'Love Wins,' ca. 1321

This is from Alice K. Turner’s fascinating The History of Hell, from Turner’s chapter on mystery plays.

Biblical parables like the stories of Dives and Lazarus or the wise and foolish virgins were not commonly staged, partly because they were not “history,” and partly because of an intrinsic dramatic pitfall illustrated by the story of Frederick the Undaunted, margrave of Thuringia. In 1321, he attended a performance of a wise and foolish virgins play put on by a boys’ school in Eisnadi and was so distressed by the verdict handed out to the fresh-faced lads who played the foolish virgins that he turned his back on the stage. “What is the Christian faith if the sinner is not to receive mercy upon the intercession of the Virgin and the saints?” he exclaimed in revulsion.

Frederick’s story is instructive on several counts. It illustrates the power of dramatic presentation in an illiterate society. It also demonstrates why other Hell scenes inevitably regressed toward farce. To show a group of pretty “girls” damned for carelessness was discomfiting. … To watch a gang of comical imps pretend to torture a hapless dummy fit in far better with the festival mood.

  • Anonymous

    The parable of the ten virgins is discomfiting even to modern readers, for just that reason. No mercy is offered for what many would consider a minor offense, and it is very easy to see oneself as a foolish virgin, unlike the wicked husbandmen or Dives and Lazarus or similar parables which set up a clear good/evil distinction. The same language is used – “I do not know you” – as in other descriptions of eternal judgment.

    For the universalists out there – what do you make of this passage? It seems a big hurdle to jump.

  • Michael Cule

    You know, having read the damn parable I’ve got to say to Jesus: Huh?

    What’s the oil supposed to be in this metaphor? Divine Grace or what? Because if it is supposed to be Divine Grace then the wise virgins don’t come out of it looking good. “Nah, go get your  own! This is ours!” 

    Or what? Because I’ve got most of the parables (even those I don’t like) but this is one of the ones where I say: This could be a lot clearer. Perhaps you should have run it by an editor or script doctor first….

  • http://www.facebook.com/EarBucket David Coulter

    Interesting! I’m in the process of writing a mystery cycle play, and I put the story of the rich man and Lazarus right there in the beginning of the story, in Jesus’s first sermon in the Nazareth synagogue.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    I think the oil is a metaphor for grace yes, because taken as such the sin of the maidens is not carelessness but presumption and that (at least in the Catholic Church) is a far more serious matter.

     

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IFJE2Q4GOKMGLTCAM35Z25KW3Y Bill S

    I can’t remember having considered this parable before.  I’m a non-believer, but was confirmed in the Episcopal church and still attend from time to time with my Christian wife. 

    But when I looked it up just now, I can’t say it’s especially “discomfiting” for me.  Jesus is not saying the five unprepared virgins are being excluded from heaven.  They’re being excluded from a wedding feast in a way that runs parallel to those who are unprepared being excluded when judgment day comes.  Hence, a parable.  Terrible things aren’t happening to the five excluded … though presumably terrible things would happen to them if they are not prepared when judgment day comes.

    What I find discomfiting, but not all that surprising, are the passages where Jesus describes the end times and tells the assembled that “some of them” will live to see these events happen.

    Clearly those events did not happen during the lifetimes of anyone assembled.  Hence, Jesus is telling us something that is false.

    How come none of the discussion I hear about all the specifics of the faith includes that type of stuff?

  • http://www.facebook.com/EarBucket David Coulter

    Most Christians don’t like to entertain the idea that Jesus could have been wrong about something. Even when it’s pretty clear that he was.

  • Anonymous

    Or, maybe he was talking about something else.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    I’ll have to check, but didn’t a lot of those end times prophecies actually refer to the fall of Jerusalem? Just like Revelations is mostly about the Roman Empire?

  • http://www.facebook.com/deankchang Dean Chang

    There are lots of folks who read the Revelation of John to be primarily about the
    fall of Jerusalem, which would make it prophetic if written prior to 70
    A.D., but still makes much more sense even if written afterwards in my
    opinion.  It certainly makes many of the saying of Jesus much more remarkable than interpreting him to mean something that was to take place thousands of years in the future.

    “Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken
    of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the
    reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the
    mountains. Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things
    out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back
    to get his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are
    nursing babies in those days! But pray that your flight will not be in
    the winter, or on a Sabbath. For then there will be a great tribulation,
    such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now,
    nor ever will.” – Matthew 24:15-21

    I grew up as an Evangelical, but I had never even heard about preterism or partial preterism until literally a year ago.  I think Jesus was in fact prescient when he spoke these words, it baffles me why one of the bedrock precepts of American Evangelicalism is a futurist eschatology combined with the Rapture, the former makes Jesus out to be liar (or at least very ill-timed with respect to his warnings) and the latter is simply unbiblical in my opinion. 

  • Scott P.

    “Clearly those events did not happen during the lifetimes of anyone
    assembled.  Hence, Jesus is telling us something that is false.”

    In the Middle Ages, the legend arose that St. John the Evangelist, when he reached the end of his life, did not in fact die, but was put in a state of suspended animation a la King Arthur, to be awoken on Judgement Day. Thus at least one person who was present is still alive, and the prophecy is met.

  • Anonymous

    The standard interpretation of the “some of them” passage (Matt. 19) is that Jesus was referring either to AD 70 or to his own resurrection.

  • http://twitter.com/Rhysdux Rhysdux

    Clearly those events did not happen during the lifetimes of anyone assembled.  Hence, Jesus is telling us something that is false.

    When I was growing up–say, around 12 or 13–I was taught that any follower of Jesus of any denomination was, effectively, a disciple of Jesus. Ergo, Judgment Day could arrive during the lifetime of any of Jesus’s followers. However, I was also taught that for Judgment Day to occur, there would have to be only one follower of Jesus left on the entire planet. That way, everything would happen during the lifetime of the last disciple and Jesus’s prediction would be fulfilled.

    I pondered over this for a while and then decided that conversion was the method that churches used to forestall Judgment Day. As long as there were more followers coming in than going out, there would be more than one disciple of Jesus left alive at any one time…which would mean that the world would, de facto, continue. It was, I thought, a kind of global insurance policy, less concerned with saving souls than with preserving the world.

  • chris the cynic

    What I find discomfiting, but not all that surprising, are the passages where Jesus describes the end times and tells the assembled that “some of them” will live to see these events happen.

    Clearly those events did not happen during the lifetimes of anyone assembled.  Hence, Jesus is telling us something that is false.

    How come none of the discussion I hear about all the specifics of the faith includes that type of stuff?

    Trees?

    I usually would say, “Redwoods?” but I’m pretty sure there are members of that generation still alive much closer to where Jesus said that than the redwoods are.

    -

    Don’t mention this silliness to anyone who would start a deforestation campaign to hasten the second coming.


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