Monday, May 28, 2012

Acts, Chapter 2: Nomunication

On Pentecost, which, oddly, is the day I'm writing this, the disciples are all sitting around harmoniously (which is code for arguing vociferously) when the room fills up with a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind (v. 2). Cloven tongues like as of fire (v. 3) appear and perch on their heads. This causes them to start speaking in other languages. Cooler than the Universal Translators on Star Trek, not as good as a babelfish.

Now, what you need to know about Jerusalem was that, much like today, it was a cosmopolitan, polyglot city, filled with Jews from all over the Mediterranean. They hear about this new phenomenon, and gather curiously. They're all amazed to hear their own languages coming out of the guys' mouths. They just can't figure it out, until someone scoffs that  (v. 13) which makes total sense to me, because I used to live in Japan, where everybody speaks English, but only after 3 beers. They even have a word for it: nomunication. 

Peter, who has clearly never seen Mad Men, insists they aren't drunk because it's only 3 o'clock. No, rather, this is fulfilling a prophesy from the book of Joel, about how at the end of the world, everyone will be a prophet. There will be some signs, like lunar eclipses and volcanoes, and anyone who repents will be saved. He chastises them for killing Jesus and references how he's David's great-something grandchild. It convinces the Jews, who ask what they can do now. It's pretty simple really: Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (v. 38) though hopefully the gift will not be in the form of a tongue on your forehead. Three thousand people take him up on the offer. 

The disciples do some more magic tricks that convince their new converts they've made the right choice, so they sell all their possessions and share all that remains and more and more people are convinced by them and join up.

Well, that was a chapter that started off awesomely and finished disappointingly. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Acts, Chapter 1: It takes a lot to kill an apostle

Apparently, this is the second volume of Luke's book, although it comes after John. At least, it's addressed to Theophilus, as was Luke. It's about what happens in the immediate aftermath of Jesus' death.

His first decree is to stay in Jerusalem until they get a gift from god, which will be the holy ghost. They ask if Jesus is going to restore Israel to the Israelites, and Jesus is vague, saying this isn't his jurisdiction, but leaving the door open by saying that it's god's call. He does promise that the holy ghost will infuse them with the power to go and endlessly badger people in Samaria, Judea and beyond. Then he goes up to heaven. Well, that was short!

The disciples watch him floating upwards, and when they look around again, there are two dudes dressed in white standing next to them. The dudes promise that Jesus will return in the same way he left.

They trek back to their one (!) room in Jerusalem that all 11 of them share, because even then Jerusalem was really fucking expensive and no one has thought of settling in Palestine yet. Even more people join them, including Jesus' mother Mary, a number of unnamed women (though they're probably also Marys) and Jesus' brothers. There are about 120 of them in total, and I'm not even going to try to figure out how they fit.

At some point, Peter stands up and starts talking about fulfilling a scripture about Judas, which was supposedly said by David while he was possessed by the holy ghost. Supposedly Judas used his reward money for turning Jesus in to the Romans to buy a field, but then one day he fell down in such a way that his guts burst open like a balloon. Never mind that in Matthew he hung himself! Apparently, by writing a whole new gospel, you can fan-wank this bit so that as he was hanging himself, he fell down and that's how his guts burst open. Whatever you need to tell yourself to get through the day, I suppose. They rename the field Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood (v. 19), which fulfills something in the book of Psalms. Anyway, what Peter has been building up to with this bit of salacious gossip, is that now they have to replace Judas. But they can't decide between Joseph Justus (a porn name if I've ever heard one) and Matthias, so they pray to god to tell them which one to choose. Now, I know there are Christians out there who make every decision this way, asking god whether to wear the red nail polish or the pink, the strappy sandals or the mules, but it just seems so time-consuming. Like, what if god is busy telling three different Republicans to run for president and you're late for work? Is your boss going to accept 'Sorry, I was waiting for god to get back to me about whether to shave today,' as an excuse?

Oh, no. It turns out they have a very convenient method for figuring out which candidate god favours: they cast lots. And the lots say Matthias.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

John, Chapter 21: Fish Fry

A few of the apostles go night fishing at Tiberias. They don't catch anything and return to shore, where Jesus is waiting. He asks if they have any fish. No, they reply. He tells them to cast their nets off the right side of the boat, and they come back so full they can't haul them up. One of the disciples comments to Peter that this must be Jesus doing. For some reason, Peter is naked, and for some even more bizarre reason, he puts his clothes on and jumps into the sea. Fortunately, the others are more sensible and row the boat the hundred yards or so back to shore, towing the net full of fish.

