Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Did Jesus Have a Cat (4)

It took courage to write this book, and it will take courage to read it. Because its theories and proofs do not fit into the mosaic of traditional archaeology, constructed so laboriously and firmly cemented down, scholars will call it nonsense and put it on the Index of those books which are better left unmentioned. Laymen will withdraw into the snail shell of their familiar world when faced with the probability that finding out about our past will be even more mysterious and adventurous than finding out about the future.
                     Chariots of the Gods

Jacobovici believes (of course) that St Paul substantially falsified Christianity in the first century; that it is possible, two thousand years down the line, to recover the truth about Jesus; but that there is a huge blob of "Paulist Christians" trying to stop us.

Paul came from Tarsus. Tarsus is in Turkey. Tarsus was one of the centers of the worship of the Graeco-Roman god Attis. Attis (like Mondamin and John Barleycorn) died in the winter and came back to life in the spring. So the Jesus-story was made up out of the whole cloth by St Paul and festooned arbitrarily onto Jesus. The idea of Jesus dying and rising again is Paul trying to historicize the Attis story. Attis was a celibate cult; to the extent that some priests castrated themselves; which is why Paul insisted on celibacy for Christians. (*) Once Paul had convinced everybody that Jesus, like Attis, was celibate, Mrs Mary Christ had to systematically removed from accounts of Jesus' life, although she remained in anti-Paulist, Gnostic versions. 

Jacobovici is inclined to use “Pauline Christianity” and “orthodoxy” rather interchangeably. But if St Paul invented the idea that Jesus was a dying and rising divine saviour, then every version of the Jesus-story of which we are aware was written by a "Pauline" Christian. There is no point in saying that Pauline Christianity triumphed at the Council of Nicea; or that the Paulists suppressed the Gnostics. Arius, who believed that Jesus was of a similar substance to God was just as much a Paulist as Athanasius who insisted that he was of the same substance. The Gnostics, who thought that Jesus was so totally the Son of God that he didn't have a human body at all were just as much Paulists as John, who thinks that Jesus was the Word of God in human flesh.

Jacobovici treats Pauline Christianity as a lobby which controls academic departments, determines what can and can’t be said, and which frequently argues in bad faith. He points to two recent discoveries which support his theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene. The so-called Gospel of Jesus' Wife is a fragment of papyrus which seems to include the phrase "Jesus said 'my wife'". The so-called Jesus Family Tomb once contained the remains of someone called "Jesus, son of Joseph", who had a son called Judas; and was buried near an unidentified person called Mary. Scholars have indeed been pretty skeptical about both these "discoveries". They were skeptical about the Jesus' Wife papyrus because the text seemed altogether too close to another ancient fragment, arousing suspicion that one had been copied from the other  by a modern forger. It was also a little too good to be true that a fragment contain the words "Jesus" and "Wife" should come to light exactly when everybody was talking about the Da Vinci Code. They were skeptical about the tomb because “Jesus”, “Joseph” and “Mary” were very common first century names: by one count, there could have been a thousand men called "Jesus, Son of Joseph" in first century Jerusalem. (Jacobivici mocks this idea: saying that the tomb belongs to a different Jesus is like something out of life Brian.) They are also skeptical because the person in the tomb had a son called "Judas", and we have no reason to think that the Jesus of the Bible did.  (The probability that a tomb of "Jesus son of Jospeh connected in some way with Mary" belonged to the famous Jesus is explored very clearly here.) There are also questions about what the inscription actually says. Some people think that the iconography on the tomb shows it was at least a Christian burial. Others, not so much. That's what you'd expect that with a very old artifact.

But Jacobivici insists that anyone who doesn't accept that these discoveries prove that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene (whose name doesn't appear on the tomb or in the manuscript) are arguing in bad faith; on purely theological grounds. He uses very dramatic language to describe this:

“The rules of the game are that any archaeology that contradicts orthodox Christian theology is either too late, too early, not what it looks like or an outright forgery. Nothing, I repeat, nothing in archaeology can ever contradict what Pauline Christianity says is the gospel truth.”

“And every time something important is discovered, an unholy alliance of Pauline Christians and frustrated archaeologists forms in an attempt to debunk the find. According to these people, by definition, absolutely no archaeology that may be Jesus-related can possibly be authentic. “ 

“After all, if you believe that Jesus is God, God doesn’t have a coffin, certainly not a wife and not a child that could’ve resulted from their sexual union.”

“Immediately, the sleeper agents of Pauline Christian Orthodoxy, masquerading as objective scholars, ran to the media and began blogging that King, Bagnall, Lujendijk and Shisha-Halevy had fallen for a modern forgery.”

This is the language of conspiracy theory. The way an academic argument proceeds is for one person to present a hypothesis, and for everyone else to do their damnedest to refute it. If the hypothesis stands up to criticism, it's probably true. If the response to every counter-argument is "aha, but that's what they want you to think" then no argument can proceed. It's like accusing me of killing Lord Melchett's favorite pigeon, and deciding in advance that all the defense witnesses are liars and scoundrels because no-one but a liar and a scoundrel would speak in defense of a pigeon-murderer.

Anyway, it's quite false to say that everyone who is skeptical about the manuscript and the tomb are conservative Christians who regard everything in the Gospels as the literal truth. I'm a big fan of Mark Goodacre's podcasts. Goodacre has been an outspoken opponent of the "Jesus family tomb" theory, but he is equally skeptical about the historical truth of huge chunks of the Gospels.

The really strong evidence that the Biblical Mary was Jesus' lover is said to be the fact that she went to Jesus' tomb to anoint his body. Which is just as well: because that's all she does in the Bible. She witnesses the crucifixion; she goes to the Tomb; she runs and tells the disciples that Jesus' body has vanished, and then she disappears.

Over the years, Christians who have wanted to know more about this mystery-woman have conflated her with the woman taken in adultery; or with one of the women who washed Jesus feet with ointment and tears; or with Mary the sister of Lazarus.... And you can make up quite a nice story out of this composite figure. I really like the scene in The Passion of Christ when Mary watches Jesus being crucified and remembers that he saved her from being stoned to death. But there is not one word in the text to back the idea up.

The point of Mary's story is that when she goes to Jesus' tomb, Jesus is not in it. Put another way, the only story which Mary features in is the story of the Resurrection. And the whole crux of the married-Jesus theory is that the story of the Resurrection is Paul's invention: Jesus is a dead guy who preached some good stuff about the kingdom of God, on whom Paul imposed a story about a corn god who ripped off his own balls. 

