- physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.

2. Most of it is involuntary. The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost a blackmail. Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment, when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcomed through the letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?

3. Things are given as presents which no mortal every bought for himself -- gaudy and useless gadgets, 'novelties' because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before. Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?

4. The nuisance. For after all, during the racket we still have all our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labour of it.

We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don't know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I'd sooner give them money for nothing and write if off as a charity. For nothing? Why, better for nothing
than for a nuisance.


"The White Witch? Who is she?

"Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It's she that makes

it always winter and never Christmas; think of that!"

"How awful!" said Lucy.


Father Christmas -- A huge, bearded man in a bright red robe whose appearance

signals the end of the Hundred Years of Winter, during which time "it was

always winter but Christmas never came." He is "big and glad and real," not

just funny and jolly like the Father Christmas or Santa Clause we know in the

modern world. He brings, not toys...In an interesting parallel

to the White Witch, Father Christmas too arrives in a sleigh pulled by

reindeer, but he is there to tell them that Aslan is on the move, the spring

will come again, just as Christmas is the commemoration of the birth of

Christ. Father Christmas is a hieroglyph of the joy that Aslan brings.

"On Christmas Day, C. S. Lewis joined the church" --


"I feel exactly as you do about the horrid commercial racket they have made out of Christmas. I send no cards and give no presents except to children."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Shopping-- What Should it Look Like?

The senior minister at my home church, Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, Dr. James Howell is both a fine minister and a fine scholar as well. He kindly sends me his e-posts to his congregation. The following post is of relevance to what we ought to do at Christmas.

When Tammy Faye Baker Messner was dying, she imagined heaven as a huge shopping mall, and she would have a credit card with no limit. Heaven might not be a mall, but in the real world, shopping is huge; the mall has crept into the computer you’re looking at right now so you can shop anywhere, any time, for any thing. Does God care about shopping?

Was Jesus just being a Scrooge when he said “Do not worry about what you eat or drink, or what you will wear. Is not life more than food, the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25), or “Do not lay up treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19)? Was Paul uninterested in stimulating the economy when he wrote “Godliness is contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6)? Is it troubling that 93% of teenage girls in America rank “shopping” as their favorite activity?

The psychologist Barry Schwartz has demonstrated the way shopping, and the endless arrays of choices we have (kinds of shampoo, auto accessories, etc.) ironically breed anxiety, boredom and depression instead of the delight, control and happiness they promise. We never get enough, there is always something better – and in the glut of advertising and buying isn’t there some risk we might lose or souls? or at least be gradually transformed into somebody who is superficial?

Ad gurus on Madison Avenue are working overtime, not to help me feel grateful and contented, but dissatisfied. Cock your antennae and deconstruct ads you see on TV or billboards: I frankly feel a bit insulted when peppered with appeals to my base nature. Am I no more than an omnivorous consumer, eager for the next gadget or outfit? Does our consumer culture inflate the sinful notion that it’s all about me and my desires being met?

Shopping: what lures me, and why? Is God honored by what I purchase? How much of my mental energy is drawn into wanting things? that hard to find zinfandel? or just the right window treatments? How does the time I spend looking, trying on, purchasing, returning and replacing what I have compare to the time I spend thinking about God, praying, reading the Bible, serving?

Think about J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits: on their birthdays, instead of receiving gifts, they give gifts. When I shop, do I buy for others? If so, whom? Sometimes I buy a new coat for me, and give my old coat to the needy – which is an excellent thought. I have a friend who committed to a different discipline: when he buys a new coat for his son, his simultaneously buys a new coat for a child who can’t afford even an old coat. I know several families whose Christmas shopping tab is always matched by a special donation to the poor. Do I leave my faith at home, or take it with me, when I shop?

James Howell

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Seven World Views Christian's are Up Against

Rick Warren has staked out six world views he thinks Christians are confronted with on a regular basis. You will find the link above to the Christianity Today article. What seems entirely lacking in these six is a reference to what can only called myopic parochialism, or put another way racism. I think that sort of tribalism we are confronted with over and over again. One way it manifests itself even within the church is the disconnect when I say that American Christian's first obligation is to their fellow Christians anywhere and everywhere regardless of race or nationality etc. not to their fellow Americans simply because they are Americans. I would not have to make this point on one of my visits to African American Churches-- they understand personally what I am talking about without debate or rebuttal.

Let me be clear-- there is a healthy kind of patriotism where one loves one's nation and wishes it well and works for its good. There is another kind of patriotism that no Christian should endorse--- it is 'my country always right, never wrong', or even 'my country is the only God blessed country on the world' or even my country comes first, my faith second' and so on.

Think on these things.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Deck the Malls with Guns and the Gory

Fellow bloggers Hugh Hewitt and Glenn Reynolds have had a good deal to say about the mess in Colorado at Ted Haggard's old church in Colorado Springs and at the missionary training center. Here is what they said.

Posted by: Hugh Hewitt at 5:54 PM

Here is a story on some of the victims of yesterday's shootings in Colorado. Pray for the Works family, and for the families of the missionaries murdered in Arvada.

The Demver Post
has an account of what happened yesterday at Colorado Springs' New Life Church:

Bourbonnais yelled at the gunman to draw his attention, he said.

"First, I called him 'Coward' then I called him 'S---head' " Bourbonnais said. "I probably shouldn't have been saying that in church."

That's when the shooter pointed one of his guns at Bourbonnais and fired, he said.

Bourbonnais ducked behind a hollow, decorative pillar and was hit in the arm by a bullet and fragments of the pillar.

At about that moment, a female guard with a drawn handgun turned a corner and walked toward the gunman and yelled "Surrender!" Bourbonnais said.

The gunman pointed a handgun at the woman and fired three shots, Bourbonnais said. She returned fire and just kept walking toward the gunman pressing off round after round.

The female guard fired off about a dozen shots.

After the gunman went down, Bourbonnais asked the woman, who has only been identified as a volunteer security guard with the church, how she remained so calm and focused.

Bourbonnais said she replied:

"I was asking the Holy Spirit to guide me the entire time."

Read the whole thing. Had their not been armed guards on the church campus, the death toll would be exponentially higher.


COLORADO SHOOTING UPDATE: The "security guard" who stopped the shooter was actually a volunteer parishioner who used her own gun, not a rent-a-cop. Much more from David Hardy, who notes that press coverage tends to obscure this point. Meanwhile, it's more evidence that people don't stop killers, people with guns do.

Plus, was this a "hate crime" by a man who "hated Christians?".

UPDATE: More here:

Assam worked as a police officer in downtown Minneapolis during the 1990s and is licensed to carry a weapon. She attends one of the morning services and then volunteers as a guard during another service.

Boyd said Assam was the one who suggested the church beef up its security Sunday following the Arvada shooting, which it did. The pastor credited the security plan and the extra security for preventing further bloodshed.

Boyd said there are 15 to 20 security people at the church. All are volunteers but the only ones armed are those who are licensed to carry weapons.

The security guards are members of the church who are screened and not "mercenaries that we hire to walk around our campus to provide security," Boyd said.

Still more here:

Jeanne Assam, a church member who volunteers as a security guard, shot and killed Murray, who was found with a rifle and two handguns, police said. The pastor called her "a real hero."

"When the shots were fired, she rushed toward the scene and encountered the attacker there in a hallway. He never got more than 50 feet inside our building," he said. "There could have been a great loss of life yesterday, and she probably saved over 100 lives."

Boyd said the gunman had a lot of ammunition and estimated that 40 rounds had been fired inside the church, leaving what looked like a "war scene."

Compare this to Virginia Tech.

posted at 10:42 PM by Glenn Reynolds


I actually have to disagree with several of the remarks made in these posts. First of all, this morning it was made clear on the news that the gunman in the Colorado shootings killed himself. He died of his own gun-shot wounds according to this morning's report. The security guard may well have shot him, but she was not the cause of death. But that is just a matter of fact.

The comment by Glenn Reynolds (above) which I certainly do want to discuss is the comment that "people don't stop killers, people with guns do." This I suppose is meant as a justification for having guns in church, and more guns in society in the hands of law abiding citizens, in order to deal with the sickos who can get guns anyway. Never mind that there have been plenty of times in living memory that people without guns have stopped and disarmed people with guns, and in plenty of others where less than lethal force stopped the disaster.

First, I doubt any of us would dispute the notion that much of our society is frankly not well, indeed more unwell today than at any time I can remember in my lifetime. Between the mall shooting in Nebraska and the Colorado shootings it must seem like open season on innocent people, including Christians. Let me be clear however--- THE SOURCE OF THIS PROBLEM IS NOT THE LACK OF GUNS IN THE HANDS OF GOOD PEOPLE. The source of the problem is the sickness in our society, as it becomes less and less Christian, and thereby less and less human or humane. And all of us who have failed to share the love of Christ with mentally ill people, and get them the psychiatric help they need must accept some responsibility for what happens as our society goes south.

