Monday, May 05, 2008

Using Godzilla To Think About Jesus...

I imagine that if one were to ask a few random passers-by to name a handful of characters from our modern mythology and then to arrange them on a scale of similarity to one another, two figures who would appear on almost everyone's list, but at opposite ends of the spectrum, would be Godzilla and Jesus Christ. What two characters could possibly be so well known but so very different in terms of their importance in people's everyday lives? Godzilla, of course, is the Japanese science fiction character who receives very little of anything that could be termed "respect" from the masses. Meanwhile Jesus Christ was a first century Palestinian Jewish prophet who has come to be worshiped as Almighty God by hundreds of millions of people. How could two figures possibly be more different, more unrelated? What could an examination of one possibly do to help us increase our understanding of the other?

Godzilla, King of the Monsters


The truth is that Godzilla and Jesus have far more in common than one might think. They are both said to be possessed of awesome power and somewhat indeterminate origins, stories about them are all very much rooted in the social climate of their times, and they have approximately the same level of worldwide name recognition.* Both are the center of a variety of major marketing campaigns, both have countless books and films devoted to de-constructing their meaning, and both have large, devoted, and often annoying fandoms. They're also similar in another, very important way - both of them have various accounts of their lives and understandings of their meaning that just plain don't jive, and boy do their followers do whatever they can to try and shoehorn them into some semblance of consilience.

Jesus of Nazareth, Jewish Prophet

For example, the origins of both Jesus and Godzilla differ depending on the accounts in which they're depicted. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke both differ significantly, for example, in the genealogies of Joseph, the husband of Jesus' mother Mary (Joseph's genealogy was important to show that Jesus was a descendant of David). In comparison, Godzilla is said to have been a mutated dinosaur in the original 1954 film, but in the later film GMK, he is alluded to as a weird amalgamation of the souls of those killed in the Pacific War. Likewise, the location of their births is open to question. Was Jesus born in Bethlehem, as indicated in Matthew and Luke, or was he born in Nazareth, as John indicates? (See John 7:41-43, in which people question whether or not Jesus can be the messiah since he is known to come from Nazareth and not Bethlehem.) Godzilla, likewise, is alternately said to have come from either Odo Island (the 1954 film) or Lagos Island (the 1991 film).

In the case of Jesus, I suppose an argument could be made that his origins are shrouded in the mists of history. However, it isn't that we don't have any information about where he was born, it's that we have conflicting information about where he was born. Reports about Godzilla are a slightly different matter - because we know Godzilla isn't real, we can look for the meaning behind his two supposed birthplaces. When we're done examining the meanings of Godzilla's birthplace, we will attempt to use the same principles to look at Jesus' origins.

Odo Island, itself fictional, is a remote outpost of the Japanese archipelago peopled with fishermen and other people working rustic trades. Godzilla appears here because the post-war incident that directly inspired his creation, an event in which a Japanese fishing vessel became irradiated by straying too near a U.S. nuclear test and went on to sicken dozens of people with contaminated fish, represented an attack on the Japanese everyman. Godzilla's appearance on Odo Island indicated that no one was safe - not even people living far from the urban population centers targeted during the war were safe from the new nuclear paradigm.

Lagos Island, also fictitious***, is presented in the 1991 film Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah as a Japanese army garrison. This particular film is actually a statement about Japan's emerging role in world markets, especially Japan's economic rivalry with the United States. The antagonists of the film are Caucasian terrorists from the future, and King Ghidorah is a monster that they have created to attack Japan and hobble its economy. By putting Godzilla's origin (and King Ghidorah's) on a WW2 battlefield island, the storyteller is providing a context for the ongoing rivalry between the United States and Japan. He is saying, in effect, that despite the goings on of the past six decades, the relationship between Japan and the U.S. will always be colored by the events of the second World War.

When it comes to Jesus, why is it important to so many Biblical authors that he be born in Bethlehem? It is largely, or perhaps entirely, due to the prophecy of Micah 5:2, in which the one who will rule Israel is predicted to come from "Bethlehem Ephrathah". There would be a strong incentive for people inclined to believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah to "spin" his origin to put it at a place predicted in the scriptures. It is also worth noting that when Matthew quotes the Micah prophecy in his narrative, he alters the words to say "Bethlehem in the land of Juda" rather than "Bethlehem Ephrathah" - the latter reading would indicate a particular Jewish clan rather than a physical location. Prophecy also accounts for the tedious genealogies given in Matthew and Luke - the scriptures indicate the Messiah will be a descendant of David, so both Matthew and Luke try to tie Jesus to David through the Joseph's supposed ancestry. Exactly how Joseph's ancestry would matter if Jesus was sired by God rather than Joseph seems unimportant to them. Perhaps the myths of Davidic ancestry and the Immaculate Conception originally existed separately from each other in the oral traditions about Jesus, only later to become mashed together in a form that doesn't exactly make sense.

Other bare specifics about the lives of both Jesus and Godzilla are contested by our various sources about them. Did Jesus die on the morning after the Passover meal, as in Mark, or did he die on the day of -preparation- for Passover as in John? Did Godzilla die in Tokyo Bay from the Oxygen Destroyer in 1954, or fighting Destoroyah at Haneda airport in 1995? Did Jesus drive the money changers from the Temple at the end of his ministry as in the Synoptic Gospels, or at the beginning, as in John? Did Godzilla face Anguiras as his first opponent, as in the Showa timeline, or was Biollante the first other monster with whom he did battle, as in the Heisei timeline?**** Was Jesus mocked while clothed in a scarlet robe or a purple one? Are Godzilla's dorsal spines gray, purple, or crystalline? Hell, is Godzilla himself gray or green?

