Bible in Pop Culture Week 7: Cartman’s Favorite Psalm

In episode nine of season four of South Park, titled “Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?”, we find out what Cartman’s favorite Psalm is. The episode starts with Stan, Cartman and Kenny sitting in church. Mr. Garrison is called up to the lectern to read his favorite Psalm. As Mr. Garrison begins to read, Cartman leans over his pew and tells Stan and Kenny his favorite Psalm is: “It’s a man’s obligation to stick his boneration in a woman’s separation. This sort of penetration will increase the population of the younger generation.”

Father Maxi, the church’s priest, catches the boys repeating this Psalm and delivers a fire-and-brimstone sermon to the congregation, criticizing the children for not going to Sunday school and the parents for not going to confession. Father Maxi’s depiction of Hell terrifies the kids and they wind up rushing off to Sunday school to learn how to avoid swimming in the lake of fire. They learn that they must go to confession and take Communion. Problems arise when they realize that Kyle is a Jew and is going to go to Hell and that Timmy, a mentally handicapped boy that can only say his name, is unable to give a confession, meaning that he will also wind up in Hell. The boys become increasingly terrified and rush to the church to confess. On the way, a bus strikes Kenny and he is apparently killed.

Meanwhile, in Hell, Satan is celebrating Luau Sunday with his friends, Conan O’Brien, Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, John F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Jr., Princess Diana Spencer, Michael Landon, Mao Tse-Tung, Gene Siskel, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Garcia, Tiny Tim, Walter Matthau, Bob Hope, George Burns, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

Bible in Pop Culture Week 4: In El Salvador, “Jacob wrestled the angel / And the angel was overcome”

 

 

The track “Bullet the Blue Sky” by U2 was released in 1987 on the album “The Joshua Tree.” The lyrics of the song were inspired by a trip that Bono took to Central America in 1985 with Amnesty International. On the trip, he stayed in the mountains in the north of the country with a group of guerilla fighters. While he was in the hills, he witnessed Salvadorean planes firebombing villages nearby in an attempt to kill guerilla fighters. Officially, the U.S. was acting in an advisory role in El Salvadore to strengthen the military dictatorship running the country as a bulwark against Communism. What this meant in practical terms was that the U.S. government was supplying arms, munitions, tactical advice and often manpower that led directly the tens of thousands of civilian deaths.

Bono, who described himself as a person who regularly read Scripture, was upset that Christians in America were supporting a proxy war that resulted in the devastation he was witnessing, so he penned the lyrics for “Bullet the Blue Sky” using Biblical references. A section of the lyrics reads as follows:

“In the howling wind comes a stinging rain / See it driving nails / Into the souls in the tree of pain / From a firefly, a red orange glow / See the face of fear / Running scared on the valley below / Bullet the blue sky / In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum / Jacob wrestled the angel / And the angel was overcome.”

The lyrics describe strafing runs and the dropping of napalm, as well as an interpretation of Jacob’s wrestling with an angel that seems to present the good, innocent villagers as the angel being overcome by man’s evil.

Sources: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=911 & the above video.

Batman Tower of Babel Cover 2001

Bible in Pop Culture Week 2: Batman and the Tower of Babel

Because September 17, 2016, is Batman Day (seriously), I decided to look for Biblical references relevant to this week’s reading in the Batman series of comics. There is a collected edition of Justice League of America, volumes 43 – 46, called “Tower of Babel” (2001). The title and some story elements are references to the Biblical story found in Genesis 11:1-9, in which man migrates to the land of Shinar and constructs a city called Babel. According to The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV), in the center of the city, the people work together to build a tower “with its top in the heavens” (25). For reasons that are not completely clear, God does not want man to be able to create great accomplishments, so he purposefully confuses the language of the people in Babel, causing them to abandon the construction project and migrate to other areas.

In the Justice League of America story arc, R’as al-Ghul, the leader of the League of Assassins and the Justice Leagues enemy, devises a plan to cripple the members of the justice league long enough to enact a plan that would decimate the population of the planet through nuclear war. The story focuses heavily on Batman’s paranoia, which is the key to the League’s near defeat. R’as al-Ghul’s daughter sneaks into the Bat Cave and steals data records that Batman was keeping on other members of the League. Those records reveal the League members’ key weaknesses. Once the League is incapacitated, R’as activates a device on a tower that he built. The device emits ultrasonic waves that disrupt the language centers of the brains of everyone on earth, causing them to be unable to decipher written language. The ultrasonic waves eventually affect spoken language as well, preventing people from being able to understand each other. The Justice League is ultimately successful in recovering from their injuries and they defeat the League of Assassins. Superman destroys the device that R’as built to confuse human language, which is interesting because, in the Biblical account, it seems as if God confused man’s language into multiple languages in order to prevent man from becoming powerful super men.

