God’s Healthcare Plan

In retaliation against Obama-care, Pastor Steven Anderson comes to the rescue as our insurance agent for God’s Healthcare Plan. This is a free plan, assures the good pastor, requiring payments for doctor visits only: “It’s not an HMO. It’s not even a PPO. It’s not even a health savings account. This is God’s Healthcare Plan, which will do you better than all those things combined.”

What is this biblically-based healthcare plan? In his sermon Anderson outlines it as follows:

1. Physician qualifications. The only doctors on the “approved” list in God’s Healthcare Plan are those who believe in God. Meaning these physicians believe they are treating human beings made in the image of God, and not animals. “I am not a mammal,” booms Anderson. “I’m not an evolved ape or an orangutan. Doctors who believe that human beings are part of the animal kingdom should give up their license and become veterinarians.”

2. “Not for the healthy.” God’s Healthcare Plan covers visits to the doctor only when you’re sick, per Mt 9:12/Lk 5:31. “I’m not going to lie to you about what this plan covers. It doesn’t cover visits to the doctor when you’re well. The only time you need the doctor, according to the Bible, is when you’re sick. You don’t need well-baby visits, routine check-ups, or physicals.”

3. No vaccinations. God’s Healthcare Plan does not cover any vaccinations. “God said not to touch anything unclean,” insists Anderson. “He said that any kind of waste product, any kind of feces, should never be touched. Injecting germs into your bloodstream, and aborted fetuses, and feces — that’s not covered under God’s plan.”

4. Preexisting conditions. In contrast to Obama-care, there are certain preexisting conditions that will exclude you from God’s Healthcare Plan.

(a) Sodomy. “Homosexuals, sodomites, perverts, queers, and transvestites are excluded from God’s Healthcare Plan. They would be too much drain on the system because of all the horrible health problems that come with homosexuality. We shouldn’t have to pay for that, and so in God’s Healthcare Plan they’re not included.” Sodomites receive in themselves that “recompense of their error which was meet” (Rom 1:27), which means they’re getting exactly what’s coming to them in their body for what they do. “Sodomite reprobates are rejected from the plan, rejected God’s coverage.”

(b) Promiscuity. According to Prov 5:8-11, fornicating with harlots will result in your “flesh and body being consumed”, thereby excluding you from God’s Healthcare Plan.

5. The healing power of the Word. Prov 4:20-22 explains that God’s word can bring health to your flesh, if you follow the advice found in God’s word. Prov 3:7-8 makes a similar point: following God’s word will bring health to your body.

6. More red tape. Under God’s Healthcare Plan there is an additional step besides referrals. Before you even go to the general practitioner who will send you to a specialist, you need to pray to God to ask for help. II Chron 16:12 shows that Asa had a disease in his feet, got worse, and died. The reason for this, according to the text, is that he went to the physicians right away, before praying to God. “You shouldn’t even take an aspirin without praying to God first,” declares Anderson. The red tape of prayer cannot be cut through.

7. No fertility treatments. Fertility treatments and birth control are totally excluded from God’s Healthcare Plan. Birth control pills involve silent abortions for one, and it is God who decides when to open the womb in any case.

8. No male gynecologists. Male gynecologists are excluded from the list of “approved” doctors in God’s Healthcare Plan. The Bible says it’s a sin for a woman to be naked before a man who is not her husband. “God’s plan requires medical examinations to be done with decency and propriety.”

9. Preventive Maintenance. The Bible has many “advisements” aimed at preventing illness.

(a) “An apple a day.” God’s Healthcare Plan encourages good nutrition so that you won’t need the doctor. God-given food — fruits, vegetables, grain, and meat, i.e. food mentioned in the Bible — and not man-made/junk food — corn syrup, alcohol, tofu, soda, and twinkies. (See further Anderson’s List of Foods that will Help or Harm in Memorizing the Bible.)

