Monday, June 1, 2015

Moving to Youtube

Not much blogging going on around here lately.  It is not from lack of desire.  I can assure you there is no blogging burnout here.  I love to write, to discuss, to share ideas.

I just lack the time.

I have three major hobbies that take up the bulk of my free time.  Two of them involve spending long periods of time outdoors.  I am not even going to mention that time taken up from daily obligations of career, chores and family life.  All of this is just hobbies and pastimes:

Outdoors.  Hiking and camping up in the mountains with Rosemary is something I live for, but it will swallow up an entire weekend.  I have also pushed my trail running into another level.  I ran over 300 kilometers just in the month of May, mostly on the desert trails around Franklin Mountain State Park.  That kind of running is a real challenge that keeps me active and motivated, but averaging 10 kilometers a day pounding the trails eats up an enormous amount of time.  The New York Times recently had an article (HERE) about ultra-marathons and trail running, and put me in the running category of radical fringe.  Ha!  I love it.

Reading. I consider reading to be an engagement of ideas with the author.  I will take the time out to read a book of ideas, and to form opinions of my own based on that book.  Time is the issue.  Listening to audiobooks when I run is one option, but I never do that.  I am pretty 'old school' when it comes to my hobbies.  My occupation demands that I sit in a cubicle and stare at a screen most of the day - and I feel the need to unplug from the technology when I can.  When I run, I only listen to my breathing and my footfalls.  I also listen out for the rattlesnakes who are so good at hiding in the rocks and shadows in the trail ahead of me.  I have tried audiobooks, but it is impossible for me to concentrate on those things.  I like a physical, bound book, with clipboard, highlighter and notepad in hand.  I know.  I am a dinosaur.

Writing.  If I am in an exchange of ideas with the author, then I must have an outlet.  That is why I find enjoyment in typing book reviews and book discussions.  Even if the author is long dead, I need to express my own opinions and thoughts that were provoked from that author, and since it is so difficult to bring the topics I am interested in to people I know, even Rosemary, writing and blogging about them is a good outlet for me.  But after spending time with Rosemary, a few hours out on the running trail, and squeezing a few paragraphs of a book into whatever time is left leaves next to no time for writing and makes for one frustrated blogger.

I have to be realistic.  As much as I want to write, I have next to no time for it.  My solution?  Audio.  I will not write.  I will talk.  I have had a Youtube channel for a few years, and I have used it in spurts.  I have used it for book discussions in the past, but since I refuse to show my face I am not especially suited for video.  Rosemary suggested that I do podcasts, and that may be an option if I can ever figure out how the heck to produce those things.  I have produced audiobooks in the past, but editing those things is a real chore.  For now I am just keeping it simple.  I do not edit - neither the audio or the video.  I just do not have the patience.  I turn on the camera, the microphone, book in hand with a few notes, and talk about the book in a single take.  I try to keep the videos about 10 minutes in length.  The production quality is non-existent.  I am only in it for the talk.

I want to continue my extended review of Robert Price's book, The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems, but since I started that thing almost a year ago (!!!), I am putting it to the side and beginning a new project.  I have begun reviewing  a work of Christian apologetics called The Heresy of Orthodoxy, by Andreas J. K√∂stenberger, Michael J. Kruger.  I just began last night and have already recorded the first three installments.  I prefer writing, but talking is so much faster!!  Here is the first installment.  Let me know what you think:



If you want, you can check out the most boring channel on Youtube HERE.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Like mom. Only different

Nearly every day, I pass by the friendly neighborhood Skyline Baptist church here in El Paso.  I have learned a long time ago to make sure to bring a camera with me when I do pass by this church.  Sometimes they put up a verse from the Bible, sometimes it is to advertise an upcoming event on their schedule, and sometimes they have a direct quote from the Almighty!  I have written before about the signs this church has posted (see HERE, HERE and HERE).  I used to find some of them offensive, but now I just appreciate them for the amusement value alone.

