Tuesday, September 1, 2015

GTA, Mary Magdalene, and the Last Temptation of Christ

I forgot something in my blog post yesterday about Robert Price’s The Da Vinci Fraud.

On page 36, Price states:

“Was something going on between Jesus and Mary Magdalene?  You don’t have to read the Gospel of Philip to suspect that there was!  Martin Luther thought so.  So did Garner Ted Armstrong and numerous others, who apparently all came up with the idea from their own reading of the scriptures.”

I grew up in Garner Ted Armstrong’s church, so I was thinking back in order to determine if I found what Price was saying on this to be plausible, or at least something I could envision.  On the one hand, the back cover of Garner Ted’s book, The Real Jesus, said that Jesus was attracted to beautiful women.  On the other hand, I recall attending one of Ted’s campaigns, and he was highly critical of the Last Temptation of Christ movie, which had recently come out.  He was particularly upset about the scene in which Jesus “had sex with a prostitute.”  That prostitute, of course, was Mary Magdalene.  Ted may have thought that Jesus was attracted to Mary Magdalene, but that he never had sex with her.  Of course, technically-speaking, Jesus did not have sex with her in The Last Temptation of Christ: that was a dream that Jesus was having, and the point of the movie was that Jesus gave up starting a family so he could be the Messiah and die for the sins of the world.

Incidentally, I watched The Last Temptation of Christ a couple of nights ago.  I had already seen it, and I read the book for a class over a decade ago, but I wanted to watch it again with my Mom and step-Dad on account of the Ewan McGregor movie that is coming out about Jesus’ temptation in the desert.  I appreciated the Last Temptation of Christ movie more this time around than I did when I first saw it.  The first time around, I was nitpicking whether it was orthodox or not, and the movie just struck me as plain weird.  The second time around, I appreciated it as a picture of a man grappling with his mission and his identity.  My favorite scene in the movie is when the disciples and Jesus are marching to Jerusalem, and the disciples are sharing with each other their dreams about the coming Messianic reign, along with their fears.  The music in that scene is awesome!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Book Write-Up: The Da Vinci Fraud, by Robert M. Price

Robert M. Price.  The Da Vinci Fraud: Why the Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction.  Amherst: Prometheus, 2005.  See here to buy the book.

In The Da Vinci Fraud, atheist biblical scholar Robert M. Price challenges the claims of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, while offering his own ideas.  Price is often associated with the Christ-mythicist school of thought, which denies that Jesus historically existed.  This is a marginal view within biblical scholarship.
Here are some items:

1.  As in The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, Price explores the possibility that earlier traditions of Christianity did not even believe that Jesus died and rose again.  Price refers to ancient stories, many of them dating to or after the first century C.E., that portray a person surviving crucifixion, a teacher believed to be dead appearing to his disciples and trying to convince them that he is not a ghost (cp. Luke 24:39), or a living person being prematurely buried in a tomb and kidnapped by robbers, resulting in the tomb being empty.  Price also refers to biblical passages.  In Hebrews 5:7, Jesus tearfully and fervently asks God to save him from death, and the text says that God heard Jesus on account of his reverence.  In John 19:33-34, Jesus is explicitly said to be dead from crucifixion, and a Roman soldier then drives his spear into Jesus.  For Price, this could be an addition to the text that is intended to make clear that Jesus was dead, against Christians who claimed that Jesus did not actually die on the cross.

I am hesitant to say that the stories that Price cites are thoroughly irrelevant to the New Testament stories of Jesus’ resurrection.  What the relationship is exactly, I do not know.  Some of the stories that Price mentions may have been drawing from the New Testament writings or traditions, but I am hesitant to say that all of those stories were influenced by Christianity, or had the motifs that they did on account of Christian influence.  Could the stories, or at least their motifs, have influenced New Testament writers, as Price contends?  Well, maybe.  If we are discussing the empty tomb in the New Testament Gospels, I believe that the motif of an empty tomb in other ancient traditions definitely deserves consideration.  At the same time, the New Testament stories seem to me to present Jesus as dying and rising again.  “Well, that is in the form that they are in now,” one can retort.  “Maybe the earlier form of the text was different and did not present Jesus dying and rising again.”  Perhaps, but could the New Testament Gospel writers have drawn from the ancient stories or motifs that Price cites, while still intending to present Jesus as dying and rising again?  Maybe they wanted to argue that what happened to Jesus was different from what happened in those other cases, or they found elements of the stories helpful as they fashioned their narrative, while not embracing them totally.