It's possible to smooth out some of these discrepancies by combining our narratives and using some mental gymnastics to make the problems disappear, but doing so results in a narrative that is unlike any of the narratives that we've actually been given. In Mark, Jesus is crucified on the morning after the Passover meal, while in John he is crucified on the day of preparation - it's not that either source is wrong in a literary sense, it's that they are trying to say different things about the nature of Jesus' death. John's placing of Jesus' death on the day of preparation, while the Passover lambs are being sacrificed at the Temple, is to make Jesus even more of a metaphor for the "Lamb of God". To John, Jesus is the ultimate Passover sacrifice, and thus he dies on the day of the other sacrifices. It may not jive with the historical facts (or maybe John's right and Mark is wrong), but it is true in a literary sense, just as Mark's account is true in a literary sense. The "facts" of Godzilla are the same way - He didn't die at Tokyo Bay or Haneda Airport, he died at both - in two separate stories about him that were meant to say different things.

The precise meaning of their lives is likewise in question and often contradictory. Jesus alternately preached both pacifism and altruism -and- the stony abandonment of family in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Godzilla likewise alternates between a raging engine of destruction and a kindly protector of human beings. Indeed, they very much appear to be reflections of the authors who pen their stories - Mark's "angry" Jesus and Honda's "angry" Godzilla, Matthew's "imperturbable" Jesus and Sekizawa's paternal Godzilla, "John's" Jesus as apocalyptic messenger in Revelations and Kaneko's malevolent supernatural Godzilla of GMK**. They get constantly co-opted for whatever message is convenient - Jesus for family values (though Matthew 19:29 places a high value on abandoning your family for the sake of the Kingdom), Godzilla for pollution control (Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, despite Godzilla's own deadly radioactivity). Does Jesus want you to cast off your own possessions, or does he want you to be rich like the prosperity preachers say? Is Godzilla primarily interested punishing humanity for misusing science (Is Godzilla nature's way of pointing out the folly of men?) or in helping children stand up to bullies, as Godzilla's Revenge says?

Both Jesus and Godzilla, precisely because they no longer speak for themselves, find all manner of words put in their mouths. It may be fair to say that the writers of the Gospels were among the world's first "fan fiction" writers. Certainly few Christians would have objections to applying that label to the writers of the non-canonical Gospels. Indeed, for example, the non-canonical Gospel of Philip, with it's wildly different portrayal of the nature of Jesus (compared to the orthodox sources) can certainly be compared to the 1997 American Godzilla film that was met with such acrimony by "orthodox" Godzilla fans. Indeed, whatever one wants Jesus, or Godzilla, to stand for, it's not hard to find some source, be it canonical, non-canonical, folkloric, or otherwise, with which to substantiate that view.

More extreme examples: Some modern "scholars" (In quotation marks because they exist far outside the realm of scholarly consensus) argue that Jesus had a wife, Mary Magdalene. Some modern Godzilla fan fiction authors often use the character "Gigantis" as a female counterpart for Godzilla. Schlock writer Tim LaHaye sends himself into spasms over his fantasies about the bloody, apocalyptic Second Coming, while schlock director Ryuhei Kitamura was quite impressed with his own bloody and personality-less Godzilla rampaging through Earth's final hours.

Even the early Christian docetists have their counterparts among Godzilla fans: Did Jesus really die on the cross, or did he merely appear to die? Was Godzilla actually killed by the Oxygen Destroyer, or did he merely appear to be killed? Jesus is said to have been resurrected, and likewise Godzilla appeared again only a year after his "death". Was this "new" Jesus a phantasm as some of the docetists contended? Was this new Godzilla the same creature as 1954, or a different monster entirely?

Indeed, did Jesus understand himself to be a Jewish apocalyptic prophet as some modern scholars (See Ehrman, for example) contend, or did he see himself as God's son, as contended by many Christian theologians? Did Godzilla see himself as nothing more than a destructive animal or a force of nature as was indicated in the 1954 film, a sentient but malevolent engine of vengeance as depicted in GMK, or the friendly protector of Earth and humanity as depicted in Godzilla vs. Megalon? Because neither one of them can answer these questions for themselves, people continue to battle fiercely over their legacies.

Godzilla and Jesus both also speak to us through their shared deaths and resurrections. Jesus, of course, is said to have died on the cross as the perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of humanity. Indeed, according to Paul, the resurrection of Jesus is the single most important event in the entire history of the universe. It is said to be through his death and rebirth that humanity is redeemed. Godzilla, likewise, died for humanity, fiercely battling against Destoroyah in 1995. It was his death in battle against this horrible creature that, according the Godzilla legends, saved the entire world at the cost of Godzilla's own life. But wait, for Godzilla was resurrected - His only begotten son was taken up by Godzilla's escaping radioactivity and was reborn as a new Godzilla. Thus, Godzilla also saved humanity by his death and rebirth.

The messages of Godzilla and Jesus share a similar root in the worldly fears of the people who follow them. Godzilla's original message was rooted in the very real fears, newly introduced to the world only scant years before his first appearance, of nuclear war. Godzilla himself is, in our earliest sources, a thinly veiled cipher for the atomic bomb and for war in general - he is an unstoppable force that suddenly thunders into the lives of innocent people and wreaks havoc upon them. Likewise, Jesus' message, as attested to by our earliest sources, was that of upcoming apocalypse and the final reversal of fortunes when this world, infected as it is with evil and suffering, is overturned and a new "Kingdom of God" reigns over the earth. Both Godzilla and Jesus speak to the fears of the people, specifically the fears of impersonal evil over which the people themselves can exercise little or no control. (There is also a strange sense in which Godzilla himself, through his change from a destructive force into a protective one, mimics the metamorphosis of Yahweh from the despotic and malevolent tyrant of the Old Testament into the benign and more or less forgiving God of Jesus in the New Testament.)

