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Bad Eagle Journal

A Modest Assessment of Divine Communication

by David Yeagley · December 23, 2012 · 18 Comments ·

From the evidence of the gospel stories alone, one might question the efficacy of divine communication. At least, in terms of the people on the receiving end, the Jews, the divine message of the birth of Jesus seems profoundly insulting. The entire story is a glittering array of irony, of every grade. The miraculous, the unexpected, the improprietous, the suspicious, are all woven into an intense braid of agony. The intellect is surmounted. The emotions are depleted in awe.

Just consider two basic elements immediately pertinent to the actual birth itself. Other than Mary herself, no human being really knew for a fact that the child was not of this world. What Joseph knew was essentially hearsay. Angelic, but, still, the word of someone else.

So, who knew anything about this birth? Who witnessed it? Who noted it? To whom was the glory of the Lord revealed?

Shepherds (Luke 2:8). Shepherds bore the witness–of a miraculous announcement from Heaven, and of the newborn child. It appears was a terrible move, if respectable citizens of the territory were expected to believe the report. Joachim Jeremias reminds us that shepherds (herdsmen) were listed among the despised professions of the time, basically because they were associated with livestock fraud, dishonesty, and land abuse. Perhaps this was an inevitable social circumstance of the times, but, their reputation is noted on two of four lists in the Mishnah. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, (1962; rpt. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), pp.303-305, f. In other rabbinical writings, it was forbidden to even buy wool, milk, or kids from them, directly, anyway. And to think, the sacrificial lamb was the very center of Jewish identity. That the herdsmen were regarded as immoral is a piquant tragedy.
The most low-down, thieving crooks of Jewish society, entrusted with the news of the spiritual heartland of the nation.

In other words, who would consider any hysterical report coming from a completely mistrusted sector of society? Why put the pristine message of the birth of the Savior in the mouths of liars? What kind of PR move was this? Wasn’t it directly counterproductive?

But that wasn’t all, in the way of despicable messengers.

A caravan of Magi came some 1,450 miles from the East (Persia) to appear in the capital of Jerusalem, and to ask for the exact place of the newborn King of the Jews. This was not only outrageous, but perhaps a little stupid–on their part. But, they had been led by stars and dreams, according to the story, and they actually brought riches to offer the new royalty.

As a delegation of foreigners, you don’t barge into a Roman occupied province tortured with lethally competing political intensity, and announced to everyone you’ve come to worship the new King of the Jews!

Perhaps the front end, or the middle, of a huge caravan. You don’t travel 1,450 miles with that much loot, without plenty of protection. Imagine them parading into Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the new King of the Jews?”

This surely turned everyone off even more than the shepherd story (–which probably never made it to main street Jerusalem anyway).

The Magi were one of the half dozen tribes of the Medes, all of whom Persia had conquered in the early 6th century. Persians were not into destroying people, but managing them for some imperial purpose, so they let the Magi tribe stay in power, and hold their naturally respected influence.

What was that influence? The Magi were international spookists. They made their life work to accumulated all the knowledge of the supernatural and the divine known all over the world, and to codify it, to practice it, etc. (Their attire was that on which Walt Disney’s “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” cartoon movie was based, the coned hat, the wand, the long robe, etc. The word “magic” is derived from this ancient Median tribe, the “Magi.”)

This crew? These characters? This caravan, from a world away, would be the first to announce the birth of the new King of the Jews–in Jerusalem, at the capital, to the authorities, Roman and Jewish?

This is incredible. This is impossible.

It is as if Providence designed to rebuke or mock the Jewish culture of the day by entrusting such a precious hope in the mouths of liars and foreign spookists from afar. Didn’t Heaven want anyone in Israel to believe the story? Then why manage the PR in such an profoundly offensive way?

No circumstances could have been more insulting to national leadership and to the religious culture. No “messengers” could have functioned more offensively.

The Christ child was “for all people.” So we have the lowest among the Jews, the shepherds, and the highest among the heathen, the Magi. Jewish liars and Gentile spookists. What a scene!

And no one seemed to know exactly what Mary knew, anyway. (That little secret was probably the best kept secret in the history of the world.)

So, the first Advent of Christ was beset with utter incongruity. The birth was a maddening event. It was clearly outside the normal, outside this world, and was marked by aversion from the moment of its announcement.

Mickey Mouse, dressed in the Magi’s style. He was the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in the film, Fantasia.

It just seems that better PR might have alleviated some of this. Of course, that is worldly thinking; that is reason according to publicity as we know it today–as as they knew it then.