Last week, Skyline Baptist had a real doozy on their marquee that I still can’t figure out.



Huh?  Can somebody tell me what this is supposed to mean?  I just don’t get it.  You would think Christians would be a little more careful about attributing direct quotes to the Deity they worship.  That presumption that they know exactly what the Almighty would say is just astounding to me!  You would they they would understand the implications that they have to speak for their own silent Deity.  You would think, but even granting this level of ignorance, I can’t figure out what this sign is supposed to mean.

I love you and I can be scary - like mom only different - God

So let me get this straight.  God loves me.  Like mom.  But different from mom.  And God can be scary.  Like mom.  Only different from mom.  And since this is never explained, I can leave it up to the worst nature of my imagination to fill in the gaps.  Mom loves me, but will torture me if I do not bow in worship to her?  Sure.  Why not.  The terrible implications of this sign are just too vast and terrible for me to contemplate.  It could mean anything.  Which means it will mean the worst thing I can think of.  No thank you!

The other side of the sign was another quote directly attributed to the Almighty.  The Deity returns to His usual self with a simple dichotomy that His puny creation can understand.


Yeah, that’s more like it.  Catchy and direct.  Like ‘Turn or Burn’!  I like it.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: Mark Chapter 5

Continuing review - The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems by Robert M. Price
New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: Mark chapter 5
If you have no idea what this article is about - please read THIS.

Robert Price has published his article, New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash on his website.  You can follow along HERE.  

OK, I continue with what Robert Price has to say about the Gospel of Mark chapter 5.  I have to confess that I was not particularly impressed with what Dr. Price had to offer for the first three chapters of the Gospel of Mark.  Some of the parallels that were being offered seemed to me too forced to be plausible.  But that tide turned in chapter 4 with some very intriguing Old Testament parallels, and I think chapter 5 continues that trend.  If we are interested in how the Evangelist Mark wrote his Gospel history, there are strong indicators in chapter 5 that demonstrate how he derived his history.

13. The Gerasene Demoniac -  Mark 5:1-20 ; Psalms 107:4-14  ; Odyssey 9:101-565

Sometimes, a movie will have minor characters that are not central to the main plot.  Those minor characters will not have fully developed personalities or backgrounds.  They are developed just enough to provide flesh and color to the film they are in.  But have you ever watched a movie or television show with minor characters who are intriguing enough that you want to know more of their story?  Maybe we found them even more fascinating than the lead characters?  We all have.  This is how television spin-offs are born.  How else do you explain something like Gomer Pyle?

Imagine a few generations of Hebrews g0ing to the Jerusalem Temple, where this song was regularly sung:
Psalms 107:4-14

They wandered in the wilderness in a desolate way;
They found no city to dwell in.
5 Hungry and thirsty,
Their soul fainted in them.
6 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He delivered them out of their distresses.
7 And He led them forth by the right way,
That they might go to a city for a dwelling place.
8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
9 For He satisfies the longing soul,
And fills the hungry soul with goodness.
10 Those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
Bound in affliction and irons—
11 Because they rebelled against the words of God,
And despised the counsel of the Most High,
12 Therefore He brought down their heart with labor;
They fell down, and there was none to help.
13 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He saved them out of their distresses.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
And broke their chains in pieces.
Who are ‘those who sat in darkness’?  In the shadow of death?  Who rebelled against the words of God and sat bound in affliction and irons?  There was none to help, but when they cried out to Jehovah, He was there to save them from the darkness and break their chains.  

Who is this referring to?  The song never explicitly spells it out, and this ambiguity is what invites further story-telling and elaboration.  Who is this rebel who was tormented and punished for his sins?  Whoever he is, he has a story worth telling, for in the midst of his abandonment, he cries out to Jehovah!  The beneficent Jehovah is willing to save him from his torment!

Dr. Price offers this psalm as a motivation for the story of Jesus healing the demon possessed man, and even though I would never offer this Psalm as a direct inspiration for a New Testament story, it does make sense that Old Testament passages like this do offer holes that just ask to be filled.

