Celebrity Cult-ure versus Stories of the Bible


The appeal of modern celebrity is something we have all encountered; its imprint is unavoidable across all forms of media in our global culture. The prevailing idea is that celebrities are somehow beyond the day-to-day norm; they’re often described in such terms as 'star,' 'superstar' or 'idol,' evoking stratospheric or even divine attributes.

In his work titled Film Stardom, Myth and Classicism: The Rise of Hollywood's Gods, British author and academic Michael Williams makes the connection between the phenomenon of modern film celebrity and the gods and heroes of ancient myth, who were also celebrated as both stars and idols. In fact, Williams identifies Classicism as the foundation for modern stardom as invented by the Hollywood film industry of the 1920s.

The fact that modern star makers look back to Greece and Rome to define stardom has been "curiously neglected." Williams cites an excerpt from a 1928 feature in the fan magazine Photoplay, suggesting that "Hollywood is the new Olympus. Hollywood is bringing back the glory that is Greece." He describes the accompanying images of youthful actors Richard Arlen and Joan Crawford, posing as 20th-century incarnations of the ancient Belvedere Apollo and Venus de Milo sculptures. Sometimes pitched as tongue-in-cheek or playful, such images nevertheless constitute a very real foundation for the nature of stardom today.

According to American cultural historian Leo Braudy, the cult of celebrity has clear lines of connection to the ancient past. In The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and its History, Braudy draws attention to the fame cult as used by figures such as Alexander the Great, Julius Ceasar, Napoleon and Hitler, among others. Writing in the pre-Internet-infused world of the 1980s, Braudy says "the impact of the face of Alexander the Great on a coin where only those of gods and mythical heroes had been before becomes thinned out in a million fleeting images on the evening news, images that reach a larger audience than Alexander could touch in a life time—or for long after." Williams points out that this "paradoxical and somewhat perverse situation speaks to a need for something beyond the everyday, and something in which one can become passionately invested" (emphasis added).

The Hollywood scandals of the 1920s marred the divine aura in which star makers were seeking to shroud their young actors. Inevitable human fallibility quickly tarnished the grand illusion. Williams relates that in more recent times the "divinising language" applied to celebrities has gone underground, although "the discourse is still there." So, too, are the audiences. Indeed, "there can be no idol without an audience," he points out. If shows such as American Idol or Pop Idol are to be taken as modern embodiments of the star-making phenomenon, then human beings are still searching for "something beyond the everyday" and something to "become passionately invested in."

That being the case, why not consider investing time in the lives of real-life celebrities of the Bible? Unlike ancient mythological gods and modern-day Hollywood demigods, who can do little more than offer a temporary escape from the mundane, their words and their example have real relevance for society today.  





Jesus referred to evidence about Himself in the Hebrew Scriptures. This series from Vision explores that section of the Bible known as The Law, the Prophets and the Writings.
Series: The Gospels for the 21st Century

Gospels for the 21st Century is the result of taking the New Testament at its word, reading it carefully for what it actually says. It weaves the four Gospel accounts into a single, compelling storythe story of Jesus Christ.  
The Apostles series covers the lives of a number of heroes worthy of emulation.

Tags: bible history, Apostles, what is the gospel, old testament stories, stories of the bible, famous people, celebrities

Jewish or gentile audiences?

To whom were the New Testament books written?

To evaluate whether a New Testament book was written for a Jewish or gentile congregation based on its usage of the Hebrew Scriptures misses a major consideration. If we were to remove from the New Testament all elements of the Hebrew Scriptures, whether quotations, allusions, references and types we would be left with very little material. Marcion attempted this in the second century and ended up with a reduced New Testament which was comprised of part of Luke’s Gospel and Paul’s Epistles. The fact is that the New Testament was written to people who were clearly aware of and alert to what was written in the Hebrew Scriptures.

What we often fail to appreciate is that where quotations were given from the Hebrew Scriptures, the readers or audiences of the writing were expected to put the quotation(s) into context. Quotations or allusions were actually a reference to a larger argument that the writer was presenting rather than simply a support or an authority for a claim as we so frequently use quotations today.

The apostle Paul used quotations from Scripture liberally throughout his writings, without a question as to whether the gentile followers would understand. He speaks about the sacrificial system and expects even the gentiles to understand what happened in the temple in Jerusalem (Romans 12:11 Corinthians 10:18). This indicates that the gentiles were expected to have a considerable degree of appreciation of the Scriptures. The same expectation continues in those epistles which scholars consider were subsequently written byPaul’s followers. The writer of the Second Epistle to Timothy is explicit in his concern about the importance of understanding existing Scripture (Timothy 3:14-16).

