Bones of an Idol

James Cameron thinks he’s found the bones of Jesus:

In a new documentary, Producer Cameron and his director, Simcha Jacobovici, make the starting claim that Jesus wasn’t resurrected –the cornerstone of Christian faith– and that his burial cave was discovered near Jerusalem. And, get this, Jesus sired a son with Mary Magdelene.No, it’s not a re-make of “The Da Vinci Codes’. It’s supposed to be true.

Let’s go back 27 years, when Israeli construction workers were gouging out the foundations for a new building in the industrial park in the Talpiyot, a Jerusalem suburb. of Jerusalem. The earth gave way, revealing a 2,000 year old cave with 10 stone caskets. Archologists were summoned, and the stone caskets carted away for examination. It took 20 years for experts to decipher the names on the ten tombs. They were: Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua.
Israel’s prominent archeologist Professor Amos Kloner didn’t associate the crypt with the New Testament Jesus. His father, after all, was a humble carpenter who couldn’t afford a luxury crypt for his family. And all were common Jewish names.

There was also this little inconvenience that a few miles away, in the old city of Jerusalem, Christians for centuries had been worshipping the empty tomb of Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Christ’s resurrection, after all, is the main foundation of the faith, proof that a boy born to a carpenter’s wife in a manger is the Son of God.

But film-makers Cameron and Jacobovici claim to have amassed evidence through DNA tests, archeological evidence and Biblical studies, that the 10 coffins belong to Jesus and his family.

I’m not sure how they did DNA tests. But I’m interested to see how this all plays out, if it will be as big as Cameron thinks or if it will just piffle out into nothing.

Update: I don’t know how I could forget to mention that Tom Robbins’ first book, Another Roadside Attraction has the discovery of the mummified corpse of Jesus by a drug dealer turned Vatican Kung Fu instructor as a central plot point.

Also, be sure to check out the Reverend in comments.

Not Your Grand Pappy’s Christmas

If it’s Christmas, it’s time for the usual blather about the supposed Secular War on Christmas. Which, historically, is a neat little reversal that Bill O’Reilly and his ilk have stumbled upon. If you’re over the age of 20, you may remember that up until the early nineties, there really was a cultural war against Christmas, only it was being perpetrated by religious fundamentalists, not against them. Every year, Christian groups, some of them at least wearing a mask of civility and mainstream belief, conducted a campaign to remind people of the “Reason for the Season,” to try and retake the holy day from the evil secularists who had commercialized the true spirit out of Christmas. They wanted all the Christmas trees taken out of the malls, no carols on the radio and all references to Santa and his reindeer excised form the season entirely. Christmas was a solemn religious occasion, they intoned, not a festival of gift giving and materialism.

At some point that got reversed, into the now familiar claim that we secularists are somehow trying to suck all the meaning out of Christmas by trying to have all the Christmas trees taken out of the malls, no carols on the radio and all references to Santa and his reindeer excised form the season entirely. Celebrating Christmas openly is a flagrant disregard to the varied and multicultural celebrations of indigenous people all over the world, we secularists supposedly shriek, and we shouldn’t be forcing any one belief on everyone.

The whole business about the true Christmas spirit being religious rather than secular is ironic, seeing as how it was Christians who stole the holiday from pagans to begin with. It’s also bullshit.

Up until the seventeenth century, Europeans celebrated Christmas the same way we Americans now celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, or Cinco de Mayo or Thursday: by getting drunk and breaking shit. Christmas revelry was so bad that when the founding fathers settled down to the day to day governing of the new country, they outlawed Christmas. And it was by unanimous assent. No one wanted anything to do with that noisy, brawling European jackassery. It wasn’t until the mid nineteenth century that the tree and wreath and quiet celebration with family became popular and it was a British import, from Queen Victoria who had grown fond of how her German husband celebrated the day.

So which religious impulse do we follow? The ancient Winter feast in honor of the returning Sun? Or the mythical mass and two week-long exercise in self flagellation that was the traditional Christian way to honor the birth of the returning Son? Truth be told, it’s neither.

If the modern meaning of Christmas has its source in any one thing, it is a work of fiction. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has become the basic template for the Modern view of the holiday. It’s basic moral, that in this coldest month of the year (at least in the Northern hemisphere) we should take a moment to be thankful for what we have, especially each other, remember the past, ponder the future and try and be a little more just and kind to those around us, resonates with everyone. There’s no need to drag in a magical carpenter and three itinerant astrologers, but neither do we need to overdo the gift giving. Keep it simple, personal and heartfelt. That is the secular spirit of Christmas, the one everyone really celebrates, today. Weather or not it was always so is not the point. Traditions change. And in the waning days of religiosity, change is usually accompanied by wailing and drama from the religious dinosaurs who wish the secular comet weren’t plunging into the atmosphere. But it is and you can’t stop it. That’s life.

That we still do celebrate Christmas, even we secular atheists, should surprise no one. It just isn’t the Christmas your grand pappy remembers or that your ancestors tried to forget.

