Monday, December 23, 2013

‘Rape for Profit’ (Film Review + Giveaway)

Rape for Profit is the latest documentary film exposing the realities of one of the most gruesome crimes, sexual oppression. Produced and hosted by Jason Pamer and released by Mew Films, it might have a disturbing title, but anything more tasteful wouldn’t necessarily get the main point across as quickly. Prostitution isn’t about free agents making choices. It’s about women and girls living in slavery right under our noses.

The sad thing is that most people – most Christians, in fact – would prefer to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Or worse, they even blame the victims, insisting on penalizing the prostitutes without ever addressing the real problem. As Rape for Profit shows, it’s the slave trader parents, guardians, and boyfriends, the slave master “pimps,” and the patronizing “johns” who are real the problem. It’s the pastors, police officers, lawyers, and judges, who purchase these illegal “services” rather than use all of their influence and power to stop it, that are the real problem. Women and girls, often sexually abused by their families and burdened with low self-esteem, easily find themselves sweet talked and coerced by those who seek to profit from selling their bodies. They are kept under psychological lock and key, believing the all-to-common truth that no one cares about their plight. In most cases, they have no safe place to go and know no one they can trust. So they are left to cope with the day-to-day job of sleeping with men they find disgusting and staying on the good side of an angry pimp.

This is a touchy subject. I really admire the makers of Rape for Profit for trying to get the word out, exposing sex trafficking and prostitution in the Seattle area. More than some similar films, it tries to focus on the customers, who I agree are the biggest problem. Any amount of crackdown on the suppliers will just drive up the prices rather than eliminating demand.

Rape For Profit Theatrical Trailer from mew films on Vimeo.

Where was the film lacking? I didn’t agree with everything presented in Rape for Profit, but one thing in particular bothered me a lot. There was a noticeable lack of a female presence in the crackdown portions of the films. There were no female officers, detectives, or film crew to be seen. Maybe that couldn’t be helped, but at the very least, I think I would’ve preferred a team doing the interviews: a man for the pimps and johns, and a woman for the prostitutes. It was bothersome hearing men, strangers to the victims, even with good intent, telling the girls that they were precious, that they loved them, that they would protect them, etc. Those sorts of appeals to the emotions of girls starved for love are what pimps are notorious for. Again, I think the filmmaker had honorable intentions, but that was a big mistake in my view.

With that caveat, I wholeheartedly recommend Rape for Profit. If you’re interested, it’s now available online for a fee through iTunes and Vimeo. Because of language and subject matter, I wouldn’t recommend it for children. As a Kickstarter supporter, I received a perk including ten DVDs. It might seem like an unusual giveaway, but I’d like to help get the word out about this the sexual oppression of women by offering five of them (plus shipping) to adults living in the United States. Please participate in the Rafflecopter contest below to win. Note: This contest is not sponsored by Mew Films or its affiliates.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

More Thoughts on Judges

In the Time of the Judges - Jephthah's Daughter
by Kevin Rolly (Used by Permission)
Typology is a very important part of Christian theology. From its very beginning, the lives of many Old Testament figures were interpreted as types of Jesus Christ, foreseeing His sacrificial death and miraculous resurrection. Isaac, Joseph, Moses, and Jonah are probably the most familiar examples, although a few other biblical characters are found listed from time to time. Interestingly enough, women never seem to make the list. It’s possible that scholars have taken the time to thoroughly evaluate each woman in the Bible and have never found one whose life makes a strong enough analogy to Jesus’s. However, I’m inclined to believe that, in reality, the thought to consider women just never occurred to them. So I move that a new candidate is put forward as a type of Christ: the daughter of Jephthah, mentioned in the Book of Judges.

“Tragic” is the word generally used for the story recounted in Judges 11:29-40. Like many other desperate people throughout history, Jephthah the Gileadite made a rash vow to the Lord. He hoped for military success against the Ammonites, and, at that moment, was willing to sacrifice anyone in his household for it. Maybe he thought that the first person to greet him would be a servant or a pet. At any rate, Jephthah made the vow, and God gave him victory. Jephthah went home knowing that he must do exactly what he agreed to do.

Today, in many homeschooling “patriarchal” circles, Numbers 30 is a popular passage, used to support the argument that an unmarried woman’s father has the role of her husband and deserves all of the respect, obedience, and submission that the New Testament writers require (cf. Eph. 5:22-24, 33; Col. 3:18; 1 Pt. 3:1-6). Unfortunately, this discussion tends to overshadow the entire point of the passage:
If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.Num. 30:2 (ESV)
While women could be released from a rash vow by a male authority, men were stuck. Jephthah’s reaction to his daughter running out to greet him indicates just how serious the ancient Israelites took God’s command. There was no way out, perhaps because the practice of redeeming lives hadn’t yet been established (1 Sam. 14:24-46). Jephthah was bound to offer up his only daughter as a burnt offering, just as he promised (Judg. 11:31).

It is at this point when the analogy with Christ becomes apparent. Jephthah’s daughter reacts rather unexpectedly. As Jesus was obedient even to death on the cross (Phil. 2:8), the girl tells her father to do as he promised (Judg. 11:36). Her words anticipate the words of Christ centuries later: “Not my will, but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42). She spends two months in the mountains with her friends preparing for her death (Jdg. 11:37-39), just as Jesus spent His last hours with His friends, those closest to Him (Mt. 26:17-56; Mk. 14:12-42; Lk. 22:7-46; Jn. 13:1-17:26; cf. Jn. 15:15). And as if to eliminate any doubt in the reader’s mind about her innocence, the narrator tells us that her was a virgin, worthy of honor (Judg. 11:37-40). This is not to say that she sinless, but that her father had no reason to condemn her to death. She had not engaged in prostitution, which under the Mosaic Law was deserving of death by stoning (cf. Deut. 22:13-21). Rather, she was like Christ, who being without sin didn’t deserve the punishment He was given.

