Pulpit Fictions
By R. D. Flavin

Warning: examples of vulgarity and profanity are used in this column.

“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and goodwill shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”  Lines spoken by the character Jules Winnfield (played by Samuel L. Jackson) in Pulp Fiction (1994, Miramax Films), written by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary.  Said to be a quote from Ezekiel 25:17 with additions from the 23rd Psalm.

Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, Jr. and Sen. Barack Hussein Obama II (D, IL).

      The South Side of Chicago has long been a dynamic grouping of neighborhoods which reflect the economic and ethnic diversity of America’s “Second City.”  The slaughterhouses are long gone, but the White Sox remain as does Al’s No. 1 Italian Beef on West Taylor Street.  Richard Wright set his classic 1940 novel, Native Son, on the South Side and then there’s Jim Croce’s 1973 hit, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," which begins with “Well the South Side of Chicago, is the baddest part of town.”  During the years between Wright and Croce,
Deval Laurdine Patrick, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, was born on the South Side in July of 1956, I was born there a year and a half later, and in March of 1972 the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. became Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.  Years later, sometime after 1985, Barack Obama joined the Trinity United Church of Christ, a church he quit this past April because of certain pulpit fictions preached by the Rev. Dr. Wright.  It seems the South Side of Chicago and America are still working on that separation of church and state thing...  Which, of course, is a good thing as two Wrights don’t make a wrong, but rather provides examples of frustration and a determination to improve our lot (and our junkyards).

     According to the Trinity United Church of Christ website, the Rev. Dr. Wright appropriated the phrase, "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian," from his predecessor and used it as the congregation’s official motto.  Before the 1970s were ended, the South Side of Chicago would experience the racist marching of neo-Nazis and the re-establishment of the Nation of Islam led by Louis Farrakhan (who believes himself to be the one and true Jesus Christ).  During the 1980s and into the 1990s, the A.I.D.S. epidemic was particularly virulent among the African-American community and comments by the Rev. Dr. Wright that A.I.D.S. was artificially created by the government to kill black people was and remains mean and dangerously stupid.

     Pulpit fictions such as encouraging his flock not to sing "God Bless America" but rather "God damn America," spilled over to other speech venues such as a critical piece in the New York Times and a snarky tirade against slavery at the National Press Club which included a hope that he’ll become America’s next vice-president.  Sen. Obama left the Trinity United Church of Christ almost immediately after Wright’s verbal meltdown and, as of this writing, is still looking for a new church to join.  The junior senator from Illinois has recently attended various churches, perhaps akin to test-driving different new cars, and at one of those churches he elected to step up to the pulpit and preach about the problems young African-American men face when it comes to employment, fatherhood, and responsibility.  Many black leaders such as Bill Cosby have addressed these concerns for some years now, but none were running for the office of President of the United States of America.  It’s that separation of church and state thing again... 

Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr. and Bill O’Reilly.

      This past Father’s Day, Sunday, June 15th, 2008, Sen. Obama spoke at the Apostolic Church of God on the South Side of Chicago about ...being a father.  His remarks contained many topical elements found in his campaign speeches such as the need for more cops on the street, better health care, a greater concern for our environment, etc., yet he also chided young African-American fathers who spend their weekends watching television.  As these things go, some believe Sen. Obama was once more being elitist, as with his earlier comments about Pennsylvanian voters.  One outspoken critic of Sen. Obama’s perceived elitist approach, the renowned civil-rights leader and the founder of both Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) and the National Rainbow Coalition, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, was accidently recorded being a tad more than outspoken, in fact, many have described his words as crude.  Even his son, Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (D, IL), has described his father’s words as “ugly rhetoric."  Still, former Pres. Bill Clinton has defended Jackson’s unfortunate situation with, "You know, if all of us lived on live mics, then 100% of us in this room would be embarrassed from time to time."  The Rev. Jackson apologized to Sen. Obama before the specifics of the story were known, the apology was accepted, yet because Jackson’s words were recorded by Fox News' microphones, political commentator and professional egotist, Bill O’Reilly, has sunk his fangs into the story and refuses to let it go.  However, Fox News can be ignored for the most part, but Jackson’s words may have had an even more unfortunate consequence – a further disintegration of African-American societal unity.

Nasir “Nasty Nas” Jones and Mrs. and Prof. Ivan Van Sertima (Rutgers, anthropology).

