The Gospel According to the Fray

Readers respond to this whole epistemology of Christianity deal.

But Is It Good for the Jews? Steven Waldman’s “Passion Misplay,” in which he suggests that it’s high time that Jews fess up and “admit that some of their forefathers probably helped get Jesus killed,” has rattled the groggers over in the  Faith-Based Fray. The Contextualist: gtomkinsCiting centuries of misappropriation of the Bible, gtomkins explains that the narratives and

the four Evangelists could not have been anti-Semitic. They were Jews themselves, as was Christ, and at a time when Judaism and Christianity were not mutually exclusive alternatives.
Gt alludes to specific instances in the book, such as Hansen’s Disease mistaken for leprosy, as well as a general “reckless over-translation by these later generations” of conditions and concepts that lacked a heretofore context or meaning. Because “[t]here was not, in fact, a word for ‘government’ in the abstract in common use in the koine Greek of New Testament times,” the proceedings of the Sanhedrin and Praetor can be filtered only though our present-day understanding of governmental structure. Gt explains it all hereThe Evangelical: locdogWhile locdog finds himself in “general agreement” with Waldman, he takes issue with Waldman’s inference that
no one who is intellectually engaged in the world around them, according to Waldman, could possibly believe the Bible is factually accurate.
In response, locdog provides a lengthy rebuttal, taking issue with John Dominic Crossan, one of Waldman’s theologians of choice in parsing the Gospels. Locdog performs a cogent summary of the books in question, then concludes that
the solution to Christian anti-Semitism doesn’t lie in revising or ignoring the story of the crucifixion. Blaming things on the conveniently defunct Romans is a helpful lie, but it’s a lie nonetheless. What’s needed, I believe, is to look towards the Bible rather than away from it: there’s no way one can read the Bible in its entirety and reasonably conclude that God approves of anti-Semitic hatred.

locdog would say that’s true of all forms of hatred.
The Symbolist: doodahmanA confessed reformed Catholic, doodahman eschews a rigidly literal prescriptive Bible in favor of something more narrative, if not devotional:
Seems to me the better view of the Gospels is not literal, but symbolic. It is a symbol laden, icon heavy revelation about the new relationship created between God and men through Christ. The characters are representations of all kinds of human relationships with God—Peter, as wanting to be faithful, but filled with fear and doubt; Barabbas, who represents every sinner whose ass is saved by Christ’s sacrifice; the Thieves, who represent the rewards of faith versus skepticism; Pilate, the representation of earthly authority which operates in an entirely different realm than God.

