Mostly a Rant on Biblical Contradictions, But Also a Zombie.

Hey everyone!

I just wanted to point out that I added a “Contact Me” page today (you can find it using the toolbar at the top of every page on the site). I know I’ve posted my email on here before, but now it’s always in one place so you don’t have to dig through the archives for it. I’d really love to hear from you, no matter what you have to say, so please don’t hesitate to use it!

NT: Mark 5

Mark 5

I think we’ve just encountered the New Testament’s very first quasi-zombie.

Jesus and his posse travel across the lake, and then…this:

I was going to use a picture of a zombie itself, but they all grossed me out too much. Also, I just find driving terrifying in general, so this image actually scares me more anyway.

As soon as Jesus got out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out of the tombs. This man lived among the tombs, and no one was ever strong enough to restrain him, even with a chain. He had been secured many times with leg irons and chains, but he broke the chains and smashed the leg irons. No one was tough enough to control him. Night and day in the tombs and the hills, he would howl and cut himself with stones. (2-4)

Freaky.

It turns out this is actually a variation of the suicidal demon pigs story from Matthew 8, except the description above makes this one a lot more exciting. Oh, and also, there are two possessed men in the Matthew version, but only one in the Mark version. Oops! I’m sure I won’t catch nearly all of these kinds of errors because (1) I’m reading the book over the course of a year or two, and (2) I’m not an autistic savant. But if you enjoy this sort of thing, check out this infographic on contradictions within the Bible, which I have probably shared before and forgotten about because of reason 2.

Now, before you chide me for missing the forest for the trees, I want to say something about the whole issue of Bible contradictions. I’ve been in discussions in the past where I and other atheists have mentioned one Bible contradiction/error or another, and Christians have stopped us and protested that we were nitpicking, straw-manning, or otherwise arguing dishonestly because those kinds of things don’t really matter. What matters, according to this line of reasoning, is the Bible’s central message, not the extraneous details. As long as it’s consistent about God and the path to salvation, you shouldn’t be bothered by apparent inconsistencies in the number of demons Jesus cast out on a given day or exactly where he met a particular disciple and so on.

I have some serious problems with this approach to the Bible.

For one thing, for a book that is supposed to be about the forest and not the trees – if it’s all about the big picture and the details don’t matter – the Bible has got a hell of a lot of trees. I haven’t even gotten to Leviticus and Numbers yet, but I’ve heard horror stories about the pages and pages of drivel about how to spread oil on your offerings and how many people were in each tribe and so on. And Genesis was bad enough with all the begatting. If that’s all irrelevant to my salvation and I shouldn’t worry my pretty little head about it, why include it at all? Moreover, even if there was no pressing reason why all the little details of the stories in the Bible had to be correct, there certainly isn’t any good reason why so many should be wrong, is there? You’d think, when the stakes are this high, the least God could do is spring for a decent copy editor.

Second, a lot of the contradictions in the Bible do seem to matter to the big picture – that is, they change the story in significant ways that alter its overall meaning. One example of this is Judas’s death. We already read Matthew’s account of it, where Judas throws away the money he was paid for betraying Jesus, and then hangs himself. We haven’t gotten to Acts yet on this blog, but – spoiler alert – in that version, Judas uses the money to buy a field, and then falls down in his own field and his intestines spill out. A former Pentecostal Christian has explained the importance of this contradiction, and how it shook his own faith, quite well in this video. (This 10-minute video is part of a longer series on his deconversion process, but that link will take you directly to the Judas bit, which is only three minutes long.) Basically, as far as I can tell, this story is either about remorse, or greed and punishment: either Judas threw the money away (demonstrating remorse) and then hung himself (more remorse), or he used the money to buy a field (materialism, greed, non-remorse) and then was struck down by God in an explosion of intestines (punishment by God’s wrath). It seems to me that the question of whether Judas committed remorseful suicide or was executed by God is extremely relevant to the overall meaning of the story. The “big picture” changes noticeably when you alter the pixels that much.

Finally, I do think the mere existence of contradictions should be troubling in a book that is supposedly divinely inspired. Obviously a single contradiction, however minor, completely annihilates the idea of biblical literalism. But it should bring even more liberal conceptions of biblical inerrancy into question, too. I know there are many liberal Christians who believe that the Bible was written by humans, in pieces, over a long period of time, was shaped by the cultural contexts in which it was created, and so on. But they still believe that it is, in some meaningful sense, “the word of God,” or says something meaningful about God; otherwise they wouldn’t call themselves Christians, right? Maybe I’m just not understanding this idea correctly – I have to admit that I have always had a lot of trouble wrapping my head around it – but it seems to me that if God was involved in any way in the creation of the Bible, he could have done something to prevent it from being so error-ridden. I just really think you have to work a lot harder to defend your case that this book should be taken seriously when it is full of holes and patches like this. In any case, if the trees that are distracting me from the beautiful and divine forest are actually irreconcilable contradictions that call into question the God-inspired-ness of the whole book, then the trees become extremely important since they show that there actually is no forest to bother with, so we can all stop trying to squint and find it.

Anyway. Jesus asks the demon in the possessed guy what its name is, and the guy answers, “Legion is my name, because we are many” (9). That’s kind of cool – I didn’t know that came from the Bible. Anyway, you know what happens next; the demons leave the man only to possess the pigs, who run into the lake and drown. People hear about this and are impressed, but some ask Jesus to leave their neighborhood. Not sure why – maybe because they know the Pharisees and ruling classes and so on won’t like what he’s up to? The de-possessed man asks to join Jesus as a disciple, but Jesus tells him to go home and spread the word about how God cured him and showed mercy on him.

