Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is Paul the Octopus out to corrupt the West?


Jewish date:  17 ’Av 5770 (Parashath ‘Eqev).

Today’s holidays:  Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Marty Feldman (Church of the SubGenius), Mid-Sha'ban (Islam).

Worthy cause of the day:  “CARE : Defending Dignity - Fighting Poverty :  Let Congress know you want the Haiti assistance bill passed”, “Working Families » Take Action!:  Sign our letter to NY's State Senators”, and “We want the DISCLOSE Act”.

This is a slow religion-news day, and nothing I am working on behind the scenes has come to fruition yet.  (Emphasis on “yet”.  One book I am reading now, The Hebrew Goddess by Raphael Patai, displays such an amazing determination to commit a type I error (seeing something that is not there) above and beyond the call of duty, despite all the contrary evidence noted therein, that I feel duty bound to write a full-fledged review of it.  But that will not be for a while.)

The alleged spawn of Satan via Wikipedia
In the meantime, at the risk of severely overthinking something, I would like to note the article “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attacks Octopus Paul”.  Everyone with any sgense knows there is something severely wrong with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Ahmadinejad is not merely a rabid anti-Semite who has advocated genocide.  He is not merely someone who believes that the Mahdi is coming soon and is preparing for it.  He is not even merely someone willing to risk his life and the lives of all Iranians playing a game of nuclear brinkmanship.  This article should give some idea that Ahmadinejad is really crazy:
He claims that the octopus is a symbol of decadence and decay among "his enemies".
Paul, who lives at the Oberhausen Sea Life Centre, in Germany, won the hearts of the Spanish by predicting their World Cup victory.
He became an international star after predicting the outcome of all seven German World Cup matches accurately.
However, the Iranian president accused the octopus of spreading "western propaganda and superstition." Paul was mentioned by Mr Ahmadinejad on various occasions during a speech in Tehran at the weekend.
"Those who believe in this type of thing cannot be the leaders of the global nations that aspire, like Iran, to human perfection, basing themselves in the love of all sacred values," he said.
Paul the Octopus’s alleged powers are probably grossly overstated, but clearly not his fault.  Paul, while rather intelligent for an invertebrate, is not a sentient being and almost certainly has no idea what he is allegedly predicting.  Blaming the octopus for something way over his head (or something passing for a head, at any rate) does not make any sense.  Secondly, last your humble blogger heard, there is no world leader expressing serious belief in the powers of Paul the Octopus.  No leader is calling upon Paul for advice or further predictions.  And if Iran is so great when it comes to perfection, why do they have for a leader someone who is probably going to get his country bombed by their archenemy?

Peace to all humans and octopuses.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More anti-Semitic hypocrisy


Jewish date:  Jewish date:  16 ’Av 5770 (Parashath ‘Eqev).

Today’s holidays:  Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Madonna (Church of the SubGenius), Mid-Sha'ban (Islam).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Save BioGems: Take Action: Protect the Redrock Wilderness” and “Shine Sunlight on Election Spending”.

Topic 1:  More anti-Semitism:  “Gaza, attack on modernity” deals with how the Gaza Strip is going Islamist, the very sort of thing that people pushing for freedom should be fighting against.  “Palestinian Corruption and Foreign Aid” deals with where all the aid money going to the “Palestinians” is actually going, and it is not doing anything to better their lives:

Olympia Food Co-Op Boycotts Israeli Goods, Gaza Mall Doesn't” notes an obvious irony.  “Mad Dog Englishmen” rails against the ruling in a recent court case in England; five men caused $275,000 in damages to an arms factory but got off scot-free because the factory was providing arms for the Israel Defense Force; such a ruling is not only anti-Semitic, but also uses “the ends justify the means” reasoning, which can be used to rationalize practically any crime and thus is invalid.  “Palestinians oppose ending the occupation” notes an inconsistency in the claims of the “Palestinians”:  they hate Israel and want it completely off what they consider their land, to the point of committing acts of terrorism against Israel, but they want Israel to be completely responsible for them.  Thus the “Palestinians” cannot ever let the “occupation” ever end, since that would mean that they would have no excuse to claim anything from Israel or to attack Israel.  It other words, if they want to keep getting stuff for free, they have to continue being pathetic losers in the game of conquest.  (Insult to the terrorists intended.)  “Jordan, Dr. Peace and Mr. Apartheid” notes the rotten way “Palestinians” are treated in Jordan, noting the hypocrisy involved.

Topic 2:  For today’s religious humor, in which Basement Cat finds something new evil to do: “Wheres”:
funny pictures of cats with captions


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Monday, July 26, 2010

On the significance of 15 ’Av


Jewish date:  15 ’Av 5770 (Parashath ‘Eqev).

Today’s holidays:  15 ’Av/Ṭu be’Av/Ḥagh ha’Ahavah (Judaism), Feast Day of Joachim and Ann (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Stanley Kubrick (Church of the SubGenius).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Make Sale of Crush Videos Illegal Again! - The Petition Site”.  (I am not an animal-rights supporter, and yet I find myself wondering what the gezornenblat some people are thinking.)