What deeply troubles me about this situation is the response of some Christians which amounts to--- 'praise God for more killing, as long as it stops sick people from killing us good folks'. Let's analyze this for a minute. Here are things we do not know:

1) the killing of this sick young man will stop killings of this sort, or at least make those sorts of people hesitate. Wrong. Less availability of 'weapons of mass destruction' could help with that, by which I mean much stricter gun control laws on guns capable of rattling off a huge number of rounds in very little time without much reloading, could help. But as long as we continue to have the loose gun control laws we have for such weapons, we will continue to have these sorts of problems. And sadly, even with much stricter gun control laws, we would still have some of these sorts of problems when it comes to criminals. This much I know. I have lived in countries with much stricter gun control laws, and it certainly helps in regard to this problem, though it does not prevent them altogether.

2) we absolutely do not know what was going to happen next, if the young man had not taken his own life.

3) we do not know what would have happened if the woman security guard had wounded and disabled the young man, and the young man had not taken his life. We do not know.

In my view the braver person was the unarmed young man who distracted the shooter, not the security guard who had lethal force in her hand.

These recent incidents should have led us to say-- "well society is getting sicker, and accordingly it makes sense that we would do all we can to prevent weapons of mayhem from getting into the hands of the mentally ill." Instead, what we are saying is-- "well it's time for good people to start packing more weapons".

One of the problems with that whole scenario is that more people seem to die in America from accidental shootings than from intentional ones. More people apparently die from careless firing of fire arms than careful ones. Just yesterday I read the report of a wedding in which the bridegroom and bride were being given a multiple gun salute right after the vows were said. One of the guns misfired and killed the bridegroom on his wedding day!!! Yikes. And this may not have even been an example of carelessness! Guns are not always reliable, and people are often even less competent and reliable.

What happens with guns in our society is simply a mirror of the larger malaise in society. For example, if you have a culture now heavily in the fear mode, you are going to continue to have tragedies involving weapons. When you are afraid, it is 'shoot first, ask questions later', and behind all of this is the attitude that my life is more important than the life of the other person, especially the maniac with the gun. I disagree with this whole premise. Every person is a person of sacred worth, and every person is someone for whom Jesus died. Period.

What about the argument that a person who kills an innocent person intentionally, does not deserve to live, and has forfeited his right to life? I understand this attitude, especially in the light of tragedies such as that at Virginia Tech. My question is--- who gets to decide this question? Do I get to decide that this person's life is forfeit? Does a law enforcement official get to decide that issue? Does a private security guard get to decide this? I think this is the sort of ethical question we need to discuss. I don't think we should simply assume an answer to the question, especially if the answer is-- 'because of this ugly sin, this person doesn't have a right to life or deserve to live anymore'.

I entirely understand the lesser of several evils arguments. A good case can be made that it was a lesser evil to take out the sick gunman than to let him continue on his rampage. This makes very good sense, but we need to understand what it implies. It implies we know for a fact that he would and could have gone on killing, or at least we know this with reasonable certainty. To know something like this for a fact requires either omniscience or clairvoyance-- take your pick. I don't have either one.

What would I have tried to do, had I been in the situation? No one knows what one will do under extreme pressure and danger in advance of it happening. I would hope I would have been brave like the young man who tried to distract the killer. Were it possible, I would like to think that I would have tried to get behind the young man and tackle him and bring him to the ground, so he could be handled by the authorities. I would not have tried to take the law into my own hands, and act like Rambo-- a type of character we glorify far too much in violent films and video games. As a security guard I would hope I would have tried to disarm the young man before trying to kill him. But again, I do not know what I would have done 'in extremis'.

The more important question is not what would I do but 'what would Jesus do, or have done?' And here I think there can be little doubt. He would not have attempted to kill the sick young man. He would have been prepared to sacrifice his own life if need be to stop the disaster.

This is exactly what the cross is in part all about. It is an attempt to bring 'peace on earth, good will to men (and women)' by self-sacrifice, not by the taking of other people's lives. By peace is meant, not just internal feelings of peace, but peace between human beings, and between human beings and God. This implies and requires the cessation of hostilities. There is a reason why the prophet spoke of beating swords into plowshares and the lion lying down with the lamb in the messianic age. And here is where I say, that Christians are supposed to live in such a way that the world gets a glimpse of the messianic values and age-- a glimpse like we got in the Amish tragedy in the killing of the school children, when the Amish responded as they did.

The question is-- how much are we called to emulate this approach? The call to discipleship does not say-- take up your weapons and follow me. Indeed, Jesus ridicules such an approach at the last supper in Luke's account. The call to discipleship says 'take up your cross and follow me'. As Bonhoeffer said in 'The Cost of Discipleship'-- when Christ calls you, he calls you to come and die. I would hope my response would be the same as Brother Elliott in the movie 'the End of the Spear'. The young man in Colorado was no more brutal than the Waodani Indians Elliott had to deal with.

Ours is a sick society. And until we realize that more guns are not the answer to the problem, we have not owned up to the sickness, nor what really makes for a cure. Jesus came to spread God's love and grace-- 'as far as the curse is found'. At a minimum, this should make us think hard as Christians how we ought to respond when senseless violence is done to us. It was Jesus who prayed from the cross about his very crucifiers-- 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.' If this can be said about soldiers crucifying Jesus, why exactly can it not be said about a sick young man shooting ordinary innocent people in a church? The soldiers at least were apparently in their right minds and carrying out what they saw as lawful capital punishment as agents of the state. Clearly, this young man was not in his right mind, and had no right to take arms into his hands. Think on these things.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ephesians 1.6-- 'to the praise of God's glorious grace'

I was asked of late --"could it be clearer than Ephes. 1.6 that God simply does what he does for his own glory?" Let's be clear--- the Greek of Ephes. 1.6 says that God does it 'to the praise of his glorious grace'. The Greek preposition is 'eis' here, which is probably not the Greek prepositional equivalent to the English word 'for' here. We would have expected 'pros' if that were the sense here.

More to the point the one praising God's grace here is not God--- that would be us. This whole passage is about doxology-- namely our praising of God for all the gracious things he does and has done for us in Christ, the elect one.

This passage does not tell us what God's motivations were for saving us in Christ. They do however tell us that his actions were so gracious and loving that we all certainly ought to praise and glorify God for his grace.

Furthermore, in the key phrase in this passage the subject is God's grace, not God's glory, which are most certainly distinguishable and distinct ideas. God's wonderful grace is the noun content of this clause, with the word glorious modifying it, which means little more than wonderful or praiseworthy here.

To make this clause some kind of proof text that God does what he does for the sake of his own glory is to read into the text something that simply is not there. God's grace which is to be praised here is God's unmerited favor or undeserved benefit which he lavishes on us. We are praising his other directed love here! God's glory is something else than God's unmerited favor towards us. You will be hard pressed to find a place where Paul suggests that God's motivation for saving us is so God may glorify himself. Clearly enough, this text is not about that.

For more about this see my new Eerdmans commentary on Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians which is just out.

Star of Wonder

Neil Folberg's wonderful book 'Celestial Night' with stunning black and white night time shots of the Holy Land would make for a wonderful Christmas gift. Here are two of those pictures-- firstly the shot of the Gush Halav synagogue ruins at night, and secondly the shot in Jerusalem from behind the Dome of the Rock with a meteor passing overheard (which image deserves a (*wow*). This blog post does not do justice to these and many other stunning images in this nice coffee table book.



When something is really annoying you and you are about to have an angry outburst, it's always better to sit down, get on top of the problem, and devise a plan before you have a 'cat-astrophe' and do something you'll later regret.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

No Inn in the Room-- a Christmas Sermon on Lk. 2.1-7

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that census should be taken of the entire Roman world (This was the census that was taken before Quirinius was governor of Syria). And all went to their own towns to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, because he belonged to the line of David. He went there to register with Mary who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room in the guest room.

A very long time ago I made my first trip to Rome. They say all roads lead there. Among other things I went to see the great art in the Vatican, particularly the Sistine Chapel--- Michelangelo’s masterpiece. It was certainly impressive but the colors of the paintings were subdued even sepia tones in places in the Last Judgment, and some of the prophets on the ceiling. Imagine my surprise when six years ago I went back, having heard reports of the massive cleaning job they had carefully done over many months in the Sistine Chapel, only to discover that now the Sistine Chapel was a riot of color—as if someone had used the whole Crayola Crayon box and colored over the old paintings.

