Monday, December 23, 2013

The (Real) War on Christmas

A church in Malang, Indonesia, being checked for bombs
 in December 2012 (Source: AFP)

It seems that every attempt to preserve a religiously neutral, secular environment in American schools during the Christmas season is met with anger over a so-called War on Christmas.  While Christmas is not necessarily or entirely a religious holiday--80% of secular Americans also celebrate Christmas to some degree--and while green-and-red streamers or Santa Claus decorations in a classroom are hardly a promotion of one religion over another, Christmas still has strong religious connotations to some, and if government-funded, public schools wish to preserve secularism in the classroom by celebrating the "holiday season" rather than the "Christmas season" with their students, that should be uncontroversial.  Religious or secular Christmas can be celebrated in private settings.

American Christians cannot begin to imagine real suppression of Christmas.  For Christians in many Islamic-majority countries, celebrating Christmas even in private settings means fear, violence, and humiliation.  In countries as culturally diverse as Nigeria, Egypt, and Indonesia, Christians face both obstacles and threats for planning to celebrate Christmas.  Indeed, these threats often see their fulfillment.  Every Christmas in Nigeria in recent years, Christians have been slaughtered in their churches during Christmas services.  Extremists in Pakistan like to attack and injure Christians especially during the Christmas season and other Christian holidays, and Orthodox Christmas in Egypt is often tainted by similar attacks as well as the occasional mass killing.  In Indonesia, Christians are prevented from worshiping in their lawfully-attained churches and attacked, often in humiliating ways, such as being pelted with rotten eggs and excrement during Christmas 2012.  Celebrating Christmas in Saudi Arabia is an offense worthy of detainment.

There is no connection between or common cause of the fake, over-hyped War on Christmas in the United States and the real War on Christmas for Christian minorities elsewhere in the world.  By making attempted secularism the equivalent to gunning down worshipers, American conservatives make the very real, well-documented, and widespread anti-Christian holiday violence a piece of lore to be laughed at and ignored.

Merry Christmas. (Source: Sahara Reporters)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Revisiting Jesus' Last Words

I previously wrote in my essay "Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and History" regarding the historicity of Jesus' last words as recorded in the gospels:
Jesus' last words on the cross in the film that are derived from the gospels—"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46 // Mark 15:34), "It is accomplished" (John 19:30), and "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46)—are also not likely to have actually been spoken.  Luke and John's versions are only found in one source each, and though Matthew and Mark's version has been considered authentic in the past because it reflects Jesus' very human weakness (this criteria for historicity is often called "criteria of embarrassment"), it may be a result of the gospel writers packing the narrative with allusions to the Psalms to convey their theological understanding of Jesus' death (Meier, Roots 170-171).Meier, John.  A Marginal Jew: The Roots of the Problem and the Person.  New York: Doubleday, 1991.  Print.
In addition to these arguments, it should be added that the criteria of embarrassment fails in this case for another reason.  The entire story of the crucifixion itself was one of the biggest deterrents from faith in Jesus as the Messiah to non-Christians during the early days of Christianity (Meier, Companions 142), the reason being that crucifixion was considered an extremely shameful way to die; the punishment of crucifixion was reserved for criminals and prisoners of war (Malina et al. 346).  Considering the immensity of the so-called "embarrassment" the crucifixion already was, Jesus' anguish ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") hardly adds to it at all, making the argument from embarrassment ineffective and weak when defending the historicity of this utterance.

However--if the reader would allow me to argue with myself--it should also be noted that the simple vocalization of his anguish was not considered the ideal response of a victim of crucifixion.  Malina and Rohrbaugh also say: "The real test for the victim, in the Mediterranean context, was not in the brutal pain itself, but rather the endurance of pain and suffering, as a mark of andreia, manly courage.  Silence of the victim during torture proved his honor" (347).  So perhaps Jesus' expression of anguish is more "embarrassing" than the modern reader may think in the Mediterranean context.

Malina, Bruce, and Richard Rohrbaugh.  Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels.  Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003.  Print.

Meier, John.  A Marginal Jew: Companions and Competitors.  New York: Doubleday, 2001.  Print.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Revisiting the Motives of Pilate

In my essay "Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and History", I noted that Pilate's hesitant behavior as recorded in the gospels was unlikely.
The biggest historical error in the film, though, is the notion that Pilate was hesitant to execute Jesus and perceptive of his innocence, as seen in that he repeatedly tells the Israelites that he has not found any reason to punish him, only sentencing him to death upon their insistence.  This picture of Pilate is found in all four gospels (Matthew 27:18, 23-24 // Mark 15:10, 14-15 // Luke 23:4, 14-16, 20-25 // John 18:38; 19:4, 6, 12).  But other sources from around the time of Jesus describe the governor Pontius Pilate as a horribly brutal man who would not have taken a case of someone claiming to be a king besides the Roman emperor—in Jesus' case, the King of the Jews—lightly (Isbouts 294).  Not only that, but the form of execution to which he sentenced Jesus shows absolutely no restraint; crucifixion was one of the most agonizing, humiliating forms of execution at the time (299).  It was reserved for slaves, prisoners of war, and other people unwanted by the government and was extremely degrading (Malina et al. 346-347).  If Pilate had really been hesitant to punish Jesus, he would have given him a less horrifying execution.
Isbouts, Jean-Pierre.  The Biblical World.  Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2007.  Print.Malina, Bruce, and Richard Rohrbaugh.  Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels.  Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003.  Print.
I do not dispute the strength of either of my arguments--or, more accurately, the arguments of scholars like Malina, Rohrbaugh, and the team of scholars advising the writer Isbouts--but there was reason for Pilate to be hesitant that also accounts for his cruel nature and the cruelty of the execution.  Rather than being perceptive of Jesus' innocence, as the gospel accounts imply, it is plausible that Pilate was actually afraid of starting a riot among Jesus' followers, no matter how much their numbers had dwindled by the time the "trial" took place.

The "chief priests and teachers of the law", very shortly before Jesus' arrest, are said to have schemed against Jesus to get him arrested.  They expressed fear that the arrest would provoke violence: "But not during the festival, [. . .] or the people may riot" (Mark 14:2; see also Matthew 26:5).  Obviously, there is no way that this tradition in the gospels is derived ultimately from an eye-witness--there is no indication and it is highly unlikely that any of Jesus' followers were present while the Sadducees and Pharisees were scheming among themselves--but assuming early Jesus followers knew of suspicions against them that they were willing to riot in the name their Messiah, it is likely that this tradition preserves the fact of general hostility and fear among authorities of the new movement.  In fact, the gospels themselves indicate that some of the Jesus followers were willing to fight against Jesus' arrest.  One follower, identified as Peter in some sources, is said to attack the servant of the high priest with a sword upon Jesus' arrest, cutting off his ear.  This is in two independent sources (Mark 14:47 // John 18:10).