Both Godzilla and Jesus represent ways of dealing with the dominant fears of the time in which the stories about them emerged. They serve this purpose in different ways - Godzilla originally as a personification of the threatening force and Jesus, as he came to be understood, as the personification of the benign force. Godzilla and Jesus both also speak to the need to change - Jesus talked of instituting the values of the soon-to-arrive Kingdom of God during our own time, while Godzilla's gospel, such as it is, speaks of the need to change the post-WWII paradigm of international relations dominated by the fear of nuclear annihilation.

Furthermore, both Godzilla and Jesus have shed some of their original meaning and picked up new meanings throughout the years. Godzilla is no longer a grim specter of nuclear doom, he's a cultural icon, a mascot for Japan, and an action movie hero (or anti-hero). Jesus is no longer merely a Jewish apocalyptic prophet, he's the Son of God (and/or God Himself), and there are probably almost as many different interpretations of him as there are people who claim to follow him. Because, when speaking of themselves, both Jesus and Godzilla are relatively mute, they provide a blank slate for all of us to use when we want to talk about ourselves, our hopes, our fears, and our situations.

Finally, both Jesus and Godzilla have left us, the former in the first century and the latter in 2004, and many fans of both harbor a keenly felt long longing for their return. Though we cannot know when, or if, either will return, followers of both have been promised an imminent return of their heroes. "Yes, I am coming soon", Jesus reports in Revelations 22:7 and 22:12. Godzilla is said to merely be on hiatus, that he too will be "returning soon". But uncertainty is the enemy of faith, and Jesus' followers have since the first century lived in anticipation of the Second Coming, always interpreting "soon" as applying directly to themselves and their own times. Likewise, a quick jaunt to any online Godzilla forum reveals countless discussion about when the Japanese behemoth may reappear.

This idea of another coming is important to both of them. If Jesus is dead and never coming back and Godzilla is retired and will never appear in another film, then they completely are in the past. They would become relics of a bygone time, and while they might still have meaning in our lives today, the scope of this meaning would be limited. If we think of Jesus as imminently returning and Godzilla as just on sabbatical, then they can still adapt to our context. What would Jesus think about the war in Iraq? What does Godzilla have to say about nuclear tests in North Korea? By allowing these characters the opportunity to come back to us, to exist in our own times, we allow ourselves to unapologetically adapt them to the situations that we're facing in our modern lives. In other words, we allow ourselves the luxury of thinking about our situation through the lens provided by these characters.

When we talk about Godzilla, we cannot help but talk of the "legendary" Godzilla. We acknowledge him as a fictional character and understand that our interpretations of him are colored by our own expectations and by the goals and sentiments of the authors who write about him. If we were to somehow contrive to talk of a "historical" Godzilla, it would be the Godzilla of the original 1954 film, with all other interpretations of Godzilla from subsequent films, novels, cartoons, and comic books forming the embellished and often contradictory "legendary" aspect of the Godzilla myth. When the various stories about Godzilla don't jive and can't be forced into a neat continuity, we have no great need of creating a weird "non-canonical canon" to square away the differences. Because most of us have little interest in claiming that our depictions of the life of Godzilla are not without contradictions, we have little difficulty accepting that different storytellers were trying to tell different stories and make different points while using Godzilla as the vehicle for their ideas. When Kaneko's Godzilla is depicted as a supernatural monster made of the souls of the dead, it isn't because he actually was something along those lines in his original (1954) form, it's because Shusuke Kaneko's message that the Japanese public needs to come to grips with the atrocities their country visited upon their Chinese neighbors during World War II can be better expressed by using Godzilla in such a way.

When it comes to Jesus on the other hand, there is a a distinct difference between the historical Jesus and the legendary Jesus that has become the primary Christian superhero. The disparity between the historical Jesus and his legendary counterpart is enormous, and it is the legendary Jesus with whom most modern Christians are familiar. There's an enormous incentive in some circles to smooth over the differences in the accounts about Jesus' life, and indeed there are some who have little interest whatsoever in the historical Jesus and the apocalyptic message of his earthly ministry. Indeed, when it comes to authors like Tim LaHaye, and indeed even Paul, there's often little stock placed on Jesus' own understanding of himself. The problem arises when people try and mash all these competing versions of Jesus (or at least those versions that advocate values that the individuals in question want them to advocate) into one hybrid version of Jesus that doesn't match any Gospel account. In this respect though, Jesus is just like Godzilla - the various interpretations of Jesus represent attempts by various authors to use him as means of conveying their own ideas.

When Mark's Jesus repeatedly becomes irate with his disciples, and indeed when earliest ending of the Gospel of Mark concludes with the women fleeing from the empty tomb too frightened to spread the news of the Resurrection, it was because Mark was trying to illustrate that Jesus' message was misunderstood even by his closest followers. LaHaye's Jesus, riding across the plains of Megiddo on a white horse and literally exploding the armies of the Anti-Christ by the hundreds of thousands, speaks to LaHayes's own modern, Evangelical Christian eschatology. These depictions are both "true" in a literary sense, but all they can tell us is what a particular author wanted Jesus to do, not necessarily what he actually did.

Why is this so obvious when we're talking about Godzilla, but so elusive when we try and apply this understanding to Jesus? (Or indeed to God Himself?) Well, in short, it's because very few people have a vested interest in any particular depiction of Godzilla being the inerrant word of God. No one seriously thinks that Godzilla "died for their sins" or will cast them into a lake of fire after their death if they didn't live their lives correctly. The reverse is true for Jesus' followers. The desire to protect their faith, and to be able identify with the central figure of that faith, lead them to a.) ignore the obvious social constructions that play into the various myths about the legendary Jesus and b.) pick ala carte from the many varying depictions of Jesus in order to come up with an image of him that suits their purposes. Godzilla fans, of course, have favorite films and favorite incarnations of the character, and for many of them their particular view of Godzilla is very important. Discussion boards about Godzilla are often the scene of heated arguments about which interpretation of him is superior, and the answer often comes down to personal preference. When we are deciding what version Godzilla we prefer, the conclusions we reach are based on what we want to see in, and read into, the character. I contend that the same force is at work when we talk about Jesus.