On Hebrews 5:7, in what manner did God hear Jesus after Jesus begged to be delivered from death?  Does that have to mean that God delivered Jesus from being crucified?  Could Jesus’ resurrection be God’s answer to that prayer?

2.  Price also believes that the stories about Jesus’ resurrection were influenced, in some way, by ancient myths about dying-and-rising gods.  (Does this contradict his point in #1, or does he believe that both ideas can co-exist, in some scenario?)  Price lists and describes some of these myths.  I agree with Christian apologists and conservative scholars that some of these stories do not exactly, or entirely, present a dying-and-rising god: some present reincarnation rather than resurrection, or a god who is not alive on earth for that long after being resurrected (Osiris is alive long enough to impregnate Isis, but then he goes to the netherworld).  But I am hesitant to dismiss that there was a belief in dying-and-rising gods in the ancient world, even though Price should have provided more documentation for the stories that he was relating.

Price addresses arguments from conservative critics regarding this issue.  Against those who say that stories about dying-and-rising gods came after the time of Christianity, Price states that even Christian apologists in ancient times had to address the argument that Christianity was similar to pagan myths, and they did so by saying that Satan was aping Christian themes before Jesus was on earth (Justin Martyr in the second century C.E. used this argument, but see here).  Against the conservative argument that staunch monotheists like the Jewish-Christians of the first century C.E. would not have borrowed from paganism, Price refers to the pagan influence on the Israelites and Jews up to the time of the Maccabees (which was in the second century B.C.E.).  While Price should have addressed whether Jews or Christians could have consciously borrowed from paganism in the first century C.E., I do not believe that one can seal historical Judaism and Christianity off from pagan influence, as if they were in a pure container.  Cross-cultural influence is a fact of life.

Price refers to what he believes are possible parallels between the Gospel stories and ancient myths: the resurrection of Attis (a Phrygian youth with romantic issues) was celebrated after three days, and Jesus rose after three days; the Pyramid Texts present someone lamenting that she cannot find a dead body, and Mary Magdalene lamented that she did not know where Jesus’ body was in John 20:13; and the gods’ resurrection often relates to the spring-time, which was when Jesus rose.  I doubt that these similarities mean that these myths necessarily influenced Christianity: three (or the third of someone or something) is a common motif in ancient and modern times, the contexts of these similarities were different (i.e., Osiris’ body parts were scattered throughout the world, which did not happen to Jesus), and the similarities could have been coincidental rather than indicating influence of one source on another.  I do believe that Jesus’ resurrection in the spring-time could have been significant, however.

Where Price goes with the dying-and-rising-gods argument is that he speculates that Mary Magdalene could have been like Isis, or the other goddesses (or women) who played a prominent role in the resurrection of the dying-and-rising god (or person).  Price initially believed that Mary Magdalene had apostolic status, or was head of a Christian community, for John 20 depicts her seeing the risen Lord, plus she seemed to be depicted as heading a group of women who supported Jesus’ ministry (Luke 8:2-3), which (according to Price) was rare in the ancient world.  But Price changed his mind on this in favor of the view that Mary Magdalene was mythological and was an Isis-like figure.  When did Mary resurrect Jesus?  Price believes that the story of the woman who anointed Jesus for burial (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:37-39; John 12:1-8) is relevant to this question: that it was initially within the context of Jesus’ resurrection, but was later projected back into the time of Jesus’ ministry, prior to his death.  Price also refers to Acts 17:18, in which Paul’s pagan detractors believe that Paul, in proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, is promoting strange gods.  How would they have reached this conclusion?  According to Price, they thought that Paul was proclaiming Jesus and the goddess Anastasis (which is Greek for resurrection).

This is all speculative, and yet it does strike me that Mark 14:9 makes a big deal about the woman anointing Jesus, saying that, wherever the Gospel is preached, what this woman has done will be mentioned in memory of her.  I also wonder why Paul’s pagan detractors concluded that Paul was proclaiming strange gods.

3.  Price argues that Jesus may have been a mythical figure who came to be historicized.  According to Price, this happened with other mythological figures, as well: Plutarch thought that Isis and Osiris were the first monarchs of Egypt, and Herodotus wondered when Hercules historically lived.