When reading the The Passion, to get the right import, one ought to cast oneself in the role of the Jews, who represent all unsaved people—pagan, Jewish, whatever. The Jews of Jerusalem at that time are described as, like all people of all times, ignorant, fearful, prejudiced, intolerant, fickle and easily herded about. They reflect all people, then and now, not the descendants of Jews. The “Jews” in the Gospel stand in for all humanity and its sinful rejection of God. I don’t know if Mel Gibson is astute enough to make that point clear.
For doodahman’s more extensive interpretation of the story and an ironic bit on the “shotgun marriage” between Christian fundamentalists and the Israeli right wing, click here. The Secularist: Josh_PollackJosh_Pollack can’t figure out why Waldman chooses to “take Mark at face value, but read Matthew, Luke, and John critically?” Josh’s read:
[I]f we are to treat all four as purely human documents, then we don’t have a good reason to accept even Mark’s claims about Jewish culpability (or that in Josephus, which bears the hallmarks of a later interpolation). I could be wrong, but I don’t think any secular historian finds Mark’s account of the crucifixion to be credible, when taken to be a human, historical document. The tyrannical Pilate who appears in the writings of his contemporaries, Josephus and Philo, doesn’t resemble the mythological figure of Mark or the other Gospels.
Those who’ve spun their dissertations on Flavius Josephus or everyone’s favorite Alexandrian should weigh in here. The Skeptics: Freman, Iron_LungfishFreman challenges the very premise of the narrative sequence here:
The idea that “the Jews” would even need to go to Pilate and ask for Jesus’ execution by crucifixion seems to have always been a dilemma which has been skillfully evaded by most if not all Christians for two millennia. The Jews had their own form of executing blasphemers, adulteress women and other Jewish criminals: usually by the method of stoning. They would surely not have needed to involve the Romans at all in their internal religious and cultural affairs, UNLESS there was a direct and provable threat to the Roman Empire on the part of the criminal.
Similarly, I.L. writes:
A reading of the Gospels reveals that the Romans’ role in the execution is a perplexing one; they do all the legwork, but are curiously exonerated by the writers at every turn, to the point of incredulity: Pilate offers up another victim in a tradition that seems to have no precedent, his wife has a dream telling him not to execute Jesus (a dream sent by whom, since Jesus’ role is ostensibly to sacrifice his life for man’s sins?), a Roman centurion standing by the cross looks up and says “Surely this was the Son of Man.”
More from I.L. hereThe Defense Counsel for Pilate: Thrasymachus Thrasymachus reminds us that the Gospel of Mark has taken plenty throughout history. That said,
The most important thing to remember when reading Mark is that the author, like Jesus, considered himself a Jew and Christianity a new and purified form of the “true faith” of Judaism.
On the issue of Pilate, Thrasymachus maintains some consideration:
Given the reputation that Tiberius had by then acquired (that is, as a Stalin-like paranoid psychotic bent on ferreting out “traitors” behind every hedgerow), Pilate was prudent to decide against going up against the priesthood a third time.
For more from T. on Pilate’s tenuous relationship with the head honchos back in Rome and his “well-founded” fears, click here.The Delineator: NemoNemo wonders if “the ADL and like-minded individuals and groups found anti-Semitism in THE PASSION because they expected to find it.”  Why?
Gibson is a “Traditionalist” Catholic. I suspect a lot of people simply think that means he is “old-fashioned” or “very devout.” This is not the case. Traditionalists are a splinter group that reject the authority of Pope John Paul II and the changes made by the Second Vatican Council. Gibson is heavily into Traditionalism. …I very much doubt that the ADL or anyone else would have been particularly concerned about THE PASSION if Mel was a mainstream Catholic who supported the Pope and if his father was not a known anti-Semite.
To get in on the Traditionalist vs. mainstream Catholic discourse, click hereJesus Had It Coming: The Fray editor expresses gratitude to historyguy for going into the back files and producing one of the Fray’s most storied and prolific posts from April 2001. JoeyGiraud-13 elicited 507 responses for his incendiary post, by all accounts a Fray record:
this Jesus guy …

1. engaged in property theft by cursing a fig tree, resulting in the loss of corporate profits.

2. disrupted market activities by attacking financiers engaged in lawful currency transactions.

3. stirred up class warfare among the poor.

4. stole intellectual property, by preaching a gospel that he didn’t copyright.

5. subverted the capitalistic virtues of private property by advising people to give away possesions.

If he were doing this kind of stuff today, our conservative leaders would make sure he were properly punished. Three strikes and you’re out, Jesus!
Responses would probably be superfluous. Please donate to your favorite house of worship. Your favorite house of pancakes. Plant a tree in Israel. Uproot one if you prefer. … KA 10:25 a.m.

Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2003

In the  History Lesson Fray, The_Bell ponders the potency of Gen. Wesley Clark’s candidacy with an air of skepticism. He alludes to a story by Chris Suellentrop (“Wesley Clark: Is there a general in the house?“) published back in January, prior to the Iraq war. For The_Bell, at the time, Clark’s military credentials seemed insufficient, a priori, to mount a viable Democratic candidacy. That perception hasn’t changed much, even in the postwar malaise. The_Bell’s thoughts can be found here:

When Mr. Suellentrop first brought up the prospect of Wesley Clark as a potential Democratic candidate whose military record could give Democrats the missing edge on homeland security, I will admit that I was outright incredulous—referring to Clark as “Colin Powell in short pants.” In that post, I wrote:

“I do not mean to discount Clark’s many real accomplishments as a soldier. I genuinely believe that both former President Clinton and he deserve more credit for stopping the violence in the former Yugoslavia and bringing Milosevic to justice than they have gotten. But using Clark
to give the Democrats chops on the homeland security issue? Based on the Kosovo campaign? I think not. The problem here is not what is lacking in Clark as a soldier but, as Mr. Suellentrop neatly notes, what is lacking in the (voting) public’s perception of him as such. … Before he can even begin to convince voters that, as the Democratic nominee, he could conduct the war on terrorism more ably than President Bush, he first must convince them that he conducted the Kosovo campaign ably as a general.”

I do not think much has changed about Clark himself in the past nine months but I will grant that two things HAVE happened that may have tempered public perception of him. First, there has been a bit of tarnish applied to Powell’s reputation—if not so much a demonization, then at least a de-canonization—that was bound to happen as Powell became tangled up with Republican politics in ways that, as Mr. Greenberg points out, Clark
has yet to enmesh himself on the left.

Second, and perhaps far more important, all the way through the 2002 midterm elections, the American public seemed to prefer Republicans because on the issue of homeland security (the “war on terrorism”), they felt the GOP was more likely to show the necessary backbone to respond as aggressively as required. In plain terms, they distrusted that Democrats would ever go so far as to go to war. However, that was before the Iraqi War. The combination of the Bush Administration’s stubborn and headlong rush to invasion coupled with the unresolved and stagnant environment of the postwar occupation may well have pushed some moderate swing voters away from mettle and toward moderation as the preferred trait of a Commander-In-Chief.

If in January, Clark seemed unlikely to prevail as painting himself more along the Zachary Taylor “Old Rough and Ready” than President Bush, today he just might appear more believable in the Cincinnatus “warrior statesman” model that Mr. Greenberg posits than Bush or even Powell.

It is also interesting that Clark shares one aspect with Howard Dean that is credited for Dean’s ability to jump to the front of the Democratic pack—a large and extremely loyal Internet following. While Clark definitely has an uphill battle—Dean did not have to face an established frontrunner when he made his surge—Clark
might definitely cause a rift in the anti-Bush core that Dean has been building.

Still, looking at Greenberg’s historical record, I come back to the same criticism that I raised about Clark back in January. His battlefield record might earn him respect among military experts but he lacks the perception of a major victory that propelled many of the highly successful generals with pure popular support. Democrats might like to consider Clark
the Eisenhower who THEY captured this time but Wesley Clark lacks not only Eisenhower’s patina of victory, he lacks his mantle of easy affability and natural leadership as well. It is easy for him to “bask in the draft-Clark committees that are sprouting up” but how will he do when Republicans attack both his war record and his liberal leanings, as they are sure to do?

Still, a lot has changed since January and perhaps a soldier who is NOT famous as a victorious warrior is the image that may capture the hearts of the public. Perhaps Clark may sway voters by vowing “I shall go to Iraq” and running on a platform that the first, best way to ensure security here at home is to avoid entanglements halfway around the world whenever possible.

