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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