I just corrected the gross incompetence that had omitted the very manly blog of General J. C. Christian from my blogroll.

Also, Liberal Oasis gave a "Best of the Blogs" nod this week to both the top 10 list and my review of Mel's Passion. I'm really knocked out by that and all the support that Democratic Veteran has been providing.

It always seems that life steps up right as the blog gets noticed, doesn't it? I'll be blogging more tomorrow.

Kerry: Fighting a Comprehensive War on Terrorism

John Kerry for President

This blog hit 10,000 page views and 6500 unique visitors yesterday. Thanks for showing up, folks. I hope you found something worthwhile to read and think about.

Review: The Passion of the Christ

I concur almost completely with this review of the movie, although I have a few points of my own to make.

First, let's deal with the anti-Semitism of the film. It's there. Mr. Gibson pointedly acknowledges it. When Simon of Cyrene, the man who helps Jesus carry the cross, steps forward to stop the crowd from attacking the fallen Jesus, a Roman soldier hurls a name at him with utter contempt: "Jew."

Anti-Semitism flayed Jesus and nailed him to the cross. The film couldn't be clearer about this.

Yes, Caiaphas is the chief mover in the crucifixion of Christ. It's his machinations which corner Gibson's gentle, reluctant Pilate into commanding both the scourging and the execution. This is the story, however regrettable, that Gibson has chosen to tell. He is remarkably responsible in the telling, however. By portraying many Roman soldiers as the vicious anti-Semites they were, Gibson balances out his need to show the Jewish leaders to be unjustified enemies of Jesus.

I suspect that Gibson's own antipathy for the current Catholic hierarchy provided too great a temptation to allow the Jewish leaders any grace that history might offer them. The spectacle of fully robed religious leaders protecting their own authority at Jesus' expense would speak volumes to the particular Catholic schism that Mr. Gibson espouses, and not because the schism rejects the Vatican II reforms which openly exonerated the Jews from blood libel. This is a open assault to capture the hearts and souls of the Catholic faithful, and the rest of us are along for the ride.

And what a gory ride it proves to be. The violence is far and away over the top. No person could have survived the scourging received by Gibson's Christ. His flesh is ripped from his body, so that a section of exposed rib cage remains prominent in later shots. It even ventures into the absurd - when the soldiers flip the crucified Christ over to crimp down the nail points, I must confess that a image of the soldiers cartwheeling Christ down the hill flitted through my mind.

Yet if not viewed as history, Gibson's story almost succeeds in justifying these excesses. Filmmaking is a visual medium - if it's not in the shot, it's not a part of the finished product. The physically exaggerated sufferings of Jesus become a visual metaphor for the immense burden that the Christ shouldered. The crucified companions of Jesus bear only the patibulum of their crosses, as history demands, for they bear only their own sins. According to Mr. Gibson's dogma, Jesus bears the sins of the world, and so his visual struggle must be more intense - a violent and excruciating hyper-scourging, the largest cross possible, and blood beyond measure.

It is a film that rewards prior experience with the teachings of Christ. The movie would have improved with less attention to the naked detail of pain and more to the teaching of Christ. But Gibson doesn't utterly divorce the passion from the teaching - he plays his flashbacks like aces up his sleeve. As the cross is hoisted aloft, he takes up back to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells us to love our enemies; to bless them, not curse. The poetry of these words in Aramaic is inescapable, and these brief respites from the concentrated fatality of the passion are welcome.

I didn't mind most of the embellishments of the biblical record, to tell the truth. Most were grounded in rock-solid storytelling. There were notable exceptions, like the demon howling at Judas, or the Satanic madonna with child. But when Pilate's wife offered towels to Mary to mop up the blood which fell during the scourging, it sets up the remarkable moment when Pilate washes his hands, drying them on an identical towel. Context is everything.

Thoughout the film, I was moved to tears at only one point: when Mary approached her son along the Via Dolorosa. She has tried to get ahead of the procession in order to see him, but she finally sinks down, discouraged and full of despair. She looks up as everyone passes by, but Jesus falls again, and suddenly Mary is on her feet, running towards him. A flashback reveals a younger Mary running toward the child Jesus who has stumbled - and there it is. This is simply a mother running once more toward her fallen son. And it's here that I both wept and understood the real flaw in this movie.