     In an interview with MTV, rapper Nasty Nas has proclaimed, “I think Jesse Jackson, he's the biggest player hater.  His time is up.  All you old ..., time is up.  We heard your voice, we saw your marching, we heard your sermons.  We don't wanna hear that ... no more.  It's a new day.  It's a new voice.  I'm here now.  We don't need Jesse; I'm here.  I got this.  We got Barack, we got David Banners and Young Jeezys.  We're the voice now.  It's no more Jesse.  Sorry.  Goodbye.  You ain't helping nobody in the 'hood..  That's the bottom line.  Goodbye, Jesse.  Bye!"  It may be just another cry for media attention – the rapper had threatened to release an album entitled Nigger – or it could be something sadder, stranger, and even more socially tragic than the young attempting to out the old.

     Sure, Jackson said something like he wanted to cut off Obama’s “nuts” because Obama was "talking down to black people . . . telling niggers how to behave."  It’s a grammatical matter, I opine, as most folks I know would have used the word “balls” instead of “nuts.”  Okay, that was a poor pun...  However, there’s a huge difference between profanity, hate-speech, vulgarity and shock-talk.  Jackson’s words were vulgar, but I don’t believe any hate was involved nor was he using shock-talk to seek attention.  Nasty Nas blurs the distinctions between protected and hate-speech and credits his approach with: “I used to worship a certain Queens police murderer/Till I read the words of Ivan Van Sertima/He inserted something in me than made me feel worthier/Now I spit revolution, I'm his hood interpreter."  So, if I read this correctly, Nas is now an Afrocentric hyperdiffusionist.  Ouch... 

     On August 29, 1920, The New York Times featured a review of a new book by Prof. Leo Weiner (Harvard, Slavic languages) entitled “Africans, Not Europeans, First in America?”  Weiner’s book, the first volume of Africa and the Discovery of America (1920-1922, 3 vols.; Philadelphia, PA: Innes & Sons) argued that an African presence in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica was established because of "Arabic" smoking rituals and so-called “Negroid” features in certain art-works.  The review was non-critical and written as a curiosity piece.  A discussion of Mesoamerican art-works having “Negroid” features was later enthusiastically advanced by Prof. Alexander von Wuthenau (University of the Americas, pre-Columbian Art History) with his The Art of Terracotta Pottery in Pre-Columbian Central and South America, (1969; New York: Crown), followed by his popular Unexpected Faces in Ancient America 1500 B.C. – A.D. 1500: The Historical Testimony of Pre-Columbian Artists (1975; New York: Crown).  As a well respected art historian and critic, Von Wuthenau held an internationally attended conference in Mexico City on “Negroid” features in certain Mesoamerican art-works.  [Note: A copy of the conference poster would be something I wouldn’t mind archiving – not that I’m asking for anyone to sell me a copy...]  His final publications before his passing was in a journal managed by a Rutgers University professor, The Journal of African Civilizations, a publication dedicated to “black genius” and how blacks have contributed to “the world.”  A common admonishment of Prof. Ivan Van Sertima’s Afrocentrist writings is that he claims priority for ancient Africans with equal ancient peoples imagined to be beholden to ...”black genius.”  Ah, without accepted evidence, that’s racism and really bad science.  With really bad science there’s nothing funny even if a few are laughing all the way to bank.  The rest of us?  I’d top Rev. Jackson’s “trash-talk” in a quick heartbeat when being honest about the hubris of many mentioned above, though perhaps this column would be best served with moving toward narrative conclusion rather than being side-tracked with more Pulp Fiction.  Back to Afrocentrism...

     In 1973, Prof. R. C. Padden (Brown, history) wrote in a review (“On Diffusionism and Historicity,”  The American Historical Review.  78, 4: 987-1004) of two hyperdiffusionist books (Gordon, Cyrus H.  1971.  Before Columbus: Links between the Old World and Ancient America.  New York: Crown, and Riley, Carroll L. et al., editors.  1971.  Man Across the Sea: Problems of Pre-Columbian Contacts.  Austin, TX: University of Texas Press): “As was exemplified in a challenge made by a transpacific diffusionist, let the traditionalists prove that Aztec and Maya writing systems were invented without any suggestion from Old World systems.  ‘In a historical question,’ responded Philip Philips, ‘how does one prove that something did not happen otherwise than by pointing to the lack of evidence that it did?’  The crux of the problem is that such a quantum leap in analogy fails to provide evidence of the intercommunication that is at once the engine of diffusion in Kroeber’s Oikoumenê and the ultimate necessity of any process of transoceanic diffusion.  Accordingly, diffusion and autogenesis would appear to be logical alternatives as explanations of the cultural origins of the New World: if there is no evidence of contact and diffusion then one must assume independent development because under such conditions probability lies inversely proportionate between them.  The burden of ultimate proof remains equal, but interim assumptions of probability manifestly do not.”  Prof. Padden’s sound reasoning should have been heeded by potential hyperdiffusionists, but unfortunately was not.