There is a very real sense in which the proper understanding of Jesus, both as a historical and legendary figure, is one and the same as the proper understanding of Godzilla. While we can, with varying degrees of difficulty, point to a historical root for both of them (By watching the original 1954 Gojira or using our earliest and best sources about Jesus to try and determine what he probably said and did.), we have to understand that the majority of popular opinion on them comes from material that is not necessarily directly related to the historical root. It is important to remember that sometimes, when Godzilla and Jesus appear to say or do things in different accounts that don't match up, it isn't because we're not interpreting them correctly, it's really because they don't match up. The various writers speaking through them have different things to say. Losing sight of that does little but help to ensure a steep descent into absurdity.

*Marketing materials provided by Bandai claim that Godzilla has close to 95% name recognition in the industrialized world, which, if true, would actually be greater name recognition than Jesus.

** Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters' All-Out Attack - Widely considered to be the best Godzilla film apart from the original.

*** Technically speaking there is a real Lagos Island, but it lies off the coast of Nigeria in the Atlantic. In the Godzilla stories, Lagos is located in the South Pacific, near Japan.

**** The Showa continuity is composed of the films made from 1954-1974. The Heisei continuity is composed of the 1954 film and the films made between 1989 and 1995. The Millennium continuity consists of the films made from 1999-2004, though the majority of the Millennium series did not form a coherent storyline and rarely contain any concrete references even to the 1954 original - they are the GJn of Godzilla.

21 comments:

Garret said...

Hi Skippy your (I hope) favorite annoying evangelical Christian is here to spread the love rainbows of knowledge to your brain pan.

"the genealogies of Joseph, the husband of Jesus' mother Mary (Joseph's genealogy was important to show that Jesus was a descendant of David). "

Two geneolgies lead to an obvious conclusion- two different people. One Joseph, the other must be.....Mary! Christian apologetics books always present this as the clear and obvious argument, and pondering it, it obviously must be the case.

"Was Jesus born in Bethlehem, as indicated in Matthew and Luke, or was he born in Nazareth, as John indicates? (See John 7:41-43, in which people question whether or not Jesus can be the messiah since he is known to come from Nazareth and not Bethlehem.)"

Believe it or not, this is the first time I had ever heard this objection! DING DING DING! He was from Nazareth, but not born there, duh! It does not say He was born there.

"In the case of Jesus, I suppose an argument could be made that his origins are shrouded in the mists of history. However, it isn't that we don't have any information about where he was born, it's that we have conflicting information about where he was born."

It says He is from there, not born there, but I am curious, I will look up the passage in greek when I am not at work and see what the word they are using conveys. From a place and born at a place are different.

"There would be a strong incentive for people inclined to believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah to "spin" his origin to put it at a place predicted in the scriptures. "

Yes true, OR He was born there.

"Exactly how Joseph's ancestry would matter if Jesus was sired by God rather than Joseph seems unimportant to them."

UHHH...ancestry is HUGE in the Hebrew culture. Look at all the damn begats in the pentatuech!

"Exactly how Joseph's ancestry would matter if Jesus was sired by God rather than Joseph seems unimportant to them. Perhaps the myths of Davidic ancestry and the Immaculate Conception originally existed separately from each other in the oral traditions about Jesus, only later to become mashed together in a form that doesn't exactly make sense"

But it does make perfect sense, it is obviously two different lineages, a convoluted evolutionary explantion is unneeded.

"Did Jesus drive the money changers from the Temple at the end of his ministry as in the Synoptic Gospels, or at the beginning, as in John?"

He did it twice, because they happened at different times, once at the beginning of His ministry, they other, at the end. This is called logic. Or it was a mistake, that too is called logic-prove one of them.

"It's possible to smooth out some of these discrepancies by combining our narratives and using some mental gymnastics to make the problems disappear, but doing so results in a narrative that is unlike any of the narratives that we've actually been given. In Mark, Jesus is crucified on the morning after the Passover meal, while in John he is crucified on the day of preparation - it's not that either source is wrong in a literary sense, it's that they are trying to say different things about the nature of Jesus' death. John's placing of Jesus' death on the day of preparation, while the Passover lambs are being sacrificed at the Temple, is to make Jesus even more of a metaphor for the "Lamb of God". To John, Jesus is the ultimate passover sacrifice, and thus he dies on the day of the other sacrifices. It may not jive with the historical facts (or maybe John's right and Mark is wrong), but it is true in a literary sense, just as Mark's account is true in a literary sense."

Ohh Skippy, you are unfamiliar with the real answer eh? None of these Gymnastics are needed. Let me find the source, but it is a fact that the Hebrews interpreted the holiday differently- one group sacrificed and ate on the night before the passover and the other group sacrificed and ate on the day of. Meals were happening on both nights- from the Jewish record- I am at work and will have to find the proof texts for you.

"Jesus alternately preached both pacifism and altruism -and- the stony abandonment of family in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom of God"

Yes, very harsh, difficult pronouncements. It shows that we should hold God above all.

"Jesus for family values (though Matthew 19:29 places a high value on abandoning your family for the sake of the Kingdom)"

Its called hyperbole, get over it.

"Does Jesus want you to cast off your own possessions, or does he want you to be rich like the prosperity preachers say?"

Give me just one good biblical, theological reason that I should take the word of the prosperity preachers!? They are a sham.

"Jesus is no longer merely a Jewish apocalyptic prophet, he's the Son of God (and/or God Himself"

so what do you make then of the Gospel of Johns high Christology, the claims of diety there? It is clear the apostolic Christians believed the books that comprise the modern bible.

Skippy said...

Nice try on the genealogies, Garret, but they both reach Jesus through Joseph, not Mary.