Today’s topic:  I am running late today, and normally I would simply not post.  However, this article is specific to today, and thus I am posting it now:  “A different kind of love”.  Today is 15 ’Av, famous in Jewish tradition for being one of two days in which bachelorettes would dress in white, dance in the vineyards, and call for bachelors to marry them for various reasons.  (The other day this happened on was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.)  This specific tradition is no longer practiced.  (Probably.  Someone please tell me if they are aware of a revival.)  However, 15 ’Av is still practiced as a day for matchmaking and something in the way of the Israeli equivalent of Valentine’s Day.  The article linked to goes into the history of 15 ’Av and further significance.

WARNING:  All Jewish men reading this:  make sure you bring your wife or girlfriend flowers or otherwise do something to express your love for her TODAY.  You may be in big trouble if you fail to do so.


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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Getting annoyed at the KJV again


Jewish date:  14 ’Av 5770 (Parashath ‘Eqev).

Today’s holidays:  Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Shylock (Church of the SubGenius), Guru Purnima (Hinduism).

Topic 1:  I am getting annoyed again at the King James Version (KJV) again.  Deuteronomy 4:13 is rendered as referring to “ten commandments”, a familiar phrase in English which has no basis in the original Hebrew, which uses the term ‘asereth haddevarim, which means “the ten words” (hence “Decalogue”) or “the ten sayings”.  Keep in mind that there are many more commandments in the Torah that just ten; Jewish tradition holds there are 613 distinct commandments for the ages.  Furthermore the first Saying in the Decalogue, “I am YHWH your God who brought you out of the land of Misṛayim from the house of slavery”, is not a commandment.

Deuteronomy 6:4 is rendered in the KJV as “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:”  This translation is obviously wrong to any English-speaking observant Jew.  An accurate translation would be “Hear, Yisra’el:  YHWH is our God; YHWH is one.”  The KJV seems to be translating from the Septuagint, which has a nasty habit of using Kyrios to render both “YHWH” and “lord”.

Fred Phelps at his pulpit: August 4, 2002 All ...Image of Fred Phelps, who believes that God agrees with him based on selective reading, via Wikipedia
Topic 2:  For today’s religious humor, submitted by Barry: “Super Heroes vs. the Westboro Baptist Church”:  The infamous hate-filled Westboro Baptist Church recently decided to protest at Comic-Con.  Now, many have counter-protested the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church, but given the nature of fandom, the result was what may be the most absurd counter-protest yet.  Note the included video:


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Friday, July 23, 2010

The Other Bible is not another bible


Jewish date:  12 ’Av 5770 (Parashath Wa’ethḥannan).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Bridget (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Groucho Marx (Church of the SubGenius).

The Other BibleTopic 1:  The Other Bible, edited by William Barnstone.  I wrote about this book over a year ago when I bought it.  This is what I wrote then:
I would like to speak a bit about one of my latest acquisitions, The Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone.  The Other Bible consists of religious texts which are not part of the standard Christian Bible from a variety of sources spread over something on the order of 1,500 years:  Jewish apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, mystical, and sectarian texts (including the Dead Sea Scrolls), Christian apocrypha, Gnostic texts, Mandaean texts, Manichaean texts, and even pagan texts.  The groups whose works were utilized are not a single religion, and these works thus form a rather artificial collection.  Also the Pharisaic/Orthodox Jewish contributions, listed under “Haggadah”, “Kabbalah”, and “The Zohar, the Book of Radiance (Kabbalah)”, were never intended to be taken as scripture.  As such, “The”, “Other”, and “Bible” are all rather inappropriate for reference to this collection.  In the introduction, the editor conceives of these works being part of a Judeo-Christian “greater bible” which we now have easier access to.  While I have to agree with the editor that these works are valuable for investigating the development of religious thought, I find the notion of a “greater bible” rather repugnant.  Religion is not a free-for-all with texts playthings to delight in.  To accept a book as scripture is an explicit endorsement of its content.  This is why the New Testament is not part of what Jews consider “Bible”:  they view it as a separate, detached collection and not a continuation of the Hebrew Bible.  Bundling together works from multiple religions under a single rubric to imply they are really part of a greater whole, a collection not endorsed as scripture by any single religion except maybe Bahá’ís (and that is a maybe) is an even worse mistake than bundling the Hebrew Bible together with the New Testament.
These criticisms are every bit as valid now that I have finished reading this collection.  In fact, things are even worse than I thought.  For one thing, it is not whole documents which are necessarily included, but rather sections which the editor thought were interesting.  In some cases, the documents which the editor would like to include are no longer extant, and he resorts to including descriptions of groups written by their enemies—hardly the sort of documents that would be included in a “bible” of any sort.  The choice of materials is also rather skewed.  Most of the Apocrypha, the specific collection of material absent in the Hebrew Bible but included in the Septuagint, are not included in The Other Bible, even though they are the first material one looks at when going beyond the Hebrew Bible and New Testament.  Josephus and Philo are for the most part also ignored.  Rather the emphasis is overwhelmingly on Gnosticism.  To describe Gnosticism extremely briefly, consider the notion of a theological “conspiracy theory” in which the Creator God is evil, this world is a trap for human souls, and one’s salvation is dependent not on good behavior but rather knowing the secrets of the Good God above the Creator God (gnosis).  While the Christian versions of Gnosticism almost always included Jesus as the agent of the Good God, early Christians railed against as a heresy.  It goes without saying that Gnosticism is diametrically opposed to Judaism (“metaphysical anti-Semitism” was the term Dr. Gershom Scholem used), given its denigration of the God of Israel and by extension His Torah and His people.  While I find that a lot of Christianity makes sense of a sort in the light of Gnosticism—with Christianity ending up as a sort of Gnosticism-lite—no one sane deems anything heretical as “bible”.  The Other Bible is worthwhile looking at for getting an introduction to many of the texts sampled therein.  For other purposes, the reader is advised to look elsewhere.