I wish it had been about a human being. Gods are not ideal protagonists. Mary's plight moved me to tears. Peter's shame is striking, as is the penance of Pilate's wife. But the Jesus of the Passion bears too much suffering to be a man, and he escapes full sympathy as a result. American audiences have been conditioned by years of moviegoing to respond to an arc of character change; but this Jesus does not change. He recognizes no flaw within himself, nothing from which he can turn to begin a better path. He only endures to the end, and this is no surprise to anyone. He's the incarnate God, after all.

I realize that a film with a fully human Jesus is not one that Mel Gibson could have made. His faith demands much more, and those who share his faith will maintain their connection to this Christ who takes up the punishment for their sins. The stakes are extremely high for this Jesus, but what does he risk to gain his victory? There is never a question that Jesus will not see his task through to the end, and so there is never the engagement that arises from an actual battle of good and evil onscreen. There is only the passion and the blood. If this is all you wish to see, then The Passion of the Christ will satisfy your desire fourfold.

No blogging today. I'll be back tomorrow.

Random items:

I'm about to head to see the big show.

I really, really love it when someone uses the "hobbit" thing to instantly dismiss anything I have to say. It's like my own little idiot trap. Remind me to blog on how it all started.

"Idiot" isn't nice. I'll call it my "Gilligan" trap. Hey, little buddy, have an extra special day.

The Official Anthem of The Gay Marriage Issue

Hand to Hold Onto, by John Mellencamp

You can laugh and joke and make fun of your friends
Spin in the middle when the troubles begin
Take it nice and easy and always pretend
That you're cool, so cool, so cool

Say I'm alone and I'm wild and I will not be pained
Talk like a jerk or an educated brain
Be an old girl driving the young boys insane
Be a joker, a preacher it does not matter

Everyone needs a hand to hold on to
Everyone needs a hand to hold on to
Don't need to be no strong hand
Don't need to be no rich hand
Everyone just needs a hand to hold on to

Having good luck with your financial situation
Play the ponies, be president of the United Nations
Go to work and be a Hollywood stud
Drive your four wheel drive right into the mud

Everyone needs a hand to hold on to
Everyone needs a hand to hold on to
Don't need to be no strong hand
Don't need to be no rich hand
Everyone just needs a hand to hold on to

And them those hours when you're alone
And there's nobody there except yourself
I know it, you wanna pick up the phone
And say talk to me, talk to me
somebody please talk to me yeah

Oh yeah
Everyone needs a hand to hold on to
Everyone needs a hand to hold on to
Don't need to be no strong hand
Don't need to be no rich hand
Everyone just needs a hand to hold on to

All those in favor, say Aye.

Catholic Reaction to the Top 10 List

phatmass phorum -> Some Arguments In Concerns Of The Passion

No, the Pope hasn't been at my little blog. Someone posted the list at a Catholic message board, asking for refutations. I'm quite pleased with the results.

The original poster had this to say about Mary and her children: "Number 9 is obvious, so just skip it." Obvious, indeed. Sometimes the word "brother" means someone who isn't your physical brother. This is true. However, sometimes the word "brother" does means "your physical brother". In fact, I'd say, most times, the word "brother" means "your physical brother". It's what the word was invented to describe. It would take some serious context to make someone think that the word "brother" didn't mean "your physical brother". This context is not present in the verses about the brothers of Jesus It is only imported by a need to honor a doctrine not present in the scriptures, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. If you didn't have that doctrine, you wouldn't need to manipulate the simple meaning of the word "brother".

You would think that no one in the first century ever used the word "brother" to describe their brother!

The second poster says: "what's the difference? mel said himself that it's his view of the gospel. i wouldn't sweat it." Mel has said a lot more than that about this movie. His intent was to reproduce what cameras would have filmed had they been able to film the events of that day. He's going for history. Had he not stated these desires, I would agree with you and find no fault in the film. It's the claims for history that set my teeth on edge.

The third poster agrees with my number 10 - the nails went in the wrist.

The fourth poster says: "For number two, they actually work on the assumption that the Gospel accounts were (purposely?) falsified." And this is a problem because...? The actual assumption is that the writers were human, and the possibility of being wrong in their account exists. Based on their limited information about that night, they came up with a story and made it better over time. That's pretty much a scholarly consensus.