Jesus crosses the river again and gets ready to heal some more people. Jairus, a big shot at the local synagogue, begs Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus agrees, but while he’s en route to the house, a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years (which startled me all over again even though I already read about it in Matthew) comes up to him and heals herself by touching his clothes. Which reminds me: this story inspired a great song by Sam Cooke, which is redundant, because all songs by Sam Cooke are great. Legend has it that Sam and his producer were on their way to a recording session when the producer realized Sam wasn’t exactly prepared with something to record. Before he could freak out, Sam was like, “Chill out. Just hand me the Bible.” His producer immediately produced a Bible, because this was the fifties and I guess everybody just had a Bible with them all the time in case Communists attacked or something. Sam flipped through, found this story, and made up a kick-ass song on the spot, because he’s Sam Cooke and that’s how he rolls. Or rolled, rather, until some crazy bitch shot him. That whole debacle still upsets me, so I’m going to calm down with a nice uplifting gospel song.

Anyway Jesus tells the bleedy woman that her faith has healed her yay.

Meanwhile, some messengers from Jairus’s house find him and tell him it’s too late: his daughter has already died. They suggest he let Jesus go since there’s nothing he can do anymore, but Jesus is like “No it’s cool, I got this.” He goes to the house with just three of his disciples and finds it full of crying people. He says the girl is just sleeping, not dead, and the people switch from crying to laughing at him. He kicks them all out of the house, then takes the girl’s hand and whispers some magic spell that means “Young woman, get up,” in some language or other (41). And hey presto, she’s alive and walking around again! Jesus tells the disciples and the girl’s parents not to tell anybody about what happened.

Of course, this is a little different from how Matthew told us it all went down. For example, in Matthew’s account, the girl has already died when her father comes to seek Jesus’s help, so he asks him to resurrect her. And in that version, Jesus doesn’t demand silence about the resurrection; in fact, “News about this spread throughout that whole region” (Matthew 9:26). Ah, well. Forest for the trees, right? *twitch*

Highlights

Sam Cooke.

Lowlights

See above rant.

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Love Shack

Oh my god you guys the wifi in my apartment is the worst. I’m sorry it took me to the end of the day to get this up, but I kept working on it for a few minutes at a time and then trying to download a photo and then being cruelly denied and then leaving in a huff to listen to the NPR Sunday Puzzle and allow Will Shortz’s soothing voice to heal my psychological wounds. I would like to write these at 1369 Coffeehouse from now on (which would be great because the 45-minute limit on free wifi would force me to manage my blogging time better), but I can’t right now because I’m fasting for Ramadan. I know, I know. I’m the strangest atheist. Whatever. I warned you guys up front that I fucking love church. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Oh yeah, also I read some Bible today. Here it is.

OT: Exodus 33; Psalm 23

Exodus 33

God tells Moses to take the Israelites to the Promised Land, and ominously pledges to “drive out” (2) six other tribes for unspecified reasons. But God won’t accompany his favorite tribe on their road trip, because they are “a stubborn people” and so he would “destroy” them before they ever made it to their destination (4). Seems harsh, but then again, I’ve shared a car with my grandmother from Massachusetts to Virginia, so I can’t help sympathizing with God here. Although I can’t say I get the part where he inexplicably demands that the Israelites all remove their jewelry* before the journey.

Did they have to remove their shoes too?

Moses set up a special tent where people could go to ask God for advice. It’s unclear whether or not everyone else got a response, but when Moses visited the tent, God would show up and talk to Moses “face-to-face” while a tornado blocked the door (9-11). Oh, and apparently Joshua, Moses’s assistant, never ever left the tent, for some reason.

Why is this book so full of unnecessary and unexplained details?

Anyway, at one of their littltête-à-têtes têtes-à-tête têtes-à-têtes conversations, Moses is like, “Look, God. You keep telling me to take these people somewhere but I don’t even know where I’m going or who will guide us.” And God is like, “Ok, I’ll go with you.” [Then what was all the business with the refusing to go and the jewelry removal?] Then comes my favorite part of this boring chapter, where Moses goes on haranguing God without listening at all to what he just said, continuing to demand what he has already agreed to, because Moses and God are an old married couple. Moses is like, “If you don’t go, how can we even go at all? Nobody will know we are special unless you are there to tell them!” And then God says [verbatim], “I’ll do exactly what you’ve asked because you have my special approval, and I know you by name” (17). Whaaa? I’ve already said how problematic I think it is for God to arbitrarily give one person or group his “special approval” or to have a “chosen people,” but it’s even weirder to think that there might be some people in the world whom he doesn’t know by name. Again, I’m sorry, but doesn’t this completely annihilate his hypothetical omniscience? Seriously, how do people rationalize this?

Then things get a little kinky when Moses begs God to “Please show me your glorious presence” (18), bringing their relationship from old married couple to awkward hormone-soaked teenager status. God gets all coy with Moses, and is like, “Ok, I’ll walk past you and flaunt my glorious presence. But I’ll put you behind a rock, so you can’t see me. But there will be a chink in the rock, so you can see me. But I’ll cover the rock with my hand, so you can’t see me. But then I’ll take my hand away at the last second, so you can see me – except I won’t take my hand away until I’ve passed you, so all you’ll be able to see is my back.” God justifies this convoluted plan by explaining that “you can’t see my face because no one can see me and live” (20), which sounds suspiciously like a rule he made up just now for fun, and is difficult to reconcile with the claim made just a few verses before that he and Moses have been speaking “face-to-face” (11) in their little Love Shack tent.

* There couldn’t have been much jewelry to remove anyway since Aaron already melted all the gold down to make the calf in the last chapter. Just saying.

