the Web Editors 04-14-2016

And it's an Old Testament law. 

Bob Lonsberry of WHAM 1180 AM radio asked the Republican front-runner, "Is there a favorite Bible verse or Bible story that has informed your thinking or your character through life?"

Andrew Wilkes 03-28-2016

HEBERT ROBINSON Marbury’s Pillars of Cloud and Fire: The Politics of Exodus in African American Biblical Interpretation achieves the distinction of providing fresh insight in well-covered territory. Marbury, with imagination and impressive intellectual range, explores the uses of Exodus by African Americans in struggles for freedom, respect, and full inclusion into the democratic mechanisms of American political life.

For the past four decades, scholars in fields as disparate as African-American religious history, preaching, rhetoric, constructive theology, and American studies have noted a fundamental duality: White Christian immigrants perceived Britain as Pharaoh and America as the Promised Land; enslaved Africans, by contrast, saw America as a strange land in which white Christian immigrants were Pharaoh. Instead of covering this important though beaten path, Marbury employs an alternative strategy.

What’s his take? Marbury’s book acknowledges this rich history, specifically the first two generations of African-American biblical scholarship. Then he pivots quickly to define cultural studies as a foundational discipline anchoring his reading of the text. What this means is that Marbury unpacks the significance of scripture by assessing the canonical account as well as the life-world and aims of individual interpreters who employ what Hebrew Bible scholar Renita Weems calls reading strategies for the text. The arc of Marbury’s analysis stretches from the antebellum era to the black power movement.

Image via /Shutterstock.com

The Jewish people were nearing the end of their 40 years wandering through the desert when Moses orchestrated a census to determine how the promised land would be divided among families when they arrived. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah were five sisters. The fact that they are often referred to as the “daughters of Zelophehad” or the “daughters of Z” reflects the patriarchy of the day (in which, for instance, land was only passed to a male heir). “Z” had died in the desert, and these women of the wilderness advocated for themselves with Moses.

Adam Ericksen 06-14-2015
Diana Robinson / Flickr.com

American Pharoah ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza wins the Triple Crown at Belmont on June 6. Photo by Diana Robinson/Flickr.com

After winning the Triple Crown, American Pharoah’s jockey, Victor Espinoza, showed that he doesn’t live in fear of losing his power. And, as opposed to the Egyptian Pharaoh, he showed he has a soft heart for those who are suffering.

Espinoza reportedly earned $80,000 for his victory at the Belmont Stakes and he’s giving it all away. “I won the Triple Crown right now,” he stated, “but I don’t make any money because I’m donating all the money to the City of Hope.” The City of Hope is a cancer research and treatment center. Espinoza also donates his time at the City of Hope, visiting with children struck by cancer. He says, “The kids [are] 6 years old, 10 years old, it’s just heartbreaking.” Why does he do it? “I just saw one kid with the disease and that’s how I changed my life. I changed the way I think. Pretty much I changed everything … the first change I made was in my heart.”

The Editors 04-01-2015

Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers by Michael G. Long / The Mask You Live In by Representation Project / Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace by Patricia Raybon / Leave Some Things Behind by the Steel Wheels 

Photo via Sait Serkan Gurbuz / RNS

Women dance during an annual women’s seder at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, Md. Photo via Sait Serkan Gurbuz / RNS

On the first night of Passover, Jews ask aloud, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

For a group of 150-plus women gathered March 22 at Congregation Beth El north of Washington, D.C., that traditional question was followed by an alternative: “Why is this seder different from other seders?”

Answer: “At other seders, men traditionally lead the service. At this seder, women are the leaders.”

Women’s seders are not new. The women who gathered at Beth El on Sunday, 12 days before the holiday begins on April 3, have been at it for 19 years. These seders began in or near cities with substantial Jewish populations about a generation ago, when fewer women played leading roles in synagogues and other institutions of Jewish life.