In light of this, though I do not wish to imply that the early Christians were especially violent, Pilate could very well have simply wanted to keep public order.  The gospel writers likely omitted Pilate's true motives, opting instead to portray him as a weak-willed man who knew Jesus was innocent, because the region was still under the thumb of the Roman empire and did not want to look as if they were inciting Christians against it.  It also explains why Pilate was still willing to give Jesus such a harsh punishment; he was not sympathetic to him or perceptive of his innocence, so, once he defied his fear of riots, it did not matter how much Jesus suffered.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Raymond Ibrahim: ‹‹La yihad en contra de los niños cristianos de Egipto››

por Raymond Ibrahim, traducido por R.C. Holzknecht (G.A.P.)

el texto original de ingles: "Jihad on Egypt's Christian Children"

La semana pasada, un niño cóptico cristiano de seis años de edad que se llama Syril Yusuf Sa'ad se secuestró y detuvo para rescate.  Después de su familia pagó al secuestrador musulmán, Ahmed Abdel Moneim Abdel-Salam, él mató al niño y echó su cuerpo en la alcantarilla de su casa.  En las palabras del informe árabe, su ‹‹familia estaba hecha jirones después de pagar 30.000 libras al secuestrador, quien aún mató al niño inocente y echó el cuerpo en el alcantarilla de su casa, donde el cuerpo, inchado y mohoso, se exhumó.››

 Semanas antes, Sameh George de diez años de edad, un monaguillo en la iglesia cóptica de San Abdul Masih (Sirviente de Cristo) en Minya, Egipto, se secuestró por ‹‹personas desconocidas›› mientras ir a la iglesia para participar en las oraciones de Santa Pascua.  Sus padres y familia informaron que fue su costumbre ir a la iglesia y rendir culto por la tarde, pero cuando él no regresó y ellos empiezaron aterrorizarse, recibieron una llamada anómina de los secuestradores diciendo que tuvieron al niño cristiano y lo matarían a menos que recibieran 250.000 libras egipcias en dinero de rescate.
 
 Y un mes antes eso, un otro niño cóptico, Abanoub Ashraf de doce años de edad, se secuestró también enfrente de su iglesia, San Pablo en el barrio de Shubra al-Khayma.  Los secuestradores, cuatro hombres, pusieron un cuchillo a la garganta, lo arrastraron a su coche, dispararon a la iglesia, y se fueron en coche.  Luego ellos llamaron a la familia del niño y exigieron una cantidad exorbitante de dinero para la vida del niño.

 Mientras el motivo principal de los secuestros es dinero, un otro razón aparece ser para dar miedo a familias cristianas de mandar sus niños a iglesia.  ¿Por qué se secuestraron los dos niños enfrente de sus iglesias respectivas?  (Unos clérigos musulmanes egipcios consideran asistencia a iglesia peor que asistencia a bares y burdeles, así que los secuestradores probablemente consideran esto el ‹‹lado altruista›› de su codicia y odio.)

 
 Mientras tanto, niñas cópticas cristianas son aun más vulnerables que niños cópticos.  Como un informe de International Christian Concern dice, ‹‹cientos de niñas cristianas . . . se han secuestrado, forzado convertir a Islam, y forzado en matrimonio en Egipto.  A menudo estes incidentes están acompañados por hechos de violencia, incluyendo violación, palizas, y otras formas de abuso físico y mental.››
 
 Más recientemente, Agape Essam Girgis de catorce años de edad fue a la escuela acompañada por un asistente social musulmán y dos maestros, uno de quien fue un Salafi, y nunca regresó.  Después de protestas, eventualmente ella ‹‹se entregó a su familia y el sacerdote de iglesia donde ella se quedó con su familia [nota por la traductora: del sacerdote] durante algún tiempo por la ordalía terrible que ella experimentaba durante su secuestro.››  Según un obispo cóptico involucrado en el caso, que pasó a Agape—cuyo nombre es basado en la palabra bíblica de ‹‹amor fraternal››—es ‹‹doloroso››.  Ella se drogó y se despertó en un lugar aislado con una mujer vieja y Salafis quien probaron convertirla a Islam, forzaron llevarla una hijab completa, y la golpearon.

 
 Unas semanas antes, Sarah Abdelmalek de catorce años de edad se secuestró cuando estaba yendo a la escuela.  Luego se informó que ‹‹Sarah se pasó contrabando a través de la frontera a Libia [nota por R.I.: donde cristianos cópticos se embrutecen a menudo] con la ayuda del Ministerio Interior.››  El papa cóptico nuevo dijo que el secuestro y conversión forzada de Sarah es una ‹‹desgracia para todo de Egipto,›› y ‹‹¿Puede cualquier familia aceptar el secuestrado de su hija y su conversión forzada?››

 
 Y aún, hace unos años pasados, 550 casos de secuestro, atrapamiento, violación, y conversión forzada de mujeres cópticas se han documentado en Egipto.  El ritmo ha aumentar después de la ‹‹Primavera Árabe›› y la atribución del Fraternidad de Musulmanes—que ha visto un aumento de acoso sexual de todas las mujeres egipcias.  Irónicamente, cuando el Presidente Morsi estuvo en Alemania el febrero pasado, se le preguntó a dirigir el problema de niñas cópticas victimizadas, pero él respondió por decir que la idea que ellas están secuestrándose y abusándose fue solamente un rumor.

 
 Pero según el Presidente de Coptic Solidarity Adel Guindy: ‹‹Cualquier revisión objetiva y razonable de los casos de conversión forzada de mujeres cristianas, que empezaron hace cuarenta años pero escalaron drásticamente después de enero de 2011 [nota por R.I.: durante la ‹‹Primavera Árabe›› en Egipto], demostrará una evolución clara de eventos que indica ‹manos secretas› organizadas detrás del proceso.  Asombrosamente, la colusión de la seguridad de Egipto y las autoridades judiciales—en desafío de leyes existentes sobre minores de edad—demostra el grado de la intriga.  Es parte de una ‹guerra de desgaste› en contra de los coptos en su patria.››

 
 Así, como muchos otros indicadores—incluyendo un asalto sin precedentes en contra desu sitio más sagrado y la codificación de medidas legales para oprimirlos—la yihad en contra de los niños de la minoría cristiana es un otro indicador que un Egipto rápidamente Islamizando es hostil a los habitantes más antiguos y más indígenas, los coptos, y, como les pasaba a los judíos antes, un ejemplo en las sociedades semejantes de que le espera a grupos considerados el ‹‹otro››.