The fifth poster is disdainful about the nails in the wrist. Doctors refute my point, he says. South American crucifixees get nailed in the hand, and they don't fall off. "Does it matter? No." Wow. That's a dedicated level of head-burying." It could be my way, and anyway, it doesn't matter!"

And I note that this poster is refuting the third poster above, not my actual post. Focus, focus!

The sixth poster notes that the Dolorous Passion by Emmerich has the palms being nailed. Well, she was there, she must know. . This poster enlightens us with the tale of Jesus, size medium, being fitted onto the extra large size cross. Too bad this poster couldn't have informed Mr. Gibson of this completely unsupported item: he was looking for ways to brutalize the Savior.

The seventh poster: Again with the nails in the palms. This was number 10 for a reason, folks. To recap: crucifixions could last for several days. It's not just about the hanging there. The nails went into the wrists, because over time the hands could pull free, due to the constant stress of having to pull yourself up to get a decent breath.

The eighth poster skipped on down, thank goodness, and addressed the Koine Greek item. Unfortunately, this person doesn't take the time to read what I say. I never say that Aramaic or Latin wasn't used - in fact, I clearly say that they were used in certain situations. I'll even say here that most situations approached in the death of Jesus would have been either Aramaic or Latin! But Greek was the English of the day. Gibson excised the language from the film, even to the point of altering the scriptural detail of Greek being a third part of the incription over Christ's head! Greek was there - it would have been there. Gibson's omission is another strike against the historical character of his work.

Oh, I just saw - seven, eight, and nine? Same poster. Anyway, now he's skipping down to my #4: the point about blasphemy.

When Jesus was before the high priest three things happened that indicate the nature of the blasphemy:
1. Two men came forward (to give false witness, remember by Jewish standard 2 witnesses are enough to condemn a man) and said that Jesus had said "I am able to destroy the temple..." He was understood to be claiming a power higher than the temple, He put Himself above institutional Judaism in other words and a claim of dominion over God's temple is basically a claim of having authority equal to God.
According to Mark, the two witnesses, who agreed on the statement quoted, did not agree among themselves on the particulars. Their testimony was impeached, IOW. Nobody knew what Jesus meant by that statement, and he evidently wasn't talking. Why should he? He'd seen a parade of witnesses that fell one by one to questioning. All they had on him was some allegory, which wasn't a hanging offense (although perhaps it should be).
2. The high priest asked Him what He had to say in His defense. He does not deny the claim but remains silent which means the priests probably percieved that He was endorsing this statement. Then the high priest adjures Him to tell them if He is the Christ, the Son of God. Obviously they weren't asking Him if He was a child of God like we all are. It was in the context of His claim to an authority even greater than the institutional Israel.
This made me do a little digging. It turns out that in this context, Caiaphas isn't asking him if he's a child of God like we all are. I was wrong. He's asking him if he claims another title that belonged to the kings descended from David.
2 Samuel 7:14 - I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. (Nathan speaking for God about Solomon).

Footnote: In Israel and contemporary societies, the relation between father and son was used to express the special relationship between the dynastic deity and the king, who was regarded as the adoptive son of the national god; for David as the son of the Lord, see also Pss. 2.7; 89:26-27.

Ps. 2:7 - I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my son; today I have begotten you."

Ps. 89:26-27 - He shall cry to me, "You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!" I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.

All quotations from the Harper Collins Study Bible, NRSV.
So as you can see, the title "Son of God" isn't blasphemy, it's a title belonging to the descendant of David who is King in Israel. It's a title that belongs to the Messiah. It's not blasphemy. Thank you for making me relook my point - it's stronger than ever.

The third item: Jesus is quoting a well-known messianic passage from Daniel. It wasn't blasphemy to claim to be the son of man, not even this Son of Man. Sorry, that's just the way it is.

The tenth poster points out gently that Emmerich's writings aren't dogma.

The eleventh poster? Same guy as the fifth poster. He'd like to say that any joker can publish a blog. He goes on to anticipate lots of anti-Catholic statements when he goes to the show. Nice retreat to the ad hominem, ironmonk.

The twelvth poster steps up to defend Blessed Emmerich. "Nothing of what she says contradicts Scripture." That may well be - I haven't looked into it. She appears to be the Max Lucado of her day, and there's nothing wrong with that. She does appear to be quite anti-Semitic, though, with her story of how the cross that crucified Jesus was made in the temple by Jews. Perhaps she was just a product of her time, and the good can be gleaned from her writings while leaving back the bad. But no one should think they're looking at authoritative history when reading her devotions.