It is an agony to say, but, it is as if God rebuffed the Jewish people from the beginning. The story was a slap in the face.

I would not expect to hear one explanation that was not fraught with the most gloating anti-Semitism, so, I ask not why the story happened as it did. I simply observe the abject irony. We all can and should observe at least that much.

The identity of Jesus seemed intentionally hidden from the Jews. That is the way it comes off in the gospel stories.

And, no one else need dare think that he would have seen anything more, were he in town at the time–unless he were a sincere Jewish liar, or an earnest Gentile soothsayer. Cielo mi guardi!

Posted by David Yeagley · December 23, 2012 · 3:09 pm CT · ·

Tags: Bad Eagle Journal · Christianity · Israel · Jews · Persia · Politics · Race · Religion

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18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Thrasymachus // Dec 23, 2012 at 5:08 pm   

    The gospel message was initially for the Jews (Matt. 15:24). It has been said that the intention was for the Jews — the Elect (who are only and always Jews and NEVER Gentiles: election is not about with salvation) being messangers and founders of the Church. Some scholars then explain that the Church was to pass into Gentile hands for its administration. Thus salvation is of the Jews (the sons of Shem) but the administration of the Church is of the European nations (the sons of Japheth) — as History has shown.

    A reason for this may be that given by the Apostle Paul:

    30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.

    31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.

    32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

    33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

  • 2 Thrasymachus // Dec 23, 2012 at 5:32 pm   

    The Jews Are the Elect, Election is Not Salvation (Why God Did Not Elect Calvinists) by Doug Hamp.

  • 3 Thrasymachus // Dec 23, 2012 at 6:23 pm   

    There is an entirely different way of understanding biblical election from what traditionally has passed, since St. Augustine, for “election.” Yes, the Roman Catholic Church was once in full agreement with John Calvin.

    There is another way of understanding this doctrine, derived not from the traditions of men (Augustine, Luther, and Calvin) but from the context of Scripture alone. Election – the Bible in Context.

  • 4 David Yeagley // Dec 24, 2012 at 9:59 am   

    The relationship between the Almighty and the Jewish people is, in the last analysis, I think, a mystery. It just is. We can observe, but more than likely inaccurately.

    I am in awe at the impossible contrasts that comprise even the most basic elements of the story. One is left speechless.j

    The rest of us can only hope to somehow be part of the story. The Lord invited us all. The door is open.

  • 5 Sioux // Dec 24, 2012 at 11:03 am   

    Good question as to why the lowly shepherds and the Magi were given the Good News before the Shopkeepers, the town Mayor, the religious leaders, and all the other muckety-mucks. After all, they wanted a messiah who would be a king on earth and defeat Rome and rule Israel. So, the human goal was incompatible with the Spiritual Plan. The shepherds truly listened and were ecstatic with the News, proclaiming it to anyone who would listen. How short we believers today have fallen from that simple and abiding faith: Jesus came to earth to save us from our sinful selves and give us everlasting life. Merry Christmas, indeed!

  • 6 David Yeagley // Dec 24, 2012 at 11:33 am   

    I’ve thought about it more. You’re right. What would have happened if the angels had come to the high priest, Herod, or the Jerusalem media? Who would have even believed the message?

    But, i do have to ask, Why didn’t God give the announcement to Grand Central? Why the edges, the remotes, the borderlines?

    I guess you’re right, Sioux. He gave the message to those who would hear it.

    This breaks my heart! What’s WITH this human race? he was so near, yet we were so far?

  • 7 Sioux // Dec 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm   

    It breaks my heart, too – and goes to your question as to would it be any different if Jesus walked among us right now. I can say with great confidence: NO!

    I am the doubting Thomas, the skeptic, the annoying one who has trouble taking anything at face value. I have been deceived so much in my life due to naievete and “tunnel vision” – would like to believe that when I see the Real Deal, that it truly is such. As long as it has to do with mortal men and women, we will continue to be disappointed.

  • 8 David Yeagley // Dec 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm   

    Interestingly, I think, in our thoughts here, we bless the Jewish people. They are us. We are them. This is another mystery!

  • 9 Sioux // Dec 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm   

    Looking back at Genesis, God made Adam and Eve. When Cain was banished, he was afraid that he would be murdered, so God marked him to warn others not to kill Cain. So, who were these others? I interpret it as “wild men” – Cain went on to mate with one of these “wild women”- So, God’s chosen people were a totally new creation on Earth, not part of the creatures already settled.

