Anne Rice and neo-paganism *UPDATED*

My book club group met the other night to discuss William Manchester’s book A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age. The title is something of a misnomer. It’s only a “portrait of an age” if you want to read a thousand years of medieval history crammed into a single chapter, and written in a style that’s a cross between the National Enquirer (in its pre-Carol Burnett, dishonest days) and Vanity Fair (in “full disdain for conservative shibboleths” mode).  The book is distinguished by being salacious, ill-informed, and anti-Catholic — and it is, for a history book, a very easy read.  I think all these factors explain why it is a regular part of high school and college curricula.

Of course, not all of Manchester’s book is a biased muddle.  One of the things he does well is to describe the way in which the Roman world, with its Christian sub-set, collided with the pagan world.  This collision, and the subsequent “conversion” of the pagans, resulted in the medieval Catholic faith.

The word conversion in the previous paragraph deserves those scare quotes because most of those conversions did not involve informed people making a genuine commitment to the new Christian faith.  Instead, the vast majority of those conversions were nominal only.  If a pagan king converted, all of his subjects “converted” too, although few, if any of them, embraced Christianity’s teachings — including monotheism and the acceptance of Christ as their savior.

The end result was that these newly baptized Christians, many of whom inevitably ended up working within the Church itself, simply grafted their still-existing pagan beliefs onto the completely unfamiliar gospels.  Sometimes this grafting was innocuous.  an good example was the way in which Christ’s birth, which didn’t have a fixed date in the Bible, ended up getting blended with the date of a pagan winter celebration.  No harm, no foul.  Sometimes this grafting was magnificent, since the doctrine of transubstantiation put a final end to the pagan obsession with both animal and human sacrifice.  I don’t know about you, but I consider that one of the greatest leaps forward in human civilization.

Sometimes, however, the intermingling of paganism and Christianity was quite damaging.  The specific damage I’m thinking of is the way the pagans co-opted Christianity as an arm of the state.  I don’t need to remind any of you that this was not Christ’s intent.  He anticipated the founding fathers by more than 1,700 years when he said “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”  (Matthew 22:21.)  In the pagan world, however, church and state had long been inextricably intertwined, and the newly Christianized pagan rulers continued to believe that religion and the state were one and the same.

This meant that pagan political and social ideologies were woven into Christian doctrine.  Now, I’m not Christian, and I haven’t read the New Testament closely in about 30 years, but I’m pretty darn sure that Christ never talked about the Augustinian notion of forced conversions and the merits of religious war, about death for heretics, about saints and relics, or about myriad other practices and procedures that became regular fare, both inside and outside of the walls of the medieval church.  Christ’s silence notwithstanding, all of these beliefs and practices became, in the minds of the common people, core religious doctrine, inseparable from Christ’s teachings.  In other words, popular culture became one with the Gospels, never mind what the Gospels themselves actually said.

Anyway, that’s my take on the worst excesses of the medieval Catholic church, excesses that were cleared away by both the Protestant reformation and by the Catholic Church’s own counter reformation in the wake of the 16th century upheavals.  While Christianity may ostensibly have been in the ascendant by the 6th century or so, the fact is that paganism itself didn’t really vanish for another 1,000 years.

And where does Anne Rice come into all of this?  She comes in because, after her much-heralded “kiss and make up” with the church of her childhood (an announcement that allowed her to publicize a new line of books imagining Christ’s life), she’s now in the process of a much-heralded “break up” from the church of her childhood.  On facebook (what better place to discuss faith), she announces thusly (emphasis mine):

I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

In other words, Rice is upset that the Christian churches refuse to layer over Christ’s teachings the beliefs of modern liberalism.  Just as the pagan rulers wanted (and were able to) overlay their political and religious belief systems directly onto Christ’s original message, Anne Rice wants to put the modern Democratic playbook into Christ’s mouth.

The Bible (Old Testament and New, together) was written over the course of almost about 1,500 years, with the first 1,000 years encompassing the Old Testament, followed by a few centuries’ pause, followed by the short window in time during which the New Testament came into being.  There are, therefore, thousands of ideas and edicts in the combined books of the Bible, although I’d argue that the core tenets that inform modern Judeo-Christian culture are the Ten Commandments and Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.

However, much to Rice’s manifest distress, in all those books, and all those hundreds of years, neither God, nor the Prophets, nor Christ himself remembered to say the following:

We will lead to defeat the epochal, man-made threat to the planet: climate change. Without dramatic changes, rising sea levels will flood coastal regions around the world. Warmer temperatures and declining rainfall will reduce crop yields, increasing conflict, famine, disease, and poverty. By 2050, famine could displace more than 250 million people worldwide. That means increased instability in some of the most volatile parts of the world. Never again will we sit on the sidelines, or stand in the way of collective action to tackle this global challenge. Getting our own house in order is only a first step. We will invest in efficient and clean technologies at home while using our assistance policies and export promotions to help developing countries preserve biodiversity, curb deforestation, and leapfrog the carbonenergy-intensive stage of development.

We will reach out to the leaders of the biggest carbon emitting nations and ask them to join a new Global Energy Forum that will lay the foundation for the next generation of climate protocols. China has replaced America as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Clean energy development must be a central focus in our relationships with major countries in Europe and Asia. We need a global response to climate change that includes binding and enforceable commitments to reducing emissions, especially for those that pollute the most: the United States, China, India, the European Union, and Russia.

This challenge is massive, but rising to it will also bring new benefits to America. By 2050, global demand for low-carbon energy could create an annual market worth $500 billion. Meeting that demand would open new frontiers for American entrepreneurs and workers.

You may recognize that language as coming directly from the Democratic Party platform for 2008. When Rice castigates the Church for being “anti-Democrat”, it’s pretty obvious that she thinks that modern Christian Churches ought to make  the above words part of their official doctrinal position, tracing them right back to the Sermon on the Mount.

In other words, Rice is a neo-Pagan.  She doesn’t want to take the Bible on its own terms.  Instead, she wants to graft her own belief systems right onto the Bible.  This is quite different from our (appropriate) modern decisions to ignore some of the Bible’s more difficult passages, such as its instructions to kill witches.  Cherry-picking a little is one thing.  Doing what the pagans did, and simply grafting non-Biblical values on top the old, is something else entirely.

UPDATE:  The Anchoress, who has a deep and rich knowledge of Catholicism, and an abiding love for the faith, takes Rice to task for her silly outburst.  Bruce Kesler weighs in too, quite beautifully, in both poetry and prose.

UPDATE II:  Since I opened this post by saying that William Manchester’s anti-Catholic diatribe is required reading at many schools, this seems like an appropriate place to link to a take-down of Howard Zinn, who dominates America’s U.S. History studies.

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Comments

  1. Charles Martel says

    Book, your take on Rice’s dissent is interesting. I hadn’t considered the neo-pagan aspect of her qualms with the Church, and you make a good point.

