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A Little Bit of Old Testament Overview (so you can begin to understand the big picture)

A Little Bit of Old Testament Overview (so you can begin to understand the big picture)

I think it is safe to say that, outside of a few famous Sunday School versions of a few Old Testament stories, a handful of Psalms, and a number of select Proverbs, the majority of the Old Testament is completely ignored by most Christians. The reason is obvious: most don’t really know what the Old Testament is, and all those genealogies and really odd laws seem not only foreign, but ultimately needless and irrelevant.

The thing is, though, as I’ve learned from personal experience, and as I tell my students, not only will you never fully understand the New Testament without a basic grasp of the Old Testament, but the Old Testament in and of itself is worthy of study. That being said, though, it can certainly be daunting: it is so massive, seemingly disjointed, and so very confusing. Now, no written introduction can ever clearly explain everything about the Old Testament, any more than a brief introduction in high school history textbook can adequately cover the long and complex history of the United States. If you want to come to a more complete understanding of the Old Testament, there really is only one way: start reading and exploring the Old Testament world. It is only through personal interaction that one will ever even begin to make sense of the Old Testament.

The next two posts will provide you a few “exploratory aides” to help you in your journey through the Old Testament. This is part of my introduction to my own translation of The Torah and Former Prophets that I’ve just self-published. Consider them a sort of compass and map to help you navigate the Old Testament world.

The Old Testament Itself
The Old Testament is actually a collection of 39 books, written roughly over a span of 1,000 years, and it covers the entire history of ancient Israel. It contains narratives (stories), laws, poetry, prophecies, proverbs, as well as many other genres. We are going to focus our attention on Old Testament narratives and prophecy, but before we can do so, we must be sure we have a good understanding of the overarching historical story found in the Old Testament. The reason why we need to be familiar with the Old Testament story is because it defines who the people of Israel are, what they believe, and how they view the world around them. The same is true for any people or nation. If we were to put together an “American Testament” that told the story of America, we would probably include historical accounts of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the Vietnam War; we would include personal stories about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and other presidents; we would include important documents like the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Gettysburg Address; we would include major cultural figures like Babe Ruth and Martin Luther King; and we would include culturally defining plays, movies, and music.

All of these things together help define what America is, what its values are, and how it views the world. The same is true of the Old Testament: it is the story of Israel; and the reason why the story of Israel is important is because Christianity has its roots in the story of Israel. Unless you have some sort of understanding on the Old Testament story, then you will never fully understand what Christianity is all about. So what is the Old Testament Story?

The Old Testament Worldview that Unfolds Throughout Israel’s History
In a nutshell, the Jews believed themselves to be chosen people of YHWH, the creator God who was the only true God. They believed that He had entered into a covenant relationship with them, and that somehow, through them YHWH was going to put the world to rights and redeem His fallen creation. Therefore, the over-arching “meta-narrative” that runs throughout the Old Testament is the story of how YHWH is slowly but surely bringing about His salvation of the world through the nation of Israel, a flawed and sinful people. Despite their sinfulness, and despite the fact they continually break YHWH’s covenant, YHWH nevertheless stays faithful to His covenant in order to bring about the salvation of the world and the renewal of His creation.

The place where this all starts is in Genesis 12, with YHWH’s covenant with Abraham. But before that, there is Genesis 1-11 to consider, for Genesis 1-11 acts as the prologue to the entire Old Testament. It tells the stories of creation, the fall, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, and the Tower of Babel. By the end of chapter 11, the situation is this: God’s creation is lost, fallen, and sinful, scattered throughout the earth. The main question at this point is simple: How is the creator God, YHWH (the God of Israel), going to fix His good, but fallen, creation? Simply put, how is YHWH going to redeem His creation?

Abraham
The answer begins with Abraham in Genesis 12-25. The key passages we need to be familiar with are Genesis 12:1-3, and 17:1-22. It is God’s relationship with Abraham that really begins the Old Testament story of the Jews, the people of God.

YHWH’s Covenant with Abraham

In Genesis 12:1-3 we find three fundamental components to God’s covenant-promise with Abraham: (1) God promises to make Abraham’s name great; (2) God promises to make Abraham into a great nation; and (3) God promises that through Abraham all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Then, in Genesis 17:1-14, God promises a few additional things: (4) Abraham will not simply be the father of one nation, but of many nations; (5) the land of Canaan will be the Promised Land for Abraham’s descendants; and (6) as a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, God orders that Abraham and every male in his household be circumcised. This is why Abraham’s descendants, the Jews, have always practiced circumcision—it serves as the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, and a sign of God’s promises in the covenant.

Moses and the Exodus
The rest of Genesis (26-50) tells the stories of the Patriarchs—Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph—and ends with Jacob, now named Israel, bringing his family to Egypt to be with Joseph. The next major figure and event crucial to Jewish identity can be seen in Moses and the Exodus. The accounts surrounding Moses and the Exodus can be found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Most of us know the basic story: Moses, though a Hebrew, grew up in Pharaoh’s household, but had to flee when he killed an Egyptian taskmaster for beating a Hebrew.

Forty years later, God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told Moses to go back to Egypt and lead Abraham’s descendants, the Hebrews, out of slavery from Egypt. It was there that God revealed to Moses His name, YHWH. When Moses returned to Egypt and demanded that Pharaoh let the Hebrews go, Pharaoh refused; therefore, YHWH sent ten plagues upon Egypt, the tenth being the Passover, when the angel of YHWH passed over every house in Egypt and killed the firstborn in every house that did not have blood on the doorposts. That night Pharaoh let the Hebrews go, but later he changed his mind tried to capture them again. It was there on the shores of the Red Sea when YHWH parted the waters to let the Hebrews pass through to the other side safely. YHWH led the Hebrews with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; YHWH’s presence was among the Hebrews in the desert—they all lived in tents, and right in the middle of them was the Tabernacle: the tent where YHWH’s presence dwelt.

The Golden Calf

Later on, they came to Mount Sinai, where YHWH made a covenant with the Hebrews and gave Moses the Ten Commandments: the Torah. It was also there where the Hebrews made the golden calf and worshiped it and were punished. It was there the Ark of the Covenant was made. In fact, all through the Exodus, the Hebrews continually rebelled against Moses and continually displayed a lack of faith in YHWH. At the end of the Exodus though, in Deuteronomy, we find Moses with the Hebrews, right outside of the Promised Land, ready to conquer it. Moses led them to the Promised Land, but it would be Joshua who would lead them in conquering it. Nevertheless, it was during the Exodus where several key things crucial to Jewish identity happened:

(1) Passover was to be celebrated every year, to commemorate Israel’s freedom from slavery.

(2) The crossing of the Red Sea became a major symbol for YHWH’s salvation and the freedom of His people.

(3) The Tabernacle was the visible proof that YHWH’s presence was among His people.

(4) The Torah was seen essentially as the “covenant charter” between YHWH and His people—if the Hebrews were being made into a nation, the Torah was basically its Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Law Code.

(5) The Ark of the Covenant held special significance because that was where the Torah Tablets were kept, and it was understood to be the very footstool of YHWH—the spot where Heaven and Earth met.

(6) The Promised Land itself represented YHWH’s salvation—as long as the Hebrews were living in the Promised Land, they were living in YHWH’s salvation.

The Ark of the Covenant….According to Indiana Jones!

When all these things are seen together, one is able to get a clearer understanding on the Jewish worldview: it was all about salvation, YHWH’s presence, the Torah, and the Land. Passover and the crossing of the Red Sea signaled YHWH’s salvation of His people, the descendants of Abraham, out of slavery into freedom; the existence of the Tabernacle in the desert, along with the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud, signaled YHWH’s presence among His people; the giving of the Torah and the making of the Ark of the Covenant defined YHWH’s covenant with His people; and the Promised Land summed up YHWH’s inheritance for His people—it was their salvation, it was where YHWH would dwell with them, it was where all the promises of the covenant would be fulfilled.

In addition to these things, we need to relate this back to God’s covenant with Abraham. The Hebrews held to the practice of circumcision. We find that Abraham’s descendants, the Hebrews, were indeed being made into a great nation, and were on the verge of entering into the Promised Land. But exactly how they would “be a blessing to the nations” is still to be seen. If anything, when one reads Joshua and Judges, one sees war, immorality, idol worship, and slaughter—no “blessing” seems anywhere near. The reason why, we are told in these books, is because the Hebrews failed to be faithful to YHWH’s covenant. They didn’t fully conquer the land, they fell into worshipping other gods, and they oppressed the poor and needy among them. The book of Judges shows a cycle of behavior among the Hebrews: (a) they fall away from YHWH, (b) YHWH allows them to be oppressed by foreign nations, (c) they repent and return to YHWH, (d) YHWH raises up a judge (a leader) who defeats the foreign nation and frees the Hebrews from foreign oppression. Then it all starts again.

Tomorrow, I’ll post “Part 2” of my Old Testament overview.

All About MYTH: A Quick Response to a Facebook Discussion on Myth, the Gospels, and Jesus

All About MYTH: A Quick Response to a Facebook Discussion on Myth, the Gospels, and Jesus

I have not been posting too much this month because I have been busy with other things. Nevertheless, in light of a recent extensive Facebook discussion (and since I had to get my mind off the Cubs meltdown in the World Series), I thought I’d write this quick post. Let me say up front, I know it probably is not completely thorough, but hopefully it is worth the read.

When using the term “myth,” you have to be clear on HOW you are using it. If you are using it in the modern-slang sense, then “myth” is going to mean whatever you want it to mean, and you’re going to use it liberally to as a way to disparage any story or claim you deem false or impossible.

But if you are going to seriously try and understand ancient literature, you have to use the term “myth” the way it is used in scholarship when discussing ancient literature. As far as that is concerned, the fundamental question for any ancient work is “What is its LITERARY GENRE?” When you ask that question, you realize that the term “myth” is simply a genre of ancient literature, as opposed to ancient law code, poetry, legend, biography, etc.

baal
Baal

Generally speaking, the literary genre of myth (A) involves “the gods,” and (B) is NOT considered to be about historical events. The events of Marduk, Baal, Zeus, etc. all take place in a mythic realm, outside of time and space and history. The purpose of ancient myth is not to convey history, but rather to establish the basic “worldview” of that given culture.