This adds an interesting perspective to the point of James at the Jerusalem Conference recorded in Acts. Luke records James stating at the conclusion of the instructions to the gentiles that “from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues” (Acts 15:21 ESV). Was this just a throwaway statement by James or was it intended as part of the instruction to the gentiles that they were responsible for coming to understand the content of the Scriptures? If the latter, then they were given a responsibility to acquire a context in which to understand the teachings of the apostles and the church. Judging from the way in which the books of the New Testament have been written, James's statement needs to be considered part of the instruction to the gentile followers.

Considering this then, we have a situation where the New Testament was written for individuals—whether Jew or gentile—who had immersed themselves in the Scriptures and were able to contextualize the writings.  This was an aspect that was quickly lost as the separation between church and synagogue developed over the succeeding centuries.

Tags: Jews, gentiles, Apostles, Hebrew Scriptures, Scriptures

Gospel of Judas

'The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says' is published

The Gospel of Judas has been previously discussed on this blog and in Vision.  Now, Professor April DeConick of Rice University has expressed why she has undertaken to write on the subject and provide a different perspective of Judas, one which harmonises more with the traditional Gospel accounts.  Writing on her blog today, April notes: 

April de ConickWhy did I write this book? I wrote this book because when I read the Coptic transliteration of the manuscript in April 2006, I realized that Judas was much more a hero in the National Geographic translation than he was in my own translation. As I worked through the Coptic and then sat and studied the text as a whole, I quickly came to see that Judas is not a good guy in this gospel. He is not Jesus' friend or the greatest disciple. I began to wonder why the NG team translated in reference to Judas "daimon" as "spirit" when its most accepted translation is "demon." I wondered why the team chose to say that Judas is "set apart for" the holy generation, when the Coptic actually reads that he is "separated from" the holy generation. And so forth.

What does the Coptic really say? The Coptic says that Judas is a demon, that he will be instrumental in bringing about Jesus' sacrifice, that this was the worst thing he could do. Jesus tells Judas that he will not go to the Kingdom, that he is working for the demiurge Ialdabaoth-Nebruel, that he will lament and grieve his terrible fate. Furthermore, the text says that Jesus will tell him the mysteries of the Kingdom not so that he will go there, but so that Judas will lament greatly his actions within the cosmic drama. Judas is separated from the holy generation. He is the thirteenth demon, which means he is to be associated with Ialdabaoth, the "thirteenth" archon or ruler in Sethian Gnosis.

Why is my translation different from National Geographic's? What is troubling to me is that the provisional Coptic transliteration which NG put out in April 2006 was not finished, but scholars published translations and interpretations based on it. It contained reconstructions of the Coptic that were erroneous, including the statement that Judas will ascend to the holy generation and that he would be taught the mysteries of the Kingdom because it was possible for him to go there. The Coptic text does NOT say this. It says the opposite, and this has been corrected (thank goodness!) in The Critical Edition that NG put out this last summer. The problem is that now the world thinks that Judas is a Gnostic hero when in fact the Gospel of Judas says nothing of this. In fact, it says the opposite. My translation is of the actual Gospel of Judas.

In reaching these conclusions, April places this Gospel squarely in the Sethian tradition.

Tags: Jesus Christ, Gnostics, Apostles, Gospel of Judas, betrayal of Jesus

Patristics and the Jewish Roots of Christianity

Musings from the Fifteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies

Last week (August 6-11) Oxford University hosted its Fifteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies, an event conducted by the University every four years.  This event brings together over 500 academics from the four corners of the globe and from all denominations. “Patristics” is a name given to the study of the Church Fathers from the post apostolic time of Clement I of Rome into the fifth century of this era. 

Delegates attended lectures and workshop sessions covering subjects often defined by century, geographical location and language: either Greek, Latin, Syriac, and or Coptic. Of particular interest to me were the sessions covering the Jewish and Christian interaction in the third century. 

Several papers were presented on various writings of Origen who wrote in some detail of the interactions he had with either Jewish Christians and/or Jews in both Alexandria and inCaesarea. The strength of his polemic against such people is indicative of the sense of challenge that existed even in the early third century to define Christianity as it appears today.

Clearly in Origen's time, people were very much more aware of the Jewish roots of Christianity, in a way that would surprise most present day people who claim to be Christian. The subject of identity formation of the emerging Christian community is currently well considered in academic circles, but conferences such as this highlight how antithetical so many of the leaders and opinion formers of this earlier period were to the foundation that Jesus Christ had laid. The result is a movement that would not even recognize its founder if he appeared today. 

One area of this period that highlights that difference and has shaped today’s Christianity more than the teachings of Jesus Christ himself is that of Christology, in which philosophical reasoning was brought to bear in the understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ. The historical period of the patristic studies covers the time in which the development of Christology led to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity and the attendant nature of God; doctrines which are used today to define whether or not a person is a Christian.

This period is a very crucial era to appreciate and understand. It has had a far greater impact on the development of what is today considered Christianity than did the era of Jesus and the Apostles.

Tags: Jesus, first christians, Origen, Apostles, Church Fathers, Jewish Christians, Patristics

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