Let me restate again: If Mel was only filming a devotional exercise, I wouldn't care what he put into his film. If it was simply a case of how he sees it, fine! Put your vision on the screen. But Mr. Gibson has promoted this movie to be a historical account of those last twelve hours, and this claim is demonstrably false. The Passion of the Christ will be a masterpiece of cinema, and incredibly powerful as a spiritual exercise. But it is not history.

Margolis Fails Spin 101: Don't Provide the Info That Proves You Wrong

Blogs For Bush

Matt reprints this agitprop piece on Kerry at Blogs For Bush.

John Kerry Voted Against the B-1 Bomber. (S. 3189, CQ Vote #273: Passed 79-16: R 37-5; D 42-11, 10/15/90, Kerry Voted Nay)

John Kerry Voted Against the B-2 Stealth Bomber. (S. 3189, CQ Vote #273: Passed 79-16: R 37-5; D 42-11, 10/15/90, Kerry Voted Nay)

John Kerry Voted Against the F-14. (H. R. 5803, CQ Vote #319: Adopted 80-17: R 37-6; D 43-11, 10/26/90, Kerry Voted Nay)

John Kerry Voted Against the F-15. (S. 3189, CQ Vote #273: Passed 79-16: R 37-5; D 42-11, 10/15/90, Kerry Voted Nay)

John Kerry Voted Against the F-16. (S. 3189, CQ Vote #273: Passed 79-16: R 37-5; D 42-11, 10/15/90, Kerry Voted Nay)

John Kerry Voted Against the AV-8B Harrier Vertical Takeoff And Landing Jet Fighters. (H.R. 2126, CQ Vote #579: Adopted 59-39: R 48-5; D 11-34, 11/16/95, Kerry Voted Nay)

John Kerry Voted Against AH-64 Apache Helicopters. (H.R. 2126, CQ Vote #579: Adopted 59-39: R 48-5; D 11-34, 11/16/95, Kerry Voted Nay)

John Kerry Voted Against Patriot Missiles. (S. 3189, CQ Vote #273: Passed 79-16: R 37-5; D 42-11, 10/15/90, Kerry Voted Nay)

John Kerry Voted Against the Aegis Air Defense Cruiser. (S. 3189, CQ Vote #273: Passed 79-16: R 37-5; D 42-11, 10/15/90, Kerry Voted Nay)

John Kerry Voted Against the Trident Missile System For U.S. Submarines. (S. 3189, CQ Vote #273: Passed 79-16: R 37-5; D 42-11, 10/15/90, Kerry Voted Nay)

John Kerry Voted Against the M-1 Abrams Tanks. (S. 3189, CQ Vote #273: Passed 79-16: R 37-5; D 42-11, 10/15/90, Kerry Voted Nay)

John Kerry Voted Against the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. (S. 3189, CQ Vote #273: Passed 79-16: R 37-5; D 42-11, 10/15/90, Kerry Voted Nay)

John Kerry Voted Against the Tomahawk Cruise Missile. (S. 3189, CQ Vote #273: Passed 79-16: R 37-5; D 42-11, 10/15/90, Kerry Voted Nay)
Curiously, he doesn't link back to the RNC website, although he's obviously just cut-and-pasted. If he had actually compiled the list, he might have noticed that ten of these "votes" are actually one single vote, against S. 3189 in 1990. Two others are a single vote against H.R. 2126. The information is right there. So this impressive looking list of Kerry "votes" against defense programs dwindles to a wimpy little three votes.

Three votes is all that they've got against Kerry in his "32 years of cutting defense spending and programs". That's one vote per decade. But that wouldn't have been nearly as impressive as listing a few individual programs, and mixing them up to kind of hide the actual number of Senate bills involved.