Because of the human sacrifice, this story of Jephthah’s daughter, like that of Abraham sacrificing Isaac (Genesis 22), will always be controversial and leave a bad taste in the mouths of most readers. But we must remember that the shedding of innocent blood is central to Christianity’s message. The woman who was once considered worthy of an annual four-day lament does not deserve to have her story left in the back of the closet, regardless of how uncomfortable it might make us. I hope in the future readers will find a new appreciation for this female type of Christ.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Thoughts on the Pericope Adulterae

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1565)
by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Wikipedia)
One of the most touching stories found in the New Testament is the Pericope Adulterae. It tells of the woman caught in adultery but set free when Jesus’s pointed statement “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” brings her accusers to shame. The passage is generally referenced as John 7:53-8:11, although there is a long and varied historical debate about its authenticity and proper placement in the canon.

Ever since my childhood, I’ve been fascinated by the story, not just because it shows Jesus’s incredible finesse in theological debate, but also because it was shrouded in mystery. What was it that Jesus wrote on the ground? Until a few months ago, I’d never even bothered to guess, but an Old Testament story about God writing made me notice a possible connection.

Belshazzar's Feast (1635)
by Rembrandt (Wikipedia)
In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar sees the handwriting on the wall, and the Jewish exile Daniel interprets it as his coming doom. The four words מְנֵא (menê') twice, תְּקֵל (teqal), and פְּרֵס (peras) served as a short hand way of spelling out the Babylonian king’s doom. Note especially v.27 (ESV): “Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.” That makes a fitting judgment on a king who had used the temple vessels for his wild partying, but also is applicable to these men who dragged the adulteress to Jesus.

Many scholars have noted that, in first century Judea, there was essentially a wife-swapping epidemic brought about by ramped adultery and no-fault divorces followed by remarriage. Jesus preached against these practices in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27-32). It doesn’t take too much effort to speculate that some of the men in the lynch mob had committed adultery. Some might have, justifying it through the loop holes in the Mosaic Law that Jesus closed up. At any rate, not one of them could claim to be sinless, and they knew it.

When Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, ESV), He was issuing a challenge to the accusers. He was asking whose life, when weighed, could truly measure up to God’s standards of righteousness. Convicted by their own consciences, the men walked away. They knew that, if they were honest, they’d fare no better against the scales of justice than the accused woman. Maybe even no better than King Belshazzar himself. They’d seen the handwriting on the wall, so to speak. There was no alternative but to quickly repent of their self-righteous attitude and walk away thoroughly humbled.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thoughts on the Apocryphon of John

Saint John the Evangelist,
Evron (?), France (c.1330) (LACMA)
Nothing captures the imagination quite like the Apocryphon of John (ApocJohn), or the Secret Book of John,* an important second century gnostic text that continues to be popular today. It has a sort of “shock and awe” effect on many commentators, translators, and editors. They marvel at its complex cosmology – spirit beings with multiple identities, heavenly genealogies, lengthy lists of demonic names, etc. To modern ears, the tangled mess may sound a bit like an origins story for a video game “universe” that only a preteen could make sense of. I nearly gave up until I noticed it had a very simple message: Man is superior to his Creator. Readers who dwell on the details of the text – the androgynic nature of Barbelo, various numerical patterns, etc. – are simply missing the forest for the trees.

In a nutshell, the ApocJohn is a revisionist mythology written to justify humans rejecting the authority of their creator, who historically would’ve been recognized as having the power to command worship from his creation and judge all people. In the book, Jesus appears in a vision to share this information with John, as it becomes pertinent for his and everyone else’s salvation. While some gnostics were known for glorifying “Wisdom” (Sophia), here, she is the spirit world’s Pandora, who brings “Mindlessness” into existence. This ignorant and arrogant one is the demiurge Yaldabaoth, responsible for the created physical world and intentionally associated with the God of the Bible through various Old Testament quotes and references. Through the trickery of the heavenly beings, the created man actually becomes greater than his mindless creator. Filled jealousy, Yaldabaoth and hoards of demonic henchmen use the physical body and physical pleasures (e.g., sex, wealth) to blind and imprison man. It is only by recognizing his true identity – his superiority over his creator – that man is saved.

A few centuries before the ApocJohn was written, the prophet Isaiah reported the words of the Lord on this sort of narcissism:
You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?Isaiah 29:16 (ESV)
In Sunday School, the correct answer was “Of course, not!” We assumed it’s stupid for the clay to question the potter’s intelligence. And rather ironically, most of the ApocJohn also assumes that a creator, father, or mother being is naturally greater than any creation or offspring. It is only in the case of humanity when the tables are turned. The result is a religion that preaches the virtue of boosting one’s self esteem. The serpent’s lie becomes a central doctrine of faith, and people are praised for turning up their noses at God.

* Irenaeus, bishop of present day Lyons, France, criticized the myth presented in the ApocJohn in his infamous Against Heresies (Chapter XXIX), available on CCEL. Online editions of this “Sethian” gnostic text are available at I prefer the translation by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer included in their The Gnostic Bible: Gnostic Texts of Mystical Wisdom from the Ancient and Medieval Worlds to Stevan Davies’ printed edition, which tends to clutter the notes with interpretations that I find extremely inconsistent with the text.

Friday, November 22, 2013

‘Why It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe if It’s Not True’ (Book Review)

I’d like to begin saying that philosophy has never been my strength, which is unfortunate because one encounters it constantly when studying any and all of the arts and sciences. That makes a book like Stephen McAndrew’s Why It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe if It’s Not True (2012) a little tiresome to read and even more difficult to comment on. However, I was motivated by curiosity. Christian critiques of moral relativism have been made by countless preachers, authors, and laymen. Even filmmaker Brian Godawa made a short film Cruel Logic in an attempt to illustrate the inconsistencies of postmodernist thinking. I bought McAndrew’s book thinking that maybe this corporate lawyer and blogger had something unique to add to the discussion, but was sorely disappointed.