When they arrive, they discover that Jesus has set up a fish fry. He asks them to add their catch to the picnic, and it turns out they caught 153 fish. All of them are so convinced by now that this really is Jesus that they don't ask him for ID or demand to poke his injuries or anything.

During the picnic, Jesus keeps asking Simon Peter if he loves him more than he loves anyone else, and Simon Peter keeps affirming that he does, and Jesus keeps telling him to feed his sheep. After asking him three times, Jesus changes the subject and informs him that when he's old, he'll be crucified as well.

As they've been talking, another disciple has approached. Simon Peter asks what his fate will be. Jesus says it's not really his business, but this one will probably survive until he returns again. I'm not going to go back and re-read this entire book, but I think this is one of the few, extremely muted, references to the apocalypse in this book. Funny how things change when it's a hundred years later and your prophecies haven't come true.

Anyway, the other disciples falsely conclude that Jesus means that particular apostle will not die, but the book is at pains to point out that isn't true. The book also says that there are so many other things Jesus did that if they were written down, the resulting library would be bigger than the whole world.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

John, Chapter 20: Girls have cooties

Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and finds the stone is missing and the tomb empty. She runs off to find Simon Peter and tell him that Jesus' body is missing. Simon Peter finds another disciple and together they go to check on Mary's story. They, too, find nothing inside but a burial shroud. Apparently they haven't figured out yet that he must rise again from the dead (v. 9). Not knowing what else to do, the disciples go home.

Mary stays outside the tomb weeping. She peers inside again and suddenly there are two white-robed angels sitting on the floor. They ask her why she's crying and she explains how Jesus is dead and all and it's totally bumming her out. She turns around and Jesus is there, but she doesn't recognise him. In fact, she thinks he's the gardner and he moved the body. She asks for it back. Then he says her name and she gets it and calls him Master. 

She must make a move to hug him or something, because Jesus tells her not to touch him because he hasn't ascended yet and cooties might stop the process. She goes off again to tell the disciples what she's seen. 

That night, the disciples have gathered in a locked house (fear of their fellow Jews, natch) when Jesus appears and greets them. They don't believe him until he shows them his hands and side, which haven't healed, which kinda makes him a zombie, no? He says he's leaving, but the holy ghost is on its way and to carry on with his work. 

Thomas, or Didymus if you're nasty, is away at the time Jesus shows up and therefore doesn't believe the others when they tell him the story. He says he needs to touch the actual injuries to believe it. Eight days later, Jesus shows up again. This time Thomas is there, and he invites him to poke around in his festering wounds. Jesus remarks that though Thomas insisted on seeing to believe, people who just accept wild tales of death and resurrection without question are the really blessed folks. He also gives them some other signs, but we aren't privy to them. John swears there's another book out there somewhere, he just didn't include everything.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

John, Chapter 19: The Stuff of Mel Gibson's Wet Dreams

Pilate flogs Jesus for a bit, then has him dressed in a crown of thorns and a purple robe. The soldiers smack him around a bit more and call him King of the Jews! (v. 2) Pilate again tries to wash his hands of the mess, saying he can't see where Jesus is guilty, but the audience is bloodthirsty and insists on punishing him for something. Pilate is afraid they're getting out of hand, and goes back in to ask Jesus where he's from. Jesus refuses to answer. Even Pilate is losing his temper at this point, and reminds Jesus that he has the power to either execute or exonerate him here. Jesus says his power comes from god and the people who brought him are the real sinners. I don't know. It seems like not executing the innocent just to appease the braying masses is just one of those unpopular decisions that politicians sometimes have to make and Pilate is just as guilty as the crowd here.

Pilate tries again to say 'Fuck it. I am tired of you bringing me the people you're mad at and expecting me to kill them for you.' But by now the people have just decided to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks, so if they can't get Pilate to convict Jesus of sedition, they'll accuse Pilate of the same thing. Finally, Pilate is convinced that every single person in this drama is utterly insane and it's not worth his own head to save one idiot who is determined to die anyway, so he goes back inside and gets Jesus and says Jews, Behold your King! (v. 14) But the Jews are like, 'Nah, Caesar is our king, not this guy,' which, if you believe anything my hero Bart D. Erhman has to say, which I do, because he's super-knowledgeable about this stuff, would never, ever have happend in a million of one years. Not the Jesus bit, the Caesar bit. Un. Governable. 