Monday, Sept. 15, 2003

Beauty and the Starve-the-Beasters: At the top of many Fraysters’ weekend read is Paul Krugman’s New York Times Magazine cover piece, “ The Tax Cut Con.” Krugman delineates between the two principal camps of the anti-tax movment—rosy supply-siders who insist that marginal rate cuts can be offset by subsequent growth of enormous proportions, and the Norquist camp whose ultimate end is to deny the government the revenue to function, thereby stripping the state to its bare, functional minimum. Krugman—presumably in an effort to promote his new book, The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century—seems like a Hasid at a NASCAR event on Real Time With Bill Maher this weekend. Sissyfuss1 launches a thoughtful thread here in BOTF on Krugman’s article:

Krugman’s main point is that Bush’s economic policies have brought America close to dismantling the economic system erected by the New Deal. Do we want the laissez faire system of the pre-Depression era, or the more humane and managed version of capitalism that has overseen the prosperity of the last 70 years?
DallasNE responds, contending that, though comprehensive,
One thing this article doesn’t touch on is how fiscal policy is tying the hands of   Greenspan. Greenspan has basically shot the wad of monetary policy and the nation is still seeing over 400,000 new claims week after week.
The_Unnamed alludes to a lively thread initiated by ToddT earlier in the week on this very topic here. ToddT provides a proto-rebuttal, of sorts, to Krugman. Have Gun, Will Unravel: In a contentious thread spun by EFriedemann here, EF claims that Howard Dean “has never had an original thought in his life,” proof being his appropriation of several campaign zingers from the likes of the late Paul Wellstone and the allegedly living James Carville. EF continues:
Dean’s deviousness is a metaphor for his false persona as a liberal Democrat. As governor of Vermont, Dean was highly recommended by the National Rifle Association. And his record of spending on social programs was dismal by Democratic standards.
The most interesting allegation posed by EF’s post is taken up by Bob_W here, who maintains that,
backing from the NRA is not synonymous with backing from the Republican Party. One can be a liberal or a moderate and still oppose gun control, which is sufficient to make the cover of American Rifleman.
Given the current partisan alignment, can a national “liberal,” or even a viable Democratic presidential candidate, hold a moderately pro-gun position? Fraywatch yearns to know. … KA10:40 a.m.

Friday, Sept. 12, 2003

Paving the Road to Hell: Economist Paul Craig Roberts writes in this morning to take issue with Tuesday’s Chatterbox, in which Timothy Noah continues to examine “the schism between neoconservatives and supply-siders.” Noah includes Roberts among a catalog of “key players in the conflict.” Roberts writes:

My opposition to the invasion of Iraq is independent of the fate of tax rate reductions. The invasion was a strategic blunder, period. The purpose of supply-side economic policy was to cure “stagflation.” It did. I am a classical liberal. I disagree with conservatives (all camps) on a number of issues. For example, on “law and order” issues and civil liberties, I am allied with Harvey Silverglate and Alan Dershowitz (the old, not the new). See my book, The Tyranny of Good Intentions. I have aroused the ire of DC think tank conservatives for raising questions about the basis for free trade. Recently, I asked if airline deregulation had failed. I could go on at length.

Is Noah unfairly pigeonholing Roberts? Is Roberts flying the coop? To respond, click here.

730 Days:Joe_JP here and imreallyperplexed  here turn in posts more soulful than mournful—narratives of how even the most potent events can be temporal if you look closely enough (imreallyperplexed), though they have an enduring effect on your sensual memory (Joe).

An die ferne Geliebte:Paul Breslin and MCroche share a labyrinthine doozy starting here over in Music Box on the possible disparity (if such a delineation can be drawn) between Beethoven’s composition and performance. A brief excerpt from Breslin’s comprehensive post:

[T]here is a difference between composition and performance. To compose, you need to be able to grasp the relative durations of pitches and create a pattern. To perform the piece, however, puts you into physical contact with instruments and their possibilities and limitations. There are many reports of Beethoven’s deteriorating abilities as a performer as his deafness advanced. By the time he added the metronome markings, he had not been able to perform publicly for years.

MCRoche retorts,

Breslin’s blinkered, pitches-and-rhythms account of the act of composition resembles a 20th-century modernist caricature of Anton Webern at his desk, not the act of a composer who so thoroughly delved into questions of sonority and dynamics.

