Sorry, Wrong Number; Plus, An Interesting Quote From An Interesting Site

Laura brings on the amusing news: 666 may be the wrong number.

I was poking around on a website with a post about this, when I found one very interesting site, and a link to another one. The first quote, from near the bottom of this page, is this:

People didn’t even want to believe Elvis, who died young and loved Gospel music, was taken by drugs. They kept seeing him everywhere. How much more so Jesus living in his apocalyptic-minded day and age and dying as he did? Jesus himself may have been predicting the final apocalyptic judgment soon, which people tied together with the idea of a general resurrection.

It’s an interesting thought, really. The guy is earnestly asking the question, and really, it’s not such a crazy question to ask. Thousands of people have reported abductions by UFOs. Thousands more have claimed to see or even meet Elvis Presley since his death. People see thing that simply aren’t there, especially when they have an emotional investment in the existence (or continued existence) of that thing.

So why do so many laugh at the thousands who claim they saw Elvis, but demand that we regard the claims of a few early Christians, increasingly embellished over time, as the unquestionable truth? Another quote I found, elsewhere, answers to this:

…fundamentalism has demonic traits. It destroys the humble honesty of the search for truth, it splits the conscience of its thoughtful adherents, and it makes them fanatical because they are forced to suppress elements of truth of which they are dimly aware.”
—Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology

I get the feeling I need to read some Tillich. And I am putting that latter quote into my rotating quotes file.

UPDATE: Yes, I know, the Elvis thing is a touch flippant—though only because Elvis never presented himself as a religious figure. There are plenty of examples otherwise, however, included in Chapter 5 of this fascinating webtext by Robert M. Price:

A similar phenomenon occured with Jehudah the Said (died 1217). In his own lifetime, legends made him a great purveyor of religious magic, though actually Jehudah was a staunch opponent of such things! [8] More recently, African prophet and martyr Simon Kimbangu became another “living legend” despite his own wishes. One group of his followers, the “Ngunzists,” spread his fame as the “God of the blacks,” even while Kimbangu himself disavowed the role. Legends of Kimbangu’s childhood, miracles and prophetic visions began within his own generation.[9] Faith-healer William Marrion Branham was held in exaggerated esteem by legions of his followers, many of whom believed him to be Jesus Christ returned or even a new incarnation of God. He, however, did not teach such notions. In fact, once on a visit to such a group of devotees in Latin America he explicitly denied any such wild claims made for him, but his followers reasoned that he was just testing their faith! Many believed in Branham’s virgin birth despite his published recollections of his alcoholic mother.[10] A final example is mroe recent still. Researcher Ed Sanders encountered a number of legends about Charlie Manson during the writing of his book The Family. On one particular bus trip in Death Valley, “several miracles were alleged to have been performed by Charles Manson.” One story relates that “Charlie levitated the bus over a creek crag.”

So it seems that an interval of thirty or forty years could indeed accomodate the intrusion of legendary materials into the gospel tradition. (Whether or not this actually occured is a different question.)

Certainly those examples are quite applicable and worth at least a little rumination.

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