In reading about Christ-mythicism, something about this view has puzzled me.  Do Christ-mythicists believe that Jesus was initially believed to have been killed in the cosmic sphere, but that his crucifixion was later historicized as an event that took place on earth?  I have heard Christ-mythicists argue to this effect, and they appeal to pagan gods as parallels.  The thing is, my understanding is that many stories of pagan gods take place on earth, not in some cosmic realm.  The story of Osiris and Isis is set on earth, right?

How does Price deal with this?  Price refers to Paul Veyne’s Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths? (a book that I have and would like to someday read, but it is boxed up), and also Paul Crouchoud.  Price says that Hercules and Asclepius were originally heavenly sun-gods, but they were later believed to have lived “fleshly lives on earth” (page 129).  On page 252, Price states that, according to Veyne, “most people did believe the gods and goddesses had existed, but in a twilight zone of history before recorded history began: ‘Once upon a time.'”  For Christ-mythicists, was Jesus initially believed to have been killed in a cosmic realm, or in the remote past on earth?

4.  Price talks about the New Testament canon.  He argues that Marcion first set forth a canon, and that so-called orthodox Christians added to it because they did not like Marcion’s ideas.  Marcion believed that the god of the Old Testament, a god of justice, was a different god from the God of the New Testament, a god of love.  According to Price, orthodox Christians added to the New Testament canon books that were friendlier to their pro-Old Testament view, such as the Gospel of Matthew.  Price also believes that additions at some point were made to Paul’s writings to make him appear more orthodox, or pro-Torah.  Many scholars have narrated, by contrast, that Marcion edited things down to conform to his beliefs, rather than that orthodox Christians added things to Marcion’s canon.

This post is getting rather long, so I want to briefly interact with some of what Price says about the New Testament canon:

—-Price says that Pauline writings (minus the so-called “orthodox” additions that Price believes were made) were not from Paul, but from a Marcionite-Gnostic school.  I am not convinced by this.  Paul may have influenced Marcion, but I do not think that Marcion or the Gnostics composed Paul’s writings.  Paul’s writings have nothing about a sinister or obsessively just sub-god creating the world and giving Israel the law.  But the Pauline dichotomy between law and grace could have been embraced by the Marcionites or the Gnostics, for their own reasons.  Price may go into more detail about his views on this issue in his book on Paul, which I have not yet read.

—-Christian apologists, and also many mainstream scholars, maintain that the Gospels in our New Testament (at least the synoptic ones) are earlier than the extracanonical Gospels.  Price seems to me to agree with this, overall, at least in this book.  At the same time, he does not agree with those who would equate the New Testament writings with what came to be accepted as orthodox Christianity, for he refers to passages in John and Paul’s writings that strike him as rather docetist (i.e., Romans 8:3), the view that Jesus only appeared human rather than being human.  Romans 8:3’s statement that Jesus appeared in the likeness of sinful flesh does strike me as rather odd; at the same time, Paul also says that Jesus was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4) and that Jesus was crucified, which seem to be at odds with docetism (and yet who says that a non-docetist could not absorb features of docetism?).  I do agree with Price, however, that the New Testament may manifest diverse Christologies, some of them at odds with what came to be orthodox.

—-Price refers to interesting and relevant considerations: Clement of Alexandria quoted, cited, or alluded to a number of non-canonical Christian texts, in addition to the canonical ones; some questioned the authorship of the Gospel of John, thinking it sounded too Gnostic; and even Christians who were later rejected as non-orthodox claimed to have learned their teaching from students of an apostle, including Paul and Peter.  That makes me wonder how I should deal with patristic claims that certain church fathers (i.e., Polycarp) were taught by apostles.  Should I reject those claims as made-up?  Should I accept that these fathers may have been taught by the apostles, yet went their own way, in areas, or took the apostle’s teachings in their own directions?  Should I believe that the church fathers are telling the truth about their apostolic connection, whereas the “Gnostic” Christians are lying about theirs, perhaps aping the church fathers?