In ancient pagan times, despite different cultures having different gods/goddesses and stories, the basic pagan worldview was the same: (A) the gods were associated with nature and were wholly unpredictable, immoral, and dangerous; (B) creation itself was made from the dead carcass of defeated gods (i.e. a rotting corpse); and (C) human beings were made to be worthless slaves of the gods, often created out of the blood or excrement of defeated gods.

Those myths taught and reinforced that worldview; they weren’t trying to convey historical events. Incidentally, that’s why ancient pagan cultures didn’t write “history.” Time was seen as cyclical, with events on earth just corresponding to the mythological stories of the gods. Even when ancient pagan kings wrote of their deeds in their annals, they were not written as “history.”

With the Old Testament, a radical shift in worldview and writing occurred. In the Old Testament, although we find similar mythological language in the early chapters of Genesis, as well as a few passages in Isaiah (27:1), Job (9:13; Ch. 41), and the Psalms (74:13-14; 77:16; 89:9-10; 104:7), the OT writers do something radically different: in Genesis 1-11 they actually blow up that ancient pagan worldview by insisting (A) there is one God, who is good and concerned with justice; (B) creation is good and orderly, and not the result of a battle between gods, with it being made out of the carcass of the loser; and (C) human beings are made in the image of the true God, and therefore have dignity and worth. And then they take that radically different worldview that is laid out in Genesis 1-11, and they proceed to tie it in to actual history.

alterThat insistence on the dignity and freedom of human beings is what inspired the writers of the Old Testament to relate the history of their people. In fact, Robert Alter calls much of the Hebrew narrative “fictionalized history” or “historicized fiction,” meaning that the Hebrews’ insistence on the dignity of human beings inspired them to want to tell stories of the human beings in their history as a people. In that sense, it was the Old Testament that essentially created a whole different genre of writing by breaking away from the standard pagan writing of myth, and focusing on telling actual stories about human beings who are worth writing about. And when you consider that, it would be wrong to equate “myth” with “fiction,” because “fiction” is still nevertheless set within time and space and history. Pride and Prejudice is fiction; Atrahasis is myth.

The unique thing about the Old Testament is that, even though it starts out with its own mythological stories about creation and the reality of the human race (Genesis 1-11), it then weaves those early chapters into actual historical time and place, with real people and events. Although it still often uses certain mythological imagery when describing certain historical events, the stories from Abraham onwards are not considered “myth.” After all, they purport to be about historical people in actual history.

When you get to the New Testament, it would also be incorrect to describe the gospels as “myth.” Biblical scholars will tell you that they are ancient historical biographies (at least Matthew, Mark, and Luke…John is somewhat different). They are filled with historical people and places, and therefore are clearly purporting to convey real historical events.

Here is where the confusion comes. Skeptics point to the miracle stories and the resurrection, and say, “Those cannot happen, therefore the gospels are a ‘myth.” But what those skeptics are really saying is, “We don’t believe miracles or a resurrection are possible, therefore the gospels aren’t true.”

But a story containing a claim that one doesn’t think possible does not make that story a “myth.” The gospels are still ancient historical biographies, even if they contain some claims that one might think impossible.

lewisNow yes, as with various passages in the Old Testament, the gospels contain a number of things that parallel certain myths. This is what makes them unique, for despite that, the writers are still purporting that these things actually happened in history, not some timeless mythic realm. This is the thing that ultimately helped convince C.S. Lewis to become a Christian. He was a literature professor, and he knew myth when he read it, and he knew a historical account when he read it. What struck him with the gospels is that they were claiming that these things really happened. It was “myth invading history,” if you will.

For example, in the Canaanite mythological Baal cycle, Baal at one point dies, then is brought back to life—this was understood, not as a historical claim, but as a mythical way to understand the change of seasons (think also of the Greek myth of Demeter). But in the gospels, the claim is that Jesus died and rose again in history; it wasn’t some mythical story to explain agriculture and harvest.

Having said all that, even if one doesn’t believe the claims made in the gospels regarding Jesus’ miracles and resurrection, one should not call the gospels “myth,” or the story of Jesus a “myth.” That would be mislabeling the genre of literature that it is. One can certainly say, “The gospels are historical biographies, and Jesus was a real person who seems to have led a messianic movement, but who was crucified by Pilate after he ran afoul of the Jewish religious leaders in the temple—but I just don’t believe those claims of miracles and the resurrection.” But one cannot be careless with the use of the term, and just label the gospels “myth” simply because you don’t believe some of the claims found in them.

So to sum up:

  1. Myths aren’t about historical events; they take place outside of time and space.
  2. Myths are intended to put forth the general worldview of a given culture. In regards to the Old Testament, if “all the world (and world history) is a stage,” the founding myths in Genesis 1-11 provide the backdrop to the stage of world history, so that the events and characters that come across the stage are viewed and understood against that mythic backdrop on the back curtain.
  3. Therefore, the stories of Abraham, the Exodus, the judges, and the kings are not “myth.” They purport to be about real historical people, albeit written as a highly creative story (i.e. “fictionalized history”).
  4. The gospels are understood to be ancient historical biographies about the real historical person of Jesus of Nazareth.
  5. Even if one does not believe the claims of miracles and resurrection, that does not change the fact that the gospels are not “myths.”

I’m sure much more can be said. This post is just a quick response to a discussion I took part in on Facebook. But hopefully this post has been able to clarify a few misconceptions about what “myth” means and about what the gospels are.

That’s the Ways of the Worldviews (A Book that Will Be Blog Posts This Year!)

That’s the Ways of the Worldviews (A Book that Will Be Blog Posts This Year!)

Back in the Fall of 2007, I started teaching Biblical Worldview at a small Evangelical Christian high school in Alabama. The headmaster essentially gave me free rein to develop an entire four-year Worldview curriculum from scratch—and I did just that. I created an Old Testament Worldview class for the 9th grade (i.e. basically OT Introduction), a New Testament Worldview class for the 10th grade (i.e. basically NT Introduction), a Church History and Theology class for the 11th grade, and a class I titled Worldviews and World Religions for the 12th grade—the first semester being an overview of Western culture, civilization, and philosophy.

003345Since my background was in Biblical Studies, the 9th and 10th grade classes weren’t that hard to put together. But when it came to things like Church History and Philosophy, let’s just say I had to do a lot of personal study and reading in those areas. In any case, in regards to my 12th grade class, I had to start somewhere, so I decided to use Francis Schaeffer’s book, How Shall We Then Live? I remembered reading it on my own early in college—it basically gives an overview of how Western culture and philosophy has developed ever since ancient Rome. I figured that would be a good “introduction” to Western culture and philosophy to high school seniors.

I ended up using that book for my eight years at the school, but with each passing year, the more I read and studied Western culture and philosophy on my own, the more and more I tended to disagree with many of Schaeffer’s views and claims. I found it somewhat simplistic in a number of areas. Since Schaeffer was such a devotee of Reformation Calvinism, his book gives (a) a very passing glance at early Church Christianity, (b) virtually no consideration to the rich legacy of Orthodox/Byzantine Christianity, and (c) an overly-negative view of Medieval Christianity, while (d) spending way too much time glorifying the Reformation, and virtually ignoring some of the key tragic consequences of the Reformation.

And so, year after year, I started providing supplements to Schaeffer’s book. My goal was eventually to write a high school-friendly introduction to Western culture and philosophy, and possibly get it published one day. As things turned out, I am no longer teaching high school, and am now teaching Old Testament at the college level. Although I learned a tremendous amount about Western culture during my years teaching that class, and although I even was able to bang out a very rough draft of the book I wanted to write, I highly doubt I will ever get around to ever finishing that book idea.

Nevertheless, I DID do all that writing, and I really do find that topic quite fascinating! I have decided, therefore, over the course of this next semester, to occasionally post various excerpts from my rough draft. Hopefully, I will be fortunate to get feedback from anyone who reads the posts.

History and Story-Telling
So allow me to just start off in this initial post with a few thoughts on the very idea of “history.” Let’s be clear on one thing: there is no such thing as “objective history.” All history is, in a sense, an exercise in storytelling. When you think about it, this should not be surprising. After all, anytime someone writes a book about some historical event or time period, that person is essentially trying to make a point about that event or time period. And since that author cannot possibly include every fact and every detail about a historical event or time period, he must choose what facts and episodes of that event or time period he will include in his book. So he selects and chooses the details, he arranges them in a certain way, and he attempts to convince the reader that his particular take on that event or time period is convincing, more true, or makes better sense than other attempts to explain that event or time period.

In effect, he is attempting to make his story about that particular historical event the most convincing way in which that historical event is understood. He hopes that his story is accepted above all other stories regarding a particular historical event, that his interpretation is more convincing than all others. But at the same time, since things in the past either really did or didn’t happen, some histories that are written are much more illuminating and truthful than others. Just because I say there is no such thing as objective history, doesn’t mean I am saying that “everything is relative” or that “there is no such thing as truth.” All I am saying is that anytime anyone writes anything about a history event, that person is going to have a limited perspective. Therefore, that person (hopefully) will do the best he can to articulate his perspective on that historical event, and (hopefully) that attempt will bring the past into clearer perspective for the reader.

And so, I am going to tell a story. In this story I am going to try to give my take on the major historical, theological, philosophical, political, and cultural events and time periods in Western history over the past 2,500 years. I want the reader to be able to say, at the end of this book, “This is where Western culture has come from, these are the major events and people that have shaped Western culture, these are the things that have gotten us to where we are today as a culture, and these are the issues of the 21st Century that Christians will have to wrestle with and address if they are to continue to be the prophetic voice that Christ has called them to be.”

