Could the pope of Rome ever be Jewish?

ELIZABETH ASKS:

Isn’t it possible for the Pope to be Jewish? And if the Catholic Church someday elected a Jewish pope would that most likely help or harm Catholic-Jewish relations?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

Timely topic one year after the breakthrough election of the first Western Hemisphere pope, Francis of Argentina, who succeeded the first two non-Italian popes in centuries.

The questioner notes a bit by Jay Leno, late of “The Tonight Show,” who told passersby the new pope was Jewish to trick them into giving false reactions. Gags aside, yes, it’s absolutely possible to have a pope who’s Jewish in ethnic identity and appreciation of that heritage — so long as he affirms those aspects of the Christian religion that differ from Judaism. Jesus’ apostle Peter was Jewish, after all, and he’s Catholicism’s first pope.
Not only that. In the 2005 papal election one feasible candidate was Jewish. More on him below.

Jewish popes have long been the stuff of legend. Orthodox Rabbi Berel Wein’s history blog says Jews even made the incredible claim that Peter abandoned Christianity and reverted to Judaism. Seven other stories:

* Pope Zosimus (who reigned in A.D. 417-418) was Greek but there were unsubstantiated reports he was also an ethnic Jew, perhaps because his father was named Abram.

* Pope Gregory VI (1045-1046), who abdicated soon after his election, supposedly came from Rome’s Pierleoni family of prominent Jewish converts to Christianity.

* Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) or Hildebrand, considered a great church reformer, was also possibly from the Pierleoni line.

* Pope Anacletus II (1130-1138), named Pietro Pierleoni, was unquestionably from that Jewish clan. Ah, but he was never actually a pope, according to the Catholic Church. In a hastily called election he won the support of a majority of cardinals while another faction that considered him corrupt met the same day to elect Innocent II (1130-1143), who migrated to France. Innocent is on the church’s official list of popes while Anacletus is branded a schismatic “antipope.”

* Pope Alexander III (1159-1181) might have been Jewish, according to unsubstantiated reports stirred by his amiable policy toward Jews.

* “Pope Andreas” was a figure of Jewish medieval folklore not found on the list of actual pontiffs. The story, first printed in Yiddish in 1602, claimed that Christians kidnapped him as a boy and he rose through the church ranks to the papacy while remaining a religious Jew at heart. Rabbi Wein says this tale “has had remarkable staying power in the Jewish world and is recounted in many books.” The legend most likely originated with an actual case of such repellent religious kidnapping in Germany.

And more recently:

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The latest Bible ruckus: Oh those camels!

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KENNETH ASKS:

With new research questioning the Bible’s report that domesticated camels existed as early as Genesis, the efforts to knock this down appear defensive rather than empirical. But Rebekah was certainly watering something. Thoughts?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

Some breathless online news headlines from recent weeks:

“Camel Bones Suggest Error in Bible” (Fox News)

“Camels Don’t Belong in Old Testament” (Forbes magazine)

“Camels Had No Business in Genesis” (The New York Times)

“The Mystery of the Bible’s Phantom Camels” (Time magazine)

“Will Camel Discovery Break the Bible’s Back?” (CNN).

“Archaeology Find: Camels in ‘Bible’ Are Literary Anachronisms” (National Public Radio).

Even weather.com joined the fray: “Error in Bible? Archaeologists Think So.”

It all started with an academic article (.pdf here) last October in the journal of the Institute of Archaeology at Israel’s Tel Aviv University. Archaeologists Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen applied radiocarbon and other dating methods to an ancient copper smelting site where camel bones were present, located in the Aravah Valley south of the Dead Sea. From this and the dearth of camel evidence elsewhere they concluded that camels were not used as beasts of burden in the region till “the last third of the 10th Century” B.C. (the era of the Bible’s King Solomon, famed for Temple-building and legendary mines).

Few paid attention till a February press release declared this research is “challenging the Bible’s historicity” and provides “direct proof” that biblical narratives about the patriarchs in the Book of Genesis were “compiled well after the events.” Like all ancient matters that’s open to debate, and caution is advisable since archaeological evidence is spotty by nature. A maxim in this field reminds us that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

As those headlines demonstrate, the latest Bible ruckus involves more than how many camels can dance on the head of a copper mine. That’s because Genesis says people owned camels as far back as 1700 to 2000 B.C., including the patriarchs Abraham (earliest reference is Genesis 12) and Jacob (Genesis 30-32). The most familiar mention (yes, Kenneth) comes in Genesis 24, where Rebekah kindly offers water to Abraham’s servant and his camels, whereupon he chooses her as Isaac’s wife.

If the Tel Aviv scenario proves valid across the Mideast then the Old Testament contains a mistake.