Only as it turns out, Michelangelo had intended the paintings to have these bright vivid colors all along, even though it was a shock to the system and the art critics freaked out when this was first made known after the chapel reopened. The sense of shock, or even outrage was palpable and the ever rabid Italian press endlessly debated the merits of the new Sistine Chapel vs. the Old with great heat and passion. This is what happens when you tamper with a masterpiece.

At the risk of producing a similar response, I am here this morning to tamper with a masterpiece, or better said, to share with you a rather different reading of Lk. 2.1-7, one solidly grounded in the facts, but nowhere represented in the Christmas carols and pageants. I must tell you that I have heard endless sermons on how there was ‘no room in the end’ and wasn’t it typical of a cold fallen world to cast the holy family and Jesus out into the cold, and so on, often preached with great fervor, but producing no ferment at all. We’ve heard it countless times before. We've all been innoculated with a slight case of Christmas, preventing us from getting the real thing, or in this case from reading these texts in a more historical way. The problem with the Christmas pageant version is, this is not at all likely to be what Luke intends to tell us in this much beloved and belabored Christmas tale.

Let’s start with the first oddity of this tale. Jesus was born while Herod the Great was king of the Holy Land. That is to say, Jesus was born before 1-2 B.C. when Herod died in Judea. That is, Jesus was born B.C.—before Christ. How did this anomaly happen? Well its all the fault of Denny the Dwarf a.ka. Dionysius the medieval monk who was vertically challenged and while drawing up our modern calendar miscalculated the date of Jesus’ birth. As Maxwell Smart used to say—‘He missed it by that much’, which is to say about 3-4 years.

Then there is the second anomaly. Notice that Mary and Joseph are not married, they are only engaged. Why in the world would they both travel all the way to Bethlehem to register for the census when Mary was very pregnant indeed? It seems illogical at first, until we reflect again on that bit about her being very pregnant out of wedlock. The tongues were likely wagging back in Nazareth, a small town where one could not hide something like this. Mk.6 suggests that in fact the hometown thought Jesus was--- well... how shall we put it delicately? I once had a bright little six year old girl in a British Sunday school class come up to me during the Christmas season and ask—“If God is Jesus’ Father, and Mary is Jesus’ mother, are God and Mary married? If not, is Jesus illegitimate?” Out of the mouths of babes….

Yes, in Jesus’ culture getting pregnant and having a baby out of wedlock, was consider a major scandal—a huge deal, a big shame and black mark on the family’s name. Our culture does not react this way to such things most of the time, but just the other day I heard the story of a teenage girl in Saudi Arabia who was riding in a car with her boyfriend, and was dragged out of the car and raped by two men. The men did get sent to jail, but the girl herself was to be beaten for having sex outside marriage—even though she was raped! Middle Eastern Law today in that honor and shame culture is not all that different than the practice in the society where Mary grew up. When a betrothed woman got pregnant before marriage and not by her fiance, it was usually deemed to be her fault. One can understand then why even though Mary was very pregnant, Joseph and Mary got out of town to have that baby.

But there is a further factor in the story seldom noticed. Joseph and Mary are registering for a census in Bethlehem, but if we ask what the function of such a census was, it was to count heads so that they could be taxed. Every able-bodied male and female between 13 and 62 had to be registered so they could be taxed. It was a head tax, and they were expected to pay a silver denarius each—yes ‘the render unto Caesar coin” which Jesus was later to say Jews should ‘return to sender’. These coins had the image of Augustus Caesar on them in those days, a ruler soon to be dubbed a deity. But the real deity was Jesus himself the spitting image of his heavenly Father, unlike the poor likeness of the Emperor on those tribute money coins.

In other words, this was all about going to see the I.R.S. boys in Bethlehem. Mary likely was just old enough to be registered, as Jewish girls usually got engaged between 12-14, immediately upon their getting their menstrual cycles. Remember as well that Joseph required some coaxing from an angel before he agreed to go ahead with this marriage, once he discovered Mary had a bun in the oven, and it wasn’t his. Joseph must have truly wondered what he was getting himself into with Mary.

Now I have to tell you, this story is too improbably NOT TO BE TRUE. I mean, no one would make up a story like this which suggested to the skeptical in the home town and to latter day skeptics ever since that Jesus the Son of God was illegitimate. The story of the virginal conception must surely be true, for an evangelistic religion in that honor and shame culture would never make up a story like this about the birth of their Savior if they wanted to convince a patriarchal world of its truth. It’s too improbable not to be true!

But there is one more surprise at the end of the tale. When it came time for Mary to deliver the baby, the Greek of Luke’s text says--- “she wrapped him in cloth and laid him in a corn crib, as there was no room in the guest room”. Yes, you heard me right. Luke does not say there was no room in the inn. Luke has a different Greek word for inn (pandeion) which he trots out in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The word he uses here (kataluma) is the very word he uses to describe the room in which Jesus shared the last supper with his disciples—the guest room of a house.

Archeology of the area shows that houses in Bethlehem and its vicinity often had caves as the back of the house where they would keep their prized ox, or beast of burden, lest it be stolen. The guest room was in the front of the house, the animal shelter in the back, and Joseph and Mary had come too late to get the guest room, so the relatives did the best they could by putting them in the back of the house. Bethlehem was indeed a one stoplight town off the beaten track, and we have not a shred of archaeological evidence there ever was a wayfarer's inn in that little village in Jesus' day.

In other words, all this silliness about ‘no room at the Holiday Inn’ for the Holy family, is not at all what Luke is talking about. This is not a story about ‘no room in the inn’ or about the world’s giving Jesus the cold shoulder. It's a story about no inn in the room! It’s a story about a family making do when more relatives than expected suddenly show up on the doorstep. It’s a story most of us can relate to in one way or another. Jesus was born in his relative’s home, in the place where they kept the most precious of their animals. One can well imagine the smell in that room, and probably the shock of the Magi when they saw where the King was born.

But this story is not meant to meet our expectations or desires about what a Christmas story must be like. Jesus did not come to meet our expectations or desires—he came to meet our needs. George MacDonald puts it this way—‘We were all looking for a king to slay our foes and lift us high, but thou camst a little baby thing, that made a mother cry.” Jesus came as he did to make clear that no one and no place however humble was beneath his dignity, and every age and stage of life he would hallow, and save and sanctify.

John Donne, the great English cleric summed it up well when he said--- “Twas much that we were made like God, long before, but that God should be made like us—much more.” And the Word, took on flesh and dwelt for a while in our midst, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only begotten Son of God. It was a strange glory, a glory in humility, a glory without royal robes, a glory without a proper bed.

The question for us this day is—do we still have the capacity to be surprised, enthralled, by this remarkable Christmas story? Do we still have the capacity to see all things new, once more? Can we approach the story like a child—eyes wide open, mouth agape? Can we make him room in our homes, even if the calendar is full, and the head count high on the homefront. I certainly hope so. Jesus traveled a long way to dwell with you Immanuel, especially at this season. Will you not kindly make him room in your abode, however humble?

The old medieval Christmas poem said 'though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, if he's not born in you, your heart is still forlorn.' Let me just tell you however, if you let that Guest into your inner sanctum, even if you put him in the very back, he will surely take over and become the center of attention in due course.


You're ALL Wet

It was a very tough fall this fall in the old South. The chief cause of difficulties was the drought which struck us all. While it could be said that it was not a drought of Biblical proportions, you know its pretty severe when the Mayor of Atlanta starts talking about a water pipeline from various points west, including Montana (!) to solve the crisis. In the midst of this dilemma, baptismal practices seem to have been revisited. One person joked:

"It's so dry in Georgia that the Baptists are starting to baptize by
sprinkling, the Methodists are using wet-wipes, the Presbyterians are giving out
rain-checks, and the Episcopalians, Catholics, and Lutherans are praying
for the wine to turn back into water."
Now THAT's Dry.

This reminds me of the instructions in that first century Christian guidebook the Didache, which suggests that one should use running water, or if its too dry for that, still water and pouring in the baptismal rite.

On more as to why baptismal practices vary so much-- see my 'Troubled Waters: Rethinking the Theology of Baptism".

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Zeitgeist of the 'Zeitgeist Movie'

Almost fifty years ago, in the early 1970s a French philosopher named Jean-Pierre Lyotard began what was callled post-modern thinking. Post-modern thinking in its rudimentary form involved the deconstruction of all the major meta-narratives of modernity, particularly western modernity. This included a deconstruction of the Christian meta-narrative in whatever form it took. The main thing to be understood about Lyotard is his oppositions to all meta-narratives, including the one being constructed in the nearly two hour movie (one hour and 56 minutes) which is available on the internet through Google video. It's popularity is shown not only by the number of hits on the sight where you can access it, but by the fact that it is available with all sorts of language subtitles.