The False Enlightenment (and Evangelical) Worldviews
EnlightenmentNow, for the past 200 years increasingly secular Enlightenment thinkers have successfully controlled the narrative of the history of Western society. Their narrative of history, though, has been far from honest. In fact, it has been purposely misleading and deceptive. The basic narrative goes something like this (I’m sure you’re familiar with it):

The ancient pagan society of classical Greece and Rome was a golden age of learning, philosophy, innovation and the arts. Yet when Constantine became the emperor of the Roman Empire in 325 AD, he cunningly seized upon the minority religion of Christianity and used it as the vehicle to destroy his opponents, crush all other largely pastoral and tolerant pagan faiths, and unite the empire under his iron grip. Christianity thus became the oppressive, irrational, superstitious, intolerant religion that destroyed the glorious ancient pagan societies of Greece and Rome, and ushered in over 1,000 years of intellectual, scientific, philosophical darkness over medieval Europe.

It wasn’t until the Renaissance when, aided by the rediscovery of those ancient classical authors of Greece, that the oppressive grip of the Church over Europe began to loosen. And then, with the coming of the Enlightenment, the dark stranglehold of the Church was broken, and a new era of progress, liberty, rationality, and science began to dawn across Europe. Yet, Christianity, being that hateful intolerant beast, continued to fight the emerging enlightened society that brought about secularism, logic, and science, and we are still witnessing the ongoing warfare between science and religion in issues like “creation vs. evolution.” “Religion,” we are told, is just part of human evolution, and that we are witnessing human society evolving away from religion, for it no longer holds any benefit to the human condition.

Does that sound familiar? Well, virtually everything in that narrative is wrong. Critical thinking people would rightly be wary of such a simplistic and over-generalized depiction of the past 2,500 years of Western history and civilization. I could probably write an equally over-simplistic worldview that has come to dominate modern American Evangelicalism: (A) Early Church = Good; (B) Roman Catholicism = Bad; (C) America was originally a Christian nation; (D) then the Supreme Court took prayer out of public schools, and the next thing you know, we have abortion and evolution, and Barack Obama! (Yes, I know, that is entirely over-simplistic, but that’s the point).

In reality, history is never simple, and is always complex. History is not a static, easily deciphered and clear progression from one point to another. There is an ebb and flow to history, a give and take, where one event is the culmination of countless smaller, seemingly unrelated and unforeseen events; and that event, in turn, spawns countless reactions and unintended consequences. Consequently, trying to understand how we got to where we currently are in our society is really, really hard and really, really time consuming. The posts I will share over these next few months are simply my attempts to understand these very things.

What to Look for…
The basic eras I will focus on are the following:

  1. The Greco-Roman World (500 BC-325 AD): This will focus on Greek Philosophy, Roman Culture, and the early Church within Roman culture
  2. The Byzantine Age (325-1054 AD): This will focus on the era during with Eastern Orthodoxy was prominent.
  3. The High Catholic Age (1054-1500 AD): This will focus on the rise of Catholic Church, from the time of the Great Schism, through the Crusades, and up to the Reformation.
  4. The Age of Revolution and Reform (1500-1800 AD): This will focus on the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Counter-Reformation, what I call the “Secular Revolution,” along with the Scientific Revolution.
  5. The Modern Age (1800-1900 AD): The rise of modern philosophy, the industrial revolution, evolution, and liberal theology.
  6. The Age of Fragmentation and Fundamentalism (1900-Present Day): Just think of what happened in the 20th century—there will be a lot to address.

That’s quite a lot to cover, but hopefully I’ll be able to put a lot of it into perspective. I’ll continue to write on other topics as well, from Young Earth Creationism to Biblical Studies. But I’m going to make a concerted effort to present my reflections on Western culture over the next semester.

A Brief Look Back at the Past Year…

A Brief Look Back at the Past Year…

It was just about a year ago that I wrote my first post about young earth creationism, and how dangerous I felt it was. My first post was entitled, “Why I am not Teaching This Year…and the Heresy of Ham,” In it I talked about how I was let go from a small Evangelical Christian School because I essentially did not adhere to Ken Ham’s young earth creationism. I was told I was not a “good fit” for the Biblical Worldview department, despite the fact that I not only had I taught Biblical Worldview for eight years, but I was the one who had developed all four courses of Biblical Worldview for the high school. That meant I was no longer a “good fit” for the very department and courses I had created.

It was a very painful experience, because I knew I had done nothing wrong. I wasn’t pushing evolution, or theistic evolution, or even young earth creationism in my classes. I did have one three-week unit for my seniors in which we looked at all the major views of the creation/evolution debate, but my goal was to have the students analyze and question each view, pure and simple. But apparently, because I personally disagreed with young earth creationism, that was grounds for my dismissal.

FB_IMG_1469234876929Over the past year, I have written quite a lot on this blog on not only young earth creationism, but also the new atheist movement, Biblical Studies, as well as some more personal stories. I’ve also worked on finishing my book that is now out, The Heresy of Ham, that makes the argument that not only is young earth creationism unscientific, but it is based on demonstrably wrong biblical exegesis. In addition, Ken Ham’s claims that Christians throughout Church history had always read Genesis 1-11 as literal history is absolutely false, plain and simple.

But if you read the end of my post, “Why I am not Teaching This Year,” you’ll see I had a few other goals for the year. In addition to finishing The Heresy of Ham (accomplished), I also wanted to publish my book, Getting Schooled, which is a humorous memoir of my crazy experiences as a high school teacher–I am happy to say that I completed that too, and it is available at Amazon.com. I said I also wanted to get closer to completing my translation of the Bible. Well, I have been able to get through a “rough translation” of the Old Testament, and am in the midst of polishing it up, little by little. Hopefully, I will have the Torah out within the next month or two.

I have been able to, though, go back through my translation of the New Testament, make a number of revisions, and correct a few mistakes. It is also available at Amazon.com. I title it: The New Testament: JAV (Joel Anderson Version)–not out of a sense of hubris, but actually as sort of an acknowledgement to the students of my class of 2001. For the four years I taught them Bible and English, occasionally sharing with them translations I had done of various passages, they were the ones who kept telling me I needed to translate the whole Bible. I remember one student in particular, Elliot Sagan, said I should call it “The JAV.” And so, hence the title.

I have also gone through a previous book of poetry I had written, and have also revised it a little. It is entitled Up Until August. It’s more of a personal project.

The other goal I had stated last year was to finish a Worldview book, entitled The Ways of the World, in which I trace the history of Western Thought and Philosophy. Well, I haven’t gotten to that. The rough draft I had last year is still a very rough draft. I eventually might finish it and try to publish it as a book, but for now I am leaning toward (at least at first) turning the chapters into various posts for this blog.

It certainly has been quite a busy year. We will see what this next year brings.

    

Reflections on Divorce…From Bright Avenue: The Songs of Bob Bennett

Reflections on Divorce…From Bright Avenue: The Songs of Bob Bennett

Welcome to the second year of resurrecting orthodoxy. One of the things I read last year as I was getting ready to launch this blog, was the bit of advice that said one should keep one’s blog focused—have Biblical Studies blog, or a Science blog, or a personal blog. Be very clear so that the readers will know what to expect when they visit your blog. Well, although in many ways that advice makes complete sense, it’s a piece of advice I don’t want to take. This past year, I suppose one could summarize the majority of my posts as falling into one of three categories: the New Atheist Movement, Young Earth Creationism, and Biblical Studies…with an occasional post about some personal experience.

I’m going to continue to be rather eclectic in my posts for the simple reason that I am more than just about Biblical Studies, and although I’ve written a lot about the New Atheist Movement and Young Earth Creationism this past year, in a lot of ways I wish I didn’t have to write about them. I was an English major in college, and I’ve always seen myself first and foremost as a poet, not an academic. And the reason for that is because I’ve always felt that what speaks most deeply to my soul comes in the form of poetry and songs—they are the creative expressions of the biblical truth and revelation that I discover in my academic study. In truth, they really can’t be separated.

In any case, as I look back and consider some of the most influential songwriters and songs in my life, particularly a number of Christian songwriters from the eighties, I am constantly amazed at how so many of the biblical themes that learned to articulate in my adult life were already there in the form of music during my teenage years and early 20s.

Bob-Bennett-Bright-AveOne of my favorite singer-songwriters of all time is Bob Bennett. His Matters of the Heart marked my late junior high/early high school years in ways I’m still realizing. I’ve already written on a few songs from that album here and here. In this post, though, I want to write on two particular songs from another album of his that came out (I think) in 1991: Songs From Bright Avenue. The backstory to that album was that he had recently gone through a divorce, and the album was essentially a look into his soul as he journeyed through that dark time in his life.

Now, when I listened to it as a twenty-something, I couldn’t relate to being divorced. But I’ve always had somewhat of a melancholy and brooding side, and the depth of many of those songs really spoke to me. A few years ago, when I was going through a divorce of my own, I found myself listening to Songs From Bright Avenue more than just a few times, and experiencing the heartache and pain of so many of those songs on a deeper level that I never knew existed. Here are my reflections on two songs from that album.

Here on Bright Avenue


The opening song, “Here on Bright Avenue,” introduces us to a man trying to piece his life back together after a painful divorce. I remember Bob Bennett had written in the CD jacket that the first place he moved into after his divorce was on a street named “Bright Avenue,” and he felt it was rather ironic and yet hopeful: at the darkest time of his life, he was living on Bright Avenue; yet at the same time, it pointed toward a hope of living on the other side.

As you listen to the song, the opening stanza is quite straightforward: the questioning of ever being able to be a part of a family again, the acknowledgement that you never wanted to be in this place, the feelings of loneliness and failure, and the realization that all one can do is keep breathing and focus on the present tense:

Living in this present tense is the best that I can do
It’s clear that I am supposed to be here…Here on Bright Avenue

The truth of those lines is not limited to someone trying to recover from divorce. They are applicable to anyone who has suffered loss, hurt, or disappointment. Too often I think we live our lives “in the future” without ever focusing on the present. We imagine what things will be like, the kind of person we will be, but we neglect focusing on what is and who we are. Why do we do that? I think sometimes it is because we don’t want to really look at our present situation and who we are because that would mean acknowledging our own fears and insecurities. Ironically, as painful as suffering is, oftentimes it forces us to look inside and acknowledge those dark places within our souls that need to be cleaned up.