In Why It Doesn’t Matter, the author sets out to provide a foundation for reintroducing God into the arena of philosophical debate via the discussion on human rights. Starting off, McAndrew faults unbelievers for their inconsistency in rejecting the idea of universal standards when applied to their personal beliefs while simultaneously appealing to universal standards when condemning torture, genocide, and the like. This tactic is not new, and I’ve always felt a bit weak. The problem is non-believers’ appeal to some universal standard without citing a source for it, not their apparent inconsistency in applying that universal standard. Few of us are extremist Bill Gothardites, waiting for God to tell us which is the morally correct carpet color to choose, but does that make us inconsistent? Not really. We assume that there are non-moral realms over which our personal preferences reign supreme, and moral realms in which things are non-negotiable. I can attest that it is extremely frustrating to have a conversation with anyone – Christian or not – who categorizes things even slightly differently from me. However, arguing where to draw the line is an entirely different discussion that whether or not one even exists. I don’t think that McAndrew shows any understanding of the difference.

Another thing that bothered me was the glaring deficiency of sources. McAndrew tells us that he wants to examine the inconsistences between post-modernism and the idea of universal human rights. Unfortunately, Why It Doesn’t Matter lacks an in-depth analysis of the post-modern movement, failing to even mention the names of powerhouses* like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jean-François Lyotard. Yes, McAndrew does briefly discuss Richard Rorty; but his main target seems to be Ludwig Wittgenstein, a sort of father of logical positivism, with some additional comments on existentialist/modernist Jean-Paul Sartre. If I were sure of my own understanding of philosophy, I’d say that McAndrew (with all his reverence for Plato) has set out to challenge “modern era” philosophy in general for its anti-theistic stance rather than post-modernism specifically, as he claims.

To sum up, Why It Doesn’t Matter gives off the stench of an average undergraduate term paper, albeit somewhat longer. The thesis was unoriginal, and the sources minimal. I’m hard-pressed to call the book serious scholarship when McAndrew constantly resorts to the pitiful reductio ad Hitlerum and makes endless references to George Orwell’s 1984. And as if to prove he could do worse, McAndrew winds down his book with a chapter on art, arguing that beauty isn’t in the eye of the beholder but intrinsic to the work. This claim leaves me uneasy. It is entirely due to my “social conditioning” that I find medieval paintings lacking depth, Eastern microtonal music a bit grating on the ears, and Shakespeare’s language rather old fashioned. However, I don
t doubt that others find these unquestioningly beautiful. It might have been McAndrew’s intent to disprove the validity of post-modernism; but with a finale like that, it should be quite clear to the reader why it rose in the first place.

* Yes, that was an attempt at irony.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Living ‘The Shameless Life’ (Book Review)

Shame is no stranger to Terilee Harrison, wife of Quartz Hill Church of Christ’s minister Terry Harrison and author of The Shameless Life: Recognize Your Shame and Overcome It (2013). Growing up, the typical preteen insecurities were augmented by vaginal atresia and other complications due to Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome. Embarrassing surgical procedures and feelings of inadequacy made the young Terilee anxious for acceptance and intent on faking the perfect life, both social and spiritual.

But perfectionism didn’t come easily. Her adult life became a story of a sexually uncomfortable marriage, divorce, affairs with married men, emotional abuse, risky pregnancies, and single motherhood. Terilee’s life became more deeply engulfed in shame until she learned how to overcome her past.

Now a radio show hostess for Elevate Radio (CWA Radio Network, Blog Talk Radio), life coach, and much-in-demand speaker for churches and community organizations, Terilee helps others whose lives are smothered in shame, the “tool of Satan” that keeps us from accepting God’s forgiveness and love. Her book The Shameless Life, part memoir and part self-help workbook, guides the reader through a process of acknowledging hidden shame, relying on God’s perfect justice, and accepting pain as a way of growing closer to Him.

The Shameless Life is not the smoothest read, Terilee obviously being a stronger speaker than author. The transitions from her personal story to the chapter workbook portions are a bit awkward, and some of the biblical examples seem forced. However, the topic’s uniqueness makes the book worth a look-up, and there is unbelievable power in Terilee’s personal testimony. The Shameless Life could serve as a valuable resource for both the healing Christian and non-believer. Be it a physical disability, sexual sin, or history of domestic violence that may haunt them, women can transform their own shameful pasts into confident, effective futures by learning to live in the freedom of Christ.

Monday, October 28, 2013

'How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm' (Review)

No, this is not a parenting guide. Anyone with an ounce of curiosity about other cultures will enjoy How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, and Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and Everywhere in Between) (Algonquin Books, 2012). Approaching with a hint of naïveté and a bit humor, journalist Mei-Ling Hopgood investigates the ways mothers and fathers around the world rear their children, and reports on her misadventures in actually trying to apply some of these ideas to her own daughter.

Before getting on the defense, note that Eskimos is not an apologetic for non-American parenting styles. Many of the practices discussed are so deeply embedded in the cultures referenced, that application in the United States doesn’t always make sense. No bedtimes in party city Buenos Aires might not translate well here, where children find security in structure and familiar schedules. Chinese hosts will be more understanding then American ones when your diaperless toddler makes a mess on their floor. And carrying your infant all day when lions are constantly about saves lives in Kenya, where there aren’t many paved surfaces for strollers anyway. However, Hopgood does encourage her readers to think outside the box and take away real lessons on how to improve upon current parenting norms.