    What fascinates me is how such an intelligent woman, after having chronicled her struggles to return to the fold, can be so dense and shallow when it comes to the teachings of Catholicism. C.S. Lewis once said that religions are either “thick” or “thin,” distinguished by the mass and complexity of their teachings and traditions. For example, Islam and Unitarianism are “thin” religions, marked by the simplicity of their theology (if either of them can really be said to have theology) and the quickness with which adherents can understand their core message (if Unitarianism can be said to have a message).

    Rabbinical Judaism and Orthodoxy, on the other hand, are “thick” in the sense of the endless layers of tradition and theological speculation they offer believers.

    This isn’t to say that religions can’t be both thick and thin, although it’s easier for a thick religion like Hinduism to simplify its message to accommodate less sophisticated believers than it is for a thin religion to aspire to the intellectual gravity of a discussion among, say, rabbis or Jesuits. That’s one reason why Christians and Jews find it so frustrating to discuss God with Muslims. When you are talking people who worship a deity whose demeanor seems to consist solely of anger and caprice, you hit the eye-rolling stage pretty quickly.

    So, back to Annie. Obviously she knows nothing about the thick parts of her religion, only the thin parodies of it that have been planted over the past two generations by modernists and neo-pagans. You’d think that a woman who could take the time to so brilliantly resurrect and render one of the great legends—the vampire—could spare some time to investigate what her church actually teaches.

  2. says

    I never heard about that “thick” and “thin” distinction.  Funnily enough, I’ve always made that distinction between Word Perfect, which I love, and MS Word, which I hate.  What I tell people is that Word Perfect is a little harder to learn, but its great beauty is that, once you learn it, you can truly work with your documents, at a very deep level.  The result is exquisite documents.  MS Word on the other hand, is a program that is easy to grasp on the first day, but that’s as deep as you go.  You can always tell legal briefs that have been prepared on MS Word, because the formatting is goofy.

  3. says

    I had posted this over at American Digest in response to Anne’s reversion, if you want to call it that, but I’ll post it here, too, with additional thoughts, since it seems apt enough for the topic. Your insight Book, is lovely and deeply thought out. I hadn’t considered it before, but it seems to go hand in hand with my thoughts:
    It is one thing to sit and be thrilled by the creatures with whom she consanguinates…when they’re safely confined to the pages and screens of fiction. It’s quite another thing when you are being stalked and hunted and bled dry by night creatures whose consanguinity and Islamic religious teaching makes them that way in reality. But saddest of all is that she won’t consanguinate with the only one whose blood can save her. Christ himself.

  4. Jose says

    Isa 30:9 That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD:
    Isa 30:10 Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
     
    Also,
     
    2Ti 4:3  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

    2Ti 4:4  And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

  5. Mike Devx says

    I read with interest of Anne Rice’s conversion, though I never read any of her “Christ books”.  What I read concerning them made me believe even then that her theological conversion was iffy.  Her Christianity can now be seen to be akin to a Pelosi-Christianity.
     
    It sure didn’t last very long, did it?
     

  6. Charles Martel says

    I amuse myself every two months of so by writing a letter to the Archbishop of San Francisco politely inquiring as to when he might publicly admonish Nancy Pelosi for her heretical views on sex and abortion.

    The man’s cricket imitation is something to behold.

    However, for those who are not familiar with Catholic doctrine, Nancy Pelosi is already excommunicated. Under the doctrine of latae sententiae, a person excommunicates herself immediately upon committing a conscious and deliberate act against a fundamental church teaching—in this case, her open, constant and egregious support for abortion in all forms, including late-term. A bishop’s formal act of excommunication is merely a form of dotting the i’s and catching up with reality. (Not that my brave archbishop will ever man up and discipline that obnoxious woman.)

    It may be, and I am certainly not privy to the events in Anne Rice’s life nor do I care to know them, that Rice [unkowingly] has already excommunicated herself thanks to her advocacy for certain things that the Church utterly condemns. She would still be a Catholic—just as a Marine is a Marine for eternity, one’s baptism makes you Catholic for the same span. But she would not be able to receive the consoling and grace-giving sacrament of the Eucharist that is the essence of the Church’s presence in this world until she atoned for her abandonment.

  7. says

    Off topic.  Book, you and I are on the same wave-length with WordPerfect.  As one who has been teaching software for years, I am an old WordPerfect hand.  It is a beautiful tool. You are absolutely right about it being a steeper-learning curve; but a much better tool.  MSWord is, in my opinion, a tool that tries to be the jack-of-all-trades document tool and master of none as it is dumbed-down for the masses.

    But, there is more to it than that, so many people realize that they don’t know Wordperfect.  Yet, everyone who sits with MSWord for a day thinks that they know everything there is to know and don’t bother to learn some of the more advanced features.  That might be one reason for their documents to look so “unprofessional.”

    If I didn’t know any better I would swear that those who designed WordPerfect respected their clients while Bill Gates thinks we are all stupid.

  8. SADIE says

    I amuse myself every two months or so by writing a letter to the Archbishop of San Francisco…
     
     
     
     
    Since I am lacking an Archbishop to convey my moral disappointments and admonishments; I’ve had to turn to Abe Foxman with the same results.
     
     

  9. jj says

    Three thoughts.
     
    Paganism gets a bad rap.  If the pagans were not a great deal more tolerant than the Christians later  proved to be when they got in control, there would be no Christianity.
     
    One of the first things Moshe Dayan planned to do when Israel took Jerusalem, thereby gaining control (?) over the site of the temple, was sacrifice a ram.  Some reporter (a Time magazine guy, I believe I remember – great cover on Time when the Israeli army burst into Jerusalem) asked him: “an actual ram?  You mean, you really want to sacrifice a ram?”  Dayan was straight-faced and serious, and said yeah – that’s at the basis of Judaism.  Maybe Christianity did away with animal sacrifice, but it’s interesting that maybe Judaism didn’t.  Hasn’t.  Whichever.  And I don’t know if Dayan can be considered any kind of authority, but he clearly envisioned actual, live, here-on-our-stage sacrifice.  And of course the bible considers it too, and opines that end-time trouble will start when the Jews begin sacrificing in the temple again.  (Maybe they’ll restrict themselves to birds – doves were big in the old testament, rams not so much, though they did appear.)  And certainly old Abe was perfectly willing – without a question! – to do in his kid at the Word, so by implication one might suppose that the word was indeed spoken from time to time.  Abe didn’t boggle at it – nor did the writer – in the least.  It saddened him, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him.  So I suppose one could wonder about human sacrifice, too.  Seemed painful, but normative, to Abe.
     
    Thought three – Christ didn’t have to condemn or punish anyone.  He swept it beneath the rug and put it in a dark corner he brought along with him to earth, a place called hell.  Before him, hell – known perhaps better as Sheol – had been mooted, and sort of mentioned in passing.  Gentle Jesus formalized it, codified it, and said if you behave improperly – any of the behaviors you mentioned would do, I guess – then you’re going there, to be tortured.  Painfully.  Forever.  No reprieve.  You will be in a place with no doors, and you’ll be counting millennia.
     
    Don’t know about Anne Rice.  Vampires, right?

