Saturday, March 20, 2010

Luke 1 -- the mechanics of inspiration

A century or two ago, a popular form of recreation in America was listening to professional orators make vivid presentations of the Christian gospel.[1] They were the rock stars of their day, men like Billy Sunday and D. L. Moody. In the early part of the nineteenth century, a young lad went, listened, and rejected.

We don't know all the influences and forces that lead susceptible souls into the realm of the demonic. Perhaps, Edgar Cayce was repulsed by the show-biz hype surrounding those entertainment spectacles, seeing the disconnect between high-powered star power, and the humble, routine service at the heart of normal Christian living. There is some evidence of a family history of dabbling in the occult. There was a lot of that going around back then, even as today. In any case, by mid-century, Edgar's shtick[2] was "the sleeping prophet." He would lie down, go into a trance, and, in an altered voice, provide information he had no normal way of knowing. His services as a diagnostician were much in demand, and "he helped a lot of people."

Amazing how innocent things can look at the beginning.

As Cayce spent more of his "waking" hours in a trance, a whole cosmology emerged, a form of Hinduism in western dress, a major component of the "New Age" movement. People went to Cayce for "past life readings," to hear tales of what they'd been and done in prior incarnations. A supporting genre of literature appeared, and "paperback riders" devoured the books that seemed to combine mystical experience with scientific rigor.

Cayce's "gift" became ever more demanding, tormenting him with excruciating migraines when he tried to stay awake, stay normal. Eventually, he was worn out and discarded. His "Association for Research and Enlightenment" is still, alas, going strong. May God have mercy upon us all.

Quite often, occultic phenomena require darkness, altered states of consciousness, and are surrounded by a sense of the weird. The spooky. The uncanny. Normal people in normal circumstances find this atmosphere repellent. Given the right pressures, however, even healthy people can find themselves drawn into this vortex, where The Truth seems to always be almost within one's grasp -- if I can just buy one more book, and factor one more notion into the total equation of my life, if I can just have the experience of enlightenment these folks all write about ...

The core of the Christian message, by contrast, is daylight, sanity, sobriety. We are talking about things that really happen. One of the major scribes of the New Testament, Luke the physician, invites us into his office to watch him at work:[3]
Luk 1:1-3 Sayin Teofilos, Birçok kişi aramızda olup bitenlerin tarihçesini yazmaya girişti. Nitekim başlangıçtan beri bu olayların görgü tanığı ve Tanrı sözünün hizmetkârı olanlar bunları bize ilettiler. Ben de bütün bu olayları ta başından özenle araştırmış biri olarak bunları sana sırasıyla yazmayı uygun gördüm.
Luk 1:4 Öyle ki, sana verilen bilgilerin doğruluğunu bilesin.
A sober scholar talks to eye-witnesses, collects their recollections. Sifts through the mass of source material, to ascertain which accounts are most reliable, most widely believed, held on the best authority. He then carefully arranges the material, and writes the longest gospel in the New Testament. His brain is fully engaged. He is not in a trance taking dictation. Yet, somehow, God is at work in and through Luke, and the end-result, the double book of Luke's Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, is understood by all sane[4] Christians as God's Word.

Let's take a look at one more inspired writer:
The major reference here is Mishkatu'l Masabih (k'tab'l Fitanu: Babul Buth wa Bad'l wahy), i.e. the section on Revelation; (pp 513-516). These are the testimonies of Ibn Ishaq. Husain Ibn Muhammad, Ibn Hisham, Ibn Athir, Muslim, Abu Huralra. Al-Bukharl, and even Zaid ibnThabit, the Scribe of Mohammed and the traditional editor of the original Qur'an.

According to these witnesses, whenever the Inspiration came upon Mohammed, he would normally fall to the ground, with the body shaking violently, perspiring intensively, eyes shut, mouth foaming and the face looking like a young camel. Sometimes, he would hear a bell ringing In his ears. The experience was normally followed by most severe headaches. Abu Huraira is quoted in the Hadith as saying: "...when Inspiration descended on the Apostle, they used to bathe his sacred head with henna, because of the headache that used to come on."
I leave this question with the reader: does Mohammed's experience more closely resemble that of Edgar Cayce? Or Luke?


[1] I regret to inform my readers that some Christians still think that's an appropriate way to share the Good News of the Great King -- put on an entertainment spectacular. With a big-name star if you can organize a city to pony up the dough it takes. Or, a low-budget imitation in a local church. Find a few acts, trot them across the stage, bring on the orator. Meanwhile, as the Christians try to pretend that this mid-nineteenth-century form of popular culture is still entertaining, the unbelievers stay home and watch CSI. (And, if you call your city-wide spectacular a "crusade," you can make sure that your Jewish and Muslim neighbors will avoid the event like the plague. They do NOT have happy memories of the character and behavior of the late medieval crusaders!)

[2] Many words in idiomatic English that begin with Germanic consonant clusters like sht- came into our language by way of Yiddish. This eastern-European German dialect, written in Hebrew characters, immigrated with Jewish refugees, who soon established a presence in the entertainment industry. A "shtick" is an act, and entertainer's characteristic form of performance.

[3] Sometimes, when short stories are collected into an anthology, the authors preface each tale with a brief description of how he or she originated and developed the story. Many of us writers and wanna-be writers find these introits even more interesting than the stories!

[4] Orthodox is from two Greek words meaning "right/correct/healthy thinking." I am a little-o orthodox Christian, not a member of the Greek Orthodox church.

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