Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Posted in Ecclesiastes on 11/22/2010 by Zombie Luther

The Zombie Bible Commentary has returned!

TO everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the sun:  A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;  A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build up;  A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance;  A time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;  A time to lose and a time to seek; a time to tie up and a time to untie;  A time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silent and a time to speak; A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Ecclesiastes is a tough book, it’s level 2 of the three level structure that is the philosophy of the Hebrew Bible.*  There are a number of lessons that the zombie enthusiast can draw from these verses.  Before we can get there we need to acknowledge the traditional understanding of them.  The traditional understanding is twofold: 1) that human life is subject to things over which we have no control and 2) that this rhythm of change teaches us that any state of human affairs cannot satisfy if extended ad infinitum.  It is fairly obvious that human satisfaction requires a certain amount of flux just as it is obvious that much of our life is out of our hands.

The zombie enthusiast can likewise draw a few lessons from this passage.  The first is that zombie-ism is out of the hands of human decision making.  As the Preacher might put it, there is “a time for the undead.”  The second is that this “time for the undead” is not permanent.  No state of human affairs is permanent.  There is time war and for peace, time for weeping and for laughing, etc.  So, even though the zombie apocalypse represents a break in the normal order of things, even this is not forever.

In addition to addressing the rise of the undead themselves, this passage also has an important message for the survivors.  If you look at the “Living Dead” series (and even some of the others), one of the largest dilemmas the survivor’s face is how to restore any sense of normality.  Though the survivors invariably fail to properly do this, the most compelling survivor stories have to do with failing to heed the Preacher.  In Dawn of the Dead, the survivors who find themselves dwelling in an empty mall eventually begin to recognize the hollow nature of their existence after a prolonged period of gorging themselves on the bounty of the mall.  This is most poignantly pointed out by the pregnant Francine.  Their lives were made meaningless by the cessation of all the rhythms of life in favor of an unending period of consumption.  Even more compelling is the ending of Land of the Dead after the zombies have breached the walls of Pittsburgh as well as the exclusive community of Fiddler’s Green.  With the despotic rule of Mr. Kaufman over we finally see what the next phase of (human and zombie) life may look like.  Mulligan (the populist rebel) leads the survivors to a new sheltered/existence, Riley takes his crew north and accepts the co-existence of zombies, and most interestingly of all, the zombies move on to begin a new phase of zombie existence/culture.  The conflict of human vs. zombie as we know it lasts only for “a time.”  The conflict between the human survivors lasts only for “a time.”  Efforts to survive the zombie apocalypse by the suspension of time focused on short-term impulses, ultimately fails.  These people either die or cease to lead fulfilling lives, or both.  To not only survive, but to actually live a real life, one needs to recognize the signs and seasons as they progress even when the undead rise… and after.

*In the simplest of constructs the first level is the wisdom of the ancestors/elders represented by such works as Proverbs.  Here the basics of ancient wisdom are taught: doing good reaps blessing, doing evil provokes curse, listen to the advice of your fathers, etc.  The second level is the comfortable and self-reflexive message of Ecclesiastes.  The third level of the Hebrew wisdom tradition is the highly difficult Job, which features a masterful theodicy.

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Genesis 1-2

Posted in Genesis on 10/06/2010 by Zombie Luther

Zombie Origins?

It may be troubling for the zombie enthusiast to find no mention of zombies in either of the Biblical creation myths.  It is worth remembering that in the first creation story (Gen. 1-2:3), the stages of creation focus on categories of things, rather than lists of specifics.  Noticeably absent from this list are the dinosaurs, for instance.  In the second creation story (Gen. 2:4-2:25) the main thrust is on the primordial man and woman with almost no mention of other creatures.  In a general sense, then, the zombie enthusiast can read the creation stories in Genesis similarly to everyone else, as myth that simply does not address much outside of their intended purpose: a liturgical exposition of the formation of the earth out of chaos by Elohim (first creation story) and a pastoral story of the first couple, Eden, and their evolving relationship with YHWH (second creation story).

It may be disappointing to zombie enthusiasts, but there is simply nothing in the first two chapters of Genesis that addresses zombies.  It is not until Genesis 4 that the first zombie reference occurs with the story of Cain and Abel where the cause of the first instance of zombie regeneration is left obscure.

I Corinthians 9:22

Posted in I Corinthians on 09/30/2010 by Zombie Luther

To be a Quisling or not?