(b) “Draw out the breast and give suck to your young.” According to Lam 4:3, even the sea monsters (giant whales) give suck to their young ones, unlike the ostrich in the wilderness (cf. Job 39:13-14) which is hardened against her children, burying them in the dirt and forgetting about them. Like the sea monsters, mothers should stay at home and feed their babies from their own body, and not be like ostriches who let nannies dispense inferior formula. (cf. I Pet 2:2)

So there it is. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I stand in awe of the wisdom coming out of Arizona these days…

The Best Films of 2009

Here are my ten picks for the year, with Tarantino (of course) crowning the list.

1. Inglourious Basterds. 5 stars. Quentin Tarantino is back — the old Tarantino, that is, who showed how excessive dialogue can be so wildly entertaining, characters most impressive when sophisticated, bad-ass, and absurd all at once, and in general how to make cinematic art out of the preposterous. Landa is a brilliantly conceived Nazi you can watch all day; the Jewish Basterds a ludicrous wish-fulfillment fantasy who entertain as they self-indict. The film forces us to see ourselves as Nazis as we cheer the Basterds on for their inhumanities. And Hitler himself? His rant about the Basterds and Bear-Jew is more entertaining than the famously recycled scene from Downfall. As for the best scene, it’s the drinking game in the underground bar, which builds mountains of tension leading up to one of the best shoot-outs ever filmed. Reviewed at length here.

Image result for love exposure
2. Love Exposure. 5 stars. This is a four-hour sprawl of religious guilt, sexual frustration, family feuds, industrial pornography, and peek-a-panty photography — the last involving street boys who look up girls’ skirts while camouflaging their camera shots with hilarious martial-arts acrobatics. It’s impossible to summarize without sounding ludicrous, but be assured that critics and audiences love it. I fell in love with Yu and his quest for the right girl — his “Virgin Mary” as it were. He’s a genuinely good kid, but driven by the need to sin in retaliation against his repressive father, a Catholic priest who treats him horribly in the confessional booth. On the street he finds his dream girl, Yoko, who unfortunately has lesbian leanings, and things get even crazier when another girl, Koike, enters the picture, and manipulates both Yu and Yoko in psychotic ways. For all the absurdist comedy, the film’s message about Catholic dogma, new wave cults, and the ultimate nobility of perversion is quite serious.

3. Thirst. 5 stars. Like the director’s classic Oldboy it revels in sex and violence yet still manages to impress the cinephile elite, mostly for its creative adaptation of a literary work and hard look at human nature. The priest is a good man who becomes a vampire by accident, and does all he can to avoid killing people, mostly by sneaking through hospitals and slurping the intravenous tubes of comatose patients. But when he turns a woman he falls in love with — the wife of his best friend, whom they both end up murdering — it’s not long before she brings out the worst in him. Thirst explores the duality between blood-feeding as sacramental and its more honest Satanic counterpart, which revels in the glory of the hunt and the honesty of evil.

4. The Hurt Locker. 4 ½ stars. Richly deserving best picture (though I would have preferred Inglorious Basterds), this is Kathryn Bigelow’s examination of the Iraq war through the eyes of a bomb deactivation squad. It’s neither anti- nor pro-military, but respectful, and a serious achievement. While her ex-husband James Cameron dominated headlines with the shit-stink called Avatar, she blew him out of the park with something smart and lean. It portrays a man addicted to lethal thrills, and contains some of the most realistically suspense scenes shot in a war film.

5. The Road. 4 ½ stars. Post-apocalyptic survivalist, and bleak in the way only Cormac McCarthy novel adaptations are, in which marauding cannibals overshadow lone protagonists and nothing promises to get better. Viggo Mortenson plays a father who will do anything to save his son, even shoot him as a last resort to spare the kid rape at the hands of the baddies. The ending panders too much to those preferring tidy closure, but it’s a small quibble on my part, and it actually just follows the book.

Image result for the white ribbon6. The White Ribbon. 4 ½ stars. This film is disturbing in a very subterranean way. It’s set in a north German village during 1913-14 and spotlights an aristocratic estate where everyone lives well but rot on the inside from repression and joylessness. A pastor over-punishes his kids for the most trivial offenses — even non-offenses — and turns a blind eye when he learns that they’re probably responsible for the murder of a villager, a barn fire, and other unspeakable acts. It’s a film about hidden violence resulting from psychological cruelty, and a work of art.