Psalm 23

Okay, I’m sorry, I can’t do the Common English Bible on this one. I saw “my cup is so full it spills over!” and I knew this wasn’t going to work. I’ve got to go with the good old KJV here.

This is, justifiably, the most famous psalm. It’s less whiny, more celebratory, and just prettier than any of the others I’ve read so far. I’m not even going to try to cutely summarize it. I’ll let it speak for itself.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Highlights

Weirdly enough, the psalm is actually the best part of today’s OT portion. It speaks to one of the qualities we most wish we had in a god: protection. The God of Psalm 23 provides for you, he leads you where you need to go, he always wants what’s best for you, he showers you in blessings, he defends you from harm. He is your home. It’s a beautiful specimen of wishful thinking. And, if you like, it illustrates what we need from ourselves and from each other in a godless world. If there is no house of the LORD to dwell in, we must build our own home, fill our own cups, and find our own route to the green pastures and the still waters. We must be the gods we wish we had.

Lowlights

Psalm 23 also gets today’s lowlight, because it reminded me of my AP Chemistry exam, which was definitely a lowlight of high school. Just in case that connection isn’t crystal clear, allow me to explain: When I arrived at the school where I would be taking the exam, I realized that I had left my calculator at home. I didn’t have time to go back for it, and I panicked double hard since chemistry was already my worst subject. I was in acute distress, facing certain failure, when I spotted one of the only people I knew in this entire school walking through the halls between classes. When I told him of my plight – looking for commiseration, not solutions – he immediately handed me his calculator and walked off to his next class. To express my deep and abiding gratitude, I wrote him this poem, which I just dug up from the bowels of my Facebook notes.

TEDDY is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to do well on my chemistry test: He leadeth me through the free response section.

He restoreth my calculator: He leadeth me in the paths of accuracy for his awesomeness’ sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of failure, I will fear no stoichiometry: for Thy calculator is with me; its exponents and its logarithms they comfort me.

Thou preparest a solution for me in the presence of acids and bases: Thou anointest my head with relief; my answer booklet runneth over.

Surely 4s and 5s shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will totally owe TEDDY for ever.

So…yeah, that happened.

NT: Mark 4

Mark 4

Jesus stands in a boat and tells parables to a crowd of followers on the shore. He tells the parable of the soils again. When people are like “dude WTF,” Jesus is like, “No it’s cool. You guys can grok what I’m saying because God gave you the secret of his kingdom, but lame outsiders won’t understand what we’re talking about because it’s in a cool secret code.” Not sure what the secret of the kingdom is, or why Jesus doesn’t realize that even the in-crowd doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. Anyway, he explains why he’s preventing outsiders from understanding his lessons: “This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven” (12). I believe, in professional circles, this technique is known as “stacking the deck.” Alternatively, “douchebaggery.” (It depends which professional circle you’re in.)

Jesus explains the parable the same way as recounted in Matthew 13 – it’s about all the different pitfalls that can stop someone from being saved after hearing the word. He promises that all will be revealed in time, and that “God will evaluate you with the same standard you use to evaluate others” (24).

He tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven that I don’t think we’ve heard before: it’s like when someone scatters seeds on soil, then goes off to sleep and ignores them, and the neglected seeds grow to maturity, and then the farmer reaps them at harvest. Can anyone explain that one to me? I guess I’m one of the uncool kids that Jesus doesn’t want to understand his amazing lessons.

After retelling the mustard seed story again, along with a bunch of other unspecified parables, Jesus and his posse leave for the other side of the lake. On the way, there’s a storm, and while people are freaking out, Jesus is asleep. His followers wake him up and are like “um news flash we are drowning, so if you are planning on giving a shit, now’s the time.” Jesus magically ends the storm with his Jesus-powers and then scolds his crew for not having faith. Everybody is like “whoaaaa who IS this guy?!”

Highlights

I like Mark 4:24 (and the other instances where the same thought appears – I know we encountered it in Matthew at least once).

A big part of why I like it is that it inspired the title of a Shakespeare play. The KJV goes something like “For what measure ye mete, it shall be meted to ye again.” And my expert opinion is that Measure for Measure is probably Bill’s most underrated play. So…go read it.

But I also just like it because of how it echoes the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have others do unto you. It’s just too bad God operates outside the rule.

Lowlights

I don’t know why it’s so important to Jesus to selectively hide important salvation information from certain people. How cliquey of him.

Déjà Lu

OT: Psalms 18-22

Psalm 18

[This is David talking after God saved him from Saul.] God is awesome. He’s my rock. I was about to die but I asked him for help and he heard and saved me. His anger caused an earthquake. [And then, um, God became a dragon?] “Smoke went up from God’s nostrils; out of his mouth came a devouring fire; flaming coals blazed out in front of him!” (8). Smaug-God dispersed my enemies with arrows and lightning. God saved me and rewarded me for my righteousness, because I’ve followed all his rules. God, you are nice to good people and mean to bad people. You’re perfect. Nobody but God is divine. God makes me strong. God helped me annihilate my enemies. “I crushed them like dust blown away by the wind; I threw them out like mud dumped in the streets” (42). Thanks to God, “foreigners grovel before me” (44). Yay for God who “delivered me from violent people” (48) but then helped me kill them!

Psalm 19

“Heaven is declaring God’s glory” (1). Each day tells the next day about God’s awesomeness, and spreads the news worldwide. God built a tent for the sun. “The sun is like a groom coming out of his honeymoon suite” (5). It runs across the sky and heats everything. God is a perfect teacher, whose commands make people wiser and happier and healthier. His judgment is true. God’s laws are worth more than gold. God, please forgive any sins I have unknowingly committed, and prevent me from willful disobedience. I hope my words and thoughts please you, God.

