Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…

God of Parties

Comparative religion is no modern academic innovation. The ancient Greeks were quite fond of seeking out religious parallels as we see in The History of the Persian War by Herodotus in which the author spends a good bit of time attempting to conflate the members of the Greek and Egyptian pantheons. Of course, a strict monotheism or even henotheism would have been perplexing to a society characterized by the belief in many gods. So the question was bound to arise at some point, “Just what god do those Jews worship anyway?” While realizing that Yahweh cannot be identified with any of the pagan gods, we can still speculate as to how He would have been perceived. “Certainly,” we imagine a Greek saying, “they worship Zeus, king of Olympus, under the name of Yahweh.” Or perhaps, “Apollo, the god of reason and order, must be the god these Jews worship.” The answer that the writer Plutarch gave to the solution may therefore surprise us. To him, it was as obvious as could be that the Jews must worship Bacchus or Dionysus, the god of wine and partying! “What?!” we exclaim. “How could this be?” Plutarch explains:

“When all the company requested and earnestly begged it of him; first of all (says he), the time and manner of the greatest and most holy solemnity of the Jews is exactly agreeable to the holy rites of Bacchus; for that which they call the Fast they celebrate in the midst of the vintage, furnishing their tables with all sorts of fruits while they sit under tabernacles made of vines and ivy; and the day which immediately goes before this they call the day of Tabernacles… Nor would it be out of place, were any one to say that the name Sabbath was given to this feast from the agitation and excitement [Greek omitted] which the priests of Bacchus display. The Jews themselves witness no less; for when they keep the Sabbath, they invite one another to drink till they are drunk; or if they chance to be hindered by some more weighty business, it is the fashion at least to taste the wine…” (Plutarch’s Symposiacs. Book 4, Question VI)

The Jews stop work for a whole day every week to drink and celebrate and have a great multitude of other celebrations as well, all of which seem to involve, to a large extent, wine and feasting.

I only bring up this curious passage in Plutarch (with all credit to Peter Leithart’s Blessed Are the Hungry for bringing it to my attention) in order to make an application to Christians today. By obeying the festivals God set for them and by keeping the Sabbath day, the Jews were mistakenly accused of being followers of the god of wine and feasting. If we were to do a similar experiment today, asking unbelievers what sort of god it is that Christians worship, would even one in a hundred say that Christians worship a god of drinking and parties? Not a chance! We may hear that Christians worship a stick-in-the-mud god, a rigid disciplinarian god who is terribly afraid that someone might be having fun. How many Christians could even remotely be accused, like Jesus, of being a drunkard (Luke 7:34)?

Now, with relation to Christmas, only 9 days away, many Christians have begun to examine the “commercialism” and “excess” that we see among a secular society with regard to Christmas and have vowed to make Christmas smaller. Perhaps we won’t give gifts this year. Perhaps we’ll observe quietly in our homes. This call to retreat is exactly the opposite of what Christians ought to do. Do we serve a stingy God, a parsimonious God who abhors all excess? Do we serve a God who would be mistaken for Zeus or Apollo? Or do we serve the God who gave bread, wine, and oil to His people (Psalm 104:15), turned 150 gallons of water into wine (John 2:1-10), and made so much food for the multitude that there were 12 baskets leftover (Matt. 14:20)? Clearly we serve a God who loves to shower His people liberally with good gifts, and expects us to enjoy those gifts with thanksgiving and rejoicing. We serve a God who has given us the Sabbath to rejoice in His presence and rest from our labors. We serve a God who loved us so much that He did not spare His only begotten Son, but gave Him up as a ransom for our sins.

It’s about time that Christians took up the task of teaching the world how to party. Unbelievers should look at Christians wistfully, wishing that they could have the same spirit of celebration and rejoicing as believers. Taking a cue from our Lord, we ought to celebrate bigger, not smaller than the pagans as we celebrate the greatest gift ever given to mankind.


Anonymous said…
You took way to long to say that God likes to party.

Why don't the Puritans like Christmas? Can you do your next blog on that?

Rick said…
And Thomas Jefferson took way too long to tell King George to take a hike. ;) When you're saying something that many people would disagree with, you have to back it up with reasons. And there are many, many people who would disagree with my thesis that Christians ought to celebrate Christmas bigger than the world.

The Puritans didn't like Christmas because they overreacted to abuses in the English church. They were, of course, mistaken, as many good people can be. The puritans, however, were not against fun. They were seen in their time as libertines and accused of such things as being gluttons and nymphomaniacs! One Catholic cardinal at the time wrote that the Puritans were, "soft physitions' . . . against whom [we] must assert a doctrine admittedly sterner and darker, 'the behoulding whereof must neades ingender som sorowe and sadnesse of minde"