 

 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Ode to a Bloodied Banner

The subject of this poem
[by G.A.P.
for Mrs. Harmer's A.P. English Literature & Composition 2012-13 course]

You welcomed them with open arms--
 The anxious congregants
Who ev'ry holiday have fear
 And all their senses tense.
They went to church on New Year's Day
 So they could be with you.
Your painted face watched silently
 The faithful filled the pews

You, facing outward toward the street,
 Saw someone's car drive by
And park beneath you, out a ways,
 In hopes that all would die.
The service done, congregants out,
 They passed below your span.
The happy faithful flowing out--
 In ignorance, none ran.

A slash to eardrums, people thrown,
 Limbs ripped away from some.
You tasted iron from their blood--
 As cardboard, though, you're numb.
The gooey scarlet love dripped down,
 And blazing fire pealed.
A raging riot sparked below,
 But love the blood had sealed.

The anger died, from which spawned awe,
 Your beauty multiplied,
For though you stink of smoke and rot,
 With liquid love you're dyed.
Brave death and brave devotion stir
 Great legend and great rhyme,
And thus you and their blood are known
 Forever and all time.

Madness as Demonic in Shakespeare's Hamlet

[by GreekAsianPanda]
Mrs. Harmer
A.P. English Literature
3 December 2012
Score: 115/120

            Hamlet is to madness what The Great Gatsby is to the American dream; it is considered a classic on the subject.  For centuries, scholars have pondered what the play has to say about madness, even though Hamlet almost deliberately gives no definitive answers about it—or any other theme, for that matter.  Most agree that the line between sanity and insanity is one of the inquiries it posits, so much ink has been spilled over the question of whether or not Hamlet is really insane and, if so, when he crosses the line.  Because of this, the play's theme of insanity outside its relationship with sanity is often not considered, which may be why many have overlooked descriptions of insanity that do not relate to its opposite.  An example of this is Ophelia's description of Hamlet's behavior in her closet in Act II, Scene 1, lines 76-82, 85-89, which is the first instance in which Hamlet pretends to be insane.  This passage uses a vocabulary meant to create an image of illness and a simile that implies that madness is demonic in nature.

            Hamlet's appearance and behavior are clearly supposed to convey the fact that he is mentally disturbed; this can be ascertained from the connotations of the words used in the description and the imagery.  His clothes are said to be "unbrac'd" (Shakespeare II.1.76), "fouled" (II.1.77), "ungart'red" (II.1.78), and “down-gyved,” words that together imply unkemptness, a quality not belonging to a prince in his right mind but to a man too mad to even care for himself.  His face is "pale" and "piteous" (II.1.79-80); an ugly pallor creates the outward appearance of illness or emotional trauma.  English literature scholar Andrzej Wicher notes that Hamlet appears like "a transformed creature"—in other words, not as his normal self.  His actions also inform the listeners of his madness in a number of ways.  As he approaches Ophelia, he is trembling so much that  "his knees knock[. . .] each other" (II.1.79), indicating either weakness or trauma.  In addition to that, some commentators such as Old Dominion University literature professor Imtiaz Habib have noted that Hamlet's actions appear to be confused.  In reference to II.1.82, 85-89, Habib says, "He goes to her but does not speak to her.  He goes to her in an instinctive gesture of communication but ends up in . . . silent scrutiny."  The language of the line supports Habib's interpretation of Hamlet's actions; the look on his face makes him appear as if he is about to "speak of horrors" (II.1.82), and he is said to come "before" her (II.1.82), meaning that he directly approaches her.  He even grabs her forcefully and stares at her face for a long time—“[h]e took me by the wrist, and held me hard, // [t]hen goes he to the length of all his arm, // [a]nd with his other hand thus o’er his brow, // [h]e falls to such perusal of my face //  [a]s ‘a would draw it.  Long stay’d he so” (II.1.85-89).  Despite this, he says nothing.  This indicates that Hamlet is behaving in a disoriented fashion.  Thus his appearance and actions make it clear that this passage is a description of insanity.

            Shakespeare describes Hamlet’s insane behavior and appearance by comparing him to a demonic creature, which may reveal his ideas about the nature of madness.  Hamlet approaches Ophelia “with a look so piteous in purport // [a]s if he had been loosed out of hell // [t]o speak of horrors” (II.1.80-82).  A different simile could easily be used here that would more accurately describe the expression of an insane person; Shakespeare could have emphasized the demented emotion that shapes the face of one who is out of his mind.  Instead, however, Shakespeare describes it in terms that connote evil rather than simple confusion.  The phrase “loosed out of hell” (II.1.81) implies that Hamlet is like a demon or evil spirit.  In fact, the entire description of his behavior—shaking, confused actions—and appearance—the messy garments, the sick look on his face—has led some commentators like Wicher to conclude that he is described as a ghost-like being, and that “loosed out of hell” means that he looks like a “damned soul.”  Another scholar, Stanley J. Kozokowski, reaches the same conclusion because of II.1.78, 80—“Pale as his shirt . . . As if he had been loosed out of hell"—saying that this makes Hamlet resemble a ghost or evil spirit.  By comparing his insane behavior to demonic activity, Shakespeare implies that madness is caused by evil.

            Shakespeare appears to have more to say about insanity than its relationship with sanity or when someone can be called insane.  In this scene, he uses the connotations of his vocabulary to create an image of an insane person and then, through a comparison, condemns it to hell.  To Shakespeare, madness is of sinister origins and belongs to the minds of the damned.  Reaching a bit beyond analysis of the passage's inherent features, one can almost see Shakespeare trying to make Hamlet look like a hell-bound ghost like his father, who was condemned to purgatory and introduced shortly before Ophelia gives her account of Hamlet's behavior.  The ghost of Old Hamlet also tries to speak but cannot (I.2.215-220), has a sorrowful expression (I.2.231), is pale in the face (I.2.231-232), stares at those with whom he wants to speak (I.2.232-233), and is said to be from "sulph'rous and tormenting flames" (I.5.5).  Horatio even warns that evil spirits can "deprive your sovereignty of reason, // [a]nd draw you into madness" (I.5.73-74), making the connection between evil and madness in Hamlet even more convincing.  Even without this outside evidence, the passage's inherent features make it clear enough that madness is associated with evil and demonic activity.  Since the passage deals with the nature of madness rather than the more-often analyzed question of where the border between sanity and insanity is, perhaps it would profit scholars of Shakespearean literature to take a fresh look at the theme.  After all, Hamlet represents madness in the pantheon of classics.

Bibliography

Habib, Imtiaz.  "'Never doubt I love': misreading Hamlet."  College Literature 21.2 (June 1994): 19.  Expanded Academic ASAP.  Web.  28 Nov. 2012.
Kozokowski, Stanley.  "Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'."  The Explicator 55.3 (1997): 126.  Expanded Academic ASAP.  Web.  30 Nov. 2012.
Shakespeare, William.  Hamlet.”  Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing.  Ed. Karen Mauk.  Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010.  1605-1714.  Print.
Wicher, Andrzej.  "'The dread of something after death'--the relationship between Shakespeare's Hamlet and some medieval dream visions and ghost stories."  Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies 45 (2009): 137.  Expanded Academic ASAP.  Web.  28 Nov. 2012.