7. Whip It! 4 stars. A coming-of-age sports drama that works surprisingly well, since it has the wisdom to not take itself too seriously, and allow the underdogs to lose in the end when it really counts. A great soundtrack, endearing characters, and edgy roller derby scenes set this way above pathetic ’80s dramas like Karate Kid and Hoosiers. And Ellen Page is awesome as always. See if you can tell if the setting is the ’80s or the ’00s. It’s not easy. Reviewed here.

Image result for splice film8. Splice. 4 stars. The premise here is something Cronenberg could have come up with, and the product evokes Lynch’s Eraserhead — an effective blend of flesh-horror, sexual horror, and science fiction. The success of the film has largely to do with how our sympathies constantly shift gears as Dren evolves and even mutates gender. The infant Dren is playful and vulnerable; the grown (female) Dren who seduces Clive (and almost stings him to death while copulating with him) is a bit more ambiguous; the male Dren who rapes Elsa a complete horror. This was my surprise pick of the year, it seemed to come out of nowhere.

Image result for disgrace film9. Disgrace. 4 stars. A Cape Town professor takes advantage of his position to have an affair with a black student, then flees to his daughter’s remote farm to escape the scandal, only to find tragedy when a trio of black youths brutally assaults them, and rapes his daughter. One of the attackers turns out to be related to his daughter’s employee, and she actually considers marrying her rapist to minimize future conflict. A thoughtful film about apartheid that never rings false.

10. Last House on the Left. 3 ½ stars. The inverse of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre of ’03, this remake is a vast improvement over an abysmal original, though admittedly not without its faults. You can only do so much with a revenge film, but Eliadis pushes everything perfect up until the last 30 minutes, at which point a serious film turns into a popcorn movie. The rape scene is very upsetting but well placed. Most ’70s classics should be left untouched, but the “classic” Last House on the Left was so dire it was like watching snuff. Reviewed here

(See also: The Best Films of 2006, The Best Films of 2007, The Best Films of 2008, The Best Films of 2010, The Best Films of 2011, The Best Films of 2012, The Best Films of 2013, The Best Films of 2014, The Best Films of 2015, The Best Films of 2016, The Best Films of 2017, The Best Films of 2018.)

Peter Jeffery on the Handwriting of the Mar Saba Document

Of all the nails in Morton’s Smith’s coffin, handwriting analysis hasn’t been pounded home, and doubtfully ever will be. I’ve always been leery of such analysis, which is why I’ve avoided blogging about it over the years, and even in my review of Gospel Hoax I barely mentioned that part of Stephen Carlson’s case. Recent analyses both for and against Smith don’t exactly reinforce reliability here. As a forensic method, handwriting analysis has been handled cautiously by the courts in recent decades, and it seems the answer to Secret Mark will remain in the content of Theodore’s letter itself, which of course points to a plain conclusion.

Peter Jeffery has written a five-point response to developments on the handwriting front, and his last makes the same point about the primacy of the letter’s content over handwriting style.

“Since the handwriting cannot be earlier than the 17th century (the date of the book in which it was found), no graphological analysis can prove that the Mar Saba text was composed in ancient times. Those who think it a forgery have based their arguments mostly on content, and among them there is general agreement on the features that point to a modern origin: the text was constructed by re-using words and phrases from the canonical gospels and Clement’s authentic writings, the general picture of the Alexandrian church and its practices looks more like the fifth century than the second, Clement’s advocacy of lying seems inauthentic and references modern debates, the hints of ritualized homosexuality seem to assume a modern sexology, Smith’s own account of his discovery is demonstrably deceptive, the many apparent jokes uncannily resemble Smith’s own sense of humor. Those who consider the text ancient, on the other hand, completely disagree with each other as to its origin and interpretation. Does the Secret Gospel pre-date or post-date canonical Mark? Why the secrecy? Are the sexual innuendoes actually present or not? What are the Carpocratians actually being accused of? What is the meaning of Salome’s expanded role? Before they declare victory, those who would place the document in the second century need to face such questions instead of ignoring or minimizing them, and come to some level of consensus on a compelling interpretation that shows why their dating makes the most sense.”