  10. Danny Lemieux says

    Thought three – Christ didn’t have to condemn or punish anyone.  He swept it beneath the rug and put it in a dark corner he brought along with him to earth, a place called hell.  Before him, hell – known perhaps better as Sheol – had been mooted, and sort of mentioned in passing.  Gentle Jesus formalized it, codified it, and said if you behave improperly – any of the behaviors you mentioned would do, I guess – then you’re going there, to be tortured.  Painfully.  Forever.  No reprieve.  You will be in a place with no doors, and you’ll be counting millennia.


    And here I thought Christ came to earth to forgive us and cleanse mankind of its sins. Silly me. Who knew?

  11. jj says

    Yeah – kind of a shock, but a formalized hell is a new testament concept.
     
    Mark Twain (naturally) – whether one considers him an authority or not (this one does not, particularly; though he sees with pretty clear eyes), generally says it best, and always has the amusing and most well-said take.
     
    “Life was not a valuable gift, but death was.  Life was a fever-dream made up of joys embittered by sorrows, pleasure poisoned by pain; a dream that was a nightmare-confusion of spasmodic and fleeting delights, ecstasies, exultations, happinesses, interspersed with long-drawn miseries, griefs, perils, horrors, disappointments, defeats, humiliations and despairs – the heaviest curse devisable by divine ingenuity; but death was sweet, death was gentle, death was kind; death healed the bruised spirit and the broken heart, and gave them rest and forgetfulness; death was man’s best friend; when man could endure life no longer, death came and set him free.
     
    “In time, the Deity perceived that death was a mistake; a mistake, in that it was insufficient; insufficient for the reason that while it was an admirable agent for the inflicting of misery upon the survivor, it allowed the dead person himself to escape from all further persecution in the blessed refuge of the grave.  This was not satisfactory.  A way must be contrived to pursue the dead beyond the tomb.
     
    “The Deity pondered this matter during four thousand years unsuccessfully, but as soon as he came down to earth and became a Christian his mind cleared and he knew what to do.  He invented Hell, and proclaimed it.
     
    “Now here is a curious thing.  It is believed by everybody that while he was in Heaven he was stern, hard, resentful, jealous, and cruel; but that when he came down to earth and assumed the name Jesus Christ, he became the opposite of what he was before: that is to say, he became sweet and gentle, merciful, forgiving, and all harshness disappeared from his nature and a deep and yearning love for his poor human children took its place.  Whereas it was as Jesus Christ that he devised hell and proclaimed it!
     
    “Which is to say, that as the meek and gentle Savior he was a thousand billion times crueler than ever he was in the Old Testament – incomparably more atrocious than ever he was when he was at the very worst in those old days!
     
    “Meek and gentle?  By and by we will examine this popular sarcasm by the light of the hell which he invented.”
     
    Much of what we were taught as kids turns out to be BS, regrettably, if you look into it with any care when older.  You know, to take one example: that wasn’t an insignificant little event, the old money-lenders in the temple scene.  That was a full-scale urban riot he started, involving hundreds of people and soldiers, and probably – though it isn’t reported in the gospel – a bunch of people got killed during the celebrations.  He was often neither gentle nor kindly – nor even housebroken; but that’s not what’s handed down.
     
    Sorry about hell, tho’.

  12. Charles Martel says

    jj, since I’ve always found you to be a solid writer who reasons from evidence, I’m sure you’ll be happy to share your sources about the real story behind Jesus’s driving of the moneylenders from the temple.

  13. jj says

    Yeah – but you have to give me a couple of hours, I gotta hit Fed-Ex; oil change; and get Pop-in-law to the allergist first.
     
    Quickly – It’s mostly scale.  The story is what the story is, what’s overlooked is that the Temple was the center of Judaism.  It was (a) huge, and (b) at the center of several thriving industries.  You could buy sacrificial doves right there on the spot, and if you were a pilgrim from afar you could change your funds (money-changers – not money-lenders.) They were bankers, international currency converters, and if you arrived in town with money from Samarkand, you changed it, so you could buy some time in a bath to ritually cleanse yourself, buy a dove to sacrifice, leave an offering – whatever you needed local funds for – including reasons that had nothing to do with the Temple itself, but that was still where you went to get local currency to buy a meal.  Everybody knew where the Temple was – there was no Bank of America on the corner with the ability to exchange foreign currency.
     
    The gospel story makes it sound like there were two or three of these guys – there weren’t: there were probably over a hundred of them set up in booths.
     
    I have to go!

  14. Danny Lemieux says

    I’ve looked for the “Hell” references throughout the New Testament and they are few and cryptic at best. The lurid visions of Hell conjured up by the Medieval Church and Dante were more the product of pagan mythology than anything else. While these terrifying visions make for good literature and movie material, they certainly do not allude to what Jesus proclaimed for mankind through the Grace of the new Covenant extended to us upon His crucifixion.
     
    I do know that most Episcopalian, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Mormon theologians (the modern ones of whom I am aware, anyway) understand /believe “Hell” as an afterlife separated from God, as delightfully described by C.S. Lewis in his “The Great Divorce.” Now, I also appreciate that the more Fundamentalist Christian denominations will disagree with this view and, as for those rascally Presbyterians, I profess to be suspicious of the theological perspectives of any men that like to parade in skirts in cold weather and willfully partake of hagis (though I yield that their whiskey is to die for!).
     
     
     
     
     

  15. Danny Lemieux says

    Regarding the Gospel story of the money changers in the Temple, I never perceived it to reference 2 or 3 guys but quite a crowd instead.
     
    JJ…are we talking about the same Bible here?

  16. says

    “And here I thought Christ came to earth to forgive us and cleanse mankind of its sins.”
     
    The time of Christ was a time of peace in that region. That’s surprising considering that they were even more primitive and obsessed over blood feuds than the Arabs and Palestinians today.
     
    Whereas Mohammed’s religion started wars of conquest reaching all the way to India and over the land of several empires, Christian and Zoroastrian, Jesus Christ produced a climate of cooperation and mutual security.
     
    You can see the results of what happened when he wasn’t around, simply by looking at the problems between Judea and Rome in the centuries after JC’s death.

  17. Charles Martel says

    The excerpts below are all from the New International Version of the Bible:
    John 2: 13 – 22

    When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
    Matthew 21: 12 – 13
    Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”
    Mark 11: 15 – 17
    On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
    Luke 19: 45 – 46
    Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, ” ‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
    Try as I might while reading these, I could find no implication whatsoever that the gospel accounts are referring to only two or three concessionaires. It is obvious that Jesus is going after a large enterprise, namely the taking over of the entire entrance court of the temple by profiteers. So, your comparison of the temple courtyard to B of A is well taken, but it’s old news to any literate Christian.
    The area Jesus cleansed was the Court of the Gentiles, the outermost portion of the Temple that was reserved for non-Jews who wished to worship God but were forbidden by law to pass further. Given the contempt that most Jews held for gentiles, there was little protest when the court was gradually taken over by vendors. (Don’t forget that money changers were not benevolent service providers. They were there to make a profit. That fellow from Samarkand had no choice but to pay whatever fee they cared to charge for converting his currency. Where else was he going to go?)
    So, Jesus’s attack upon them is also a defense of the gentiles. He is outraged that any part of the Temple could be profaned, even the part reserved for the ritually unclean and unchosen. Given that the temple authorities were sharing in money changer profits, even as they disdained the lowly gentile, what Jesus did was an assault against them on two fronts.  
    Anyway, it will be interesting to read the historical citations that prove there was an urban riot and bloodshed in the wake of his action.  