With the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I became everything to every man, that I might by all means save everyone.

I Cor 9:22

Here it is commonly understood that Paul is expressing the freedom he experiences in Christ, since he became a believer as a man under the Mosaic Covenant.  With the Gentiles he lives like a Gentile and with the Jews he lives like a Jew.  This, in short, is one of the clearest expressions of the aufhebung (‘sublation’) of the Torah.  It is not cancelled, but fulfilled, it is “retained through its very suspension.”*  What is less commonly understood is where the limit is to this freedom, if there is one at all.  Does one, for instance, imitate the person(s) who are oppressing or even actively terrorizing them?  Does this freedom of imitation allow for doing essentially anything for the sake of survival (as Kent Brockman in the face of the threat of space ants).

For the zombie enthusiast, the extreme behavior of quislings are the test-case.  As Max Brooks in World War Z clearly demonstrates, some people so identify with their zombie predators and imitate the behavior of the undead, flesh-eating and all (incidentally, the term “quisling” for these people is taken from the nazi puppet leader of Norway installed during World War II).  If one is surrounded by zombies, does one adopt their behavior for the sake of survival and even acceptance?  Is it even possible?  Whether their is such a thing as zombie culture is not known for sure.  The undead either eliminate the humans around them or are destroyed with little opportunity for prolonged study.  The little evidence provided in Land of the Dead suggests that, given time, zombies are not only able to adapt, but teach, learn, and communicate with each other in a rudimentary manner.  The Zombie Bible Commentary suggests that it cannot be ruled out that with enough study, one could exist among the undead while still being alive.  If it could be shown that the undead are, after all, capable of developing a zombie culture, then the words of Paul cannot be ignored as the mission of the New Testament includes each and every culture on the earth: “With the zombies I became as a zombie, that I might win the zombies.”  Perhaps the quislings are not as crazy as they seem.

*Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (The MIT Press: Cambridge, 2003), 112.

Breaking the “fourth wall”

Posted in Uncategorized on 09/27/2010 by Zombie Luther

Please excuse this breaking of the fourth wall (or whatever the blogging equivalent is… poking through the screen?), but I was fielded a disappointing question over the weekend.  Regarding the Zombie Bible Commentary, I was asked “do you really believe in zombies?”  Apart from the many ways that question can be deconstructed, it says to me that only half of my objectives are being met at this point.  That is, I’ve succeeded in writing convincingly about zombies, but I’ve failed in my ability to write satire.  You see, one of my unspoken goals is to show the absurdity of trying to find anything and everything in the Bible.  Misguided Christians (and maybe Jews, I don’t know) will try to find evidence of all kinds of things in the Bible such as dinosaurs, proof that the writers knew the world is round, aliens, and texts that directly address our current issues such as homosexuality and abortion.  More often than not, the Bible just doesn’t – too bad, use your brain.  From what I can gather, these misguided types do this for one of two lines of reasons: 1) the Bible is true (including facts regarding science and history) –> we can find texts addressing any and every question.  2) the Bible is true (including facts regarding science and history) –> any discovery by another culture must also be in the Bible.  As a result to one or both of these, this kind of person will say, “Dinosaurs, you know Job refers to dinosaurs”, “Only ignorant people thought the world was flat, the Bible says it is round”, and all manner of weird claims.*  This exercise of reading an idea into the text is called eisegesis and is the opposite of what should be done: exegesis (exposition, explanation, etc.).  The Zombie Bible Commentary is an exercise in absurd eisegesis that is intended to poke fun at this strange and peculiarly modern way of reading the Bible as though it contained all answers to all questions.  Hey, did you hear there are kung-fu wizards in the Bible?**  Sigh.

Back to the question, “do you really believe in zombies?”  This immediately calls to mind the verse from Hebrews: “NOW faith is the substance of things hoped for, as it was the substance of things which have come to pass; and it is the evidence of things not seen” (11:1).  I don’t know that I “hope” for zombies as I find them quite terrifying, nor can I say that zombies have ever “come to pass.”  What I can say is that even though I am knowledgable about zombies, I have never “seen” one, so in that sense I could be described as a believer – though I prefer the term zombie enthusiast.  Now, let me ask you a question.  Do I really believe in zombies or do you need to reread the opening paragraph of this post?