     The two senior (i.e. those who sell the most books) Afrocentrists are the above mentioned Prof. Ivan Van Sertima at Rutgers University and Prof. Martin Bernal who is Professor Emeritus of Ancient Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Cornell University.  Van Sertima is best known for his books They Came Before Columbus (1976; New York: Random House), African Presence in Early America (editor and contributor, 1987; New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books), and Early America Revisited (1998; New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books).  Prof. Van Sertima’s Afrocentric hyperdiffusionist claims have been admirably addressed and countered by Prof. Bernard Ortiz De Montellano (Wayne State, anthropology), most notably in: Haslip-Viera, Gabriel, Bernard Ortiz de Montellano, & Warren Barbour.  1997.  “CA Forum on Anthropology in Public: Robbing Native American Cultures: Van Sertima's Afrocentricity and the Olmecs.”  Current Anthropology.  38, 3: 419-441; Ortiz de Montellano, Bernard, Gabriel Haslip-Viera, & Warren Barbour.  1997.  “They Were NOT Here before Columbus: Afrocentric Hyperdiffusionism in the 1990s.”  Ethnohistory.  44, 2: 199-234; Ortiz de Montellano, Bernard R.  2000.  “Untitled Review of Early America Revisited by Ivan Van Sertima.  Latin American Antiquity.  11, 2: 195-196.

     Prof. Bernal’s most popular works are his three volume series, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (1987-2006; London: Free Association Books; v.1. The Fabrication of Ancient Greece, 1785-1985 – v. 2. The Archaeological and Documentary Evidence – v. 3. The Linguistic Evidence).  Though Bernal’s theories seem outwardly appealing, they ultimately fail the test of evidence and have been summarily criticized and disproved by Prof. Mary R. Lefkowitz (Wellesley College, Classical Studies) in her Black Athena Revisited (editor with Guy MacLean Rogers and contributor, 1996; Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press), Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History (1996; New York: Basic Books), and most recently, History Lesson: A Race Odyssey (2008; New Haven, CN: Yale University Press).  It’s a shame that most bookstores won’t hesitate to stock the works of Van Sertima and Bernal, but will balk at having copies of Lefkowitz and others on their shelves.  Everyone wants to be entertained, some wish to be educated, and there’s no valid reason for not experiencing both.  I’m sure Nasty Nas will sell many copies of his latest rap album and I’m also sure that rapping about Afrocentric hyperdiffusionism will not promote science, reason, and social responsibility.  Now, MC Hawking I can and do support (check out the free MP3 of “What We Need More Of Is Science”).

     I’ve long been amazed that too many folks believe in such silly and fantastic concepts like Atlantis, UFOs, and that someone named Jesus Christ rose from the dead after three days wrapped in a shroud and buried in a tomb.  Atlantis?  It’s a protreptic astromyth; see: Reiche, Harald A. T.  1977.  "The Language of Archaic Astronomy: A Clue to the Atlantis Myth?"  Technology Review.  80, 2: 84-100.  Reprinted in Astronomy of The Ancients, edited by Brecher and Feirtag (1979; Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press). Second edition, corrected; privately distributed 1993; published in 2006 in Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers. 24: 245-265.  UFOs?  Ah, Harvard’s John Mack may have been on to something with his work on Abduction Phenomenon, but sadly his life was cut short by a drunk driver in 2004.  That someone named Jesus Christ?  Well, we’re still trying to come to terms with that concept...

The "Gabriel Revelation" and its owner, David Jeselsohn.

     Recently, the media has picked up on the academic controversy concerning the authenticity and potential significance of the so-called “Gabriel’s Revelation” tablet discovered near the Dead Sea around 1994, but not discussed in any peer-reviewed publications until within the last year.  A reading of articles published in The New York Times and Time Magazine, as well as an earlier publication in Biblical Archaeology Review, should inform those interested in the basic facts about the ink-inscribed stone and its possible relevance to Judeo-Christianity.  For those near a major university library, see: Yardeni, Ada and Binyamin Elitzur.  2007.  “Document: A First-Century BCE Prophetic Text Written on a Stone; First Publication.”  Cathedra.  123: 155-166 (in Hebrew); and Knohl, Israel.  2008.  “‘By Three Days, Live’: Messiahs, Resurrection, and Ascent to Heaven in Hazon Gabriel.”  The Journal of Religion.  88,2: 147-158 (in English).  Also, see an earlier article by Prof. Knohl, before he was aware of the existence of “Gabriel’s Revelation,” and argues for a First Century BCE Jewish tradition of the killing of a Messiah known as a son of Joseph: Knohl, Israel.  1998.  “On ‘the Son of God,’ Armilus, and Messiah Son of Joseph.”  Tarbiz.  68: 13-38 (in Hebrew with an English abstract).