  18. says

    It’s easy to profit from currency exchanges. Just look at Soros. Historically, they would shave a few slivers of metal off the coins, then remelt the shivers later on. They would twig the scales so that foreign tourist would pay 100 grams of silver and get exchanged 90 grams of silver. For the particularly clever, they could even reforge the coins using some kind of alloy.
     
    Of course, this would all be on top of the “user fee” for money exchanges, which would make it the “robber’s den” rather than simply an honest service provided to the religious.
     
     

  19. jj says

    I kind of like my own doctors, but I pretty much hate everybody else’s – what a waste of a day!
     
    Danny – I’m missing something in your #21 – that’s what I said: it was a mob.
     
    Okay – notes from Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, and Philo of Alexandria, The Special Laws. Josephus: book 3 (9-10); Book 4 (8); Book 15 (11); Book 17 (8); Book 18 (3) – and Philo all over the place. To paraphrase – look at a bit of the history.
     
    The Temple was enormous, translating ancient measurements to modern references, it and the immediate grounds were about the size of thirty football fields.  It was furthermore Passover.  The place (Jerusalem) was packed with both Jewish and non-Jewish pilgrims.  (Josephus says there were typically 4,000,000 pilgrims there for the holiday, to worship in the world’s #1 Temple.  Four million!  I have no clue how you even estimate a crowd like that, but let’s consider that he’s completely nuts and estimate that it was 250,000.  And let’s stipulate they weren’t all there on the same day!)
     
    Okay.  Every Israelite over the age of 20 was obligated to pay an annual tribute of a half shekel to the Temple treasury, and it had to be paid – in every case – in the exact form of the Hebrew half-shekel – a coin no longer in circulation in Jesus’ day.  At Passover, everyone in the world who was an adult male and wished to worship at the Temple had to bring his half-shekel, and an offering.  OR – he had to purchase an offering, a sacrificial animal, at the Temple itself.  (And still needed his half-shekel.)
     
    Since there was no acceptance whatever of foreign money (it had pictures and stuff on it, it was tantamount to an “idol,” so forget it…) strangers and visitors had to change their Greek, Roman, or Eastern money at the stalls of the moneychangers.  There were lots of them: this was not a couple of old ladies with card tables.  The moneychangers would sell “Temple coinage” at a hell of a rate of exchange, on top of which they would throw in a service charge.  This is the “den of thieves” Christ talks about (quoting from the prophet Jeremiah [7:11])
     
    There were also Temple judges present, who inspected the offerings brought by pilgrims.  They could pretty routinely be counted on to disallow any offering brought in by a pilgrim on some basis or other (bruised, spoiled, blemished, too dirty, too old, or otherwise unclean, etc., etc.), forcing the pilgrim to go buy a new dove or whatever from Cousin Sam over there… I mean, from one of our approved and licensed merchants here!
     
    (On a total digression – not that this whole thing isn’t a total digression from Anne Rice, etc. – there is another school of thought.  We are all raised to believe that it’s the “den of thieves” aspect that pissed Christ off (for the second time – he already “cleansed the Temple” once in his life – maybe), but there is an alternative point of view.  It is suggested (by J.R. Hyland, among others) that Jesus’ main goal was to disrupt the buying and selling of animals purchased for sacrifice.  The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and Hoseah had all denounced the sacrificial slaughter of animals back in the Old Testament, and it is suggested that it was the cult of sacrifice that Jesus was out to disrupt, not the system of monetary exchange.  In all three gospel accounts of this event, those who provided the animals for sacrifice are mentioned first as targets for his wrath, before the moneychangers.  [This is a new one on me - thanks to Hyland for an interesting theory.])
     
    Josephus states in pretty plain language that by Jesus’ time, the Temple had become nothing more than the world’s greatest parasite, lying in wait for pilgrimages.  The Temple was about 80% a bank – a treasury with vaults containing immense stores of wealth.  The wealth didn’t just sit there, either, but was loaned out at high rates of interest.  When the archives were burned, Josephus wrote an account that gives an unbelievable picture of the debt owed by the poor to the rich of Jerusalem – Obama-like proportions.
     
    Some more history.  D.A. Carson, commentary on John:
     
    “The moneychangers and animal merchants had their stalls set up in the outer court of the Temple, in the Court of the Gentiles.  This had not always been so, but by Jesus’ time it was a major disruption of worship.  At one time the animal merchants set up their stalls across the Kidron Valley, but at this point they were in the Temple court.
    “Instead of solemn dignity and the murmur of prayer, there is the bellowing of cattle and the bleating of sheep.  Instead of brokenness and contrition, holy adoration and prolonged contrition, there is noisy commerce.  By setting up in the Court of the Gentiles they have excluded any Gentiles who might have come to pray.”
     
    Morris, commentary also on John:
     
    “The court in which all this noisy and boisterous traffic took place was the only court to which Gentiles might go when they wished to pray or meditate in the Temple.  They ought to have been able to worship in peace.  Instead they found themselves in the middle of a noisy bazaar.”
     
    All right, enough history, on with the event.
     
    As noted, the Temple area was huge – Jesus obviously had some folks helping him.  If he hadn’t, the Temple Guards – of whom there were extra on duty for Passover – would have shut him right down – and he couldn’t have done it all on his own.  Someone would have belted him when he turned over the first table.  To pick Passover for this outburst, when the place was crawling with pilgrims, was just looking to start a riot.  Mark (11: 15-16 – thank you, Charles) tells us that while he was engaged in this, he kept people with their containers and other things out.  Well now, how the hell did he police twenty doors simultaneously?  How did he get such control over the whole place that he not only shut down business inside, he also kept people out?  Obviously – he wasn’t acting alone.
     
    Keep going in Mark – the chief priests and scribes wanted to kill him for this disruption – but they were afraid of the crowds.  (Mark 11:18).  Sounds like a mob to me…  Obviously Jesus was strongly escorted – had he had only a few men with him, or been on his own,  the Temple Guards would have just handled it.  (And again: the Guard was heavier than usual – it was Passover.)  John 2 says he did a lot of damage, and even got the animals out of their pens.  He did not do this with a whip made of cords.  An axe, maybe, but I think we may be quite sure he didn’t wreck the pens and liberate the animals with his Swiss Army knife.  So now, in addition to tables overturned and coins flying everywhere, you have cows, oxen, rams, sheep, goats, etc. stampeding down the steps from the Court of the Gentiles – or milling around inside the court.
     