John's version of the Resurrection story gives even an evil Paulist like me pause for thought. It’s a moving, intimate scene: one of the few times in the Bible where we see Jesus talking one-to-one with a disciple, rather than preaching to a crowd. Why is Jesus sharing this precious moment with a disciple who was only introduced on the previous page? Why not with Peter? Why not with the Beloved Disciple, in whose name the book is written? Why not with his Mother? Could there be something to the theory that Mary is Jesus special friend? (**) 

But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping : and as she wept, she stooped down , and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting , the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain . 

And they say unto her, “Woman, why weepest thou ?”

She saith unto them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” 

And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, “Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?” 

She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” 

Jesus saith unto her, “Mary.” 

She turned herself, and saith unto him, “Rabboni;” which is to say, “Master”. 

Jesus saith unto her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” 

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

But if Paul invented the Resurrection then one thing of which we can be absolutely certain is that nothing like this ever happened. If this scene is fictional; then Mary is fictional as well. If we delete this scene from the Gospel, then we delete Mary Magdalene.

The Magdalene is a perplexing figure just because she appears only at this one crucial point in the story. If you accept the "Paul Made Everything Up" theory, then she vanishes altogether.


Jacobovici becomes incandescent at the suggestion that the Jesus wife fragment, if genuine, tells us that an ancient Christian sect believed that Jesus was married, but doesn't necessarily tell us anything about the historical Jesus. No, says Jacobovici:

Well, logically speaking, there are only two possibilities – either Jesus was married or he was not. Since in the 2nd century we have both traditions, one is reflecting theology and the other is preserving real history....One of those positions must be preserving history while the other is defending theology.

I have to say that I don't follow this at all. Why can't both positions be theological? Am I entitled to say "There was a tradition that two women discovered the empty tomb of Jesus, and that they ran away and didn't tell anybody; and there was also a tradition that Mary discovered the empty tomb and ran and told the disciples: one or other must be the historical truth." Can't you reply "Or perhaps they are both stories?"

And this is why all these attempts to "uncover" secret "truth" behind old documents seem to me to be so futile. They don't treat the gospels (canonical or "lost") as texts with a meaning. They see them as collections of clues, with a solution. The writers of the Christian Gospels wanted to tell us something -- something that they thought was urgent and important. And they told us in the form of a story. Of four stories. The trouble with Bible Code theories is that they direct our attention away from those stories towards some different story that they have just made up; which they privilege by calling "historical". The "lost Gospel" doesn't offer us a version of the Biblical Jesus who happened to have a wife. It's a substantially different story, in which Mary, a pagan priestess, was the star of the show; in which Jesus and Mary were married by the Emperor and in which the wine of the last supper was Mary's menstrual blood! Their methodology doesn't only prevent us from seeing what St Mark wrote; it prevents us reading the Apocrypha as well.


I mentioned a few weeks ago on Twitter that my next essay would either be about Mary Magdalene or about 1970s Star Wars comic books. "Why not write about both at once" said some wag. I suspect that that is precisely what I have been doing. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Did Jesus Have a Cat (3)

He uses facts as a drunken man uses a lamp-post: not for illumination, but for support.

Aha, but the choice of Mary Magdalene to be Mrs Jesus is very far from arbitrary. It has always been perfectly obvious that she was, but they have been hushing it up. We will come back to who “they” are in a moment.

When you are creating a grand theory which will turn everything everyone knows about everything on its head, it is very easy to make grand, sensational claims. When you are refuting such a theory, you often have to resort to a lot of awkward details and qualifications – well, up to a point; that doesn't mean quite what you say it means; you need to look at the context. And that tends to make the skeptic seem shifty, hair splitty, evasive, boring. “Jesus was married!” lingers in the mind much longer than “Fragment of ancient document may possibly show that some early Christians believed Jesus was married.”

In an essay on his blog, which appears to form the basis for the Daily Mail article, Jacobovici cites three main reasons to think that Jesus and Mary were married (outside of his “decoding” of the British library fanfic). They seem to be very good examples of the way in which these kinds of arguments are conducted. I'm afraid my response is going to seem very shifty, hair-splitty, evasive and boring indeed.

If you don't have the attention-span to read to the end, then please take away this one suggestion. When someone -- Giles Fraser, Simcha Jacobovici, Richard Dawkins or Billy Graham -- talks in general about what "The Bible" or "The Gospels" say, go back to the text and see what the four, or, indeed, five Gospels actually say. It will almost certainly turn out to be more interesting and more complicated.

1: The Cathars said that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.

Or, at any rate, the Inquisition sad that the Cathars said that Jesus and Mary were married.

The Cathars (and 11th century sect) definitely believed that sex, even faithful sex within Christian marriage, was a Bad Thing because it caused another spirit to get trapped in a human body. They thought that the physical universe was completely evil: not merely fallen, but actually invented by Satan. The elite "perfect" Cathars had to be completely celibate. The Cathars were also docetists: they believed (logically) that Jesus only seemed to be human, but was actually a kind of holy hologram. Which makes the suggestion that they thought that Jesus and Mary were having sex pretty odd.

But still, the Inquisition said that they said that Jesus and Mary were married. And if you can't trust the Inquisition, who can you trust?

2: The Gnostics said that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.

Besides the canonical Gospels, there are the so-called “Gnostic” Gospels. The Gnostics – or “wisdom seekers” – were an early branch of Christianity, whose origins we don’t know. What we do know is that they represent the losers in the Christian orthodoxy game. Pauline Christians won, the Gnostics lost. But the Gnostic Gospels have as much claim to legitimacy as the canonical Gospels. Until recently, we had almost no Gnostic Gospels to refer to. Why? Because after the 4th century, the Church burnt their Gospels and the people who believed in them.

In 1947, in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, the Gnostics got their revenge. At that time, several of their Gospels were found hidden in jars. One is called The Gospel of Philip, the other is called The Gospel of Thomas. These Gospels match another find: in 1896, in Akhmim in upper Egypt, a Gnostic gospel called The Gospel of Mary was also discovered. The Gnostic Gospels all tell the same story – Jesus was married. More than this, for them his marriage and sexual activity was more important than his “passion” in Jerusalem. Simply put, they were more interested in his passion in bed than in his passion on the cross.

As for Mary the Magdalene, with respect to Jesus, the Gnostic Gospel of Philip calls her by the Greek terms koinonos and hotre. These terms have traditionally been translated as “companion”. 

What they really signify is a “sexual partner”. They explicitly refer to heterosexual intercourse. 

Point 1: "Gnostic Gospels have as much claim to legitimacy as the canonical gospels."

Well, it all depends on what you mean by "legitimacy".

If a Christian theologian said that the (gnostic) Gospel of Thomas and the (canonical) Gospel of Matthew had equal "legitimacy", he would mean "both are equally authoritative sources for establishing the morals and beliefs of the Christian church."