*The Bible does not refer to dinosaurs, the texts in Job being referred to by dinosaur enthusiasts are describing a large crocodile and a “behemoth” (which comes from a Hebrew word that quite plainly just indicates a large land animal).  As to the world being round, just about every ancient culture that was on or near the coast knew the world was round – because it is visibly so!  As to more serious questions about society such as homosexuality, contrary to all the gay bashing done in the name of Christianity, such anti-gay positions are unbiblical.  Homosexuality as an idea/term only dates back to the nineteenth century, though clearly there were homosexuals in all periods of history – duh.  The texts being used to discriminate against homosexuals aren’t actually about homosexuality per se, but other things such as rape, treatment of conquered people, and sexual relationships between adult men and young boys (e.g. pedophelia).

**The kung-fu wizard line is a reference to the Axis of Awesome song “What Would Jesus Do?”

Isaiah 26:19

Posted in Isaiah on 09/20/2010 by Zombie Luther

God of the Undead

Thy dead men shall live, their dead bodies shall arise. Those who dwell in the dust shall awake and sing, for thy dew is a dew of light, and the land of the giants thou shalt overthrow.

Isaiah 26:19

Isaiah 26 is emblematic of Old Testament prophetic literature that points to the Day of the Lord, a day of “perfect peace” (v. 3).  Within the chapter there is also an implication of one of the God of Israel’s defining features:

O LORD our God, other lords besides thee have had dominion over us; but thy name alone will we mention; For they do not raise the dead, they do not raise the mighty men; therefore thou hast visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish.

Isaiah 26:13-14 (emphasis added)

After setting up the qualifier that “they do not raise the dead,” we are ready for the key verse of this section in which God is described as the one who raises the dead.  That being said, there is some trouble for the zombie enthusiast here, as these living dead will sing and this goes against all our preconceived notions of zombies.  We all think that zombies are terrible, evil, and unnatural.  Isaiah tells us that it is God who causes the dead to rise out their graves (cf. Matt 27:52).  Furthermore, these zombies are singing and part of an optimistic vision of the future.  The Zombie Bible Commentary offers this solution: that zombies are to be understood in a similar way as are spirits in the Bible.  Some spirits in the Bible are good such as Michael and Gabriel (and Raphael and Uriel in the Apocrypha) and others are evil/unclean such as Ha-Satan/Satan and Belial (and Asmodeus in the Apocrypha).  Though good and evil as it pertains to their activity with humans, all are from the Lord (cf. I Sam 16:14-15).  This is  a necessary ingredient in the Biblical claim that the Lord is the source of all things including both peace and calamity (cf. Isaiah 45:6-7).  Getting back to the undead, some are part of a glimpse of a holy future as in this case and in Matthew while others are part of periods of unspeakable evil as in the case of Noah or the plague in Zechariah.  In all cases though, God is God of the undead.

Site update: Lamsafication

Posted in Uncategorized on 09/14/2010 by Zombie Luther

You may have noticed some slight modifications to the Zombie Bible Commentary in the last day or so.  I have decided to revise all Biblical quotations (except in the foundational post) to be from the same translation: the Lamsa Bible.  Rather than engage in the ongoing argument about which Bible is the most accurate, easiest to understand, etc. the Zombie Bible Commentary has chosen the most zombie worthy translation, that of George M. Lamsa.  Unlike most English language Bibles that are translated from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek originals*, the Lamsa Bible is a translation of the Syriac Peshitta version of the Bible.**  In fact, it is the only complete translation of the Syriac into English.  In addition to being the only complete translation of the Syriac, it is a ridiculous translation of it that somehow manages to continue to remain in print despite it being one of the most absurd Bible translations in English.  It is because this Bible continues to die the cruel death of academic ridicule without actually going away, that it has been determined to be the most zombie worthy translation.

Fear not, in cases where an alternate translation is needed, one will be provided.

*Additionally, respectable translations will consider the Targums (Aramaic), Septuagint (Greek), and Vulgate (Latin) texts in their translation efforts.

**Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic with a literary tradition centered around Edessa.  The ancient translation of the Bible into Syriac continues to be an useful tool for Biblical scholars as well as the liturgical language of two linguistic branches of the Christian family tree: the East-Syrian and West-Syrian rites.

Genesis 2:7

Posted in Genesis on 09/13/2010 by Zombie Luther

Anthropology of the Undead

And the LORD God formed Adam out of the soil of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7

Some questions have been raised by previous entries on the Zombie Bible Commentary.  Is a zombie still essentially the person it was before dying (and subsequent regeneration)?  Does the soul of the person still dwell in the body of a zombie, or has it been set free?  These are good questions that all hinge on the “anthropology” of a zombie.