Living in the present tense isn’t always exciting; and it is oftentimes hard—but it is essential if we are ever to become whole.

The second stanza begins with the lyrical beauty and deep honesty that I’ve long admired in Bob Bennett:

Hope that hides in darkness, healing under pain
Roses asleep in the winter, but the spring will come again

What can I possibly say in prose to further illuminate what these poetic lines so clearly express? It is one of the plain mysteries we experience at every facet of life, and see in the heart of the Gospel: life conquers death, but it doesn’t take the pain of suffering and death away—it is something one must go through in order to get to resurrection. And yes, in the middle of winter everything seems dead—at various times in our lives, we will experience the death of a relationship, a loved one, a career, or a dream—but once we come out the other side, once spring comes again and we experience a new life that we never knew existed before, we look back on those “winter” times in our lives and realize that things weren’t truly dead, they were “asleep” in death, and waiting to be transformed.

As beautiful as the entire song is, it is the third stanza that always gets to me, particularly these first lines:

If those who sow in tears will reap in joy somehow
Then surely I am watering my fields of future now

There were many, many times during my divorce in which all I did was cry. And when I wasn’t crying, I was on the phone, venting my anger and frustration into the listening ears of a handful of close family members and friends. I’ll say it now—I never knew I could swear so much as I did in so many of those conversations. There simply is no adequate way to describe the pain that one feels when one finds him/herself in that situation. As odd as this image might be, it feels as if a giant ice cream scoop that has been heated up in a furnace simply scoops out your entire chest cavity—not only are you hollowed out, but everything within you is burning.

Given that reality that divorce brings all too often, those lines are utterly astounding, not only in their brutal honesty, but also their incredible declaration of faith in God. Saying those lines when you are in the middle of so much pain is humbling, hopeful, and rather terrifying. For if God could take that kind of pain and bring about new life, He is more powerful than I can fathom; and that means I am more helpless that I can imagine, and therefore am completely dependent on His mercy. I never knew before how it was possible to be so confident and yet so terrified at the same time.

In any case, Bob Bennett ends the song with a tremendous declaration of confidence and hope. In the midst of going through the pain of divorce, he sings:

My feet will walk a golden street and when all is said and done
I will be found on holy ground as a good and faithful son
Walking toward a promise that frees this convict heart
The Lord will never lose me and He can finish what he starts
And when I least expect it, I believe these things are true
It’s as if to say I am on my way from here…Here on Bright Avenue

In all honesty, I don’t think I’m completely at that point yet. I guess you can say that there are parts of my heart that are freed, but there are still other parts that are “doing time” of that convict heart. I see a light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m still in the tunnel, and there still is a way to go. Hopefully the page will fully turn one day, “when I least expect it,” but until then, it’s just one foot in front of the other, living in this present tense.

If you have gone through a divorce, or perhaps more properly speaking, been the victim of divorce, I’m sure you can testify that it changes you. I’m still piecing things back together, and I’m well aware that the man I’m putting back together isn’t the same man who was broken apart. It’s hard to put into words.

Thankfully, Bob Bennett has written words that I can latch onto and take as my own.

I’m Still Alive Tonight
The final song on the album is called “I’m Still Alive Tonight.” It perfectly illustrates the loneliness many of us feel after a failed relationship, the frustration we often feel deep within our souls, and yet, in the midst of it all, that deep, brooding, mysterious sense that God will bring us through these uncharted waters. But instead of me saying too much, let me just share the lyrics and the song. I hope you enjoy it.

I’m still alive tonight, I can feel my heart beating
Emotions on the surface of my skin; I can hear my breathing
Wind upon those bedsheet sails, Spirit broods over the deep
I see an image of my Father, and he bids me: “Come and sleep”

No one is sleeping down the hallway; no one is here beside me now
And the loneliness, like a fever is hot upon my brow
I know life is more than just survival, but that’s all that I can see
I’m still alive tonight, and that’s good enough for me
I’m still alive tonight

Now For Something Completely Different: MY BOOK ON MY LIFE IN TEACHING! “Getting Schooled”!

Now For Something Completely Different: MY BOOK ON MY LIFE IN TEACHING! “Getting Schooled”!

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I want to take the time to shamelessly promote my self-published book entitled, Getting Schooled: The Lessons, Plans, and Life of a Teacher. It is a collection of humorous stories from my years in education, from student teaching, to my time teaching overseas in the Peace Corps, to my time at three different small Christian schools. If you are a teacher, or if you are someone planning to go into teaching, this book will be a humorous and realistic look at the day to day experience of teaching that all teachers can relate to.

You can purchase it at either createspace or on Amazon. The paperback is $7.99 and the Kindle is $2.99. Here is an excerpt from the book.

Freshmen Elections

My first year of teaching in California almost ended before it really began; at least that is what I thought at the time. Before the school year began, the principal had convinced me to be the one of the advisors for the class of 2001. The principal assured me that the “real work” of being a class advisor didn’t really happen until their junior year, when they had to plan the Junior-Senior prom. As far as the freshman and sophomore years were concerned, all I really had to worry about was electing class officers and assisting the class during “Spirit Week” that took place in late February. “It’s a pretty easy way to make an extra $1000,” he told me. So, for an extra $1000, I held my breath and took the plunge…

…And almost never came back up for air. The event that almost caused me to suffocate and drown was the dreaded freshman class elections at the end of the first week of the 1997-1998 school year. Not only did I almost sink deep into the depths that all first year teachers know all too well within my first week of teaching, I almost dragged down every single student in the freshman class with me.

As every first year teacher knows, there comes a time, normally early on in that first year, when you realize that you have absolutely no control of the situation; that the students have your entire fate as a successful teacher in their hands, and are madly bouncing it around like a rubber ball. And since you are an inexperienced novice of a teacher, you do what comes naturally—you panic…and scream at the top of your lungs, thinking that such an outburst will frighten the unruly mob, only to come face to face with the realization that your outburst just adds to the day’s entertainment.

The fateful day started ominously. We were going to be on a special schedule that would allow one full period for each class to have their elections. The class advisors would run the elections and allow the students who wanted to be class officers to give their speeches. After that, the class would then cast their votes. I had to somehow conduct the elections alone and corral 90 freshmen during class elections in the gym. The equation went something like this: me + 90 freshmen + the school gym + 45 minutes = impending chaos. Picture the students as hurricane Katrina, the school gym as New Orleans, and me as the levees. It would be just a matter of time until the levee was going to break.

The bell rang and the freshmen made their way to the gym. Amazingly enough, within 10 minutes I had actually gotten them seated together on the bleachers. Score one for the new guy! The next challenge would be to make sure the aspiring student officers would stay within the five-minute time limit for their speeches. This would not be a problem at all. In an ironic twist of fate, though, this turned into an even bigger problem.

I don’t know what it is like in most high schools, but it has been my experience with the schools I have taught in that there are not exactly a lot of willing candidates for class officers. First, there is the president (normally 2-3 candidates); second, there is the vice-president (2-3 candidates); then there is the secretary (i.e. the friend of one candidate who got talked into doing it); finally there is the treasurer (another friend who acquiesces to be the treasurer the morning of the election). One might think that this would be ideal; after all, that means about 5-8 speeches. That would mean about 30 minutes of speeches and about 20 minutes for voting—perfect timing! That should take up the full period!

Well, not necessarily. Freshmen speeches for class officer can be categorized in one of three ways. First, there is the typical freshman class speech: “Hi…I’m Mike…uh, you know that….Well, I think it would be cool to be class president cuz…ah, I don’t know…just because. I want to help the school…maybe get more snacks in the cafeteria…and… um…yeah, that’s about it.” WOW! That took all of 45 seconds! How long did this aspiring bureaucrat work on that tremendous feat of oration? Granted, these are freshmen, but you’d think one would come up with something more than more snacks in the cafeteria. Second, there is the speech of the one running unopposed: “Hey, I’m Julia! I’m the only one running for treasurer, so looks like I’m it!” WOW! Ten seconds! That must be some kind of record! And let’s face it, it’s kind of gutsy! After all, even psychotic dictators like Joseph Stalin and Saddam Hussein at least would play along and actually give speeches to at least put forth the illusion of democratic elections.

Finally, there is the speech of that one eager beaver who would talk for the entire period if she could, going on about how she really wants to make this year the best ever, and how she has a laundry list of reforms and proposals that, if the class would get behind, could really make a difference. Unfortunately, it is precisely this kind of student who is not well-liked by most of the class and who doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to win.

Total those riveting freshman speeches up together, and what you have is a lot of extra time on your hands. In my case, even after I passed out the ballots, had the students cast their votes, and had collected them, I realized that we still had 30 minutes to kill. So, what do you do? I announced to the students that they could sit on the bleachers for the next half hour and talk with their friends until the bell rang. It was at that point that one student raised his hand and asked, “Could we stand up and just walk around in the gym?” I responded, “Sure!” After all, what’s the harm in that? I thought everything would be cool.

Well, it wasn’t cool. What I learned very quickly is that absolutely NOTHING freshmen do is EVER “cool” …or calm…or relaxed. Within the first few minutes, a few freshman boys got into the basketballs and started shooting baskets. Yet within the next few minutes, they had started to play impromptu games of dodge ball with the basketballs. So I went over to them and said, (no, I had to yell a bit, due to the rising decibel level of the freshman noise), “Hey guys! Don’t be throwing the basketballs at each other, okay? I’m not even sure we’re supposed to have them out! So just shoot baskets, or we’ll have to put them away!” Then, since I assumed that they would actually respect my authority, I simply walked back to the other end of the gym to chat with some other students who wanted to hear about my time overseas.