    Okay, I’ll read between the lines a bit: that’s a riot.  That the Temple Guard was afraid to lay a glove on him, that the chief priests and scribes wanted to kill him but were afraid of his private army (okay, “crowd”), indicates that something was going on here, and it wasn’t just a guy tipping over some old Gypsy lady’s card table.
     
    Context is important, too.  Jesus had already ridden into town on an ass, proclaiming himself (or not disagreeing when someone else proclaimed him) the Messiah.  The Jews themselves had already decided he was a heretic and in league with the devil, and Rome had standing orders (Josephus) to keep troublemakers like this the hell away from the Temple: world’s most natural and focal rallying-point for the disaffected.  The only way he would have gotten near the place would have been if he’d sneaked in low-profile, alone or with maybe one friend – but then he wouldn’t have been able to do the driving away, table-upsetting, keeping people out, and animal liberation stuff.  The other possibility – according to Mark it seems probable – is that he went in there with such a mob of supporters that the chief priests, scribes, Temple personnel, Temple Guards, and maybe even the Roman soldiers hanging around the Antonia Palace (and looking down over part of the Temple grounds), took a look and said “Holy S***!” and gave in to the idea that discretion was the better part of valor.  At least until they were reinforced.
     
    This was not a small episode.  This was not a guy tipping over the fortune-teller’s card table.  This was an urban affray at the least, and probably a riot.
     
     
     

  20. Charles Martel says

    Wow, jj, you’ve got a lot of stretching going on. It’s a good thing you’re on our side because if you were a newspaper reporter I could see you turning a crowd of Tea Partyers into a mob by the second or third paragraph.

    First off, quoting Josephus’s figure of 4 million (in an empire of 100 million) puts me on alert. If 1/25th of Caesar’s subjects had ever congregated in one place at one time, you can be certain that several crack and heavily armed legions would have been on hand. (But then you wave your hand and drop the figure to a more credible 250,000, which seems more likely. However, now I suspect that you will quote ancient figures selectively, and  not flinch whenever it becomes necessary to ride the Wayback Machine and fix whatever howlers they’ve committed.)

    The idea that Jesus, after his triumphal entry in Jerusalem, would have had to have slinked around doesn’t make sense. The authorities, fearing his popularity, would have hardly barred him from access to any place in the city. They certainly were not expecting his attack on the money changers, so there was no need for stealth on his part.  (By the way, referring to his followers as a “private army” just doesn’t jibe. There’s no place in the gospels or in any of the non-Christian accounts of Jesus’s ministry that describes him as a commander or his disciples as an army—unless you’ve decided to change the definition of army to mean any collection of unarmed fishermen and peasants who gather in groups greater than three.)

    You assume that Jesus drove all of the money changers out with the aid of his “army,” creating great havoc. You even thank me for for a citation from Mark that does not support what you claim it does. You say it proves Jesus led a coordinated riot when the passage clearly states that he, not he and a bunch of others, forbade the passage of merchandise through the courts. He certainly did not expect to patrol the vast temple grounds by himself and that was never his intent. If anything, his meek followers were as surpised as hell at what had gotten into the Master. If there had been a Saint Oliver, he would have tremulously told Jesus afterward, “Well, now, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”

    One of the proofs of the gospels’ veracity is that they relate so many embarrassing events. The most embarrassing of all was that Jesus was nailed to a cross, which Jews considered the lowest and most demeaning form of death—hardly the way a commando messiah or his apologists would plan things. At his trial, the indictments named several things, including blasphemy, and Jesus’s allusions to the destruction and reconstruction of the temple, but were strangely silent when it came to him leading a mob or doing massive damage to the temple. One would think that the evangelists’ would have wanted to tart up the story by adding something about Jesus’s kick-ass assault. Alas, no proof whatsoever that it was quite the big event you describe.

  21. Danny Lemieux says

    One of the proofs of the gospels’ veracity is that they relate so many embarrassing events. – Charles M.

    The Gospels were totally counterintuitive to their times. For example, Jesus identified with the lowest of the low in the Judaic society of the period…the lepers, the samaritans, the gentiles, the insane, prostitutes, slaves, children, widows….all people who were at the lowest strata of society. The Jews awaited the return of a warrior king and instead got a child “conceived” out of wedlock who elevated children and women and preached against violence (though not self-defense, contrary to assertions of the Liberal Left wings of the Church”. Yet, He resonated.

  22. says

    Jesus was a liberator of the oppressed? Too bad he didn’t have the firepower of the US Marines, else the Romans could never have strung him up.
     
    Now we have Obama as the “messiah” trying to ride the coattails of better men. The good die and the evil traitors get protected by the sacrifices of the virtuous. You see something wrong with that?
     
     
     
     

  23. suek says

    >>They could pretty routinely be counted on to disallow any offering brought in by a pilgrim on some basis or other (bruised, spoiled, blemished, too dirty, too old, or otherwise unclean, etc., etc.), forcing the pilgrim to go buy a new dove or whatever from Cousin Sam over there… I mean, from one of our approved and licensed merchants here!>>
     
    Sounds a bit like the Health Care Bill …
     
    Nothing new under the sun…!!  “the poor you will always have with you”…right along with corruption.

  24. jj says

    Charles – I quoted Josephus’ number A) because that’s what he said, and, B) mostly for the purpose of pointing out I don’t believe it.  I think that was perfectly clear in what I said.  (Herodotus said Xerxes’ army that Leonidas and his Spartans held up at Thermopylae numbered 2 million.  I don’t believe that, either; but Herodotus said it, and any discussion of him and the event will pretty much have to include that number.  Just as any discussion of Passover pilgrims to Jerusalem has to include what Josephus had to say about it – there aren’t a lot of alternative sources.)
     
    I know you read better than that, Charles.  My thanks was for bringing up Mark.  I said: Keep going in Mark. Perhaps I should have said “continue.” Or, “read further.” The chief priests and scribes wanted to kill him for this disruption – but they were afraid of the crowds.  (Mark 11:18)   Sounds like a mob to me.
     
    On second thought – still sounds like a mob to me.  The Temple Guard, the Temple workers, the servants of the chief priests and scribes, the bodyguards of the various moneychangers (they had them) – everybody was afraid to break it up.  “Private army” is a term of art I employed, perhaps improperly.  I don’t believe I claimed Jesus was much of a commander of anything, so leave it at “mob.”  Or even “crowd,” if you like.  The point is, Jesus was so well protected in the midst of the activity that those charged with keeping the peace were afraid to tackle him.  That it was Jesus and a bunch of others may be inferred – correctly, I suspect.  It would have been inferred by the cops if it happened today – from the statement of Mark’s (11:16) to the effect that he didn’t allow anyone in.  Well now, how did he do that?  There were a bunch of entrances, and some of them were at some distance from each other – how did he cover them all himself?  Either Mark is wrong, and plenty of traffic went on, or he had help.  Since there is no claim that any miracles were performed that day in that location, allowing him to be several places at once, I tend to go with the idea that he had some help.  (This is based on logic.  I realize logic may not apply.)
     