If Richard Dawkins said that Thomas and Matthew had equal "legitimacy" (which he does, even though he is probably thinking of a different Thomas) he would mean "they are both equally a load of old rubbish."

If a hippy Jesus-freak from Chalice Well said that Thomas and Matthew had equal "legitimacy" (which they do, frequently) he would mean something like "I can read both, and they are both, like, in a deep sense, totally true, man".

And if an Historian said that Thomas and Matthew had equal "legitimacy" he would mean "Both are equally useful as sources of information about the real historical Jesus." Some historians do think that Thomas is based on traditions about Jesus that are as old as an independent from the four Biblical Gospels. Others think the writer of Thomas knew Matthew, Mark and Luke.

I think that if pressed, Jacobovici would say that he was speaking in sense 3: the Gospel of Thomas is describing a spiritual path, followed by at least some Christians in the ancient world, and no council or committee has the right to determine what kind of spiritual practices individuals ought to follow. But I think that the general reader, who knows little of the gnostic or the Bible, will think that he means "they are equally good historical sources"; “they take us equally close to the Historical Jesus.”

Point 2: "The gnostics were wisdom-seekers".

Gnosis means "knowledge". As in prognosis, diagnosis and agnostic. The Greek word for wisdom is sophos, as in philosopher, sophistry, and sophomore.

Does this slip matter? I think it does. Calling the gnostics “wisdom-seekers” implies that they were plain, simple seekers after truth. In fact, what they believed in was esoteric, secret knowledge. They believed that you could have direct knowledge of God in this world; and that if you had that knowledge you would live for ever in the next. They believed that in order to get that knowledge, you needed very complicated maps of the afterlife, levels of reality, names of different angels, and other occult stuff. This is why gnostic scripture reads like the book of Revelation with the jokes taken out:

There appeared to them the great attendant Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus, the living water, and the great leaders, James the great and Theopemptos and Isaouel, and they who preside over the spring of truth, Micheus and Michar and Mnesinous, and he who presides over the baptism of the living, and the purifiers, and Sesengenpharanges, and they who preside over the gates of the waters, Micheus and Michar, and they who preside over the mountain, Seldao and Elainos, and the receivers of the great race, the incorruptible, mighty men the great Seth, the ministers of the four lights, the great Gamaliel, the great Gabriel, the great Samblo, and the great Abrasax, and they who preside over the sun, its rising....

How very true that is. How very true.

Point 3: " The Gnostic Gospels all tell the same story – Jesus was married. "

Again, I think that Jacobovici is using language that will give the non-specialist reader the impression that the evidence is far stronger than it actually is. (God knows, I am not a specialist, but I am a sufficiently sad case that I am prepared to dig out big books in double column texts, check concordances and generally say "that's quite interesting, but what do the texts actually say?”)

I think that the general reader would take the above to mean that the gnostic gospels in general say that Jesus was married and that this was the big secret revealed in the scrolls dug up in 1947. I think that it paints a picture in the reader’s mind of a bipolar contest between "married Jesus gnosticism" and "celibate Jesus orthodoxy". (It also implies that the Nag Hammadi jars contained two texts, where they actually contained about fifty. The majority of the texts reference neither Mary nor Jesus.)

But let's be nice and assume that when he says that "the Gnostic Gospels" all say Jesus was married, he means simply that the three documents he's just named — Mary, Philip, Thomas — all say that Jesus was married.

They don't.

None of them uses words like married, wife, bride, bridegroom or husband about Mary and Jesus. They do, however, say that Jesus and Mary had some kind of "special relationship" with Jesus.

The Gospel of Mary says that Jesus told Mary secrets that he didn't tell the other disciples;

Peter said to Mary, "Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than all other women. Tell us the words of the Savior that you remember, the things which you know that we don't because we haven't heard them."      

Mary responded, "I will teach you about what is hidden from you." And she began to speak these words to them. .....

This is, of course, what esoteric writing always does. You don't say "I've invented some new quotes and attributed them to Jesus". You say “Jesus (or Adam, or Moses, or Merlin, or Socrates) trusted some previously obscure character with a great secret; and I’m now in a position to reveal what that secret was.” 

Something similar happens in the gospel of Thomas. Here it is the doubtful disciple who Jesus has left a secret message with, but at the very end there is a reference to Mary being a special disciple: 

Simon Peter said to them: "Let Mary go away from us, for women are not worthy of life." 

Jesus said: "Look, I will draw her in so as to make her male,  so that she too may become a living male spirit, similar to you. Every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven."

This leaves us with the frankly impenetrable gospel of Philip, which says explicitly that Jesus loved Mary more than the other disciples and that he sometimes kissed her. It also says explicitly that "we" should all kiss one another, and that kissing has a mystical significance.

And had the word gone out from that place, it would be nourished from the mouth and it would become perfect. For it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive and give birth. For this reason we also kiss one another. We receive conception from the grace which is in one another.

But even if "Philip" thinks Jesus kissed Mary in a non-spiritual way, "he kissed her" is not the same thing as "he married her". Although it is, I concede, mighty interesting.

Philip also contains a fragmentary passage which goes like this:

Three women always walked with the master: Mary his mother, his sister, and Mary of Magdala, who is called his companion. For “Mary” is the name of his sister, his mother, and his companion. Father and son are simple names, holy spirit is a double name. They are everywhere, above and below, in the hidden and in the visible. The holy spirit is in the visible, and then it is below, and the holy spirit is in the hidden, and then it is above.

So everything turns on the English word "companion" which stands in for the Greek word koinonos. Jacobovici says that it refers straightforwardly to heterosexual intercourse, but anyone with access to a concordance can easily prove that it doesn't.

In Matthew's Gospel, James and John are said to be Peter's koinonos. This doesn't mean that they were having heterosexual intercourse with him: it means they shared a fishing business.

St Paul tells the Corinthians that Titus is his koinonos. He obviously means that they are working together as missionaries, not that they are having heterosexual sex.

Paul also tells Philemon that if he still regards him as a koinonos, he should forgive Onesimus. He doesn't mean that he and Philemon used to be having sex. 

This is not to say that the three apocryphal gospels are uninteresting or un-intriguing. They are very interesting and very intriguing indeed. The question of how Mary went from having a 50 word cameo in a first century Gospel to being Jesus' bestest friend in a third century mystical text is certainly worth asking.

"Mary Magdalene has a very small part in the Bible, but is given a bigger role in some ancient mystical writing": true

"The idea that Mary and Jesus were more than just good friends had occurred to some ancient mystical writers": also true. 

"The Gnostics are unanimous: Mary and Jesus were married". Not so much.

3: The four Gospels imply that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.