Curiously enough, I've found a similar list of my own, drawn up against my own mother back in 1976, the Bicentenial Year its own self:
Mama Voted Against Pancakes for Breakfast (June 14, 1976, F. 318, Failed 0-1)

Mama Voted Against Waffles for Breakfast (June 14, 1976, F. 318, Failed 0-1)

Mama Voted Against Cartoons on Sunday Morning (May 7, 1976, F. 247, Failed 0-1)

Mama Voted Against Me Wearing Superman Cape To School (October 16, 1976, F. 1674, Failed 0-1)

Mama Voted Against Capt'n Crunch For Breakfast (June 14, 1976, F. 318, Failed 0-1)

Mama Voted Against Going Out To Hardee's For Breakfast (June 14, 1976, F. 318, Failed 0-1)

Mama Voted Against Reading Comic Books on Sunday Morning (May 7, 1976, F. 247, Failed 0-1)

Mama Voted Against Cinnamon Toast For Breakfast (June 14, 1976, F. 318, Failed 0-1)

Mama Voted Against Cheese Toast For Breakfast (June 14, 1976, F. 318, Failed 0-1)

Mama Voted Against Bacon and Eggs for Breakfast (June 14, 1976, F. 318, Failed 0-1)

Mama Voted Against Pigs in Blankets for Breakfast (June 14, 1976, F. 318, Failed 0-1)

Mama Voted Against Hashbrowns for Breakfast (June 14, 1976, F. 318, Failed 0-1)

Mama Voted Against Not Eating Breakfast (June 14, 1976, F. 318, Failed 0-1)
How un-American can you get? I mean, the woman voted against bacon and eggs.

UPDATE: Why did John Kerry vote against the 1990 Defense Appropriations Bill? Because he felt that less funding should be spent on massive war profiteer entitlements and more on issues that affect everyday Americans:
Sponsored an amendment to authorize the transfer of $400,000,000 of the funds authorized to be appropriated for the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars) for drug treatment, pregnant women, and veterans health programs [S.Amdt. 2590]

Kerry's record on Women's Rights (.pdf file)
That's right. John Kerry voted FOR pregnant women, veterans, and recovering drug addicts when he voted AGAINST more money for the SDI money pit.

But you won't hear that from Matt Margolis.

Top Ten "Isn't As It Was" List Compiled

10. Nails in the wrist, not in the hands.

9. Mary the mother of Jesus had other sons.

8. Koine Greek, the most common language of the day, isn't used in the film.

7. Roman soldiers were present when Jesus was arrested.

6. The cross is wrong.

Interlude - Crucifixion Porn

5. The Jews who spoke with Jesus were trying to intercede on Jesus' behalf, not railroad him.

4. It wasn't blasphemy to identify yourself as the Messiah or the Son of Man.

3. Pilate was not the sensitive, thoughtful ruler portrayed in the film.

2. Pilate was the instigator of the death of Jesus, not Caiaphas.

1. The resurrection of Jesus is not historical.

Many of these can be accessed just by scrolling down.

And the Number One Reason Why Mel's Passion Isn't As It Was...

1. The resurrection of Jesus is not historical.

I had hoped beyond hope that Mr. Gibson's film would end with that incredible shot at the foot of the cross, where Mary stares in sorrow and knowledge at us all. But the book of photographs and the missing MSNBC article both confirm that the final shot is Jesus boldly stepping from the tomb.

It is the central fact of Christianity, after all. Millions take comfort in its promise, just as millions take comfort in the revelations given to Mohammed, and millions more seek the Nirvana of Buddha. Lots of people trust in the revelations given to Joseph Smith, and others find refuge in the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, Ayn Rand, or Marianne Williamson.

Yet the only evidence we possess of the historical truth behind this fact is the testimony we have from the Christian scriptures. And this testimony is not enough to establish the Resurrection of Jesus as history, as something we can state with just reason, "This is what actually happened on that day."

The best explanation for this is found in On Miracles, an essay written by David Hume. Since it's a tough read, I've paraphrased it into four and a half pages, and put it on a .pdf file. But here's the central argument, as I understand it:

Experience allows us to accept testimony into our reasoning, but testimony to the miraculous undermines experience, the justification for accepting testimony. Therefore, reasonable people can reject miracles established only by testimony.

Download my paraphrase of On Miracles (.pdf file, 140k)
It's the very character of what that testimony asks us to accept that disallows the testimony from a historical portrayal of the death of Jesus. The extraordinary fact may thwart our experience for a while, and yet the extraordinary can be verified through more and better experience. But any testimony is properly accepted only as it accords with experience, and testimony about miracles, violations of the laws of nature, are in conflict with the experience that gives us those laws of nature.