—-Price refers to the criteria that church fathers used in deciding what was canonical.  He seems to identify with the criterion that a Gospel had to be widely used in order to be accepted as canonical, or at least he presented it as a reasonable criterion.  Wide and long use of a Gospel arguably means an earlier date, since there needed to be time for a Gospel to circulate.  Plus, “The fewer quarters of the church in which it was known, the greater the likelihood of its being a recent forgery. (‘Why didn’t we hear about this ‘Gospel according to Wally’ till now?  I smell a rat!’)” (page 162).  Price believes that the criterion that a Gospel had to be written by an apostle or student of an apostle to be more dubious, however, for could not one simply attribute a Gospel to an apostle, whether that apostle wrote it or not?  Christian apologists and conservative scholars have asked why, if this were the case, church fathers would attribute Gospels to Mark or Luke, who were not even apostles, rather than attributing them to more famous apostles.  Price’s answer is that Matthew’s Gospel was more widely known and respected than the Gospels of Mark and Luke were, so the latter two Gospels were attributed to people who were not apostles, but rather students of apostles.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Compassion As an Anecdote?

The man who gave the sermon this morning was talking about Mark 7:1-15.  In that passage, Jesus was saying that “the things that come out are what defile” (NRSV).  The preacher was interpreting this to mean that, when we act on the corrupt and selfish things that are inside of us (making them “things that come out”), we become separated from God (defilement), presumably until we repent and receive forgiveness.  The preacher seemed to be presenting compassion as an anecdote to our struggle with vice.  The preacher noted that Jesus in the passage was compassionate towards the dishonored and deprived parents of some of the Pharisees, and he also referred to other passages in which Jesus feels and acts on compassion.  The preacher said that, unlike us, Jesus was not proud as a result of his compassion, and that we should not be proud either because compassion is something that God has placed inside of us.

What the preacher said reminded me of Galatians 5:16.  In the KJV, it reads, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”  Over a decade ago, another preacher told me after citing this passage, “You can’t do both.”  His point was that, by walking according to the Spirit and its fruit (i.e., love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.), we are going in the opposite direction of the works of the flesh (i.e., hatred, sexual immorality, etc.).  It’s like cultivating and walking in what is good is an anecdote to being bad, for both are oriented in opposite directions.

As I look at the NRSV and the Greek of Galatians 5:16, I am a bit skeptical that this is what the passage is saying.  The NRSV has, “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  This seems to treat Galatians 5:16 as a two-fold command rather than viewing walking in the Spirit as an anecdote to walking in the flesh: walk in the Spirit, and don’t gratify the flesh.  Obey both commands.  In the Greek, the part about not walking in the flesh is in the subjunctive: “may you not fulfill desire of flesh.”  To me, that seems to coincide more with what the NRSV has.  I may be forgetting some Greek rule, though, so I am open to correction.

Do I believe that cultivating compassion can serve as an anecdote to acting on the flesh?  On some level, I do.  Compassion humanizes people and seeks to identify with them.  If I am compassionate towards someone I hate, that lessens my hatred.  If I humanize a woman after whom I lust, that tempers, or at least counter-balances, my lust.  I still have questions, though.  For example, is sexually desiring a woman, or even engaging in pre-marital sex, necessarily the opposite of love?  It can be, but is it in every case?  Both Jesus in Mark 7 and Paul in Galatians 5 list sexual immorality among the vices, however.

I liked what the preacher said about compassion being the voice of God within us.  I am one who wants to hear from God.  Well, maybe God is speaking to me when I feel an urge to be compassionate.  I was thinking of a colleague whom I cannot stand, and, to my surprise, I was actually happy that he had a job, for I remembered listening to him stress out about employment prospects.  Whenever I feel this way, I ask myself, “Is that compassion genuine?  Am I really happy for this ass?”  I then think, “Why stress out over that question?  Just cultivate compassion!  Any ounce of compassion that is within me is worth cultivating.”

Friday, August 28, 2015

Steve Hays Contra Hector Avalos: Were the Disciples Deadbeat Dads?


Leaning Towards Darth Hillary?

I haven’t written a whole lot about the 2016 Presidential election.  This is unlike me, since I wrote a lot about the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections when they were going on.

