February 9th, 2008

Bast

Jesus is just all right with me

Reading all four Gospels have confirmed what I've long suspected, and what many other people have said as well. While I don't agree with all of Jesus' teachings (for instance, he is reported to have said both that those who are not for him are against him, and vice versa, which I consider to be dangerous philosophies), he did say a lot of good stuff. When not being purposely mystical and mysterious (and it's John's Gospel that has the most of that, and seems to have contributed to a lot of the ideas of the Triune God), a lot of what Jesus did to rail against hypocrisy. "Judge not, lest ye be judged" and "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" are pretty good guidelines for anyone. I know I don't always notice the log in my own eye before noticing the speck in my neighbor's.

A few more observations about the Gospels, most of which have already been made multiple times, but...well, you haven't seen them here yet, have you? {g}

What a Paine! - Despite Newt Gingrich's assertion that the Founding Fathers were hardcore Christians, Thomas Paine (of Common Sense fame) was known to be a Deist, who believed in God but not Christ. Back in college (but not for class), I read an essay he wrote, where he mentions that a lot of the prophecies that Jesus is said to have fulfilled (particularly by Matthew) were taken out of context, and sometimes not even intended as prophecies in the first place. For instance, a passage from Isaiah 9 becomes essentially just a list of places in Matthew 4:12-16. Much more famously, there's the case of a verse in Isaiah about a "young woman" giving birth being mistranslated as a "virgin" in the Greek, and then being used by Matthew as a prophecy of Jesus' virgin birth. Of course, a virgin giving birth is pretty miraculous whether it was prophesied or not. (Incidentally, Matthew 1:25 strongly hints that Mary had other children in the normal way after the birth of Jesus, which doesn't really fit in with the idea of her perpetual virginity. There are also other references to Jesus' siblings, and I don't mean his brothers Satan and Hong Xiuquan.) And while modern exclamations have placed Jesus on a bike, a pogo stick, a sidecar, and various other means of conveyance, Matthew actually has him ride into Jerusalem on two donkeys at the same time, which some believe to be based on a misinterpretation of the repetitive language in Zechariah 9:9. The impression seems to be that any verse in the Old Testament was fair game for interpretation as a messianic prophecy, regardless of its original context.

O Little Town of Bethlehem - Was Jesus actually born in Bethlehem? Well, both Matthew and Luke say he was, while John 7:42 has people denying his status as Messiah because he isn't from there (although it's possible they don't actually know his origins). Whether or not he was, the census story in Luke seems a bit suspect. Why would a census require people to go to the towns where their ancestors lived 1000 years previously? It's a good thing they don't do that nowadays! It might make more sense if Joseph had originally been from Bethlehem himself, but even then, wouldn't census takers be more likely to be concerned with where the people were living at the time? Also, the passage famously quoted by Linus Van Pelt has an angel refer to Bethlehem as "the city of David," when that designation is usually used for Jerusalem. I believe Bethlehem is only eight miles from Jerusalem, which might make it a suburb by modern standards, but I don't know that that distinction existed back then. ("Unto you is born this day, in the suburbs of David, a savior"?)

Begin the Begat - Both Matthew and Luke are eager to show, by means of genealogy, that Joseph is a descendant of David. Their genealogies are totally different, though, from which son of David is Joseph's ancestor (it's of particular interest to me that Luke says he was a descendant of Nathan {g}) right down to the name of his father. I've seen it suggested that one of the genealogies (usually Luke's, I believe) is actually that of Mary, which is an appealing idea since Joseph isn't supposed to have been Jesus' biological father anyway, but I don't know that there's any actual historical evidence for this. The genealogies seem to have been fudged somewhat anyway, seeing as how Matthew's has only twenty-seven generations in what is commonly believed to have been 1000 years, and leaves out a few names from the Old Testament. One of the people in between David and Joseph on both lists is Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, the governor from after the Babylonian exile.

Deva Vu - While a lot of Jesus' sayings and deeds are mentioned in all four Gospels, they're sometimes described somewhat differently, and occasionally in a different order. One of the most blatant examples is how John has Jesus drive the money-changers out of the temple pretty early on in his career, while the other three have it occur not long before his crucifixion. And Matthew 14 and 15 have Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes to feed a crowd twice in short order, with the disciples being skeptical both times. I suppose a liberal Christian might say that, while Jesus did all of these things, some of the details had gotten confused over time. I'm not sure how a Biblical literalist would see it, though. Do they think Jesus did the same basic things over and over again, with an extra show on weekends?

Messianic Mess - A common explanation of the difference between Christianity and Judaism is that Jews don't believe Jesus is their Messiah. While this is undoubtedly true, I've been wondering whether Messianic Judaism is all that common nowadays, or if that was a popular idea in the time of the Greek and Roman occupations of Judea that's fallen in prominence over the centuries. Does anybody know?

My next stop will be the Acts of the Apostles, a book about which I really don't know that much. While a lot of the stories from the Gospels are very much in the public consciousness, it kind of seems like what's commonly known of Acts can be summed up with, "Saul of Tarsus had an epiphany on the road to Damascus, and decided to take a new name that rhymed with his old one."
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John and John Saw That Number

Hey, I got Here Come the 123s (the new They Might Be Giants kids' album, for those of you who just wandered in) in the mail today! I think I'll actually watch the DVD first and comment as I go, then listen to the album and add in any observations I might have missed the first time around. I'll probably only mention the visuals in cases where they're particularly interesting.

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Like ABCs, the songs on this album aren't among TMBG's best work, but would anyone expect them to be? For educational songs intended to teach kids letters and numbers, they manage to work in a lot of the band's typical humor and charm. I do think that, compared to the previous children's albums, this one seems less experimental, but also more consistent.
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    TMBG: Number Two
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