A Tale of Two Cities and Resurrection

[by GreekAsianPanda]
Mrs. Harmer
A.P. English Language & Composition
19 March 2013
Score: 97/100
*Donated as a good example for the assignment
           The most obvious theme topic of A Tale of Two Cities is resurrection or being “recalled to life,” a phrase used throughout the novel to describe people in various situations—in fact, English scholars Liu Dingyuan and Hou Xiaohua call it a “predominant theme throughout the plot.”  It is therefore worth looking at what resurrection means to Charles Dickens in order to determine the meaning of the novel.  It is difficult to draw a conclusion from all instances of resurrection in the novel that can be said in a single clause because resurrection actually means something a little different each time it happens.  Dingyuan and Xiaohua give several definitions of “resurrection” from the novel: “saving or redeeming in one’s soul, renewed interest in and zest for life, salvation from death, harm, or ‘nothingness’, etc.”  But that does not form a coherent theme dealing with resurrection.  When one looks at all instances of metaphorical resurrection in the novel, they sometimes seem substantially different from one another.  Taking all instances into account, one can conclude that Dickens is saying transformation and being reborn, as in the case of Sydney Carton and the people of France, is more important than having one’s literal life saved from isolation or actual death, as in the cases of Charles Darnay and Doctor Manette, due to the more permanent, profound nature of transformation.

            Darnay and Manette’s resurrections involve literal preservation of their lives and being among the rest of the living.  Charles Darnay is said to be “recalled to life” when he is first acquitted in court (Dickens 79), and the second time he is in prison, he is said to be “buried” (257) and “dead” (262).  During his prison sentence, Manette is considered dead, buried, and in need of being dug out of his metaphorical grave (14-15); once freed, he is considered “recalled to life” (50).  From these examples, one can conclude that Dickens sees escaping death and being brought back into the view of the rest of the world kinds of resurrection.  However, these seem to be inferior forms of resurrection in that Darnay’s resurrections—acquittals and releases from imprisonment—are temporary as evidenced in how many times they happen and in that he needs Carton’s sacrifice to finally stay alive, and in that Manette falls back into insanity at the end of the book (361); his resurrection—freedom from isolation and oblivion—is also clearly temporary and could not remain on its own.  The question remains, then, as to what a true resurrection is to Dickens.

            The true definition of resurrection seems to lie in Sydney Carton’s transformation, even though, paradoxically, Carton’s literal life ends.  His life is initially a dead end; he is a “man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away” (92).  He is aware of his worthlessness and describes himself as “one who died young” (151), though one Lucie believes can be “recal[led]” (152).  Later in the book, he makes a powerful resolution to save Darnay’s life by giving his own, a very permanent result of his personal change.  In doing this, he feels at peace and redeemed: “I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. . . I see the blots I threw upon [my name], faded away. . . It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known,” (381-382) he says.  More importantly, he lives on in the hearts of those he saved because of his good deed; he “hold[s] a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendents, generations hence,” and “a child . . . lay upon [Lucie’s] bosom and . . . [bears his] name . . . that [his] name is made illustrious there by the light of his” (382).  Also importantly is that Dickens compares Carton’s sacrifice with that of Jesus by placing Jesus’ words on his lips—”I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die” (319, 320, 380).  English literature scholar Kevin Rulo notes that “[r]esurrection in the sense of Carton’s name living on in the Darnay family is obviously essential to the Christian symbolism of the novel and to Carton’s characterization as a kind of Christ.”  By making Carton a Christ-like figure whose life is taken in place of someone else and who is, in a way, permanently resurrected forever in the hearts of those he saves and their descendents, Dickens makes it clear that he believes personal transformation is a superior resurrection to deliverance from death and isolation.  It is in this way that the “the word resurrection’s meaning is extended, which means rebirth,” in the words of Dingyuan and Xiaohua.

            This belief can also be seen in the incomplete resurrection of the French people.  Though the bloody French Revolution is not considered a resurrection in itself, the novel foreshadows a future transformation for the French through it.  Before the revolution begins in the novel, Dickens describes a crucified figure of Jesus in the graveyard who resembles a poor, thin Frenchman (Dickens 117); like Jesus after his death, France will be brought up from the grave of oppression and undergo a lasting transformation.  More explicitly, Carton sees in his prophetic vision of the future “a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, [he sees] the evil of this time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out” (381).  This is very different from the lesser resurrections of Darnay and Manette in that it involves profound change in the very essence of France, and by placing the vision of France’s resurrection at the close of the novel, Dickens highlights its importance.

            All this is not to say all resurrections in the story are not similar.  Goodness—the symbol for this being Lucie Manette—is at least partially responsible for many of them.  Dingyuan and Xiaohua note that her positive, unselfish qualities “make possible the resurrections of Dr. Manette and Carton”, and therefore indirectly the resurrection of Darnay through Carton.  Dr. Manette’s rebirth “does not become complete until he is reunited with his daughter,” and “[b]ecause Lucie sees potential for him, Carton is inspired to better his life” (Dinguan and Xiaohua).  The novel indeed supports their assertions (Dickens 47-50, 152-153): the Doctor begins to act rationally when he and his daughter are reunited, and Lucie is the one to whom Carton confides his feelings and encourages him—she is the one who entreats him "again and again, most fervently, with all [her] heart" that he "is capable of better things" (153), and he ends the conversation by saying that he would "give his life, to keep a life [Lucie] love[s] beside [her]" (155), indicating that her encouragement deeply affected him in a positive way.  But the similarities do stop, and their differences cannot be ignored for the sake of legitimizing Manette and Darnay’s resurrections; the Golden Thread does not hold them all together to the fullest extent.  Through the examples of Darnay, Manette, Carton, and the people of France, Dickens attempts to demonstrate that changing into something better than what one was before is superior to life itself and constitutes truly living or being “recalled to life.”
 
Bibliography
Dickens, Charles.  A Tale of Two Cities.  New York: Bantam Classic, 2003.  Print.
Dinguan, Liu, and Hou Xiaohua.  “Resurrection in A Tale of Two Cities/ Resurrection dans Un conte de deux villes.”  Canadian Social Science 1.1 (May 2005): 90.  Expanded Academic ASAP.  Web.  8 Mar. 2013.
Rulo, Kevin.  “A tale of two mimeses: Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and Rene Girand.”  Christianity and Literature 59.1 (Autumn 2009): 5.  Expanded Academic ASAP.  Web.  8 Mar. 2013.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

President Obama on Coptic Christians and Rohingya Muslims: Is There a Double Standard?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama urged the president of Myanmar on Monday to halt violence against a Muslim minority but praised economic and political reforms in the formerly pariah nation that is emerging as a U.S. ally in China's backyard.