Topic 2:  More contemporary anti-Semitism:  “AP Goes Soft on Hardcore ISM” deals with misreporting on the International Solidarity Movement, which is dedicated to aiding terrorists by acting as human shields.  “Israelis fight terror through US court system” deals with a nonviolent way to deal with terrorism:  suing for reparations and actually winning.  “The Treatment of Jews in Arab/Islamic Countries” deals with how Jews have been treated through history by Muslims and gives sources.  “Rachel Saperstein: Five years after expulsion from Gush Katif, from Women in Green” deals with how Jews who were expelled from Gaza five years ago are doing, and it is not pretty.  Rav Boteach in “Why have Christian organizations remained silent about Mel this time, but supported him 4 years ago?” deals with the current scandal of known anti-Semite Mel Gibson.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor:  No Laughing Matter.  This is a site which pokes fun at the inanities of Middle Eastern politics through mock interviews.  Let’s face it:  comedians can say the unvarnished truth about anything when everyone else fears to do so.  These are the videos they have up currently:

From a different group is the highly sarcastic “(MUST SEE VIDEO) The Humanitarian Crisis of the Gaza Mall: The Horror!”:

Peace and Shabbath shalom.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Theological review of Wyrd Sisters (The Discworld Series, book 6)


Jewish date:  11 ’Av 5770 (Parasthath Wa’ethḥannan).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Mary Magdalene (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Karl Marx/St. James Whale/ 1/Pi approximation (Church of the SubGenius), Feast of the Scarlet Woman (Thelema).

Worthy causes of the day:  “JCRC-NY Write to Rickys”, “  Put up or shut up:  It's time for prominent Tea Party leaders to step forward and deal with racism within the Tea Party”, “Protect the Future of Fish and Fishing in America - The Petition Site”, “ Political Action: We need Elizabeth Warren at the CFPB!”, and “Forget what Timothy Geithner thinks. We want Elizabeth Warren to police Wall Street.”.

Wyrd SistersTopic 1:  Wyrd Sisters (The Discworld Series, book 6) by Terry Pratchett.


This book focuses on parodying the plays of William Shakespeare, particularly Macbeth and Hamlet, not theology.  There are a number of more or less theological ideas dealt with, though.

  • Ghosts.  Early in the book King Verence I of Lancre is murdered.  After meeting with Death (apparently a favorite character of Pratchett), Verence remains in his castle as a ghost.  It turns out the castle is filled with the ghosts of royalty—and the kitchen is filled with the spirits of animals eaten by them!  Ghosts interact weakly with material objects and are not visible to anyone except cats, witches, and Death.  Ghosts are also linked to the actual material of the place they died and cannot go far from it.  The only way Verence and a number of other ghosts can leave the castle is to have a brick of it physically carried elsewhere.
  • Witches.  Featured in this book is not only Esmerelda “Granny” Weatherwax, but two of her colleagues, Gytha “Nanny” Ogg and Magrat Garlick, as well.  While Nanny Ogg works pretty much along the same lines as Granny Weatherwax (except never having been celebate and dominating a large family), Magrat is a parody of the contemporary “witches” of our world.  E.g., she coerces Granny and Nanny into forming a coven with periodic sabats, she wears tacky silver jewelry, she likes dancing, she believes in “Nature’s wisdom and elves and the healing power of colors and the cycle of the seasons” and pretty much any flaky New Age idea the reader can think of.  There is also the idea that witches are supposed to stay out of political matters; this is not a genuine traditional or New Age concept about witches, but rather an inversion of the behavior of the witches in Macbeth.  Duke Felmet, who murders King Verence I and claims the throne, accuses the witches of interfering in politics, as they make convenient scapegoats.
  • Cleanliness = moral purity.  Duke Felmet, like Lady Macbeth, feels guilty over his crime.  In a rather extreme version of the equation, he does extensive damage to his hands trying to rid them of the (real or imagined) blood of his victim.  (I know:  ew!  While much of the book is funny, in this item Pratchett goes into the realm of the cringe-worthy.)
  • Granny Weatherwax discovers that the Kingdom of Lancre has what might be described as an “overmind” consisting of the minds of all its inhabitants, including animal inhabitants.  This may be a reflection of ideas that all are part of a greater whole.  This overmind hates Duke Felmet and his wife and want them deposed.
  • Destiny.  The witches believe that Tomjon, the son of Verence I, is destined to inherit the throne.  While they do play a part in ensuring his survival and hastening his ascent to the throne, the assumption is that his ascent is inevitable.  Tomjon is indeed recognized as the legitimate heir to the throne, but he does not want the job of king.  The throne is then turned over to the Fool, who is his half-brother.  This is consistent with the handling of fate/destiny previously in the series.
  • Belief = reality.  The influence of belief on reality on the Discworld has already repeatedly been discussed.  Wyrd Sisters takes it in a new direction by having Duke Felmet have the Fool commission a play depicting the “official” version of the death of Verence I with the intention of establishing that the Duke is legitimately ascending to the throne.  While the actual performance of the play is accidentally hijacked by the witches, Death, ad Verence I to reveal what really happened, the question of whether the play could have actually changed reality in the Discworld had it been executed successfully is left undecided.
Next up in this series:  Pyramids (The Discworld Series, book 7) by Terry Pratchett.