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Sharp reporting exposes anti-Israel PCUSA study

I once made a Presbyterian leader sputter.

Didn’t mean to. I just asked a question about the Middle East that he didn’t like. Things like that happen.

He was a Palestinian-American activist who was addressing the Religion Newswriters Association several years ago. His topic was the need to divest stocks of companies that did business with Israel until that bad ol’ country stops oppressing Palestinians.

During a Q&A period, I asked if companies should apply similar pressure on the Palestinian side. That’s when he sputtered: “Do you realize how poor Palestinians are? Were you born on the moon?” Etc., etc., etc.

I let him run his bolt before pointing out: “Many companies do business with nations that support Palestinian guerrillas. So there is a corollary.” He finally conceded that he opposed violence on all sides.

How diplomatic. But the exclusive focus of his speech was on Israel.

Why the trip down memory lane? It was occasioned by a new story on “Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Guide.” Issued by the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the study doesn’t appear to move much from the viewpoint of my friend years ago.

I’m heartened to see that my skepticism is shared by the likes of the new religion writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Peter Smith’s robust and many-sided article says the new guide “includes depictions of Zionism as a heresy at the root of the Middle East crisis.”

Smith reports also that a “major governing body” — which he identifies later as the Presbyterian Mission Agency — recommends dumping investments in three corporations that deal with Israel. As his story notes, this is the measure voted by the Presbyterian General Assembly a decade ago, then reversed at subsequent assemblies.

He says the two events have “combined to roil already-tense relations between Presbyterians and Jews,” giving local examples in the Pittsburgh area. And he quotes both sides:

The study guide, “Zionism Unsettled,” while not an official church declaration, represents the work of a group created by the denomination 10 years ago. The illustrated 72-page guide, produced by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), decries what it calls years of fruitless talk over a two-state solution, saying Israel has effectively been creating a single state with apartheid-style oppression of Palestinians. It decried Israel for “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians from hundreds of communities in 1948 and said the state resulted from a “toxic relationship between theology and politics.”

Gregg Roman, director of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said he realizes the study guide “isn’t something that is emanating from the grassroots.” But he called it “a crash course to advocate for an end of the Jewish state.”

He said it reads “as if there were no wars waged against Israel, no campaign of terror by groups including Hamas and Hezbollah and … ignores the reality that Israelis and the American Jewish community support a two-state solution.”

The reporter says the PCUSA leadership has “distanced itself from the publication, emphasizing the decentralized nature of the denomination” — an odd claim in a church body that has long stressed its connectional nature. Smith quotes the executive director of the Mission Agency that the report is a “statement to the church rather than on its behalf.”

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Camels and tigers and bears, oh my!

The silly season is early this year. With editors and most top-tier reporters away in August on vacation (along with the subjects of their stories — need to set the proper precedence of seniority at the start of this story) the late summer is the time when the second team knocks out stories that leave readers asking: “what were they thinking?”

True — there are exceptions to this venerable custom. What would Easter or Christmas be without stories proclaiming what “the science” tells us about such events. Perhaps the massive snowstorms in the Northeast have kept the A-team in bed for some publications? Otherwise I would be hard pressed to explain the thinking behind the editorial line taken in a spat of stories reporting on a paper published by two archaeologists at Tel Aviv University.

The gist of the report in publications like the Huffington Post, IBT and the Fashion Times (yes the Fashion Times) among a score of others is that “No camels = No God.”

The absence of camel remains at an archeological site in Israel dated to the time of Abraham demonstrates the Bible is false — or as the Fashion Times headline tells us “Historical ERROR in Bible’s Old Testament, REVEALED: Radiocarbon Dating of Camel Bones Shows Inconsistency.”

I like the screaming ALL CAPS used for error and revealed — one need read no further to see where that story is headed.

The New York Daily News was a little more cautious in its story “Israeli archeologists’ discovery suggests the Bible is wrong about camels.” It reported:

New archeological evidence is throwing cold water on the biblical image of Abraham, Jacob and Joseph riding camels through the desert. A team of Israeli archaeologists has studied the oldest-known camel bones from this ancient period and the results are in — camels reportedly started plodding around the eastern Mediterranean region centuries after the Bible tells us they did.

After analyzing the facts from radioactive-carbon dating, Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University claim the domesticated animal arrived on the biblical scene near the 10th century B.C. Scholars believe Abraham lived at least six centuries before that, Time reports.

Still, stories about the Jewish patriarchs contain more than 20 references to the domesticated camel, according to The New York Times. In Genesis 24, Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant traveled on his master’s camels.

I laughed out loud when I read this. Perhaps it was out of caution that its reporter might not have been able to verify the information the New York Daily News cites the New York Times for the flash news that there are camel references in Genesis.