And Later, All the Imams Sat Around Discussing the True Color of the Sun

BBC:

Iran’s foreign minister has rejected criticism of a two-day conference being held in Iran to examine whether the Holocaust actually happened.
Manouchehr Mottaki told participants the event did not seek to confirm or deny the Holocaust, but rather to allow people to “express their views freely”.
Israel’s prime minister has condemned the gathering as “a sick phenomenon”.
[…]Participants include a number of well-known “revisionist” Western academics. American David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, is to present a paper.

This is a mockery of the entire concept of the Open Society. This is a bunch of conservatives and theocrats putting on a pantomime to show the world that fostering an air of open inquiery leads to nothing but a kook convention. This way they can say, “Well we tried your Multiculturalism and look what it did! Oh well, back to the Bhurkas and female circumcision.”

Christian Conservatives have been trying this nonsense for a few years, here in the US. It’s gotten so bad that we don’t even recognize it anymore as a mockery and think now that events like Justice Sunday, which are meetings held by Evangelical Megachurches to discuss legal issues, is just another feature of the fair and balanced media landscape.

Theocrats and Dominionists, here and in other parts of the world, have twisted language to suit their own vile needs. They’ve decided that the simplest way to get what they want is to call whatever their agenda is another name, something innocuous, that has the ring of something benign and maybe even liberal. If the opposite is actually the case, so much the better. Everyone gets duped, no one knows what the fuck is goig on and in the middle of this confusion, while we’re all parsing their mush mouth language, they slip the constitution out from under us and in the name of the Glorious and Holy Revolution, we slide into Fascism and religious dictatorship. Yipee!

Something Comic Book Geeks and Historians Can All Agree On…

…is that the trailor for 300 looks frickin’ amazing.

For those who don’t know, the story is a retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 Spartans faught to the death the entire army of the Persian Empire. OK, they had a little help from some other Greek city states but most historians agree that the battle was decidely uneaven, roughly 7000 Greeks up against anywhere between 800,000 and 4 million Persians (accounts differ wildly, and by wildly, I mean they range into numbers that are mythic in dimension, if not outright silly). By the final battle, it was just the Spartans vs Xerxes and his entire army. Thing is, the Spartans didn’t give in. They faught and kept fighting, even after a hail of arrows (remeber that scene in Hero when the sky is black with arrows? That’s how Herodotus described it). By the end of the battle, the Spartans were dead but so were 50,000 Persians.

To “fill morgues of the future that have not yet been built”

The great Terry Jones has taken a stand for Armageddon:

Those of us who have long been supporters of Armageddon have naturally been greatly cheered by way the president of the United States has been embracing our cause. Our desire to bring chaos, death and destruction to a greater swathe of humanity has, in the past, often been frustrated by peacemakers and do-gooders of all shades of the political spectrum.

For too long, our aspirations have been derided and criticised. In fact, to be blunt, for more than two millennia we have had to put up with opprobrium and vilification, but now all that will be a thing of the past, for in George Bush we have found an ally – indeed, we have found a leader. A man who is prepared to place himself at the head of the forces of destruction and misery, and who is unafraid of the opinion of the rest of the world.

George Bush has finally put Armageddon firmly on the political agenda, and it is likely to stay there for the foreseeable future.

This means that we Armageddonists need keep to the shadows no longer. Bush and his colleagues in the White House have given us credibility and respectability. They have made our goal their goal, and death, disease, war and famine are now the most likely fate for more people in the Middle East than we Armageddonists had ever dared to hope for.

Hat tip to Bob Harris.

Happy 4th of July

Your Author at the Lincoln Memorial back in March

I know it isn’t easy right now to have super-patriotic thoughts about our country, what with tales of Haditha the like but we need to try to be happy and remember that the monument there means more than just American supremacy, greed, gluttony and disinterist in the affairs of others but stands for ideas like Liberty and Justice for all.

Elvira and I are going on vacation for a week, so no bloggy til the 11th or so. feel free to peruse the archives though, or check out the regular reads over there on the sidebar, like Bryan’s place, or the other members of the LC.

Not The Mark of The Beast, But Of His Big Brother, Ted

Today is the day the world ends. Or else, it’s Tuesday, depending on how you wear your goggles:

The Number of the Beast is mentioned in the Book of Revelation of the Christian New Testament and has long been accepted to be 666 (or, in some cases, 616) *. The meaning of the number is debated. In some interpretations of Christian eschatology the “Beast” is believed to refer to a being controlled by or equated with the Antichrist, whereas some scholars, such as Dr. Delbert Hillers and the editors of the Oxford & Harper Collins translations, contend that the number is a code for the Roman Emperor Nero[1], a view that is also supported by the Roman Catholic Church [2].

it’s fascinating how some people get so worked up over a coincidental arrangement of numbers on a calendar. Global warming? Just a myth. But three (count ’em!) three sinister 6s in a row on your Garfield desk calendar and it’s time to break out the Cabala tables and start thinking critically. Remember Y2K? Yeah, that was fun, wasn’t it? Idiots buying upa ll the toilet paper within three counties for fear that the world will end because our computers aren’t smart enough to add correctly.