During the first visit to the White House in 47 years by a leader of the Southeast Asian nation, Obama called for an end to the killings of Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar's Rakhine state.

Reformist Myanmar President Thein Sein vowed to resolve ethnic conflicts and bring perpetrators to justice.

"I also shared with President Sein our deep concern about communal violence that has been directed at Muslim communities inside Myanmar. The displacement of people, the violence directed towards them needs to stop," Obama said.

At least 192 people died last year in violence between Buddhists in Rakhine and Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship by Myanmar. Most of the victims, and the 140,000 people made homeless in the attacks, were Muslims. (Read more)

Many people have been accusing President Obama of having a double standard with Christian and Muslim victims of violence after his recent statements about the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, usually alleging that he does not respond the same way to anti-Coptic violence in Egypt.  Both Copts and Rohingyas are often subject to violence that results in injuries, deaths, damage to property, and displacement, and the violence against them is also mostly one-sided, so one should expect the President to respond in a similar manner to the plights of both Coptic Christians and Rohingya Muslims.

It's more eloquent and less brain-melting when I say it.
I hate to agree with the English-challenged people above, but there is a double standard, whether President Obama, whom I respect, is consciously aware of it.  Compare what he says about the Rohingya Muslims to the statement the White House released during the anti-Coptic Maspero massacre of 2011:

Statement by the Press Secretary on Violence in Egypt

The President is deeply concerned about the violence in Egypt that has led to a tragic loss of life among demonstrators and security forces.  The United States expresses our condolences to the families and loved ones of all who were killed or injured, and stands with the Egyptian people in this painful and difficult time.  Now is a time for restraint on all sides so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt.  As the Egyptian people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities - including Copts - must be respected, and that all people have the universal rights of peaceful protest and religious freedom.  We also note Prime Minister Sharaf's call for an investigation and appeal to all parties to refrain from violence.  These tragic events should not stand in the way of timely elections and a continued transition to democracy that is peaceful, just and inclusive.
 
Those are pretty words, but the statement mostly avoids the facts and fails to explicitly condemn the Egyptian anti-Christian violence.

The notion that the events in Maspero were some sort of mutual conflict in which the Copts had just as much fault as the military and the Muslim attackers is actually based entirely on anti-Christian propaganda disseminated by the Egyptian state media and repeated by the Western media.  All the accusations against the Copts were proven to be false shortly afterwards--for example, it turns out that the Copts were not responsible for any deaths, even though it was initially reported that they killed three soldiers.  Even the Western media corrected the reports it released.  Coptic-American scholar and activist Raymond Ibrahim gives a concise summary of what really happened: the peaceful Coptic demonstrators were initially attacked by Muslims, then the military attacked them, then they fought back, then they were subject to clearly hate-motivated attacks because of the lies of the state media.  The Copts acted in self-defense.  The Maspero massacre was, simply stated, anti-Christian violence and should be condemned as such.

So the President relied on disproven anti-Christian propaganda and condemned the Copts equally with their attackers.  It should be noted that besides a few passing mentions of their plight, he has never released any statements clearly calling for an end to anti-Christian violence in Egypt.

While Rohingya Muslims occasionally carry out acts of retribution, they are infrequent in comparison to Buddhist anti-Muslim attacks in Burma.  However, the President could have easily equally condemned the victims of anti-Muslim violence with their attackers by the logic he used in the Maspero massacre statement if he had relied on Buddhist anti-Muslim propaganda, which frequently includes charges of rape and murder of Buddhist women that may or may not be true.

Yes, the raging Internet commenters are correct.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Humanoid Robots: Secular Concerns

With Robots, Humans Face "New Society"

Humanity came one step closer in January to being able to replicate itself, thanks to the EU's approval of funding for the Human Brain Project. Danica Kragic, a robotics researcher and computer science professor at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, says that while the prospect of living among humanoid robots calls to mind terrifying scenarios from science fiction, the reality of how humans cope with advances in robotics will be more complex, and subtle. (Read more)

Science Daily's report about the possibility that the Human Brain Project will be able to create humans only briefly touches on the ethics of creating humanoid robots programmed with human emotions.  (Kragic calls it a "discussion" about robot ethics, which implies calm, uncontroversial debate.)  Near the end of the report, Kragic explains what she thinks will be the most prevalent objection:

Human rebellion against robots is far more likely, she says, pointing out that even as society's attitudes toward automation evolve over generations, the debate over whether humans have the right to "play God" will likely continue. "There will be people for and against it," she says. "But what is wrong with building a human? We have been raised in a society that thinks this is wrong, that this is playing God."

Clearly computer scientists think most objectors to the creation of these robots will be religious fundamentalists.  While that is not an unfounded fear, religious fundamentalist meddling will probably not be the only obstacle.  I am surprised that Kragic and others do not seem to believe other strong objections will surface, more secular ones on which secular and religious people alike can agree.

"Will we be able to -- just by the fact that we can build a brain -- build a human? Why not? What would stop you?" Kragic asks.

The real question is not "why not?" but "why?"  The only reason to build a human-like being in such an unnatural way is because of the convenient functions it will be able to perform.  According to the report, Kragic envisions multitasking robots programmed with human emotions doing housework .  When robots have human capabilities like thought, consciousness, free will, complex emotions, etc., it is a practically human.  I highly doubt computer scientists are creating these humanoids with the intention of allowing them to determine their own destinies.  If they are used exclusively for service to naturally-occurring humans, that is forced labor--it can possibly be called slavery.

So why?  Why create electronic humanoids meant for servitude?  The fear of this kind of technology coming in the near future should not be just about the fear of playing God.

The Human Brain Project will involve 87 universities in a simulation of the cells, chemistry and connectivity of the brain in a supercomputer, in order to understand the brain's architecture, organisation, functions and development. The project will include testing brain-enabled robots.


This is really the only ethical reason to create humanoids.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Developing story: Yusuf Ibrahim kills, beheads two Copts -- Jihad? [UPDATED 2.24.2013]

Troopers Arrest Jersey City Man for Double Murder

Hamilton, NJ – Detectives from the New Jersey State Police, working with the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office and the United States Marshals Service, have arrested a Jersey City man for the murder of two Jersey City men found behind a residence in Buena Vista Township.
The suspect has been identified as Yusuf Ibrahim, 28, of Jersey City, N.J. (Read more)
Many, including Robert Spencer, have voiced  suspicions that this may be a "jihad murder", or an act of Islamic extremism, based on the fact that the victims are Coptic Christians.  The available details so far are inconclusive, though they make room for theories that this may be an anti-Coptic (or anti-Christian) hate crime.
Reports by various news agencies give somewhat contradictory details.  The N.D.J. World, for example, says that Ibrahim is a family member of the victim, the implications being that Ibrahim may be a Copt as well.  If this is the case, it is impossible that the murders have a religious motivation.  The report also says that police cited an argument as the attacker's motivation.  (The subject of the argument is currently unknown.)
However, community members who knew the victims do not seem to be aware of this if it is so; they would not suspect that the victims were singled out for their religion if Ibrahim were a Coptic family member.  It seems strange that the victims' friend and other residents around the area failed to note this crucial fact.