Topic 2:  A backlog of materials on Islamic misbehavior, including associated anti-Semitism:  “Special Analysis: The Obama-Netanyahu Summit” looks at biased reporting.  In “Tom Friedman’s Soft Spot for Terrorist Fadlallah”, Rav Shmuely Boteach blasts New York Times columnist Tom Friedman for mourning the death of Hezbollah terrorist Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah as if he were a hero.  (Some people do have very strange ideas that murderers can be heroes.  I have no clue why.)  Daniel Pipes in “Turkey in Cyprus vs. Israel in Gaza” notes Turkish hypocrisy over criticism of Israel’s treatment of Gaza, considering how Turkey has treated northern Cyprus since it invaded and occupied it in 1974.  “No. 1 Nation in Sexy Web Searches? Call it Pornistan” notes that Pakistan, an Islamic nation not famous for freedom, is the number-one country in many pornographic searches on Google; I suspected this story was a hoax until I went into Google Trends and checked the claims myself.  “The Muslim Mosque:  A State Within a State” argues that Islam itself qualifies as a state; his might be stretching the meaning of the term somewhat, but lots of citations in basic Islamic literature are brought forward to argue the claim, especially the point that it is a goal of Islam to take over the Earth.  And there is plenty in the way of violence, but I have other things to do today that just blog.

Related to this:  “A political culture gone bad” deals with how not to treat Muslims.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor: “Bonus Post: The Most Elusive Of Them All”:

Note that this graph is arguably not accurate on Jesus, but some people really do seem to think of him in these terms.


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Monday, July 19, 2010

It was the best of Gospel-based films; it was the worst of Gospel-based films


Jewish date:  8 ’Av 5770 (Parashath Wa’ethḥannan).

Today’s holidays:  The Nine Days (Judaism), Monday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Dr. Doom/St. Thulsa Doom (Church of the SubGenius), Feast Day of the Magi: Krishna (Thelema).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Tell Restaurants and Markets: Donate, Don't Dump, Usable Excess Food - The Petition Site” and “Forget what Timothy Geithner thinks. We want Elizabeth Warren to police Wall Street.”.

Topic 1:  Tomorrow is 9 ’Av (Tish‘ah be’Av), the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, commemorating the destruction of both Temples and a number of other tragedies in Jewish history.  You can find out about this holiday at  Furthermore, “Why I like Tisha Be’Av” presents an unusual perspective to the holiday; while acknowledging its aspect of mourning, the author emphasizes what we have now and in the future which is worth having.

Color of the CrossTopic 2:  The final film in my series on Gospel-based movies, Color of the Cross.  As implied by the title of this post, this film is in one aspect the best of the bunch and in other aspects the worst of the bunch.

What is great about Color of the Cross is that the antagonists have motives for what they do.  The writers do not simply parrot the Gospels, but try to make what happens make some sort of sense.  The Romans are consistently cruel and oppressive, as is fitting for people trying to dominate an extensive empire.  Caiaphas, while acting against Jesus, does so because he is under pressure from the Roman soldier Horatio, who demands that all “prophets” (who are potential troublemakers) be turned over to him.  The Sanhedhrin calls for Jesus’s arrest to protect him from a racist mob.  Judas betrays Jesus not for money or spite or hatred, but because he wants to start an uprising to drive out the Romans.

There are two things which are really bad about Color of the Cross.  The first and most obvious is the introduction of racism into the story.  Jesus and some of the other Jewish characters are black, and many Jews are depicted as having trouble with the idea of a black Messiah.  This is an astoundingly bad idea, as the notion of prejudice against anyone based on skin color is completely absent from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.  There is an awareness that some humans have dark skin—e.g., Jeremiah 13:23 implies that the people of Kush (Ethiopia) have a different skin color from Jews—but nowhere is there any claim that dark-skinned people are bad or light-skinned people are good.  Racism did not merely have nothing to do with why Jesus was killed, either in how he was depicted in the New Testament or reality; grafting it into the story short-circuits any serious attempt at exploring why he was killed.