But this is even more retarded because it isn’t based solely on ignorance of science or banal superstition. it’s also got two millennia of traditional superstition and ignorance backing it up That’s quite a shadow. But it still amounts to nothing more than people being scared of the dark.

Of course, George W. Bush is still in Office, and it is still early yet.

Orac has more, including a story about a woman so bone headed, she wants to induce early labour so as not to give birth to Satan.

The Indian Rope Trick

You’ve all heard of the Indian Rope Trick, I’m sure. That’s the one where a magician hurls a rope into the air where it catches on some invisible force and hangs, as if descending of its own volition from the sky. The Magician’s boy climbs the rope and disappears. In some versions, the boy reappears from another place, such as a basket in full view of the audience, sometimes he does not return at all.

A more gruesome variation involves the Magician chasing the boy up the rope with a giant knife and them both disappearing, followed shortly thereafter by screams and the boy’s severed limbs and body parts falling piece by piece back down to earth. The Magician descends, tosses the body parts in a basket, says an incantation and the boy reappears from the basket, unharmed.

It truly is a marvelous trick. Or would be, except that the whole story is a hoax. Peter Lamot, in his book, The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick: How a Spectacular Hoax Became a History, details the intricate web of stories, myths and hoaxes that surround this infamous trick, and how it has never been preformed, only told by people who know someone who know someone who saw it happen years ago, or maybe it was a story their uncle told them when they were a child.

The myth surrounding the trick is even more interesting than the trick itself. Teller (the silent part of Penn and) wrote a fascinating acount of the hoax and it’s history:

In 1890 The Chicago Tribune was competing in a cutthroat newspaper market by publishing sensational fiction as fact. The Rope Trick — as Lamont’s detective work reveals — was one of those fictions. The trick made its debut on Aug. 8, 1890, on the front page of The Tribune’s second section. An anonymous, illustrated article told of two Yale graduates, an artist and a photographer, on a visit to India. They saw a street fakir, who took out a ball of gray twine, held the loose end in his teeth and tossed the ball upwards where it unrolled until the other end was out of sight. A small boy, ”about 6 years old,” then climbed the twine and, when he was 30 or 40 feet in the air, vanished. The artist made a sketch of the event. The photographer took snapshots. When the photos were developed, they showed no twine, no boy, just the fakir sitting on the ground. ”Mr. Fakir had simply hypnotized the entire crowd, but he couldn’t hypnotize the camera,” the writer concluded.

The story’s genius is that it allows a reader to wallow in Oriental mystery while maintaining the pose of modernity. Hypnotism was to the Victorians what energy is to the New Age: a catchall explanation for crackpot beliefs. By describing a thrilling, romantic, gravity-defying miracle, then discrediting it as the result of hypnotism — something equally cryptic, but with a Western, scientific ring — The Tribune allowed its readers to have their mystery and debunk it, too. Newspapers all over the United States and Britain picked up the item, and it was translated into nearly every European language.

Other explanations form eyewitnesses eventually reveal that they only ever saw the end of the trick. One popular account tells of a British couple traveling in India. They visit the bizarre where they meet a Fakir’s assistant who tells them to hurry along and come and see the Indian Rope trick being preformed, right now. They reach the place in time to see the rope fall to the ground and several enthusiastic onlookers applaud the fakir and throw him money (which he very likely paid them to throw). The imagination of the couple convinces them that they saw the trick preformed, even though all they saw was a rope tossed by an assistant from a balcony. They simply imagine the parts they missed.

We’re All Fans Here

Over at Making Light the discussion of the horrible exercise in copyright violation and common sense has diverged into a discussion about how all literature is fanfic, whoopee!

I’m just a tad cynical about authors who rage against fanfic. Their own work may be original to them, but even if their writing is so outre that it’s barely readable, they’ll still be using tropes and techniques and conventions they picked up from other writers. We have a system that counts some borrowings as legitimate, others as illegitimate. They stick with the legit sort, but they’re still writing out of and into the shared web of literature. They’re not so different as all that.

There’s quite a difference between using standard tropes and techniques and writing fanfic. One is purely derivative by definition, the other is making use of the basic stock storytelling elements of our language and psychology to tell a story. I’m not dismissing fanfic altogether, it serves a vital role in the creative ecosystem. So do termites and roaches. One makes compost, the other provides communities that serve as a proving ground for learning the basic mechanics of story telling. Everything plays a part. And then you grow up and have an original idea or at least an original take on a pre-established concept that provides fresh incite. Fanfic does not provide fresh incite (certainly none of the fanfic I’ve ever seen) it just fiddles with the details and adds noise to the background. Which is fun and a good laugh. So long as you don’t try to publish it. Because we don’t live in antiquity, where every variation on the Hercules story is a valid expression of creativity. We live in the modern world where companies with deep pockets and mean lawyers protect their entertaining property.