God’s Not Dead 2.0 — Star of Bethlehem Edition

Last year there was a lot of news about a small movie with a strong Christian bent, but apparently its marketing strategy worked and got plenty of people, including atheists, talking about it. With a premise that some compared to the sorts of chain emails that have been around for decades, God’s Not Dead was all about how one person, steadfast in their faith, takes on the odds to argues against his atheist philosophy professor and convinces everyone that God is really for real. There are several other subplots all running together, and it has unnecessary cameos by Ducky Dynasty folks and pop Christian music. More noteworthy, the actor playing the atheist/sad-rabid puppy professor was Kevin Sorbo, best known for playing Hercules in the 1990s TV series. Critically panned and philosophically dubious (as shown expertly by Daniel Finke), it made plenty at the bank as various evangelical groups came to it in droves, and at least some secular folks had to see it if just to say they know what message it was trying to get across.

With the basic idea that academia is trying to force secularism onto everyone that attends, the underdog story has great appeal for those that want to say they are being oppressed or persecuted (even if it’s not so), and the formula is now being repeated. And in particular, it looks like one variant has come to my area of specialty. While not yet produced, there is a screenplay for a movie about the Star of Bethlehem, which again will run the premise of underdog Christian protagonist against political correctness in schools, at least according to what news sources I can find. It has gotten attention because it has received a newly minted award designed to highlight promising Christian or evangelical films, the “Chronos Prize”. The Star of Bethlehem movie was a finalist for best screenplay, and apparently it won a significant cash prize of $50,000. That may not be enough to get such a movie project off the ground (I have no idea what budget it needs), but the attention will probably bring in the investors.

The writers of the film are not nobodies either. Joan Considine Johnson was a writer for two major cartoons on Nickelodeon, among other projects. Her husband, Dave Alan Johnson, has also worked in the TV business as a writer, director, and other high-level jobs. Among other things, they both worked on the show Doc with Billy Ray Cyrus, father of Miley Cyrus. It looks like this current film is a family project (for now), since all three writers (including Gary R. Johnson) have the same last name. There is nothing on IMDB about a Star of Bethlehem film project from these three, nor by anyone else as best as I can tell. But again, that’s probably because there is only a screenplay right now and is likely to be produced not so much by Hollywood but other, independent companies. As for the content, the tiniest bit of blurbing I have seen is about showing the science behind the story and proving it’s true even to a secular public school administrator or teacher. I would guess that the particular theory it would rely on is the one from the Star of Bethlehem documentary by lawyer Rick Larson, to which I have already provided an extensive critique. I could be wrong about that, but given the obvious evangelical bent of the film and this particular documentary I would probably win a bet. And even if not, I have a book on the subject that would address the proposals anyway.

But will the movie actually get made? I’m sure there are thousands of proposals and screenplays written every year that go nowhere, so even with the current publicity I have no idea how much of a chance it has. And there is the most important question: will Kevin Sorbo return as the angry atheist professor? Because I know another atheist professor that knows a lot about the subject… 😉

My Talk for Skeptics in the Pub, Cologne on the Star of Bethlehem

Along with the big Star of Bethlehem conference in Groningen, I was in Cologne before that to give a talk about the same subject to Skeptics in the Pub. That talk was also recorded and edited nicely by the folks there, and that is now up on YouTube. (Note: the intro is in German, but my talk is in English.)

Only downside with this was that I did not do my best to stay close to the microphone, and that means my voice goes in and out a fair bit. I’m used to talking with my voice picked up by different devices, so I’ll need to remember that for the future. Still, you can get all the contents of my talk reasonably well, and the presentation went really smoothly. Plus, great folks at SiTP Koeln. They had some really good questions, but it doesn’t look like the Q&A was recorded.

I also didn’t know this before I went there, but Cologne is the city were, allegedly, the bodies of the Three Kings/Magi are kept; the city’s coat of arms reflects this, and the cathedral with those bodies is a UNESCO site, and it is a lovely building. 2014-10-22 10.22.50

A bit of review of me and my talk can be found here and here (auf Deutch). Hopefully I can find an excuse and go again to this group.

Also, the holidays are approaching, so if your group needs a speaker on a timely subject, let me know.

The Other Jesus Timelines

So far in my ever-rolling War on Christmas I have demonstrated that the tradition of Jesus’ birth as on Dec 25 of whatever year is dubious at best and likely due to some post-hoc calculations (rather than influence from the Mithras cult). However, in many ways what I have done has been very centered around the canonical version of Jesus’ life and birth (even where they contradict). But there are many other gospels about Jesus, including about his early years. There are other stories of Jesus as well that seem to place him into a completely different timeline and which so far as I can tell are without explanation in the scholarly literature.

First though, let’s mention some of these interesting tales of Jesus’ birth and childhood as told to us by the non-canonical infancy narratives. The first of these is the Protoevangelion or Infancy Gospel of James. This 2nd century story obviously messes together the stories of Jesus’ birth as found in Matthew and Luke, but it includes some of the other details that cave become common in secondary traditions. For example, the birth takes place in a cave outside of Bethlehem (cf. Justin Martyr, Dialog with Trypho 78), a tradition that occasionally makes it into modern Nativity scenes. Also from this infancy gospel comes the earlier versions of the belief of the Immaculate Conception of Mary via her own paranormal birth. (People often confuse this with the Virgin Birth, but the former is the Catholic belief that Mary was born without sin such that she would be the perfect vessel for the birth of the god-man Jesus.) The miraculous birth of Mary to her elderly parents in this gospel is so prominent sometimes the book has been called the Birth of Mary.

Another fun gospel is called the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew or the Infancy Gospel of Matthew. This one has some awesome stories, including one where baby Jesus is able to tame dragons as will. Don’t you wish a story like that made it into the canon? Sunday school may have been a little more tolerable. The book is interesting because it creates its own narrative from the Old Testament in an obvious fashion. Like Matthew, it first says what happened and then said how that fulfilled some prophecy; conservative readers of Matthew will just say that is what happened and the prophecy was fulfilled, but do they give the same credence to Pseudo-Matthew? You can probably guess. Continue reading