Finally, Pilate has no choice but to admit defeat and order Jesus crucified. In this version they make Jesus carry his own cross along the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha, where they hang a banner over his head helpfully reading JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS (v. 19) in Greek, Latin and Hebrew. The chief priest prostests the wording of the sign, but Pilate puts his foot down and refuses to change it. Surprisingly, this does not lead to revolt. Meanwhile, the soldiers are trying to figure out what to do with his clothes. Eventually, despite being a Roman soldier, one of them remembers a Hebrew scripture about dividing a prophet's clothing by casting lots, so that's what they do.

Three women, all named Mary, which isn't confusing at all, show up, as well as an unnamed disciple. Jesus orders the disciple to adopt his mother, which he does. Then he complains he's thirsty, so the soldiers give him some vinegar, which kills him.

Because it's the Sabbath, and people don't like thinking about how horrible they are on feast days, the Jews ask Pilate to break the prisoners' legs to speed up their deaths so they can take them off the cross.  Only then do they notice that Jesus is dead. One of them callously picks up a spear and stabs him in the side with it. Blood and water pour out. Apparently these fulfill an Old Testament prophecy.

Joseph of Arimathaea, fearing what will happen to Jesus' body if the Jews find it, asks Pilate if he can have it. Pilate shrugs. Nicodemus helps and also brings along a hundred frigging pounds of anointing spices. They wrap the body in the spiced shroud and put him in a fresh tomb conveniently located in the garden where he was crucified, a location that could be anywhere in Jerusalem, depending on your personal beliefs.

Monday, May 14, 2012

John, Chapters 17 & 18: Governing the ungovernable

Chapter 17

Jesus makes a pretty prayer to god about death. He's done all he came for namely converted a bunch of people, and now he's ready to die. He asks him not to kill the disciples right away, but to make them holy and to make people listen to them and for there to be but one true church. Har!

Chapter 18

Jesus goes into the Garden of Gesthemene, and Judas runs off to find a bunch of soldiers, who approach with weapons and lanterns. Jesus is pretty chill, and asks who they're looking for. Jesus of Nazareth (v. 5). Jesus introduces himself and they immediately fall on the ground. Jesus rolls his eyes and tells them to just get on with it. 

Simon Peter isn't so resigned and draws a sword, which he uses to cut the ear off of a soldier named Malchus. Jesus tells him to stop mutilating people so they can get on with the crucifying in a dignified fashion. 

The soldiers handcuff him and take him to Annas, father-in-law of Caiaphas, who usually passes the death sentences in the gospels, but was clearly tired of it after three go-rounds. Oh, and Caiaphas went off-message at some other point in this gospel and told the Jews they'd need to sacrifice one of their own.

Two of the disciples follow them, Simon Peter and another one whose name John is quite reluctant to give us. Simon Peter waits outside while the other disciple talks to Annas, whom he apparently knows. While he's waiting, the door woman (progressive!) asks him if he's one of Jesus' followers. He says no. It's cold, so some of the servants and soldiers start a fire. Simon Peter joins them.

Inside, the priests question Jesus about his followers and his message. He insists that everything he's said has been public and open, and challenges them to ask his disciples what they've learned. One of the officers smacks him for insolence, which causes him to even more insolently challenge the guard to point out any lie he's told. They bind him up and take him to Caiaphas. 

Outside, someone near the fire recognises Simon Peter, who denies he's a friend of JC. One of Malchus' relatives, who was also in the garden, insists Simon Peter was there. Simon Peter says no and the cock crows. 

The Jews lead Jesus to the governor's house, but don't go outside because it's feasting time. Pilate is rather crabby at this time of morning and tells them to deal with it themselves. But they can't put him to death under Jewish law, which rather undermines that whole 'The Jews killed Jesus' thing. Apparently this fulfills some prophecy Jesus made about his death, but he's been talking about dying for so long now I don't remember how. Pilate goes off for a bit, then comes back and asks Jesus if he's really the King of the Jews. Jesus asks if Pilate himself thought that up, or if people have told him that. Pilate's like, look, dude, I don't give a shit about your intra-tribal squabbles, but these people are insisting that I deal with you. So what's the story? And Jesus is like, fine, yes, I'm a king, but not of this world. If I was a king here, trust me, my people would have fought for me. But I'm not from here. And Pilate's like, seriously, I get why these people are calling for your head. Just answer a simple question: are you a king? And Jesus again refuses to answer anything directly, saying that he's only here to spread the truth. Pilate asks what the truth is. We don't hear the answer, only that Pilate leaves the room again to tell the Jews, who are still refusing to enter his house because it's the Sabbath and seriously, at this point I don't know why he isn't just packing up and heading back to Rome to tell them these wackjobs are simply not worth governing, that he doesn't see what Jesus is guilty of. Moreover, since it's Passover, and they get one freebie, can he just please let this weirdo king go? But no, they want Barrabas to go free.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