Psalm 20

I hope God helps you when you’re in trouble. Let God protect you, remember your offerings, and make your dreams come true. Then we’ll celebrate. I know God saves his favorite people. Some people trust worldly things, and they will collapse, but we who trust God will stand strong. God save the king and give us what we want!

Psalm 21

God, the king is glad that you gave him what he asked for. You gave him life, glory, and happiness. Because he trusts you, he won’t fall. God, you will capture all your enemies, and “you will light them up like an oven on fire. God will eat them whole in his anger; fire will devour them” (9). You’ll kill their children, too, for good measure. They tried to hurt you, so you will shoot arrows into their faces. Yay for God’s strength!

Psalm 22

God, why have you left me alone? I cry out but you don’t answer. You’re holy and my ancestors trusted you and you helped them. People hate me and tease me for trusting you. “I was thrown on you at birth; you’ve been my God since I was in my mother’s womb” (10). A bunch of evil people surround me, threatening me, and I’m terrified. My strength is gone, my mouth is dry, and you’ve left me to die. They watch me and divvy up my clothes. God, come save me! Oh good, you’ve finally answered me! Now I’ll celebrate you and make others honor you because you listened to my cries for help. Let all the sufferers find God and praise him! Everyone will worship you because you are the only ruler. The strong and the weak all serve you, and people who aren’t alive yet will serve you too and tell their children how great you are.

Highlights

There’s one part in psalm 22 when David announces, for no apparent reason, “I can count all my bones!” (17)

Lowlights

Everything else. But also, the hypocrisy of thanking God for saving you from “violent people” and then killing them brutally. Also, David’s imperialist tendencies, where he wants to make foreigners grovel before him. By the way, David seems to get himself into trouble a lot. He constantly talks about being surrounded by his enemies and despairing and then being saved by God. Are all these psalms retelling of one battle, or is he just a terrible soldier who constantly needs to be rescued from death? Also, I dislike the hereditary nature of religion described in psalm 22. Children shouldn’t have people choose their beliefs for them, let alone fetuses. Oh, also, there’s that part where God eats people alive.

NT: Mark 2-3

Mark 2

Jesus goes back to Capernaum, and people flock to hear him. Some bring in a paralyzed man – because they can’t carry him through the crowd, they bust open a hole in the roof and lower him into the room where Jesus is speaking. Jesus is impressed with their creative problem-solving, so he tells the paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven. The legal experts in the room start mumbling and saying that Jesus is blaspheming because “only the one God can forgive sins” (7). Jesus basically tells them they’re stupid, and says, “Well, it’s easier to forgive sins than to make paralytics walk. Now you’ll know that the Human One can forgive sins!” Then he tells the paralyzed man to take his mat and walk home, which he does, amazing everyone.

This is what Levi said to Jesus later.

Jesus goes out and walks around teaching people some more. He sees Levi, a tax-collector, and tells him to follow him. So Levi follows Jesus…to Levi’s own house, where Jesus has invited himself over for lunch. Awkward. Jesus and his disciples eat with a bunch of tax-collectors and sinners. The legal experts are like, “Hey disciples! If Jesus is so cool, why is he hanging out with sinners? Huh!?” Jesus is like, “Dumbasses, sick people need doctors, not healthy people. I’m here for the sinners, not the righteous.”

Some people ask Jesus why John’s disciples and the Pharisees fast, but he doesn’t. Jesus says wedding guests can’t fast while the groom is still around, but soon the groom will leave and then they will fast. Then Jesus goes back to two metaphors I still don’t really understand: don’t sew a new patch on old clothes, and don’t pour new wine into old wineskins.

Jesus and his disciples walk through the fields picking wheat on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees freak out. Jesus says that the Sabbath was made for people, not the other way around.

Mark 3

Jesus goes to the synagogue, where there is a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees are looking for an excuse to arrest Jesus, so they watch to see if he will break Sabbath law by healing the man. But didn’t they just see Jesus breaking Sabbath law by picking wheat…? Anyway, Jesus asks them whether it’s legal to save lives or kill on the Sabbath, but they don’t answer. Jesus is angry and “deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts” (5). He heals the man’s hand and the Pharisees go to Herod’s supporters to plot Jesus’s death.

Jesus goes back to the lake and, as usual, people come from all over to see him and be healed, so he asks his followers to get a boat ready for him so he isn’t trampled to death. When evil spirits see him, “they fall down at his feet and shout, ‘You are God’s Son!'” (11) and then Jesus is like “shhhh don’t reveal my identity!” Which is odd since he keeps healing people and walking on water and shit. Also, why would evil spirits listen to his orders? Although the text ambiguously says that Jesus tells “them” not to say who he is, and it’s unclear whether “them” refers to the evil spirits, the people trying to be healed, or the disciples. In any case, his secrecy is weird since he hasn’t exactly kept his magic powers on the DL.

Jesus goes up a mountain and appoints twelve apostles to go preach on his behalf and gives them the power to throw out demons. Also he gives cool nicknames to some of them. He picks Simon, but calls him Peter. He picks James and John, but calls them the Sons of Thunder. He also picks Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, a different James, Thaddaeus, a different Simon, and Judas Iscariot, but they don’t get cool nicknames.

Jesus and his followers go into a house to eat but the crowds make it impossible. Jesus’s family comes and says he’s out of his mind and tries to “take control of him” (21). By Jesus’s family do we mean Mary and Joseph? Wouldn’t they know that he’s the son of God because of all the angel messengers and the immaculate conception and all that? So why would they ruin his plans by trying to have him committed? Anyway, the legal experts say he’s possessed by the devil and that’s how he throws out demons. Jesus is like, “Idiots. How could the devil throw himself out? A house divided will fall. If Satan fights himself, he’s screwed. I promise that humans will be forgiven for every possible kind of sin except insulting the Holy Spirit.”