Today, women in the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements of Judaism in the U.S., which account for about 90 percent of synagogue-affiliated Jews, lead congregations as rabbis, cantors, and synagogue presidents.

Still, women’s seders proliferate, and each year, their guest lists grow.

Photo via jsp / Shutterstock.com

Biblical Ten Commandments inscribed on stone tablets in the Paleo-hebrew script. Photo via jsp / Shutterstock.com

On any given Saturday, people join Habitat for Humanity teams and commit to work to help eradicate poverty housing.  The individual volunteers give of their time, energy and physical ability because they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  Similarly, in the HBO TV drama “Game of Thrones,” individuals from the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos volunteer to serve as The Night’s Watch.  Members of The Night’s Watch live as a self-sufficient military order that defends the Wall that protects the Seven Kingdoms and patrols the Haunted Forest.  The Night’s Watch oath details the sacrifice of its members:

"Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come."

Although the members of The Night’s Watch are fictitious, they exist in a recognizable bond – a commitment that theologians call a covenant relationship. 

In the Book of Exodus, readers find the beginnings of the formalized covenant relationship between the Israelites and their god. 

Jeffrey Salkin 01-05-2015
Photo via Paramount Pictures / RNS

David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Selma." Photo via Paramount Pictures / RNS.

Here is one of 2014’s most enduring tips for budding filmmakers: Do not make films that are going to make developing countries angry.

First, North Korea went ballistic over “The Interview,” which contained a farcical plot to assassinate Kim Jong Un. And then, Egypt, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates decided to ban the new Ridley Scott biblical epic, “Exodus: Gods And Kings.”

Why? Egypt, in particular, is angry at the film’s historical inaccuracies. “Exodus” shows the ancient Egyptians hanging recalcitrant Hebrew slaves; hanging was never used as a punishment in ancient Egypt. Moreover, the Egyptians are upset because the film depicts the ancient Hebrews laboring on the Great Sphinx and the pyramids. They also object to the depiction of an armed Hebrew insurrection, which does not appear in the ancient biblical text.

The official statement claimed the film includes “intentional gross historical fallacies that offend Egypt and its pharaonic ancient history in yet another attempt to Judaize Egyptian civilization, which confirms the international Zionist fingerprints all over the film.”

Guess what? The Egyptians are right.

Contested Land, Contested Memory: Israel's Jews and Arabs and the Ghosts of Catstrophe. Dundurn Press. 

Angelina Jolie with Louis Zamperini. Photo courtesy of Universal / RNS.

Angelina Jolie with Louis Zamperini. Photo courtesy of Universal / RNS.

Angelina Jolie’s highly anticipated film “Unbroken” features the true story of an Olympian and World War II veteran who was only able to extend forgiveness to his captors after he encountered Christianity.

The problem? The Christianity that is central to Louis Zamperini’s life is almost entirely absent from the film.

That could prove a disappointment to Christian viewers who read the best-seller by Lauren Hillenbrand that spawned the film, or who have been courted by the filmmakers to see the film, which opens in theaters on Christmas Day.

The question is whether Hollywood can lure faith-based audiences with a story that’s based on faith but doesn’t pay much attention to it, especially against the blockbuster biblical epic “Exodus,” which opens on Dec. 12.

Screenshot from the trailer for 'Exodus.'

Screenshot from the trailer for 'Exodus.'

This post originally appeared in The Week. Read the full post here.

Ridley Scott's Exodus has almost every ingredient necessary to make a holiday blockbuster: a timeless tale, killer cast, massive budget, pre-release media buzz, stunning special effects, and an impressive director. But if moviegoers look deeper, they'll notice one ingredient is painfully missing: melanin.

Scott's big-budget film takes place in North Africa thousands of years ago. In real life, everyone would have had dark skin. But the movie is populated by an almost completely Caucasian cast. Welsh-born Christian Bale stars as the Hebrew liberator, Moses. Australian Joel Edgerton plays Pharaoh, and American Sigourney Weaver was almost laughably cast as an African queen.