Various people have been referring to this as a post-modern post-Christian movie, and it certainly is the latter, one could just as easily call it an anti-Christian movie, calling Christianity a myth which has led to all sorts of wicked and destructive behavior, and explaining Christianity on the basis of a 'religions geschichte' sort of argument, which is to say a history of religions argument (this religion derived from that religion which derived from that religion, and it all is a bunch of myths and falsehoods). My point in mentioning post-modernism is that this movie is not post-modern in any sense, since the author is trying to construct a new meta-narrative to replace the older and Christian one. Post-Christian and anti-Christian yes, post-modern no.

Here is what the Zeitgeist movie (first released in June 2007), website presents the matter:
"Zeitgeist, produced by Peter Joseph, was created as a nonprofit filmiac expression to
inspire people to start looking at the world from a more critical perspective and to understand that very often things are not what the population at large think they are. The information in Zeitgeist was established over a year long period of research and the current Source page on
this site lists the basic sources used / referenced and the Interactive Transcript includes
exact source references and further information."

In other words it attempts to claim to take the intellectual high ground of critical thinking, calling for more of it, and claims to be based in careful and solid historical research, providing a list of its sources. It also attempts to appear humble saying at the bottom of the first webpage of the site urging that people not take what is found in the movie as the truth, but as a prompt to seek out the truth for "truth is not told, it is realized", whatever that might be supposed to mean. But lets be clear, despite this disclaimer, this film has a clear pejorative point of view and is attempting to replace one sort of truth claims with another.

Notice as well the word 'inspire' in the above quote from the website. Actually this 'filmiac' (as they call it-- a non-word as far as I can tell) is all about the politics of fear and distortion. You can see this from the wordless introduction to the movie which provides not so subtle linking of Christian images with American images with war images with 911 images, and then the not so subtle interweaving of images of evolution. The idea is implanted--- the evolutionary story of origins needs to supplant the Christian myth of origins, once and for all. One could call this Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens makes a movie.

It is always good to look at the sources of a particular claim whether made in this movie or somewhere else, and so here is the list of sources used in this particular film as provided by the author.

S1] - Singh, Madanjeet: 'The Sun- Symbol of Power and Life, UNESCO Pub., 1993
[S2] - Krupp, Edwin: In Search of Ancient Astronomies, Mcgraw-Hill, 1979
[S3] - Carpenter, Edward: Pagan and Christian Creeds, DODO Press, Chaper III: "The Symbolism of the Zodiac
[S4] - Hall, Manly P.: The Secret Teachings of All Ages, 1928. Page 53-56 [Chapter: "The Zodiac and Its Signs]
[S5] - Carpenter, Edward: Pagan & Christian Creeds, 1920. Page 36-53 [Chaper III: "The Symbolism of the Zodiac]
[S6] - Acharya S.: Suns of God, Adventures Unlimited Press, 2004. Page 60-85 [Chaper III: "The Sun God"]
[S7] - Hazelrigg, John.: The Sun Book, Health Research, 1971. Page 43
[S8] - Acharya S.: Suns of God, Adventures Unlimited Press, 2004. Page 86-95
[S9] - Olcott, William Tyler : Suns Lore of All Ages, The Book Tree, 1914. Page 157
[S10] - Mackenzie, Donald: Egyption Myth and Legend, 1907 Page 163
[S11] - Churchward, Albert: The Origin & Evolution of Religion, Page 48, 51
[S12] - Acharya S.: Suns of God, Adventures Unlimited Press, 2004. Page 92, 113