And to all the above must be added Hunter’s Mar Saba novel, and the fact that Smith’s “discovery” confirmed his scholarly views already published, some just months before.

Victory of the Daleks

After the season-four finale I never wanted to see Daleks again, let alone a comeback so early in season five. But breathe, everyone, it’s okay: Russell Davies is gone, empty-headed fanwank left behind, and real plots back in form. Victory of the Daleks is a fun World War II piece that sees Britain training an army of Daleks to be thrown against the Third Reich, and a great homage to the Troughton classic, Power of the Daleks, which similarly involved the hate-mongers feigning servility to humankind whilst really working against them. The sight of Daleks gliding around Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms, carrying files on their sink plungers and bleating out subservient inquiries like, “WOULD YOU CARE FOR SOME TEA?” (click on the above photo), are hilarious and bring home how much I miss being entertained by the Doctor’s most famous enemies. But while this is a good story, it could have been so much better.

Many reviewers have pounced on the biggest problem: that it’s a terribly rushed episode and needed another to breathe. I almost hate to say they’re right, because the last thing we wanted at this point was another Dalek two-parter. But they are. Never have I felt the constraints of the new series’ 45-minute stories as acutely as in Victory of the Daleks. There’s so much bombarding us that by the time we digest things, the plot has already turned with dramatic opportunities gone to waste. We needed more front time with the Daleks pretending to be humanity’s servants, and to see a lot more devastation caused by the Blitz so we could be moved to sympathize with Churchill’s need. The Daleks are essentially alien Nazis, and the idea of them being used against Germans in war-torn London is disturbingly ironic — and brilliant. They would, as Winston insists, save lives. But we hardly feel the effects of the Blitz at all (unlike in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances), and the Daleks show their true colors before we know it.

Speaking of those colors, I don’t quite understand the anxiety over the new model and caste system (red = drones, blue = strategists, orange = scientists, yellow = eternals, and white = supremes). I’m actually rather impressed and looking forward to seeing how the rebooted race plays out. One thing that strikes me is that the Daleks tend to mirror the tone of their era in Doctor Who. The colorful breed would have been horribly out of place under Hinchcliffe — the atmosphere of Genesis of the Daleks practically bleeds black and gray with its wasteland setting and gothic air — but they seem ideally suited for Moffat who revels in dark fairy tales. Granted these new Daleks have a slightly plastic look, but it’s not that bad.

As for Winston Churchill himself: he’s fine enough, but easily the least impressive of the historical figures we’ve been treated to in the new series. Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, Shakespeare, and Agatha Christie stole their shows, but if Churchill does that, it’s only by teetering on the edge of caricature. (As far as I’m concerned, the new Daleks are the show stealers.) There are some fine moments between him and the Doctor, as when he pretends contemplating taking the TARDIS by force, and then later pickpockets the TARDIS key when hugging him farewell. But he’s about fifty pounds heavier than the real Churchill, and doesn’t get much time to push the drama of his strategic war plan before his Daleks abandon the war rooms for their ship hovering over Earth, and begin executing their real plan for the Earth’s obliteration.

Which brings me to the preposterous space battle between the Spitfires and Dalek ship. The gravity bubble protecting the Spitfires I can buy; airplane pilots thrown into zero-g combat for the first time in their lives without any training I cannot. But since most of them end up getting blown to bits by the Dalek ship anyway, some level of credibility is saved, and believe it or not, I actually like this thrilling sequence. It gives us the delightful spectacle of British fighter planes becoming the equivalent of X-Wing Fighters attacking a Dalek Death Star. Mind you, I’ve always hated Star Wars, but somehow this all comes together and works in a Doctor Who context.

The climax after the Spitfire attack, however, is the weakest part of the story. The way the Doctor and Amy neutralize the bomb-android who is Professor Bracewell is way too melodramatic, though to be fair, the principle behind it isn’t the crap some have charged. Since the Doctor is trying to get Bracewell’s positronic brain to override its self-destruct program, Bracewell must be made to want to live, and so needs to be put in touch with his most affecting memories as a human being. Even allowing for this, I would have preferred the more grim resolution of Bracewell being taken on board the TARDIS and deposited on the Dalek ship to blow it up. Perhaps that wouldn’t sit well with some of the new series writers, whose sensibilities can be on the delicate side, but this is Mark Gatiss we’re talking about, and he was happy enough to let the character of Gwyneth sacrifice herself to destroy the Gelth in The Unquiet Dead. On the other hand, this is the first story of the season where we at least see people getting killed, so I’ll stop complaining.