Time does a much better job with this story. Reporter Elizabeth Dias lays out the facts and then proceeds to pour cold water on the hyperbole — taking as her target the New York Times’ account.

The New York Times, in a story about the finding today, announced, “There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place … these anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history.” Behold, a mystery: the Case of the Bible’s Phantom Camels.

The discovery is actually far from new. William Foxwell Albright, the leading American archeologist and biblical scholar who confirmed the authenticity of the Dead Sea Scrolls, argued in the mid-1900s that camels were an anachronism. Historian Richard Bulliet of Columbia University explored the topic in his 1975 book, The Camel and the Wheel, and concluded that “the occasional mention of camels in patriarchal narratives does not mean that the domestic camels were common in the Holy Land at that period.” Biblical History 101 teaches that the texts themselves were often written centuries after the events they depict.

Time also puts this story in context, noting Biblical scholars have long been aware of apparent anomalies. It quotes a number of liberal Biblical scholars to flesh out the conundrum of Biblical history v. a Biblical faith.

The Bible has also never been a history book or a scientific textbook, explains Choon-Leong Seow, professor of Old Testament language and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. Interpreting the Bible is a little like studying Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper, he says. Modern viewers do not consider the Christ figure in da Vinci’s painting an accurate portrait because we know it was painted centuries after the supper happened, but that does not take away from the artist’s spiritual message about Jesus’ last night with his disciples. “For us who believe that this is Scripture, Scripture is important as it has formative power, it forms the people, and it transforms,” Seow says. “It is poetic truth rather than literary truth.”

Understanding the Case of the Phantom Camel as a fight between archeological evidence and biblical narrative misses the entire spiritual point of the text, as far as scholars are concerned. Anachronisms and apocryphal elements do not mean the story is invalid, but instead give insight into the spiritual community in a given time and place. In this case, camels were a sign of wealth and developing trade routes, so it is likely that the biblical writer used the camel as a narrative device to point out power and status. “We needn’t understand these accounts as literally true, but they are very rich in meaning and interpretive power,” [Duke University's] Eric Meyers says.

I would have liked to have seen Time ask conservative Biblical scholars — say someone from the Dallas Theological Seminary — for their view on the camel controversy. It would have improved an otherwise great story.

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Got news? The one and only Caesar of Jewish humor

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Remember all of those nasty charges by anti-Semites through the years that The New York Times is controlled by Jews and that it’s pages have been dominated by Jewish concerns?

Yes, I know about the Sulzberger family.

But if the Times team views the world through some kind of Jewish prism, then explain the following passage from the newspaper’s lengthy obituary for the truly great American comedian Sid Caesar:

Albert Einstein was a Caesar fan. Alfred Hitchcock called Mr. Caesar the funniest performer since Charlie Chaplin.

Television comedy in its early days was dominated by boisterous veterans of vaudeville and radio who specialized in broad slapstick and snappy one-liners. Mr. Caesar introduced a different kind of humor to the small screen, at once more intimate and more absurd, based less on jokes or pratfalls than on characters and situations. It left an indelible mark on American comedy.

And that’s that?

What about the fiery post-Holocaust rage of Caesar and his brilliant writers Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Mel Tolkin, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbert and, later on, a young Woody Allen? Oh for some bull-session YouTubes out of that room!

So his work left an “indelible mark” on American humor?

What about his role in mainstreaming a sharp-edged Jewish sensibility right into the heart of the emerging, coast-to-cast mainstream television culture? Talk about a religion, or at least religious culture, ghost in a story!

The Times obit does include this one tiny nod to the obvious:

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Hollywood’s ‘Noah’ wars: Why not quote the Bible?

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Let’s face it. That Noah character in Genesis 9 is one pretty wired, complex fellow. I don’t know about you, but I can see the volatile actor Russell Crowe digging into some of this stuff:

The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.

Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded [a] to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

Cursed be Canaan!
the lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers
.”

In other words, whatever was going on with Noah in the events leading up to the flood and in the flood itself didn’t exactly turn him into a living ray of sunshine and light. This man had issues.

Some of that is soaked into the Hollywood drama covered in a new Hollywood Reporter piece that ran under this headline: “Rough Seas on ‘Noah’: Darren Aronofsky Opens Up on the Biblical Battle to Woo Christians (and Everyone Else).”

Now, on one level, this tale centers on one of the Holy Grails of modern Hollywood, which is the quest to latch onto the massive faith-based audience that lined up over and over for Mel Gibson’s blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ.” Hollywood big shots want that market share, but it’s clear that they are not sure how to woo said audience while continuing to do that edgy Hollywood thing that they want to do.

