Archive for Robert Johnson

Brad Reads the Gospels: Matthew 4:1-8

Posted in Religion with tags , , , on May 5, 2009 by bradellison

1. Then Jesus was taken by the Spirit into the country, to be given a test by the Confuser. And after a forty-day fast he was plenty hungry. Well, the Confuser came around and said to him, “So you’re God’s Head Man, huh? Then order these stones to become pones.”

This is a story I find fascinating.  I turned it into a little play once, one I’m quite proud of, and at some point I’ll turn it into a comic book script.  And in so doing I’m trodden a well-worn path, one where the biggest footprints are those left by John Milton. It’s a classic literary bit, the Temptation in the Wilderness, a strong and resonant story with echoes before and behind.  The Wilderness is the place in which the great prophets have been purified, starting with Moses, that prince turned Lonely Shepherd.  All over the world, from Asia to Australia to the Americas, isolation, deprivation and meditation have been regarded as essential steps on the path to enlightenment.  The vision quest is a common thread uniting Elisha, Jesus, Galahad and Crazy Horse.  So here stands the Son of Man, starving in the Palestinian Desert, face to face with the Me and the Devil Blues.  Here’s the test, the weighing and measuring.

But Jesus told him, “The scriptures says,

‘A man shall not live on pone alone,
But on every word falling from the lips of God.’ “

5. Next the Confuser takes him into Atlanta and stands him on the steeple of First Church and says to him, “Okay, let’s suppose you’re God’s Head Man; now, jump down from here, for the scripture says,

‘He will make his angels responsible for you,
And they’ll carry you along on their hands,
To keep you from stumping your toe on a stone.’ “

Jesus replied, “Yes, but it is also written, ‘You shall not try God’s patience!’ “

8. Again, the Confuser gets him way up on a mountain and points out all the nations in the world and their splendor, and he says to Jesus, “Now if you just let me be boss, I’ll turn all this over to you.” Then Jesus tells him, “Scram Satan! The scripture says, ‘You shall let the Lord God be your boss, and you shall give your loyalty to him alone.’ ” At that the Confuser leaves him, and you know, angels came and began waiting on him.

Some things to think about:

*Against temptations, truth is our armor.  Traditionally, we might say that scripture is our armor, but Scripture is Scripture because it contains truth.  Truth, and good sense.  “I’ll let you rule the world if you let me rule you”?  That is a terrible bargain.  And, of course, there are places where truth and sense may be found outside the bounds of Scripture.  C.S. Lewis’ road to Christ led through Norse myth and Classical philosophy.

*I do not believe this story’s meant to tell us about the nature of the Devil, or indeed whether there is a Devil.  No witnesses were there to see what happened between when He walked into the desert and when He walked out again.  This story, then, whence comes it?  Did Jesus emerge from His vision quest telling wild tales of the Devil?  If so, are we sure He was speaking literally, who so very frequently spoke in metaphors, fables and riddles?  It might be suggested that the Temptation of Christ may be a story given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, without being a literal history of a literal conversation with the literal Devil.

*Granting that this is the literal Satan, this dialogue is entirely in keeping with the way that literary figure was used in the Poem of Job.  Here, as there, he’s God’s prosecuting attorney, the left hand of an adversarial system of justice, putting to the test that which must be tested.  Old Nick with his bifurcated tail and his hayfork, crouching in the basement of the Universe and trying to rip Creation apart with his bare hands out of pride and spite, in short that according-to-Milton bastard Lucifer, he is not to be found in this passage, so if that conception of the Devil is, for some reason, important to you and to your relationship with God, then this bit of Gospel may not be of real use to you.

If, however, the heart of your faith lies with the rejection of sin, restored communion with the Almighty, and following the example of the slain and risen Christ, well, there is much meat to be chewed on here.  For from it may we take the lesson that, in the face of direst temptation, we are still expected to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.  That he who endures, God will reward.  And that, in the times when we are most desperate to achieve communion with our Father, then will the Accuser be loudest in our ears.

Brad Reads the Gospels #2: Matthew 1:17-25

Posted in Religion with tags , , , , on February 23, 2009 by bradellison

So.  Fourteen generations from Father Abraham to King David.  Fourteen generations between David and the Babylonian Captivity (if I forget thee, o Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I prefer not Jerusalem to my chief joy), and fourteen generations from Babylon to Christ.  There’s something delightful to me about the Bible’s numerology, but I lack the qualifications as a Biblical scholar, mathemetician or magician to really comment on it.

So let us move on to the nativity story.  Such as it is.  Like Satan, the Nativity of Christian tradition is a composite made up of multiple scripture passages and centuries of extrabiblical tradition.  It’s a piece of evolved mythology.  But at the core of the myth is this story:

18Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

19Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.

20But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

21And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

22Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

23Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

24Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:

25And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

In case you forgot, Joseph is a son of David.  We also learn that he is a just man, and more than that, apparently a kind man.  Finding himself evidently cuckolded before the wedding itself is finalised, he wants to avoid publicly shaming his betrothed, as opposed to the more usual instinctive response of a man so fundamentally betrayed and publicly humiliated.

That’s when the angel appears.  Luke, the other Evangelist to touch on Jesus’ birth, has it that Mary was visited by Gabriel (who, as I understand the backstory of The Prophecy, was already well into his talking-monkey-inspired war against Heaven at this point, which is kind of odd.  Or maybe it was the Anunciation of a Messiah that would redeem the talking monkeys that finally sent him over the edge and led him to start the Second War.  Anyone know if this is resolved in the sequels?) and warned ahead of time, with parallels to the miraculous birth of John the Baptist who Luke connects familially to Jesus.  But Matthew seems more interested in Joseph, and it’s to Joseph that Matthew ascribes a divine revelation.  And this dream visitation quotes the Prophets, giving Jesus His name (“God Saves,” after the great war-chieftain who led the Israelites into Palestine after the death of Moses) and tying him to Isaiah’s foretellings of a coming redeemer*.

Matthew is also careful to emphasize that Jesus is not the son of Joseph.  He is at pains here to emphasize His divine origins.

And having made that point, he moves on.

Next up: heathen wizards from foreign lands pay homage, and Herod, King of Vichy Judea, commits acts of cartoonish supervillainy!

*Of course, Isaiah too was writing to a specific and contemporary audience, but it’s a poor prophecy that only means one thing.