His mother and brothers arrive. When Jesus hears that they’re outside waiting for him, he’s like, “What do you mean, my family is outside? My family is in here! All of you who obey God are my family.” Awwwww.

Highlights

I am a fan of the “humanity is one big family” trope (although obviously I wouldn’t make membership contingent on worship).

Lowlights

You know, this book is unnecessarily repetitive. We haven’t really heard anything new in this installment. Mark is just telling us what Matthew already did, and David is just writing more psalms that sound exactly like the other ones. It’s getting boring and I am running out of funny to make it interesting. =(

John the BAMFist Is Back!

Okay, folks. It’s my roommate’s birthday and we other roomies are waiting to surprise her when she comes home from rehearsal, so I’m just going to dip into the gospel of Mark until that happens. Speaking of which, here is an important PSA: through a series of rigorous scientific experiments (i.e. eating the extra cupcake batter that we baked in a mug), my co-birthday-surprise-conspirator and I have determined that this is the greatest recipe of all time. In fact, when we graduate, we are going to start a bakery that sells only this cake. Get on it.

Also, exciting news! Thanks to all you beautiful people, this blog’s all-time views broke 20,000 yesterday! Thanks for reading, sharing, and commenting!

NT: Mark 1

Mark 1

It's people! Soylent Fish is PEOPLE!

Mark starts by telling us, unsurprisingly, that Jesus’s coming happened just as Isaiah predicted. John is wandering around the wilderness baptizing people and getting them to change their hearts and lives. We get a lot of the same details as in Matthew: John wears camel’s hair and leather, eats locusts and honey (BAMF), and tells people that somebody cooler than him is coming and he (John) is unworthy to loose his (Jesus’s) sandal and so on. John baptizes Jesus, and then Jesus sees heaven split and a voice from heaven tells him “You are my Son” (11). Jesus goes into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by Satan but angels take care of him. John is arrested, and Jesus comes to Galilee and announces the good news that God’s kingdom is coming and tells people to change their hearts and lives. Jesus finds Simon and Andrew fishing and promises to teach them how to fish for people. Ditto with James and John. Jesus goes to Capernaum and teaches with authority and casts out a demon and freaks everyone out. Also he heals Simon’s mother-in-law, which I don’t remember from Matthew. People bring their sick and/or possessed loved ones to Jesus and he heals and/or exorcises all of them. He goes to a deserted place at dawn to pray alone, but Simon finds him and tells him everyone is looking for him (Jesus), so he (Jesus) decides to go in the opposite direction and keep preaching because “That’s why I’ve come” (38). Jesus heals a leper and tells him not to say anything about it to anyone, but the leper tells EVERYBODY and then Jesus tries to avoid the paparazzi by staying outside city walls, but it doesn’t work because people come to him.

Okay dudes, I’m actually falling asleep, so I’m going to hang up on myself before the sleepy-talk gets out of hand. This might have something to do with the impromptu wine-and-backrubs party I threw last night. But let’s not play the blame game.

Hail Mary Passover

 

Get it? Get it?! It’s a pun!

Anyway, this is exciting! I’m kind of glad I got so off-track with my thesis because now I’m on Matthew 26 and Jesus is about to celebrate Passover, just like me! Except Jesus is going to actually talk about God at his seder and also he is going to be betrayed and die. Whereas I will be going to the Harvard Secular Society’s seder, for which we are currently in the process of constructing a Haggadah which is, to say the least, a bit unorthodox. I can’t say for sure how much our Haggadah overlaps with his, but I am guessing that the Haggadah Jesus used contained exactly zero Gil Scott-Heron material. Also, I think we are probably going to make vegetarian matzo ball soup, which would probably make Moses roll in his sandy grave until he made pearls. Oh, and I don’t think there will be any lethal betrayal at our secular seder.

So! Let the passing over begin!

Matthew 26-28

Matthew 26

Jesus tells his disciples that Passover is two days away [JUST LIKE FOR ME RIGHT NOW] and he is going to be crucified. Meanwhile, a bunch of priests and elders plot to kill Jesus, but they decide to wait till after Passover so the people don’t get upset. A woman comes to Jesus and pours a container of really expensive perfume on him for no apparent reason. The disciples are like, “wtf, lady? you could have sold that and donated the money to the poor!” But Jesus is like “no it’s all good, she’s just preparing me to be buried.” Because it’s more important that dead people smell like flowers while they decompose than that poor alive people get food. Biblical ethics FTW once again!

Judas Iscariot goes to the scheming priests and asks what they’d pay him to betray Jesus; they give him thirty pieces of silver and he’s satisfied. Jesus sends his disciples to set up the seder at a local dude’s house. During the festive meal, when they’re all celebrating, Jesus decides to be a total buzzkill by announcing that one of them is going to betray him. He warns that the betrayer is going to wish he’d never been born. Each disciple asks if he’s the one who will do it, and when Judas asks, Jesus answers – according to this translation – “You said it” (25).

Jesus blesses bread, gives a piece to everyone, and says, “Take and eat. This is my body” (26). Then, as you can probably predict, he passes around the wine and says, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven.” Everyone sings happy songs and then goes to the Mount of Olives – which, you may remember, is definitely a reference to a take-out restaurant in my hometown. Jesus warns everyone that shit is about to get real. Peter is like “I will stick with you even while the shit gets real!” And Jesus is like “You say that now, but you’re going to deny me three times before the rooster crows.” And Peter is like “Nuh-uh!” but my money is on Jesus because he is God and all.

