Hebrew Fail in ‘Left Behind II’

Hebrew Fail in ‘Left Behind II’ March 3, 2012

Here’s a screen-grab from Left Behind II: Tribulation Force that needs to be highlighted on its own:

What we have here is a failure to translate. Or even to transliterate.

As Jeff W. and Makabit noted in comments to the previous Left Behind post, the filmmakers didn’t translate the English into Hebrew for this sign, they roughly tried to reproduce the English in the Hebrew alphabet. Backwards.

I have to think this is related to the movie’s portrayal of Tsion Ben-Judah and its generally weird and offensive conception of Judaism overall.

In the previous post, I described the filmmakers’ notion of Judaism as “Pelagian” — based on a misreading of Saul that, in turn, produces a misreading of Paul. There I’m following prolific theologian N.T. Wright in What Saint Paul Really Said.

Here’s Wright:

The picture I have drawn is a very different picture of the pre-Christian Saul that I grew up with. I was taught, and assumed for many years, that Saul of Tarsus believed what many of my contemporaries believed: that the point of life was to go to heaven when you die, and that the way to go to heaven after death was to adhere strictly to an overarching moral code. Saul, I used to believe, was a proto-Pelagian, who thought he could pull himself up by his moral bootstraps. What mattered for him was understanding, believing and operating a system of salvation that could be described as “moralism” or “legalism”: a timeless system into which one plugged onself in order to receive the promised benefits, especially “salvation” and “eternal life,” understood as the post-mortem bliss of heaven.

I now believe that this is both radically anachronistic (the view was not invented in Saul’s day) and culturally out of line (it is not the Jewish way of thinking). To this extent, I am convinced, Ed Sanders is right: we have misjudged early Judaism, especially Pharisaism, if we have thought of it as an early version of Pelagianism.

That may seem a bit esoteric or academic, until you realize that, in his characteristically polite and affable way, Wright is pointing out that Sanders and other recent scholars of first-century Judaism have done to Luther and Calvin what Copernicus did to Ptolemy. Mistakes were made.

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