Victory of the Daleks falls neatly and cleanly into the “enjoyable romp” category: 3 stars, not as good as the Dalek stories in seasons one and two, but vastly superior to those in three and four. It’s worth recapping how well the Daleks have fared in the new series:

1 Dalek — 5 stars
1 Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways — 4 stars
2 Army of Ghosts/Doomsday — 4 stars
3 Daleks in Manhattan/The Evolution of the Daleks — 1 star
4 The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End — 0 stars
5 Victory of the Daleks — 3 stars

And since the Daleks’ plan was to reboot themselves into something new and improved, I’ve no doubt we’ll be seeing them again this season…

Rating: 3 stars out of 5.

Word For the Day: "Spitballing"

It’s a slang word I’m fond of using, but sometimes draws blank stares. Based on the Urban Dictionary (see here and here), spitballing involves any or all of the following:

• tossing ideas around with little expectation of them coming to pass
• making harmless jibes or attacks; making weak accusations
• suggesting loosely, often going against common logic
• shooting ideas out in the open, potentially causing oneself to look like a dunce

Beyond Suspicion, Beyond Doubt: Secret Mark Put to Rest

Francis Watson’s “Beyond Suspicion: on the Authorship of the Mar Saba Letter and the Secret Gospel of Mark” can be taken as the final part of a remarkable sleuthing trilogy that began with Stephen Carlson’s bombshell, The Gospel Hoax, and Peter Jeffery’s psychoanalytic tour-de-force, The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled. The trilogy convicts Morton Smith beyond doubt as the forger of Clement’s letter, just in case you were too blind to accept the obvious after reading Carlson.

Many of Watson’s arguments complement those developed by Carlson and Jeffery, but extend to new developments. Here are the five high points of the article.

A. The Inappropriate Response to Theodore

Clement’s letter supposedly answers Theodore’s questions about the Carpocratian version of Mark’s gospel, but as Watson explains, the reply is inappropriate on every level (see pp 146-147). Theodore wants reassurance that the Carpocratian gospel is a perversion of the canonical Mark, but Clement’s emphasis is on the fact that it’s mostly true aside from the remark about Jesus and the young man being naked. “The authentic Secret Mark is only slightly less prurient than the falsified one” (147). Theodore is then instructed not to correct the Carpocratians on this point. “He must resist the temptation to parade his new text-critical knowledge” (ibid), and must continue to deny, even on oath, that Mark ever wrote a secret gospel. On top of that (and as Charles Murgia outlined decades ago), Clement goes to considerable lengths to inform Theodore what he already knows. These red flags show that

“The real intention of the letter is evidently to disclose the existence and content of the Secret Gospel, not to respond appropriately to Theodore. If that is the case, however, then Clement’s role as revealer of the Secret Gospel is parallel to Morton Smith’s as its discover. Clement’s text aims not to assist the embattled Theodore but to divulge the shocking fact that the Carpocratian claim about the two versions of the Gospel of Mark is largely true. There is indeed a Secret Gospel, and the addressee must come to terms with it. That is also the message of Smith’s two books on the Secret Gospel. Clement is concerned to establish the authenticity of the Secret Gospel, and that is also Morton Smith’s concern as he labors to establish the authenticity of Clement. What Smith argues about the letter is what Clement argues within it.” (p 148)

In other words, Smith was projecting onto Clement his own project.

B. Dependence on Papias

Watson demonstrates that Clement is dependent on Papias with the same ease and persuasive power that Andrew Criddle wielded in proving that Clement sounds too much like himself to be true. “It is all too easy to imagine a modern author gratefully availing himself of Papias’ assistance as he laboriously crafts his pseudo-Clementine fictions” (p 151), in contrast to (the real) Clement’s account of Markan origins as preserved in Eusebius — where echoes of Papias are discernible, but not abundant.