Now, please note a few things about what I said. Virtually everything I told them was wrong. Note first the “okay?”—it doesn’t really evoke “teacher authority” now, does it? It sounds like I’m asking their permission to allow me to tell them to not pelt each other in the head with basketballs. Then, note my second blunder: “I don’t know if we’re supposed to have them out!”  That tells the students, “This guy thinks what we’re doing might be wrong, but isn’t going to do anything about it!” This then plants the thought into their brains, “What else can we get away with?” Finally, I simply walked away, without making sure they actually did what I told…no, politely asked…them to do.

This kind of insight only comes after the kind of experience I endured that day. Five minutes after I walked away, the levee started to break. As I was talking with a few students on the other side of the gym, I happened to look up to see what was going on. By now it had gotten really loud, to the point where I was thinking I needed to tell them they should probably sit down and just talk a little more quietly. To my horror, I saw something I never thought I’d ever see as a teacher: a large group of the freshmen had assembled at the base of the bleachers and had their hands up in the air. They were awaiting the arrival of little Michael Nolf, who had just jumped off from probably the fifth row of the bleachers and who was, at that very moment, flying through the air….getting ready to bodysurf across the gym!

My very first thought screamed through my brain, “I AM SO FIRED!” My very first action was to proceed to scream my head off and possibly do irrevocable damage to not only my vocal chords, but also to the eardrums of the innocent girls who were unfortunate enough to be standing right next to me at the time. Even though we still had about fifteen minutes before the bell rang, I fully intended to keep screaming until the bell rang: “HEY!!!!!! ALRIGHT! EVERYONE GET BACK IN THE BLEACHERS AND SIT DOWN! SIT DOWN! SIT DOWN! GO! GO! GO! RIGHT NOW! SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP! NO TALKING! I MEAN IT!”

The problem with this sort of wild-eyed crazy approach to discipline is that, although it understandably terrifies the more timid and “good” students, it actually backs you into a very small corner—you’ve unloaded your discipline clip and your discipline gun is now empty. And the kids know it!

As I was screaming for all the students to get back in the bleachers, there were a handful of boys who were not intimidated in the least. In fact, they viewed the whole scene as an opportunity for the spotlight, and proceeded to mimic my actions and laugh at how ridiculous I looked. Well, this was something I simply could not tolerate, so I unloaded another salvo of anger: “THIS ISN’T FUNNY! GET BACK IN THE BLEACHERS! SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!!!” But, as I said before, my discipline gun was out of bullets. Their leader, Marco, was not intimidated at all and aped a few more gestures aimed to humiliate me. And so…. “MARCO! COME HERE!!!” (What was I going to do? I hadn’t thought that far ahead! I was too blind with rage!) “MARCO! GO SIT IN THE CORNER OF THE GYM! GET THAT CHAIR AND FACE THE WALL!”

The reason that was a mistake was that now I had literally given Marco the entire gym floor as a stage. He sat down in the chair next to me, beaming. “NO! OVER IN THE CORNER!” So he started scooting his chair along the gym floor as he remained seated. “GET UP AND WALK OVER THERE!” So he got up and started walking to the corner…. “NO MARCO! TAKE THE CHAIR!” Finally he made his way to the far end of the gym and just continued to make faces when I wasn’t looking. I felt like a helpless fool.

The ironic thing about my horrific baptism into the world of high school elections, though, is that over the course of the next four years, that class and I developed a real bond, and that day eventually achieved iconic status in our collective memory as a class. In fact, the students and I realized it was going to be something memorable by the following Monday. You see, the one thing about that whole event that I did right really was how I handled it after the fact. When those students came back into my class the following Monday, many of them apologized for acting so crazy. I in turn apologized for temporarily morphing into Satan…and then I couldn’t help but crack a smile and laugh.

Soon we were all laughing about it. After all, the whole scene really was funny! A sense of humor goes a long way in teaching. It helps smooth out the rough edges and sooth hurt feelings and potential festering resentment, and in cases like the freshman class elections of 1997, a sense of humor, coupled with a little bit of humility, has the power to transform the panicked thrashings of a first-year teacher drowning in despair into an endearing and fond memory of a miraculous walk on the sea.

In fact, when I e-mailed some of my former students from the class of 2001 for ideas for this book, almost all of them insisted on me telling this story. Make no mistake though, even though I can laugh at it now, at the time I suffered a horrific baptism in the life of teaching. Baptism signifies a death—it is going down in the waters of chaos, and coming up born anew. And on that day of the freshman class elections in the fall of 1997, the levee broke, and prayin’ did me no good. I was going down.

 

Twitter Conversations: The Bible, Objectivity and Subjectivity

Twitter Conversations: The Bible, Objectivity and Subjectivity

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In the course of my Twitter conversations over the weekend, the atheists I talked with were, by and large, a lot more open to discuss than were the Hamites, and there were a few guys with whom I was able to have a civil discussion and clarify a few things. Nevertheless, it is hard getting to that point because in the “Twitterverse” it is much too easy to just get caught up in the a cage match, rather than a discussion. Ken Ham posts what he posts because he’s looking to stir things up and tick people off, and the people who comment are people who are ready to be ticked off, and who want to land a few punches themselves.

In any case, I’ve found that at the very least that the atheists who comment in these “creation/evolution debates” at least have a handle on what evolution actually is, although it’s clear to me that they don’t have a good handle on what the Bible is or what historical Christianity really is about. The Hamites on the other hand not only do not know what evolution really is, but they also have an understanding of the Bible that is particularly wanting.

Thus, I’ve found that both the Hamites and many atheists have this notion that the whole purpose of the Bible is nothing more than to make crazy supernatural claims and to dictate morality. Therefore, both sides tend to think that the whole Christian life consists of (a) mentally asserting that those “crazy” supernatural claims really happened, and (b) obeying God’s Law so you can be a good boy.

It is on this point, that of understanding just what the Bible is, where the root problem in the whole “creation/evolution debate” lies. If you understand what the Bible is, then you’ll see that science and evolution are not a threat or a problem. If you can do this, then you can let science do science, and you can get around to the business of actually interacting with the Bible on its own terms, rather than trying to reduce the Bible to make it fit in with modern scientific paradigms, and thus render it useless.

The Twitter Question of Objectivity vs. Subjectivity
This question of what the Bible is came up in one of my conversations on Twitter over the weekend. I had made the point that Genesis 1-11 isn’t doing science, and isn’t attempting to give actual history. Ken Ham was wrong for claiming it does, and therefore it is equally wrong for an atheist to say Genesis 1-11 “isn’t true” because it isn’t scientific and historical—it’s not trying to be. It’s a different genre. Well, a certain atheist (we’ll call him “Jeff”) pointed out that was just my opinion, and that other Christians think it is science and history. That was one of the reasons why he rejects the Bible: there’s nothing objective to it; it’s all subjective. My claim that Genesis 1-11 wasn’t science/history was just another subjective claim with no proof.

His major bone of contention was that since the Bible (particularly Genesis 1-11) is interpreted so differently among the 20,000+ Christian denominations, that it was impossible to know precisely what was really true or not. There was no objective standard to know what the Bible was, therefore all of it was unreliable. Science, for him, was the only objective means for ascertaining truth.

For example, I said Genesis 1-11 is in the genre of myth. He basically responded with, “How do you know?” If Genesis 1-11 really was myth (and not history), then, “Why is this not stated in the book itself? Why do you get to make the subjective decision on the matter?”

I responded by saying the original audience would have understood what Genesis 1-11 was, therefore there was no need to explicitly state, “Hey, this isn’t history, it’s myth.” We need that, because we’re not them; we are not living in their time, and therefore we are going to miss some of what was obvious to them.

Jeff’s response was, “Exactly. But one should assume that the ‘Perfect Word of God’ would not be subject to clarification.” He then restated his basic question: “I’m just trying to understand why you would claim something as true which cannot be shown to be true.”

Now, if you take the time to think about it, Jeff’s question is a very good one. In fact, it gets to the heart of the reason why so many people, both Christians and non-Christians alike, get so tripped up in not only “creation/evolution” questions, but questions regarding the Bible in general. The basic assumption is this:

The Bible is (or claims to be) a perfect book written by God. Therefore, its sole purpose is to make historical/scientific claims and to dictate God’s Law of morality.

That assumption is more akin to the Muslim view of the Koran than the historical Christian understanding of the Bible. If you’re working from that assumption, there’s a whole lot you won’t be able to understand. And that’s why Ken Ham and young earth creationism (and to an extent, much of Evangelicalism) is so problematic: the very way they present the Bible has led to needless confusion and frustration.

So let’s see if I can help the situation.

What is the Bible, Objectively Speaking?
Let me first say, I’m not going to try to give a full and comprehensive explanation of the Bible. That could very well take a book in and of itself. What I am going to try to do is just clarify a few details that stem from “Jeff’s” question regarding the Bible, objectivity and subjectivity.

First off, the Bible is not some sort of “perfect” book that dropped out of Heaven, directly from the throne of God. It is, in fact, an anthology—a library, if you will—of what is considered to be the inspired writings of the Jewish people (and later, with the New Testament, that of the Church as well). Christians believe it to be inspired, but it is not (or should not) be seen as one monolithic rule book/fact book.

Being an anthology, it is comprised of many different types of writing and literature: legal documents, narrative, poetry, wisdom literature, songs, parables, myth, as well as many others. Simply put, it is a creative work that does a lot more than simply convey history (although it obviously does that). It interprets that history in order to show God’s purposes in history.

Regardless of whether or not you are a Christian, when you come to any piece of literature, be it biblical or otherwise, part of what you need to do to make sure you can read and interpret it correctly is to make sure you understand the particular genre of that given text.

Figuring out the genre of a given text is not a matter of subjective opinion. For example, is Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son a parable or historical account? It’s a parable—that’s not open to opinion. If you think Jesus is trying to convey a historical event, you are getting it wrong. It is objectively a parable, because we know the characteristics of a parable and we can measure and compare the Prodigal Son to that criteria and conclude that yes, it is a parable.