Let's look:

Matthew:
Abraham
Isaac
Jacob
Judas
Phares
Esrom
Aram
Aminadab
Naasson
Salmon
Booz
Obed
Jesse
David
Solomon
Roboam
Abia
Asa
Josaphat
Joram
Ozias
Joatham
Achaz
Ezekias
Manasses
Amon
Josias
Jechonias
Salathiel
Zorobabel
Abiud
Eliakim
Azor
Sadoc
Achim
Eliud
Eleazar
Matthan
Jacob
JOSEPH <<<<
Jesus

Luke:
David
Nathan
Mattatha
Menna
Melea
Eliakim
Jonam
Joseph
Judah
Simeon
Levi
Matthat
Jorim
Eliezer
Joshua
Er
Elmadam
Cosam
Addi
Melki
Neri
Shealtiel
Zerubbabel
Rhesa
Joanan
Joda
Josech
Semein
Mattathias
Maath
Naggae
Esli
Nahum
Amos
Mattathias
Joseph
Jannai
Melchi
Levi
Matthat
Heli
JOSEPH <<<<
Jesus

There is no mention of Mary whatsoever - these are both clearly meant to show that Jesus is related to David through his father, they just don't remotely sync up. Since neither our earliest Christian author, Paul, nor the author of Mark, nor the author of John saw fit to include an genealogy linking Jesus to David, it smacks to me of a legendary fabrication to make Jesus fulfill more of the OT prophecies.

The same is true for the Nazareth vs. Bethlehem question. Mark makes no mention of Jesus being born in Bethlehem (though he repeated refers to him as being from Nazareth), and John says nothing to correct the impressions of the skeptical crowd about which he writes. Bethlehem is only mentioned in Matthew and Luke, which is interested because those are -also- the sources that make a huge deal about Jesus being descended from David.

Historically Speaking: As far as Jesus running folks out of the Temple twice, why then would Mark, Luke, and Matthew only mention the occurrence at the END of his ministry (Indeed, it seems as if this commotion is was motivated the authorities to seek his arrest), whereas John only mentions it at the BEGINNING of his ministry. If ANY of the Gospels said it happened twice, then you might have a case, but it seems more likely that John got his wired crossed somewhere in decades between his account and those of the Synoptics.

Literarily speaking: In the stories they were trying to tell, Jesus did it once, at the end of his ministry, according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In the story John was trying to tell, he did it once at the beginning of his ministry. Mashing them together yields a story that NONE of our authors was trying to tell and is akin to saying "Godzilla was gray in G vs. Biollante and was green in G. vs. Megaguiras, ergo he started out gray and then turned green". That's wrong - in one he is gray, in the other he is green. They are different stories about the same character, being told with different goals by different authors.

As for the rest, I really have no reason to fight you except to say you missed my point. The prosperity guys are a perfect example of exactly what I'm arguing. It doesn't matter if they're "biblically correct" (and I agree that they aren't), what matters is that they are providing a new vision of Jesus that some people, many people, are buying into.

You yourself have an image of Jesus (mishmashed from the Gospels, it would seem) that you have a lot invested in holding up because that version of Jesus is saying something to you that you think is important.

Garret said...

On the geneology

http://answering-islam.org.uk/BibleCom/mt1-1.html

A thorough commentary.

Again, just because some proclaim where He was born, and others talk about where He was from (since He was approx. three) does not mean any of the writers were confused on the issue at all. Why is it suddenly wrong to be living somewhere that you were not born? Am I wrong for doing so? When I tell people I am from Lomita because I live there and have for years, am I a liar because I was born in Glendale? OHH NOO! I am living a contradiction- I am a Lomitan, people know me as such, how can I be born somewhere else...it is impossible! From now on, when I tell people that I live in Lomita, I will say this "Well, I live in Lomita, but I was born in Glendale". I don't want any confusion afterall. Some freethinker might not be able to handle it if I only say Lomita.

alright Peace, from Culver City, though I live in Lomita, was born in Glendale, California.

Skippy said...

Right, and if I thought that you were God incarnate when I was writing down my stories about you, I'd make -damn sure- to clarify all that stuff in my text, and so would all the other guys writing about you. You know, unless God was specifically supposed to have come from Lomita, in which case I might be tempted to leave out the Glendale bit, or if my friend thought Culver City was the center of our religious world, in which case he might emphasize that over the rest.

Or you know, if a third guy thought that maybe it'd be better if you were from San Diego and there didn't happen to be any system of birth records to say otherwise, well then there might be some stories about your birth in San Diego and who's to say his version mightn't win out in the end.

And heck, if you just happened to turn out to be completely fictional, you might as well be from the moon....

And, again, as far as the genealogies go, what real evidence do you have, apart from the sheer desire that it be the case, that either of those represents Mary's line? And again, since Joseph ISN'T ACTUALLY MEANT TO BE THE FATHER OF JESUS, why would his ancestry mean squat? Wouldn't God, you know, trump David for importance there? (Man, imagine that set of verses: "And behold, these are the generations of Jesus. YHWH begat Jesus. That is all.")

As seems to be your habit, you're looking at the text and producing from thin air what you want to be the case.

I have to say this again for emphasis, the Pauline Epistles (and remember that some of them are pseudonymous), and the four Gospels were written years apart from each other and were not originally circulated together. Paul, pseudo-Paul, Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John all had different things to say about Jesus, and that's why their stories about him are different. When you try to jam these books together and smooth the differences, or when you try to "infer" things to get them to say something other than what their writers intended, you're no longer talking about the Pauline Epistles and the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, you're talking about the Gospel of Garret. That one's not well-attested to.

Garret said...

Hi Skippy,
I might just be a lousy apologist, and thats okay, its not my career.
The gospels and the other books of the new testament jibe very well considering.