A close female friend of Ibrahim, Emma Abdelrehim, does not seem to be aware of family ties, either.  She also says that he is a Muslim, albeit one who may not be very devout.
The authorities have not yet released information about a motivation, so those following the case should withhold judgment until we know for sure why Ibrahim committed this heinous crime.  The victims being Christians and the assailant being Muslim makes it possible but not certain that this is a case of Islamic extremism.  Note, in the article about Ibrahim's female friend, that Ibrahim is also an immigrant from Egypt like the victims.  Wherever there are Christian Egyptian immigrants, there will also likely be Muslim Egyptian immigrants, so it is not unlikely that, in a place where both Egyptian Christians and Muslims live, a criminal will happen to be Muslim and victims will happen to be Christians--it's just mathematically probable that this would happen without a religious motivation involved.  The last time Coptic Americans were murdered in New Jersey (Armanious family massacre), the Coptic community was positive Islamic extremism was involved, but they were mistaken.
The victims, left to right: Hany Tawadros, Amgad Konds (source)

The alleged murderer Yusuf Ibrahim (source)
UPDATE 2.15.2013:

The victims were roommates, according to NBC Philadelphia, which implies that they were something other than family.  That means that, contrary to N.D.J. World's earlier report, they cannot both be Ibrahim's family members, making a family dispute unlikely.

Yesterday, Ibrahim had his day in court, yet even now the police will not release a motivation, according to New Jersey On-Line.


Yusuf Ibrahim makes first court appearance in Jersey City decapitation murder case
Ibrahim during first court appearance (source)
UPDATE II 2.15.2013:

The bodies of Tawadros and Konds are being sent back to Egypt.

The latest from New Jersey On-Line: the cause of the killings is still considered to be an argument Ibrahim had with the men, but the police will still not give the motivation.  This is because the investigation is still ongoing.

Not all details of every crime are publically revealed; we may never know why this happened.  I don't blame anyone for assuming this was a case of Islamic extremism, since Egyptian Muslims frequently attack Copts.  It should be noted, however, that religious violence that results in death is extremely rare in the United States.  (The F.B.I.'s hate crime statistics for any given year show very few deaths, if any, resulting from crimes targetting religious groups.)  Muslim-on-Christian violence almost never occurs outside the Islamic world.

UPDATE 2.24.2013:

This is not really an update; it is just a reminder that no new information has surfaced.  I am saying this because there are many, many conservative blogs and news websites reporting this like it is for certain a hate crime or jihad.  Currently, we do not know what this murder was about.  Please stop reporting that this is a hate crime when the motivation has not been officially released.  Blogs and websites that are doing so are discrediting real anti-Christian violence in the world, so SHUT THE FUCK UP.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Harris and Klebold on Religion

Eric Harris (as he appears in the short film "Hitmen for Hire")
Dylan Klebold (in "Hitmen for Hire")
A widely believed myth about the Columbine massacre is that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the shooters, targeted Christians, specifically Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall.  There is little evidence that they shot Scott and Bernall specifically for being Christians.  The "Rachel" Klebold mentioned hating in the Basement Tapes is not Rachel Scott, and Bernall was not asked, "Do you believe in God?" before she was murdered but was instead told, "Peek-a-boo."

Those two cases will be revisited later.  The main purpose of this article, however, is not to debunk an already-debunked myth still believed by some conservatives and Christians but to debunk a myth that appears to be at least somewhat popular among liberals: Harris and Klebold were actually Christians themselves.  It usually crops up in discussions about Islamic terrorism -- "There are just as many Christian terrorists as Muslim terrorists, like the Columbine shooters!"  See Tavis Smiley's discussion with Ayaan Hirsi Ali on P.B.S. for an example of this usage.

Were Harris and Klebold Christians?  The short answer is: No, they are best described as agnostic or non-religious and at least somewhat anti-religious -- though, again, they did not specifically target Christians during the massacre.

First, the origins of the myth should be discussed.  There are only two possible sources.

1.) They had Christian backgrounds.  Dylan Klebold, while part Jewish from his mother's side, was raised in a home in which Lutheran Christianity dominated.  Eric Harris was raised Catholic.

2.) Memorial crosses were set up for them.  Crosses are usually only set up for Christians.


The problems with these reasons are obvious.  Just because a child's parents follow a religion or ideology does not guarantee that their child will follow in their footsteps.  My father is agnostic, yet I am not agnostic.  I have two secular friends who were raised Christian but have rejected religion.  My friends and I are around the same ages as Harris and Klebold were when they carried out the shooting.  And clearly the dead had no say in what their memorials would look like.

Harris and Klebold left behind writings and videos in which they recorded their uncensored thoughts about everything they hated.  They made it very clear on multiple occasions that they disliked religion, making references to Christianity in particular.

In the following quotations, all emphasis is mine unless otherwise noted.  All spelling errors are Harris and Klebold's.

Dylan Klebold on Religion
-Klebold quite clearly expressed his agnosticism.

Journal entry 4-15-97 "My life is still fucked, in case you care... maybe,... (not?) I have just lost fuckin 45$, & Before that I lost my zippo & knife - (i did get those back) Why the fuck is he being such an ASSHOLE??? (god i guess, whoever is the being which controlls shit)"

-He speaks of God and the Bible in a derogatory manner.

Undated entry (between 1-20-99 and 4-20-99) "to be aware is not a trait, its a godlike thing, Blessed God. Not a christian, jesus, mt. sanai, Abraham, David, bible gay shit god, but a true controller of existence."

-In an ambiguous sentence Klebold might be assuming God exists, but his writing becomes illegible mid-sentence.

Entry 9-5-97 "I have always been hated, by everyone & everything, just never aware.... Goodbye all the crushes ive ever had, just shells.... images, no tu truths... BUT WHY? YeS, You can read this, why did god [incoherent scrawl]"

-Klebold, while he did hate some Christians (more on that later), evidently had Christian friends who brought him to their churches for fun activities.  This indicates that he did not have a general hatred toward all Christians that was significantly greater than his hatred for everyone else.

Entry 11-3-97 "[name removed]['s] church was so fun.... the rec thing w. marc..."

-According to eye-witness testimony, Klebold asked Valeen Schnurr during the massacre, "Do you believe in God?" after he injured her.  She answered in the affirmative.  According to the librarian who was hiding nearby, he mocked her, calling her "awful and hateful names."  This clearly demonstrates his disdain for God and religious people.  (Contrary to the widely held belief, no one was killed for answering "yes" to the question.)