There is one way the reasonable person can accept testimony of miracles: only if the denial of the testimony is a greater miracle to believe than the miracle itself. The evidence of the credulity and delusion of human beings throughout time will always be more credible than accounts of the miraculous. And so, tales of miracles, whoever the teller, must be discounted when approaching a reasonable account of historical events.

The only thing that recommends the Resurrection to the historical record is the testimony of the eyewitnesses. This testimony cannot appeal to our reason; it can only appeal to our faith.

Mr. Gibson, then, is making a film about Faith. It is a particular faith as well - it accords most completely with a Roman Catholic version of the events of that day. He draws from centuries of Catholic art and doctrine in his composition, and has brought all his power as a filmmaker to bear on the final product. The result will be an incredible, powerful story with a clear message. He should be quite pleased with the results, for this film, beyond any other, will be his masterpiece.

But it is not as it was.

More on the Top 10 List

While passing by a book stand, I saw the official Passion picture book, showing stills of the movie. A quick flick through the book confirmed a few things - nail placement completely wrong - and showed a few more: Caiaphas and the priests are evidently present at the scourging! There are some incredibly sick pictures of Christ right after the scourging too - I can't imagine that people will be subjecting their children to this film.

Another completely unhistorical portion of the film: Veronica will be wiping the face of Christ on the Via Dolorosa. If you're a Protestant, you may not know who Veronica is. Part of the Stations of the Cross is a mediation on a woman in the crowd who wipes Jesus' face after he collapses under the weight of the cross. She is rewarded with a veil that bears the imprint of Christ's face. Some people believe that this artifact was actually displayed for a while - that it was the Shroud of Turin folded to reveal only the face. More unhistorical nonsense, in other words.

But here's the kicker: the written proclamation above Christ's head. The Christian scriptures are quite clear about the contents of this sign:

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.

John 19:19-20, NRSV
Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.

The inscription in Mr. Gibson's movie bears only two languages - Hebrew and Latin.

Final item on the countdown tomorrow.

Top 10 Ways that Mel's Passion Isn't As It Was, Number 2...

2. Pilate was the instigator of the death of Jesus, not Caiaphas.

History is often the way the winners saw the events unfold, and the death of Jesus is no exception. Here the winners are the Gospels, who preserve the only detailed stories about Jesus' execution. (The Josephus account is so hopelessly redacted by his Christian preservers that we can gather little more from him than that Jesus lived, died, and continued to be followed after his death). Yet, as you can see from the previous items in my top ten list, the account of the gospels is in a certain amount of tension with the historical evidence we have of the time period.

One of the biggest is this issue: who wanted Jesus dead?

For an answer, let's look at the working relationship between Pilate and Caiaphas. From the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

Although nominally in charge of Judaea, Samaria, and Idumaea, the prefect did not govern his area directly; instead, he relied on local leaders. The prefect and his small army lived in the predominantly Gentile city Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast, about two days' march from Jerusalem. They came to Jerusalem only to ensure peace during the pilgrimage festivals—Passover, Weeks (Shabuoth), and Booths (Sukkoth)—when large crowds and patriotic themes sometimes combined to spark unrest or uprisings. On a day-to-day basis Jerusalem was governed by the high priest. Assisted by a council, he had the difficult task of mediating between the remote Roman prefect and the local populace, which was hostile toward pagans and wanted to be free of foreign interference. His political responsibility was to maintain order and to see that tribute was paid. Caiaphas, the high priest during Jesus' adulthood, held the office from about AD 18 to 36, longer than anyone else during the Roman period, indicating that he was a successful and reliable diplomat. Since he and Pilate were in power together for 10 years, they must have collaborated successfully.

Thus, at the time of Jesus' public career, Galilee was governed by the tetrarch Antipas, who was sovereign within his own domain, provided that he remained loyal to Rome and maintained peace and stability within his borders. Judaea (including Jerusalem) was nominally governed by Pilate, but the actual daily rule of Jerusalem was in the hands of Caiaphas and his council.
Caiaphas had been high priest for 6 years before Pilate arrived, and he remained high priest during Pilate's entire tenure. Their mutual power may have derived from a good cop-bad cop relationship, but it's clear who the bad cop would have been - the guy with the Roman troops.

In fact, Pilate kept the high priest's ceremonial robes under lock and key, delivering them to Caiaphas only during feast times. Caiaphas was completely dependant on Pilate for his job. Yet the two had developed some kind of mutually beneficial relationship.