To quote, again (this passage is used directly in the Daily Mail piece):

Specifically, after the Crucifixion, the Gospels agree that it was Mary the Magdalene who went early Sunday morning to wash and anoint Jesus’ crucified body, and to prepare it for burial (Mark 16:1). People have a quaint idea that ancient Jews in Jerusalem went around “anointing” each other. They didn’t. What the Gospels are telling us is that Mary the Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb to wash and prepare his body for burial. That’s the Gospels, not me. Then and now, no woman would touch the naked body of a dead Rabbi, unless she was family. According to the Gospels, Jesus was whipped, beat and crucified. No woman would wash the blood and sweat off his private parts unless she was his wife.

POINT 1: "That's the Gospels, not me."

No, actually, that's you. 

The Gospels do not say that Mary went to "wash" Jesus. The Gospels say she went to "anoint" him.

Or to be precise. One Gospel says she went to "anoint" him; one says that she “took spices” to the tomb; and two just say that she went to look at the tomb without giving any specific reason.

To be even more precise: Mark says that Mary went to the tomb to aleĆ­pho Jesus, which is what the disciples did to sick people they were healing, and which is what the other Mary did when she poured expensive oil on Jesus feet.  Our Mary did not, unfortunately, go to the tomb to chrio him, which means to "pour oil over the head of a king". It would have made Mr Expositor's life easier if she had, because the word for someone-who-has-been-anointed is, of course, christos, Christ. This is almost as much fun as the Silmarillion, isn't?

It’s this kind of thing which makes talking about the Bible incredibly frustrating. "Everyone knows" what the text says; so no-one actually reads it. It's like the Christmas Story. If there was an Inn, there must have been an Innkeeper, and if there was an Innkeeper, he probably had a wife, and very likely a cat as well. And if there was a manger, there almost definitely must have been a stable, and if there was a stable there was almost definitely a donkey, and a cow. And people find it hard to accept that the cow is something that they have added to the story, not something which is actually there: they get genuinely angry when you point out that thee is no cow in the Bible.

I think that it is perfectly reasonable to infer that if Jesus went to a Jewish wedding, he probably knew how to dance. I think that it is perfectly reasonable to infer that when Jesus said "blessed are the peace makers” he included all makers of dairy produce. And I think that it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that if you are going to rub olive oil into the head of a corpse, you might wash it first. But I think you have to be very careful of saying that something that you read into the text is actually in the text.

What do we definitely know about Jewish burial customs, in any case? Did wives, and only wives, embalm the dead? Did it make a difference to the rules about posthumous decency if the deceased had been hanging up stark naked in a public place for several hours before he died? Were women not permitted to bring hot water to men in public bath houses, or tend to them after a battle? Even in prudish societies, female nurses have been allowed to dress and undress sick men, although not usually vice versa. Since Mary was going to defile herself by touching a dead body, would seeing or touching a man’s private parts have necessarily made it any worse?

I ask merely for information. What are our sources for this kind of thing?

POINT 3 "The Gospels agree that it was Mary the Magdalene who went early Sunday morning to wash an anoint Jesus' crucified body"

This is another tremendously slippery statement. It's not untrue, but it's not completely true either. Sentences beginning "the Gospels agree" hardly ever are.

"The Gospels agree that Mary Magdalene went..." does not mean quite the same thing as "The Gospels agree that it was Mary Magdalene who went..." A piece of argument has been elided.

Matthew says that Mary went to the tomb with another woman; Mark says she went with two others; Luke that she was one of a group of at least five. John implies that she had companions, but doesn't say who or how many.

"All four gospels say that a group of women went to the tomb. They don't agree on the names of the women who went, but they all agree that Mary was one of them. So we reckon that by the time the Gospels were being composed, there must have been a tradition that said that Mary was pretty important"...that  might be a reasonable thing to say. But it is squished down into. "It was Mary who went to the tomb". Anyone who doesn't look it up will get a picture of Mrs. Jesus making the sad trek to the funeral parlor by herself, because as a widow, she's the only person who can.  Which is just not true.

And this softens us up for when the rabbit of the “coded” gospel is pulled out of the theological hat. We’re more likely to believe that Mrs Joseph is “obviously” Mrs Jesus if we have an idea running round our heads that the Gospels and the Apocrypha say far more about Mary Magdalene then they actually do.


But there is another, much more serious problem with the idea that you can use the canonical descriptions of the death and resurrection of Jesus as evidence that He was married. I expect you have spotted it already. It's the same brick wall that arguments of this kind always end up smashing their head against.



Matthew: After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 

Mark: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body.

Luke: On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.....When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 

John: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

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A long time ago I wrote down everything I know about Religion and put it in a book, It would be lovely if you read it.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Did Jesus Have a Cat (2)

Bettridge's first law states that when a newspaper headline poses a question (Does Prince Charles have cancer? Can acupuncture make you a better lover?) the answer is invariably "no". 

Betterdige's second law, incidentally, states that everything before the "but" is bollocks. 

The Daily Mail ran a particularly Bettridgian headline on its front page at the end of last year.

"This" turns out to be a book by two religious scholars who -- 

"are convinced that they've uncovered a missing fifth gospel — to add to the four gospels which tell the story of the life of Christ and are said to have been written by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the 1st century AD"

Oh. Those four gospels. 

I would have thought that "Q" (the hypothetical source of the bits that Matthew and Luke have in common) was the lost fifth gospel? And the "gospel" of Thomas, the collection of wise sayings which make Jesus sound like Yoda: some people think that contains original J.C material that the big four left out. I would have thought that was the fifth gospel as well. And isn't there a clever theory that the gospel of Peter contains a version of the Resurrection-story that predates the Biblical one? So wouldn't that be the fifth Gospel? Not to mention the unauthorized prequel to Matthew: only historical fiction, of course, but people believed it was real for centuries and it was a massive influence on Christian art and literature. Surely that must be the fifth gospel? 

You might as well say that Yoko Ono was the fifth Beatle.

The person who has uncovered this, er, ninth Gospel is one Simcha Jacobovici. Readers may remember that he has previously uncovered the authentic tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem, the location of Atlantis and nails and wood from the True Cross. It can only be a matter of time before he uncovers the Ark of the Covenant and is melted by Nazis.

What he has in fact uncovered is a document in the British Library called Joseph and Aseneth. Not that he needed to go as far as the British Library to uncover it. I uncovered it myself on the internet this morning. It's a fan-fic about Joseph (the fella with the coat of many colours, nor Jesus' step-dad). You remember, of course, that after Joseph came out of prison and was put in charge of corn-rationing, he married an Egyptian wife, and had two Egyptian sons, who each got half a tribe of Israel named after them? This is her story.

It's actually pretty dull.

But what Jacobovici has uncovered is that if you assume that whenever the book says "Joseph" it really means "Jesus" and whenever it says "Aseneth" it really means "Mary Magdalene" then the book says that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had two sons with her.

