16 thoughts on “Getting rid of all the “others”

  1. NorthofNokesville

    Great find, Moon. It’s tempting to overtly politicize the Nativity (I won’t directly) but there any number of surprising nuggets that the cozy version obscures. The “no room at the inn” is probably bad translation from Luke’s Greek. More likely, they had no room in their host’s guest room, and stayed in a rough area of a home used for animals (plus childbearing was dirty and dangerous, and considered unclean). Shepherds were odd candidates to be the first witnesses, because they were low class and considered so “dodgy” their testimony could not be used in court. And being raised a Nazarene? That was a poor backwater in Judea (itself an occupied backwater in the Roman empire).

    Christian (and mostly Roman Catholic) theology has a great word for this: the scandal of particularity. Narrowly considered, it refers to the challenge of one particular man claiming to be God and Savior for all mankind. More broadly, it encompasses all the details that go into that narrative… God enters becomes man, not by descending from Olympus, but by being born, to a particular woman (an unwed Jewish teenager at the time of the Annunciation), in a particular place, etc. For a believer – or for someone trying to understand – none of these particulars are trivial.

    Those twin threads of subversion and particularity run through the Gospels end to end. Christ’s most frequent run-ins are with the priestly (and thus political) elites, and he’s constantly engaging with unsavory types: tax collectors, Samaritans, loose women, crazy women, lepers, thieves.

    Nice find.

    1. Nice comment. I had no idea it was that complicated, in reality. Jesuit education?

      Anyone else?

      BTW, I snagged the cartoon from my rather religious cousin’s FB page. (liberal presbyterian, if it matters) I think her point was that Christians are charged to accept those of all faiths, regions, and social class. Mary and Joseph themselves were immigrants.

      I am also reminded of an old joke about Mary and Joseph crossing the desert….as immigrants…but I won’t tell it here. Some might consider it tasteless.

      1. NorthofNokesville

        @MoonHowler

        Public school. Just voracious reading, and reversion as an adult. Probably aided by one particular college professor who took religion very seriously and insisted that easy dismissal of the Bible, Augustine, and Aquinas – and their medieval transmitters across cultures like Dante, Averroes, and Alfarabi – was a mark of an illiberal mind. And this from a largely secular Jewish man.

        Source doesn’t matter, of course. I think the loaded word is “accept.” Christians are called to love all, and the real heart of the matter is what does that mean and how does it flow through to one’s actions. Neither question is simple, and in my opinion, both admit of many possible solutions.

        Christ’s own example offers no simple solution. Sometimes, he subverted social norms to quietly engage “the other” an a very unexpected basis. Sometimes, he let the power of others’ hypocrisy deliver the instruction (as when he saved Mary Magdalene from stoning). In one particular instance, he took direct action, driving the money changers from the Temple. Far smarter, more learned people than I have spent lifetimes trying to come to grips with it.

      2. Eric the Half a Troll

        @NorthofNokesville

        An aside: Mary Magdalene was not the woman who was to be stoned. At least there is no biblical basis for this conclusion.

  2. Starryflights

    Nice post, Moon.

  3. Cargosquid

    Heh….

    There were no refugees at that scene.
    Mary and Joseph were not homeless.
    They were there at inept government order for a census.
    The government overloaded that little town with too many people. It was more like DC demanding that everyone go back to their little towns from the big city and get counted for the census.

    And who were the Arabs and the Africans there? The Wise men came from the East. Mary and Joseph went to Africa to avoid Herod.

    I keep teasing my daughter about teen Jewish girls suddenly becoming pregnant. She’s sixteen. At least today’s religions don’t include Zeus. He seemed to go after every teen girl in the country.

    Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah!

    NorthofNokesville; that was a great write up.

    1. Eric the Half a Troll

      @Cargosquid

      In Western tradition, the three Magi are Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar from Persia, India and Babylonia.