C. Morton Salt Revisited

By far the most amusing aspect of Clement’s letter is the hoaxer’s signature which puns the tradition of Mt 5:13/Lk 14:34-35: “For the true things being mixed with inventions are falsified, so that, as the saying goes, even the salt loses its savor.” Stephen Carlson exposed this confession, pointing out that adulterated salt was unknown in the ancient world, free flowing salt being a modern invention — of Morton Salt. Watson suggests an even looser connection between the “falsification of truth” and the corruption of salt, since the word “falsification” itself implies “forgery”. And since, originally, a “forger” was simply one who worked at a forge, “another word must now be employed to differentiate the sinister figure of the ‘forger’ from the innocent and useful worker at the forge” (p 153), namely, the smith. The full confessional signature of “Morton Smith” has now been exposed.

D. Clement’s Letter Validating Smith’s Views

What has most astounded me in the Secret Mark controversy is that, prior to Stephen Carlson, no one picked up on the fact that Smith published ideas connecting Clement and “the mystery of the kingdom of God” (in Mk 4:11) to sexual immorality (in T. Hagigah 2:1), and that he published them before his alleged discovery in 1958. Watson takes this further, showing how Smith had already believed (by 1955) that Mark censored offensive material out of his gospel, some of which he thought common to Mark and John, and that there was a secrecy tradition (of esoteric mysteries and sexual immorality) extending from Mark back to Paul and Jesus, to which he finally (in early 1958) connected Clement as a witness:

“Before Smith left for his visit to Mar Saba in the summer of 1958, many of the elements that comprise the letter to Theodore were already present in his published work. These elements do not simply recur in Smith’s interpretation of the letter, as one would expect; rather, they are embedded within the letter itself.” (p 160)

And as if this weren’t enough to close the case against Smith…

E. The Two Mysteries of Mar Saba

Saving the best for last, Watson compares the circumstances surrounding Smith’s expedition to Mar Saba with the fictionalized adventure related in James Hunters’ obscure 1940 novel, The Mystery of Mar Saba. The novel, as we know, is about a forgery at the Mar Saba library — quelle surprise — exactly where Smith “discovered” Clement’s letter, and the parallels are so transparent they’re embarrassing. Both documents are preoccupied with death, burial, and removing stones from tombs. Both associate, in good Johannine fashion, Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb with a garden, and extend the idea to another tomb in another garden. Both flirt with the figure of Nicodemus, who “came to Jesus by night” just as the young man did in the Secret Gospel, and who is supposedly the author of the Mar Saba text in Hunter’s novel. Watson is perhaps putting it too kindly when he writes:

“Had The Mystery of Mar Saba been first published in c. 1975, the analysis presented here would show it to be heavily dependent on The Secret Gospel (1973), both in its account of the immediate circumstances of the discovery and in the rationale, content, and construction of the controversial Greek fragment. But The Mystery of Mar Saba was first published in 1940, eighteen years before the second Mar Saba ‘discovery’. There is no alternative but to conclude that Smith is dependent on the novel, and that he himself is the author of the fragments of the Secret Gospel of Mark together with the pseudo-Clementine letter in which they are embedded.” (p 170)

As I’ve said before, it’s really this that puts the issue beyond doubt. If Hunter’s novel had been spotted by biblical specialists long before 2001, a lot less people would have been duped, and Secret Mark would have been put to rest before scholars like Koester ran wild with it and made a monster that, incredibly, can’t be let go. You can throw out everything else as far as I’m concerned — the Morton Salt signature, the homoerotic overtones aligning with Smith’s orientation, the Anglican Paschal liturgy invoked by the resurrection symbolism and white cloth, the hyper-Clementine and hyper-Papias language, the way Clement speaks to modern concerns instead of answering Theodore appropriately, and even the fact that Secret Mark vindicates Smith’s published views — all of that is damning enough. But you can argue around The Mystery of Mar Saba novel only by becoming the willful fool.

And so it ends. For good. We bid Secret Mark a final farewell, even if in admiration for Morton Smith’s genius — and admiration that, for my part, can only increase the more scholars like Scott Brown persist in denial. Their rejoinders at this point should simply be ignored.