First, a crash course on the Biblical anthropology.  In general, the most common understanding of souls held by Americans (unless you are a materialist) include the following beliefs:
1) the soul is immortal and permanent.
2) the soul pilots the body.
3) the soul is set free from the body at death for something better.
4) the soul is what makes us human.
5) (at least some) non-human animals have souls.

These five tenets abound in film, TV, and continue to show up in polls of Americans concerning their beliefs.  The Bible has some critiques of these beliefs though.  Regarding #1, the Bible teaches the soul is only immortal insofar as that after God creates it, God chooses to sustain it.  The difference here is that the Bible does not allow for the soul existing as a self-sustaining, and permanent, entity.  Nor does it allow for the belief that the soul has always existed.  Regarding #2, the Bible takes a different approach to the whole mind-body problem.  In the Western philosophical tradition, the question of how the material and immaterial are said to interact has resulted in a wide array of opinions ranging from panpsychism (all material has some level of ‘mind’, bears some relation to pantheism and panentheism), functionalism (things that function as though they have mind/spirit, probably do)*, and a ghost in the machine view in which the soul somehow directs and guides the body.  The Biblical view, though, is to view man as a singularity, not a composite of flesh stuff and spirit stuff.  This leads to position #3.  This view actually has far more in common with Platonism/Neoplatonism than with the Bible.  In ancient Greek thought the soul was an immortal thing exists in itself and only temporarily dwells in fleshy stuff.  In the Bible, though, a Platonic view of the immortality of the soul is not supposed as already mentioned.  What is asserted in the Bible is the resurrection of the dead.  Now to #4, the unique quality of a living being in the Bible is a Hebrew word ‘nephesh‘.  This term encompasses “soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, [and] passion”**  It is a kind of catch-all that could be summarized as unique aliveness.  In the verse above, notice that this unique aliveness is a product of God’s energies.  This unique aliveness also applies to issue #5, animals have ‘nephesh‘ too.

Now to the questions of zombie anthropology.  Is a zombie still the same person it was before regeneration?  The answer is quite simply no.  Where the confusion lies is in forgetting the process of becoming a zombie which always begins with having died.  Said person, having died, no longer has the “breath of life” nor ‘nephesh‘.  In the case of pseudo-zombies, AKA “the infected,” things are more complicated because having been infected implies that one can be cured.  In this case, the person has not died, but then again, it is not a true zombie.  Even so, we can suppose that something similar to what is described by Dante in which the soul leaves the body before having physically died.***  Because the person has died before becoming a zombie also takes care of the question regarding the potential indwelling of a soul in the body.  Beyond the fact that the zombie has already died and become undead, it would be near-impossible to argue that a zombie meets the requirements of personhood in the first place, so it cannot be the same ‘person’ as it once was while still alive; therefore, even for the materialist, the answers are still no.

It is because of the more recent turn in zombie literature that these confusions have arisen.  The truly horrific qualities of zombies stem from the fact that they are lifeless, soulless, automatons that relentlessly pursue the living.  Making them all the more horrifying is that in the case of a true zombie scenario, being confronted with zombies is to be confronted with your own future since it is all who die who become zombies, not just the bitten.  This is why it is important to distinguish between zombies in the true (a la Romero) sense vs. their more recent appearances in literature.

*The vast majority of science fiction is based on a functionalist view when dealing with intelligent alien species.

**see Gesenius’ Lexicon.

***See the quotation below from Canto XXXIII of Inferno:

Then he replied: “I am Friar Alberigo;
He am I of the fruit of the bad garden,
Who here a date am getting for my fig.”
“O,” said I to him, “now art thou, too, dead?”
And he to me: “How may my body fare
Up in the world, no knowledge I possess.
Such an advantage has this Ptolomaea,
That oftentimes the soul descendeth here
Sooner than Atropos in motion sets it.
And, that thou mayest more willingly remove
From off my countenance these glassy tears,
Know that as soon as any soul betrays
As I have done, his body by a demon
Is taken from him, who thereafter rules it,
Until his time has wholly been revolved.
Itself down rushes into such a cistern;
And still perchance above appears the body
Of yonder shade, that winters here behind me.
This thou shouldst know, if thou hast just come down;
It is Ser Branca d’ Oria, and many years
Have passed away since he was thus locked up.”