The other thing really bad about Color of the Cross is the lack of serious research.  Clearly the writers made some attempt at studying Judaism, but what they studied was modern Judaism, not that of the Second Temple Period, and the study made was superficial.  The details needed to ensure that the writers looked like they knew what they were doing are absent or wrong.  (To be frank, if they had talked with anyone who could provide the necessary information, they might have well discovered that serious Jews consider the arguments made in the New Testament that Jesus is the Messiah or the Son of God to be invalid, and this film would have not existed at all, or it would have turned out to be a very different film.)  No Jew who knows anything is going let ḥameṣ (leavened grain or grain products) remain in his/her possession anywhere near Sundown the day before Pesaḥ (Passover); neither would he/she identify a miqweh (ritual bath) as “holy water”.  Anyone sufficiently familiar with the Torah would know that the Messiah is not mentioned therein, only perhaps hinted at.  None of the characters has a clue that the minimum that one needs to eat in order for it to legally be considered eating is the volume of an olive, and Jesus makes the bizarre assertion that the lamb used for the qorban Pesaḥ (paschal sacrifice) needs to be a virgin.  And while ṃaṣṣah (unleavened bread) and wine make their appearance at the sedher (the ritual storytelling and meal on Pesaḥ), the writers really have no clue what the whole business of dipping is about and have no idea that maror (bitter herbs) and the qorban Pesaḥ should be present, not to mention the fact that the qorban Pesaḥ is supposed to be slaughtered on the Temple Mount and eaten in Jerusalem.  For some reason, the whole movie takes place in Arimathea, despite the claims of the Gospels.  The costumes for the Priests and Pharisees are blatantly copied from The Passion of the Christ.  And for no apparent reason, Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate, both of whom are mentioned in all four canonical Gospels, are dropped from the story entirely.

In conclusion, Color of the Christ makes some attempt to turn the antagonists into believable characters, but forcing racism into the story is not an improvement, and the research department utterly failed to do their job.

Peace and have an easy fast.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

The Gospel According to Mel Gibson


Jewish date:  5 ’Av 5770 (Parashath Devarim).

Today’s holidays:  The Nine Days (Judaism), Feast Day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Roman Catholicism).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Friends of Israel Initiative”.

The Passion of the Christ (Full Screen Edition)Topic 1:  The Passion of the Christ (2004), which might be better titled The Gospel According to Mel Gibson, after the man responsible for this film.  This is the most overtly anti-Semitic of the Gospel films your humble blogger has seen, putting the blame for the death of Jesus directly on the Pharisees, Priests, and a Jewish mob.  Pontius Pilate is exonerated entirely, being backed into a situation where he has no safe option.  If he exonerates Jesus, he is afraid that Caiaphas’s followers will revolt.  If he kills Jesus, he is afraid that Jesus’s followers will revolt.  If he puts down a revolt, Caesar will be very, very angry with him because of all the killing of revolting Jews he has been doing for 11 years which his majesty wants stopped.  Pontius tries getting away with “merely” letting Roman soldiers who enjoy their work too much beat up Jesus, but as this fails to pacify the mob, he gives into their demand for crucifixion.  This is a marvelous piece of work to make Pontius Pilate a sympathetic character (albeit not the bloodthirsty monster historians think he was), but it does nothing to really explain why the Jews would want Jesus dead in the first place.  Despite that Jews are correctly depicted as speaking Aramaic, there is no sign of research into Second Temple Period Judaism or any attempt to understand what Jesus’s Jewish opponents were thinking.  Gibson uncritically buys into the blood libel of the Gospels and simply echoes it in the film.

(Parenthetical tangent:  Romans are incorrectly depicted as speaking Latin when they really should have been speaking Greek, the other common language used over there at the time.  Greek was commonly used enough that the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek for Greek-speaking Jews during the Second Temple Period.  It took a few centuries more for a Latin version to be created.  But I digress.)

Rather than work out motives for the antagonists, Gibson puts a great deal of effort into depicting the end of Jesus’s life, from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Resurrection.  Standard Christian doctrine is that Jesus suffered and died for our sins so we could receive salvation, and Gibson takes us through all that suffering, step by step, to an extent far greater than any other Gospel film your humble blogger is aware of, to show what Jesus was willing to go through for our sake.  The result is a film which is very dark, very ominous, very violent, and very bloody.  Not to mention this Jesus really looks and sounds beaten up.  Many people will find this too disturbing to watch.  The scenes of torture at the hands of the Romans are interspersed with flashbacks, mostly showing Jesus making predictions and encouraging behaviors opposed to the violence he suffers.

Also unusual in this film is the depiction of Satan.  Most depictions of Satan in Gospel films are dull, with nothing to really show him as evil.  Satan here is surreal and androgynous, neither clearly male nor female, but clearly meant to be attractive.  He(?) interacts with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, releasing a snake which Jesus stomps on, possibly meant as a reference to the Garden of ‘Edhen and the punishment of the original snake (Genesis 3:16).  Satan continues to stalk Jesus throughout the film, unseen by anyone else, evidently as a cause or symbol of the torment Jesus is put through.  Infamously, Satan holds an ugly baby thing while Jesus is being flogged, perhaps a bit of a parallel between the Father and Jesus.  (Or maybe not.)  Satan is also furious at the end, with Jesus successful in what he set out to accomplish.

The Passion of the Christ is great for reviewing all the horrible things which purportedly happen to Jesus at the end of his life.  Unfortunately, the care and detail which went into the making of this film did not go into making the story more believable.

