“Young Messiah”, Dramatic License, & Biblical Theology

“Young Messiah”, Dramatic License, & Biblical Theology March 18, 2016


The Death of Korah, Dathan and Abiram (1865), by Gustave Doré (1832-1883) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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See my lengthy treatment of the theology of this film, and my follow-up.

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This exchange occurred in the combox of my first post (above). The words of John (Catholic) will be in blue.

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It’s just a movie! Chill out!

It’s just a theologically certain truth about our Lord Jesus Christ that is denied here. Get serious!

So did you really believe that the earth opened up an swallowed all the people and the molten calf into a pit of bottomless fire when Moses threw the ten commandments at them in disgust? Is that in the bible? It’s not about ‘exactness’. It’s not suppose to be. Books and movies engage the imagination. Anything is possible…with God. We don’t know about the childhood of Jesus. A little conjecture is harmless…unless one takes the movie too serious…

Yes I do, and that is in the Bible. I’m a Catholic, and so I believe in, and am bound to what the Church teaches about Jesus.

You’re either not a Catholic, or you are and don’t care about the Church’s Christology. I can’t make you care about that, but I can at least show you and anyone who reads my paper what the Church teaches about it.

Really??? What bible do you use??? What verse says that the earth opened up and swallowed the people into the flames when Moses threw the tablets at them??? For the record…I am very much Catholic…just not an ‘extremist’…

Alrightey. With the golden calf, the Levites judged and killed 3,000 men (Ex 32:15-28).

I had that confused with another instance: the rebellion of Korah:

Numbers 16:32 (RSV) and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men that belonged to Korah and all their goods. (cf. 26:10)

So Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments conflated the two incidents (taking dramatic license: not objectionable, I think, in this instance). Both took place at roughly the same time: during the Jews’ 40 years wandering in the wilderness.

But DeMille’s “dramatic compression” of two distinct but related biblical stories was not that far off, because the rebellious Biblical figure Dathan was portrayed in some depth in the film, by Edward G. Robinson. Dathan indeed was swallowed up by the earth, as the film showed. It was just in a context other than the golden calf:

Numbers 16:27-34 So they got away from about the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abi’ram; and Dathan and Abi’ram came out and stood at the door of their tents, together with their wives, their sons, and their little ones.
[28] And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.
[29] If these men die the common death of all men, or if they are visited by the fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me.
[30] But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth, and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD.”
[31] And as he finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split asunder;
[32] and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men that belonged to Korah and all their goods.
[33] So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.
[34] And all Israel that were round about them fled at their cry; for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!”

Deuteronomy 11:6 and what he did to Dathan and Abi’ram the sons of Eli’ab, son of Reuben; how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households, their tents, and every living thing that followed them, in the midst of all Israel;

Psalm 106:17 the earth opened and swallowed up Dathan, and covered the company of Abi’ram.

Of course, such a conflation is quite different from making up myths out of whole cloth, that Jesus, God the Son, God incarnate, fully God and fully man, was an ignoramus about Who He was (even as a child). That ain’t in the Bible, and is directly contrary to a “theologically certain” Catholic teaching.

Meanwhile, oddly enough, John the Baptist in the womb, somehow knew Who Jesus was (Lk 1:39-44). So we are to believe that preborn John (a mere man) knew more about Who Jesus was, than Jesus, God the Son, did Himself, at age seven? I don’t think so.

I showed that the contrary is indeed Catholic teaching. So if you are an observant Catholic, your burden is to demonstrate how my documentation is somehow faulty, or else admit that you don’t care what the Church teaches on this. If the later, it seems that you are the “extremist”, not I. I made a simple human mistake of memory. But there was indeed an event in which the earth swallowed up rebels against God.

Liberals can simply “spiritualize” that away and say it was symbolism (one of their favorite games), But that just shows that they are not serious in their Bible interpretation. They pick and choose whatever they want to believe.

I don’t know if you are a liberal or not. It depends how you view the Bible and Catholic dogmas and doctrines and teachings, and Church authority.

I think that if you were to remove your ‘apologist’ eyeglasses, and put on your ‘inner child’ eyeglasses, and then go see the movie again…you might notice something that the mighty intellect tends to keep hidden – Something that Jesus ‘attempted’ to tell us with His statement “unless you become as children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”. Or…you can wait…and do what He said later?

I repeat: “It’s just a movie”!!! Movies are for entertainment. The movie did not tear down Jesus as you suggest. It magnified His humanity…which many people NEED to see. At the same time, it showed His powers, and the contempt that people had toward Him.

If you do decide to take my suggestion and go see it again, I would highly suggest that you pray for the grace to ‘chill’ as you go in. Don’t bother even going to see it again if you’re going to analyze it again…because the results will be the same. Rather, ask the Holy Spirit to ‘enlighten’ you and help you see what HE wants you to see, rather than what YOU try to see on your own? God bless!

Obviously, you care not one whit about Catholic theology in this regard, which is very sad. But there are millions of Catholics like you, which highlights the need for people like me, to help them harmonize the mind and theology with a pious faith and trusting childlike discipleship.

Jesus said that “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). He didn’t separate the mind. Being childlike doesn’t mean having an irrational, solely subjective, gullible faith. Hence, St. Paul wrote:

Ephesians 4:13-14 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.

