Category Archives: Little Baby Jesus

Season’s Beatings!

Happy Boxing Day . . . the day in which we either box up our returns and hurl them back at Macy’s or take a poke at our aged relatives who really, really should not have said that thing that can never be unsaid. By popular demand, we are reprinting last year’s Boxing Day post — the one in which we examine what our sources really tell us about the Little Baby Jesus. You’re welcome.

Read along in your Bibles:

The oldest Gospel, Mark, says — well, nothing. It starts with Jesus baptized as an adult, age unknown. John starts much earlier — way, way back “in the beginning” (of time), when God/Jesus created the universe. Unfortunately, down here on Earth, John skips the LBJ part. Acts and the Letters say nothing.

That leaves us with 3,800 words in Matthew and Luke as our ONLY sources. So-called “Infancy Gospels,” like Thomas and James, popped up in the second century, but they were written more than 100 years after Jesus’ death and are obviously fictional.

Matthew traces a family tree from Abraham through David to Joseph, who is Jesus’ father — but wait a second. He’s not, is he? We find out in a moment thatGod is Jesus’ father. Joseph is not related to him at all. Why do we care if some random guy is descended from King David?

Luke also has a genealogy, which goes back in time from Joseph through David and Abraham to Adam, aka “the son of God.” (3:23-37) Most of the names in these two genealogies are different; in fact, almost all of them are.

But whatever. Matthew has the Holy Spirit get busy with Mary … Joseph marries her … she gives birth … she bonks Joseph. Look it up: Matthew says Joseph “did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son.” (1:25) See that screaming “UNTIL”? The world’s oldest recorded case of blue-balls.

The dreamy duo live in Bethlehem, hometown of David. King Herod has a dream and sends “the Maji” (unknown number) to follow a star and they come to “the house.” No manger. No swaddling clothes. Maji exit, running.

Joseph moves to Egypt, imitating Moses. He waits (duration unknown). Herod dies, family moves to what Rock Star Theologian Bart Ehrman calls “an insignificant little one-horse town” called Nazareth. The end.

Okay. A little skimpy, Matt, but at least we have these running Maji and some (implied) Joe-on-Mary action. But where’s the Little Baby Jesus? Doesn’t make a peep.

We turn to Luke. He’s the screenwriting disciple, the Mel Gibson of gospelers, the USC grad who crafts the Jesus we all think we know today. If you cut out Mark, Matthew and John, most of us wouldn’t miss a begat. But take Luke out, you got some serious ‘splaining to do.

After some stuff about a cousin of Mary’s, Luke finally gets to her and old blue-balls in verse 27. The angel Gabriel visits the couple in … Nazareth? But in Matthew, they’re living in Bethlehem.

Okay. Joe goes to Bethlehem because — well, we’re told the Roman Emperor decreed a “census.” Matthew has no census; no ancient source mentions a census. But Luke does give us a manger, some “cloths.” But no running Maji. And weirdly, no marriage: Mary was “pledged to be married” to Joseph, but that’s it. Jesus was a human bastard. (2:5-7)

Then Luke has a whole scene in Jerusalem for Jesus’ bris and some prophets and so on, not a whisper of which is in Matthew. No Egypt. No Herod. No star over Bethlehem. Hmmm.

Where are we? Jesus parents were Mary and Joseph. They were Jewish. They may have come from Nazareth. That’s it. Merry (day after) Christmas!

Forecast: Word Cloudy

In honor of the Advent season, we have decided by popular request to rerun our beloved holiday word cloud. You’re welcome.

This word cloud represents the 3,800 words of the infancy narratives of Jesus’ birth in chapters 1 and 2 of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (with the words “Father,” “Lord” and “God” removed):

Are You For Real?

The best-selling non-fiction book of the year so far is Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent. It purports to be the story of a four year-old boy’s near death experience during a harrowing appendectomy and a three-minute visit with Jesus in Heaven.

Before I started reading it, on a Hertz courtesy bus in Charlotte, North Carolina, with piped-in gospel music, I assumed little Burpo would bring back some wisdom from Jesus. I was wrong. The savior Burpo meets has little to say to the living beyond a few platitudes about loving children and how “nobody’s old in Heaven … and nobody wears glasses.”

