Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review of One Night with the King

Jewish date:  8 ’Adhar 5733 (evening) (Parashath Teṣawweh).

Today’s holidays:  First Sunday of Lent (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Isaac Asimov (Church of the SubGenius), Feast of Giordano Bruno the Martyr (Thelema), Quirinalia (Roman religion)


Considering that Purim is a week from now, I would like to give a review on a relevant movie, One Night with the King.

I have been told that I tend to give negative reviews.  Fair enough.  This is Divine Misconceptions, the blog which concentrates on religious fallacies and misinformation.  Thus I often read or watch material containing religious fallacies and misinformation—material I know full well has something wrong with it—and report on it, thus leading to negative reviews.  I am thus happy, for a change, to review a movie based on a book of the Hebrew Bible which I consider done well.

One Night with the King is an adaptation of the Book of Esther, and the people who made it thought a lot about what they were doing, and they took care to go back to the original material.  The basic plot, most of the characters, and much of the dialog are taken straight from the text of Esther.  In doing the work of adaptation, the adaptors were very careful to interpret the original story in a psychologically plausible manner rather than rewrite it.  For example, some examples of interpretation:
  • How was Haman descended from ’Aghagh when all of ‘Amaleq was wiped out?  ’Aghagh’s queen, pregnant with his child, escaped.
  • Why did Haman hate the Jews so much?  ’Aghagh’s queen passed on a multigenerational grudge.  (That does happen at times.)
  • Why was Mordokhay sitting in the palace gates so much?  He was a palace scribe.
  • Why did Washti refuse to come to ’Aḥashwerosh’s banquet?  She was protesting ’Aḥashwerosh’s plans to go to war against Greece in revenge for for his father dying in war against them.
  • Where was Haman to get that huge amount of money he promised ’Aḥashwerosh in return for being able to destroy the Jews?  He proposed to get it from the Jews by killing them and taking all their money and property; the money would be used to finance the war.
There was a lot of thought put into elaborating on the characters.
  • Mordokhay is well aware of the inconsistency between his religion and his remaining in Persia.  (This was a very real problem in the Second Temple Period, when most Jews remained in the Diaspora rather than return to Israel, and the inconsistency is a major problem today.)  He wavers between hiding his Jewishness and taking pride in it.  (This happens a lot today, too.)  
  • ’Ester has been blown up into a multilingual, literate, and educated character who wants to run off to Yerushalayim with her boyfriend.  After being conscripted into ’Aḥashwerosh’s harem, in the finest of human fashion, she becomes a writhing mass of contradiction.  She tries to make the best of her situation and becomes romantically entangled with ’Aḥashwerosh.  And she also cannot ignore the politics being worked about her; she has to become involved.
  • ’Aḥashwerosh is portrayed as torn between his love of art and learning, on one hand, and on the other hand the need for following protocol and wreaking revenge.  His attraction to ’Ester is not just based on her beauty, but her mind as well.  (He has taste in women and finds less-intellectual women boring.)
  • Haman is portrayed not only as carrying on a family tradition of hatred, but also as a master political schemer.  His ultimate goal is to become king, and he is quite willing to step on anyone who gets in the way of that goal.  About the only thing that matters to him other than revenge and political ambitions is family—and his wife Zeresh encourages Haman in his wickedness.  Haman repeatedly gives eloquent political speeches, spreading conspiracy “theories” about the Jews and the Greeks secretly plotting to destroy the Persian Empire.  He comes off as a truly evil and dangerous villain.
Are there inaccuracies in One Night with the King?  Yes.  For example:
  • ’Aghagh’s queen passes down to her descendants a symbol which is a variant on the swastika.  While this is an obvious reference to the Nazis, the swastika did not originate with anti-Semites and has been used by a variety of cultures throughout human history.
  • The anachronistic use of the swastika is balanced by an anachronistic use of the hexagram (Star of David, Shield of Solomon) as a symbol for the Jews.  Until Jews adopted the hexagram in the 1800s, it was a geometric and magical symbol.
  • ’Ester probably did not have a boyfriend before she was abducted.  The concepts of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” do not appear in the Hebrew Bible at all.
  • The Book of Esther makes no mention of the conscription of young men to become eunuchs.  Thus the undesirable fate of ’Ester’s boyfriend in the film probably never happened.
  • ’Ester in this film claims to have read The Epic of Gilgamesh in the original.  Your humble blogger is under the impression this may be anachronistic.
  • Haman is unaware that the names of the months are not Jewish.
  • In the film, it is repeatedly claimed that the Greeks practice democracy, as if this were a universal for them.  Your humble blogger is under the impression that Greece in the ancient world, at least before Alexander the Great’s conquests, was a collection of city-states with a variety of styles of government.
  • ’Ester’s fast is too short, and she only has one feast in the film.
However, none of the inaccuracies are large enough to make much of difference in an overall story which largely follows the original Book of Esther.  As such, they are for the most part forgivable.



Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Proto-Neopaganism in Oz

Jewish date:  27 Shevaṭ 5773 (evening) (Parashath Mishpaṭim).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Paul Miki and companions (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Tlaloc (Church of the SubGenius).


I have decided to put off writing about The Secret and What the Bleep Do We Know?  These movies/books are eminently worthy of criticism, and the way the magic espoused in them is supposed to work does resemble that of Neopaganism and LaVeyan Satanism.  However, The Secret properly belongs to the New Thought movement, and What the Bleep Do We Know? is a product of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment.  As such, discussing either properly requires a sizable amount of research which would be a major tangent away from Neopaganism.  The Secret also requires (or would prompt) digressions into the worlds of Chicken Soup for the Soul and Conversations with God, the authors of which appear in the movie.  As such, I deem them worthy of review at a later date.

Current reading more directly related to Neopaganism is going slowly, so please be patient.  I have read a little from The Key of Solomon, a classic grimoire which is cited as one of the sources for Wiccan ritual.  (And it certainly reads so far like something Gerald Gardner was cribbing from in writing High Magic’s Aid.)  I am also reading The Book of the SubGenius, a sacred text of the Church of the SubGenius, a parody religion connected with the Neopagan denomination of Discordianism.  (It’s also sufficiently disturbing that I want to get it over with.)

In the meantime, I would like to note Finding Oz:  How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story by Evan I. Schwartz.  This is not a book about religion per se, but rather a book about how L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  This includes not just his personal history and the state of society in the United States at the time in general, but also religious influences.  One of these was Theosophy, a religion which was having its heyday in Baum’s day.  (Those who have read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West will remember that the Wizard in that story was a Theosophist on a mission from Madame Blavatsky.)  Another was Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk who spoke at the Parliament of the World’s Religions at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and became popular for a time.  I hope to discuss Theosophy and Hinduism in the future, and thus I will not discuss them now, especially since I still have a lot to read of even basic Hindu literature (which is extremely extensive) and everything to read of Theosophical basic literature.

So what is there left to discuss from Finding Oz now?  Consider that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900, and society in the United States back then was noticeably different than it is today.  Today it is generally assumed in the United States that women are equals of men and have the same rights (despite problems in implementation), thus leading to Republican politicians making themselves look really bad whenever they dare to suggest anything appearing otherwise.  This assumption of equality was not a foregone conclusion back in Baum’s day, which was decades before the era of women’s liberation.  Baum happened to live at the time of the suffragette movement of Susan B. Anthony and company, which sought to obtain the right to vote for women.  And his mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage, was a leading suffragette.  Gage did not just break with common expectations for women at the time; she also broke with Christianity.  Not only did she embrace Theosophy as an alternative, but she also embraced... the pseudo-history of matriarchy, the idea of witches as “wise women” and Christian persecution of witches.  Please note that The Sorceress, Aradia, and the first edition of The Golden Bough had already been published, so these ideas were available already to be embraced.

These ideas rubbed off on Baum to the extent that they showed up in the Oz books.  This is not limited to Baum having a thing for strong female characters (Dorothy, Glinda, Ozma, Betsy, Trot, Scraps, etc.).  While Baum generally kept religious references in his books to a minimum, everyone is aware that Oz has witches.  (Gratefully, he avoids the cliché that witches are all evil or its inverse that they are all good.)  Dorothy Gale is told when she first visits Oz that Oz has witches, because it is an uncivilized country, the implication being that in civilized countries—such as the United States—witches are persecuted.  Both Glinda and the Witch of the North are definitely “wise women”, providing sage advice and help, especially the former throughout the series.  All four countries in Oz are ruled by women (specifically witches) when Dorothy first visits, and while there are male rulers after that, in The Marvelous Land of Oz a girl, Ozma, becomes ruler of all of Oz, a position she retains even in the works of succeeding authors.  Also note that Baum avoided the psychologically unrealistic equation of making all female rulers automatically good and all male rulers automatically bad, e.g., the Wicked Witch of the West is a terrifying dictator, and her replacement, Nick Chopper the Tin Woodman, is much beloved by his subjects.  (Baum still has plenty of fans today, and with good reason.)  Granted, the proto-Neopagan ideas were never taken to the extent of Aradia or The Golden Bough (e.g., Glinda never goes dancing naked in the woods, worshipping the Fairy Queen Lurline and doing something inappropriate with a warlock, and she most definitely does not murder a Quadling consort every year), but some of the basic ideas which later inspired Neopaganism are really in there.

(Now all I need to do is figure out how to tie Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan into religious fallacies and misinformation...)



Friday, February 1, 2013

Notes on 2 Corinthians + Paul's Neopagan-like thinking

Jewish date:  21 Shevaṭ 5773 (Parashath Yithro).