The discussion has spawned several threads. Get in on the chat at the  Music Box Fray

Murray Hill: Trumpets for Bill Murray over in the Movies Fray this week, starting with Spledid_IREny’s general rant on Saturday Night Live—a pretext to her praise of Murray as “the one SNL alumnus to actually create characters of real depth”:

[H]e’s the character actor’s character actor, and the one person from SNL who deserves such description. Other SNL cast members need to study Murray to figure out how it’s done. That’s not to say Murray isn’t hip (at least to me, he’s always projected the real thing, not Spade’s smarmy scurrying), but there’s always a touch of humor and vulnerability. …

Naturally, TheMaxFischerPlayers agrees. “Murray’s last couple of semi-dramatic performances have been criminally overlooked. Here’s hoping that he at least gets an Oscar nomination for [Lost in Translation].”

Publish or Perish? “By professional obligation,” elle_loco must cull Publishers Weekly each week. According to elle, there’s something faintly Travoltian about PW:

I’m intrigued to know whether anyone else has ever discerned a certain Scientological slant to the industry bible. A while back, a big trade show people pic featured a huge Dianetics display filling the entire background. Then last month, I was surprised to see a sci-fi anthology by L. Ron Hubbard get a raving red-starred review. L. Ron, whattup dawg?

For undoubtedly the most extensive personality test ever composed for the Web, courtesy of the Church of Scientology, click here. … KA 8:35 p.m.

Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2003

Wolfe at the Door: This week’s installment of v.p. comes from Zathras (“The Me Generation Presidency“), commenting in the War Stories Fray, on the new egocentricity of the presidency:

I have a theory about American politics that is somewhat the reverse of Ralph Nader’s, namely that the two parties are still very different but the politicians running for office are increasingly similar.

What they have in common, of course, is their preoccupation with the mechanics of getting elected, and then getting reelected, and then—if they are a second term President ineligible for reelection—with fine-tuning their “place in history,” a kind of election campaign to win the votes of people who have not been born yet. They may have in addition things they want government to do, and ideas for changing government itself, but when these have to compete for time with fundraising, positioning and the other things needed for the care and feeding of the perpetual campaign, the campaign always wins.

This can hardly be a source of much regret for the most partisan Democrats, who can honestly say they elected the best guy they had to the White House. No Democrat in the last 15 years who had any prospect of getting elected had more knowledge of policy and public spirit than Bill Clinton, except perhaps the late Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts (whose health problems, we now know, would have abbreviated his term had he somehow gotten elected). It is true that Clinton was self-absorbed, carried into the White House a substantial sense of entitlement, and was accustomed to winning favor abroad by the convenient expedient of telling foreign leaders what they wanted to hear—and it is also true, of course, that al Qaeda grew and prospered for years on Clinton’s watch while he plotted against Newt Gingrich. But the Democrats had no one better.

The Republicans, on the other hand, in the three elections since 1988 when their candidate was not an incumbent President could choose from Robert Dole in 1988 and 1996, Richard Lugar in 1996, and John McCain in 2000, all men long accustomed to dealing with foreign policy and foreign leaders, all men able to talk about America’s place in the world without notes, and all men at least as interested in what happens after Election Day as what happens before it. And whenever Republicans had a choice, they preferred the entitled mediocrity, mania for fundraising and banal electoral calculations of the Bush family, men of Clinton’s character lacking only Clinton’s appetites.

For such men encouraging Iraqis to rebel against Saddam Hussein and turning away when they actually did so or ignoring allied offers of help and cooperation after 9/11 are actions that come naturally. At the end of the day what counts is Me: the good of the country of course, and the country’s role in the world if I think of it, but always and first, Me.

It can’t be an accident that we have elected three men of this type in succession to the White House, and in 2000 almost elected another, Al Gore. One President can be vastly different from the America that elects him in values or ability, but a succession of Presidents who wear their zeal for self and their boredom with the admittedly often difficult and uncongenial work of government alike on their sleeve must say something about the people who chose the