Last Sunday I wrote an article about the two stories of Christmas, one in Matthew’s gospel and the other in Luke’s, and I called them both parables. Monday morning I received a voice-mail message from a very prominent and successful attorney in town, a man I’ve known for 38 years. He said it was obvious that I had “joined up with the devil.” And he was dead serious.
Who the devil is the devil? Well, he’s been the subject of intense interest for thousands of years. He’s been pictured as a ghost, a bogeyman, a spook, or as a “devilishly” handsome man in a red suit, with horns and a pitchfork. He has even been portrayed as the nebulous “epitome of all evil,” or the cause of everything bad that people do; you know: “the devil made me do it.”
My description of the literary styles in the two birth stories of Jesus made my attorney friend decide with absolute certainty that I have “joined up with the Beelzebub.” There is no doubt in his mind that my allegiance has shifted from God to the devil, and he counseled me to find my way back immediately. Think of all the damage I could do in this Sunday paper if I wield the power of the devil.
I wonder if he was thinking about the story of Job in the Old Testament (the Tanakh). You remember: God makes a bet with the devil that Job will stay faithful no matter what the Satan does to Job. And just look at the power this devil has:
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He has the Sabeans kill all of Job’s sons and daughters.
He has a lightning storm burn up all his sheep and servants.
He has the Chaldeans raid Job’s herd of camels, kill his servants and steal all of his camels.
He infects Job with boils from the soles of his feet to the top of his head, and leaves him on top of a dung heap to scrape his skin with a piece of broken pottery.
Now that’s power. But let’s be serious: my columns cannot possibly have that kind of power, and I really don’t think that my new connection with the devil has somehow granted it to me. I feel certain my attorney friend was not thinking of this kind of devil. His description of my new alliance ties in more with the book of Revelation (12:9), I’m sure. There the devil is called in Greek: Diabolos, a slanderer, one who accuses others falsely. Perhaps in stating that I believe the authors of the infancy narratives were not writing history, I am seen as accusing them falsely.
And if that is what I did, I apologize. If we take this to court and my attorney friend can prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that these two authors wrote two historical documents instead of two beautiful parables, I will retract immediately. I will call all the scripture scholars I know (especially Borg and Crossan) and have them rethink their conclusions and redo their research. I will stop my own research into the literary styles and customs of the 1st century, and I will try to read the gospels as if they were written in English by Galilean journalists who were trained in the tradition of the Wall Street Journal.
But if he cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, I will continue to base my faith on sound, scholarly assumptions -- not on devilishly convenient religious traditions.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is www.billcummings.org.