Next, Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane, partly to pray, but mostly to taunt me because “gethsemane” was the word that eliminated me from the freshman spelling bee because this was before I decided to start a ridiculous Bible blog. He tells his disciples, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying” (38), which is not very surprising since he has made it very clear that he knows he is about to die. In all fairness, though, this is one of the most moving parts of the whole Jesus story. Jesus prays to God, but God doesn’t answer him. He says he would really rather not go through with this whole thing, but that he will do whatever he must. Eventually Judas comes over with an armed mob in tow and shows them which one Jesus is by kissing him. (Sorry to ruin the moment, but don’t they all already know who Jesus is because he’s been running around healing lepers and walking on water? What new information does Judas really provide here? I’m not sure the betrayal is necessary for the arrest and crucifixion. Can anybody clear this up for me?)

Anyway, Jesus is a stoic badass about the whole thing, and tells Judas, “Friend, do what you came to do” (50). One of the other disciples tries to defend Jesus by hacking off a priest’s ear with a sword, but Jesus tells him to cool it because “All those who use the sword will die by the sword” (52). Wait a minute. Remember back in chapter 10, when Jesus said that he hadn’t come to bring peace, but a sword? What happened to that? Is this one of those “do what I say, not what I do” things? I think I’m going to have to call bullshit on this one.

Jesus gets put on trial before Caiaphas, the high priest. People give false testimony against Jesus, but he stays silent instead of defending himself. Caiaphas asks him if he is “the Christ, God’s Son” (63), and Jesus again responds, “You said it” (64). He also says people are going to see the Human One sitting next to God in the clouds, and the priest flips a shit and tears his clothes off and yells that Jesus has insulted God, and then the crowd gets worked up into a frenzy and spits on Jesus and beats him.

Meanwhile, Peter has been chilling outside while all this is going down. Three different people come up to him successively and say they think he’s with Jesus, and every time, Peter is like “Nope, I don’t know that guy.” Then a rooster crows and Peter remembers what Jesus said, and he bursts into tears.

Matthew 27

In the morning, the trial people decide Jesus should be executed, and they turn him over to Pilate. When Judas hears this, he feels bad and tries to return the blood money, but the priests won’t have it, so he throws the money into the temple and goes away to hang himself. The priests can’t put the money in the treasury because it’s unclean blood money, so they use it to buy some spare cemetery space for strangers.

Meanwhile, Jesus is being interrogated by Pilate. When Pilate asks if he’s the king of the Jews, Jesus responds, “That’s what you say” (11). I’m waiting for him to go for “I know you are, but what am I?” Maybe that’s in the Gospel of John. Anyway, Pilate asks some more questions and Jesus stays silent.

Now, Pilate has the opportunity to release one prisoner because it’s a holiday. He wants to release Jesus because he knows the priests only went after him out of jealousy, and because his wife had some bad dreams about killing Jesus. But when he asks the crowd whom to release, they clamor for Barabbas, another prisoner. Pilate relents and releases Barabbas, and washes his hands in front of the crowd in order to show that Jesus’s blood is not on his hands. Then he has Jesus whipped and sends him to be crucified, which sort of negates the whole hand-washing charade.

Some soldiers mock Jesus for a while, dressing him up in military uniform, putting a crown of thorns on his head, spitting on him, etc. On the way, some people try to give him vinegar and wine to drink. After some more torments, Jesus is eventually crucified in between two outlaws. Passersby and priests and so on keep insulting Jesus while he hangs on the cross. Even the two outlaws on the neighboring crosses join in the teasing, which I find a hilariously surreal image.

The whole earth goes dark for three hours. At 3 pm, Jesus yells “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (This translation has “left” – verse 46 – but it’s so much less poetic.) One guy offers Jesus a vinegar-soaked sponge to drink from, but everyone else keeps teasing him. Why do people keep trying to give him vinegar instead of water? Earlier it seemed like a deliberate taunt, but in this case I thought the guy with the sponge was genuinely trying to be nice. Maybe not? In any case, Jesus cries out again and then dies.

Then everything gets freaky! Earthquakes! Rockslides! Lightning! Zombies! The people guarding Jesus are like, “Oh. I guess he really was God’s son. Our bad.” Some women are watching this whole thing, which I think will become relevant later.

A guy named Joseph (not the one who was Jesus’s adopted dad, I think) asks Pilate for Jesus’s body and gets it. He wraps the body in a clean cloth and puts it in a new tomb he’s just carved out of a rock like a badass, then rolls a big rock in front of it. Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary who was the mother of James and Joseph (a third Joseph, I think? why does everybody have the same names?) are watching in front of the tomb.

The next day, all the Pharisees and assholes remind Pilate that Jesus kept claiming he would rise three days after he was buried. So they ask for permission to seal the tomb in order to prevent Jesus’s followers from stealing the body and claiming he’d been resurrected. Pilate agrees, so the bad guys go seal the tomb and put soldiers all around to guard it so nobody can steal Jesus’s body.

Matthew 28

A few days later, the two Marys come back to check out the tomb, and an angel appears to them and rolls the boulder aside and says, “Hey ladies. I know you’re looking for Jesus, but he’s not here because he’s been resurrected just like he said. Go look at his grave for proof. Then go tells his disciples that he’s gone ahead of them to Galilee.” They go to give the message to the disciples, but they run into Jesus first and worship him, and Jesus reminds them to go tell his posse that he’s going to Galilee.