     I’m particularly intrigued by the final lines of the tablet:

68. Many lovers He has, YHWH of Hosts, the Lord of Israel ...
69. Thus He said, (namely,) YHWH of Hosts, the Lord of Israel ....
70.  Prophets have I sent to my people, three.  And I say
71. that I have seen ...[...]...
72. the place for the sake of(?) David the servant of YHWH[ ...]...[...]
73. the heaven and the earth.  Blessed be ...[...]
74. men(?).  “Showing mercy unto thousands”. ... mercy [...].
75. Three shepherds went out to?/of? Israel ...[...].
76. If there is a priest, if there are sons of saints ...[...]
77. Who am I(?), I (am?) Gabri’el the ...(=angel?)... [,,,]
78. You(?) will save them. ...[...]...
79. from before You, the three si[gn]s(?), three ...[....]
80. In three days .... I, Gabri’el ...[?].
81. the Prince of Princes, .... narrow holes(?) ...[...]...
82. To/for ... [...]... and the ...
83. to me(?), out of three - the small one, whom(?) I took, I, Gabri’el.
84. YHWH of Hosts, the Lord of(?)[ Israel ...]...[....]
85. Then you will stand ...[...]...
86. ...
87. in(?) ... eternity(?)/...

Elsewhere, I’ve suggested that most if not all numbers in scripture are symbolic rather than actual arithmetical counts, therefor the mentions of “three” are, in my opinion, a type of metaphor standing in for the first possible numeral after one and two which could be used to represent ‘many’, which is ...three.  I believe this metaphor for ‘many’ was utilized by the unknown author of the Gospel of Mark and later extended with the Jesus Narrative sequels as written by Matthew and Luke (e.g. Matthew’s three wise men and Luke’s mention of Mary and Joseph looking for the twelve year old Jesus for three days before they found him in the Temple), and even by John, the last of the Gospel authors.  A listing of the symbolic number three in the Gospels would include: Mark 8.2, 8.31, 9.5, 14.5, 14.58, 15.29; Matt. 12.40 (x4), 13.33, 15.32, 17.4, 18.16, 18.20, 26.61, 27.40, 27.63; Luke 1.56, 2.46, 4.25, 9.33, 10.36, 11.5, 12.52 (x2), 13.21, 24.13; and John 2.19, 2.20, 12.5, 21.11.

     The unknown author of the Gospel of Mark is credited with transforming the life and death of Jesus, an Eastern Mediterranean cynic philosopher, into a Greek tragedy set in the First Century of Roman Palestine featuring the resurrected Christ.  Plainly put, there was a wise man, Jesus, who instituted a school of teaching and the spreading of commiseration among the peasantry, the poor, and the dispossessed.  The reasoned kindness was simple: times were difficult through no fault of anyone and the “Kingdom of God” could be found through inner peace.  Hugs and well-wishes were the miracles performed by the early followers of Jesus.  This Jesus was a man who journeyed to Jerusalem knowing that he could be killed – he was a great man and a great teacher.  The Gospel of Mark introduces us to Jesus the Christ who knew he would be resurrected after death and become a God, indeed, the God.  Personally, I’m in awe of Jesus and regard Christ as a type of comic-book super-hero.  One was real and one was make-believe.

     In the creation of quality epic any credible author would most assuredly do some investigation to establish historicity.  Shakespeare used various biographical and travel accounts to write his plays, Ian Fleming is said to have used a copy of Fodor’s guide to Jamaica to assist in his early novels about the super-spy, James Bond, and then there’s Fox News which consistently uses a few facts to support its version of the news.  One should assume that the unknown author of the Gospel of Mark did his ‘homework’ and, perhaps, was even familiar with “Gabriel’s Revelation” or something closely resembling it.

St. Gabriel the Archangel, the Annunciation, and "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus" from Hamlet 2.

      Despite my profound admiration of the unknown author of the Gospel of Mark for the central structure of the Jesus Narrative, I also have to tip my hat to the other Gospel authors for their unique embellishments, especially for the Nativity stories and specifically to the usage of St. Gabriel the Archangel, who visited Mary at the “Annunciation.”  A nice addition of esoteric Jewish myth to a Greek tragedy about Roman occupation.

     Of course we know precious little about Jesus beyond identifying a humble style of sympathy wittisms and where he generally roamed about teaching his version of cynic philosophy before he went to Jerusalem.  The make-believe Christ continues as a popular character through interpretive gore-fests like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and tragicomedies like the “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus" segment featured in the upcoming Hamlet 2 from the creators of The Comedy Channel’s animated show, South Park.  Jesus may have died, but Christ keeps on giving.

pondering how Marvel is going to bring Capt. America back from the dead and how to turn wine into water,

Return to