Complaint? Well, call it false advertising. I searched high and low and never found a word about Eskimos. Funny thing though: When my mother and my husband, on separate occasions, saw me reading the book, both asked “So how do Eskimos keep their babies warm?” Maybe eventually Hopgood will provide the answer. [Correction: A kind reader (below) found the reference that I'd forgotten about when writing this review. On p. 66, Hopgood discusses the amauti, the traditional, and very furry, baby carrier used by the Inuit people. I apologize for the error.]

Saturday, September 7, 2013

More Thoughts on Matthew

Exilarch Huna Receives the Elder,
displayed at the Diaspora Museum, Tel Aviv (Wikipedia)
Often Christians read things into the Bible that just aren’t there. One example is the claim that Joseph, the husband of Mary, Jesus’s mother, was “in line for the throne of David.” Accepting the genealogies recorded in Genesis, Ruth, 1 Chronicles, and Matthew, we can say that Joseph was a member of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of the house of David. But does that actually make him heir apparent? The assumption Christians make is that Joseph would’ve been recognized as king in the event of a restored monarchy.

It doesn’t take much effort to realize that, in absence of such a claim being made in the New Testament, this is rather absurd. There are literally hundreds of millions of people whose legitimate descent from one or more of the kings of England can be proven today with some help from a genealogist.* But you’d laugh if the guy living next door tried to claim a right to dethrone Queen Elizabeth.

In the same way, all we have about Joseph is a claim of Davidic descent. Yet, we allow Matthew 1:1-17 to be truncated into a fanciful statement about his political and social position; one, I might add, that doesn’t really fit his role as a Nazarene tradesman. If first-century Jews were really looking for a military leader to restore the throne of David, we’d expect Christ’s hometown to be looking to him, the rightful king, for direction rather than dismissing his teaching and miracles as unbefitting a carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:53-58). The circumstances around Joseph give the impression that, during the same time, there were plenty of other individuals with stronger claims to the throne.

There’s another problem when the official line of David is considered. Matthew’s genealogy diverts from this record at Zerubbabel, listing Abiud as his son (Matthew 1:12) rather than any descendant mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:19-24. Since Matthew’s genealogy is known to be truncated elsewhere, this doesn’t necessarily imply an error. It merely shows who the author thought to be the most important. Oddly enough, however, that apparently doesn’t include names after Zerubbabel that we might see as vital for presenting Jesus as a royal claimant.

This unfortunately opens up the possibility that Joseph didn’t descend from Zerubbabel’s recognized male offspring. Instead it suggests a line traced a female (such as a daughter), through the son of a minor wife or concubine, or through an illegitimate child. However, any of these would seriously weaken or completely eliminate any claim for political headship.

I think the most likely explanation as to why Matthew’s line doesn’t match the official chronicles is that he might have had incomplete information about Joseph’s descent from Zerubbabel. This might have even been due to records lost during the Babylonian captivity, as was known to have happened (Ezra 2:59-63). Perhaps the family of Abiud was accepted as part of the Davidic house by their clansmen, yet it wasn’t in a position to actually prove the relationship. That happens in families today that accept certain members as relatives, all the while not remembering exactly how they’re related after a few generations have gone by.

Now, contrast this situation with the claims used to support the office of exilarch over Babylonian Jewish communities during the Parthian and Sasanian empires and the Islamic caliphates. The exilarchate was traced back through, at minimum, one individual per generation recorded after Zerubbabel in the Davidic genealogy (the position not going strictly from father to son). In addition, the Jewish community recognized the exilarchs’ paternal descent and certain rabbis’ paternal and maternal descent from David, supplying some credence to their lineage claims. That doesn’t prove that these second to eleventh century “kings in exile” were actually the rightful heirs to the Kingdom of Judah. However, it does show that, at least on paper, the claims of the exilarchs make for a stronger case than that pressed upon Jesus’ earthly father.

The big question is why, in the face of little evidence, Christians continue to repeat the story about Joseph having a claim to David’s throne. Perhaps we like hearing about princes living among commoners. (Weren’t we entirely taken in by Anna Anderson’s impersonation of the Grand Duchess Anastasia?) And it gives more earthly prestige to our humbled Lord incarnate. We kid ourselves into thinking that an adoption presents a loophole in God’s curse on King Jeconiah’s line (Jeremiah 22:24-30), even though a non-existent kingdom can’t be passed down to anyone. We replace “seed” or “offspring” with “royal line” when discussing passages about the Jews’ expectations concerning the Messiah (e.g., John 7:42) because it sounds more grandiose. Instead, we should take seriously that Christ’s Kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36). In no way does He need to follow any earthly rule of succession to claim it.

* This is true for royal houses throughout history for two simple reasons: First, after a few generations, not all descendants of a king will have titles, inherited money, or invitations to royal marriages. If the family is large enough, it will continually feed the rung of commoners. Second, royalty, nobility, and gentry eat better than the common people and enjoy better prenatal care, thus insuring their offspring a better chance at survival in the long run. So the perk of being of royal descent is the greater probability of being alive today.

Friday, July 12, 2013

‘The Story of Churches of Christ’ (Book Review)

When someone asks about the history of the independent Churches of Christ, there are a number of valuable websites, books, and other resources to direct them toward. However – Surprise! Surprise! – not everyone wants to read a systematic study, especially if they have little prior knowledge or interest in theological intricacies and denominational history. Enter Douglas A. Foster and his The Story of Churches of Christ (ACU Press, 2013) to the rescue.

Like other books on the Stone-Campbell Movement, Foster begins looking at how the religious group was birthed by Baptist, Presbyterian, and Enlightenment thinking. He briefly touches on controversies over the Trinity, baptism, instrumental music, and so on, giving a reader a rough idea of how these disagreements originated and how they were (mis)handled over time. The book also provides a good overview of what the Churches of Christ look like today, noting the unfortunate transition from the early reformers’ dedication to church unity regardless of differing opinions to the current members’ commitment to only worshiping with those in perfect agreement with them on creed and practices.