    God wanted his chosen people to be close to Him, having no such expectations from the “wild men.” As time marched on, it got really difficult to distinguish appreciable differences because of the inter-marrying – that “free will” keeps sticking us in the bum.

  • 10 David Yeagley // Dec 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm   

    It IS hard to tell who’s who, with all those beautiful women running around out there!

    Well, suffice it so say, God is judge, without prejudice, without bias. We all have some kind of chance, don’t we?

    I think that’s a basic message of Christmas. He came here, to be with us. That says it all.

    My mother said once, “If there was not a God that understood, there would really be no use for religion.”

  • 11 Sioux // Dec 24, 2012 at 3:50 pm   

    I would qualify that “no use for the Christian religion.” The rest of the religions are all about crowd conrol.

  • 12 Sioux // Dec 24, 2012 at 11:15 pm   

    From the inimitable Ann Barnhardt, modern day American Joan d’Arc, who just returned from a pilgrimmage to Rome. She takes issue with the translation of a key sentence in Luke:

    Most Bibles today read Luke 2:14 as:

    “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

    The last clause is totally wrong, and was mangled intentionally and with malice.

    The Vulgate Latin, which is St. Jerome’s inspired synthesis of the original source texts triple cross-referenced against each other in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew in preparation for the eventual setting of the canon of scripture at the Council of Carthage in 397 AD, reads thusly:

    “…gloria in altissimis Deo et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis”

    In English, in the Douay-Rheims translation this reads:

    Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.

    These are two completely different ideas. Radically different. The bad, modern translation has peace and goodwill together as co-subjects, as unqualified universals: “peace, goodwill TOWARD men”. The accurate translation clearly has goodwill not as the COMPOUND SUBJECT along with peace, but as the QUALIFIER. To men OF GOOD WILL. Good will isn’t the subject, it is the OBJECT OF THE PREPOSITION.

    The Peace of Our Lord is a massively qualified, and extremely rare and precious thing. When the priest says at Mass, “Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum” (The peace of the Lord be always with you), he isn’t just saying “nice things” as filler. This is a profound and precious prayer.

    Why would God, in His Perfect Justice, wish good will towards those men who are at war with Him, and thus His Church? Is not the Second Person, God Incarnate in the Manger in Bethlehem, the Judge of mankind? Is not the Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes He who will sort the sheep from the goats? Is He not the One who is come to sift the wheat from the chaff? Did He not say:

    “Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword.”

  • 13 David Yeagley // Dec 25, 2012 at 1:19 pm   

    Tough take, Sioux.

    i’m in Arizona visiting my sister, and don’t have my library with me! I’ll say this: I’m a little taken aback by the thought that the Lord has no good will for those who are averse to Him.

    Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17.)

    he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45.)

    I can’t think that the good will of God is limited to men of good will. And, after all, the “good tidings” were to “all people.”

    However, I do believe the peace of God has a very limited reception on this earth. It is a “shalom of the heart,” and not of this world. The peace Jesus offers is not political peace. Not social peace.

    So, maybe the lesson is the same.

    “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you,” said Jesus, of the peace he offers.

  • 14 Sioux // Dec 25, 2012 at 5:06 pm   

    Many mixed messages in the Gospels – I think I will listen to the words of Jesus himself to treat your enemies well for what does it gain me to do what’s easy in just pleasing my pals?

    Have fun with your family, Dr. Y – it’s good to be in AZ rather than OK if you don’t like blizzards.

  • 15 Maharishi of Mayhem // Dec 25, 2012 at 7:28 pm   

    Merry Christmas, Dr. Yeagley. May you be blessed!

  • 16 David Yeagley // Dec 25, 2012 at 9:33 pm   

    Blessed? Why, that’s code for “c-u-r-s-e-d”!!

    Good to see you Ben Mayhem. We haven’t seen you in a good while! Hope all is perfectly poignant!

  • 17 David Yeagley // Dec 25, 2012 at 9:51 pm   

    The Christmas story, as told, suggests too things:
    1) the Jews were not meant to know
    2) they Jews already did not believe.

    Neither of these suggestions are comfortable to me, except maybe the first one; there is a text or two from Paul that implies they were simply not to know at this time. It was kept from them, presented in an offensive, unacceptable way. A stumbling block, as it were.

    I had a Jewish professor once tell me the gospels were in essence political documents.
    Interesting take.

  • 18 johnnymac // Dec 25, 2012 at 11:07 pm   

    Merry Christmas Doctor, to you and all those here. pax.

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