The soldiers go tell the Pharisees and all what happened, and they bribe the soldiers to tell everyone that the disciples came and stole the body. But wouldn’t they realize by now that Jesus actually is the son of God and it’s in their best interests not to fuck with him anymore?

The eleven remaining disciples go to Galilee and meet Jesus and freak out and some of them don’t believe it but he calms them down and tells them to go spread his message around the world and “make disciples of all nations” (19).

Highlights

I do think that the idea of a god who can relate to humans by having actually experienced human suffering first-hand is really appealing.

Lowlights

I’m really unclear on why Judas is even necessary to the whole story other than to make it more tragic.

Running in Flip-Flops

NT: Matthew 25

Remember how I said we were going double-time? Then I realized that Matthew 25 has one of my favorite Bible bits ever and I would need to gush about it for a long time. Also, that it was 2:45 am. Also, that people probably don’t read my whole post when it’s four hundred pages long. (Okay, so I actually realized that a long time ago.) Since I don’t want any of you to OD on my snark, I might experiment with a modicum of self-control and try out some shorter posts for a while. This would probably mean spilling over the originally designated one-year time frame, but I’m willing to be a little bit flexible about that – but not too flexible, because part of the point of this whole thing is to bring myself (and whatever tenacious barnacles who have clung on for the ride) up to a respectable level of Biblical competency in a reasonable amount of time.

http://www.bogleech.com/nature/sessbarnacles.jpg

This is you. Look, you're kind of cute! You look sort of like pistachios. I love pistachios. It's a good thing. I promise.

What do barnacles even cling to? Whales? Ships? Whatever it is, I promise it was meant to be a compliment to you, my brave little barnacle-readers. It’s too late to back down. I’m just going to have to own this metaphor. If Lady Gaga can have Little Monsters, I can have my barnacles, dammit.

Matthew 25

We’re still talking about the kingdom of heaven, which is getting weirder and weirder. Here’s Jesus’s latest enlightening metaphor:

The kingdom of heaven is like ten bridesmaids who each have an oil lamp. Five of them are smart and have oil in their lamps, and five of them are stupid and have oilless oil lamps. The groom is going to pick them up but he’s late so they all fall asleep. When he comes, the smart ones are ready, but the dumb aren’t because they have no oil, so they ask for oil from the smart ones, but the smart ones tell the dumb ones to suck it and go buy their own damn oil. While the dumb ones are out oil-shopping, the groom leaves with the smart bitches. When the dumb ones show up to the wedding late, the groom is like, “Fuck off, I don’t know you.”

…Yeah, that sounds awesome. Sign me up.

Next:

Before a guy goes out of town, he gives some money to each of his servants, and the amount he gives him is directly correlated with how good they are at servanting. But I guess he was only giving them the money for safekeeping, because when he comes home, he demands his money back. The servants who got fives coins and two coins respectively proudly tell him that they invested it and made a profit. (It’s unclear who keeps this profit, the servants or the master.) The master congratulates them. But the servant who only got one coin reports that he buried it in the ground, and the master scolds him for being lazy. The master says that people who have much will get more and people who have little will get nothing. He banishes the lazy servant into the “darkness” where people are “weeping and grinding their teeth” (30).

Sounds like a kingdom for the 1%. No thanks!

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This whole ordeal has really problematized my assumptions about Scrooge McDuck's interiority.

Also, can we please reach a verdict on the status of the whole usury thing? The master tells his “lazy” servant, “you should have turned my money over to the bankers so that when I returned, you could give me what belonged to me with interest” (27). I have always heard that usury was allowed in Judaism but forbidden in Christianity, but I discovered in my last post that Exodus 22 (in the Torah) contains a commandment forbidding usury, and now here’s Matthew 24 (in the New Testament) shaming somebody for not embracing it. Whaaat?

Who could even think of sending these adorablobs into darkness and hellfire?!

Jesus tells everyone that when the Human One returns, he will separate good from bad people like sheep from goats. The righteous will “inherit the kingdom that was prepared for [them] before the world began” and enjoy “eternal life” (34, 46), but the jerks will be sent into “the unending fire” of “eternal punishment” (41, 46). Harsh.

BUT here is also one of the most beautiful, gorgeous, inspiring parts of the Bible that I LOVE. Like, definitely more than the Beatitudes. Jesus explains to the righteous what they have done to gain entrance to the kingdom: “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat….I was a stranger and you welcomed me….I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me” (35-36). The righteous people are confused and are like, “I think I’d remember if I visited God in prison…nope, not ringing a bell. Wtf?” And Jesus responds, “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me” (40).

YES.

YES.

YES.

So, first of all, the list of charitable acts is nice, because not only does it cover the basics (obviously it is good to feed the hungry) but also emphasizes the importance of treating the people on the margins of society with dignity and respect, even when it might make you feel uncomfortable: welcoming strangers, caring for the ill, etc. I am especially a fan of the visiting of the prisoners, because we tend to be really bad at extending sympathy and support and respect and helping hands to people who we perceive to have erred. But we all fuck up. We should be lifting those who fall down, even if we know they were running in flip-flops and kind of had it coming.

But verse 40 is even better. In fact, Matthew 25:40 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. This is one of many verses describing how strongly God identifies with humans. One of the things that’s so alluring about the Jesus story is the idea of a God who not only loved and sympathized with humanity, but actually experienced humanness firsthand, and lived as a human, and suffered as a human, and died as a human. In this instance, Jesus calls upon humans to treat each other as though every one of us was a god. Every single one. All the starving people: gods. All the orphans: gods. All the annoying old ladies: gods. All the bullies: gods. All the bullied: gods. All the prisoners: gods. All the judges: gods. All the people you disagree with: gods. All the hypocrites: gods. All the assholes: gods. You: god.