(Mem to self: Try reading Lord of the Rings on the assumption that whenever it says "Sam", it means "Tony" and whenever it says "Rosie" it means "Cherie.") 

Bible expositors sometimes play a game whereby characters in the Old Testament foreshadow characters in the New, and characters in the New Testament re-enact key events in the Old. If you've ever sung "oh come thou branch of Jesse draw / the quarry from the lions jaw" you know the kind of thing. David the shepherd boy rescued a sheep from a lion; that foreshadows Jesus rescuing the human race from the devil. That's a particularly good one because Son of David is a title given to Jesus. King Darius taking the stone away from the lions' den and finding that Daniel has miraculously closed the lions' mouths foreshadows the disciples going to the Tomb on Sunday morning and finding that Jesus has de-fanged Death. It doesn't follow that Jesus was deported to Babylon, or that he decoded mysterious graffiti for the King. The game is about finding likenesses, not one-to-one correspondences. It's a good game. Jesus played it himself on occasion, when he said that his death would be like Jonah being swallowed by a whale. We're not intended to infer that Jesus was a very reluctant prophet, keeps getting kicked off boats, or is planning to run away to Tarshish.

So: it would not be very surprising if a Genesis fan-fic written by a Christian treated the patriarch, Joseph, as a type of Christ. And the idea that the Church is the Bride of Christ is very well established, as every Sunday School boy knows:

The church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord
She is his new creation by water and the word
From heaven he came and sought her
To be his holy bride
With his own blood he bought her
And for her love he died. 

The Song of Solomon is routinely read by Christians as a love song between Jesus and the Church. My Bible has a helpful running commentary which glosses things like:

As a piece of pomegranate are thy temples within thy locks"


the Church professeth her love for Christ; Christ shareth the graces of the Church.

When I was in the Christian Union we used to sing a chorus that went

Terrible as an army with banners
we are the Church of Christ
Making known to principalities and powers 
mysteries that have been hidden in God.

I'm not particularly proud, but we did. But those words didn't originally apply to the church: they applied to Solomon's girlfriend.

Thou are beautiful, oh my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners. Turn away thine eyes from me; thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Gilead.

So, it would be un-surprising if Christian fan-fic in which Joseph is like Jesus (in some respects) said that Joseph's Egyptian wife is like the Church (in some respects). Joseph's love for Aseneth is like Jesus' love for the church. Everyone's love for everyone is like Jesus' love for the church. That's why he invented marriage. 

But according to the rules of the game, Mary Magdalene is also like the Church. She is the one who first told the disciples that Jesus had come back to life, after all. Announcing the Resurrection is a pretty good job description for the Church.

So the "proof" that Jesus was married and had two sons appears to be roughly as follows:

In a Genesis fan fic, Jospeh is portrayed as a type of Jesus and Joseph's wife is a portrayed as a type of the Church. In mainstream Christian thought, Mary Magdalene is sometimes portrayed as a type of the Church.

If Mary = Church
and Aseneth = Church
then Aseneth = Mary, QED.

Anything which is said of Joseph and Aseneth (they were married, they had two sons, Pharaoh performed the wedding, someone tried to assassinate the sons, Aseneth was a former pagan priestess) must be historically true of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

This seems to be so tenuous as to leave the argument almost exactly where it was. It doesn't help that this is the sort of code-book where you are allowed to say things like "Magdalene sounds like Magdela; Magdela may mean "tower"; Aseneth lived in a tower; so Mary Magdalene must have been Aseneth"; and "Aseneth had seven virgins attending her; Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out of her. Seven demons must represent the seven virgins." If anything can be a symbol of anything, then you can prove anything about anything. The answer to the rhetorical question is, as ever, "no".


No-on knows whether or not Jesus was married. No document with the faintest claim to historical reliability mentions it one way or the other. Some people say that Jesus must have been married, because the Bible never says he wasn't; other people say that Jesus can't have been married, because the Bible never says he was. Neither argument takes us very far. Arguments from silence never do.

We are told that bachelor rabbis were the exception rather than the rule, so that if Jesus had been a bachelor, one of the four Gospels would have said so. But we know the Essenes, contemporaries of Jesus who lived near the Dead Sea and spent their time composing scrolls, sometimes took vows of celibacy. Some people think their beliefs were quite like those of the early Christians in some respects. And anyway, it wouldn't be terribly controversial to suggest that Jesus probably was fairly exceptional. 

Paul recommends that Christians stay single: surely if Jesus had been single, he would have added "like Jesus was"? But that cuts both ways. Paul also recommends that Christian wives obey their husbands: surely if Jesus had been married, he would have added "like Mrs Jesus"? He also recommends that Christian husbands should love their wives. Here, indeed, he does talk about Jesus — but he doesn't say "as Jesus loved his own wife"; he says "as Christ loved the Church" (setting quite a high bar for us fellas, incidentally).

What about when Jesus himself talks about marriage (which he doesn't, not very much). Jesus says that absolute life long fidelity to one woman is so difficult that some men will have to take the easier path of celibacy. He doesn't say "You have to stay with one woman, forever, to the exclusion of all others — as I have chosen to do." But neither does he say "It is better not marry, but although this is possible for me, it isn't possible for everybody." 

Where is Mrs Jesus? Minor characters are always popping up in the Gospels — people with names and very little else. Simon of Cyrene had children called Alexander and Rufus, but we don't know anything else above them. A lady called Mary the wife of Clopas witnesses the crucifixion, but who Clopas was we have no idea. We know that St Peter was a married man or a widower (quite an embarrassment if you are planning to become the first Pope), but nothing about his wife.  If there was a Mrs Jesus, why does no mention of her ever slip through the net? 

The Church venerated the Mother of God as a semi-divine figure almost from the beginning. Wouldn't they have venerated the Spouse of God and the Grandson of God had there been the slightest hint that such people existed? We are told that Jesus mother and brothers don't approve of his ministry; but we never hear tell of Jesus wife and sons. We are told in passing that Jesus mother was part of the first Christian church in Jerusalem; but there is no mention of his wife. Jesus brother definitely became a leader in the early Christian movement: his brother, not his son. There even seem to have been people, as late as the third and fourth centuries, who identified as Jesus' relatives. There was a special word for them, desposyni. But what they claimed to be were Jesus great-great-great nephews by his brother Judas. (No, not that Judas. A different Judas.) 

Where are all the stories of tall men hanging out in pubs keeping very quiet about the fact that they are the dead King's secret descendant? The idea doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone before three English writers fell victim to a French practical joke about 30 years ago. (One of the three was a TV writer who had written for Doctor Who and invented the Yeti, and therefore the Brigadier. This is not strictly relevant, but it is one of my favorite facts.)

And yet. 