The same holds true for most everything else in the Bible: we can say objectively that Psalms as poetry, that Proverbs is wisdom literature, that I Kings is historical narrative, etc.

Yeah, but what about Job and Jonah?
Having said that, there are parts in the Bible that Christians don’t agree on, parts like the book of Job, Jonah, and Genesis 1-11. Evangelicals like Ken Ham see these three all as historical accounts. The fact is, though, the question regarding what these are is not just a subjective quagmire. Ken Ham is objectively wrong to claim these are historical. Job is clearly categorized along with the Wisdom Literature in the Hebrew Bible; Jonah has all the hallmarks of a parable; Genesis 1-11 has all the characteristics of ancient Near Eastern mythology. These are not in dispute by the majority of scholars who have studied them.

Granted, there are many Evangelicals like Ken Ham who dispute this, but they are provably wrong. If “Jeff” is going to discount the entire Bible as subjective, and therefore unreliable, simply because there are some people who disagree with the scholarly consensus regarding the genre of Job, Jonah, and Genesis 1-11, he would have to discount the theory of evolution as subjective and unreliable as well—after all, the same people who think Job, Jonah, and Genesis 1-11 are historical are the same people who think evolution is an atheistic religion.

My point is simple: there are things that can be objectively known, but that won’t stop some people from rejecting that known reality and coming up with their own bizarre claims that are not rooted in reality. Even though some things are objectively true, that will never mean that 100% of people will agree with that objective truth.

This is the problem with young earth creationists: they present a demonstrably false picture of parts of the Bible that is not rooted in reality, and that has caused them to reject the objective scientific truths of evolution—those scientific findings conflict with their already false understanding of Genesis 1-11.

What is the Bible, Subjectively Speaking?
This is not to say that everything in the Bible, when it comes to genre recognition, is clear-cut. There was a historical figure of Jonah, but the story about him is in the genre of parable: so how those two facts coincide leads to scholarly debate. Genesis 1-11 is in the genre of myth, but at the same time what it is doing is something drastically different than your typical ancient Near Eastern myth—how does that work? That opens the door for scholarly debate. It is at this point that the notion of subjectivity comes is.

Once the genre is clarified (and this is a fairly objective, clear-cut enterprise), the next step involves understanding and interpreting what is being said, and this can be subjective, but not entirely. When authors write, they are writing to convey something, and if we believe that communication is possible—that it is possible for us to use our reason to correctly figure out what the author intended—that meaning can be objectively known.

Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son was spoken to address the Pharisees who complained that Jesus was hanging out with the wrong kind of people. The point of the parable, therefore, was to say, “The Kingdom of God has arrived, and it is welcoming to those who have gone astray; therefore, you Pharisees are like the eldest son, who is really good at keeping the rules. The father’s challenge to the eldest son is my challenge to you: are you going to join the celebration that the Kingdom of God is saving the lost, or are you going to pout and keep away, because you think you deserve it?”

That’s the point of the parable. You can use your reason, read it in context, and figure it out. Of course, the truth that the parable is conveying isn’t simply some “objective fact.” It is an existential challenge, and therefore subjective in the sense that it is fundamentally relational. The point isn’t to convey facts, but to issue a relational, existential challenge.

The same goes for Genesis 1-11: its point is not to convey historical/scientific facts. It is mythological literature that is trying to convey the truth about the nature of God, creation, and mankind. It’s not trying to claim that the universe was literally created in six days, a mere 6,000 years ago; it’s claiming that God has brought order and purpose to the universe, and that it is good. The “six days” format is a poetical/mythological way to creatively explain this existential truth; it’s not a scientific claim.

This is not my “subjective opinion”—it is objectively clear that Genesis 1-11 is not trying to give “scientific objective facts.” It is objectively clear that Genesis 1-11 is mythological literature that is trying to explain things like the purpose and meaning of creation, and the nature of God and mankind.

What Does All This Mean?
Let me wrap this up and bring it back to Jeff’s question: “I’m just trying to understand why you would claim something as true which cannot be shown to be true.”

When it comes to objectivity, there are some basic things about the Bible that can really be known, namely the genre of its various writings. I would argue that my claim that Genesis 1-11 is myth is an objective claim that can indeed be shown to be true. If you use your reason, and look at Genesis 1-11 in light of other ancient Near Eastern myths, it becomes abundantly clear that that is its genre.

Now, even though I can prove it, that doesn’t mean everyone is going to accept it. Like with everything, there will always be those who refuse to acknowledge objective reality, whether it be that Al-Qaeda blew up the twin towers, that the earth revolves around the sun, or that Genesis 1-11 is mythological literature. Just because some people might not accept it doesn’t mean the Bible is all a matter of subjective opinion—it just means Ken Ham is wrong.

Yet, when it comes to the existential claims that are being made in a text like Genesis 1-11 (i.e. there is one God, creation is good, etc.), those claims are not “objective” claims in any scientific sense—they are by their very nature existential claims, and therefore cannot be “proven objectively.”

I believe there is a God and that He has created this world. I also believe evolution is the process by which He continues to create. An atheist and I will agree that evolution is that natural process that brings about variety within the natural world—that can be objectively shown. But whereas I believe there is a God behind that process, the atheist will disagree. But he can’t point to evolution as proof that he is right on the question of the existence of God, for evolution doesn’t and cannot address that issue.

Now, most of this post has had its focus on claiming that it can be objectively known what type of genre Genesis 1-11 is. When it comes to understanding what various books/sections of the Bible are in terms of genre, objective claims can be made an proven, similar to the way scientific claims in nature can be objectively claimed and proven.

The difference, of course is that whereas photosynthesis simply makes provable claims concerning what happens in plants, it isn’t trying to do anything more than that. In the Bible, particularly with historical narrative sections that relate historical events, they are not limited to just stating facts—they are trying to convey meaning to those facts in history. For example. II Kings 18-20 tells us about the historical facts surrounding Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah, but it’s not just relating facts. It’s telling a story about those events in the attempt to convey something about God’s purposes. You might not believe what II Kings says about what those events meant in the grander scheme of God’s purposes, and you might even question some specific facts. But if you’re honest, you’ll have to believe that II Kings 18-20 is telling of a real historical event.

It is in this sense that everything in the Bible is considerably different than the field of modern science. It’s not just trying to describe natural phenomenon—it is conveying human history, and testifying to the reality of something that is beyond mere nature, but yet that makes itself known within history.

And so, the question is not whether or not what is contained in the Bible is “objective”—it isn’t. It is written with purpose, creativity, and a point of view, even the parts that deal with history. Still, the parts that deal with history are historically reliable.

The question as to what genre certain sections and books in the Bible are—that is (for the most part) pretty objective.

But I’ve rambled on long enough…although not one of my more coherent posts, hopefully this has been interesting and thought-provoking.

Biblical Intertextuality: Jonah and A.I.

Biblical Intertextuality: Jonah and A.I.

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The final movie I want to discuss is the science-fiction film A.I.  It is unique in that although it contains much of the same imagery and symbolism found in Pinocchio and the story of Jonah, and although the ultimate theme deals with the hope of re-creation and resurrection, A.I. in fact denies this hope. It ends up being a perfect example of a post-modern culture that attempts to retain a positive and optimistic hope concerning meaning in life, while denying the very thing that gives life hope and meaning. Consequently, the final thirty minutes of the movie that deal with, and ultimately reject, the very concept of re-creation and resurrection end up being the downfall of the movie. The reason why the ending does not work is because it attempts to be optimistic about life while it is at the same time denying any hope about resurrection.

A.I. is purposely patterned after the Pinocchio story, and therefore contains much of the same connections with Jonah as Pinocchio. The setting is in the late 21st century. The polar ice caps have melted, the climates have become “chaotic,” and the world’s coastlands have been submerged under water. Thus we learn that the one city mentioned in the movie, New York, is underwater, with only the tops of the skyscrapers still above water. This will have significance later on.

Mechas, David, and the Failed Human Experiment
In the opening scene of the movie, we find an inventor, Professor Hobby, discussing with his colleagues his proposal to attempt to create a boy “mecha” who is able to love. Since the cosmic upheaval, human beings had to monitor their numbers, so that they would not grow so numerous as to deplete the remaining natural resources. Yet because of human beings’ advanced scientific knowledge, they were to create adult mechas—robots that looked, acted, and reasoned like human beings. They were used as house-keepers, nannies, doctors, prostitutes, as well as other positions, in order to serve human beings. Once created, they did not eat or consume any resources.

Professor Hobby, though, for reasons that will become apparent later, wanted to create a child mecha who would have the ability to love. His stated reason for this proposal was that these child mechas would be available to couples who were not able to have children. Throughout the rest of the movie, we see the tragic inhumane response human beings have to these machines they have created.

A couple who works for the company that produces these mechas volunteer to take the first one made because their own son is in a seemingly irreversible coma. The name of the boy mecca is David. Once programmed, he loves his mother unconditionally. Eventually though, the couple’s son comes out of the coma, and the couple eventually reject David and abandon him. While living with the family though, David was told the story of Pinocchio; so when he is abandoned, he believes that if he can find the Blue Fairy, that she will turn him into a real boy, and then his mother would love him and accept him. The rest of the movie is about David’s search for the Blue Fairy.

The story of A.I. is patterned after the story of Pinocchio, but contains some vital differences. Geppetto loved Pinocchio, and went out to search for him when Pinocchio was led astray. David though is abandoned by his human family, and he ends up being hunted and chased by human beings who want to destroy mechas. At every turn, though he is programmed to love, he is ironically treated inhumanely by humans. Also, within the fairytale of Pinocchio, the Blue Fairy is a real person, whereas within the world of A.I., the story of Pinocchio, and thus the Blue Fairy, is understood to be a fairytale, and not real at all. The tragedy is that David does not realize this.

His search for the Blue Fairy is doomed from the start, for there is no Blue Fairy.