Against this, the story of the Gospels and Mr. Gibson's Passion (Caiaphas the instigator) doesn't make any sense.

The oneupmanship displayed in the Gospels doesn't cohere with the ten years that Caiaphas and Pilate worked together in Judea. How could Pilate have ever trusted the Gospel's Caiaphas ever again? Yet they worked together for another six years.

If Caiaphas had wanted to execute Jesus, he would have had Jesus stoned. He had the authority: Stephen, the first Christian martyr, would be stoned to death. Jesus himself stopped a stoning of the woman caught in adultery. Stoning at the time was not some forbidden thing. Caiaphas had the power to execute, and all claims to the contrary are false.

If Caiaphas had brought an insurgent to Pilate, Pilate would have had the man executed without a second thought. Dilly-dallying about a man who could start a riot is not the Pilate we know from history.

If Pilate had wanted to release Jesus, he would have done so, and slaughtered any Jews that gave him grief about it. It's really that simple. It's good to be the prefect.

But once you accept the premise that Pilate instigated the death, everything snaps into place. During a feast time, Pilate hears about another Messiah, and orders his arrest. As they've done before, the Jewish leaders step between the prefect and his quarry, hoping to clear Jesus of any intent against Rome. They arrange a peaceful arrest on the condition that Jesus be brought to them. They contact Jesus through Judas, and after the Last Supper, Judas escorts the temple guards and Roman soldiers to where Jesus is staying. Jesus leaves peacefully, but confesses to being the Messiah, an act of sedition. Caiaphas has no choice but to hand him over to Pilate, who executes Jesus in the morning. Quick, clean, and no fuss.

This makes sense of Judas' actions as well - an innocent go-between horrified that his actions ended with Jesus crucified. He tries to return the money and then commits suicide.

Even the Gospel stories begin to function as history: The other disciples, who weren't in on the arrest deal, still see what they see. A night arrest with temple guards and soldiers. A contentious questioning at the house of Caiaphas. Jesus led to the Romans. Jesus crucified. They focus on what Caiaphas did more than Pilate, for their own reasons, and fill in the rest of the details, giving us the Gospel stories we hear today.

Caiaphas as the instigator produces discord in the evidence we have. Pilate as the instigator explains all the evidence we have. Mr. Gibson's portrayal of a scheming Caiaphas who manipulates Pilate into crucifying Christ isn't historical.

For more on this, here's a PBS Frontline page with lots of scholars weighing in.

Molly Ivins Has A Point

Creators.com - Creators Syndicate

What was so scary about Howard Dean? Could it be because he (and some very bright young people who worked with him) found this way to raise real money in small amounts from regular people, and that just threatened the hell out of a lot of big corporate special interests? And out of an entire political establishment that is entirely too comfortable with the incestuous relationship between big money and politics? For just a moment in time, Dean was ahead of the pack -- and no one owned him. Go back and look at whom that scared.

Garner: Iraq Will Be 21st Century "Philippines"

TOMPAINE.com - Base Motives

Speaking at a Feb. 11 seminar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, Isam Al Khafaji of the Open Society Institute—just returned from Iraq—noted that for the United States, the real issue isn't its oft-proclaimed commitmentto establishing a democratic Iraq. Instead, what's driving U.S. concern, he suggested, was strategic:
"The question is not democracy. The question is: how to develop a formally sovereign Iraq that signs a treaty with the United States, with permanent military bases for the U.S. All of Iraq's political actors are quite aware of the importance of this issue."

What that means is that the various Iraqi parties—Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis—are competing not just among themselves, but for the favor of the United States, since the U.S. government is not likely to look kindly on Iraqi factions that call for ousting the U.S. armed forces—or, worse, bringing in the French or the Russians. (So far, no one has called for that!)
If you haven't blogrolled the Dreyfuss Report yet, go read and do so. This is one-stop shopping for all things Iraqi.

Iraqi Exiles Still Getting Paid, Despite False Intelligence

Seattle Times

How do I get Ahmad Chalabi's job? How?

This is beyond incredible.

The Department of Defense is continuing to pay millions of dollars for information from the former Iraqi opposition group that produced some of the exaggerated and fabricated intelligence President Bush used to argue his case for war.

