The “Zeitgeist” Movie

A friend showed me approximately the first twenty minutes,  about Jesus being a solar myth. I anticipated that it was going to be biased when the segment was prefaced by a snippet of a George Carlin sketch. Carlin was a slight genius in the comic arts, but on religion he was a half-wit. So, too, apparently is the writer of this … “documentary”, who rushes to embrace 19th century and modern mythicism without the slightest inclusion of evidence from the other side. In fact, the film seems to presuppose that there _is_ no other side.

One cliche and half-truth is heaped upon another, a device designed to make the uneducated head swim with such “wondrous and challenging new information”. In reality, however, educated heads won’t spin – they’ll just sadly shake back and forth at the egregious feast of bombast.

The script writer is either blissfully unaware – or, worse, knows, but deliberately omits – that most (not all) New Testament mythic themes arise not from pagan Zodiacal myth, but from Hebrew myth and mystical experience. And this comes, not just from the Old Testament, but from the age in which Jesus lived, the so-called intertestamental period, or the Second Temple period. Jewish, not pagan, notions form the basis of the NT’s virginal conception narratives, the Eucharist, Jesus’ miracles and ascent to Heaven.

The writer completely overlooks critical scholarship’s consensus about the seven authentic letters of Paul, documents that mention Paul’s personal knowledge of Jesus’ own brother James and the apostles in Jerusalem; Paul’s insistence that Jesus was not a mythic or celestial being, but a recently crucified Jewish male, “born of a woman under the Law”, who had a specific teaching on divorce, and who had been crucified “in Zion” (Jerusalem); Paul’s describing the historical Jesus’ “meekness” and “simplicity” as real human, not pagan-divine, character traits.

Moreover, the writer overlooks Paul’s stance of conflict with the people who actually knew Jesus and were in an infinitely better position to understand Jesus than was Paul, who only “knew” Jesus through a private vision. The criterion of embarrassment suggests that Paul’s stated knowledge of Jesus’ closest relatives and disciples is historically plausible, and that Paul preserves it in his letters, and Luke, too, preserves it with some accuracy in his descriptions of Paul’s missions in the book of Acts. That Paul knows, and has the temerity to disagree with, Jesus’ own followers, is a remarkable, even glaring point of high plausibility for the argument for Jesus’ historicity.

Perhaps worst of all, the writer ignores Paul’s own complaint about the reception of his teaching of “Christ crucified”, which he calls “a stumbling-block to the Jews, an absurdity to the Gentiles”:

Now, if Paul was really merely refurbishing an ancient pagan myth of a dying-resurrecting god, then certainly the Gentiles would not have found it absurd in the least:

They would either have embraced it as a novel expression of their oldest, fondest myths, or they would have yawned it away as “it’s just another solar myth – who needs it when we already have so many?”
This Gentile resistance to a crucified savior reinforces the plausibility that Paul, in writing of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, is writing about the destiny of a real, historical, Jewish, messianic teacher whose mission had recently (twenty years before Paul’s earliest letter) lived and died.

Also the writer makes the erroneous assumption that if Jesus was really the immense avatar that the NT says he was, he ought to have entered the contemporary historical record. That this is a rather unrealistic expectation is evidenced by the generally accepted idea that Jesus’ entire public ministry lasted only a mere three years, with most of it taking place in Galilean backwaters.

Jesus’ mission’s only governmentally controversial  … and therefore its only historicallysignificant moment was probably that short week between “Palm Sunday” and “Good Friday” when Jesus finally brought his message to the Jewish capital, and in his famous prophetic act, “cleansed the Temple” of its sacrificial animals and their handlers – thus throwing down a lethal (for him) challenge to the priestly elite.

THIS brief week, and this week only, provided Jesus his “fifteen minutes of fame” in the Greco-Roman world, and there is no good reason to think that anyone would have bothered to preserve it as a significant moment of time for the Roman Empire.

A rural preacher, surrounded by some fans, enters Jerusalem the week of Passover, preaches in the Temple, makes an anti-priesthood protest in the Temple, is arrested and crucified. Truly a fly-speck on the Greco-Roman calendar, and thus no particular incident to be recorded for posterity.  There is no special reason why Jesus should have entered the political consciousness – and therefore the reports of – any contemporary historians. Nor would he have been in the least remarkable to the Sanhedrin which handed him over to Roman authority.

Jesus was a flash in the pan, and contemporary history treated him as such by simply not mentioning him … and, had contemporary history even had some vague awareness of his trivial public mission in the capital, it did not deem it important enough to mention him. On the other hand, the future could bring in some archeological evidence that Jesus had indeed been written about … but that, of course, remains to be seen.

Finally, the writer’s uncritical exhibition of Carlin’s critique of God, namely that God “always needs money”, is easily refuted from all religions, but particularly Christianity. In the NT, Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to be saved.” Obviously, the God of JESUS was an eschewer of Mammon – a fact which flies completely over the narrow minds of both Carlin and the Zeitgeist writer.

The writer, in not even hinting at the enormous problems posed by his simplistic view of Jesus as a redesigned solar myth, is guilty of communicating an agenda riddled by half-truths and misinformation. But … sadly … perhaps in our uncrcitical, uneducated age, this may be viewed as some kind of an achievement.

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