[S13] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. Page 257-259
[S14] - Massey, Gerald.: The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ, The Book Tree, . Page 39-40
[S15] - Septehenses, Clerk De.: Religions. of the Ancient. Greeks, p. 214.
[S16] - Doane, Thomas.: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 327-328
[S17] - Massey, Gerald.: The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ, The Book Tree, . Page 40
[S18] - Hall, Manly P.: The Secret Teachings of All Ages, 1928. Page 53-56 [Chapter 7: "Isis, the Virgin of the World"]
[S19] - Massey, Gerald.: The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ, The Book Tree, . Page 12-13
[S20] - Jackson, John: Christianity before Christ, AAP, p111-113
[S21] -Walker, Barbara: Women's Encyplodia of Myths and Secrets, p. 748-754
[S22] - Massey, Gerald.: The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ, The Book Tree, . Pages 56-61
[S23] - Massey, Gerald.: Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, Pages 613-620
[S24] - Massey, Gerald. :Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, Pages 614
[S25] - Massey, Gerald.: Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, Pages 600-607
[S26] - Doane, Thomas.: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 256, 273
[S27] - Massey, Gerald.: Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, Pages 623-661
[S28] - Massey, Gerald.: Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, Page 626
[S29] - Massey, Gerald.: The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ, The Book Tree, . Pages 74-75
[S30] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. Page 115
[S31] - Massey, Gerald.: The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ, The Book Tree, . Pages 43-47
[S32] - Acharya S.: Suns of God , Adventures Unlimited Press, 2004. Page 93
[S33] - Churchward, Albert: The Origin & Evolution of Religion, Page 135
[S34] - Bonswick, James: Egyption Belief and Modern Thought, p. 157
[S35] - Massey, Gerald.: Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, Page 628-629
[S36] - Doane, Thomas: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 222- 223
[S37] - Bonswick, James: Egyption Belief and Modern Thought, p. 150-155, 178
[S38] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. Page 107-108
[S39] - Frazer, James.: The Golden Bough, Touchstone, 1963. Page 403-409
[S40] - Jackson, John: Christianity before Christ, AAP, p. 67
[S41] - Doane, Thomas: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 190-191
[S42] - Berry, Gerald: Religions of the World, B&N, p.20
[S43] - Weigall, Arthur: The Paganism in our Christianity, Thames & Hudson, 1999 p115-116
[S44] - Carpenter, Edward: Pagan and Christian Creeds, p 12
[S45] - Acharya S.: Suns of God , Adventures Unlimited Press, 2004. Chapter 7
[S46] - Doane, Thomas: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 113-115
[S47] - Wilkes, Charles (translator): Bhagavat-Geeta, 1785 p 52
[S48] - Doane, Thomas: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 278-288
[S49] - Freke & Gandy: The Jesus Mysteries, Three Rivers Press, p. 29, 33, 38, 48, 56
[S50] - Frazer, James.: The Golden Bough, Touchstone, 1963. Page 451-452, 543
[S51] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. Page 111-113
[S52] - Doane, Thomas: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 193
[S53] - Weigall, Arthur: The Paganism in our Christianity, Thames & Hudson, 1999 p220-224
[S54] - Carpenter, Edward: Pagan and Christian Creeds, DODO Press, p10
[S55] - Freke & Gandy: The Jesus Mysteries, Three Rivers Press, p. 33, 42
[S56] - Frazer, James.: The Golden Bough, Touchstone, 1963. Page 415-420
[S57] - Doane, Thomas: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 223
[S58] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. Page 118-120
[S59] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman
[S60] - Carpenter, Edward: Pagan and Christian Creeds, DODO Press, p16-17
[S61] - Charles F. Dupuis : Origine de Tous les Cultes, Paris, 1822
[S62] - Massey, Gerald.: The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ, The Book Tree, . Pages 12-13
[S63] - Doane, Thomas: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 140-146
[S64] - Irvin & Rutajit: Astrotheology and Shamanism, The Book Tree, Pages 25-26
[S65] - Carpenter, Edward: Pagan and Christian Creeds, DODO Press, p 17-18
[S66] - Frazer, James.: The Golden Bough, Touchstone, 1963. Page 391
[S67] - Moor, Edward, The Hindu Pantheon, Simpson, p154
[S68] - Maxwell, Tice, Snow: That Old-Time Religion,The Book Tree, p43
[S69] - Freke & Gandy: The Jesus Mysteries, Three Rivers Press, p. 33
[S70] - Massey, Gerald.: The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ, The Book Tree, . Pages 27
[S71] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. Pages 189-190
[S72] - Acharya S.: Suns of God , Adventures Unlimited Press, 2004. p199,220-221,352-353
[S73] - Frazer, James.: The Golden Bough, Touchstone, 1963. Page 415-417
[S74] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. Pages 154-155
[S75] - Massey, Gerald.: The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ, The Book Tree, . Pages 10, 98
[S76] - Maxwell, Tice, Snow: That Old-Time Religion,The Book Tree, p41
[S77] - Roy, S.B: Prehistoric Lunar Astronomy, Institute of Chronology, New Delhi, 1976 p.114
[S78] - Bonswick, James: Egyption Belief and Modern Thought, p. 174
[S79] - Doane, Thomas: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 495-508
[S80] - Doane, Thomas: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 483-492
[S81] - Olcott, William Tyler : Suns Lore of All Ages, The Book Tree, 1914. chapter IX
[S82] - Hall, Manly P.: The Secret Teachings of All Ages, 1928. Page 183
[S83] - Doane, Thomas: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 496
[S84] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. Pages 166-183
[S85] - Higgins, Godfrey: Anacalypsis, A&B Books. Pages 781-782
[S86] - Anderson, Karl: Astrology of the Old Testamate, Health Re. p18
[S87] - Jackson, John: Christianity before Christ, AAP, p. 185
[S88] - Campbell, Jospeh: Creative Mytholigy- The Masks of God, Penguin, p 24-25
[S89] - Churchward, Albert: The Origin & Evolution of Religion, p 363
[S90] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. p.218
[S91] - Maxwell, Tice, Snow: That Old-Time Religion,The Book Tree, p41
[S92] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, John 9:5
[S93] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Matthew 28:6
[S94] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman John 14:3
[S95] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, 2 Corinthians 4:6
[S96] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Romans 13:12
[S97] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, John 3:3
[S98] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Mark 13:26
[S99] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, John 3:13
[S100] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, John 19:5
[S101] - Hall, Manly P.: The Secret Teachings of All Ages, 1928. Page 53-54
[S102] - A.L. Berger; Obliquity & Precession for the last 5 million years; Astronomy & astrophysics (1976), p127
[S103] - Campion, Nicholas: The Great Year: Astrology, Millenarianism, and History in the Western Tradition, Penguin
[S104] -
[S105] -
[S106] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Exodus 32-34
[S107] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Exodus 32:27
[S108] -
[S109] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. p.146
[S110] -Wagner, Leopold: Manners, Customs, and Observances; Jewish Fasts and Festivals 1894 # 403
[S111] - Carpenter, Edward: Pagan and Christian Creeds, DODO Press, p16-17
[S112] - Acharya S.: Suns of God , Adventures Unlimited Press, 2004. p 127
[S113] - Hall, Manly P.: The Secret Teachings of All Ages, 1928. P 55
[S114] - Dowling, Eva S. A, Ph.D: Scribe to the Messenger, p 6
[S115] - Carpenter, Edward: Pagan and Christian Creeds, DODO Press, p 30
[S116] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, John 6:9-11
[S117] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Matthew 4:19
[S118] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. p.146
[S119] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. p.146-147
[S120] - Leedom, Tim.: The Book your Church Doesnt Want You to Read, Truth Seeker,. p.25
[S121] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Matthew 28:20
[S122] - Maxwell, Tice, Snow: That Old-Time Religion,The Book Tree, p44
[S123] - Churchward, Albert: The Origin & Evolution of Religion, p 282, 366
[S124] - Massey, Gerald.: The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ, The Book Tree, . Pages 1-10
[S125] - Massey, Gerald.: Lectures, A & B, p 7-8
[S126] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. p.265-274
[S127] - Wells, G.A.: Who was Jesus?, Open Court 1991 p179
[S128] - Jackson, John: Christianity before Christ, AAP, p. 109-118
[S129] - Budge. Sir. E.A. Wallis: The Gods of the Egyptions Vol I, Methuen and Co. p566-599
[S130] - Churchward, Albert: The Origin & Evolution of Religion, p 394-403
[S131] - Doane, Thomas.: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 122,190,213,222,256,327,363,476,484
[S132] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. p.115-116
[S133] - Jackson, John: Christianity before Christ, AAP, p. 110-112
[S134] - Massey, Gerald.: The Historical Jesus and the Mythical Christ, The Book Tree, . Pages 32-35
[S135] - Massey, Gerald.: Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, Page 663-671
[S136] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. p.237-239
-Walker, Barbara: Women's Encyplodia of Myths and Secrets, p. 315
-Thompson, R. Campbell (tr. by ): The Epic of Gilgamish, 1928
- Budge. Sir. E.A. Wallis: The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic of Gilgamish, 1929
- Teeple, Howard M.: The Noah's Ark Nonsense, Religion and Ethics Institute, 1978
[S141] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Exodus 2:1-10
[S142] - Blavatsky, H. P.: The Secret Doctrine Vol 1, p 319-320
[S143] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. p.241-243
[S144] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Exodus 20:2-17
[S145] - Doane, Thomas.: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 55-61
[S146] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. p.241
[S147] - Doane, Thomas.: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 60
[S148] - Graham, Lloyd, Deceptions and Myths of the Bible, Citidel, 1991, p. 147
[S149] - Massey, Gerald. :Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, Pages 526-528
[S150] - Budge. Sir. E.A. Wallis: The Book of the Dead, Gramercy, Chapter CXXV
[S151] - Doane, Thomas.: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 319-321
[S152] - Budge. Sir. E.A. Wallis: The Book of the Dead, Gramercy, p66
[S153] - Budge. Sir. E.A. Wallis: The Book of the Dead, Gramercy, Chapter CXXV
[S154] - Massey, Gerald. :Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, p99-148
[S155] - Massey, Gerald. :Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, p84, 197-198,200, 202, 213, 215
[S155] - Massey, Gerald. :Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, p888-893
[S156] - Doane, Thomas.: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 181-205
[S157] - Maxwell, Tice, Snow: That Old-Time Religion,The Book Tree, p51-53
[S158] - Massey, Gerald. :Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, p942, 951-952
[S159] - Doane, Thomas.: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 85-87
[S160] - Massey, Gerald. :Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, Book 4, p149-196
[S161] - Massey, Gerald. :Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics , p92 180, 192, 26-266
[S162] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. p.237-239
[S163] - Massey, Gerald. :Ancient Egypt The Light of The World , Cosimo, p130, 228, 274, 584-585, 859, 870, 880
[S164] - Olcott, William Tyler : Suns Lore of All Ages, The Book Tree, 1914. chapter IX
[S165] - Bonwick, James: Egyptian Belief and Modern Thought, C. Kegan, 1878, p.237
[S166] - Massey, Gerald. :Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, p888, 797 [* also see S163]
[S167] - Martyr, Justin: First Apology / The Apostolic Fathers: Martyr and Irenaeus by Philip Schaff. Eerdmans Pub.
[S168] - Martyr, Justin: I Apol., chs. xxi, xxii; ANF. i, 170; cf. Add. ad Grace. ch. lxix; Ib. 233.
[S169] - Freke & Gandy: The Jesus Mysteries, Three Rivers Press, Chapter 3 -"Diabolical Mimicry"
[S170] - Doane, Thomas.: Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions, p. 466-507
[S171] - Churchward, Albert: The Origin & Evolution of Religion, p 404-409
[S172] - Carpenter, Edward: Pagan and Christian Creeds, DODO Press, Chaper II & III
[S173] - Massey, Gerald. :Ancient Egypt The Light of The World ,Cosimo Classics, p563-622
[S174] - Acharya S.: Suns of God , Adventures Unlimited Press, 2004. Chapters II, III, IV
[S175] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Gen. 30:22-24
[S176] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Matt. 1:18-23
[S177] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Gen. 42:13
[S178] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Matt. 10-1
[S179] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Gen. 37:28
[S180] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Matt. 26:15
[S181] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Gen. 37:26-27
[S182] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Matthew 26:14-15
[S183] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Gen. 37:28
[S184] - King James Version, The Holy Bible, Holman, Matthew 26:15
[S185] - Murdock, D.M. - Who was Jesus?, Steller House Publishing, Chapter "Extrabiblical Testimony"
[S186] - Remsburg, John E.: The Christ Myth, Nuvision Pub, p 17-30
[S187] - Freke & Gandy: The Jesus Mysteries, Three Rivers Press, p. 133-139
[S188] - Doherty, Earl: The Jesus Puzzle, A&R,p78

[S189] - Acharya S.: Suns of God , Adventures Unlimited Press, 2004. p381-388
[S190] - Doherty, Earl: The Jesus Puzzle, A&R, Chapter 2
[S191] - Freke & Gandy: The Jesus Mysteries, Three Rivers Press, Chapter 7
[S192] - Murdock, D.M. - Who was Jesus?, Steller House Publishing, 2005
[S193] - Remsburg, John E.: The Christ Myth, Nuvision Pub, Chapter 1
[S194] - Allegro, John - The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth, Prometheus Books, 190-203
[S195] - Massey, Gerald. : Lectures- Gnostic amd Historic Christianity,Cosimo Classics, p. 73-104
[S196] - Freke & Gandy: The Jesus Mysteries, Three Rivers Press, p 89-110, 253-256
[S197] - Acharya S.: The Christ Conspiracy, Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999. p.340-342

What do we notice about this list of sources? Not a single one of these authors and sources are experts in the Bible, Biblical history, the Ancient Near East, Egyptology, or any of the cognate fields. Many of these sources are quite old, and the arguments they present have long since been shown to be weak. Frazer's venerable work The Golden Bough will perhaps be the most familiar of all the sources cited, and some of you may have heard of poor John Allegro, who tried to argue that the Christian movement arose out of an early mushroom cult. His work was laughed out of the guild along time ago, and this is sad since he did do some interesting work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, which by the way, do not comment on, nor have anything to do with the origins of the Jesus movement itself,l except very tangentially if (and it is an if) John the Baptizer may have been connected with the Essenes.