The Pentagon has set aside between $3 million and $4 million this year for the Information Collection Program of the Iraqi National Congress, or INC, led by Ahmad Chalabi, said two senior U.S. officials and a U.S. defense official.
Chalabi, let it never be forgotten, is currently sentenced to 22 years of hard labor in Jordan, because he embezzled millions of dollars from a bank he founded there.

This convicted felon then gave Bush scads of lies and inaccurate intelligence to get us to invade Iraq, and now Bush is gift-wrapping the entire country for him. Oh, yeah, and he and his buddies are war profiteering with sweetheart Pentagon supply and security contracts.
The most recent contract, for $327 million to supply equipment for the Iraqi Armed Forces, was awarded last month and drew an immediate challenge from a losing contester, who said the winning bid was so low that it questions the "credibility" of that bid.

But it is an $80-million contract, awarded by the Coalition Provisional Authority last summer to provide security for Iraq's vital oil infrastructure, that has become a controversial lightning rod within the Iraqi Provisional Government and the security industry.

Soon after this security contract was issued, the company started recruiting many of its guards from the ranks of Chalabi's former militia, the Iraqi Free Forces, raising allegations from other Iraqi officials that he was creating a private army.

...An industry source familiar with some of the internal affairs of both companies said Chalabi received a $2-million fee for helping arrange the contract. Chalabi, in a brief interview with Newsday, denied that claim, as did a top company official. Chalabi also denied that he has had anything to do with the security firm.
Somebody get this man a ticket to Jordan, pronto. His fifteen minutes of fame is long over.

Top 10 Ways that Mel's Passion Isn't As It Was, Number 3...

3. Pilate was not the sensitive, thoughtful ruler portrayed in the film.

Note: one of my main source articles has been pulled. The MSNBC article Who Killed Jesus? is no longer available, and all my links to it are no longer working. Whoops. I'll fix that later on.

In Mr. Gibson's Passion, Pilate will be a sensible, fair-minded ruler who becomes flummoxed by the Jewish reaction to Jesus. Mystified by the intense reaction to this peaceful man, Gibson's Pilate will attempt to placate the Jewish mob by scourging him, but will then provide towels for Jesus' mother Mary to wipe the blood from her son's body. This is a Pilate afraid of his subjects, whose good nature is exploited by the machinations of Caiaphas.

This view of Pilate is an entirely modern idea. The Gospels do present him as a clueless vacillator, manipulated at every turn by Caiaphas and the chief priests. Both ideas, however, don't measure up to the evidence we have of Pilate outside these accounts, written decades after the events in Jerusalem. Pilate's record has been preserved for us by two other historians of the time: Josephus and Philo.

They present several episodes in which Pilate antagonized the Jewish people under his rule. Sometimes he would relent without violence, but an merciless attack wasn't beyond him. One episode, in which he attacked protestors of his building an aqueduct with Temple money, suggests that he was using the aqueduct project to loot the treasury.

There are two different incidents where images of Caesar were erected in Jerusalem, but both could be misunderstandings. Some people point to the coins he minted (Jewish and Roman symbols) as evidence that he was antagonistic, others point to the benign nature of the imagery (no heads of Caesar, for example) and say he was accomodating.

The best verdict on Pilate's leadership? He did take measures to avoid offending the Jews needlessly, but when things got out of hand, he had no problem in rolling out the soldiers. Rome's strength was allowing local provinces to maintain local rule as much as possible, but with difficult provinces like Judea, Rome liked to see a strong ruler with a ready hand to put down rebellion close at hand. This is what Pilate was - the muscle for Rome's authority.

Was he successful? He held onto his position for ten years (when the standard term was twelve), but after another violent attack on a Messianic mob in Samaria, Pilate was recalled to Rome in 36 CE. We don't know anything more about him - it's suggested that he was forced into suicide by Caligula.

So Pilate, at best, can be seen as a tough leader willing to accomodate his people to a point, but standing ready to lash out with maximum prejudice if he saw a threat to Roman order in Judea. He would not have been someone to push around.

(Why do the Gospels present Pilate the way they do? The main reason for the skew is that Christians involved in squabbles with Jewish communities around Rome needed to placate the Roman leaders who might try to intervene. Their scriptures, therefore, showed a weak Roman leader who couldn't stand up to the Jews. This would encourage other Roman leaders to show some backbone and decide things in a way more favorable to Christians. As you can see, Pilate was nobody's milquetoast.)

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