    The Temple was very well guarded, especially during a celebration like Passover, when the city was packed.  Josephus, who – despite what I think of his deficiencies in counting – is taken fairly seriously as a historian reports that the Temple came in for especial attention, precisely because Rome was fully aware that it was a focal point for potential problems.  (Rome did not rule their world by accident, and they knew all about the expected “Messiah.”  Herod Agrippa grew up in and was schooled in Rome – and was a lifelong pal of Claudius.)  There was a small detachment of Roman soldiers stationed at the Antonia Palace during Passover.  They weren’t there working on their tans, the Antonia Palace looks over part of the Temple grounds and is a good place from which to keep an eye on events.  There is no knowing whether these soldiers reacted or not, the next thing the gospels report is that at evening Jesus left town.  What was going on back at the Temple – no report.  Five or six hours are just expunged from the record.  Perhaps because the gospels mostly do not in fact report embarrassing events.
     
    If it is going to be claimed that relating embarrassing events is a proof of veracity on the part of the gospels, then I have to admit I don’t know of very many of them.  The crucifixion was the plan – not an embarrassing incident.  I don’t recall a single instance in which Jesus looks ridiculous, which happens to human beings all the time, and his whole point was that he was being human.  Did he ever stand up in one of the fishing boats, overbalance, and fall in the water?  (Every other fisherman on the Sea of Galilee did – at least once.)  Did he ever step out of his sandal while strolling briskly along and land on his nose?  I bet he did; everybody did, but we sure don’t know about it.  Can’t really recall much embarrassment at all.  He never even sneezed, as far as we know – let alone farted,or burped.
     
    But what do you make of a book that covers three solid – and momentous and eventful – years of someone’s life in 11,229 words?  That allows for 10 words a day.  That’s Mark.  The entirety of Mark is 11,229 words.  I suspect some stuff might have been left out – but that’s just me.  What do you think?  The longest gospel is Luke, at 19,404 he allows 17 words a day.  (For those who care, John is 15,420 words long; Matthew is 18,278.)  Brief lives indeed.   Hemingway’s shortest book, the novella The Old Man And The Sea – which covered one afternoon and evening – took the best part of 40,000 words to get down.
     
    I think it must be said, as Danny did say, that most people who read the episode never perceived it as anything other than a crowd, that more or less amounted to a civil “affray,” if the word “riot” offendeth thine eye.

  25. jj says

    Nothing – just that the moneychanger incident wasn’t a quiet little event, but was something closer to a riot.
     
    How we got off on it from Anne Rice I’m not even certain any more – but I probably started it!

  26. SADIE says

    I certainly was intrigued by the give and take.
     
    I do have a question for anyone. Let me preface first that while I was reading, I realized that there are several views on what happened. I don’t know how many editions or translations there are of the New Testament 5, 6 more? Who authored each translation, what was lost in translation and so on.
     
    Question: How do Christians decide which book, variation of Christianity to follow, putting aside, if you can what faith you were raised to believe. I guess, I am looking to see if there is/was guidance and discussion no matter which church you attended.
     
     
     
     

  27. Charles Martel says

    Strawmen to the left of me, strawmen to the right of me.

    Nobody here ever claimed the expulsion of the moneychangers was “a quiet little event.” It obviously wasn’t.

    However, nobody here has proved that it was a riot. To reach that conclusion requires sleight of word, such as transmuting the word “crowds” into “sounds like a mob to me.”

    I’m at a loss what to make of your comparison between the length of the gospels and Hemingway’s novella. Does that mean the U.S. Constitution’s brevity makes us less clear about its intent or message than does the European Union’s much longer constitution?

    Finally, the dismay at not having the gospels record Jesus’s farts and pratfalls is interesting. How many times have I read a biography of a political figure or famous scientist and begged, “What second-rate hagiography this is! Where’s Lincoln’s flatulence! Where’s Einstein’s face-down pitch into hog shit?”

  28. Danny Lemieux says

    SADIE:
    I see the biggest divide in Christianity as being between those that emphasize the Old Testament (I refer to them as “Old Testament Christians”, which includes the more fundamentalist denominations, and those that emphasize the “New Testament” (i.e., Gospels) as God’s new covenant with humanity. Needless to say, there is an enormous divergence of views between various denominations and sects. I attribute it to people muddling along the best they can to understand something that is way above our heads. Personally, I am OK with a wide divergence of views.

  29. SADIE says

    I see the biggest divide in Christianity as being between those that emphasize the Old Testament (I refer to them as “Old Testament Christians”….
     
    Hmm, I refer to them as Jews ;
     
    As long as you mentioned the ‘wide divergence of views’ … I thought  of Northern Ireland, but I am unable to separate the churches from the politics and don’t know if anyone else can either.
     
     

  30. Wolf Howling says

    In all my years of studying history, I have never read Manchester or Zinn.  I guess I should count myself lucky.  Simon Schama is far and away my favorite of modern historical writers.  At any rate, perhaps because of my exposure to different authors, my perception differs from yours.

    Much of the intermingling of pagan customs and their grafting onto Christian traditions were part of a much larger general plan of the Church called, today, syncretism.  Probably the most famous memorialization of a papal order to use the process of syncretism comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede, who notes that in 601 A.D., Pope Gregory sent a letter to his missionaries instructing them to adapt local customs and places of worship as part of the conversion process whenever possible.  The Church sent out its priests far and wide into the newly converted lands to spread the word.  So that while the symbols and trappings of paganism were made a part of the church, they lost virtually all of their pagan meaning, to be replaced with new Christian traditions.  Pagans did not graft onto Christianity.  The Church grafted pagan rituals into Christianity when it suited its purposes.  But I know of no case where anything that was done contravened the text of the bible.

    And now, as much as I dislike defending St. Augustine of Hippo, I think that I must.  If you read Augustine, much like Thomas Aquinas, he bases all of his reasoning on the biblical text.  So, for example, the basis for the Catholic Doctrine of Just War in fact comes out of both Old and New Testament writings.  I don’t specifically recall Augustine’s writings on forced conversions, so that one I will have to look up.

    Moreover, even veneration of relics has at least some basis in the Old Testament.  Think the ark of the covenant, designed to hold the ten commandments.  True, the veneration of relics became much more pronounced in the Medieval world, but it was hardly a pagan innovation.  Selling indulgences was truly the most corrupt innovation of the medieval Church, but that has nothing to do with paganism and everything to do with human nature.   

    At any rate, you also opine that “In the pagan world, however, church and state had long been inextricably intertwined, and the newly Christianized pagan rulers continued to believe that religion and the state were one and the same.”  History does not support that assertion, regardless of what Manchester might claim.  One of the most notable areas of tension in the medieval world was the tension between the Church and the State and what role each should play in governing the people.  See, for example, John, Henry II and Henry VIII of England.  And indeed, there was always a clear division between temporal law and cannon law and their application within the state.  Contrast this with pagan times were the leader was himself the godhead.  The Pharohs of ancient Egypt claimed themselves to be living Gods as did many of the Roman Emporers.  That type of melding of chruch and state never remotely occurred in Christian history.  True, leaders could become zealous in seeking to make their subjects into good Christians, but that alone hardly counts as a pagan custom.    