The point of my listing these sources is that they are not reliable sources of information about the origins of Christianity, Judaism, or much of anything else of relevance to this discussion. The essential argument behind this sort of movie and polemic is an argument called 'syncretism'. That is, that there is nothing new under the sun religiously, and so of course we must explain the origins of things like the resurrection of Jesus on the basis of Egyptian notions of the afterlife. Never mind that Egyptian thought was polytheistic and despised by early Jews, and never mind that in fact what is discussed in the Book of Dead and elsewhere in Egyptian literature is an afterlife in another world, not a coming back to this one in the same body, still, in a syncretistic argument one must posit the origins of the Jewish ideas on the basis of some other religion, which is equally mythological. And in such an argument it is important which is the chicken and which the egg.

Zoroastrianism also comes into play here in these sources, as the supposed origins of Judaism or Christianity. Of course the problem with this is, we have no ancient sources on Zoroaster that pre-date Christian sources, much less that pre-date Jewish sources like the Dead Sea Scrolls. None. It is an open question historically whether and what can be known at all about Zoroaster and the origins of the religion named after him. What we can say is, there is no hint of any direct influence of either that religion or Egyptian religion per se, in the Old Testament or New Testament. You will not be finding seminars at the national SBL meeting on how Zoroastrian religion and Egyptian religion explains all we need to know about the origins of Biblical religion.
Indeed, what you can find in the Bible is the deconstruction of other culture's myths, or better said the demythologizing of such material, by Biblical writers doing polemics. George Earnest Wright, from whom I learned much at Harvard used to stress that Jews were not on the whole a myth-making people. He was right about this. They grounded their stories in history, particularly what has come to be called salvation history. And when they used mythological images (like e.g. the image of the great sea monster Leviathan) they used them in historical ways. A good example of this sort of practice is some of the material we find in the book of Revelation. Rev. 12 tells the tale about a woman, representing an historical group people, with a dragon on her tale, trying to destroy her son, and when that failed, then her. Mythological images are certainly being used here, from the old combat myths (see my Revelation commentary). But what is interesting about the usage is that the mythological images are used to serve historical purposes-- the author believes not only there is a historical people of God, he believes there is a real spiritual being called Satan, and he uses the most gnarly mythological images he can find to describe him. This is called demythologizing mythological images and using them for other and historical purposes.

Finally, you will notice as well that Mr. Joseph has not bothered to consult any expert commentators on the Hebrew or Greek texts of the Bible. He simply cites the King James Version when he wants to talk about the Bible.

Of course Peter Joseph is that increasingly popular kind of writer and movie producer-- the conspiracy theory specialist (think Dan Brown on steroids). His essential argument is that the truth about the mythological origins of all religions has been suppressed for oh so long. His argument is that all savior figures are anthropological projections, creating a religious myth. He also wants to see them all whether Mithra or Jesus or someone else as all fictional creations. He is especially angry about elitism-- his view is that the myth of Judaism and Christianity was imposed on the world from the top down, and we are still suffering from this sort of elitist thinking. So, in his view Jesus did not exist and we have all been lied to about this matter.
So of course Peter Joseph is also regaling us with the theory that his theories have been suppressed, and his film black-listed. If you go on Youtube and look up comments on the Zeitgeist movie, including a radio interview with Joseph, and a brief comment by that true pundit, Keith Olbermann, you will see that not only is this movie about conspiracies, this movie is seen as the victim of a suppression 'conspiracy'.

Never mind it is a bad movie based on shabby 'research' ( I use the term loosely) and actually no historical understanding about Jesus and the origins of Christianity. Never mind that Mr. Joseph can't tell the difference between arguments about the myth of the Easter bunny and arguments about Jesus Christ. He's got his knickers all in a knot because his 'truth' is being suppressed. It has not occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, thoughtful people who know far more than he does about this subject are very kindly letting his bad movie die a slow death, as it did not deserve worldwide attention and fame and fortune. The problem with syncretistic thinking like Joseph's is that you put all sorts of disparate sources and information into your mental blender and blend them all together. Thus the Jesus myth and conspiracy is likened by him to the cover up of 911 conspiracy and so on. The sad part about this is that it is just emoting and anger masked as and pretending to be historical research and scientific evidence. The sad part he believes that he is the victim of the suppression of free speech.

But back to the movie itself. An unknown voice at the beginning of the film tells us that religious institutions of this world are at the bottom of the conspiracy to suppress humankind in order to support the rich elite establishment'. This at the heart of the argument of this film. Government is being accused of taking authority as the truth, rather than truth as their authority, and using religion as the tool to support repressive regimes and false ideologies and myths. Religion is seen as the ultimate source of b.s. in our world, and of course particularly the Christian religion.

About ten minutes into the film we get the 'lowdown' on 'The Greatest Story (aka fib) ever told'. This is the part of the film I am concerned with, and the rest of the post will deal with it. The story begins by informing us that cultures have always personified and anthropomorphized the sun and stars, depicting them as people. This is partially true, but it certainly isn't an explanation for the origins of Hebrew religion, which kept critiquing sun and moon god worship, denied there were multiple deities in the heavens, and ridiculed the notion that stars were gods who controlled one's fate. If one reads the OT carefully, you will notice that the sun and moon are seen as controlled by Yahweh. And when the subject of sons of God, the one true God does come up the phrase in Gen. 5 refers to fallen angels who mate with human women, and later in the OT it refers to the king, and finally to the last great king-- the messiah. There is nothing whatsoever in any of this that is remotely close to the idea of sun worship, or seeing the sun itself as a deity. And while we are at it-- there is no reason to associate the word sun with the word son, and simply blend together all ideas about both in antiquity. But this sort of syncretistic thinking is at the heart of this film, and it leads to massive distortions of religious history.
The analysis of Egyptian mythology in the film has a very few things right, fortunately about Horus and Set, the sun god and his antithesis. Unfortunately it gets most of the story of Horus wrong. He claims the Horus myth says he was born on Dec. 25th, born of a virgin, star in the east, worshipped by kings, and was a teacher by 12. This he claims was the original form of the myth in 3000 B.C. It would be nice to know how Mr. Joseph learned this, since we don't have any ancient Egyptians texts that go back that far on this matter. Furthermore this disinformation he gives in the film is refuted by numerous analysis of the proper sources. See for example the entry in Wikipedia, part of which I give you below. Notice in particular the section on the conception of Horus by Isis. There is no virginal conception, but again not only is Mr. Joseph guilty of falsely blending together various different religions which developed largely regionally and independently of each other, he is actually guilty of falsifying some of the claims made in the Egyptian myths (see below). What follows between the dash lines is the Wiki info and it is basically correct, Mr. Joseph's polemic--- not so much. Ironically he does a disservice to all the religions he discusses.


Sky god

This is thought to be the original form of Horus.[3] His name meaning 'high' or 'distant' reflects his sky nature. He was seen as a great falcon with outstretched wings whose right eye was the sun and the left one was the moon. One of the sky-god forms of Horus was 'Nekheny' (meaning 'he of Nekhen' or Hierakonopolis).

[edit] Sun god

ḥr.w "Horus"

in hieroglyphs
H Hr

Since Horus was said to be the sky, it was natural that he soon was considered also to contain the sun and moon. It became said that the sun was one of his eyes and the moon the other, and that they traversed the sky when he, a falcon, flew across it. Thus he became known as Harmerty - Horus of two eyes.[4] and Heru-khuti (in Egyptian) seem to be none other than Horus Later, the reason that the moon was not so bright as the sun was explained by a new tale, known as the contestings of Horus and Set, originating as a metaphor for the conquest of Upper Egypt by Lower Egypt in about 3000 B.C. In this tale, it was said that Set, the patron of Upper Egypt, and Horus, the patron of Lower Egypt, had battled for Egypt brutally, with neither side victorious, until eventually the deities sided with Horus.