Topic 2:  Your humble blogger is getting annoyed by the translators who created the King James Bible not knowing Hebrew well.  This past week I have come across translations/transliterations of names of groups of people such as “Anakims” (Deuteronomy 1:28, 2:10-11), “Emims” (Deuteronomy 2:10-11), “Horims” (Deuteronomy 2:12), “Zamzummims” (Deuteronomy 2:20), “Avims” (Deuteronomy 2:23), and “Caphtorims” (Deuteronomy 2:23).  The Hebrew suffix -im indicates the plural, mostly of masculine nouns.  In each of these cases the -im of a plural noun has been misinterpreted as an integral part of a collective noun.  There is no excuse for this level of grammatical incompetence in a translator.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Joy to the World, no joy to the viewer


Jewish date:  4 Tammuz 5770 (Parashath Devarim).

Today’s holidays:  The Nine Days (Judaism), Lailat al Miraj (Islam), Feast Day of Bonaventure (Roman Catholicism), Saint Swithin’s Day (Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism), Feast Day of St. Neil Gaiman (Church of the SubGenius), Confuflux (Discordianism).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Take Action: Genocide Arrest Warrant for Bashir | Save Darfur”, “BP Threatening Gulf Cleanup Workers | Progressive Change Campaign Committee”, and “Give Women Access to Credit - Take Action Today @ The Breast Cancer Site”.

Joy To The World
Topic 1:  Continuing the series on Gospel-based films, Joy to the World (2004).  I obtained my copy for free from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the mainstream Mormon Church).  This DVD is unique in my collection of Gospel-based films.  Most obviously it is a Mormon film and reflects specifically Mormon ideas about Jesus.  And while Jesus (1979) has been distributed for free by Baptists for evangelization, Joy to the World is pure evangelization and cannot be watched as a mere narrative.  There are reenactments of scenes from the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Book of Mormon, but that material is interspersed with scenes of families studying religious texts together and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Christmas songs.  And over all this is a lot of voiceover laying out a lot of basic Mormon ideas about Jesus.  To some degree this understandable, given that most people are unfamiliar with Mormonism and this is an evangelization DVD, though it gets rather annoying.  There is a lot of harping on purported rejection of the prophets and Jesus, which fits into the Mormon message of there needing to be a Book of Mormon because the true message would be lost.  (Christians may find this as offensive as my finding the hatred for Jewish institutions and outright anti-Semitism in the Gospels offensive.)  People wanting to learn some basic Mormon ideas may find this DVD useful, but otherwise it is not worth watching.

Next up:  The Passion of the Christ (2004), AKA the Gospel According to Mel Gibson.

Topic 2:  More anti-Semitism:  “Israel Skewered by Medical Journal” deals with blatantly anti-Semitic articles showing up in medical journals, such as The Lancet in defiance of any attempt to be objective.  The Dry Bones cartoons “TWA (1985)” and “Exchange Rate” discuss freeing Islamic terrorists, which should strike anyone sane as a very bad idea; please note that murderers in general tend to get at best long prison sentences for a reason.  Daniel Pipes in “Farrakhan Demands Reparations from Jews” puts in his two cents on Louis Farrakhan recently shooting his mouth off trying paradoxically to accuse Jews of horrible crimes against blacks while trying to open dialog with them; Pipes argues that in Farrakhan uses “dialogue” to mean “reparations”, essentially that Farrakhan is trying to get money out of Jews for alleged (with emphasis on “alleged”) crimes against blacks.  “Wikipedia’s Jewish Problem” argues that the editing system in Wikipedia is being abused by anti-Semites working to suppress the views of their opponents.  And Rav Shmuely Boteach in “Libya’s ‘Aid’ Ship to Gaza and the Moral Obligation of Englewood’s Jews” rails against Jewish indifference to the Libyan mission in Englewood, New Jersey.  Keep in mind that Libyan leader Muammar Kaddafi is no friend of the Jews and is a supporter of terrorism.  It is no wonder that Rav Boteach wants the Libyan mission out of Englewood and not treated as just another diplomatic mission.


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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Regression to the mean in Ben Hur (2003)


Jewish date:  2 ’Av 5770 (Parashath Devarim).

Today’s holidays:  The Nine Days (Judaism), Feast Day of Henry (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Macarena/St. Gene Ray (Church of the SubGenius), Rath Yatra (Hinduism).

Worthy causes of the day:  “Stop Big Oil Bailouts” and “Put Solar on the White House | Tell President Obama to Go Solar on 10/10/10!”.

Ben Hur (Animated)Today’s topic:  Today’s Gospel-based film, Ben Hur (2003).  For anything to be a true outlier, lots of things have to go right or wrong.  For a movie to be outstandingly good, everything has to go right:  the writing, the producing, the casting, the acting, the sets, the costumes, the effects—everything.  While it is possible for a sequel or remake to turn out as good as the original, chances are that some things which went right the first time will not go right the second time.  Thus sequels and remakes tend to be worse than the originals, a phenomenon which in statistics is known as “regression to the mean” and something which seems to have escaped the notice of people in Hollywood.  There have been many Ben Hur movies, and the 2003 cartoon version clearly suffers from regression to the mean.  The basic story from the 1959 live-action film is still there, but in an abbreviated, watered-down form.  A few characters, such as Simonides, have been cut altogether.  More disturbingly—where regression to the mean really kicks in—more features of a standard Gospel-based film have been added.  Jesus is no longer a serene figure who serves as mere inspiration.  Rather, he gets a decent amount of screen time, including the Last Supper.  While in the 1959 film why Jesus is crucified is not really addressed, in the 2003 cartoon the Priests conspire against him and Pontius Pilate lets them do what they want while refusing to take any responsibility.  More emphasis is placed on Jesus’s miracles and faith in him, rather than forgiveness, and even Messala seeks to be healed at the Crucifixion.  This version is not an improvement and deserves a “r̼̊”.