Dr. Price suggests that the narrative hole left by Psalms 107:4-14 was filled by the next story in the Gospel of Mark.  We last left our hero Jesus stuck in boat during a storm, which He is able to miraculously calm.  Jesus and His disciples continue to the other side of the sea to the country of the Gerasenes.  From out of the tombs comes a wild and naked man, possessed by demons and with unnatural strength.  During the night, he hurls himself against the stones and howls in anguish.  What a pathetic creature!  When he sees Jesus step out of the boat he runs up to Him.  ‘What have You to do with me?”  Jesus asks the name of the demon, where he gives the famous and blood curdling reply, “My name is Legion”.  The demons beg to be given mercy, so Jesus commands them out of the man and into a nearby herd of 2000 pigs.  The pigs stampede over the cliff and in a demonic frenzy, they drown in the sea.  When Jesus sets to depart, the delivered man asks to join Him.  Jesus refuses the offer and instead commands the man to stay and preach among the Decapolis.  

Dr. Price suggests that this story of the Gerasene Demoniac comes, not from the Old Testament, but from a source that was hinted at before: Homer’s Odyssey.  And in this case it is from the famous story of the Greek hero Odysseus and his men sailing their boats onto the island of Polyphemus, the monstrous Cyclops!  This Grecian source for a (supposed) Jewish Gospel seems absurd on first glance, and I admit I still do not know what to do with this hypothesis.  Even if the Evangelist Mark was Jewish, the Jewish culture was Hellenized during this point in history, and just as modern Filipinos are undeniably influenced by their Spanish and American colonizers, evidence shows that Palestinian Jews were heavily influenced by Greek thought, culture and philosophy.  The Gospel Evangelists likely knew Homer, Aeschylus, and Plato just as much as they knew their own Scriptures.  Could the Greek epics have influenced their historical conception of Jesus as much as their own Hebrew epics?

Dr. Price spells out the details of the two stories in convincing detail.  The selection from Odyssey is too long to reproduce here, but Dr. Price gives many intriguing similarities between both stories.  It is enough to convince me that Mark 5:1-20 was most likely derived by the Homeric epic.  

GRADE: A


14. Jairus’ Daughter and the Woman with the Issue of Blood -  Mark 5:21-43 ; 2 Kings 4:8-37

The idea that the first half of Mark 5 seems to be derived from a Homeric epic is fascinating enough, but I found Dr. Price’s argument for the second half of Mark 5 to be the most compelling yet.  The passage Mark 5:21-43 is really two stories combined into one.  After healing the Demoniac, Jesus gets back in His boat continues zig-zagging across the sea.  A ruler of the Synagogue named Jairus begs Jesus to visit his sick daughter, and raise her from the death bed.  

Just as Jesus head’s off to the house of Jairus, there is an interruption in the story.  A woman, sick with a continuous hemorrhage of menstrual blood, reaches her hand from the mob and touches the hem of Jesus’ clothing.  Jesus declares that her Faith has made her well.

The narrative switches back to the original story.  A messenger comes from the house of Jairus and gives the sad news that they are too late.  The daughter of Jairus is dead.  Jesus continued to the house where he saw a mob wailing in grief.  Jesus took the girl’s parents, along with only three of His disciple’s, and entered the room where the dead girl lay.  On the command of Jesus, the girl awoke from death!  Jesus then warned the girl’s parents not to tell anybody what had happened.  The Gospel does not go on to describe how the parents hid the news from the wailing mob that the girl was again alive.

Although the story of the woman with the hemorrhage of blood is inserted in the middle of the story of Jairus’ daughter, Dr. Price makes a convincing case that the Evangelist Mark intended for both stories to be related to each other.  The age of Jairus’ daughter and length of time the sick woman was hemorrhaging blood is each listed, and it is the same amount of time for each - twelve years (v25, v42).  I think the implication from the Evangelist is that the woman who grabbed the hem of Jesus’ garment in an act of healing Faith was the dead girl’s mother, and also implying that she began hemorrhaging blood when she was in labor with the girl.  Now there is a twist in the story for you!