-Klebold expresses his disregard for Christianity in the middle of a chaotic page of doodles:

C.D. 69 "Why would i give a f**k what jesus would do???"



Eric Harris on Religion
-An Internet entry in which Harris rants about everything he hates includes some statements about religion, Christianity in particular.  (There are two versions of the "you know what I hate?" rant.  The section about religion is only in the longer version.  It can be found in the Columbine Documents on page 870).

"Religions!!!  Jesus is dead...get over it!!!  the bible is just a freakin BOOK!!  I would sooner burn to death than say I worship some egotistical god!!"

-Harris did not emphatically disbelieve in the existence of God.  In some cases, he made statements in which he assumed there is a god.

C.D. 427 "It would be great if god removed all the vaccines and warning lables from everything in the world and let natural selection take its course."

-Harris viewed God as nothing more than another annoying person trying to control him or make him conform to rules for which he didn't care.

Journal entry 4-12-98 "One big fucking problem Is people telling me what to fuckin do, think, say, act, and everything else. Ill do what you say IF I feel like it. But people (I.E. parents, cops, God, teachers) telling me what to [arrow points to do, think, say, act, and everything else] just makes me not want to fucking do it! thats why my fucking name is REB [abbreviation of rebel]!!!"

-A transcript of the 9-1-1 call made in the library during the massacre records that Harris, after Klebold asked Schnurr if she believed in God, said something along the lines of, "God is gay."

Both Harris and Klebold on Religion

-In the unreleased Basement Tapes, both Harris and Klebold rant about two Christian girls and Christianity in a derogatory manner.  (Some low-quality audio clips from the tapes are available in which they can be heard saying some of the following statements.  Part 1, 2.)

Harris: "Shut the fuck up, Nick, you laugh too much! And those two girls sitting next to you, they probably want you to shut the fuck up, too! Jesus! Rachel and Jen.. and.. whatever."
Klebold: "I don't like you, Rachel and Jen, you're stuck up little bitches, you're fucking little... Christianity, godly little whores!"
Harris: "Yeah.. 'I love Jesus! I love Jesus!' -- shut the fuck up!"
Klebold: "What would Jesus do? What the fuck would I do...?" [he acts like he's shooting the camera with his hand, with sound to accompany it]
Harris: "I would shoot you in the motherfucking head! Go Romans! Thank God they crucified that asshole."
Harris and Klebold: "Go Romans!" "Go Romans!!" "Yeah!!" "Wooo!"

("Rachel" is not Rachel Scott.  The only class in which Harris and Klebold were with a Nick, a Rachel, and a Jen was their psychology class.  The two girls are Jen Grant and either Rachel Baker or Rachel Goodwin.)

-Also in the Basement Tapes, they say "religions are gay" and assert that religious people "are weak and can't deal with life."

Final Thoughts

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were both secular individuals.  Their secularism did not fuel their motives to carry out the shooting, so it is irrelevant in answering the question, "Why?"

In a lot of people's minds, tragedies are pieces in a game.  If the perpetrator has a political or religious leaning, regardless of its role in motives, a token automatically goes to the other political or religious groups.  Whoever has the most tokens wins.  I may be engaging in amateur psychology right now, but this really is true to some extent.  Sometimes we try to hide the other teams' tokens by ignoring problems, and sometimes we think we have more because of ignorance -- like thinking Columbine was a case of Christian or atheist terrorism.  We're still squabbling over who earned the tokens on April 20, 1999.
Pictured: Game pieces.

Post-script July 24, 2013

I wrote this article almost a year ago.  I never imagined it would garner so much traffic; it is responsible for over a quarter of my obscure blog's views -- as of today, 923 out of 3141.  The vast majority of searches that led Internet users to this article has been "eric harris" (why so few look up only "dylan klebold" is a mystery to me), probably due to the picture at the top of the page straightforwardly labeled "Eric Harris".  However, it is interesting to note that people are very often searching for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's religious and political stances, doubtlessly in order to use it as a weapon in arguments.  (By the way, I have never found anything overly political in either of their writings, so it is clear that they were both apolitical -- sorry.)  People who came to this article through search engines used phrases like the following:

"did dylan bennet kebold belive in god"
"were harris and klebold religious"
"eric harris religion" (probably the most common search phrase of this variety)
"eric harris religious background"
"klebold and harris political"
"eric harris and dylan klebold atheist"
"kelbold dylan atheist rants"
"did eric harris believe in god"
"did dylan klebold target rachel scott"
"eric harris was catholic"

The right-wing Saturday Night Live actress Victoria Jackson has linked to this article to prove that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not Christians.  I'm not sure if I should be flattered.

Anyway, all this proves is that I was correct when I said that man-made disasters are pieces in a game.  Honestly, the reason I became interested in the Columbine massacre in the first place was because I wanted to see who got the pieces from it and how many -- even worse, after I was scouring James Eagan Holmes' available information to see his religious and political affiliation (he is agnostic and apolitical, for the record).  I defend myself by pointing out that it is a vicious cycle: because all the pundits and Internet commenters are constantly throwing around examples of this and that terrible person with this and that religious and political stance, I begin collecting religious and political information about terrible people so I can play the game as well, which in turn provokes others to do the same, who also provoke others, until we are all trapped in condemnation and accusations.

I didn't want to perpetuate the ugly game (or did I?), especially because the massacre was so devoid of ideological motives, but there was so much misinformation on both ends of the political spectrum that I had to take a closer look and publish my findings.

Explanations aside, some new material has been added to the main article today that I have been meaning to add because I either forgot it or found it after I completed the article.  It doesn't change the conclusion.

However, I would like to point out, since I never really have, that Harris and Klebold's stances on religion are distinct, though often subtly.  Klebold was clearly agnostic, which is to say that he was not certain if God exists, but notice that Harris never once questioned God's existence.  They wrote little about religion, so perhaps he did personally question it, but the fact remains that he never expressed it in writing or on videotape.  In light of the lack of evidence, Harris cannot be certainly called agnostic; the broader term secular, which implies neither belief nor disbelief in God's existence, is more appropriate.  Also, their opinions about God as a person seem to differ as well.  Though Klebold was agnostic, he evidently viewed a hypothetical god as a positive force, as evidenced in his description of good divine attributes ("to be aware is not a trait, its a godlike thing, Blessed God").  Harris, on the other hand, thought of God more negatively, as just another person trying to tell him what to do, like an annoying parent or teacher ("One big fucking problem Is people telling me what to fuckin do [...] But people (I.E. parents, cops, God, teachers) telling me what to [do] just makes me not want to fucking do it!").

With that said, enjoy.  (I know why you're here.)