No, the book’s real purpose – and, I suspect, its appeal – is deeply apologetic. It claims to provide nothing less than “documentary” evidence for the existence of God. Again and again, Burpo’s father is astounded by his son’s seeming omniscience while under the knife: “How could my little boy know this stuff?”

The elder Burpo is a pastor in what he describes as a “one-horse town” in Nebraska an hour from the nearest Wal-Mart. To a skeptic, little Colton Burpo’s “evidence” is underwhelming. For example, he describes Jesus as having beautiful eyes, a white robe, a sash, a gold crown and wounds. “How could my little boy know this stuff?” repeats his father. Perhaps he saw a picture — say — at church?

Colton Burpo comes back to life spouting the basic dogmas of Evangelical Protestantism. The Jesus he meets seems not to have read anything other than Daniel and the Book of Revelation. “There’s going to be a war,” the boy warns, “and it’s going to destroy this world.”

Make no mistake, the stakes are high for Evangelicals, as high as forever. It’s touching to witness how desperate they are to find conclusive proof they are right, after all.

The Jesus Hoax?

"Who's your daddy?"

Did Jesus exist?

Certainly, most people in the past 2,000 years have assumed Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure. Virtually all scholars in the field believe he walked the earth. But since modern textual studies emerged in the 19th century, demonstrating just how interpretive and — well — constructed the primary witnesses to Jesus’ human life were, plenty of people have wondered aloud whether the whole Jesus thing is just a pious or political fiction.

Is it possible there was no human Jesus?

A historian of any ancient figure would start by looking to the sources. There are no physical artifacts of Jesus himself, his followers, or even the Christian movement until the late 2nd century (around 120-130 years after Jesus died). The evidence is entirely literary.

Outside Christian circles, there are just a few scattered references (Pliny the Younger, Tactitus, Josephus) that do little more than show there were indeed Christians who followed a person (presumably human) called Christ. The only real biographical sources are the Christians Gospels.

Moreover, no original written documents exist. The evidence consists of copies of copies of copies made centuries later. There is a tiny fragment of the Gospel of John pulled from an Egyptian garbage dump in the last century that is dated to, say, 120 or 130 C.E. So we can safely say documents about this “Jesus” character existed 100 years after his “death.”

Historians make the convincing case that nobody from that era (other than Roman Emperors and celebrity poets) has ANY physical or literary evidence attesting to their existence. There is more reason to think Jesus existed than 99.9% of the region’s population.

But ignoring that. What do Jesus deniers claim?

There’s a long-running web hub and discussion forum inspired by the tireless efforts of British atheist Kenneth “Jesus Never Existed” Humphreys that offers the following:

  • Evidence is too scanty — as scholars have lamented for centuries, why don’t the great writers of the period, such as Philo and Seneca, say anything at all about Jesus?
  • Some evidence is contradictory — for example, the genealogies for Jesus given in Matthew and Luke don’t agree at all and seem fictional
  • Evidence is self-serving — the Gospels and other Christian scriptures contain material that legitimizes the Christian movement; i.e., the 12 disciples mirror the 12 tribes of Israel and allow the Christian cult to claim legitimacy
  • Christianity is a hodge-podge of external ideas that required no founder — messages of love and faith and God-men can be found in Stoicism, Mithraism, Judaism, Egyptian religion, and so on
  • Early Christianity was chaotic — the documented scattershot of beliefs, including all those Gnosticisms and neo-Judaisms, as well as a certain lack of interest in the human Jesus, shows there was no real focus from the beginning, aka, no Jesus

Like John William Draper in the 19th century, Humphreys is really using his thesis to bash the Church, which he calls a “tragedy” and an “active agent in destroying knowledge” and “an industry of deceit.” And so on.

Focusing on the Jesus question itself, however, is more difficult. No doubt early Christians were self-serving, imaginative, fictionalizing, chaotic, swayed by all manner of local beliefs . . . but does any of that prove Jesus himself is a fiction?

Real to Reel to Reel too Real

Latest The God Project Dot Net claim proving our utter clinical insanity in a world gone mad: That standard Hollywood screenplay structure as taught at pagan institutions globally is unknowingly soaked, steeped, marinated and architected by none other than the Jesus story as written by those woefully underpaid early screenwriters Mark, Luke, Matthew and John.