      1. Wasn’t there supposed to be an Ethiopian in there somewhere?
        Babylonia would certainly give us an Arab.

    2. Mary and Joseph were temporarily homeless. There is a strong argument that they soon became refugees.

      Then again, unless you are into literal interpretation of the bible, then the cartoon was symbolic.

      1. NorthofNokesville

        @MoonHowler

        Moon, your point on the cartoon is well taken, but even a literal interpretation (not mine) can support the refugee notion. While the Nativity was unlikely to be a homeless/refugee situation (yes, they were shelter-challenged, but a spot in a warm cave isn’t bad on a relative basis), the flight into Egypt (from a different Gospel, Matthew’s, while the traditional Christmas reading is Luke) was definitely a refugee situation. The Magi (courteous visitors) checked in with Herod before seeking out Jesus, inadvertently tipping him off. He couldn’t care a rip less about Jesus as spiritual king, but as political issue… yep. When Herod realizes the Magi have slipped away without reporting back, he orders the slaying off all children 2 and under (commonly called the Massacre of Innocents), but Joseph and Mary flee with Jesus into Egypt.

        Scholars disagree on whether the flight actually took place. Matthew’s Gospel takes a lot of trouble to paint Jesus as a new Moses, so having an ancestor named Joseph, a connection to Egypt, and dealing with a cruel king all make sense.

      2. Very good! Even if the scholars disagree, I think the story of the beginning of christianity is built on poor and wretched circumstances rather than the lap of luxury.

        It’s amazing how many people forget, for example, that Jesus was a Jew.

      3. NorthofNokesville

        @MoonHowler

        LOL, totally right, Moon. And during the Christmas season (technically we’re still in Advent) that point is made in big, bold font through the Nativity, which is the vehicle for the Incarnation (the root word points to real flesh/meat, as in carne or carnal). This is bedrock Christianity, too, grounded in the earliest councils and in core doctrine, and recited every Sunday in the Creed or Profession. Put another way, denying Christ’s humanity is heresy.

        Personally, I don’t think the Christian story makes sense if Jesus’s humanity and Jewishness are downplayed – and its impossible to read the Gospels or letters without confronting it. The genealogies are there for a reason. So are the echoes of Old Testament prophets and figures. One of the gifts of the Magi (frankincense) only makes sense if Jesus has a role as a priest, an ancient order in Judaism. The last supper was literally a Passover.

        This is one area in which Western art probably doesn’t help. Prior to the Renaissance, everything was pretty flat, so people didn’t look like much of anything, ethnically. The Italians painted Jesus and the Saints and God and angels too look like them (often patrons), which at best is Mediterranean but often tending toward fair and light-haired. Northern Europeans made Christ even whiter. Film made it worse… the Greatest Story Ever Told has a brown-haired but fine-featured Max von Sydow as Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth featured a blue-eyed piercing gaze Robert Powell. Whatever one thinks of Mel Gibson, his Passion offered up a decidedly more Semitic Jesus and cast.

      4. As I recall, Mel Gibson would be offended if he read that he looked more Semitic. (or perhaps that was just when he was drunk.)

      5. NorthofNokesville

        @MoonHowler

        Touche. Every has their demons, and his seem to get the better of him in particularly public and spectacular fashion. But it that particular case, I think not. His casting was very good – Maia Morgenstern as Mary Jesus’s mother was very good, and for once looked realistic and age appropriate (as much as I love Michelangelo’s Pieta, Mary looks 20, not 50).

        Gibson is so problematic. Sometimes horrific, other times brilliant. His Hamlet was amazing, even if the overall film had some issues. His performance in “We Were Soldiers” was also superb (the book is to be read, it is informative and gut-wrenching).

      6. I really liked “We were Soldiers!” I also confess to liking “Signs” and thinking Gibson is a hunk. Sigh…..

    3. Zeus also took the form of other beings for his rape sneak attacks. I will never think the same of swans again. Even before I studied mythology I thought swans were pretty nasty creatures. They would bite the Hell out of you in a second.

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