The Story of Churches of Christ is neither for academic nor church Bible class use. It’s a simple tract-sized document (38 pages) designed to give both CofC members and non-members a rough idea of how that branch of the Restoration Movement began. QR codes are strategically placed in the book to direct the reader to websites with more information. Those more familiar with the movement’s history may find the book a quick refresher, and we can all recognize the value of a short work that’s inexpensive and convenient to give out to seekers and visitors.

I received a complimentary copy of The Story of Churches of Christ from representatives Abilene Christian University Press as a registration gift during the 2013 Pepperdine University Bible Lectureship in Malibu, California.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

‘One Drop of Love’ (Theatre Review)

(Hollywood Fringe Festival)
Plans free for tomorrow evening? I recommend catching the final performance of One Drop of Love: A Daughter’s Search for Her Father’s Racial Approval at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Race is an uncomfortable, and often confusing, subject for us “mixies,” and Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, co-founder of the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival, addresses it head on in this one-woman play about identities, stereotypes, and family frustrations.

Part of the CSULA Goes to the Fringe program, featuring the work of MFA students, One Drop of Love will make you laugh and maybe even cry a little as Fanshen Cox recounts life growing up in the 1970s onward. She weaves her own personal stories with those of her “white” mother, Jamaican father, doting grandmother, and equally mixed brother, showing off some real character acting capabilities. What makes the script really powerful, though, is its open-endedness, perhaps showing that there’s still room for growth in learning how to confront issues about race.

Yesterday, we saw the second of Fanshen Cox’s three performances at the Lounge Theatres on Santa Monica Blvd. One Drop of Love will be showing one last time on Sunday, June 30, 2013 at 6 pm. Because of some of the language and sensitive issues covered, no one under age 16 is permitted. Check the show’s website for future performances and the upcoming documentary film.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Thoughts on the Gospel of Judas

The Last Supper (c. late 19th century)
by Carl Heinrich Bloch (Wikipedia)
Of all the Gnostic texts, the Gospel of Judas has caused probably the most controversy in recent years. The only available copy is found as part of the Codex Tchacos, dated to the late third century. Scholars are in agreement that the work divulges no new reliable information about the life of Christ. However, it has immense value as an ancient source on Gnostic beliefs. After reading the text, I’d like to propose another possible use: a source of dissenter critiques of the institutional church, accusing its members of gross immorality.

The Tchacos Gospel of Judas* is a short work, loosely covering events leading up to the crucifixion. Its Jesus criticizes his disciples’ religious acts of devotion, teaches them gnostic ideas, and interprets their dreams and visions. At the end, Judas, who has received some particular attention from Jesus, hands his teacher over to the high priests.

There’s good reason to believe that the Tchacos Gospel of Judas isn’t the same one written about by Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyon, in his Against Heresies.* The Tchacos text features a number of elements characteristic of “Sethian” Gnosticism, and hence is categorized as such in Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer’s The Gnostic Bible. It venerates the biblical patriarch Seth (as some sort of Christ figure) and includes the names/concepts of Æon (aeon), Barbelo, Sakla, and Yaldabaoth, all common in Sethian literature.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Tchacos text bears little resemblance to Irenaeus’s discussion about the Cainites, the Gnostic group known to have a Gospel of Judas. It never mentions – let alone venerates – the likes of Cain, the Sodomites, Esau, or the sons of Korah, the “bad guys” of the Bible esteemed by that group’s adherents. In addition, it never refers to Hysteria, doesn’t promote – but actually denounces – sinful behavior, and doesn’t render itself to the most flattering portrayal of Judas. Its Jesus denounces sacrifice in a number of places, and in one place appears to denounce Judas has participating in the worst sort:
                    Judas said to Jesus, “Those
                    who have been bathed in your name,
                    what will they do?”
                              Jesus said, “Amen I say
                    to you, this bathing     in my name

                    to me. Amen I say to you, Judas,
                    those who offer sacrifices to Sakla

                              everything evil.

                    But you will surpass all of them, for you
                    will sacrifice the man who bears me.

While many scholars interpret this passage as Jesus requesting Judas’ aid in releasing his soul from his physical body, others are convinced that it’s saying – quite clearly, I believe – that Judas’ sacrifice surpasses all of the others in evil. For this and the other reasons stated above, I think that Irenaeus’ target is still missing. Considering that multiple works have been attributed to other disciples of Jesus (e.g., Matthew, Thomas), there’s little reason to assume that two couldn’t bear the name of Judas Iscariot. And this would in no way minimize the scholarship potential of the text we do have.

The main purpose of the Tchacos Gospel of Judas appears to be to delegitimize the authority of the apostles. Sacrifice and thanksgiving prayers to the creator god, along with baptism in Jesus’ name, as branded as wrong doing. In a dream that Jesus interprets for his apostles, they are priests who lead masses astray. Far from promoting the sinfulness of the Cainites, the Tchacos Gospel of Judas denounces sins in two similar lists:
  1. Fasting, or abstaining
  2. Sacrificing their children
  3. Sacrificing their wives
  4. Exhibiting false praise and humility
  5. Committing homosexual acts (lit. “sleeping with men”)
  6. Committing murder
  7. Committing a lot of other sins and lawless acts

  1. Fornicating
  2. Killing children
  3. Committing homosexual acts
  4. Fasting, or abstaining
  5. Committing other acts of lawlessness and error

These acts are noteworthy because they are all condemned in various Old Testament and New Testament passages and/or in early Church literature. Yet it appears that the Gnostic group responsible for this work is accusing the orthodox Church of participating in them. That is why I suggest reading the text as a dissenting voice on the subject of morality within the wider “Christian” community of the second or third century.