Christians don't think that sex is a bad, although they think that some people ought to abstain from it. Paul didn't insist on celibacy, although he recommended it. Every Jewish writer I look at tells me that an unmarried Rabbi would be an anomaly. Whatever view you take of the Incarnation, I don't think anyone believes that Jesus was Son of God in any heritable sense. So why shouldn't Jesus have been married? 

I suppose, for the same reason that priests and monks and nuns and in the olden days academics and school-masters didn't marry. Because you can't put your wife and your family first if you have sworn yourself to a higher calling. Particularly if that calling involves getting crucified. Isn't there a huge problem if Jesus is thought of as not merely laying down his own life, but depriving little Ephraim and Manasseh of their daddy?

I don't know if Jesus had a wife. I think it is perfectly possible that he did. But if he did, then I am pretty certain that we don't, and can't, know anything about her. Because no-one recorded it, any more than they recorded the name of Peter's wife. The process of going through the New Testament, picking on minor characters, deciding that they must have been Mrs Jesus, and then making up back stories for them is simply a game. It's only one step up from deciding that Sherlock must have been doing it with Irene because she's the only prominent lady in the stories.


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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Did Jesus Have a Cat?

Last Christmas, I went to see the pantomime of Dick Whittington and His Cat at the Bristol Hippodrome. And very funny it was too: I even found myself warming to Pudsy the Dancing Dog. Panto is almost the only place you still get vaudevillian silliness in its purest form. 

"I'd like to buy a goldfish, please."
"Certainly Sir. Would you like an aquarium?"
"I don't care what star sign he is."

After the show, one of the children I was with asked me if Dick Whittington was a real person. And do you know, in best Thought For The Day style, that made me stop and think.

Was Dick Whittington a real person? It depends what you mean by "real".

And "person". And "was". 

I suppose people from Foreign do not know the story of Dick Whittington? They probably don't know what a pantomime is, either, but we're not going through that all over again. It's a rags to riches story. A poor boy walks all the way to London with only his cat for company because he thinks the streets are literally paved with gold. When this turns out not to be true, he takes a job in Mr Fitzwarren's shop and falls in love with his daughter, Alice. Alas! He is wrongly accused of stealing, beaten by the cook, and runs away. But as he sits down on Highgate milestone for a rest, he seems to hear Bow Bell chiming "Turn Again Whittington / Thou worthy citizen / Turn again Whittington / Lord Mayor of London." He runs back to the shop, and ends up traveling with the Fitzwarrens on a voyage to Morocco. The Emperor's palace is overrun by rats, which Dick's pet cat kills. The Emperor has never seen a cat before, and buys the animal for a vast sum of money. Fortune made; happily ever after. A few years later he does indeed become mayor.  

As a matter of fact, there was a Mayor of London named Richard Whittington  at the turn of the fifteenth century. He entirely fails to appear in any of Shakespeare's history plays, even though he had dealings with Richard II, both parts of Henry IV, and Henry V. (A different Mayor of London appears in Richard III, disappointingly.) And he did marry someone called Alice Fitzwarren. Londoners can point out the very milestone where he stopped for a breather; but you couldn't possibly hear Bow Bell from there. And you couldn't walk from the City of London to Highgate and back in one night. And the real Whittington was never that poor, although he was a second son and sent to London to learn a trade.

Was Dick Whittington a real person? Yes. 

Is the story of Dick Wittington true? Well, so far as we know, he was never thrashed by a cook, never traveled to Morocco, and never did a song and dance routine with the winner of Britain's Got Talent. 

But if, in two thousand years time, the fairy tale version of Dick Whittington and his cat survived, it would tell any surviving humans a surprising amount about late medieval London. It would tell them that there was such an office as Mayor, that one such Mayor was called Whittington that his wife was called Alice, that there was a church called Bow, that churches had chiming clocks, that there were such things as milestones; that people kept cats as pets. 

On the other hand, if you were working from the Pantomime and had nothing else to go on, the main thing you would take away was that there were good fairies and wicked witches in London. Or that everyone in London believed that there were. Or else you would very reasonably say that since the story was full of obvious nonsense about good fairies and talking bells, the whole idea that there was ever such a beast as a "cat" needs to be taken with a pretty huge pinch of salt.

Did Richard Whittington even own a cat? There is no historical evidence that he did. On the other hand, there is no special reason to suppose that he didn't. People in fifteenth century England sometimes did. And isn't the existence of the fairy tale a pretty massive piece of evidence in it's own right? Why would anyone attach a version of the Puss in Boots story to the Mayor unless "everyone knew" he was a cat person? But by the same argument, other things in the story could be true. Cooks were sometimes cruel to kitchen-lads. People did sometimes go on trading voyages.

But this doesn't really help. My Ladybird book had a contemporary painting of the adult Whittington on the last page. But "Dick Whittington" is the young man with the cat; his possessions on a stick on his back, sitting on Highgate Hill listening to the bells chiming. A scene they recreated rather charmingly in the panto. And that Whittington is "only a story". 

But everyone knows the story; and no-one knows the Mayor. The Mayor has become a story; the story is what is left of the Mayor. And stories are much more real than real life.

Make good art. Follow your bliss. Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.

If I ask "Was Robin Hood a real person?" I am not asking "Were there archers?" If I ask "Was Davey Crockett a real person?" I am not asking "Were their backwoodsmen?" A philosopher could doubtless find ways of making the question harder. If one of the defining feature of a Davey Crockett is that he kilt him a b'ar when he was only three and if that is plainly impossible, then there are no such things as Davey Crocketts. And certainly, once you have defined George Washington as Cherry Tree Choppy Down Guy, then you could reasonably say that "George Washington" never existed.

If the adventures of Errol Flynn or Richard Greene are not based on the doings of any known outlaw; and if no-one has ever tracked down an outlaw called Robert or Robin anywhere near Sherwood or Huntingdon or Locksley at anything like the correct time, then I think we are allowed to say "No; Robin Hood did not really exist: he's only a story." 

On the other hand, if we were to find that there really was an American soldier whose career — backwoods man; Indian fighter; Senator; Alamo — broadly matches the career of the fellow in the ballad, then I think we would say "Yes: Davey Crockett really existed. He's a historical character." Even if he never actually wore one of those hats.


Glastonbury 2015

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Please Sir, Can I Have A Hugo Award?

What religion is the pope?

Put another way, what metaphysical creed does the pontiff subscribe to? What are the theological underpinnings of Jorge Mario Bergoglio's world view; what organized collection of beliefs and cultural systems does the Bishop of Rome use in order to relate humanity to a higher order of existence? What symbol-set does the Holy Father use to explain the origins and meaning of life?

Hold onto your hats, because I am about to say something that may shock you. 

The Pope is a Catholic. 