Why Does "No One Die" in Steven Moffat’s Stories?

In reviewing The Beast Below, I registered my concern over Steven Moffat’s aversion to killing people off in his stories, and that this formula had better dissolve fast. I notice that John Bensalhia has the same complaint:

“Steven Moffatt never seems to want to bring anybody to a sticky end. Reinette [The Girl in the Fireplace], Billy Shipton and Kathy Nightingale [Blink] meet natural ends. River Song and her buddies [Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead] apparently meet horrible ends, but they then end up in a cheesy afterlife scenario. Last week, Dr. Ramsden [The Eleventh Hour] met her maker offscreen. And this week [The Beast Below], again, (sigh) everybody lives. Even in the light-hearted Graham Williams years, characters got killed by angry stones, aging time accelerators and shaggy Mandrels, so there’s really no excuse for not killing off at least one supporting character.”

Actually, The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink are flawless stories, because in context the natural deaths of the characters are more tragic than getting bumped off by any aliens. The Doctor watches Reinette grow from child to adult and forms a romantic attachment to her, and so when he returns thinking he’s going to take her as a TARDIS companion and finds her dead, it’s truly heartbreaking. As for Shipton and Nightingale, they actually are killed off by aliens: the weeping angels. Getting sent back in time to die naturally in the past is precisely how they are killed in the present, and I should say — at least from one point of view — that’s a worse fate than getting blown away by a Dalek-gun.

Season four’s Silence of the Library/Forest of the Dead is when the Moffat-rot set in, for here Bensalhia is right: the afterlife epilogue in the matrix is cheesy, and it trivializes River Song’s sacrifice. The refrain she parrots, “Everyone lives,” becomes a lame trope copycatting what worked fairly well in season one’s The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. In that story, everyone getting saved at the last minute was presented as something truly exceptional (“Just this once, Rose, everyone lives!”), and it followed hot on the heels of enough tragedy (Dalek and Father’s Day) that we hardly even noticed the exception. But season four and (so far) five show Moffat increasingly uneasy with blood on his hands — something classic Who was never squeamish about.

This isn’t about satisfying our blood lust, by the way. It’s about good drama, pure and simple. Doctor Who has always been about saving the world from lethal menaces, and when people don’t die, the stakes feel pretty low. One reason the Hinchcliffe era remains so golden owes to all the horrific and hideous death scenes that infuriated Mary Whitehouse. The early Tom Baker years were so dark that victories really felt like rewarding payoffs. Good doesn’t come cheaply. It’s no accident that the best stories of the new series involve heavy body counts — Dalek, The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, Human Nature/Family of Blood (though even these are rather lame compared to what we were treated to in the lightest years of classic Who!).

I’m glad to know I’m not the only one worrying. In an interview the question is posed directly to Moffat, undoubtedly on behalf of many fans: “It seems like hardly anyone ever dies in your episodes. What is your reasoning for that?” This is his response:

“There wasn’t a reason. It’s a big old coincidence that it happens, as many times. And I’m trying to work out when blood is first on my hands (in the series). It’s in the first episode, though it happens off screen. Someone gets offed, and people do get offed this year. It’s not a strategy — you couldn’t keep that going, you’d be insane. I was a bit astonished when I realized I’d done it. I think there’s another episode I’ve done this year in which nobody dies. But it’s not the plan. Maybe I’m just not that dark. Who needs dark, it’s dark!”

I’m not sure if this is subterfuge or not, and I’m not even sure what is being said in the last line. Is Moffat justifying himself by saying, “Who needs the show to be any darker? It’s dark enough as it is.” Or is he chastising himself a bit by saying, “Doctor Who admittedly needs more darkness, because it’s supposed to be a dark show.” I sincerely hope the latter.

I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that Moffat is doing a bad job overall, for as we know, he’s been by far the most creative writer of the new series and brilliant in serving up the scares. And again, I really don’t have a problem with the stories he penned in seasons one, two, and three. Even the season-four library story was perfect until the thrice-damned epilogue copped out on us. Let’s hope season five isn’t undone by any more cop outs, and pray that we see stakes being raised, sacrifices which mean something.

From Hallucination–>Resurrection?