Dr. Price argues that double story in the Gospel of Mark comes from another double story in 2 Kings 4:8-37.  That story goes like this.  Elisha the prophet occasionally passed through a town called Shunem.  A wealthy woman and her husband who lived there regularly provided Elisha hospitality with a room to sleep in and a bite to eat.  Elisha wanted to give her some kind of miraculous reward for all her generous hospitality, so one day he called for her and announced that she would soon have a son!  The woman was surprised at this announcement, but what do you know, she eventually conceived a son!  

Eventually the boy grew.  One day while working with his father out in the fields the boy had an aneurysm and died.  The mother placed the dead boy on the guest bed where the Prophet Elisha would stay during his visits.  Then she and a servant travelled to the regular home of the Prophet Elisha, and found him hanging around Mount Carmel.  The mother grabbed hold of Elisha’s feet and gave him the devastating news.  Elisha told his servant to travel back to the dead boy in Shunam and try reviving him by placing his staff on him.  So the servant travelled back to Shunam, and placed the staff on the dead boy, but alas! the body remained dead.  The servant returned to the home of Elisha on Mt. Carmel and told the prophet that bigger guns would be necessary if he was going to pull this trick off.  So Elisha himself travelled back to Shuman to see the dead boy lying in the guest bedroom.  By this time, I imagine the boy must have been dead several weeks!  But undaunted, the prophet Elisha lay down on the bed with the dead boy and stretched himself out on the decaying body.  It worked!  As Elisha lay on the boy, the boy sneezed a few times then lifted himself up - alive again!

There are numerous parallels between the stories of Jesus and Elisha.  But did the Evangelist Mark get his history of Jesus from the story of Elisha?  It looks like it to me, and what I find so compelling is that each story involves two separate but related miracles.  The Evangelist Mark has a dead child rise from the dead, but also includes a minor story of a mother who is healed from a sickness related to childbirth.  The story in 2 Kings also has a dead child rise from the dead, but also includes a minor story of a woman who is healed from a sickness related to childbirth.  The fact that not just one, but two related stories are found in both Jesus and Elisha narratives is the clincher for me.

GRADE: A

Can't get enough?  Loads more of this kind of stuff coming soon.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: Mark Chapter 4

Continuing review - The Christ Myth Theory and its Problems by Robert M. Price
New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash: Mark Chapter 4
If you have no idea what this article is about - please read THIS.

Robert Price has published his article, New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash on his website.  You can follow along HERE.  

OK, I continue with what Robert Price has to say about the Gospel of Mark chapter 4.  The story of Jesus continues in the Gospel of Mark.  After Jesus selects His disciples in chapter 3, He begins His instruction to them with a series of parables.  As the crowds gather in the shore of the lake, He instructs them from a boat.  After the crowds dispersed, His disciples were naturally puzzled as to the meaning of His stories.  Jesus explains that the mysteries of the Kingdom of God are hidden in parables so that those on the outside may not see or understand.  Jesus then secretly tells His disciples the meaning of the parable of the sower, along with a couple new parables.  The disciples are naturally puzzled with this style of instruction from their Master.   If the purpose of parables is to hide the hidden secrets of the Kingdom from those on the outside, I have to wonder why Jesus continued to teach His inner circle of disciples with more parables, even when no heathen from the outside was there to hear then.  

Well, whatever.  Neither these parables, nor His instructions concerning the hidden mysteries of the Kingdom of God are given any parallel from the Old Testament.  I am assuming that Dr. Price will not find Old Testament parallels for the parables and aphorisms of Jesus.  If we take Dr. Price’s working hypothesis that Jesus did not actually exist, that all history about Him was extrapolated by the Evangelists from Old Testament narratives, then I have to wonder what the source of these parables was.  Somebody had to say this stuff!