But obviously, you can't say that sort of thing nowadays. "The Pope is a Catholic." The self-appointed guardians of morality; the people who elected themselves to safeguard our ethical well-being — who like the President, want to repeal the Second Amendment and make marijuana compulsory — won't let you. The Pope is a Catholic. The Pope is a Catholic. When was the last time you heard someone come right out and say it? 

But when the message falls on your ears even for the very first time; if thou art truly a being of humanity and not a professor of humanities, thou wilt discern the truth in thy most very heart of hearts; like the joyous relief  thou feelest when thou divesteth thyself of thine diaphanous undergarments to facilitate thine all-too-human need to defecate: the Pope is Catholic. The Pope is Catholic. Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh mine dearest reader, how couldst it ever have been otherwise?

And what of caniform mammals of the genus ursidae? What do they do when they experience that all-too-human (or as I must eftsoons say, an all-too-ursoid) need to relieve themselves? Do they demurely turn the lock to "engaged" in a small "water closet" cubical; or trudge down the garden path to a neat, earthy outhouse; do they perchance call for the necessary women and squat coyly over a ceramic chamber-pot; have they mayhap been trained to use a strategically positioned tray replete with what shall here be referred to only as kitty-litter; or does weather permitting a human companion walk a step or two behind them gathering their stool with a pooper-scooper and placing it in a bin, thoughtfully provided by the post-modernistic anarchist socialist liberal marxist municipal authority (that fully supports the murder of countless thousands of helpless babies every week.)

No; nay; never; it shall not, nay, it will, and if I might be permitted to say so against the riding tide of relativism which denies the whole concept of truth, it cannot be so.

For most truly is it it said that bears shit in the woods. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

By the way -- I thought I ought to point out that little small postings (like this one for example) don't get charged for on Patreon. My working assumption that 1500 words plus is a "proper essay" but anything less is an added extra or note. Sorry if that wasn't clear, and hope it wasn't holding anyone back from throwing a dollar in the tip jar....


It is all the more remarkable that A. A. Milne, so great an admirer of this excellent book [The Wind in the Willows] should have prefaced to his dramatized version a "whimsical" opening in which a child is seen telephoning with a daffodil. Or perhaps it is not very remarkable, for a perceptive admirer (as distinct from a great admirer) of the book would never have attempted to dramatize it. 

Sometime in the 1990s I was at a party. A friend was passing round pieces of gourmet chocolate. You know the kind of thing, 85% cocoa and a dash of sea salt.

"That looks lovely" said another guest "But could I have a piece of milk chocolate instead? You see, I am trying to reduce my caffeine intake."

"Oh, is the dark chocolate stronger?" asked my host.
"No" I chipped in. "Not stronger. Quicker. Easier. More seductive."

I know for a fact this happened in the 90s, because opportunities like that only come once in a decade. At some point in the 80s I had witnessed someone throwing a piece of cooked potato across a take-away fried fish emporium, such that it struck a lady customer, who was I recall wearing rather a low cut dress, just above breast. 

"Madam" I had the opportunity to say "You have a chip on your shoulder." 

And it is one of the great disappointments of my life that when, in or about 2005, staying in a village where some cottager kept poultry in his garden, I observed a chicken attempting to cross the road there was no-one was in ear-shot when I wondered out loud about her motivation.

More pertinently, perhaps, professional joke-teller Eddie Izzard once found himself wondering on stage about all the things which are never mentioned in science fiction movies. There must, surely, be cleaners and catering staff on board the Death Star. A less funny man would have concluded that Luke Skywalker was a war criminal because he personally caused the death of all those non-player characters. A more psychotic man might have concluded that if it was okay for Luke Skywalker to kill imperial catering staff, then it must logically be okay for him to, say,  put a bomb in skyscraper. But Eddie Izzard proceeded to riff about Darth Vader ordering lunch. Izzard's routine is funny because of the clash of registers. Vader carries on talking like a space opera villain, and everyone else talks as if they're in a staff canteen. ("Why, with all the power of the Death Star, do we not have a tray that is dry?")

Shadows of the Empire (one of the few extended universe novels I have tackled) seemed to do basically the same joke without noticing that it was funny. It was mainly about plumbing. We keep being told that water is being pumped into reptilian gangster Prince Xizor's bath, at great expense. When Luke arrives at Ben's hovel to construct a lightsaber, the first thing he does is takes a shower. I don't think that mysterious gurus living alone on desert planets have modern, or indeed futuristic, sanitary equipment in their hovels. I think they probably roll naked in the sand once a year, or go down to the creek to do their necessaries.  Or maybe there is a very macho bath-house in Mos Eisley? The truth is Obi-Wan doesn't ever need a shower. He's an archetype, or at any rate an action figure. He never gets smelly. It would be like asking if Aslan ever goes to the dentist. And then our heroes gain access to the baddies base via the sewerage system. Via the sewerage system. Big rubbish dumps with hideous one eyed squid monsters hiding at the bottom I can cope with. But sewers. Implying that archetypes and action figures sometimes need a poo? 

Do you not understand how this stuff works?


Star Wars characters doing things which are out of genre. Star Wars characters placed alongside people from a different genre. Lines from Star Wars being quoted in inappropriate contexts. Imagine 60 pages of that, with, admittedly, rather charming illustrations, and you have Darth Vader and Son and it's sequel Vader's Little Princess. 

You can read both of them in the time it took you to get to this point in my essay. They are very popular. I don't get them at all.

The "idea" behind the books is that the Darth Vader of the films is also playing Dad to Luke Skywalker — which is to say, to a little boy who looks a bit like a pint-sized Luke Skywalker. (Obviously there is no point of departure in the movies at which Vader could have been Dad to Luke. As soon as he knows he exists he wants to kill him.) The sequel starts out as if it is going to do all the same jokes again only with a little girl who looks a bit like a pint-sized Princess Leia, but realizes that's scraping things a bit, and ages her into a teenager half way through. Not that Leia was much more than a teenager.

So we have basically three "jokes".
1: Darth Vader acts like a Dad and Luke or Leia act like kids. e.g Princess Leia is brushing her teeth, and Darth Vader is saying "Make sure you get the backs."

2: Darth Vader acts like Darth Vader, while Luke or Leia behave like kids. e.g Vader is about to Force strangle an admiral, while Leia tugs on his trouser leg saying "I love you, Daddy."

3: Darth Vader acts like a Dad and Luke or Leia act like kids but Vader says a famous Vader line out of context. e.g Luke is wining "you said we could go to Tosche station after nap!" and Vader responds "I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further."

4: Something happens which either is, or strongly resembles, a scene out of one of the movies, but Darth Vader acts like a Dad. e.g Luke is hanging from the bridge thing in Cloud City and Vader says "Come down from there, it's dangerous." 