In this post, I would like to talk about Hillary.  Here are some thoughts.
  1.  I was leaning towards voting for Bernie Sanders, and that may be what I end up doing.  I do think it’s cool that he’s drawing huge crowds and, at the moment at least, is posing a significant challenge to Hillary.  That makes the election interesting.  But, one night, I was flipping through channels.  I came to C-Span, and it was showing a town hall meeting in which Hillary was answering questions from the audience.  Hillary really impressed me.  Someone asked her about Medicare and what its policy should be towards people who take care of their elderly parents at home, and Hillary addressed that question intelligently, with bullet points, showing that she had thought about the issue.  A couple of leftist young people were trying to disrupt the town hall because they thought that Hillary did not go far enough on climate change, and Hillary took control of the meeting, expressed understanding towards their position, and said, logically, that we cannot simply stop using carbon-based fuels cold turkey, for so much of the economy depends on them.  She is still for addressing the problem of climate change, however.
  2. Contrast how Hillary handled that Townhall with how Bernie Sanders handled the disruption at his event.  Bernie just let those Black Lives Matters activists take over his rally!  He just stood there!  At least that’s my understanding of what happened.  Sure, he should have let them have their say, but he also should have been present, somehow.  He should have gone to the microphone and said something, either responding to what they said, or entering into a dialogue with them, or expressing sympathy for their concerns.  Hillary, on the other hand, had a dialogue with Black Lives Matters activists.
  3. In recent polls, Hillary does not get high marks for trustworthiness.  Do I trust Hillary?  Well, it depends on what I’m trusting her for.  Do I see her as thoroughly honest, ethical, transparent, and lovable?  No.  She is shady.  She stretches the truth.  I have heard that she can be mean.  I have called her “Darth Hillary.”  And, while she is an intelligent, sophisticated woman, that time when she left the White House with White House silverware seemed a bit white-trashy to me.  But I also believe that she has a social conscience and has manifested that during her years as a lawyer, as First Lady, and in public service.  I think that there is a part of her that cares for the vulnerable.  Some of that may be for show, but some of it, I suspect, is real.
  4. One concern that I have about her being President is that her Administration will probably have scandals, and that will distract her and the government from the business of governing, unless she can find some way to surmount them.  She has a scandal right now.  What makes us think that she won’t as President?
  5. What I like about primaries is that they give me an opportunity to vote for whom I want—-for the candidate who best represents my beliefs, or whom I like the most—-whether that person has a shot in hell or not.  I voted for Ron Paul in the 2008 and 2012 Republican primaries, mainly because I liked how he stood up to Rudy Giuliani and did not back down when Giuliani was getting on his sanctimonious 9/11 high horse.  That said, I am hesitant to vote for Hillary in the primary because I suspect that she will be the Democratic candidate in the general election, and I will probably vote for her then.  (I do not know what role Biden will play in this election.)  Part of me wants to do something different in the primaries.  So I am wondering if I should vote for Bernie Sanders, or one of the Republicans I like, such as John Kasich.  Or maybe I can continue my Paulite tradition and vote for Rand—-I like some of what he says, and some of what he says I find offensive.  The thing is, right now at least, Hillary is the candidate I like the most.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Left Behind (2014); Dear Mr. Watterson

I watched the 2014 Left Behind movie, starring Nicholas Cage.  Here are some thoughts:

  1.  I did not care for the movie.  Now, you may be thinking to yourself that I am the sort of person who would not like the movie—-progressive, an academic wannabe.  But that would be a false conclusion.  I enjoyed the first two Left Behind books.  I loved the audio series.  I liked the second movie produced by Cloud Ten.  I can find myself enjoying Christian apocalyptic thrillers, such as Tribulation.  But I did not care for the 2014 Left Behind movie.
  2. The first thirty minutes were actually pretty good.  Chloe Steele and Buck Williams were expressing their doubts about the existence of God, mostly focusing on the problem of evil.  Rayford Steele was justifying his wife’s religious conversion to his daughter, Chloe, who thought that her mom had gone off the deep end.  There was not much religious or philosophical substance afterwards, though.  There was a lot of focus on landing the plane.  I found that to be boring.
  3.  The actress who played Hattie was nice to look at.
  4. Until they were raptured, there was nothing really that stood out to me about the Christians.  They were not necessarily nicer than the non-believers who got left behind.  They were nice, but even some of the non-believers were good people who tried to help others.  That may be a point that the movie was trying to make: salvation is not about being a good person, but is about receiving God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Nowadays, though, my theology and religious/spiritual life do interrelate with the question of what type of person I should be; at the same time, I am still a believer in humbly accepting God’s free grace.
  5. One thought that occurred to me as I watched this movie was: “Is this true?”  Of course, that is the question that the makers of the movie want the viewers to ask themselves.   I tried to recall to my mind the arguments for and against Christian apologetics and historical criticism of the Bible, and the arguments for and against the pretribulational rapture.  I recoiled from the thought of returning to fundamentalism, feeling that, with all of my flaws, I am still in a better place now than I was then.  In the end, I recalled a post that I wrote a while back about being ready for the second coming of Christ, and I settled on what I wrote there.  I believe that I have a connection with God, even if I do not dismiss atheist or unorthodox books as from the devil, or try to pressure or manipulate people into accepting evangelical Christianity.
This post was not as long as I expected it to be, so allow me to comment on something else that I watched that night.  It was a documentary about Bill Watterson, the creator of the famous and popular comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.  It was called Dear Mr. Watterson.