David’s Search for His Maker
In any case, with the help of a gigolo mecha named Joe, David eventually finds his way to where he believes the Blue Fairy lives—New York City, now submerged by the waters of the ocean, and known to the mechas as “the lost city of the sea at the end of the world.” In a skyscraper still above water, David finds the company that produces mechas, and meets the man who designed him—his maker and “father.” Yet tragically David finds out he is not special and unique at all. When he meets Professor Hobby, the professor explains to him that he was their “great experiment,” and though they had lost track of him when his “parents” abandoned him, they hoped he would be able to develop the ability to hope and dream, and eventually find his way back to New York City.

AI Riddle

Once David was abandoned, Professor Hobby put out a “clue” in the information banks of “Dr. Know” (an interactive question-answer data base where people can pay a certain amount of money, ask any question about anything, and find information on that topic) that the Blue Fairy lived in the lost city of the sea. Since Professor Hobby found out David had heard the story of Pinocchio, his hope was that David would believe in the fairy tale so much that he would hope that it was true, and would go looking for the Blue Fairy, so he could become a real boy. The professor tells David the “experiment” was whether David, being a mecha, would logically reason that, “the Blue Fairy is part of the great human flaw—to wish for things that don’t exist;” or whether his love for his mother would create in him the human hope and desire to override the logical conclusion, and actually go searching for the Blue Fairy.

According to Professor Hobby, this “greatest human flaw” is also an exceptional gift that allows humans to dream. After he is told this, David says, “I thought I was one of a kind,” to which Professor Hobby replies, “My son was one of a kind; you are the first of a kind.” It is then when we realize that Professor Hobby had made David to look like his own son who was no longer alive.

When Professor Hobby goes off to gather his colleagues, David enters another room, and finds the entire room contains an assembly line of partially made mechas that look exactly like him. He realizes, although he has always been told he is unique and special, that he is, in fact, not unique at all. Each real human being is unique; but he, being a mecha, is simply one copy of an entire assembly line of meccas. His belief in his individuality and uniqueness is shattered.

Jonah Connections
At this point connections with Jonah can be seen. David, upon seeing that he is not unique, jumps into the sea, and ends up being carried by a school of fish (though not a great fish) to Coney Island, where he sees a glimpse of what he believes is the Blue Fairy. As they carry him to what we later learn is the Pinocchio ride at Coney Island, we see in the background the giant “great fish” model that is one of the props to the ride. The allusion is clear: this is a re-telling of Pinocchio, which in turn carries with it the basic re-creation/death and resurrection theme of the Jonah-inspired passages of the gospels. What David thinks is the Blue Fairy is really only the statue of the Blue Fairy at the Pinocchio ride at Coney Island. Yet David, completely enraptured by the sight of what he believes is the Blue Fairy, simply stays underwater, forever praying to the Blue Fairy.

Blue Fairy

Two thousand years go by, the human race is now extinct, and the world is in the midst of an ice age. The only things that survive are an advanced form of the mechas, and they are conducting “excavations” on a now frozen over New York City. They find a frozen David, but since he is not human, he is still alive. When they wake him up, he walks up to the frozen statue of the Blue Fairy, touches it, and it breaks apart before his eyes. The advanced mechas explain to him that the entire human race is extinct, and that he is the only one in the world who has had firsthand contact with the now extinct human race. They can learn much about the human race by using his mind as a “database” and reading his memories.

When he asks if his “mother” is still alive, they tell him that she has long since died, but they can resurrect her from his memories, and he can see her again. The only thing though, is that anyone they resurrect can only survive for one day. At the end of that day, they go to sleep, never to awake again, and never being able to be resurrected again. David, since he has been programmed to love, still wants to see her again. So the advanced meccas resurrect her, and David and his mother spend one beautiful day together. At the end of the day, when she goes to sleep, we are told that David does something he has never been able to do before—he falls asleep. The two never wake up again. That is the end of the movie.

Conclusion
What makes this movie so tragic is the complete denial and rejection of human dignity, resurrection, and hope for a re-creation. Although it uses much of the same imagery and symbolism seen in Jonah, expounded in the New Testament, and interpreted by PinnochioA.I. ultimately rejects the hope of resurrection and re-creation. What A.I. teaches is that human beings are not made in the image of God, for there is no God. In fact, human beings are more inhumane than the machines they make. Furthermore, David learns that his individuality and uniqueness is an illusion: David can never become a real boy, for that is impossible. The Blue Fairy, the hope of resurrection and the longing for re-creation, is a fairytale. Besides, what good would it do if David became a real boy? Human beings were now extinct, with no hope of any sort of lasting resurrected life.

Somehow, the movie tries to put a good spin on all of this. The fact that David, who is programmed to love (and thus must—is that really love?), is able to spend one happy day with the woman who abandoned him, only to have both of them sleep into oblivion at the end of the movie, is somehow supposed to leave the movie-goer feeling optimistic about life. David never becomes a real boy, and human life is extinct. A.I. tries to give purpose and meaning to life while it at the same time denies resurrection.

Pinocchio incorporated a simplified version of the death and resurrection, and “re-creation” themes, and showed that a wooden puppet was re-created into a real boy after his ordeal within the sea monster. Finally, A. I. is an example of a film that purposely re-tells the story of Pinocchio, yet ultimately denies the hope of resurrection and re-creation. All four works are modern examples of intertextuality with the story of Jonah; yet as is quite evident, all four works choose to reinterpret the story of Jonah in very different ways.

Biblical Intertextuality: Jonah, Pinocchio, and a New Creation

Biblical Intertextuality: Jonah, Pinocchio, and a New Creation

Pinocchio

One of the things I loved to do when I covered Jonah in my 9th grade Old Testament class was show my class the movie Pinocchio by Roberto Benigni. I wouldn’t show the Walt Disney movie because most of them had already seen it, and I wanted them to watch the story with different eyes. Both Benigni’s and Walt Disney’s movies come from Carlo Collodi’s nineteenth century children’s tale of the same name.

In the case of Pinocchio, the case of biblical intertextuality is very straightforward and relatively simple. Once you realize that Jonah is fundamentally a story about re-creation, one can not only see how the story of Jonah is used in the Gospels, but one can also see how it is used in various stories still today, be it The Matrix or Pinocchio.

Jonah Themes…in Jonah and the Gospels
Let me first clarify what I mean when I say Jonah is a story about re-creation:

(A) God wants Jonah to go preach to Nineveh, but Jonah refuses and flees;

(B) God sends a storm at sea, and Jonah ends up being thrown overboard into the sea and swallowed by a big fish—this “big fish” symbolizes Sheol itself. In a metaphorical sense, Jonah “dies;”

(C) After three days Jonah get vomited up onto dry land, and proceeds to then go to Nineveh to preach judgment upon the Ninevites;

(D) Surprisingly, Nineveh repents; and even more surprisingly, God forgives them—Gentiles! And not so surprisingly, Jonah is upset—he wants God’s judgment to fall on these Gentiles, and instead, God has brought forgiveness and new life.

(E) The point in Jonah therefore is this: when God “re-creates” his people after the “death” of exile, what will that new people of God look like? The answer is shocking: it’s going to include even Gentiles who repent. Thus Jonah is a story of death and resurrection, in a very peculiar way.

In the Gospels, we find this concept then applied directly to Jesus: he, like Jonah, goes down into death; and like Jonah, three days later Jesus comes out of death and brings salvation to the entire world, even Gentiles.

Jonah Themes in Pinocchio
With that in mind, we now turn to Pinocchio. What is the story really about? In the story of a wooden puppet who longs to be a real boy. But since he constantly disobeys his maker/father, Geppetto, he finds himself led astray by various people. Geppetto, though, because he loves Pinocchio, goes out searching for him, and travels across the sea, only to be swallowed by a sea monster.

When Pinocchio finally finds his way home and discovers that Geppetto went out searching for him, he goes to find Geppetto. His journey takes him across the sea, where he too gets swallowed by that same “sea monster.” Eventually Pinocchio helps Geppetto escape from the sea monster, and because of his brave deed, the Blue Fairy grants Pinocchio his wish, and turns him into a real boy. What we see in this fairy tale, therefore, is the story of a wooden puppet who is “re-created” into a real boy, only after a death-like experience in the sea monster. This speaks to a very fundamental Christian belief.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains sanctification by using the example of a tin toy soldier. Essentially, human beings in their natural state, having what Lewis calls bios life, are like tin soldiers. We have the shape of men. One can push the analogy further by quoting Genesis 1:27: we are made in the image of God. Yet we do not have the life of God, the Christ-life, within us. The story of the Gospel is essentially this: Christ became a tin soldier so that he could impart his life, what Lewis calls zoe life, to us. Thus, the entire Christian life is one of a Christian slowly being transformed and recreated from a tin toy soldier into a real man.

Lewis makes many other observations and points concerning this, but for our purposes the basic analogy is enough. It is this analogy that can be seen in the fairytale Pinocchio—the wooden puppet is given animated life, but is not yet a real boy. The story thus tells about his trials and attempts to become a real living boy. The story is about transformation and re-creation.

One can see numerous analogies between the story of Pinocchio and the biblical understanding of sin and salvation. The wooden puppet Pinocchio is not really “evil,” but rather is very gullible and is easily led astray. When you think about it, isn’t this what we see with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3? No one who reads Genesis 3 honestly can conclude that the actions of Adam and Eve were “evil and devious.” They seem more like gullible children. This, incidentally, is the very view that the early Church Father Irenaeus had of Genesis 3 back in the 2nd century.

That is why it is so easy to see ourselves in the story of Adam and Eve—it is basically our story. Let’s face it, everyone can simply look at their own life admit that, while there certainly are many times one consciously and knowingly sins, there are also many times “sin” happens due to one’s immaturity, gullibility, and ignorance.

