Classic EssaysRevilo P. Oliver

Moving Jesus

by Revilo P. Oliver

I LEARN FROM the Wall Street Journal, 2 March 1992, that the American Bible Society, one of the foremost publishers of the world’s most widely distributed work of fiction, are coping with a falling market.

Bibles are still printed and sold in large numbers, but, as several dervishes cited in the article complain, the book is treated as a talisman or fetish, put on a table or shelf, seldom opened, never read. Even the pious do not read the bulky collection of dreary tales. A Gallup poll found that out of persons who claimed to believe the book to be the Word of God, only half could name even one of the four synoptic gospels.

It is true that although that bag of grotesque tales has endowed English with innumerable phrases, aphorisms, and pregnant allusions, it has little literary quality. It lacks both the dignity and the charm of Classical mythology. Its historical value is virtually nil. And for what is called ‘human interest’ it cannot vie with Flaubert or Thackeray or Dickens or Agatha Christie. But persons who think a god the author should overlook their god’s awkwardness.

It is true that many Americans do not know enough English to understand the King James Version and are too indolent to remedy the inadequacy of their education. I discovered this some thirty years ago, when I discovered with horror that some of my colleagues were translating the English of Milton’s Areopagitica into ‘contemporary’ English in the hope that it could then be understood by graduate students in “Political Science” (i.e., Marxist propaganda). There are said to be some forty English translations of the Bible, most of which try to jazz up the stories by vulgarizing the English in which they are told. But these versions are equally unread.

There remains the question whether True Believers could read their Holy Book if they wanted to. I remember having seem some years ago an estimate that no more that 27% of adult Americans (1) were mentally capable of reading a book — any book. Most of the others, of course, could recognize the letters of the alphabet, read road signs (although I note that these are being replaced by ‘international symbols’), and understand headlines and short paragraphs in newspapers. The limiting factor was power of attention. A newspaper called USA Today is said to have ascertained by investigation that most of its readers could not keep in mind more than a short paragraph. Their feeble intellects, palsied and spasmodic, could not remain in focus on a longer text. That is probably correct, although no one noticed that the fact made idiocy of our ochlocracy, and proved that a society that permits more than the 27% to vote is simply committing suicide.

(1. I suspect that the word ‘American’ was misused, and that what was really meant was 27% of adults residing in the United States, regardless of their race. But that does not make a great difference — probably not more than 10%.)

Most of the shamans consulted by the reporter for the Wall Street Journal related failure to read their Bible to the general ignorance of the ‘post-literate generation,’ i.e., the functional illiteracy produced by sabotage of children’s minds in the public boob-hatcheries. A Reverend Mr. William Hinson of Houston said candidly, “People don’t want to read anymore. They want you to show them.”

He was right. Reading involves mental exertion, and the feeble-minded are also lazy. Publishers’ Central Bureau was once a prime source of worthwhile books, since the excessive cost of warehouse space forces contemporary publishers to liquidate their stocks after a book has passed the peak of its popularity, instead of keeping it in stock until all copies are sold, as respectable publishers once did. (2) The Bureau has been reorganized by a new management and its current catalogues contain only a page or two listing books, while all the rest are devoted to video-tapes.

(2. I remember that I was mildly astonished a few years ago when I was in the offices of the venerable firm of Le Monnier in Florence and discovered that they still had in stock three copies of a book they had published in 1859.)

The American Bible Society, heeding Mr. Hinson’s observation, is going to show them. An outfit called Campus Crusade for Christ, has already produced a “full-length movie, ‘Jesus,'” which is a cinema version (or eversion) of the tale in the “New Testament” told by an anonymous ‘man from Lucania’ (Greek Loukâs). The Bible Society is going to produce a similar cinema for the unthinking by filming the tale told to, or attributed to, a Marcus, an unknown person who had presumably obtained Roman citizenship but is, for all practical purposes, anonymous, since his legal name is never stated, and the very common Roman praenomen (3) no more identifies the man than would ‘William’ or ‘Henry’ identify a contemporary writer.