Today’s holidays:  Friday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Chronos (Church of the SubGenius), Candlemass/Festival of Light (Ritual of the Elements) (Thelema), Imbolc (Neopaganism).


I really need to find more time to work on my blogs…

Progress on reading the New Testament is slow.  Koinē Greek is a complex language, and Paul loves to wax poetic in it.  Included below is my latest installment on the New Testament, my notes on 2 Corinthians, for what they are worth.  Paul has not gotten any more rational or lucid.  If I can tie this in my series on Neopaganism, I get the impression that while Paul was a monotheist, he was thinking a lot like a Neopagan.  As recorded in Acts, Paul had a vision of Jesus, and the emotional effect on him was so powerful that he was an instant convert.  The emotional effect was so powerful that it took days for him to recover enough to interact with other humans.  By virtue of his vision, Paul believed himself an apostle, and he went off on his own vision of Christianity, one different from that the people who knew Jesus believed and practiced.  Very much like Neopagans, Paul put an emphasis on having a strong emotional experience over following formal rules.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.


2 Corinthians 1:1-2—Introduction.  Paul maintains that he is a God-chosen apostle of Jesus.

2 Corinthians 1:3-11—Comfort from Jesus.  Subtext of persecution.

2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4—Paul seems to be attributing a change in plans to God and Jesus, as well as not grieving the Christians of Corinth.  Emphasis on faith.

2 Corinthians 2:5-11—Paul preaches love and forgiveness of sinners.  Paul seems to think of himself as an authorized forgiver.

2 Corinthians 2:12-17—Paul went looking for his brother Titus.  He also waxes poetic about those preaching Christianity having the “aroma” of Jesus.

2 Corinthians 3:1-6—Paul uses the metaphor of people being letters from Jesus written with the Spirit.  Paul promotes antinomianism, claiming “the letter kills”.

2 Corinthians 3:7-18— Paul continues promoting antinomianism, claiming the Torah as bring death and his antinomianism of the spirit as bringing righteousness.  (As if YHWH did not want us to do what He actually told us to do.)  Exodus 34:34 might be cited, misquoted and ripped out of context.

2 Corinthians 4:1-18—Paul uses the metaphor of unbelievers being in darkness.  He cannot understand that they might have good reasons for doubting that there is anything special about Jesus and claims that “the god of this age has blinded” them.  Paul complains about persecution, casting the persecuted Christians (persecuted even unto death) as working in the same mode of the persecuted Jesus.  Cites Genesis 1:3 (botched) and Psalms 116:10 under the delusion that they are relevant.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10—Paul mixes metaphors, talking about being clothed with a heavenly building.  He seems to be talking about an eagerness to go to Heaven.

2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2—Paul speaks about living for Jesus rather than oneself and becoming reconciled to him.  Cites Isaiah 49:8 in botched form and out of context.

2 Corinthians 6:3-13—Paul readily accepts persecution.

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1—Paul encourages separation from unbelievers, identifying the believers with the Temple.  Cites something which might be a botched version of Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 32:28, or Ezekiel 37:27, a fabricated quote, and a botched version of 2 Samuel 7:14.

2 Corinthians 7:2-16—Paul seems to be happy, because the believers in Corinth are such wonderful people.

2 Corinthians 8:1-15—Paul promotes love and generosity, citing Exodus 16:18, which is completely irrelevant.

2 Corinthians 8:16-9:5—Paul praises Titus and notes him being sent.

2 Corinthians 9:6-15—Paul encourages the believers to “sow” and “reap” generously, citing Psalms 112:9 unbelievably and incorrectly.

2 Corinthians 10:1-18—Paul defends his ministry, somewhat illucidly, but seeming to think that he has some sort of authority and power.  Cites something which might be a botched version of Jeremiah 9:23 irrelevantly.

2 Corinthians 11:1-15—Paul seems to be encouraging his followers to form a strong emotional relationship with Jesus, drawing on the frequently sexual symbolism for the relationship between YHWH and Bene Yisra’el in the Hebrew Bible.  Paul thinks of himself as equal to the apostles.  He accuses at least some of his opponents of being “false apostles”, bringing up Satan as a precedent.

2 Corinthians 11:16-33—Paul boasts about all the suffering he has undergone.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10—Paul relates someone who had an ecstatic vision.  He also talks about having a thorn in his flesh and interpretting it completely in theological terms rather than as something to be dealt with by removing it himself.

2 Corinthians 12:11-21—Paul asserts again that he is not inferior to the apostles and expresses concern for the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 13:1-10—Paul cites Deuteronomy 19:15 in slightly botched form and irrelevantly to try to add more authority to his visits.  Paul claims that Jesus is “in” the Corinthians and encourages people to strengthen themselves in faith.

2 Corinthiatns 13:11-14—Paul sends his final greetings.