Literally, that's the whole book. I don't know if it is intrinsically funny to take an ordinary American father and son and re-skin them as an archetypal Father and Son. I recall that someone did something along the same lines with God and Jesus once. I also recall that that wasn't particularly funny. I suppose it is interesting that the main thing that a non-geek audience can be expected to know about Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker is that the one is the other's father. Or else that there is no limit to what a geek audience will spend money on. A lot of Star Wars lore is taken for granted and worn lightly — when Luke goes to the zoo, we see a bantha, a dewback, a rancor and the salaac in cages, and there's a cute scene in a toyshop with Luke surrounded by toys in classic era Star Wars toy packaging. 

And in fairness, this one did very nearly make me laugh:
That actual joke was very nearly in Phantom Menace. 

A few years ago, there was a fad for Winnie-the-Pooh t-shirts and fashion items, with the various characters reduced to the minimum possible number of pencil lines. It struck me as an interesting take on the idea of ideas and memes. A real little boy has a real toy; a proper artist draws a realistic picture of that toy in a book. A cartoon artist takes the proper artists drawing, simplifies it, and colours it in. Years later, another artist takes the cartoon, reduces it to the simplest number of lines possible, and put it on a t-shirt, and it's still instantly recognizable. But no longer really a picture of anything: "Winnie-the-Pooh" is just an image, detached from Disney and Shepard and certainly from any toy actually owned by C.R Milne. So is Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse. 

Is there a process in play where "Darth Vader" has stopped being a character in a movie and becomes simply a shape?

Jedi Academy, by the same author, I did actually find rather sweet. Roan Novachez from Tatooine wants to go to Space Pilot Academy, but he's turned down and is afraid he'll have to go to agricultural school instead. But then he gets a letter from Yoda inviting him to go to
HogwartsJedi Academy. At first, he finds it hard to cope (everyone else having started when they were little kids: this book cares quite a lot about continuity) but by playing to his strengths and making friends, he stops dreaming of being a pilot and decides he wants to be a Jedi. 

There is a heartwarming twist at the end. (Actually, honestly quite heartwarming.)

Jedi Academy turns out to be very much like an American middle-school, with a school newspaper and much rivalry about who should be president of student council. Lightsaber fencing competitions are treated a lot like baseball tournaments, or more precisely, quidditch. The whole thing is presented as Roan's diary; partly hand-written, partly comic strip, with pages from the student newspaper, Roan's report-cards and so on. (Unlike Greg Heffley, Roan can actually draw quite well, which spoils the joke. He contributes a comic strip called Ewok Pilot to the student newspaper. It's about an Ewok who is a pilot.)

The jokes are structurally the same as in Darth Vader and Son. Ordinary things happen but are given a Star Warsy twist; Star Warsy things happen but are treated as if they are quite ordinary. Roan records funny things his various teachers have said. In the case of Kitmum, the Wookie PE teacher, these include "Rwoaar!" and "Rawarr!" There is a diagram of a lightsaber, with a space for 4 AA batteries ("remember to put them in the right way"). 

At first, I thought that Yoda was going to be played straight, but by the end he's being sent up mercilessly. ("Hunger is a path to the dark side. Hunger leads to being cranky. Being cranky leads to suffering. Eat a proper breakfast you should.")

There has been a spate of middle-school observational comedy books, mostly in journal format. Children can't get enough of them, but they have zero cross-over appeal. Adults can relate to old-fashioned boarding school stories, with or without the addition of magic; but in order to laugh at jokes about changing rooms and cafeterias you have to still be a kid, Wimpy or otherwise. (British kids laugh at the American school jokes, though: I guess adolescent embarrassment is adolescent embarrassment, wherever you live.) Whether the joke still works in an imaginary school, I couldn't say. At one level, we are supposed to be treating it seriously as a sub-Star Wars story: I think we are supposed to punch the air with pleasure when Roan finally manages to use the Force to levitate five or six huge boulders. (NOTE: I didn't.) At another, it seems to be laughing at the whole idea of Star Wars. Yoda's "Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try" in Empire Strike Back is a nice enough mini-midget aphorism about the importance of self-confidence. But if you say it over and over again, it appear to be funny. The mysterious old mentor who lives in a far away swamp has morphs far too easily into the dotty old codger who spouts a lot of nonsense. The book is at its most engaging when it forgets that it's a Star Wars riff and just talks about being a kid.

--Have you ever kissed a girl?
--A couple of times
--Sure, I have
--Just last week actually
--None of us have ever actually kissed anyone, have we?
--Do grandmothers count?

When I was Roan's age, I had a record. Record's were like CD's only big and black and crackly. This one was blue. It had a booklet with pages and pages of photos. The Story of Star Wars it was called. I suppose it had about 50% of the dialogue from the film, with a spoken narration. Apparently, it was only semi-official: approved by Lucas, but royalty free. 

This was before DVDs. The comic and the novel didn't count. This was the closest you got to owning the movie. (Unless your Dad was a home movie enthusiast. You could buy one-reel silent excerpts from famous movies. You basically just got the Millennium Falcon fleeing from the Death Star.) I know I went to the Barnet Odeon ten or twenty times that summer, but who knows how many times I played that record. Dozens? Hundreds? I literally knew it by heart. And one passage in particular:

Your father's LIGHTSABER. This was the weapon of a JEDI knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon, from a more civilized age. For over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the old republic. Before the dark times. Before the Empire...

Over and over again.

Out of that speech was built Yoda in the Swamp, making Luke face Vader in a gnarly old tree. Our of Yoda in the swamp was built the younglings, patiently attending lightsaber class on Coruscant.  (And out of that scene to the five Younglings being taken to the planet Kiros to choose their wands, sorry, did I say wands, I meant lightsabers.) And out of that scene, somehow, this.

Jeffrey Brown is a Star Wars fan. Jeffrey Brown, I am sure, played Ben's speech  over and over again. I am sure that when Ben gives Luke the lightsaber for the first time, he also wanted to reach through the screen, grasp it, and keep it forever. 

But he didn't see that if you could — if you actually could grasp it -- what you would be left with would not be that moment, but something like this: 

"LIGHTSABER FENCING TOURNAMENT. Tryouts next week. Five positions available for each squad. Squad A will be coached by Master Yoda. Squad B will be coached by Mr Garfield. Squad C will seit in the bleachers and cheer for everyone. Watch out for sparks though. DON'T FORGET YOUR LIGHTSABER."

And I wonder if there are younglings, even now, reading Jeffrey Brown's engaging, witty book, without having seen A New Hope or even The Phantom Menace? And how many years it will be before they realize what has been stolen from them? 

If about lightsabers in P.E lesson first you hear, to Obi-Wan Kenobi's cave go never you will.