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Jeremiah in Ireland, CRT, and ‘Who Wrote the Bible?’

Jeremiah in Ireland, CRT, and ‘Who Wrote the Bible?’ November 13, 2021

Matt Baker makes “Useful Charts.” That’s the name of Baker’s YouTube channel, where the educational graphic designer posts a wide array of videos covering history, timelines, genealogies, and family trees for linguistics, royal dynasties, and the relationships of species.

I stumbled across Baker’s winsome work thanks to his video addressing the nonsense of “British Israelism.” This is a deeply personal subject for Baker, as you can see from the title of the video: “The Cult I Grew Up In: British Israelism Debunked.” The cult referred to there is Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God — a weird mix of Adventist End Times folklore, faux-primitivism, and white Christian nationalism.

Mark Baker makes Useful Charts.

Armstrong died in 1986 and his church has since rebranded, officially shedding many of its distinctive heterodoxies and sliding into the melting pot of more mainstream American white evangelicalism. But Armstrong’s more out-there ideas are still out there, still circulating within the wider world of American evangelicalism. And some of them are enjoying newfound popularity among the 81-percent MAGA faithful who are finding that old-school Armstrongism reliably supports new-school Trumpism.

That’s what led me to Baker and his Useful Charts. I was on Twitter, dunking on Christian nationalist MAGA-preacher and self-proclaimed “Trump revivalist” Shane Vaughn. Vaughn is like David Barton on meth. He takes the lies and legends of Bartonism and cranks them up to 11, mixing in the most outrageous claims he can find from Breitbart and OANN and the farthest fringes of the internet. Thus, for example, Vaughn’s weird claim that “All 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Were Descendants of the Tribes of Israel.”

As I said on Twitter, I can’t claim to be an expert on the genealogy of all of the signers of the Declaration, but I am an expert on my own family tree. And as such, I can assure you that Abraham Clark of New Jersey was not a descendant of “the tribes of Israel.” My befuddlement over Vaughn’s weird claims led others to point me to Baker’s video as an explanation for the source of this feverish obsession with “tribes of Israel” mythologies and as an explanation for what Vaughn imagines this absurd claim would mean.

Did you already guess that this “British Israelism” stuff is racist? Because it is. It’s really, really racist. (And also really, really antisemitic.) That’s why Baker’s patient explanation and debunking of the delirious nonsense of “British Israelism” probably falls under the umbrella of “anti-racism,” and thus of what the current white nationalist moral panic refers to as “CRT.” Fox-addled school boards across the country are racing to ban the teaching of anything they regard as “critical race theory” and that would surely include pointing out that the prophet Jeremiah did not, in fact, ever travel to Ireland with a Judean princess named Tea Tephi. If British Israelism isn’t true, then WASPs are not God’s extra-special chosen people fulfilling their divinely ordained manifest destiny of ethnic and cultural hegemony. And, by definition — according to Tucker Carlson and the Republican congressional caucus — anything that denies this special status for WASP culture is “CRT.”

Let me also recommend Baker’s excellent seven-part video series on “Who Wrote the Bible?” It’s an excellent demonstration and application of Baker’s role as an educational graphic designer. He is not — and does not claim to be — an expert in the subjects his charts and videos illustrate. What he does, rather, is collect and synthesize what those subject-matter experts have to say and present that information in clear, memorable, visually disinctive ways.

That’s an important job, and a tricky one. You wouldn’t want to learn world history from a graphic designer, but you also wouldn’t want a “Timeline of World History” on your classroom wall if its graphic design had been left to historians. What you want, rather, is the work of someone like Baker who can communicate the basics of what those expert historians agree on in clear, attractive, illuminating visual form. Part of that skill-set involves understanding when to present this information as the consensus of the experts and when — and how — to communicate when those experts disagree.

That last bit is especially important for a topic like “Who Wrote the Bible?” Baker does a good job of presenting the scholarly consensus while acknowledging the ways in which that consensus is not acknowledged or accepted on a popular level. The information he distills and presents is not in any way controversial, but he understands that it will often be understood as threatening or hostile for some viewers. (He’s on YouTube and he reads the comment section, so he very much appreciates that.)

This relates directly to the whitelash moral panic supposedly involving “Critical Race Theory,” to the projection of worries about “cancel culture,” and to the shameless grifting of the lucratively un-cancelled “victims” of “cancel culture” via Substack and Substack “University” at Austin.

We’ll get to all of that later, but for now let me just recommend Mark Baker’s charming little online survey of Bib Studies 101. The rapid-fire summary of scholarship Baker presents here isn’t controversial or cutting-edge or radical or liberal or anti-orthodox. It’s just a remarkably concise and gentle presentation of the unremarkable knowledge taught in biblical studies programs even at the most staunchly evangelical seminaries.

 

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