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Monday, July 12, 2010

Cold showers and The Miracle Maker


Jewish date:  1 ’Av 5770 (Parashath Devarim).

Today’s holidays:  Ro’sh Ḥodhesh (Judaism), The Nine Days (Judaism), Monday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Pam Grier (Church of the SubGenius), Feast of Grady Louis McMurtry (Thelema).

Topic 1:  Today begins the Nine Days, an intense part of the Three Weeks culminating in the Ninth of ’Av, which commemorates the destruction of both Temples and many other tragedies in Jewish history.  The level of mourning is increased.  No meat, no wine, no fresh clothes, no anointing for pleasure, and no bathing for pleasure.  The last one, while probably not onerous in ancient times, when they did not have so much indoor plumbing and did not bathe as frequently, is a big pain in the neck for a modern human used to showering every single day.  (It was clearly not an epidemiologist who came up with this idea, as an epidemiologist would have objected to any enactment that worked against good hygiene.)  While bathing itself is not forbidden during the Nine Days except for 9 ’Av, one is expected to keep the temperature of the water as low as possible, which makes showering rather unpleasant, especially since it is difficult to step into cold water in the first place.  (While a cold is not so bad if one is feeling overheated, the air conditioning has been working splendidly over here, so this is not the case.)  I am tempted to ask the local rav if there is any way to trade decently warm showers for fasting two days straight, I will not bother because I know full well the answer will be “no”.

US-Navy Storekeeper 3rd Class Robert Franke do...Image of unfun morality via Wikipedia
Now, some may be asking why I would ever consider putting myself through ritual mourning and eight days of cold showers.  Is not religion supposed to be about fun activities?  Or if not fun, at least about spiritual highs?  And the answer to these questions is “no”.  Because religion is ultimately about truth, not just theological truth, but the truth about what one is supposed to do.  A lot of morality is anything but fun.  Sure, one may enjoy even sharing and being selfless with friends.  But admitting one has done something wrong and trying to correct one’s mistakes is anything but fun.  Returning lost property is not fun.  Not hitting some jerk who keeps annoying you is not fun.  Self-control and moderation are not fun.  Letting someone jab you in the arm with a needle as part of blood donation is not fun.  And so on.  And why should ritual be any different?  The dark parts of life are to some degree inevitable?  Why should they, too, not be addressed?

Topic 2:  The latest in this series on Gospel-based films, The Miracle Maker (2000):

(Yes, they have it on Hulu.)  Most of the originality in this movie goes into animation and presentation, with an emphasis on miracles and parables.  Theologically, there is little new here.  The usual suspects, depicted as mean-spirited, are after Jesus the Annoyingly Perfect, claiming to fear Pilate’s and Caesar’s wrath.  Pilate is a little craftier and more evil than usual.  Unless you want to see the animation, do not bother with this one.

Topic 3:  More on Islamic stunts:  The Dry Bones cartoon “the Name Game”, which notes correctly that it makes no sense to try to pretend that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, even though this contradicts what terrorists themselves claim.  “The humanitarian show” notes that the “poor” people of Gaza are better off that a lot of the rest of the people on this planet, including having a higher life expectancy that part of Britain, while no aid is sent to far worse off people in Turkey, Lebanon, and Iran.  “Abbas to Arabs: We'd Support a War Against Israel” shows that Mahmoud Abbas is no partner for peace.  And finally, we have the video “WHAT ISLAM IS NOT”, based on the article “What Islam Isn't”, which describes how Islamization works:

Note:  There will be no religious humor during the Nine Days because it is not really appropriate during mourning.

Peace and consolation.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

The UN only values human life when politically convenient


Jewish date:  29 Tammuz 5770 (Parashath Devarim).

Today’s holidays:  The Three Weeks (Judaism), Lailat al Miraj (Islam), Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), St. Ponco Villa (Church of the SubGenius).

Note:  I am not discussing a Gospel-based film today, because I have not yet gotten around to watching The Miracle Maker yet.

Topic 1:  Today’s anti-Semitism update:  “The UN Bias Against Israel and Human Life” is two graphs which shows how much emphasis the United Nations puts on human life with respect to where human lives are lost.  Not only has the UN been outstandingly disproportionately critical of Israel (46,000 dead, almost all due to self-defense, 223 resolutions against; next to lowest death toll listed is Rwanda with 800,000 dead, next to highest most criticized is Yugoslavia with 58 resolutions against), but these graphs make a mockery of the idea that atheism is inherently more moral than more conventional religions.  Four of the countries listed—China, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, North Korea, and Yugoslavia—are all communist countries.  The Soviet Union is responsible for over 5 million deaths, and China for 31.5 million deaths.