12. The Stilling of the Storm -  Mark 4:35-41 ; Psalms 107:23-29 ; Jonah 1:4,5,6,15,16

Let us again imagine this scene:  The Evangelist Mark is composing his history of Jesus, and he is scouring his version of the Scriptures looking for source material.  He comes upon this bit in the Prophet Jonah:

Jonah 1:4,5,6,14,15
4 But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.
5 Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load.  But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.
6 So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”
15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.

Here is the scene of writing:  The Evangelist Mark is looking for history in types.  Models.  Allegories.  What story can the Evangelist derive from this exciting episode from Jonah?  he easily derives the story of Jesus stilling the storm.  It is an almost perfect match.  Jonah falls asleep during the raging storm, so the Evangelist decides Jesus must have done the same thing.  The only major difference is that Jonah was cast overboard to still the storm, and the Evangelist obviously does not want Jesus cast overboard by His disciples!  But not to worry.  The Evangelist uses this helpful tidbit from the Psalms to complete the story that he wants:

Psalms 107:23-29
Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters,
24 They see the works of the Lord,
And His wonders in the deep.
25 For He commands and raises the stormy wind,
Which lifts up the waves of the sea.
26 They mount up to the heavens,
They go down again to the depths;
Their soul melts because of trouble.
27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
And are at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He brings them out of their distresses.
29 He calms the storm,
So that its waves are still.

The Evangelist combines this to produce his story of Jesus calming the raging sea.

Mark 4:35-41
35 On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” 36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?”  41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

This is an almost perfect match.  Almost all details from the Gospel are filled in by the Old Testament selections.  In my mind, this is the best case that Dr. Price has made so far that a story of Jesus was derived from Old Testament midrash.  It is so good, that Dr. Price offers almost no analysis.  It speaks for itself.

GRADE: A

The one bit of analysis that Dr. Price does offer concerns the snippet in Mark 4:36, “And other little boats were also with Him”.  Also, why did Jesus scold His disciples in 4:40?  Dr. Price says that these small parts are not to be found in the Old Testament parallels, and are irrelevant details to the main story of Jesus calming the storm.  Dr. Price offers yet another story about a storm that he figures the Evangelist got these details from.  This one is the Odyssey from Homer.  I am not sure Dr. Price has to go this far afield when nearly everything he needs can be found in Jonah and Psalms.  If anything, it just shows that stories of surviving raging storms on the high seas was a popular story motif back then.  I am including the section of Odyssey here just for completeness, and highlighting some similarities.