John, Chapter 16: Stop me if you've heard this

Jesus stops talking about his own death long enough to... talk about everyone else's. Yay? How will it happen? Well, first they'll be excommunicated, then people will decide to kill them in god's name, because they don't actually know god, or Jesus. Why didn't he explain any of this before? Well, he was with them then. And we're off talking about Jesus' death again.

He wants them to know that his death is actually a good thing, because the holy ghost can't come until he's dead. What to expect when the holy ghost finally does show up? Everything will be sorted into things that cause cancer and things that cure cancer Whoops! I meant to say, things god likes and things god doesn't like.

He has a lot of other things to tell them, but they aren't ready yet. They won't be ready until the holy ghost arrives and shows them the future.

Death! Always and ever death. Millennial cults must suck. Jesus tells them he's leaving and coming back. This confuses the disciples, because apparently no one they know has ever been on a holiday? Or even to work? Jesus makes it even more confusing by saying that they'll weep while the world rejoices, then they'll be happy, too. Just like when women give birth to boys and at first it's painful, but then a man is born into the world. (v. 21) No word on whether the people who don't believe in Jesus will feel like they've given birth to a girl after the holy ghost comes back. But it wouldn't surprise me.

He promises that in the future, they'll be able to ask him for anything, and that he'll finally stop speaking in parables and will just say what he means directly. That will be a blessing indeed. The disciples swear up and down that he isn't confusing at all, and they fully believe that he's god. Jesus says that's good, because pretty soon they're going to be scattered and they'll need this memory to sustain them.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

John, Chapter 15: Gardening tips

Jesus starts comparing himself to a vine, and god to a gardner. He promises that his followers will bear fruit, but people who don't believe in him will be cast away like withered branches. He also promises that his followers will be able to ask for stuff and he'll give it to them. And yet, we're still waiting for an ice cream substitute that is both delicious and not fattening, despite the billions of prayers he must have received by now. No that sorbet crap does not count.

Now he starts getting specific about what is required of his believers: first, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. (v. 12) Oddly, that's the one people have the most difficulty with. Second, to accept that ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you (v. 19). That's another fun one. It's also at least partially why you get missionaries at your door during dinner. They don't really expect to convert you, it reinforces the solidarity of being part of the rejected out-group.

People who meet Christ and reject him have no excuse for their sins and hating Jesus is the same as hating god. This will work out extremely well in the future, as we all know. He promises to send the Holy Ghost back after his death.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

John, Chapter 14: 40 acres and a mule

Jesus promises his followers that he's building each of them a mansion in heaven, and he just needs to go now for a bit to check on the construction progress. But he'll be right back! Thomas is the only one smart enough to doubt him and asks how they'll know where to find him after the apocalypse. Jesus has a snappy rejoinder prepared: I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (v. 6) 

But Thomas has managed to sow the seeds of doubt in Philip as well, who wants to see this father before he'll trust Jesus to go away on a 'business trip.' Jesus insists that he and god are one and the same and makes an even greater claim: He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do (v. 12). He then promises to do anything they ask of him, as long as they keep the commandments. Go ahead, try this one at home. He also promises to either come back himself or send someone to comfort them forever, because, see, by the time this gospel was written, it was pretty clear that nobody was coming for us any time soon. 

Other facts about the resurrection: now only believers will see it. A Judas, apparently not that one, asks how he'll show himself to them only, and Jesus replies that people who love him will obey him, and both he and his dad will move in with them. People who love him will not obey him but on the plus side, they won't have any freeloading houseguests either. 

A note about the comforter: it will be the holy ghost. He also promises world peace and freedom from worry or fear. He then promises to shut up, though we still have 7 chapters to go in this gospel, so I don't have faith, and then tells them it's time to meet his destiny.