The Gutenberg Bible, the first printed Bible

Bible in Pop Culture Week 1: Creationism in Schools

Image Attribution:By NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng) – originally posted to Flickr as Gutenberg Bible, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9914015

 

Creationism and Schools: Youngstown, Ohio Opts for Science Only

News articles published between September 8th and 10th, 2016 noted that Crish Mohip, the Youngstown Schools Chief Executive Officer has stated that schools are obligated to follow the 344-page science standards developed by the Ohio Department of Education, which present the evolutionary view of biological development. Beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, “any reference to intelligent design, creationism, or any like concepts are eliminated from the science curriculum,” Mohip stated.[1] The memo that Mohip sent out was prompted by the use of a video in a science class that claims to present evidence for creationism based on the proliferation of species starting 500 million years ago. Complicating the issue is the fact that the video was produced by a Turkish Islamic televangelist named Adnan Oktar who is reportedly a Holocaust denier and the leader of a sex cult.[2]

The teacher who showed the video in class stated that he was presenting different views and that students should be able to clearly identify and weigh the merits of various arguments.[3] This, however, contradicts Ohio state policy. Creationism is the theory that the universe was intelligently, or purposefully, designed by God as described in the Abrahamic tradition of religions. Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Bible as well as the Quran describe existence as having been formed by God. Modern science presents the theory that the universe was compressed into a small bit of matter surrounded by nothingness and, for reasons unknown, that pinpoint of matter suddenly exploded and began to expand into all of existence as we know it today.

The fight over the teaching of creationism in schools has been taking place for decades, with the common consensus shifting from creationism to evolutionary and scientific theories. In the American context that fight has revolved primarily around the Christian, literal interpretation of the Genesis creation story. In 1925, John Scopes was convicted of violating a Tennessee law making it illegal to teach evolution in a state-funded school. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Louisiana law making it illegal to teach evolution in public schools without also teaching creationism.[4] In more recent years, the tide has turned in favor of the teaching of evolution over creationism. The recent decision of the Youngstown Schools Chief Executive Officer is just the most recent event in this ongoing trend and serves to show that a text compiled approximately 2200 to 2900 years ago still has meaning and significance in to modern societies.

References

Brown, S. (2016, September 8). Creationism Booted From Ohio Public Schools. Retrieved September 11, 2016, from Americans United For Separation of Church and State: https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/creationism-booted-from-ohio-public-schools

Gauntner, M. (2016, September 10). CEO cuts ‘Creationism’ from Youngstown school classrooms. Retrieved September 11, 2016, from wfmj.com: http://www.wfmj.com/story/33007921/ceo-cuts-creationism-from-youngstown-school-classrooms

 

[1] Mike Gauntner, “CEO cuts ‘Creationism’ from Youngstown school classrooms,” wfmj.com: Locally Owned, published September 2, 2016, modified September 10, 2016 and accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.wfmj.com/story/33007921/ceo-cuts-creationism-from-youngstown-school-classrooms.

[2] Simon Brown, “Creationism Booted From Ohio Public Schools,” Americans United For Separation of Church and State, published September 8, 2016 and accessed September 11, 2016, https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/creationism-booted-from-ohio-public-schools.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Mike Gauntner, “CEO cuts ‘Creationism’ from Youngstown school classrooms,” wfmj.com: Locally Owned, published September 2, 2016, modified September 10, 2016 and accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.wfmj.com/story/33007921/ceo-cuts-creationism-from-youngstown-school-classrooms.

God and Isaiah 2: Historical Analysis

The following is a paper written for an undergraduate Jewish studies course titled, “The History of God,” which was intended to present God in a historical manner, using the Bible as the main source document and the Documentary Hypothesis as the main tool for interpreting its contents.  The paper addresses Isaiah 2:2-5 to 6:22.

The professor left the following comment on the paper:

You show there are real forces beneath this passage – that it’s helping hearers find a way out of their problems. Bravo… You see the fact that religion and doctrines address people where they hurt.

There were a few minor criticisms, but I’ve corrected the most glaring one before publishing it online.  Also, despite the criticisms, the professor felt the paper was, overall, on the mark and marked it with an A/A-.  I’m not sure about how he rates things.  He usually left two grades on papers like that.

The Prophet Isaiah
The Prophet Isaiah (Image from Wikipedia)

Isaiah 2:2-5 to 6:22 is a complex message that describes Judah and Jerusalem’s future according to Isaiah. It presents a utopian view that sits in stark contrast to Isaiah 1, where Jerusalem is compared to a booth in a cucumber field, surrounded and isolated, or as an unfaithful whore, found in the previous chapter.[1] It looks even more out of place compared to the contents of Isaiah 3, which describes the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah. However, the message being delivered has a purpose and fits an established framework.