[1] “Then to the Aeolian isle we came, where dwelt Aeolus, son of Hippotas, dear to the immortal gods, in a floating island, and all around it is a wall of unbreakable bronze, and the cliff runs up sheer. Twelve children of his, too, there are in the halls, six daughters and six sturdy sons, and he gave his daughters to his sons to wife. These, then, feast continually by their dear father and good mother, and before them lies boundless good cheer. And the house, filled with the savour of feasting, resounds all about even in the outer court by day, and by night again they sleep beside their chaste wives on blankets and on corded bedsteads.
[13] "To their city, then, and fair palace did we come, and for a full month he made me welcome and questioned me about each thing, about Ilios, and the ships of the Argives, and the return of the Achaeans. And I told him all the tale in due order. But when I, on my part, asked him that I might depart and bade him send me on my way, he, too, denied me nothing, but furthered my sending. He gave me a wallet, made of the hide of an ox nine years old, which he flayed, and therein he bound the paths of the blustering winds; for the son of Cronos had made him keeper of the winds, both to still and to rouse whatever one he will. And in my hollow ship he bound it fast with a bright cord of silver, that not a breath might escape, were it never so slight. But for my furtherance he sent forth the breath of the West Wind to blow, that it might bear on their way both ships and men. Yet this he was not to bring to pass, for we were lost through our own folly.
[28] “For nine days we sailed, night and day alike, and now on the tenth our native land came in sight, and lo, we were so near that we saw men tending the beacon fires. Then upon me came sweet sleep in my weariness, for I had ever kept in hand the sheet of the ship, and had yielded it to none other of my comrades, that we might the sooner come to our native land. But my comrades meanwhile began to speak one to another, and said that I was bringing home for myself gold and silver as gifts from Aeolus, the great-hearted son of Hippotas. And thus would one speak, with a glance at his neighbor: `Out on it, how beloved and honored this man is by all men, to whose city and land soever he comes! Much goodly treasure is he carrying with him from the land of Troy from out the spoil, while we, who have accomplished the same journey as he, are returning, bearing with us empty hands. And now Aeolus has given him these gifts, granting them freely of his love. Nay, come, let us quickly see what is here, what store of gold and silver is in the wallet.’
[46] “So they spoke, and the evil counsel of my comrades prevailed. They loosed the wallet, and all the winds leapt forth, and swiftly the storm-wind seized them and bore them weeping out to sea away from their native land; but as for me, I awoke, and pondered in my goodly heart whether I should fling myself from the ship and perish in the sea, or endure in silence and still remain among the living. However, I endured and abode, and covering my head lay down in the ship. But the ships were borne by an evil blast of wind back to the Aeolian isle; and my comrades groaned.
[56] “There we went ashore and drew water, and straightway my comrades took their meal by the swift ships. But when we had tasted of food and drink, I took with me a herald and one companion and went to the glorious palace of Aeolus, and I found him feasting beside his wife and his children. So we entered the house and sat down by the doorposts on the threshold, and they were amazed at heart, and questioned us: `How hast thou come hither, Odysseus? What cruel god assailed thee? Surely we sent thee forth with kindly care, that thou mightest reach thy native land and thy home, and whatever place thou wouldest.’
[66] “So said they, but I with a sorrowing heart spoke among them and said: `Bane did my evil comrades work me, and therewith sleep accursed; but bring ye healing, my friends, for with you is the power.’

That is from Homer’s Odyssey.  I do not think its placement here is very important, but Homer will be a major consideration for Mark chapter 5.  It leads me to wonder just how Jewish these Gospels really are if they are influenced from a variety Jewish and Greek sources!  We will see next time.  

Can't get enough?  Loads more of this kind of stuff coming soon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Silence by Shusaku Endo

On a strong recommendation from author Lori McFarlane, I recently finished the novel Silence by Shusaku Endo.  The power behind this novel lies in its graphic depiction of the psychological experience that every devout Christian has felt in the times of their most desperate need.  Every Christian has experienced the inexplicable pain and suffering of those they love.  The fervent and faithful prayers and petitions to the Christian Deity are made with sincere, devotional selflessness.  Every Christian has experienced the inevitable stone silence of the all-beneficent Deity on whom they pour their continual devotion.  Every Christian must justify the inexplicable silence of the Deity who seems to stand by in amusement as His children are continually afflicted with the savage horrors of this profane world.  All Christians have had occasion to pray, “Dear God where are You?”  Some may have even dared to question the indifference of the Almighty.  At times we have all wondered, questioned, pleaded, bargained with or cried in desperation.  I know I did when I believed.  “Good God!  WHERE ARE YOU?!!?  Why aren’t You answering my prayers as You promise You will?!!?”


Shusaku Endo, the Catholic author of the novel Silence, answers this question in a manner that is typical of most Catholics who are confronted with silence in the face of suffering.  It is somewhat disappointing to read the obsequious justification that Silence ultimately makes to excuse the silent Deity at all costs, especially when it is through the powerful and sympathetic character that Mr. Endo has created.  


Sebastian Rodrigues is a Portuguese missionary, who is dispatched to the remote heathen islands of 17th century Japan.  Buddhist and otherwise Pagan Japan had shown great promise as a soil that would bear much Christian Fruit.  Catholic missionaries were welcome in Japan through the later portion of the 16th century, and many converts were made for the Catholic Faith.  But at some point early in the 17th century, the Japanese feudal lords grew more suspicious of the new Christian Faith, mostly due to news of the divisive and never-ending religious wars in Europe.  Their solution was simple: outlaw Christianity in Japan.  So while Catholicism flourished in other far-eastern outposts like Philippines, Japan demanded all Christian converts to apostatize.  Large monetary prizes were placed on the heads of Christians, with Catholic priests garnering the greatest reward.  Once fertile Japan had become a swamp.