Vanity Fair notes that most of the actors of color who have been cast were relegated to nameless roles. (Exceptions may include smaller roles for Ben Kingsley, a Brit with an Indian father, and John Turturro, an Italian-American.) The Independent adds that black and ethnic minorities do appear in the cast as "Ramses servant," "Egyptian thief," and "Egyptian Lower Class Civilian."

We can't claim that Scott's casting decisions were pernicious. They are, however, historically inaccurate and, frankly, inexcusable for a film in 2014.

Sadly, Ridley Scott is hardly alone. Whitewashing Bible films is something of a Hollywood tradition spanning decades, and it won't change until audiences demand better.

The last time a live-action Moses appeared on the silver screen was in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments." It starred a fake-baked Charlton Heston. But okay, that was 1956. Surely Hollywood's sensitivity to ethnicity has changed in the last half-century, right?


Read more here.

Photo via maxriesgo / Shutterstock.com.

This reading of Isaiah 40 may make it more difficult for many of us to relate to the ancient historical setting of the text. There are many among us, however, who are refugees, forced to migrate to find economic opportunity or even because of poor decisions or systemic injustice that forces a disproportionate amount of our minority population into the prison system. Bereft of personal and economic freedom, our nation’s prison population might find both hope and justice in these words from the ancient prophetic text.

There is no doubt that many in our nation’s prison have committed crimes, just as the ancient people of Judah did according to Isaiah 1. There is also no doubt that we need a system of incarceration that separates dangerous criminals from potential victims. But the words concerning disproportionate judgment also call us to question the fairness of our current system in the United States, which boasts the largest prison population in the world at 2.2 million.

Moreover, just as God did not give up on the people of Judah, God has not given up on those in the prison system. What would happen if we as Christians partnered with God to help transform lives and offer hope to the women and men who fill our prisons?

Adam Ericksen 09-02-2014
Namning and Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com

Namning and Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com

A theology of labor involves Genesis 2:15 – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

Labor is fundamentally a good thing and a theology of labor includes responsible stewardship of the earth’s resources. The first chapter of Genesis is obsessed with telling us that the world is good. As such, God calls us to labor for it, to responsibly keep and care for it.

Of course, labor often involves hard, back breaking work that doesn’t always feel good. Genesis 3 puts forth an explanation that God cursed the earth because of human sin, making labor much more difficult. Whatever we think about that explanation, the Bible is much more interested in a different curse when it comes to labor — how we humans curse one another.

Like everything in this good world, the goodness of labor can be exploited. The prime biblical example of this comes from Exodus, which describes how the Hebrews were exploited as slaves in Egypt.

They were forced to labor.

jorisvo/Shutterstock.com and Light Brigading and Shawn Semmler/Flickr

jorisvo/Shutterstock.com and Light Brigading and Shawn Semmler/Flickr

"Then the LORD said, 'I have observed the misery of my people…I have heard their cry…Indeed, I know their sufferings…’ - Exodus 3:7

For the last few weeks, the eyes of America have been riveted on the town of Ferguson, Missouri, a formerly little-known suburb of St. Louis. It was there on Aug. 9 that an unarmed African-American teenager named Mike Brown was shot six times by police, sparking ongoing protests and demonstrations by grief-stricken and outraged citizens. Clashes between demonstrators and heavily armed local police, highway patrol, and the Missouri National Guard have been the subject of extensive coverage and all manner of commentary across broadcast and social media.

These demonstrations in Ferguson represent something more than just lament for the tragic death of Mike Brown. They are an outcry at the demonization of black men, racial profiling, institutional racism, intergenerational poverty, the militarization of law enforcement, and a culture of incarceration in America. Over the last three weeks, Ferguson has become a flash point for urgent issues facing minority communities, issues which have been largely unnoticed or ignored by the majority white culture. The #Ferguson hashtag no longer just refers to the events happening in Ferguson but has come to represent a national conversation about the toll that institutional racism and its many diabolical expressions have taken on our fellow Americans.