Also:  The video “When we die as martyrs - Palestinian Children” gives some idea of why real peace between Israel and its enemies is currently impossible:

Yes, this is a children’s video promoting jihad and historical revisionism—behavior and ideology in blatant contradiction to peace and conciliation.  And if “Without Palestine, what meaning is there to childhood?!”, then childhood has been meaningless to Arabs for a long time.  There never has been a country of Palestine.  Before the State of Israel, the territory was controlled by the British, and before that the Ottoman Empire.  And yet there was no push for a “Palestinian” state until 1967, when “Palestine” became an excuse to wage jihad against Jews.  Also note “Trust the Palestinian Authority?”; the Palestinian Authority is saying one thing in English and another in Arabic again.

Topic 2:  More religious oppression:  “Muslim Mob Kills Wife, Children of Christian in Pakistan”, “Sealed Church in Bogor, Indonesia Appeals to UN”, “Punjab soup kitchen forbidden to Christians”.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor: “If yu seez dis, iz too”:
funny pictures of cats with captions


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Friday, July 9, 2010

Jesus went down to Georgia?


Jewish date:  27 Tammuz 5770 (Parashath Maṭṭoth-Mas‘e).

Today’s holidays:  The Three Weeks (Judaism), Feast Day of Augustine Zhao Rong and companions (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. MojoDick Nixon (Church of the SubGenius), Martyrdom of the Bab (Bahá’í Faith).

The Judas ProjectTopic 1:  Continuing my series on Gospel-based films, The Judas Project (1989).  When I first saw this film, I hated it.  Recasting the story of Jesus in circa-1990 Georgia seemed like a stupid idea, and the movie repeats a lot of the bad ideas found in the original Gospels.  However, watching The Judas Project again, I find that the people who made it did a better job that I previously thought.  Unlike Godspell, The Judas Project makes an attempt to connect the story to modern times.  Instead of being ruled by the overt Roman Empire, the Earth is controlled by a secret conspiracy led by Arthur Cunningham.  The world of formal religion, the Church, is ruled by the hypocritical Ponerous, who pays homage to Cunningham.  (I do not believe in the existence of huge hidden conspiracies in the real world, but at least it is an interesting attempt.  There is also a deep streak of distaste for organized religion.)

Facing off against the conspiracy is Jesse (equivalent of Jesus), a charismatic independent preacher with a large following.  Unlike most Gospel-based films, which leave unbelievers wondering why anyone would bother following Jesus, The Judas Project focuses largely on the Jesus-Apostle relationship.  Yes, Jesse does a lot of preaching (focusing heavily on love) and proselytizing.  And he is the Son of God.  And, unlike some other film Jesuses, he performs miracles openly.  But he is also his followers’ friend, participating with them in recreational activities (fishing, camping, the beach, the amusement park) and actively building a close relationship with them with strong bromantic overtones.  The Judas Project also explores the relationship between Jesse and Jude (equivalent of Judas Iscariot).  Jude is skeptical about Jesse, and he spends much of the movie wavering on whether to believe or not.  Jesse is extremely patient with him.  The motivation for Pete (equivalent to Peter) denying Jesse three times is given explicitly:  Jesse orders him to do so, for Jesse’s message cannot survive unless Pete survives to transmit it.

The ultimate fate of the characters differs significantly from their equivalents in the Gospels.  Unlike Jesus, Jesse has a meeting with the conspiracy and rejects their offer to join them.  The assassin Jackson is sent to kill Jesse, but he cannot bring himself to do it.  And while Jesse is sold out by Jude and captured in public (with helicopters!), there is no trial.  After having Jesse beaten, Cunningham gives up on him and lets Ponerous do to him whatever he wants.  Unlike Jesus, who was crucified in public, Jesse is crucified in an abandoned barn, and instead of two thieves, Jackson is crucified along side him.  Jesse’s crucifixion and death is accompanied by a lightning storm.  Ponerous’s goons flee in the process, and Ponerous himself finds himself in a graveyard.  God Himself announces to Ponerous “You never knew Me”, and the dead rise from their graves as ghosts.  It is strongly implied that Ponerous is consumed by fire sent from Heaven.  Jude, unlike Judas, does not commit suicide.  While Jesse’s body never goes missing—we never even see it buried—Jesse does appear to Pete at the end of the film.

Despite the effort to rewrite the story for modern times, some items remain out of place.  The prophecies allegedly predicting Jesse’s coming are left highly vague.  The notion of sacrifice, already twisted in the New Testament, is completely uprooted from its Jewish context.  Jude betrays Jesse for 30 silver bars, which is a rather odd reward to ask for, as the 30 silver coins Judas Iscariot received were ordinary currency.  Jude kisses Jesse at the betrayal, which today would be considered pretty weird even in a strong bromantic relationship.  And there being no Temple, Jude throws the silver at Cunningham’s mansion rather than, say, a church.  Come to think of it, we never see any house of worship for Ponerous’s Church.

Is this a perfect Gospel film?  Definitely not.  But it least it makes an effort where other films often make none.

Topic 2:  For today’s religious humor:  “Is Paul, The Psychic Octopus, An Avatar of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?”.  The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a famous parody religion meant to poke fun at creationism, and this article is a tongue-in-cheek argument that Paul the Psychic Octopus may be its god incarnate due to his supposed ability to pick the winner of soccer games.  For an implicit counterargument, see “German fans want revenge grilling of oracle octopus”, which indicates that Paul is not all he is cracked up to be.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.

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