Please notice, that the claim is not that He ever lived in Bethlehem, they were there for a census, but were from Galilee.

Please note that you say we better be DAMN SURE of the details. They were- He was born in Bethlehem, but from Nazareth- it is very clear. The Nazarites knew Him as the carpenters son because He was from there. Then, when birth claims are made, He always was said to be born in Bethlehem (of Judea). There really is no debate here- the case is closed. It is very simple, and certainly clear enough to not be troubling at all.


The Geneologies have two different fathers for Joseph, one must be a father in law, or one must be a mistake, there are no other options. The people inclined to accept the bible go with father in law, though we could be mistaken.

"since Joseph ISN'T ACTUALLY MEANT TO BE THE FATHER OF JESUS, why would his ancestry mean squat?"

Lineage is vital to prophecy, the seed of David. Jesus is human too.

"As seems to be your habit, you're looking at the text and producing from thin air what you want to be the case."

Ditto

"and remember that some of them are pseudonymous), "

Claims to psuedonomous epistles of Paul in the actual bible are theory. The clues are textual clues, and there are solid counter arguments to defend Pauline authorship of all Pauline epistles.

"Paul, "pseudo-Paul", Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John all had different things to say about Jesus, and that's why their stories about him are different."

They were all on the same page about who He was.


" Paul, Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John all had different things to say about Jesus, and that's why their stories about him are different."

People have different perspectives.

When you try to jam these books together and smooth the differences, or when you try to "infer" things to get them to say something other than what their writers intended,"

Notice that you too are claiming to know their intentions and theology, you are making claims about those things. Are you claiming that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John ( and Paul, Peter, James for that matter) did not believe that Jesus was the messiah, and that the messiah was uniquely the son of God?

"you're no longer talking about the Pauline Epistles and the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, you're talking about the Gospel of Garret. That one's not well-attested to."

I am not, nor have I ever been impressed by liberal theology. It always smacked of being speculation that ignores a very straight forward understanding of the text (i.e. a plain reading), and attempts to read between the lines for clues of a pre-diety Jesus Christ concept. This further presupposes that Jesus was not making the claims as written, which further presupposes that the men of the highest and strictest moral standards completely ignored those standards, and LIED. And then proceeded to go out into the world proclaiming a known lie, only to suffer for years on end.


If the details were clean and tidy, it would be rejected as a bunch of dudes copying each other. It is what it is, and it is rejected as being a bunch of differing theologies. It is rejected, period.
However...
I actually read the bible everyday, so save your whiney objections for someone who doesn't.
waa waaa- the bible isn't perfect, but God would make it perfect if He was real- waa waa.
OHH WOULD HE? Would He expect His holy men to be perfect when they are so imperfect? Apparently not, otherwise there would be no Savior. Would He be concerned that the Holy men understood biological classifications and record events in strict chronological timelines? Obviously not. There are bible difficulties, and the geneologies of Jesus is one of them. Some things in the bible might be wrong or misunderstood, but to paraphrase Mark Twain, I am worried about the parts I do understand, not the parts I don't.

Skippy said...

Garret, you get real tedious when you start ranting. It's great when you talk about the "plain meaning" of the text, then ignore the obvious fact that all of the Gospels were written separately and intended to be read separately by trying to combine them into a unified Super Gospel.

The "plain meaning" of the text is that Mark and John either thought Jesus was born in Nazareth or never felt that it was important enough to mention that he was born in Bethlehem.

The "plain meaning" of the text is that Matthew and Luke were more interested in a specific set of OT prophecies that Mark was not, and thus introduced "evidence" that Jesus fulfilled those prophecies that Mark did not.

The "plain meaning" of the text is that for Paul, the things Jesus did during his ministry were of distantly secondary importance to the symbolism and meaning of his death and resurrection, since Paul says almost nothing at all about Jesus' ministry.

The "plain meaning" of the text is that in Mark, Jesus' family do not believe he is divine and in fact think that he has gone daft at the beginning of his ministry (Mark 3:21 NRSV), which would be pretty weird if his mother had been visited by an angel and told that she would be bearing the Son of God (as in Luke only) and his father had been told of his divinity in a dream (as in Matthew only). Indeed, the "plain reading" of the text is that Mark, John, and Paul either weren't aware of the virgin birth or else didn't find it important enough to mention.

The "plain meaning" of the text is that Matthew thinks of Joseph as a descendant of David (Matt 1:20), as does Luke (Luke 1:27), ergo their genealogies for Jesus are predicated on the assumption that Jesus is descended from David through Joseph.

The "plain meaning" of the text is that John asserts that Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the Temple early in his ministry (Perhaps, from a literary standpoint, as a show of Jesus' authority) while Mark, Matthew, and Luke all place this event at the end of Jesus ministry, almost immediately preceding his arrest. Your claims that there were actually two distinct-but-more-or-less-identical incidents at the Temple are contrivance in it's purest form.

I could go on, but I honestly don't see the point. You've got your blinders on.

JAK said...

They're so cute when they get all defensive.

I love the technique of making up heretofore unknown and unattested Hebrew conventions, like using the mother's geneaology.

Garret - seriously - read some real Biblical criticism and history. Not the steaming piles of tripe people like Ray Comfort or Josh McDowell put out. Real stuff. Ehrman, Metzger, Raymond Brown, Koester.

Garret said...

Lets look at the few non sequitors that Skippy can draw up, shall we?

"The "plain meaning" of the text is that Mark and John either thought Jesus was born in Nazareth or never felt that it was important enough to mention that he was born in Bethlehem."

Non sequitor. It does not follow that because Jesus was a Nazarene that He was born there, and it does not follow that Mark or John felt His birthplace was unimportant.

"the "plain reading" of the text is that Mark, John, and Paul either weren't aware of the virgin birth or else didn't find it important enough to mention."