Last time we laid out what that screenplay “structure” looks like. Herewith, we present the Gospel parallel:

The New Testament Screenplay Blueprint

3 Acts: Standard Hollywood Structure (SHS) demands three Acts, each of which take place in a different location. Each Act starts at dawn. Act 1 ends up-beat, Act 2 ends down-beat, Act 3 ends up.

The Jesus story has 3 Acts — Act 1 is in Galilee and covers Jesus’ birth and preparation for ministry … Act 2 is outside Galilee in the rural areas as Jesus preaches with his band of sidekicks … Act 3 takes place in Jerusalem and includes his trial and death.

SHS demands an incident at 10 minutes (sometimes called the “Inciting Incident“) that shakes up the routines that have been presented in the opening scenes. Jesus’ birth is the Inciting Incident.

At 20 minutes, there is an important meeting or landing and the formation of the Heroes’ team — Jesus meets John the Baptist, who is his first team member and starts his ministry by baptizing him.

30 — SHS demands an odd mini-war where the Enemy does something evil to raise the stakes. Jesus goes into the desert here and is tempted by Satan (the ultimate Enemy).

Act 2 starts at 40 minutes — Jesus starts his ministry proper here. He’s assembled his 12 core team members (aka disciples). This is the “Love Act” where we slow down and get to like the good guys, seeing them at their best: Jesus turns water in wine, cures sick people, delivers inspiring Sermons on the Mount, etc.

At 60half-way up the mountain! — SHS requires a sudden physical event that amounts to a declaration of open war on the Hero. This is the point when Herod executes John the Baptist. So starts Jesus’ fatal war with the Jewish authorities.

Somewhere before the end of Act 2, SHS asks that the Hero has a kind of “leap of faith” — s/he commits to the journey totally and the ultimate goal becomes clearer. Here is Jesus’ transfiguration when he reveals himself as divine to Peter and James and predicts his own death.

Act 3 begins at 80 minutes — SHS demands a scene change (often at dawn). Jesus goes into Jerusalem on a donkey and will not leave until after his death.

SHS asks for a series of escalating thrusts-and-parries among the Hero and his allies and the Enemy. Jesus complies mightily, taking on the moneychangers, the high priest Caiaphas and the Jewish authorities, and the Romans.

In the midst of the escalating tensions, SHS requires a major Revelation or Betrayal at 90 minutes. One word: Judas.

The ending of the SHS is the most predictable section: a confrontation with the Enemy’s subordinates, the Enemy itself … Jesus’ trials before the Sanhedrin and Pilate are archetypal, as is his Passion (the cross, the flogging, foul language) ….

Here’s where I think the SHS gets most explicitly Biblical. Think about your typical action movie — how Bruce Willis or Rocky or The Rock is physically knocked around almost to the point of death … and at a certain point, they literally almost die. Remember E.T.? He’s dead … No, he’s not!

Parallels with Jesus are obvious. Pay attention next time you’re at the multiplex. See if there aren’t 3 acts — up, down, up. See if there isn’t a major Judas-like Betrayal in Act 3. See if the Hero doesn’t get beaten up (physically and/or emotionally) and “die” … only to rise again!

It’s sort of unsettling if you think about it too much, as we have. Why?

The Only Story Ever Told

So we have this theory here at the The God Project Dot Net that Hollywood’s so-called standard “story structure” is based upon the New Testament. This is probably not a conspiracy. Cause and effect are not clear because the “Passion of the Christ” (actual, not Gibsonized) is structured similarly to even earlier stories.

The story of Jesus’ life caught on so spectacularly in the past twenty centuries because it is perfectly shaped — organized in that mysterious way that seems for some reason to work, again and again.

What’s is the perfect story? Thanks for asking. A few years ago, we spent time studying dozens of classic films, outlining their structure. Not sure why, exactly. We were young and stupid. Details of these stories differed but contours were eerily the same.

Here’s our prototypical outline with examples from various popular films to make it tangible. Next time we’ll explain the New Testament connection (hinted here).