Pinocchio and Whale

Pinocchio, like everyone at some point, finds that he is lost. It is at this point in the story where the Jonah theme of re-creation/death and resurrection is apparent. In order to find his maker and father, Pinocchio journeys into the sea and is swallowed by a sea monster. It is within the belly of the sea monster where Pinocchio meets his maker and father Geppetto again. The story ends by Gepetto and Pinocchio escaping from the great fish, getting chased by him on the sea, and eventually reaching dry land safely. Because Pinocchio proved himself brave by going into the sea in search for his maker and father, his wish to become a real boy is granted. It is his experience within the belly of the great fish that transforms Pinocchio from a wooden puppet into a real boy.

The story of Pinocchio is not like Jonah in every respect. It does not have anything about Pinocchio preaching to other puppets that they would be made into firewood, and it does not have Pinocchio complain to Geppetto that those cursed alarm clocks Geppetto had in his workshop should be destroyed. Pinocchio simply takes one snapshot from the story of Jonah, a snapshot everyone is familiar with, and reworks and reinterprets that snapshot within a very memorable fairytale. The basic theme of going into death (symbolized by the great fish), and being transformed and reborn (re-creation into a real boy) is nevertheless retained. Pinocchio is, in fact, a modern example of intertextuality.

Biblical Intertextuality: Five Biblical Themes in “The Matrix”

Biblical Intertextuality: Five Biblical Themes in “The Matrix”

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Given the basic plot of The Matrix, there are five essential biblical themes, one of which is a “Jonah theme,” that are essential to furthering the plot. The other four must first be briefly mentioned so that the Jonah theme can be seen within the context of the whole.

The Bondage of Sin
The first theme has been outlined in the story overview—humanity is in bondage, and the world that human beings know is in reality a prison. Human beings are born into bondage within a computer program called The Matrix, much like we are born into a fallen and sinful world. They are not only victims imprisoned within the Matrix, they are also a part of the Matrix and serve its purposes. As Morpheus says, “The Matrix is a system. That system is our enemy. Look around and what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. Everywhere you look, there are people. Somewhere else, somewhere in the future they may be human beings, but here these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. It is important to understand that if you are not one of us, you are one of them.” The [Matrix agents] can become anyone who is still a captive of the Matrix. “If the Matrix is a prison, then the agents are its wardens and if humankind is to survive they first must be stopped.”

The Idolatry of Babylon
The second theme is the “Babel/Babylon/idolatry theme.” As we can see in Morpheus’ speech, the human race at the end of the twentieth century was much in the same position as Nebuchadnezzar, when he glorified himself in Daniel 4:28-33, and the people of Babel in Genesis 11.  What happens to the human race in The Matrix is something seen time and time again in the Bible. Human beings eventually become enslaved to the very things they create for their own majesty and pride. Nebuchadnezzar was brought low because he put himself on the level of God. The people of Babel, in their attempt to build a tower to heaven, in order to “make a name” for themselves, were scattered by God.

As seen all throughout the Old Testament, the idols that mankind makes end up being the cause of its destruction. In Agent Smith’s own description of human beings, after he states that every mammal develops a natural equilibrium with his environment, he says, “Yet you humans move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every resource is consumed. And then you spread to another area.” An organism that does this is a virus. “Human beings are a disease, a cancer on this planet. You are the plague, and we are the cure.” In case anyone doubts that the creators of the movie had this in mind, one only has to take into consideration the name of Morpheus’ ship to be convinced—The Nebuchadnezzar.

The City of Zion
The third biblical theme centers around the city of Zion, and the ancient Near Eastern creation myth that pits the Sea of Chaos against the primeval hill of the gods. As Othmar Keel states, “The abyss is a dimension of Chaos and of death, but the high place, the mountain, belongs to the temple. In the psalms, the location of the Temple is Jerusalem, or more precisely, Zion.” Although Morpheus and most of his crew are people who had been “grown” inside the Matrix, and who have been freed from it, there are still a handful of people, like two of the men on Morpheus’ crew, who still have been born “the old-fashioned way,” in the real world, in the last human city called Zion. Its location is near the earth’s core, where it is still warm.

If the machines can capture Morpheus and get the access codes to Zion from him, they would be able to find Zion and gain access to its computers that allow the free people to hack into the Matrix. Then Zion would fall, and the last hope for human freedom from the machines would be extinguished. Throughout the movie Morpheus’ ship is constantly fleeing from the sentinel machines in the real world that are searching to destroy the ship. They machines are called “squiddies,” and they resemble giant squids. Consequently, what we find in The Matrix is a battle for the fate of the world between the last human city, Zion, and the destructive forces of the A.I. machines that resemble the terrifying sea monsters of the primordial Sea of Chaos. The Ancient Near Eastern myth of creation finds its way into our modern culture once again.

The Son of Man/The Son of God
The fourth biblical theme in The Matrix involves the main character, Neo, and can also be seen on the plaque on Morpheus’ ship that gives us its name. Immediately under the ship’s name is “Mark III, No. 11.” When one looks up Mark 3:11, one finds this: “Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’” This is a clear reference to Jesus in Mark’s gospel, yet in the movie, the Christ figure is that of Thomas Anderson, who goes by the name “Neo.” He is the one who is able to destroy the matrix, and to free the human race. As Morpheus explains:

“When the Matrix was first built, there was a man born inside who had the ability to change whatever he wanted, to remake the Matrix as he saw fit.  It was he who freed the first of us, and taught us the truth. As long as the Matrix exists, the human race will never be free. After he died, the oracle prophesied his return, and that his coming would hail the destruction of the Matrix and end the war, and   bring freedom to our people.”

The movie at this point incorporates ideas of reincarnation, and of a Greek-like oracle, but the basic idea of a “prophesied one” to free the human race can easily be seen against the biblical backdrop of Acts 3:22, where Jesus is the prophesied “prophet like Moses.”

The Matrix essentially shows the process in which Neo eventually realizes that he is “the One.” Christians throughout Church history have debated and argued at what point Jesus actually became the Son of God. Was it as his resurrection? Was it at his baptism? Was it at his birth? Or was he pre-existent before time began? The Matrix takes the position that although Neo may be “the One,” he certainly is not aware of it at the beginning. In fact, he is “born” inside the Matrix, just like everyone else born into its bondage. His mind has to be freed by those people in the real world. And even after he has been freed, he does not believe he is the prophesied One at first. It is precisely because he does not believe he is anyone special that is the reason he risks, and ultimately sacrifices, his life to save Morpheus, who has been captured and is being interrogated within the agents’ stronghold in the Matrix. It is only after he is killed in the Matrix by the “agents” that he then is resurrected, and endowed with the power over the Matrix.

Jonah and the New Creation
The fifth biblical theme in The Matrix is arguably the over-arching theme to the entire plot: that of death and resurrection, and thus re-creation. As we have already seen, Jesus himself paralleled his upcoming death and resurrection with Jonah spending three days and night in the belly of the “sea monster.” The “great fish” in Jonah, already equated with Sheol in Jonah’s prayer, is called “the sea monster” in Matthew 12:40 and is equated with the grave.

Furthermore, the very act of baptism is a re-enactment of death (going down into the sea/Sheol/the grave), and resurrection. We have also seen that this imagery is not simply referring to Jesus coming back from the dead; but has as its over-arching theme that of God’s re-creation of his world. This death and resurrection theme can actually be seen twice in The Matrix. The obvious one is at the end of the movie, when Neo actually is shot and killed, and then resurrects with a transformed body, and thus begins to re-make the Matrix as he sees fit. The other one is earlier in the movie, where the “Jonah theme” can be subtlety seen—when Morpheus frees Neo’s mind, and he is thus “re-born” into the real world.

The event leading up to this scene is where Neo first meets Morpheus within the Matrix. Morpheus tells him, as seen in his previous speech, that no one can be told what the Matrix is; they have to see it for themselves. When Neo agrees to let Morpheus show him, Neo is hooked up to a computer-tracing system, and they essentially wake up his mind from its unconscious sleep. The scene in which Neo “wakes up” to the real world for the first time is, in fact, called, “The Rebirth.” What we see in the movie is the body of Neo, which has been “asleep” in a pod in the real world for his whole life, wake up. Neo, though a grown man, is naked as bald as a baby, and is hooked up with wires and tubes, much like a battery is hooked up to a machine, and much a baby hooked up to life support.

The script at this point specifically describes the scene as Neo’s body “floating in a womb-red amnion.” What he sees is his pod as one of millions, all hooked up in some sort of power plant. An A.I. machine that is maintaining the power plant sees that he is awake, and proceeds to unhook him, and flush him out into the sewer, similar to the “great fish” vomiting Jonah out onto dry land. It is at that point, naked and thrown away into a sewer in the real world, that Morpheus’ ship locates him, rescues him, and slowly begins to rehabilitate and rebuild his body that he has never actually used.

The way this “rebirth” scene is described in the script is extremely important to note. As Neo looks around at all the pods hooked up to the power plant, the scene is described in this way: “Tower of glowing petals spiral up to incomprehensible heights, disappearing down into dim murk, like an underwater abyss. His sight is blurred and warped, exaggerating the intensity of the vision. The sound of the plant is like the sound of the ocean heard from inside the belly of Leviathan.”

An allusion to Jonah cannot be more clearly stated. The death and resurrection/rebirth theme is played out once again with similar imagery. Genesis 1 has God creating the world out from the Sea of Chaos, which was ruled by the great Sea Serpent in ANE mythology. Noah’s flood is essentially a story of God destroying the old creation, and re-creating a new one. Jonah picks up on this “re-creation” theme from the Noah story, includes an allusion to the Sea Serpent/Leviathan of ANE, and of Job, and Isaiah, and the Psalms, and combines these in order to teach something about how God is “re-creating” his people after the death of the nation during the exile, and how this “re-creation” will involve Gentiles. Jesus and the Gospels take the next step and use the story of Jonah to allude not only to Jesus’ own transforming death and resurrection, but to also the beginning of God’s New Creation. The association of the Sea with Death has been around since ANE mythology and Genesis 1. The association of the great Sea Serpent of ANE with not only death, but also as a mode of rebirth, has been around since Jonah, and picked up in the Gospels. Here, the same imagery is found in The Matrix to describe essentially the same thing.

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