It does not follow that because that Mark, John and Paul did not mention virgin birth that they were either unaware or didn't find it important.

Garret said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Garret said...

Jak

As a reasoning man, you do realize that it's not who writes or speaks the argument, but its what the argument says. Just calling the list of people the ones with the true arguments does not address that. It is a strange objection, also, as with McDowell, he actually outlines the liberal theological arguments, and addresses them line by line with counter arguments. He lays it all on the table, as it were. Ray Comfort does very little by way of apologetics, he uses guilt feeling evangelism, and is uninterested in reasoned lines of argumentation in general.

"I love the technique of making up heretofore unknown and unattested Hebrew conventions, like using the mother's geneaology."

Way to go Jak, you have twisted my words. Look at the sum total of how I portray that argument, over several posts. Joseph is mentioned twice, indeed. He is portrayed though, as having two different fathers. When we see a problem like that, we ask for a solution- lets lay the potential solutions on the table, shall we?

A. One or both geneologies are bogus.

B. Two fathers- married men do have two fathers, one is an inlaw, the two (husband and wife) are joined as one.

Now lets look at other things we do know from the Hebrew culture.

1. Geneologies are important to them, as attested in the OT.

2. Geneologies are constructed in the vast majority of times (I know of no exeption, or don't recall one) through the fathers, men.

3. In Hebrew culture men were the heads of their households, inheritance law and covenant making were passed through them, blessings were given through them.

From these well attested facts, we can assume that for the Hebrew people, to construct a geneology, it would be done through the father, as inheritance is through the father. If two fathers are mentioned for a man, and inheritance of an important kingly bloodline is the motive of the geneology, there is the strong potential that one will play the father-in-law card to justify kingly inheritance. It is legal to do so via inheritance law.
Then one can argue that Luke knew Matthews account, and approached the geneology from the other side, as it were, being careful to be culturally correct and keeping it with the father as a proper inheritance.


"They're so cute when they get all defensive."
What a cornhole.

Skippy said...

Hey Garret, I don't mind the profanity, but I'm not a huge fan of repetition. Decide whether you wanna fuck Jak or whether he's just a cornhole and then delete the other post.

:-)

Garret said...

thanks took care of it :)

JAK said...

Actually, I prefer the term "condescending asshole".

Now that your good and pissed, Garret, let's put that strong emotional boost to use.

You're asserting several things about Hebrew geneaological constructs - your points 1 through 3. I don't disagree with those, as they're trivially obvious.

The problem is that you then make an unwarranted leap to the conclusion that one of the Biblical geneaologies reflects Mary (or equivalently, her father).

The "plain meaning" that you want to invoke does not support this - supporting instead that GMt and GLk both intended their geneaologies to reflect Joseph (not Mary), and that one or both of them are simply wrong. (I suppose it's possible that you might want to argue about the plain meaning of the term "plain meaning", but I'm going to assume that you intend it to mean to take the material at basically face value.)

Now, if you want to argue that the "plain meaning" means something else, you've gotta back it up with something other than bald assertions and speculations.

If you want to assert that one or the other of those geneaologies reflects Mary, then your first task is to show some sort of extrabiblical precedent that geneaologies are ever reported through the mother for establishing any sort of bloodline claim (let alone reported by assigning her father to her husband as a second father...), because it certainly isn't a conclusion you can draw from the Bible. You can look all over the place, but you're not going to find such a precedent.

Go ahead. Give it a shot. I'll wait.

Garret said...

Jak
First of all- sorry for my over reaction to your little jab.

the meat of what you want is this-

"If you want to assert that one or the other of those geneaologies reflects Mary, then your first task is to show some sort of extrabiblical precedent that geneaologies are ever reported through the mother for establishing any sort of bloodline claim (let alone reported by assigning her father to her husband as a second father...), because it certainly isn't a conclusion you can draw from the Bible. You can look all over the place, but you're not going to find such a precedent."

First, to be fair, I admitted a couple of times that there are bible difficulties. My answer may not be justified by your qualifications, and it may still be true, technically- there are exceptions occasionally made to things after all.
Second- you assign me a task and then tell me I won't be successful at it, so why don't you give me a requirement that I can successfully achieve? It is not reasonable to foist such a requirement on a person, so you obviously mean it to make your point.

The assemblers of the biblical canon we aware of this conflicting geneology, so they had a solution in mind, certainly.
In fact, from my earlier link given- here is info that I was wrong about Mary's involvement from a very early source-

"Julius Africanus (d. A.D. 240) suggested that Matthew gives the
genealogy of Joseph through his actual father, Jacob, but Luke
gives Joseph's genealogy through his legal father, Heli. In this
view, Heli died childless. His half-brother, Jacob, who had the same
mother but a different father, married Heli's widow and by her had
Joseph. Known as levirate marriage, this action meant that physically
Joseph was the son of Jacob and legally the son of Heli. Jacob was
the descendant of David through David's son Solomon, and Heli was
the descendant of David through David's son Nathan. Thus, by both
legal and physical lineage Joseph had a rightful claim to the
Davidic throne and so would his legal (but not physical) son Jesus.
Matthew gives Joseph's physical lineage, Luke his legal lineage."

So Mary was not involved at all, here.
Levirate marriage can be wiki'd.

There is no further need to go into more detail than this- go to the link and read for all(?) possible answers to this issue.
http://answering-islam.org.uk/BibleCom/mt1-1.html

Skippy said...

Garret, man, once again you're kind of giving your whole "plain meaning of the text" thing the go-by when it suits you. Since our old pal Julius Africanus doesn't have much more to back up his claims about the text than you do, you may as well be quoting yourself.

We have precisely no reason from the texts themselves to assume that Luke was giving a genealogy of Jesus through his "legal father". Arriving at that conclusion requires the same kind of "speculation" and exegesis that you've complained about with regards to "liberal" theology.

Garret said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Garret said...