(Numbers represent minutes, assuming 120 minute length)

Act I – “Traveling”

0-10 minutes: Hero introduced with major flaw that implies his goal (i.e., Rocky is a loser: goal therefore is to win)

10: Something unexpected happens to the Hero that shakes up his life (Luke’s adoptive parents are killed in Star Wars)

20: A meeting or a landing (spaceship touches down in Alien). Hero has formed a team to help him meet his challenge (beep beep R2D2)

30: Enemy does something short, sharp and shocking. Stakes are raised. (Bus blows up in Speed)

This starts an odd mini-war that Hero appears to win. (Alien escapes and appears to die … but did it?)

Act II – “Love”

40: Day dawns. A change of scene. After the unsettling mobility of Act I, we spend 20 minutes or so from 40-60 getting to know the characters so we care more what happens.

We see the Hero with the thing most important to him (family, lover, child). (Mel spends time with buddy’s family in Lethal Weapon; Sandra does same in While You Were Sleeping)

60 (half-way): “The Reversal” — a sudden big physical event that hits the Hero close to home and out of the blue. All-out war is declared between Hero and Enemy. (Stinger missiles surround the building in Die Hard; Benjamin goes on his first date with Elaine in The Graduate)

Around 70-75 the Hero “lets go” — s/he takes a leap of faith, commits totally to the situation. (Jane Eyre admits her love to Rochester)

Act III – “War”

80: Day dawns. A change of scene. (They go to San Francisco in Pretty Woman)

Hero realizes to his/her dismay that s/he’s in love. Or there’s a killer in the woods. The final goal becomes more clear — and it’s not exactly what s/he thought. (Benjamin realizes he wants to marry Elaine; Melanie’s boss comes back in Working Girl)

90: “The Revelation” — often a major betrayal by somebody close to the Hero (realizes the Mens’ Association is making robots in Stepford Wives); all secrets are out now (Jodie sees killer is “making a dress” in Silence of the Lambs)

The next 20 minutes are a series of thrusts-and-parries.

100: Hero battles an underling of the Enemy

110: Final confrontation in a precarious location (dangling in the sky in Air Force One). The Hero seems to die (Culkin is captured by robbers; boathouse blows up in Body Heat). His old self dies. Then he rises again …

(see the New Testament parallel here, sisters?)

115: … to defeat the Enemy …

120: … and embrace the life s/he had before more fully. The end.

Jesus, Screenwriter

Contemplating the high drama of Easter a couple weeks ago — the minor chords of Friday, the muted lighting climaxed by a candle snuffing Holy Saturday, the over-the-top Gloria explosion on Sunday — I thought: This is like a screenplay. Then I went to L.A. to, ahem, consult on a TV show and was sure.

Research complete, I am ready to unleash an outrageous proposition for the people now.

Here goes: Modern American screenplay structure is based on the New Testament story. Not loosely based. Exactly based. And modern American movies in whatever genre are structured like the story of Jesus.

Bear with me, sisters. Screenplays have a structure. You probably know this, right? There are three acts, an “inciting incident” at 10 minutes, a big event at 40 minutes, an act break that’s often signaled by a change of scene and dawn breaking, a major betrayal at 90 minutes, battle with the enemy at 100, and so on. These are the rules.

Not only that — they feel right. Good movies are comforting because they follow a pattern and intriguing because they color it. Story beats are like notes on a scale: it’s amazing so many tunes can be made from twelve notes. But try inventing your own notes and you’re probably unemployed, or French.

Taking a homogenized view of the Gospels from the New Testament, here’s the basic outline of the Jesus story (including minute markers, per a movie):

Act I (0 mins): Intro to setting
10: Jesus born (“inciting incident”)
20: Jesus baptized: 40 days in desert; John the Baptist subplot
Act II (40 mins): Ministry begins: first miracle (water into wine); miracles, healings, travel
60: Herod kills John the Baptist; all-out war of Jesus vs. Romans/Jews starts here; transfiguration
Act III (80 mins): Jesus enters Jerusalem; cleanses temple; plots begin
90: Judas (close disciple) betrays him; trial begins
100: Passion & death; burial
110: Jesus reappears to Mary and others
120: Ascends to Heaven: Fade out

Next time, we’ll see how that movie you sat through last Sunday at the Loew’s Lincoln Center mirrored this story without even knowing it!