There are a number of “restoration” and “reformation” movements that have stood against one or another “established” institutional church. Most people are familiar with the English Dissenters, such as the Puritans and the Quakers, who opposed the episcopal Church of England. There’s also the famous German monk Martin Luther who challenged the authority and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Further along the spectrum is the Church of Latter-Day Saints (i.e., the Mormons) who denounced mainstream Christian denominational doctrine as untrue. Throughout history, often the arguments against the established churches included charges of immorality and corruption on the part of its leaders. It would be no surprise that Gnostic critics of the early Church might make the same charges, real or imagined.

Now some of my readers, preferring a pristine view of the early Church might take issue with my suggestion that some Gnostics might have had sound reasons to criticize orthodox Christians. Yes, it’s possible that these charges are reminiscent of the false accusations of atheism, incest, and cannibalism that plagued Christians during ancient times. It’s also possible that they are, to some extent, accurate in their charges even when inaccurate in their alternative theology.

From the Pauline, Jacobean, and Apocalyptic epistles, there’s a strong sense that the early Christians were often far from perfect. Many later non-canonical writings give the same impression. There were wild practices and strange beliefs being passed around. The Gnostic texts are strong evidence of this in and of themselves. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to believe that a Gnostic group, wrong as it could be on many points, might have been correct in its characterization of the apostles’ legacy.

We already know from the New Testament and other writings that there were disputes over observing Jewish feasts and holidays, some which might have included traditional fasting periods, and over abstaining from particular foods. Hypocrisy, fornication, and lawlessness in general are condemned in a number of passages. “Sacrificing their…wives” might be reference to the legalized wife-swapping allowed by repeated divorce and remarriage, criticized by Jesus (Matthew 5:31-32); and since the Didache forbids induced abortion and infanticide, “sacrificing their children” might be a dream depiction of those acts. As for murder and male homosexuality, considering how those acts were justified numerous times by those claiming to represent Christ throughout the medieval and modern eras, it’s entirely possible that there were excused instances in the ancient times as well.

My purpose here is not to excuse the blasphemous beliefs and writings of whatever Gnostic group produced the Tchacos Gospel of Judas. However, I am suggesting that there might be some truth behind the accusations it seems to make against those acting in Jesus’ Name and claiming religious authority from Jesus’ apostles. While the theological disputes within the early Church make for popular study, the moral sins of early Christians don’t get as much attention. I would have to look deeper into the Christian literature to know for certain, but I do have a hunch that these Gnostics might have been on to something.

*For the Gospel of Judas, I have relied on the “poetic” translation found in Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer’s The Gnostic Bible: Gnostic Texts of Mystical Wisdom from the Ancient and Medieval Worlds, which utilizes an ellipsis-free format that preserves the text’s fragmented form. The controversial National Geographic translation (pdf) by Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst, in collaboration with François Gaudard, is accessible free online. Information about the Sethian and Cainite Gnostics can be found in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, Book I, available online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) in Chapters 30 on the Sethians and 31 on the Cainites and at The Gnostic Society Library.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Thoughts on Justin’s Book of Baruch

Ancient of Days (1794)
by William Blake (Wikipedia)
Hippolytus of Rome called it the worst of the heresies, yet the Book of Baruch, attributed to a gnostic leader named Justin, remains virtually unknown today. Until perhaps the next big ancient manuscript find, the text only exists in part, preserved in the Refutation of All Heresies.* Containing material obviously borrowed from the Old Testament, many scholars view it as an example of primitive Jewish Gnosticism with some later Hellenistic and Christian influences. Yet, when I read it, it seemed more fundamentally Greek, appearing to illustrate the superiority of “platonic love.”

By “platonic love,” I don’t mean amour platonique, the kind of non-sexual close friendships homeschoolers believe they can have with the opposite sex. I’m referring to amour platonicien, the pederastic master-student relationship idealized in Plato’s Symposium and other works. Although I am admittedly neither a scholar of gnosticism nor Greek philosophy, I thought that it would be an interesting exercise to look into this matter. For that reason, my point of comparison for this text is not any passage or teaching in the Bible, but opinions expressed in Plato’s Symposium, although not all necessarily held by the philosopher personally.

To begin: The Book of Baruch is essentially a creation and redemption myth, designed to enlighten its readers as to the mysteries behind Justin’s cosmology. Unlike the dyadic gnostic stories, the Justinian one introduces a trio of deities: the almighty Good, decidedly gendered as male, and two creator demiurges, one male (Elohim) and one female (Edem or Israel). These demiurges we might denominate “Father Sky” and “Mother Earth,” and each displays both gender and sexual characteristics. It is their lustful sexual union that brings about heavenly beings, mankind, and animals.

While later Gnosticisms would style the male creator god as hopelessly evil, Justin allows his to be redeemed. When the proud Elohim ventures into the heavens, he discovers Good, and is humbled. He then abandons Edem and their creation to devote himself entirely to the service of this almighty Good. The rest of the story tells of how revengeful Edem uses her angels to torment mankind, while Elohim is obliged to send, through his angel Baruch, familiar figures such as Moses, the prophets, Jesus, and even Hercules – yes, you read that correctly – to turn the people back to Good.

The connection that I believe exists to Plato’s Symposium lies with the way relationships are presented in the text. Elohim leaves his earthly sensuous relationship with his wife for a vastly superior one with his enlightened teacher. The male-male bond is intellectual and focused on achieving wisdom and virtue (i.e., “good” in the most literal sense). It is the ideal eros, represented by Aphrodite Urania (“Heavenly Aphrodite”), directing its participants’ attention to the divine. In contrast, Edem is decidedly ignorant and bestial in nature. Elohim’s love with her aims not for honorable goals but for bodily pleasures, which one could expect from Aphrodite Pandemos (“Common Aphrodite”), who represents vulgar, bisexual love.