Silence places the story in this environment.  To simply be a Christian meant torture or death administered from samurai authorities.  The young Catholic priest Sebastian Rodrigues and his retinue must brave the unforgiving ocean journey to Japan, then sneak onto the Japanese islands without being caught by the authorities.  Rodrigues is certain that he will be able to find Japanese Christians who hold onto their Catholic Faith in secrecy, and it is to these desperate believers that the Catholic priest must minister, dispense the elements of the Mass, and hear confession.  But Rodrigues has another official mission that he finds more personal.  Rumors persist that his old mentor, Father Christovao Ferreira, was not rewarded with a most glorious martyrdom.  The rumors that Rodrigues could not dare to believe were that his beloved mentor apostatized under torture by trampling on the image of the blessed Virgin and renouncing his faith.  As a priest, Rodrigues lived to serve his Catholic flock, but he also longed to find Ferreira and dispel the unbelievable rumors of his apostasy.


All Christians who take their Faith seriously can understand the terror that can accompany doubt and the absence of God.  Lori McFarlane read this book at a time when she struggled with her own Faith, and found that the graphic descriptions of doubt mirrored her own.  But even as a non-believer, I found it was easy to sympathize with the Christian missionaries in a foreign land.  Christians were on the receiving end of atrocities, and it would have been very easy for me to view the whole scenario as absurd.  I could easily just mock the superstition and folly of the characters.  “Just apostatize and be done with it!”  But the book is so well written, that such mockery on my part would have been irresponsible.  The characters may have been fictional, but they were based on real people.  The Portuguese missions to Japan and the torture of Christians were historical events.  I have to engage with the story and characters.  Why won’t the Japanese converts make even an outward showing of apostasy?  The novel offers grisly clues.  It involves promises of a glorious martyrdom, and the threat of being classed among the weak Christians.  The one weak Christian who is prominently featured is a constant torment to Rodrigues, and is considered no better than a dog by Christians strong enough for martyrdom.  Death cults have no room for such weaklings.      


The novel is full of shocking ironies.  Apostasy, torture and death follow Sebastian Rodrigues like a plague.  To Rodrigues’ surprise, martyrs are not killed as witnesses to Catholic glory.  They are instead slaughtered like dogs.  The young priest’s fervent prayers are answered in ways familiar to every Christian believer - the sounds of buzzing flies and the lonely wind.  Like every Christian believer, Rodrigues can not understand why God is persistently, incessantly silent in the face of such torture.  Rodrigues can only imagine the voice of his mocking God in the sound of the ocean waves.  He can only see the face of his Jesus in moonlit shadows, like deluded believers today who see the face of Jesus in the crust of a toasted tortilla.  There are several powerful sequences in Silence where Rodrigues privately questions the existence of his Deity.  I think I understand Rodrigues’ desperation to find his mentor Ferreira.  If his mentor has indeed apostatized, if he has renounced his Faith and trampled on the fumie, then there is nothing to reinforce his own wavering faith.  The most disturbing irony of all comes late in the book.  Rodrigues curses his ignorant and snoring prison guard while he is continually tormented by his absent and silent Deity.  As he curses his prison guard … well, you will just have to read the book to discover this terrible irony for yourself!


I definitely recommend this novel for any Christian or sympathetic non-believer.  I earlier wrote that I was disappointed a bit with how the Rodrigues must justify reasons for his silent, non-existent Deity.  But I think that is my rational mind interrupting, because such justifications are realistic.  What else can the devout Christian tormented by the silence of God do?

Thanks again to Lori McFarlane for introducing me to Shusaku Endo.  Read Lori’s review of Silence HERE.