In the days following Mike Brown’s death, columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. described the protests as “an act of outcry, a scream of inchoate rage. That’s what happened this week in Ferguson, Mo. The people screamed.” These screams echo of the cries that God heard from the Hebrews enslaved in ancient Egypt.

This is not the first time that biblical films have been criticized for "whitewashing." In an op-ed for Sojourners last year, Ryan Herring noted that his initial excitement for "Noah" and "Exodus" turned to "disdain" after realizing that "not a single one of the leading roles in either movie was given to a person of Middle Eastern descent." "Some things never change. In Hollywood, whitewashing, also known as racebending, is one of many longstanding tradition...Historically, this practice was used to discriminate against actors, both male and female, of color," wrote Herring. "The most common examples of this in the past were white actors dressing up in what is known as blackface, redface, and yellowface. While maybe not as controversial or blatant today, the practice of whitewashing still continues in Hollywood...[where] roles from scripts that clearly call for a person of color are given to white actors."

Magdalene is a residential program that helps women who have survived lives of violence and prostitution.

The 2013 Global Slavery Index reports that nearly 30 million women, children, and men are enslaved around the world today. Their slavery has many forms. For millions, especially women and girls, it is prostitution, forced marriage, or other sexual and reproductive exploitation. Others - an estimated 16.4 million - are forced into labor in spheres ranging from domestic work and agriculture to construction and manufacturing. Others are tricked, kidnapped, and/or sold for illegal adoption, forced begging, armed combat, forced crime, and organ harvesting. As globalization continues to increase demand for cheap labor and movement across borders, human trafficking - sale and movement of people for forced labor, including prostitution - has become the “fastest growing international crime.” It nets traffickers billions of dollars in profit each year.

A man in Central African Republic shows a bandaged arm after an attack in the violence. Photo by Nestor Aziagbia. Via RNS

Churches in Central African Republic are caring for thousands of Muslims who have been trapped in a cycle of revenge attacks, perpetrated by a pro-Christian militia.

Since December, Anti-Balaka militias have been emptying Muslim quarters and avenging earlier attacks by the Seleka, an Islamist militia. The Seleka rampaged through the country in early 2013, terrorizing Christians and ransacking churches, hospitals, and shops.

Now that the Muslim president Michel Djotodia has stepped down, Seleka is being forced to withdraw from its strongholds, as the center of power shifts, amid a mass exodus and displacement of Muslims.

Ryan Herring 11-22-2013

Russell Crowe as Noah. Courtesy © 2012 Paramount Pictures

Following the success of the History Channel's mini-series, The Bible, which appeared weekly last March, Hollywood seems to have renewed an avenue in which Biblical adaptations are allowed to enjoy a significant amount of limelight.

Two blockbuster titles are to set to be released in 2014: Paramount Picture's Noah and 21st Century Fox's Exodus. These two films both boast a star-studded cast as directors Darren Aronofsky and Ridley Scott hope to astonish audiences by combining stunning visualizations with two of the most popular accounts from the Old Testament, the Great Flood and the Exodus out of Egypt.

As a Christian and an avid movie-goer, I was thrilled to read that these two films were in production. However, once I saw the actors cast to play the leading roles in these two films, my excitement quickly turned to disdain. Not a single one of the leading roles in either movie was given to a person of Middle Eastern descent.

Diogo Morgaldo (center) plays Jesus in a scene of “Son of God.” Photo via RNS/courtesy Lightworkers Media

Studios and filmmakers are rediscovering a classic text as source material for upcoming mainstream films: the Bible.

Nearly 10 years after the blockbuster success of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which earned $611.9 million worldwide, studios are looking to the Good Book for good material.

Alongside the string of upcoming Bible-related films, producers from the History channel’s “The Bible” miniseries just announced that the series’ film adaptation “Son of God” will be released in theaters nationwide in February with 20th Century Fox.