While the union between Elohim and Edem originates out of lust and gives birth to the physical creation, we can imagine that the union of Good and Elohim would reproduce the same great intangible qualities expected of couples among the Athenian intelligentsia. To be fair, there’s no indication that Good and Elohim consummate a “chaste” erotic relationship, as the men and youths of Plato’s day were expected to do. [Update: In fact, the Book of Baruch apparently outright condemns pederasty, or even homosexuality in general, when discussing the serpent Naas leading Adam and Eve astray. However, I hope my readers recognize that my hypothesis concerns a spiritual male-male union, rather than sexual one.] In addition, the Symposium speaks of developing the soul (in contrast to the body) while Justin speaks of saving the spirit by abandoning the body and soul. However, despite these differences in the details, I believe that the Book of Baruch depicts and celebrates something akin to a particular Hellenistic ideal of love. I hope that I’ve made at least an opening case for further investigation.

*For the Book of Baruch, I have relied on the constructed text provided in Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer’s The Gnostic Bible: Gnostic Texts of Mystical Wisdom from the Ancient and Medieval Worlds. The available material is taken from Hippolytus’ Refutation of All Heresies, Books V and X, which can be found online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) and The Gnostic Society Library.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Christian Carnival – June 2013 Edition

Welcome to the June 2013 “Summer Time” Edition of the Christian Carnival. As always, this monthly blog carnival features a number of submitted and nominated posts on a variety of topics written from different religious perspectives. I’ve also added a few music YouTube videos to help set the mood. Enjoy!


Tony Kiar (Walking with Tony) posts “The Big Easy Lie”: The Big Easy Lie operating in the world enables people to forget history, be blind to current events and so live big easy lives of consumerism and false optimism. The fruit of THE BIG EASY LIE in secular society is insensitivity to violence, moral decay and indifference to others.

“Disciple” ( posts “Human Promises Don't Mean Much”: Have you ever had that one friend that did something so out of character that, even though it happened, you still really can't bring yourself to accept it?

Seth Osenkarski (The Geek's Guide To Christianity) posts “Popularity And The Word: The Truth of the Matter”: We have all heard somebody say, “The Bible and Christianity say one thing (insert any subject here), but I just can’t believe it in the face of such overwhelming scientific proof to the contrary.” What I want talk about today involves the reasons why people will end up compromising and why the whole idea of scientific evidence versus the Bible is ludicrous.

Mark (Ex Church of Christ Blog) posts “The Rude Guy Who Beeped at me in Traffic”: The Bible is never referred to as “the Word”. Only Jesus is referred to as “the Word.”

Jennifer Vaughn-Estrada (The Chic of Domesticity) posts “Thoughts on Colossians”: I have a conspiracy theory. Leaders in the church, consciously or subconsciously, turn every guilt-inducing “Do not be harsh towards your wife” lesson into an ego-boosting “You are Christ and she is the Church” lesson.

Jeremy Pierce (Parableman) posts “Zadok, Conspiracy Theories, and the High Priestly Line”: One common view in biblical scholarship takes Zadok to be a non-Levitical priest who was later retconned into being a descendant of Eleazar, which would undermine the biblical record, which presents him as Eleazar's heir to the high priesthood. This post looks at alternative accounts of what's going on in the texts, which admittedly has some puzzling elements, but it argues that the standard retcon approach is not the best way to handle the data.

Book Review

Jeff LeMaster (No End to Books) posts “The Air We Breathe”: The Air We Breathe is a great story. The characters are genuine and three dimensional. The plot is riveting. The struggles, the hurt, the pain, the loss are all real.


Zak Schmoll (A Chapter Per Day) posts “1 Kings 18: I Wish I Had the Courage of Elijah”: We all occasionally feel like we are alone. However, Elijah had similar problems, and he had the courage not only to stand up for what he believed in, but also had the faith that God would help him through all of it.

David Bosch (InFaith's Mission Blog) posts “Faith and Prayer”: David Bosch writes about learning to stop, pray, and listen instead of trying to do it all himself.

Ridge Burns (Ridge's Blog) posts “Point of Reference”: A week teaching in Great Britain reminded Ridge Burns about the need for a point of reference.

Kathryn C. Lang (Kathryn C. Lang) posts “Recovering My Balance”: Through some tests and trials, I am discovering (and re-discovering) my life plan. Do you have a plan?

Silas Eke (Silaroli Bookstores) posts “What Is That in Your Hand?”: Moses is like every one of us. We want to serve God in a very big and remarkable way but we do not, as we assume, have the right tools. “I wish I am better trained!”

Shearon Hurst (Refreshing Times for Women) posts “When Do You Give Up...NEVER!”: A word of encouragement to comfort and strengthen Christians in their walk with the Lord.


Chris Price (Earn Money in Pajamas) posts “Making Money from Home to Pay off Debt”: Debt is a problem that many people in America experience all too often. There are some ways that can help those who are in debt earn a bit of extra income to pay off these bills.


Ridge Burns (Ridge's Blog) posts “The Communion Table”: Maybe aluminum communion trays and plastic cups don’t do our Savior justice.

Bill Fortenberry (Increasing Learning) posts “The Conversion of Benjamin Franklin”: I was shocked to discover that this iconic figure of the Revolution had documented his own, spiritual revolution in clear detail revealing to all the world his conversion from skeptical deism to a full faith and trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Chukwuma Okonji (IN-SIGHT) posts “A Critical View on Society”: Society, ultimately, is only a reflection of what's on our inside. And the moment that changes, I bet we will barely draw a dividing line between society and paradise, as they would be synonymous.

Elvis Navarro (christianfp) posts “Easter: A Time to Remember Jesus”: The more we think about Jesus, the more I realize what an extraordinary life He led on earth.

Robin Bremer (Kingdom Living with Robin Bremer) posts “Oh, The Blood”: The blood of Jesus made the difference from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.