A painting of the god Ra-Horakhty wearing the symbol for Wadjet, the cobra sun deity, as a crown - typically the symbol remains, but the names of the deities performing the function change as new cults arise
A painting of the god Ra-Horakhty wearing the symbol for Wadjet, the cobra sun deity, as a crown - typically the symbol remains, but the names of the deities performing the function change as new cults arise

As Horus was the ultimate victor he became known as Harsiesis, Heru-ur or Har-Wer (ḥr.w wr 'Horus the Great'), but more usually translated as Horus the Elder. In the struggle Set had lost a testicle, explaining why the desert, which Set represented, is infertile. Horus' left eye also had been gouged out, which explained why the moon, which it represented, was so weak compared to the sun. It also was said that during a new-moon, Horus had become blinded and was titled Mekhenty-er-irty (mḫnty r ỉr.ty 'He who has no eyes'), while when the moon became visible again, he was re-titled Khenty-er-irty (ḫnty r ỉr.ty 'He who has eyes'). While blind, it was considered that Horus was quite dangerous, sometimes attacking his friends after mistaking them for enemies.

rˁ-ˁḫr-3iḫṯ "

in hieroglyphs

Ultimately, as another sun god, Horus became identified with Ra as Ra-Herakhty rˁ-ˁḫr-3iḫṯ, literally Ra, who is Horus of the two horizons. However, this identification proved to be awkward, for it made Ra the son of Hathor, and therefore a created being rather than the creator. And, even worse, it made Ra into Horus, who was the son of Ra, i.e. it made Ra his own son and father, in a standard sexually-reproductive manner, an idea that would not be considered comprehensible to the Egyptians until the Hellenic era. Consequently Ra and Horus never completely merged into a single falcon-headed sun god.

Nevertheless the idea of making the identification persisted as with most of the symbols used in ancient Egyptian religion, and Ra continued to be depicted as falcon-headed. Likewise, as Ra-Herakhty, in an allusion to the Ogdoad creation myth, Horus was occasionally shown in art as a naked boy with a finger in his mouth sitting on a lotus with his mother, Hathor. In the form of a youth, Horus was referred to as Neferhor. This is also spelled Nefer Hor, Nephoros or Nopheros (nfr ḥr.w) meaning 'The Good Horus'.

In an attempt to resolve the conflict in the myths, Ra-Herakhty was occasionally said to be married to Iusaaset, which was said to be his shadow, having previously been Atum's shadow, before Atum was identified as Ra, in the form Atum-Ra, and thus of Ra-Herakhty when Ra was also identified as a form of Horus. In much earlier myths Iusaaset, meaning: (the) great (one who) comes forth, was seen as the mother and grandmother of all of the deities. In the version of the Ogdoad creation myth used by the Thoth cult, Thoth created Ra-Herakhty, via an egg, and so was said to be the father of Neferhor.

[edit] Conception

Horus, (Louvre Museum), 'Shen rings' in his grasp
Horus, (Louvre Museum), 'Shen rings' in his grasp

Isis had Osiris' body returned to Egypt after his death; Set had retrieved the body of Osiris and dismembered it into 14 pieces which he scattered all over Egypt. Thus Isis went out to search for each piece which she then buried. This is why there are many tombs to Osiris. The only part she did not find in her search was the genitals of Osiris which were thrown into a river by Set. She fashioned a substitute penis after seeing the condition it was in once she had found it and proceeded to have intercourse with the dead Osiris which resulted in the conception of Horus the child.[5]

[edit] Conflict between Horus and Set

By the Nineteenth dynasty, the previous brief enmity between Set and Horus, in which Horus had ripped off one of Set's testicles, was revitalised as a separate tale. According to Papyrus Chester-Beatty I, Set was considered to have been homosexual and is depicted as trying to prove his dominance by seducing Horus and then having intercourse with him. However, Horus places his hand between his thighs and catches Set's semen, then subsequently throws it in the river, so that he may not be said to have been inseminated by Set. Horus then deliberately spreads his own semen on some lettuce, which was Set's favorite food (the Egyptians thought that lettuce was phallic). After Set has eaten the lettuce, they go to the deities to try to settle the argument over the rule of Egypt. The deities first listen to Set's claim of dominance over Horus, and call his semen forth, but it answers from the river, invalidating his claim. Then, the deities listen to Horus' claim of having dominated Set, and call his semen forth, and it answers from inside Set.[6] In consequence, Horus is declared the ruler of Egypt.

[edit] Brother of Isis


When Ra assimilated Atum into Atum-Ra, Horus became considered part of what had been the Ennead. Since in this version Atum had no wife and produced his children by masturbating de facto, Hathor was easily inserted as the mother of the previously "motherless" subsequent generation of children. However, Horus did not fit in so easily, since if he was identified as the son of Hathor and Atum-Ra in the Ennead, he would then be the brother of the primordial air and moisture, and the uncle of the sky and earth, between which there was initially nothing, which was not very consistent with his being the sun. Instead, he was made the brother of Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys, as this was the only plausible level at which he could meaningfully rule over the sun and the pharaoh's kingdom. It was in this form that he was worshipped at Behdet as Har-Behedti (also abbreviated Bebti).

Since Horus had become more and more identified with the sun since his identification as Ra, his identification as also being the moon suffered, so it was possible for the rise of other moon deities, without complicating the system of belief too much. Consequently, Chons became a new moon god. Thoth, who also had been a moon god, became much more associated with secondary mythological aspects of the moon, such as wisdom, healing, and peace making. When the cult of Thoth arose in power, Thoth was inserted into new versions of the earlier myths, making Thoth the one whose magic caused the semen of Set and Horus to respond--in the tale of the contestings of Set and Horus, for example.

Thoth's priests went on to explain how it could be possible that in older myths there were five children of Geb and Nut. They said that Thoth had prophesied the birth of a great king of the gods and so Ra, afraid of being usurped, had cursed Nut with not being able to give birth on any day in the year. In order to remove this curse, Thoth proceeded to gamble with Chons, winning 1/72nd of moonlight from him. Prior to this time in Egyptian history, the calendar had 360 days. The Egyptian calendar was reformed around this time and gained five extra days, so a new version of the myth was used to explain the five children of Nut. 1/72 portion of moonlight for each day corresponded to five extra days, and so the new tale states that Nut was able to give birth to her five children again, one on each of these extra days.

[edit] Mystery religion

Since recognition of Horus as the son of Osiris was only in existence after Osiris's death, and because Horus, in an earlier guise, was the husband of Isis, in later traditions, it came to be said that Horus was the resurrected form of Osiris.[citation needed] Likewise, as the form of Horus before his death and resurrection, Osiris, who had already become considered a form of creator when belief about Osiris assimilated that about Ptah-Seker, also became considered to be the only creator, since Horus had gained these aspects of Ra.

Eventually, in the Hellenic period, Horus was, in some locations, identified completely as Osiris, and became his own Father, since this concept was not so disturbing to Greek philosophy as it had been to that of ancient Egypt. In this form, Horus was sometimes known as Heru-sema-tawy (ḥr.w smȝ tȝ.wy 'Horus, Uniter of Two Lands').

Part of a menat necklace said to depict Hariesis (Horus) extending a sistrum in front of the goddess Sekhmet
Part of a menat necklace said to depict Hariesis (Horus) extending a sistrum in front of the goddess Sekhmet

By assimilating Hathor—who had herself assimilated Bat, who was associated with music and in particular, the sistrum—Isis was likewise, thought of in some areas in the same manner. This particularly happened amongst the groups who thought of Horus as his own father, and so Horus, in the form of the son, amongst these groups often became known as Ihy (alternately: Ihi, Ehi, Ahi, Ihu), meaning "sistrum player", which allowed the confusion between the father and son to be side-stepped. A supplicant depicted on an Egyptian menat necklace is said to depict Hariesis (Horus) extending a sistrum in front of the goddess Sekhmet, an earlier sun deity who also was seen as an aspect of Hathor.

The combination of this, now rather esoteric new mythology, with the philosophy of Plato, which was becoming popular on the Mediterranean shores, lead to the tale becoming the basis of a mystery religion. Many Greeks, and those of other nations, who encountered the faith, thought it so profound that they sought to create their own, modelled upon it, but using their own deities. This led to the creation of what was effectively one religion, which was, in many places, adjusted to reflect, albeit superficially, the local mythology although it substantially adjusted them. The new religion is known to modern scholars as that of Osiris-Dionysus.