According to the Documentary Hypothesis, Isaiah 1-39 was written by an individual referred to as Isaiah 1 in approximately 720 BCE. Isaiah 40-55 are attributed to a second author, and 56-66 are attributed to a third author.[2] These authors all wrote at different times and wrote for different purposes. Isaiah 1’s purpose was to explain the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians, to fit it into an established framework that the people would recognize and understand, and then to give hope to the southern kingdom of Judah, that they could be preserved if they mended their ways.

Isaiah 2:2-3 describes the existence of Jerusalem in the future, when it has become a cultural center. Verse 2 establishes that Jerusalem will exist in the latter days and that all nations will flow to it. This was probably a very important message for the people to hear and be reminded of after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians. The defeat of Israel not only called into question their political independence but the religious foundations of their society as well. According to Nathan, three-hundred and thirty years before in approximately 1050 BCE, God had promised to maintain the political solvency of David’s kingdom forever, telling him (through Nathan), quite literally, “Your throne shall be established forever.”[3] So, when the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom, Isaiah had to find a way to explain it, justify it, and then give hope that it did not mean the end of their way of life.

The only way to justify God’s apparent failure to uphold His end of the covenant was to say that He actually had not failed; the Israelites and Judeans failed God. Isaiah reasoned that God must have failed to protect the northern kingdom because the Israelites had turned their backs on God, or at the least, it was a plausible solution to the problem of explaining the breach of the covenant. He applies this logic by introducing a new concept, that sacrifice is not enough, and God never really wanted sacrifices in the first place. God tells the people He will not listen to them because their hands are full of blood. He tells them that instead of sacrificing, they should have been doing good, seeking justice, correcting oppression, upholding justice and pleading the widow’s cause.[4]

The point of this break with tradition is to shift people’s focus from the Temple rituals to practicing religion in their everyday lives. This idea is reinforced in Isaiah 2:3, where Isaiah prophecies that people will flock to Jerusalem in the future, not for its food or the climate, but for the law. “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord… that he may teach us his ways…For out of Zion shall go the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”[5] This was not his attempt to stop the Temple rituals, but it was his way of laying the seeds of future faith, when the inevitable happened and the temple was destroyed.

Isaiah 2:4 further reinforces the Davidic Covenant and simultaneously acts to reassure the people that all will be well. It introduces the idea of God being bigger than just Jerusalem. He’s so big that He “judge[s] between nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples…”[6] This verse takes God out of the Temple. It separates Him from ritual and puts Him above the affairs of nations. It not only expands His powers, but it frees Him and his followers from religious destruction if the Temple is destroyed. The second half of Isaiah 2:4 describes people of the nations around Israel turning their weapons into agricultural instruments. They “shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”[7] When confronted with the utter destruction of the northern kingdom, it must have been welcome news to hear that in the future, there would be no war, and, hence, no threat to Judah’s existence.

Isaiah 2:5 is a call to action. It asks the house of Jacob to come and walk in the light of the Lord. The ensuing diatribe in 2:6-22 against the materialism and idolatry of the descendants of Jacob, presumably in the southern kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem, which have yet to be conquered, is probably intended to give the original recipients a road map for change that will allow them to avoid the same fate as their northern neighbors. Isaiah 2:6-22 basically tells them what they’re doing wrong, with 2:5 being the lead-in, warning them to steer clear of the following things that are against God’s will.

Isaiah 2:2-5 is a reminder to a people facing an imminent danger that threatens their way of life. It is a way out, a way to avoid the fate that befell the northern kingdom, and it is part of a message that explains why God did not uphold the covenant given to David, thereby saving the religion from destruction. By reaffirming the Davidic covenant and justifying the destruction of the northern kingdom, Isaiah reaffirms God’s dedication to David’s people and their well-being. Isaiah 2:2-5 is also an important turning point in the religion, bringing God out of the temple and into personal life.


[1] Isaiah 1:8 and 1:21. All references to Bible passages are from the English Standard Version.
[2] Arthur Patzia and Anthony Petrotta, Pocket Dictionary of Biblical Studies….
[3] 2 Samuel 7:16.
[4] Isaiah 1:11-17.
[5] Isaiah 2:3.
[6] Isaiah 2:4.
[7] Ibid.

Works Cited

Patzia, Arthur G. and Anthony J. Petrotta. Pocket Dictionary of Biblical Studies: Over 300 Terms Clearly & Concisely Defined. InterVarsity Press, 2002. Google eBook.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Amazon Digital Services: Crossway, 2011. Kindle eBook.