(3. The Roman praenomen is, of course, derived from the name of the war god, and was originally given to boys who were dedicated to Mars or hopefully regarded as receiving the god’s favor. It is only typical of Christian obfuscation that Cruden’s Complete Concordance to the Old and New Testaments (published since 1967 by Zondervan in Grand Rapids, Michigan) contain an onomasticon that derives the name from marceo, ‘to be weak, languid,’ and translates the name as ‘indolent.’ Better that a Christian scribbler be thought of as a lazy weakling than as a man of valor!)

The reporter witnessed a completed episode of the new film. A dulcet-voiced female intoned the fifth chapter of ‘Mark,’ and in the intervals of her narration an orchestra played dramatic music, while the film showed what were evidently scenes in a present-day city, including a building with a rusty fire-escape. The subject of the exorcism narrated in that chapter is portrayed as a youth who “wears a baseball cap” and, I suppose, corresponding ‘jeans.’ He is pictured as tormented by “a weird, wraith like figure,” evidently a replacement for the legion of devils mentioned in the Scriptural story. The youth is touched by “a clean-cut young laborer,” who, I suppose, wears slacks and a pull-over sweater. The compassionate laborer who works a miracle is, of course, Jesus dressed up for the new occasion. (4) But that is not the only bit of tampering with the story.

(4. One is reminded of the craze in the 1930s for producing “Shakespeare in modern dress,” thus catering to a taste for novelty by making the words and action of the play incongruous and absurd. As late as sometime in the 1950s I had to sit through a performance of a Shakespearian play in which the scene had been transported to a Spanish hacienda in California at a date which, to judge from the costumes was in the 1830s, and, to judge from various appurtenances, in the 1870s. The duelists, in lieu of swords, used Colt six-shooters, and when one man ran off the stage pursued by his rival, who was blasting away with his single-action revolver, a part of the audience, not devoid of common sense, burst into laughter. The more recent use of Congoids as actors in Shakespearian plays, beginning with the falsification of putting a nigger in the role of Othello and eventually reaching the ultimate obscenity of making Lady Macbeth a negress, had a different motivation: it was the way in which Kike producers enjoyed spitting in the faces of Aryan boobs, so devoid of both manhood and reason that they could endure such spectacles.)

Although the illusionists of Hollywood could have produced quite gruesome pictures of a horde of little devils popping out of the victim’s mouth, the Bible Society’s director settled for a mere disappearance of the haunting wraith. That must mean that the scenario of the film omitted the negotiations between Jesus and the devils, which many dolts now regard as a model of agreements reached “at the bargaining table.” In the original tale, as everyone remembers, the multitude of devils pop into a drove of two thousand swine and drive them to suicide. That is omitted in the film, admittedly because the viewers might retain enough of Aryan instincts to feel pity for the innocent pigs — a few might even pity the peasant who was robbed of the drove that probably was all that he had in the world.

Although the reporter does not say so, the parts of the text corresponding to those incidents must have been censored out of the script read by the sweet-voiced female, their place probably being taken by symphonic music that excites emotion directly and without inducing conscious thought. The new film is obviously made to catch conies, and one does not expect honesty from Christian salesmen.

The rest of the “King Video Version” will, no doubt, be as much of a falsification and travesty of the original as the episode witnessed by the reporter. (5) But the officials of the Bible Society who are quoted in the article think the wonderful new idea will bring them and salvation-hucksters throughout the country lots of business. A Dr. Habecker, President and Chief Executive of the Bible Society, joyously opines that his motion picture “will revolutionize the way people study [sic] the Bible in the 21st century.”

(5. I can hardly wait to find out whether proletarian Jesus will enter the big city, probably New Jerusalem-on-the-Hudson, in a Rolls Royce or as a ‘hitch-rider’ in the back of a battered old Ford truck.)

The test of the new sales-promotion will be the one used in television, but this could probably be predicted quite easily and expeditiously by recourse to a simple device. Some years ago a zoo in the southeastern part of this country — Atlanta, if memory serves me — put a large television set just outside the cage in which a gorilla was confined, and gave the gorilla a switch with which he could change programs at will. It was discovered that the gorilla naturally preferred the television shows that were most popular with American addicts of the boob-tube. But it was not said that the gorilla “studied” his favorite moving pictures.

* * *

Source: Liberty Bell magazine, April 1992

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