Still game pieces.
 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and History

[by GreekAsianPanda]
Mr. McGowan
A.P. World History
Due June 4, 2012
Score: 14/15
            Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004) is a critically acclaimed film depicting the final hours and death of Jesus of Nazareth.  Much can be said about the film's quality—the music, the acting, and the symbolism are phenomenal—but behind the two-hour plot are about ten pages of text, depending on the dimensions of one's Bible.  Passion, because it is mostly derived from the canonical gospels, is made up of both historical fact and fiction.
            Before the historical bedrock of the storyline can be reached, there are two layers of fiction that must be dug through.  The first is made up of fictional elements added to the story by the filmmakers.  These fall under two categories: fiction added for dramatic effect and fiction meant to expand on details from the gospels.  Throughout Passion, Satan follows Jesus through his miserable journey to the cross, presumably tempting him to succumb to the agony and give up on his mission.  Judas Iscariot, after betraying Jesus, experiences guilt-induced hallucinations of demonic children tormenting him.  These events, of course, are meant to heighten the drama and are not found in the gospels or any ancient text.  The filmmakers also inserted other fictions into the story drawn from minor details in the gospels.  An incident in which a disciple is said to have cut off the ear of the high priest's servant (Matthew 26:51 // Mark 14:47 // Luke 22:50 // John 18:10) is transformed into a full-blown swordfight between Jesus' disciples and the Israelite authorities who come to arrest Jesus.  When Pilate is questioning Jesus in John's gospel (18:33-38), Jesus tells him he was born to tell the truth, to which Pilate replies, "What is truth?" at which point the conversation abruptly stops.  In Passion, Pilate is later shown pondering this question with his wife and discussing his own definition of truth.  The gospels were not written as polished movie scripts, so it is easy to see why the filmmakers took it upon themselves to tie these somewhat awkwardly written details into the main plot.
            The second layer of fiction in the film is derived from non-historical material found in the gospels themselves.  The first-century Romans were not known for being democratic, making the part of the film when Pilate offers the crowd the release of either Jesus or Barabbas—a murderer, no less—very unlikely to be true (Isbouts 299), which is contrary to the gospels' claim that this was Pilate's custom to do at festivals (Matthew 27:15-23 // Mark 15:6-15 // Luke 23:18-21 // John 18:39-40).  Jesus' last words on the cross in the film that are derived from the gospels—"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46 // Mark 15:34), "It is accomplished" (John 19:30), and "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46)—are also not likely to have actually been spoken.  Luke and John's versions are only found in one source each, and though Matthew and Mark's version has been considered authentic in the past because it reflects Jesus' very human weakness (this criteria for historicity is often called "criteria of embarrassment"), it may be a result of the gospel writers packing the narrative with allusions to the Psalms to convey their theological understanding of Jesus' death (Meier, Roots 170-171).  The biggest historical error in the film, though, is the notion that Pilate was hesitant to execute Jesus and perceptive of his innocence, as seen in that he repeatedly tells the Israelites that he has not found any reason to punish him, only sentencing him to death upon their insistence.  This picture of Pilate is found in all four gospels (Matthew 27:18, 23-24 // Mark 15:10, 14-15 // Luke 23:4, 14-16, 20-25 // John 18:38; 19:4, 6, 12).  But other sources from around the time of Jesus describe the governor Pontius Pilate as a horribly brutal man who would not have taken a case of someone claiming to be a king besides the Roman emperor—in Jesus' case, the King of the Jews—lightly (Isbouts 294).  Not only that, but the form of execution to which he sentenced Jesus shows absolutely no restraint; crucifixion was one of the most agonizing, humiliating forms of execution at the time (299).  It was reserved for slaves, prisoners of war, and other people unwanted by the government and was extremely degrading (Malina et al. 346-347).  If Pilate had really been hesitant to punish Jesus, he would have given him a less horrifying execution.
            Now that the two layers of grime that sit upon Passion have been wiped away, it should be noted that the film does present a story that is, at its core, historical.  The film begins with Jesus praying in Gethsemane near the Mount of Olives where he is then arrested by Israelite authorities.  This scene is derived from two independent sources (Mark 14:32-52 // John 18:1-11), and there is no theological or apologetic reason for the gospel writers to have placed Jesus in Gethsemane or any other place.  Furthermore, the historicity of Jesus' arrest in Gethsemane is virtually undisputed by historians and New Testament scholars (Meier, Roots 407; Sanders 54).  Passion also depicts the dastardly deeds of the notorious Judas Iscariot, who famously betrayed Jesus in exchange for money and later committed suicide (Matthew 26:14-16, 48-50; 27:3-10 // Mark 14:10-11, 43-45 // Luke 22:3-6, 47-48 // John 13:2, 21-30; 18:2-3, 5 // Acts 1:16-19).  The existence of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus are multiply attested; Mark and John's gospels are two independent sources of the betrayal, and Matthew's gospel and Acts (written by the Lukan author) present two independent (albeit contradictory) accounts of Judas' subsequent death.  Not only that, but the early church would not have invented a theologically troubling tale about Jesus being betrayed by a disciple he chose himself (Meier, Companions 142-143).  Jesus' trial before Pilate that resulted in a death sentence is also undisputedly historical (Sanders 54) because it is multiply attested in three independent sources (Josephus' Antiquities 18:3:3:63-64 // Mark 15:1-5 // John 18:28-38; 19:8-11).  This is not to say, however, that the film's depiction of the trial and Pilate's behavior is absolutely accurate.  As shown earlier, the Pilate of history, unlike the Pilate of Passion and the gospels, was probably not hesitant to execute Jesus.  Nonetheless, the film gets the basic fact that Jesus was sentenced to death under Pontius Pilate correct.  The actual crucifixion itself, in addition, is not contested by any scholar (Sanders 54) because it is multiply, prolifically attested in biblical and extra-biblical sources and also because crucifixion was such a shameful way to die that the fact was actually repelling people from belief in Jesus as the Messiah (Meier, Companions 142), making it improbable that the early church invented this counterproductive story.  In summary, The Passion of the Christ is a mixture of fact and fiction.
 [. . .]
            The excessive use of slow motion and gore are annoyances, but Passion is beautifully put together with expressive music, talented acting, and a well-woven storyline set in a convincing first-century Palestinian setting.  The actors speak Aramaic and Latin so that the greatest story ever told can be more properly reenacted.  Analysis of Passion can also benefit students of history as an introduction to historical criticism, since it is a familiar story that has been around for almost two thousand years.
Works Cited
Isbouts, Jean-Pierre.  The Biblical World.  Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2007.  Print.
Malina, Bruce, and Richard Rohrbaugh.  Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels.  Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003.  Print.
Meier, John.  A Marginal Jew: Companions and Competitors.  New York: Doubleday, 2001.  Print.
---.  A Marginal Jew: The Roots of the Problem and the Person.  New York: Doubleday, 1991.  Print.
Sanders, Ed.  "The Life of Jesus."  The Rise of Christianity.  San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999.  53-59.  Print.