I must care about my Catholic Theology…or else I would have never noticed the ‘incorrect’ scene in the Ten Commandments, no? I know the difference between what is real and what is not real. You thought it was in the bible. I never take movies seriously. Why would I? The whole point of a movie is to entertain…for a PROFIT!!! That’s your basic Catholic Theology 101 right there. As soon as you ‘pay’ to see something…beware…you’re being entertained. I’d rather have that simplistic understanding than all the apologetic views on the planet. When watching a movie…or reading a book…it’s ALWAYS important to know who wrote it…and why. I do my homework…

My own (rather strong) opinion is that when a movie purports to treat Christian, biblical history, that it has a responsibility to get the facts right and the doctrine correct.

Otherwise, why bother at all with theological advisers? Obviously their input has to do with what should and shouldn’t be presented, in terms of what Catholics (or Christians) believe. If this doesn’t matter why have these advisers? This movie had them. I just think some of them were mistaken.

There are plenty of biblical movies that are perfectly orthodox, and that I like and have no problem with. I even liked Noah and that took plenty of liberties, but contained no heresy or theological falsehood that I am aware of.

As I said in my paper, my concern is that many millions will 1) assume that the material is indeed in the Bible, when it isn’t, and 2) will believe that Jesus didn’t know Who He was at some point in His life, which contradicts a “theologically certain” teaching of the faith.

Films can go a long ways by way of historical fiction (in the very best sense). Hence, Risen takes the theme of a secular Roman perspective of the purported Resurrection. There is nothing wrong with that (unless, e.g., it portrayed a stolen body or “Passover Plot” or some other ridiculous alternate theory). One can go beyond the biblical text, while not contradicting it, or any Christian doctrine. Risen is a superb example of that.

I think Catholic art or Christian art must seek to be consistent with those worldviews. Many great biblical movies like Jesus of Nazareth (by a major director, yet), and The Passion were orthodox (excepting a denial of Mary’s virginity in partuduring birth — in the former), and both of these were great art and extremely moving. We don’t have to choose between one or the other. I say do great art and keep it within orthodoxy.

The problem with the current film is that it involves a very subtle Christological doctrine, where there is obviously some confusion afoot. The confusion originated in the early heresies and theological liberalism / modernism after 1800.

People should know the difference between a film and the faith, but millions do not, and that is the problem. As an apologist, my job is to defend the faith and correct erroneous theology, and I have done so.

I don’t treat cinematic films as “catechesis”, but on the other hand, it is naive to suppose that many millions won’t take in what they see in this film and regard it henceforth as “true fact.” That’s just how reality is. I’m as idealist as anyone, but we have to live in the actual reality of things, too.

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I guess you wouldn’t think too much of a theological teaching like this one about Jesus, seeing that you wrote six months ago:

It’s really quite amazing how the institution of the RCC truly reflects the population of a mental institution, under the ‘control’ of medication and rules. It’s like walking among the dead…or zombies. They ‘look’ alive…but are they? Or are they ‘desperately’ needing a little ‘spark’ from the Holy Spirit…

I thought I’d heard everything about the Church . . . One Flew Over the Catholic Cuckoo’s Nest?

As one who used to attend charismatic churches, who believes in the continuance of all the gifts and in healing, who has been healed (and whose wife has been healed), who has been “slain in the Spirit” many times, and who experienced a very profound “renewal” in the Holy Spirit in 1980, that changed my life forever and led me to my apologetics apostolate, your complaints about Catholics [i.e., being “walking dead” or “zombies”] hardly apply to me.

I’m very uncomfortable around people who claim to be ‘healed’ or ‘sane’. And yet…at the same time…it always makes me grateful to see myself for who I am. I’m so thankful and grateful for the sacraments, that treat my ongoing ‘human’ condition. I’m happy for you and your wife that both of you are healed and have no further need for any kind of ‘followup’ treatment. It certainly sheds a lot of light on your movie review and subsequent comments though! Thank you very much!

I’m afraid I do lay claim to being “sane.” Sorry for that shortcoming. I pray that you’ll be able (by God’s grace) to overcome your confessed insanity in due course.

You appear to be using “healing” here in a purely spiritual sense (healing from sin or propensity to sin). We have no disagreement there; nor about the role of the sacraments. I used it in the sense of “supernatural cure of serious clinical depression and of severe pain from lifelong scoliosis.” I haven’t had need of a follow-up treatment for depression. I have never had serious / despairing / hopeless depression since my six-month experience of it in 1977. Nor has my wife ever since had the extreme pain she had prior to her healing in the early 1980s.

That’s kind of sad really. I don’t mind being thought to be insane. Jesus was thought to be insane as well. I don’t think He minded either. He knew full well that there would be some who accepted Him and others who would not because of His ‘contradictory’ nature. It didn’t seem to deter Him whether He was thought to be insane or not. He didn’t but into the label thing. He was most comfortable hanging out with the rejects of society. The ones that society labeled. Why would I want to ‘overcome’ my confessed insanity? Would that bring me closer to Jesus?

Yes, a sane person is closer to Jesus than an insane one, because Jesus was falsely accused of being insane.

Have a great day. We’ve strayed far from the Bible, which is what you obviously wanted to argue about at first (taunting me as a possible “extremist”), till I showed that the incident you mocked actually was in the Bible (though not in conjunction with the golden calf).

Since you no longer want to discuss the Bible, and never began talking about Catholic theology and doctrine, we’re through.


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