Toni Campbell (Lakeside Lessons) posts “Totinh Baggage”: That's how I met Denise. When I offered her some free items her response was “no thank you - I just can't add to the weight of what I already have to carry around.” As she left the event to face the challenge of her burden, I wondered how many of us carry our baggage like Denise...not physically, but spiritually.

Kevin Bickel (InFaith's Mission Blog) posts “Unrealistic Thoughts”: Kevin Bickel rethinks his response to a man who told him he had unrealistic expectations for ministry.


William Bouker (Mazes) posts “Are You Being Convicted?”: What do you feel when you know you’ve done wrong? Conviction is like guilt but it is a deeper feeling. It works on our basest core.

In closing, I recommend that you check out this link by Bob MacDonald (Dust) for a visual presentation of his new book Seeing the Psalter: Patterns of Recurrence in the Poetry of the Psalms.

Thank you for joining me with another edition of the Christian Carnival. Want more? Check out the most recent edition of the Biblioblog Carnival. If you are interested in participating in our next Christian Carnival, the upcoming July edition, please submit or nominate a June post by the end of this month using the Christian Carnival Submission Form. Also, we’re always in need of hosts, so please take a look at the Hosting page for more information. Thanks again for reading (and viewing). See you next month!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Call for Blog Submissions: Christian Carnival – June 2013 Edition

It’s that time again…my turn to host the Christian Carnival, that is. If you’re a blogger with something unique to share, consider submitting a (that’s only one) May 2013 post by tomorrow, Tuesday, June 4, 5 p.m., using the Christian Carnival Submission Form. We accept devotionals, testimonies, apologetic essays, and more. There's no denominational affiliation, but the moderator and hosts will only consider posts that appear to promote a Christian perspective. Also, we’re always in need of hosts, so please take a look at the Hosting page for more information about volunteering. Thanks for participating, and look this Wednesday for the next edition of the Christian Carnival.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Thoughts on Colossians

I have a conspiracy theory. (Hey! Don’t start rolling your eyes until you hear me out!) Leaders in the church, consciously or subconsciously, turn every guilt-inducing “Do not be harsh towards your wife” lesson (Colossians 3:19) into an ego-boosting “You are Christ and she is the Church” lesson (Ephesians 5:25-32).

Seriously. Think about it. Ever notice how sermons claiming to be based on Colossians 3:18-19 never actually get around to covering v.19? The typical scenario consists of the following steps:

1. Read Colossians 3:18, stressing the importance of a wife obeying her husband.

2. Read Ephesians 5:22-24, using the Christ-Church-marriage allegory as a defense against any women in the pews who might take offense at Step 1.

3. Read Ephesians 5:25-33, stressing the weightiness of the husband’s responsibility that comes with being in the head marriage, thus making the women mentioned in Step 2 feel really guilty about every bad thing they’ve ever done.

4. End sermon, “forgetting” to discuss Colossians 3:19.

Oh, so you’ve heard that sermon too? I have…more than once.

Yes, I believe it’s of the utmost importance to synthesize all the available evidence to discover “what really happened” and what the Bible “really means.” But by no means does that justify focusing on Ephesians 5:25-32 to the exclusion of Colossians 3:19, when the duties of husbands are being discussed. What’s instructed to the men in Ephesus should not be allowed to crowd out what’s said in those in Colossae.

The refusal to teach the whole of the Word has the door to some of the most disgusting perversions of it. Every preacher I’ve heard do this is guilty. Every book, devotional, Study Bible note, or Bible commentary author who’s done this is guilty. Every marriage counselor, Bible class teacher, and small group leader who’s done this is guilty. Every blogger and online forum poster who’s done this is guilty. I’m including an embarrassing number of women.

Lest you believe I’m making a mountain of a molehill, might I point out why the “Don’t be harsh” lesson is such a serious matter? Because Colossians 3:19 has been virtually eliminated from our Bible, we have inadvertently provided a loophole to allow domestic violence. Time and time again, I’ve heard or read men claiming that it’s excusable (or even godly and necessary) for husbands to physically “discipline” (i.e., abuse) their “unsubmissive” wives. And no, these false teachers don’t just come in the form of anti-“feminazi,” homeschooler/homeschooling, “home church,” wannabe patriarchs who wish to remain anonymous online. They’re also run-of-the-mill preachers, church leaders, and teaching laymen (and yes, even laywomen) who believe that women who have been hit and verbally belittled by their husbands somehow deserve it because they weren’t obeying Paul’s command to “Be submissive.”

Even during the times when the husband is acknowledged as being completely in the wrong, the wife is expected to grin and bear it like dutiful Christian wife should. Divorce, legal charges, and physical retaliation are completely non-optional. Men, however, aren’t expected to grin and bear anything, hence the excuses made if they explode in anger at their wives over something they disliked.

It’s appalling to me that such a double standard is upheld – even glorified – even when abuse has even resulted in hospitalization or death (of one or the other spouse). What makes church leaders so willing to brave the opposing fire from women who don’t want a lesson on submission, but too cowardly (or too ignorant or just too self-serving) to demand that the men in their congregations obey Paul’s instructions to them? Women are made to feel heat of the fire and brimstone. Men are not.

Do not be angry or harsh with your wives or bitter against them. It’s a short sentence, and can’t possibly be written any clearer. As I alluded to in my comment on I Peter a while ago, it’s unfair, dishonest, and outright evil to place the most burdensome interpretation of a command on one sex while ignoring or trivializing the command for the other.

Hear the truth: Men aren’t lectured on this command because it doesn’t sit well with them. It puts a whole new perspective on Christ’s sacrificial love for the Church. I can almost hear the familiar excuses coming, but this time from men rather than women: It’s impossible for a man to never get angry with his wife. Paul’s rule is unrealistic. Doesn’t allow wiggle-room for justifiable cases. Doesn’t allow for a godly man dealing with a sinful wife. My response? I assure you it’ll drip with sarcasm.