I could go on about the egregious errors in his presentation of Horus, who was not called the lamb of God, and was not crucified and resurrected, even in the myth. The story of Horus is of course the story of the rebirth of the sun in east, and it is based on the cycles of nature, not on any sort of historical claims at all, unlike the story of Jesus. But more to the point the story of Horus does not include many of the elements that Joseph claims it does--- shame on him for not doing his homework properly even on Egyptology. I could go through Mithraism and Dionysius worship and Attis worship, and Krishan. but you can get to the bottom of these on your own time, even just by using Wikipedia and the sources it cites. Suffice it to say that it is not true that it was believed all these deities were born on Dec. 25th, and in any case the Bible never claims or suggests Jesus was born on such a date. This was a much later guess by church fathers, and is irrelvant to this discussion of Biblical origins. Nor is it true to say that all these stories have basically the same elements and pattern. One thing you can say about Mr. Joseph's film-- he is an equal opportunity distorter of world religions in general, its just that Christianity is the particular object of his ire.


One of the things the Zeitgeist movie does not tell you is that the Hebrews already long since had a religion when they went to Egypt both in the time of Joseph and in the time of Moses. And those who are experts in ancient Hebrew religion will tell you that the differences between a monotheistic or henotheistic religion that grounded in historical persons and actions, and the Egyptian mythology which is grounded in the cycles of nature, the rising and setting of the sun, the motions of the stars, etc. are considerable. Consider for example the ancient poem in the Psalms-- Ps. 8. The sun, the moon and the stars are all seen by the psalmist as but the works of God's fingers, like a child molding things out of playdough. The Biblical God is a God of creation, one who has made all things that exist. In that same psalm we see that human beings are the crown of God's creation, created in God's image. Notice the anti-anthropomorphic theology here. God is not the sun, he does not have a son that is the sun, indeed creation is simply something that the one God has made. Now the important part about this is that it desacralizes nature. Nature is not a god or gods, it is not divine, and neither are human beings as human beings. What 'Zeitgeist' of course does not tell you is that this sort of Judaeo-Christian idea about the world and its creatures is the basis of modern science, which assumes that creation is not God, and therefore is not defiled by inquiry, scientific examination and the like. The attempt to portray Biblical religion as anti-science, knows neither the origins of Biblical religion nor the origins of modern science. Let me add to this that we must not make the mistake of assuming that just because some churches or Christians along the way have been anti-intellectual and indeed have suppressed truth about various matters, including scientific ones (a fact which cannot be denied, sadly), this has nothing whatsoever to do with the prior question of the origins of Biblical religion or for that matter the origins of modern science. Those questions need to be assessed on their own merits. Conspiracies and suppressions by Popes tell us nothing about the truth of Biblical religion or science. It's just a case of Christian behaving badly.

A few more of the messes on aisle three of this film need to be cleared up. The scholarly work on the star in the east, if it is historical, and most scholars think it may be, centers on the conjunction of planets, specifically Jupiter and Venus (see e.g. the movie the Nativity which actually gets this bit right). It does not center on Sirius, the dog star. Bethlehem certainly does mean the house of bread. It has nothing to do with the constellation Virgo, which indeed is short for virgin. It has to do with this region being fertile enough to support both grass and wheat- hence shepherds and farmers. And while we are at it-- Jesus' mother's name is Miryam-- from the OT sister of Moses, Miriam. Maria or Mary is simply our anglicized way of referring to that name. The attempt to explain the origins of the story of the death and resurrrection of Jesus on the basis of the winter solstice and what happens on Dec. 22-25 would be laughable if Mr. Joseph wasn't serious. First of all, the Gospels are clear that Jesus was not in the tomb for three whole days, only parts of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Were there an attempt by the Evangelists to conform this to some astrological phenomena or pattern, this is inexplicable.

Secondly, as I have said, there is no association in the NT of either the death or the resurrection of Jesus with the winter solstice or what happens then. The story of Jesus' birth, death and resurrection are not told in light of such thinking about the winter solstice at all. Indeed the notion of resurrection had long existed in Judaism before the time of Jesus (see e.g. Dan. 12.1-2), and was not concocted in light of astrology or any other nature religion. This is a key point-- nature religions are indeed grounded in the cycle of the seasons, and focus on fertility gods etc. This is very different from religions based on history and revelation or prophecy. But the syncretism of Mr. Joseph will not allow that there are different types of world religions, and differing origins for them as well.

What about the claim that the twelve disciples represent the 12 constellations of the Zodiac? Well once again, Mr. Joseph has not bothered to do his homework. There was this little entity called the 12 tribes of Israel, going back to Jacob and his 12 sons. Those stories in Genesis are not astrological in character at all, but rather are explanations of a historical origins of a people. The 12 disciples are chosen by Jesus, not because he was a stargazer, but because he was attempting to reform, and indeed re-form Israel. The twelve disciples represent the 12 tribes of Israel, and you will remember that Jesus promised that at the eschaton they will be sitting on 12 thrones, judging those 12 tribes. Once more, this is a sort of historical and eschatological thinking, not a sort of astrological thinking, and the claim that the Bible has more to do with astrology than anything else, can only be called a category mistake. Clearly, Mr. Joseph has done no work whatsoever in the study of the various genre of Biblical literature which he could hjave gotten from any standard introduction to the Bible, even those written by agnostics and skeptics. The moral here is-- don't make a movie of this ilk, unless you have first carefully done fact check-- he hasn't!!

The origins of the symbol of the cross. Here again Mr. Joseph thinks it derives from the cross in the Zodiac imposed on the circle of the 12 astrological signs of the Zodiac. There are various problems with this theory. First of all consider the most basic ancient zodiac pattern we have-- for example in the floor of the synagogue at Sepphoris. Jews, like ever other group of agrarian peoples were interested in the weather and the seasons. Do we find a cross pattern? No. See the picture of the Zodiac posted at the top of this blog entry. My point is symbol. Mr. Joseph has done no first hand historical work on ancient Zodiac symbols, he has simply believed the pablum he has imbibed from various of his out-dated, and inaccurate sources. The origin of the symbol of the cross of course derives from the Roman practice of crucifixion, not from some supposed astrological pattern. Jesus died in 30 A.D. on a cross outside of Jerusalem, a victim of Roman injustice as even the Romans admitted.

What about the date of the turn of the era? Much is made by Mr. Joseph about how in 1 A.D. a new 'age' or astrological cycle begins, after the age of the Ram. Unfortunately for Mr. Joseph, Jesus was born somewhere between 2-6 B.C. He was not born in 1 A.D. How do we know this? Because Jesus was born whilst Herod the Great was still king of the Holy land, and the records are clear that Herod died about 2 B.C. ergo Jesus had to be born before then (see my articles on these matters in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). How then do we have our modern calendar? Well it was set by a gentleman named Dionysius the short, or as I like to call him Denny the dwarf, who had to much time on his hands, and estimated the turn of the era to be at the juncture we now have it, based on when he thought Jesus was born. he was off by four or so years. In any case, the birth of Jesus transpires before the supposed turn of the ages in the astrological schema touted by Mr. Joseph. Jesus's birth certainly did not usher in the age of Pisces or the fish. The fish symbol comes into Christianity from the gematric value of the Greek word ICHTHUS-- with each letter standing for a word, in this case Insous, Christos, theos, uios and soter-- Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior. It would be nice as well if at least he could get the astrology and symbology part right-- but alas, abandon hope, he hasn't even properly done his homework on that subject either.

Does Moses represent the new age of Ares? Nope. Was the golden calf an attempt to worship Taurus the bull constellation? Probably not. Do Jews blow a ram's horn because Moses threw his tablets down in disgust at the worship of Taurus and inaugurated the age of the Ram? I am sure Moses would be surprised to hear it. And one more thing. We really do not have ancient sources on Mithra, comparable to what we have on Moses and the Israelites. Most of what we know about Mithraism comes from the NT era and later. There is no good historical reason to think Mithraism is the origins of either Judaism or Christianity.

I could go on, and on, but this post is more than long enough. There is only one possible conclusion about the Zeitgeist movie. Mr. Joseph himself has drunk deeply from the increasingly pagan zeitgeist of our age, and unfortunately he has believed what he has consumed. He has believed and now propagated numerous historical, philosophical, and ideological falsehoods. I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he is not just a prankster, but one who is simply angry with religion in general. The fact is of course that many people agree with him, and so the popularity of his video.

My word to the viewers of such a film in a Jesus haunted culture which is Biblically illiterate is the advice of my grandmother long ago--- "don't be so open minded that your brains fall out." Check everything carefully, especially outlandish historical claims, even if you can't do more than read Wikipedia entries. You will discover that Mr. Joseph is like that ancient emperor--- he may have thought he was wearing the latest fashion, and was intellectually well clothed in the robes of truth, but in fact, this imperialistic film maker has no clothes. His myths are easy to deconstruct.