The Hollywood Reporter piece is all over that story. Here’s a sample:

The making of Noah, with Russell Crowe as the lead, turned into a head-on collision between an auteur filmmaker coming off a career-defining success in Black Swan ($330 million global, five Oscar nominations) and a studio working to protect a major investment that is intended to appeal to believers of every religion as well as those without any faith. Paramount Pictures, in partnership with New Regency Productions, is shouldering a budget on the March 28 release of more than $125 million, by far the costliest movie Aronofsky has made. (His previous high was $35 million for The Fountain, which foundered for Warner Bros. in 2006. Black Swan was independently financed and cost just $13 million.)

The trouble began when Paramount, nervous about how audiences would respond to Aronofsky’s fantastical world and his deeply conflicted Noah, insisted on conducting test screenings over the director’s vehement objections while the film was a work in progress.

Friction grew when a segment of the recruited Christian viewers, among whom the studio had hoped to find Noah’s most enthusiastic fans, questioned the film’s adherence to the Bible story and reacted negatively to the intensity and darkness of the lead character. Aronofsky’s Noah gets drunk, for example, and considers taking drastic measures to eradicate mankind from the planet.

The finances and Hollywood politics of all of this are quite Byzantine. Check out this material, care of Paramount Vice Chair Rob Moore:

Moore says Aronofsky’s Noah is not in the more literal vein of the blockbuster Bible series produced for the History channel by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. “They’ve been very effective in terms of communicating to and being embraced by a Christian audience,” says Moore. “This movie has a lot more creativity to it. And therefore, if you want to put it on the spectrum, it probably is more accurate to say this movie is inspired by the story of Noah.”

At the same time, he says the film reflects “the key themes of the Noah story in Genesis — of faith and hope and God’s promise to mankind.” The studio is aware that a vocal segment of Christian viewers might reject the film over accuracy. Still, Moore says, “Our anticipation is that the vast majority of the Christian community will embrace it.”

And so forth and so on. So here is what I — literally — don’t understand:

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Were there any ghosts in the Rosenberg diary? You think?

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First things first: Anyone who is interested in history, especially the history of the ideas behind Adolph Hitler, is going to amazed by the twists and turns that unfold in the new Los Angeles Times “Column One” feature about the search for the lost diary of Nazi intellectual Alfred Rosenberg. This is one amazing ride, with the son of a Holocaust survivor acting as a kind of quiet, peaceful, but highly motivated Indiana Jones on the quest to find the Great White Whale of Holocaust studies.

Here is how reporter Richard Simon begins this riveting tale, which has a Washington, D.C., dateline:

Henry Mayer had long heard of the lost Nazi diary.

Mayer helped maintain the vast collection of artifacts at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and knew the diary had been kept by Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi Party’s chief ideologue and a confidant of Adolf Hitler.

The diary was found in the final days of World War II, hidden behind a false wall in a Bavarian castle. Excerpts were introduced into evidence at the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

Then the 425-page diary disappeared. Half a century later, Mayer, the son of a Holocaust survivor, made it his mission to find it.

Simple and to the point. The problem is that the Mayer and other historians kept finding more and more Rosenberg papers — including materials that surprised them — yet the diary continued to elude them. It’s kind of like a ghost.

The key to the story is tied up in that simple phrase at the top of the story, that Rosenberg was the “Nazi Party’s chief ideologue.” Yes, that includes the fine-tuning of the hellish racial, scientific and religious formula that led to the Holocaust. As the story notes:

Mayer and others long hoped to secure the diary because of the prominent role Rosenberg played in the Nazi hierarchy.

“It was Rosenberg, the intellectual high priest of the ‘master race,’ who provided the doctrine of hatred which gave the impetus for the annihilation of Jewry,” Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg, said at the tribunal.

Rosenberg was hanged on Oct. 16, 1946, at age 53.

Yes, the story delivers on the details of the eventual recovery. In this case, there is no need to whisper “Spoilers,” to quote the famous scholar Dr. River Song. However, I believe that there is a major hole in the story at that point.

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Now who was that Joseph guy in the old story from Genesis?

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Former GetReligionista Brad Greenberg passed along this interesting item from Twitter, which barely requires commentary of any kind. However, since commentary is what we do here, let’s start off with a bit of biblical context for this amazing correction from The New York Times.

This famous story from the book of Genesis is offered here with no implied connection whatsoever to current economic conditions here in the United States of America or anywhere else. Honest. The great Gray Lady brought this up.

We will start with the voice of Joseph, in verse 33:

“… Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”

This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt.

Like I said, it’s a very famous story and just about anyone who has ever spent any time in a synagogue or church would know it. You could even have been exposed to this familiar story in a theater or via DVD, care of Steven Spielberg and Co. at Dreamworks.

Alas, these simple qualifications appear to be rare these days on the copy desk of the Times. Thus, a passing reference to the biblical Joseph led to one the most amazing corrections of all time.

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