Hi Skippy,
First off, I don't get it- I can't use a reference very close to the time of Christ to answer an issue? I was asked to, for one thing. History is forensically determined, and ancient writings such as Julius Africanus, (via Eusebius) are valuable and often carry more wieght than a modern theory, unless of course they have been totally discredited. For instance, Islam began in early 7th century, yet they make claims about Jesus of Nazareth. Which is MORE LIKELY to be more accurate, first and second century writings about Jesus, or 7th century?

Skippy said...

When Julius Africanus is talking about the text itself, he doesn't have any more support for this Levirate marriage business than you do. The Levirate marriage reading does not come from the text itself, ergo anyone trying to argue it based on the text is on the same shaky ground regardless of what century they're arguing it in.

This sort of thing is exactly what I was getting at earlier when I said that you want the plain reading of the text except when introducing an extrabiblical contrivance helps you out. The Levirate marriage angle is external to any of the Gospel texts in question, and is a form of the exegesis that you claim to dislike.

"History is forensically determined, and ancient writings ...are valuable and often carry more weight than a modern theory...For instance, Islam began in early 7th century, yet they make claims about Jesus of Nazareth. Which is MORE LIKELY to be more accurate, first and second century writings about Jesus, or 7th century?"

Let me address this two ways.

1.) The ancient Norse religions pre-date Judaism/Christianity. Does that make their creation myths (what with all the frost giants and the giant celestial cow) more likely than the Genesis account? Is it more likely than modern accounts of the creation of the universe. Yeah, I understand that your original text noted "unless the theory has been totally discredited", but saying "Just because it's earlier makes it more likely to be true, unless of course it isn't" does really tell us a whole lot.

2.) As for Islam vs. Christianity - Islam accepts as fact the virgin birth of Christ, while Mark, our oldest Gospel, makes absolutely no mention of the virgin birth of Christ and the "plain reading" of Jesus' baptism in Mark supports an adoptionist view. Is Mark, being earlier, therefore correct that Jesus was born of a normal sexual union?

By the way, is there something wrong with your browser, man? You're double-posting a lot lately. I'm going to go back and remove one of the copies of your last one. (I assume that falls within the limits of my awesome power as the owner of this blog.)

Garret said...

skippy...

Sorry about any double postings. I am at work, through a wireless connection, and when I click to send, it sometimes boots me off, I log back in, and click send because it is still there "unsent". Please feel free to utilize your superpowers.

" The Levirate marriage reading does not come from the text itself, ergo anyone trying to argue it based on the text is on the same shaky ground regardless of what century they're arguing it in."

So what are the sources that Africanus used? Where did he get his info from? Perhaps an oral explanation was passed on, and he wrote it down for clarities sake. That is why it would be posited that earlier is better.

"The ancient Norse religions pre-date Judaism/Christianity. Does that make their creation myths"

Moses hung out with God in the tent son! Straight from the creators mouth. It's an appeal to supernatural special revelation, I know you have a problem with that.

"while Mark, our oldest Gospel, makes absolutely no mention of the virgin birth of Christ and the "plain reading" of Jesus' baptism in Mark supports an adoptionist view. Is Mark, being earlier, therefore correct that Jesus was born of a normal sexual union?"

Mark does not say that Jesus was born of normal sexual union. It seems more likely that since Mark was part of the "in crowd" so to speak, that he would be on the same page as the others in these matters. So it would seem more likely that he would be a virgin birth guy. That is a pretty modest claim, really. Afterall, look at everything else he claimed happened, and ask yourself, would a follower of Christ who claimed that Jesus brought back a girl from the dead (chap5),the miracle of the loaves (twice), walking on water, transfiguring, and resurrection from the dead- would have a problem with virgin birth?

Honestly, this whole 'if he didn't say it, he didn't believe it' concept, seems to be motivated by a conviction that Christianity hit the ground one way, and morphed and evolved into something different, the clues being a textual argument- and this particular one- from silence. That's not to say that it isn't a valid idea, or that it isn't correct. Hear me though- I do the same thing, I fully admit that- but which is more reasonable to believe in this case? That John Mark would not know of or believe the virgin birth of Jesus, or that, in the face of everything else he claims Jesus did, that he most likely did? Another thing to consider- Mark, the shortest and fastest paced of the gospels, does not bog itself down in great detail.
Christian orthodoxy has always acknowledged that its doctrine is not always perfectly encapsulated in each and every book of the canon, but taken as a whole, we get apostolic christianity

Skippy said...

I see what you're getting at, but honestly man- Are you trying to say that Mark, knowing full well that Jesus was the BEGOTTEN SON OF ALMIGHTY GOD HIMSELF, BORN OF A VIRGIN MOTHER AND FOREORDAINED BY ANGELIC VISITATIONS TO HIS EARTHLY PARENTS TO BE THE PROMISED MESSIAH, saw that as an inconsequential detail to be left out of his manuscript? (And further, why would he write that Jesus' family thought he'd gone nuts if the traditions of the angelic heralds explaining the birth of Christ to Mary and Joseph were known to him?)

Because Mark does deal with miracles, it doesn't seem very likely that he omitted the virgin birth because he thought it was too far-fetched, and because the virgin birth is so central to what eventually became orthodox Christianity it seems unlikely that he just wouldn't bother to write it down. It seems to me that we have a strong argument, although you're correct in calling it an argument from silence, that Mark was not aware of the virgin birth traditions at the time he wrote his Gospel.

"...doctrine is not always perfectly encapsulated in each and every book of the canon, but taken as a whole, we get apostolic christianity."

Once again we come back to my analogy with the Godzilla films. Like our Gospels, they're meant to be taken individually, but people have formed a canon out of them by trying to look at them as if they were all part of one giant whole.

Garret said...

okay my man, I'll let you have the last word on that one, I know where you are coming from,
Thanks,
Peace