Ken Pulliam has a post defending the hallucination theory behind the gospel resurrection accounts. At one point he cites apologist William Lane Craig’s objection to that theory:

“Subjective visions, or hallucinations, have no extra–mental correlate but are projections of the percipient’s own brain. So if, as an eruption of a guilty conscience, Paul or Peter were to have projected visions of Jesus alive, they would have envisioned him in Paradise, where the righteous dead awaited the eschatological resurrection. But such exalted visions of Christ leave unexplained their belief in his resurrection. The inference ‘He is risen from the dead,’ so natural to our ears, would have been wholly unnatural to a first century Jew. In Jewish thinking there was already a category perfectly suited to describe Peter’s postulated experience: Jesus had been assumed into heaven. An assumption is a wholly different category from a resurrection.”

Noting that Tom Wright has objected similarly, Pulliam replies with two counter-objections:

“First, there was a lot of diversity among Jewish beliefs in the first century. There were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, as well as others. There were also sects and cults that had incorporated various Greek ideas into Jewish theology. To maintain that the Jewish belief in the afterlife was monolithic in the first century is mistaken.”

I would point out that while it’s true that afterlife beliefs weren’t monolithic, there is no documented precedent — among any groups — for one individual (messiah or otherwise) to be resurrected prematurely. The apologists do have a valid point here, though it’s a very limited point. On which see further.

“Second, the concept of the resurrection seems to have entered Jewish theology during the exile and is found primarily in the Hebrew writings after that time, namely Daniel and 2 Maccabees. Many scholars believe this belief in the resurrection was adapted from the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism . The concept of the resurrection in Jewish theology arose as a way to explain how God would vindicate the martyrs. Initially, it seems that Jews who believed in a resurrection expected only the martyrs to be raised… Since Jesus would have been viewed by his followers as a martyr, it would have been natural for them to think that he would be resurrected.”

It wouldn’t have been natural at all, because again, there was no precedent (as far as we know) for anyone — messiah, martyr, prophet, whatever — to be prematurely resurrected before everyone else at the end of the age. To reply, as Pulliam does, that the disciples already believed they were living in the end is incredibly greasy, begs the question, and puts the cart before the horse. Paul’s argument that Jesus’ resurrection was the first fruits came as a consequence of dramatic revisionism, not a natural outgrowth of what was in place. But this, of course, leaves open the possibility that the disciples were simply wild inventors.

It’s a plausible enough idea. Lack of precedent is generally no obstacle to invention and creativity, and apologists like Craig and Wright are on quicksand to rely on a lack of precedent when this point is unqualified. We know that religious people make wild claims all the time, and that apocalyptic movements find creative ways of coping with dashed hopes in order to survive. As Dale Allison often puts it, “rude reality reinterprets expectations”. A classic case is the spiritualization of the prophecy of the temple’s destruction in John 2. When your dreams are broken, you latch onto something else, no matter how far-fetched.

The problem is that it’s highly unlikely the disciples’ dreams had been broken. In their minds, based on everything taught to them, their leader’s death wasn’t even a mark of failure. The crucifixion would have demoralized them — naturally — but ultimately been taken as part of the apocalyptic drama. As Pulliam himself points out, Jesus had braced them for such tragedy: they were already living in the end times, on the brink of the tribulation, and suffering/death had to precede the apocalypse. The shame and scandal of the crucifixion would have put them, as Allison says, “emotionally down but not theologically out”. In the absence of contrary evidence, we must assume they would have gone on hoping for the apocalypse and resurrection of the dead, at which point they would have been vindicated and resurrected along with their martyred savior. Jesus’ martyrdom does not constitute a failed expectation, and that is why apologists like Craig and Wright, despite themselves, are right. It’s not that revisionism is itself unlikely; we know that it is. It’s that there was no need for revisionism, because as far as the disciples were concerned, things were still going “as expected”.

For this reason, primarily, I believe in the historicity of the empty tomb. Craig and Wright are actually correct in claiming that visions alone wouldn’t have yielded the resurrection belief (if not for the reason they think). But an empty tomb coupled with visions/hallucinations could well have forced the issue, and it apparently did.