YES.

This actually reminds me a bit of Hinduism – “namaste” literally means “the divinity in me recognizes and honors the divinity in you.” I mean, the details depend on the translation, but no matter how you slice it, that is some serious syllabic-semantic economy.

Anyway. I don’t think this is necessarily the original intended meaning of the verse, but part of what I like so much about it is that it puts humanity on an equal footing with god. If you treat your fellow humans any worse than you would treat god himself, you’re not valuing them sufficiently. And this is really what Humanism means to me. I gave up theism – belief in god, love of god, awe of god – for Humanism – belief in humanity, love of humanity, awe of humanity.

Highlights

WE ARE GREAT, YOU GUYS.

I love us.

Lowlights

One important caveat to the badassery of humanity: I do think people have a tendency to be kind of speciesist about this whole thing. Homo sapiens is not the only awesome organism rocking our world. There are plenty of others who also deserve our attention, love, awe, and especially our respect. We should work on that.

The Rapture Will Not Be Televised

Cool Thing of the Day: This. Many of you know my good friend and co-blogger Walker Bristol. He works with me at both NonProphet Status and The Unelectables (which, by the way, will also be returning triumphantly pretty soon). He recently did a fantastic interview with Taylor Muse of the amazing Humanist band (yes, those exist!) Quiet Company, which was published in The New Humanist. Check it out!

NT: Matthew 24

Matthew 24

As Jesus is leaving the temple with his posse in tow, he prophesies that the whole thing will be demolished. Dun-dun-dunnn!!!

Then Jesus goes and sits on “the Mount of Olives” (3), which is almost certainly a reference to my favorite middle eastern take-out place in Evanston, Illinois. Jesus’s followers are like “So, you know all that terrible shit you keep talking about? When exactly is all that scheduled to go down? Cause I made a waxing appointment for Thursday, and it’s fine if I have to move it back, but, you know, I figured I should just check.” And Jesus is like, “James, what the fuck do you wax?” And James is like, “What? I have very expressive eyebrows! Who are you do judge me?!” And Jesus is like, “I’m fuckin’ God. It’s my job.” And James is like, “Oh. Right.”

…So.

http://www.pammybean.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/joe-swanstrom-i-survived-the-rapture-tshirt.jpg

...And all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

The disciples ask when shit’s going to get real. And Jesus is like, “A bunch of people are going to claim to be the Christ. Most of them will be lying. Don’t be fooled. There will be wars and natural disasters and people will hate you and kill you and everyone will betray each other and everything is going to generally suck. But anyone who makes it to the end gets salvation and a free t-shirt!” And everyone’s like “Oh, that sounds like a sweet deal. I’m down.”

Then Jesus warns that “When you see the disgusting and destructive thing that Daniel talked about standing in the holy place” (15), everyone has to flee to the mountains. You will not be able to stay home, brother. There will be no time to go home and pack up. Do not attempt to take your luggage with you. Put on your own mask before assisting others. Jesus suggests that people “pray that it doesn’t happen in winter or on the Sabbath day” (20). What would be so especially bad about it happening on the Sabbath? Because you wouldn’t be able to carry your children with you because you’re not allowed to carry things on the Sabbath? But I thought Jesus told people not to split hairs over that stuff if it interferes with the big picture.

Anyway, he warns again that there will be lots of false prophets, “and they will offer great signs and wonders” (24) in order to trick people. Interestingly, Jesus offers no criteria by which to differentiate himself from one of those deceivers. Hm.

http://images.wikia.com/harrypotter/images/6/6b/The_Dark_Mark_in_the_sky_over_the_Quidditch_World_Cup_campsite.jpg

The Sign of the Human One

After everyone runs away from the disgusting thing, the moon and sun will go dark (eclipse?) and stars will fall from the sky (meteor shower?) and planets will be shaken (earthquake?). Next, “the sign of the Human One will appear in the sky” (30). Then everyone will be sad and angels will come round up the faithful.

Then it’s time for a parable! We were probably overdue for one of those. When the fig tree gets leafy, you know summer is coming. Similarly, when shit gets real, you know Jesus is coming. Specifically, Jesus promises that it is happening very soon: “I assure that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen” (34).

Um…

Mm.

I can’t help noticing that most of the people who were alive at the time that Jesus [supposedly] said that have, in fact, passed away. And by “passed away” I mean “died,” because “passed away” is a stupid euphemism that just makes it hurt worse. Sugarcoating death doesn’t help anyone. They didn’t go anywhere else. They’re not off on a vacation. They just died. </rant>

Anyway, it looks like an extremely key part of Jesus’s prediction has failed in an epic way – which should, I think, call the rest of it into question…right? Anybody know how people explain this bit away?

Jesus goes on to promise that nobody will know when he is coming. You’ll just be going about your day, running errands, when BOOM! Rapture. I guess Harold Camping and William Miller missed that part. Whoops!

To the people who believe that God is coming and who do as they’re told, God will give all his possessions. But the people who don’t believe he’s coming, and who sit around and “eat and drink with the drunks” (49), will be fucked. (Um, didn’t Jesus say a few chapters ago that he doesn’t like when people give him shit for hanging out with drunkards? Pot…kettle?) God will come around when nobody’s expecting it – BOOM! rapture – and “will cut them in pieces and put them in a place with the hypocrites. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth” (51). Yeesh. That’s some Brothers Grimm shit.

Highlights

I’m pretty sure Walker’s interview with Taylor Muse was the only positive, life-affirming thing about this post.

Lowlights

Hypocrisy. Cutting people into pieces. Theories with poor predictive power. Four Loko chili.