  1.  I was never much of a Calvin and Hobbes person.  I read it, but I liked Peanuts and Garfield a lot better.  Still, I was interested in seeing this documentary, for I enjoy comics, and it’s interesting to hear the story of someone who succeeded and made a difference in his profession.
  2. Someone who was interviewed said that he moved to a new neighborhood and did not know anybody, and reading Calvin and Hobbes gave him an anchor during that time.  It was something that he looked forward to and enjoyed.  I could identify with him there because there have been things that have helped me through periods of alienation.
  3. Bill Watterson was said to be reclusive and a bit of a loner.  Someone in the documentary said that, when Watterson could have been out there socializing, he instead stayed home and was perfecting his craft.  I hope that I, as a reclusive person, can succeed in my own way.  I also believe in trying to improve my social skills, but I try not to beat up on myself if I fall short.
  4. Bill Watterson was unusual in the sense that he did not allow Calvin and Hobbes to be licensed.  Other cartoonists did, which is why you see Garfield or Snoopy on lunchboxes, or advertisements, or as dolls.  Watterson, however, believed that this sort of commercialization compromised the craft.  It was interesting to watch Charles Schultz’s wife defending her husband’s decision to license Peanuts—-she said that he saw it as an extension of his art.  The documentary offered pros and cons about this issue.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Movie Write-Up: Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

I watched Ridley Scott’s 2014 movie, Exodus: Gods and Kings, a few nights ago.  Here are some thoughts:

  1.  The movie was controversial among many conservative Christians because it implied that the plagues on Egypt could have been explained naturally, without recourse to the supernatural (see, for example, Al Mohler’s critique here).  Or at least there is ambiguity about whether the God of Israel is the one causing the plagues, or the plagues are just nature taking its course.  The exception to this would be the final plague, the death of the firstborn: I can think of no natural explanation for the Egyptian firstborn dying in a single night, while the Israelite firstborn who had blood on their doors lived.  Overall, though, one could look at the plagues and conclude that they had a natural explanation, as one of the Pharaoh’s advisers did.  For one, as more than one critic has pointed out, we do not know if Moses in the movie was truly interacting with God, or if he was simply hallucinating after being hit in the head.  Second, the plagues start with crocodiles attacking one another, which leads to blood in the Nile, which leads to frogs coming ashore.  The frogs die, and flies come.  Flies spread disease.  Right when Egypt conceivably cannot get any lower, a hailstorm and locusts come.  These are natural events.  Third, the crossing of the Red Sea is not like it is in most Moses movies, with one wall of water on one side, another wall of water on the other side, and a path of dry ground in the middle.  Rather, what happens is that the water gets lower, and that allows the Israelites to cross.
  2. What do I, as a believer in God, think about this?  I like it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I also like Moses movies in which God kicks Egypt’s ass, and makes it obvious to arrogant Egypt that the God of Israel is the one kicking Egypt’s ass (I will discuss this further below).  But I personally identified with Ridley Scott’s take on the story: that the God of Israel may be acting, yet there are other ways to explain or interpret what is going on.  That is the situation in which I often find myself: I believe that God is at work in my life, but I can still look at my life and account for events without appealing to God as an explanation.  I still prefer to have faith, though.  I was particularly moved by the scene in which the Israelites were standing on the shores of the Red Sea, wondering what to do next, and Moses was encouraging them to have faith and cross.  What is faith without there being at least some doubt?
  3. There is a question that occurs in my mind, though: Would the Egyptians historically have been open to a naturalistic explanation for the plagues?  Even Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments portrayed Raamses as a bit of a naturalist, at least in one scene: Yul Brynner’s Raamses was saying that the bloody water was caused by clay from the mountains, that Moses and the Egyptian priest fashioned gods to prey on the fears of men, and that the plagues were events that happened of themselves.  Maybe there were occasions when the Egyptians could have had naturalistic thoughts, but they did, overall, have a supernaturalist worldview.  They believed that Egypt had gods, and that even the Pharaoh was a god, or a manifestation of a god.  I can even picture them believing that other people-groups had gods, for nations in the ancient Near East generally did acknowledge the existence of other nations’ gods.  If the Exodus had occurred, how would the Egyptians have accounted for the plagues?  It would be a theological problem for them, I’m sure, for the Pharaoh, a god, was not successfully upholding the natural order and prosperity of his kingdom, and the gods of Egypt were not any help, either.  Maybe the Egyptians could conclude that their gods were mad at them, for some reason—-even though, here, this view could conceivably collapse when all of their attempts to appease their gods were not working.  Or perhaps the Egyptians could have concluded that the god of the Israelites was responsible for the damage—-but the theological problem for the Egyptians here would be that this would arguably make the god of the Israelites more powerful than their own gods.
  4.  A provocative scene is when Moses is talking with God (or God’s messenger), a little boy), and Moses expresses sadness over the plagues, since Moses grew up with the Egyptians.  God asks Moses to consider the Israelites, who were oppressed by the Egyptians for hundreds of years, and God expresses disappointment that Moses does not yet consider the Israelites to be his people.  Moses asks God if the plagues are a matter of revenge, and God responds that the Pharaohs in Egypt think that they are gods, when they are merely flesh and blood.  God wants them to bow down to him in pain, begging for it to stop!  This was the first time that God raised his voice or appeared angry, for, throughout the movie, God was mostly calm and level-headed.
  5. What do I think about that?  The Exodus story gives a lot of people problems.  This is understandable, for innocent Egyptians died as a result of the plagues.  Many non-believers put the Exodus story in the same category as God’s command to slaughter the Canaanite children, thinking that God appears barbaric, bloodthirsty, and unjust.  They may look at my remark above about enjoying Moses movies in which God kicks Egypt’s ass and think that I am psychotic.  I can understand their perspective, but allow me to offer a rationale for my own.  Egypt was arrogant.  Its government believed that it had the authority over people’s life and death.  In the movie, the Pharaoh publicly put one Israelite family to death each day until the Israelites turned Moses in, and the Pharaoh later planned to slaughter every Israelite firstborn.  And this Pharaoh had the audacity in the movie to accuse Moses’ God of being cruel and unjust!  I do enjoy seeing the arrogant humbled, the oppressors put in their place, the cruel punished.  What about the innocent Egyptians?  Were there truly innocent Egyptians?  Perhaps even ordinary Egyptians carried with them that attitude of arrogance and contempt for the oppressed.  I know that I have a certain arrogance about being an American, a citizen of the most powerful country on the face of the earth!  I do not like that arrogance, but it is there.  There is more that I can say about this issue: about how private Egyptian citizens may have participated in killing Israelite newborns (Exodus 1:22—-I attribute this observation to Rashi), and how one can even make the case that God loved the Egyptians (see Exodus 9:18-21—-I attribute this observation to Tim Keller; see also this post).
  6. Christian Bale, who played Moses in the movie, reportedly called Moses barbaric.  I admired Moses in Ridley Scott’s movie, though.  Moses as part of the court in Egypt discouraged the Pharaoh from killing Israelites, saying that this would make the Israelites hate the Egyptians and want to rebel against them.  Moses was curious about what the Israelites believed.  Moses was a humble man: when he offered Raamses strategic battle advice and Raamses rebuffed him, Moses respected and deferred to Raamses’ authority.  When Dathan was challenging Moses’ authority at the Red Sea, Moses did not get defensive, but Moses responded humbly and reasonably.  Moses was humble, but humble in a strong sort of way.
  7. During the scene about the final plague, people with Israelite names are dying, even though Moses would later tell Pharaoh that not a single Israelite firstborn died.  How do I know that those people who died had Israelite names?  Because “Yah”—-the name of the God of Israel—-was in those names.  Of course, more than one Moses movie has made this mistake.  The name “Bithia,” the name of Moses’ Egyptian adoptive mother, is Hebrew, for it has “Yah” in it, yet more than one Moses movie depicts the Egyptians calling her “Bithiah” without batting an eye.  This problem should be redressed in future Moses movies, for it does make the movies appear less authentic.

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