    You point to a post by the Anchoress that makes it apparent that Ms. Rice simply lacks any understanding of the positions of at least the Catholic Church.  I really can’t improve on her post, but it also comports with my understanding.  At any rate, while I question whether Rice, in light of history, can accurately be called a neo-Pagan, it is clear that she is among the many that, like a small child, is throwing a tantrum because she is not getting her way.  That is not neo-paganism.  It is modern left wing secularism. 

  31. says

    “Nothing – just that the moneychanger incident wasn’t a quiet little event, but was something closer to a riot.”
     
    you specifically stated that the gospels made it out to be two or three people being chased out. Implying that they were covering up for a riot.
     
    Where is your proof on that? That’s not in the Gospels as evidenced by the quotes here.

  32. says

    “Pagans did not graft onto Christianity.  The Church grafted pagan rituals into Christianity when it suited its purposes.  But I know of no case where anything that was done contravened the text of the bible.”
     
    As an example of what is being referred here, Christianity took some rituals from Mithraism, a religion based in and around the Mediterranean that had some dogma roots to Zoroastrianism. The Catholic Mass was adopted from Mithraism. It was one of the better uses of counter-insurgency and relations building. And I suspect it was only possible because the church back then was small and had to be flexible and nimble. This allowed the Catholic Church to gain converts more easily. This can be directly linked back to Jesus Christ. He took the Old Testament, a religion popular amidst war torn tribal feuds in Judea and Syria, and brought in many disciples and believers due to the maganimity of the New Testament. The belief that salvation is available to all, regardless of blood or creed. That is very different from Judaism, even today, or Islam that relies upon threat of death to keep converts.
     
    It’s not surprising that Muslims will tell you that Mohammed was a prophet and Jesus was a prophet, so it’s like Christianity, no real difference. These are people speaking either out of ignorance or active deception. Christianity was never based upon Mohammed the serial rapist and murderer’s creeds. Nor was Islam based much on the New Testament, although the Old Testament had much to offer in terms of providing Allah a big stick to beat his people with.
     
    After the fall of Rome and then Constantinople, then the Catholic Church sat amidst feudal warring tribes and pagan rituals. Yet it gained converts in Europe precisely because it did not rely upon military power. And in Constantinople, the Turks and Muslims ensured that Christianity would only breath at the whim of the Sultans.
     
     

  33. says

    Btw, it was not simply “advertisement fetish” that caused people to join the Roman Catholic Church over its competitors. FOr one thing, worship of Baal back then required that high caste children be sacrificed so that Molloch could eat them. That also applied to other places as well. When mothers realized that Catholicism was just their own local religion, without the command to sacrifice their children, they jumped on board once given a “face saving” gesture that allows them to mouth the right words to their social peers.
     
    Anybody that has ever went to a Democrat dominated party, understands the value of “mouthing the right words” when it comes to social lubrication.

  34. jj says

    The comparison, Charles, was simply to point out that if anyone’s going to tell the story of three allegedly highly eventful years, and do it in fewer than 20,000 words (in all four cases) then there’s going to be a great deal left out.  In fact, most of what happened is going to be left out – including everything that doesn’t agree with the message.  The event in question is a splendid example.  Mark goes from verse 18, relating that the scribes and chief priests wanted to kill him but were afraid, to verse 19, which states: “And when even was come he went out of the city.”  Badda-bing.  That’s it.
     
    Does it strike anyone else that there may be a few hours missing there?  Nothing happened in between those two thoughts?  On a tumultuous day in Olde Jerusalem?  I mean, I’ll go along with the general narration of events – in fact I’ll bet he “went out of the city” – and probably did it as quietly and low-profile as possible, too.  But it seems as though there might be some pieces, maybe even genuinely embarrassing pieces – like a narration of the Romans and Temple guards cracking heads for a while in the late afternoon – missing from the account.
     
    Although to assert that the crucifixion was an embarrassing incident is a bit of a stretch, given that the crucifixion was the point of the exercise.  Okay, maybe he didn’t know it would be by crucifixion specifically, he might have supposed he’d be stoned – more traditionally Jewish – or something along those lines, but he knew he was due to end up killed.  That was the point.  To claim it as an embarrassment kind of misses said point.
     
    You make some sense of these sorts of things by applying what is actually known historically, and combining it with standard human behavior.  It is known that Passover at the Temple was a tricky and nervous time and place for the Romans.  It is known that the Temple guards, body-guards of the chief priests, and Roman soldiery were not patient and reasonable fellows.  It is probable that neither were the body-guards of the moneychangers.  (Do any of the gospels mention that the moneychangers had body-guards?  No, they don’t.  But combine the times, the place, and what else we know as a matter of history about these traveling bankers, plus human nature, and it is a given that they did.  Nobody closed up shop for the day in the Court of the Gentiles, and walked home through the night-time streets of Jerusalem hauling bags of coins without somebody at their side – any more than anyone would do it today on the night-time streets of New York.)  So, when the story goes that he knocked over the tables of the moneychangers and stops there, it seems safe, and logical, to assume that somebody might have had a reaction to this action.  Maybe in retaliation he got knocked over – there were certainly present those who would give it a shot. (Now, that would have been embarrassing!)  When we’re told that the chief priests and scribes wanted him dead but were afraid of the crowds, we may infer – history helps here – that what we are really being told is that the crowd was so raucous and there was a sufficient affray going on that they were afraid to order the guards and their servants and body-guards to “go get that guy,” because we know the chief priests and scribes didn’t do it with their own hands.  And again, we must infer, which is a rather different process than setting up a straw man – such an order to the guards would perhaps have incited the crowd to violence toward their persons, so they kept the guards close.
     
    Or they may have ordered the guards in, and it simply isn’t reported.  After all, Mark only allowed himself ten words a day and he was already well over his limit.  So he skips right to evening, and getting out of town.  Knowledge of the time and place, combined with what we know of normal human behavior might add to getting out of town: “quietly.  After dark.  Heads down and no talking – because we started a riot today, the Romans are not best pleased with us, and we really don’t want them to find us right now.”  This is not a straw man, this is a logical conclusion to draw based on what we are told.
     
    When the story goes that one guy kept 17 doors shut, and didn’t allow anybody in, and no miracle was committed – pretty sure Mark would have mentioned it if there had been one – then it’s safe to assume there were probably several people involved.  Probably at least one for every door.  The police, I suspect, would routinely assume there was more than one person involved.
     
    You’re a believer Charles – which is great.  It seems you buy the official story and the authorized version pretty much without question.  It doesn’t require my – or anyone’s – approval, but that’s also great.  However, those of us who don’t necessarily read uncritically are not engaged in setting up “straw men,” but may well be engaged in an exercise of the logical faculty.  “A bunch of doors at some remove from each other kept firmly closed by one guy?  Not possible, barring a miracle.  No miracle reported.  The gospel writers missed 95% of the story – but that they wouldn’t have missed.  Ergo: there was more than one guy shutting down the traffic through the doors.”
     
    Would the chief priests, scribes, Temple guards, extra Passover rent-a-cops, moneychanger bodyguards, bodyguards and servants to the chief priests, and Roman soldiers on duty at the Antonia palace have been cowed by one – or even two or three – unruly people?  Not likely.  Ergo – there was a sizable crowd of unruly people.  (Granted, of course, that they didn’t all wade into the crowd, and Mark just didn’t mention it.)
     
    People don’t behave that much differently now than they ever did.  Logic applies.  (And, had the one person to whom it evidently didn’t apply acted, Mark would have told us.)  I hardly think there’s anything made up, or unrealistic, or straw-mannish about that.

  35. says

    WH (#40):  I appreciate your comment, because it refines my thoughts so nicely.  I’m rushing around like a chicken without a head, getting ready for my trip, so I cannot give it the attention it deserves.  I’ll just hit three points that struck me, and that I wanted to comment on before I board the plane:

    1.  I yield to your reading of St. Augustine.  Not only did I last read his Confessions 30 years ago, I did so in a poorly taught freshman history class at Berkeley that was pretty much geared to defaming the Church.  What little memory I have of the work is probably tainted.  (Although I do remember being charmed by what a hellion he was, and how completely he repented of his “wild oats” days.  It was a very human voice that spoke to me through the centuries.

    2.  I knew that the Church had intentionally accommodated many pagan practices to make the transition easier.  I’ve always thought that was brilliant.  However, I think the down-side of this approach was that many of the pagans never truly transitioned to the core Christian faith, including the pagan monarchs and aristocrats.  These were incomplete conversions, because the Church made it too easy for the converted to cling, not just to the old holidays, but to the old morals.

    3.  Regarding the tension between Church and State (meaning that they were never truly one), I actually had a whole subset of paragraphs on just that point.  I ended up getting hopelessly muddled, though, and deleted them.  I agree with you completely that there was an endless tension during the Middle Ages, as the Papacy and the States battled for power, but I’ve always taken that to mean that each wanted to dominate the other completely — meaning that the victor, whether Church or State, would be both Caesar and God.  Since I was trying to make that point anyway, I figured I’d do better without several confused paragraphs on a point that you managed to express with striking clarity.

  36. Charles Martel says

    Or they may have ordered the guards in, and it simply isn’t reported.  After all, Mark only allowed himself ten words a day and he was already well over his limit.  So he skips right to evening, and getting out of town.  Knowledge of the time and place, combined with what we know of normal human behavior might add to getting out of town: “quietly.  After dark.  Heads down and no talking – because we started a riot today, the Romans are not best pleased with us, and we really don’t want them to find us right now 
    Two thoughts occur:
    1.      Your sneering attitude towards Mark’s account because it doesn’t measure up to your idea of the proper narrative length is not an argument. Please find another red herring.
    2.      “Heads down, no talking. . .the Romans are not pleased with us”—pure conjecture, belied by the fact it was the Jewish court that later pressed charges against Jesus, not the Romans. Or are you saying that the Romans, famous for holding a grudge, were afflicted with short-term memories in this one instance?
    When the story goes that one guy kept 17 doors shut, and didn’t allow anybody in, and no miracle was committed – pretty sure Mark would have mentioned it if there had been one – then it’s safe to assume there were probably several people involved.  Probably at least one for every door.  The police, I suspect, would routinely assume there was more than one person involved.
    Nowhere do the gospels say that “one guy kept 17 doors shut.” There’s your straw man. I wish I could share your glee at demolishing an argument that was never made. Yes, I know that you are a master of logic and critical reading, and that you infer from your abilities that there just had to be a private army/mob/unruly crowd assisting Jesus. (Kind of like the optimist twin who kept digging through the horse manure he received for his birthday shouting, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”)
    “You’re a believer Charles – which is great.  It seems you buy the official story and the authorized version pretty much without question.  It doesn’t require my – or anyone’s – approval, but that’s also great.  However, those of us who don’t necessarily read uncritically are not engaged in setting up “straw men,” but may well be engaged in an exercise of the logical faculty.  “A bunch of doors at some remove from each other kept firmly closed by one guy?  Not possible, barring a miracle.  No miracle reported.  The gospel writers missed 95% of the story – but that they wouldn’t have missed.  Ergo: there was more than one guy shutting down the traffic through the doors.”

    You insist that the gospel writers missed 95% of the story, based on your. . .insistence. Even though you make this claim 2,000 years removed from the event and from a viewpoint that is openly hostile to Xianity, I am assured that your 100% version of the story is based on critical reading and “an exercise of the logical faculty” (I feel better already!). So, based on logic you make the crowd morph from one that the authorities dare not rile by arresting the very popular Jesus (lest they actually do turn into rioters) into one that actively abets his rampage, resulting in busted heads, fainting women, baaing lambs, pissed off usurers and snarling Romans. This is the kind of leap that reminds me of when a school girl gets a goodnight peck from her first date at 11 and is writing out pretend wedding invitations by 11:06.

    Nor do you address Danny L’s discussion of the embarrassing aspects of the Xian narrative. You simply ignore them even though they bolster the case against your belief that the gospels were written to game people. Even more dismaying is your double-handedness: On one hand, [a critical reading, of course] of the gospels shows that Jesus intended to set up his execution all along, but on the other hand those nefarious gospels failed to describe the riot that he and his mob incited at the Temple as a means of bringing his death about. Oh, accurate and naive gospels when you help me make my case; oh, cynical agitprop when you make me do it by myself!

  37. Wolf Howling says

    There are some interesting anecdotes on the power struggles between the papacy and the states – or if not struggle, then at least tension over where one’s power began and the other’s ended.  There was never a question of the Papcy trying to wrest control of a country from a king, it was always though, a question of how much influence the Church should have on the regent and the administration of law and governance.  Even in cases where the regent was fully a Christian, this tension existed. 

    For example, prior to 1200, England practiced trial by ordeal, at which a represntative of the church would appear and rule of the guilt or innocence of the individual subject to the ordeal.  Pope Innocent III withdrew papal support for trials by ordeal and thus left the administration of secular justice almost wholly to the king.  This led directly to the development of trial by juries as in our modern system.

    Popes would also resort to excommunication of kings who acted outside the norms of Christianity.  Looking to Innocent the III yet again, he excommunicated Emporer Otto IV for invading Sicily and spilling Christian blood, then publicly chastised France’s king Philip Augustus for adultery, writing “The Holy See cannot leave persecuted women without defense; the dignity of a king does not dispense you from your duties as a Christian”.

    And then of course there was the constant tension between the desires of kings to appoint who they would to important positions inside the Church within their country, thus seeking to minimize Papal interference from afar.  This always led to conflict, the most famous likely being Thomas Becket.    
     

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  1. Jacob and Anne Rice…

    It’s not for me to argue Catholic teachings, but my friend The Anchoress Elizabeth Scalia’s reply to Anne Rice’s problem with whether Christians are living her political liberalism probably comes as close as to the Catholicism I learned…

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