Idol Chatter

Aviad Cohen–you may know him as 50 Shekel, though then again, you probably don’t know of him at all–has found a new way to get the word out about his latest passions. He’s started a blog called Scripture & Sushi, in which he rhapsodizes about–you guessed it–the Bible and raw fish.

Cohen had a brief moment of fame, at least in the Jewish world, when, performing under the name 50 Shekel, he produced Jewish hip-hop music that both parodied Jewish culture and expressed pride in his heritage. His second, even briefer, moment in the spotlight was last year, when he announced he’d become a Messianic Jew (or, as we sticklers for accuracy like to call it, a Christian), who continues identifying with Jews and Judaism, with the added belief in Jesus as the messiah. You can guess which Scripture he’s writing about in his blog; let’s just say it includes the books we don’t read in shul.

In the spirit of spreading his new messianic zeal, Cohen sparked a bit of a brouhaha in the Jewish blogosphere last month with comments about the latest Jewish musician to grab the pop-culture spotlight, Matisyahu, the Hasidic reggae artist. First, some background: Matisyahu’s brand of Hasidic Judaism is called Chabad (also known as Lubavitcher), and some very-vocal members of this group believe that the group’s now-deceased leader will return from the dead as the mashiach, or messiah.

If that last part sounds a bit–or more than a bit–Christian, you’re not alone; many Jews have said the same thing. The artist formerly known as 50 Shekel has grabbed onto that bit of belief to argue, in an interview with The Canonist blog, that he, the Messianic Jew, and Matisyahu, the Chabad Jew, are not all that different (though Matisyahu has never, as far as I know, stated publicly his personal thoughts on the messianism issue). “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying, ‘Long live the King Messiah,’ it’s just the Chabad messiah or the Lubavitch messiah that’s the problem,” Cohen said. “I just hope he [Matisyahu] opens his eyes and ears to truth… I didn’t find it in rabbinic Judaism, I found it in the scriptures.” And, of course, in Jesus.

Cohen added that, since Matisyahu performed together with the Christian band P.O.D., the Hasidic reggae star has been adequately witnessed to–and now, presumably, just needs to think it through and come to the decision that seems obvious to Cohen. If not, maybe Cohen can take Matisyahu out for some kosher sushi and discuss the matter.


Steven Colbert has spent as much time skewering Easter kitsch as he has politics lately on his talk show “The Colbert Report”–and I love him for it. Hypocritical as it may seem, Santa Clauses and elves don’t seem to bother my Midwest evangelical sensibilities much at Christmastime, while duckies, bunnies, and chocolate-covered eggs really get on my last nerve at Easter. I have never found that either pretty bonnets or hunting for eggs has helped me reflect with fresh insight on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So I have been laughing at Colbert’s commentary even more than usual, because his ongoing series “Easter Under Attack” has given a hilarious voice to all of my frustration with the crass commercialization of a holy holiday.

In past episodes, Colbert has focused on everything from what dying eggs might have to do with Jesus dying on cross to a business in St. Paul that required one of their secretaries to remove Easter decorations from her desk. In last night’s episode, Walgreens was the target of Colbert’s satirical scrutiny because of a special they were running on their latest stuffed toy–“praying bears.” According to Colbert, unlike bunnies, “bears have nothing to do with our Lord Jesus Christ. Bears don’t pray because they are godless killing machines. Walgreens is using Easter to make bears seem adorable and devout so we lower our defenses so when we see bears in the woods we’ll kneel dow to pray with them…”

Yes, with absurd insights like that, my faith in the possibility that the meaning of Easter won’t be lost after all has definitely been renewed.


When you hear the name Jerry Jenkins, the first thing you think of probably is not “emotional love story.” But the king (or co-king, with Tim LaHaye) of Christian apocalyptic storytelling is much more than just “The Left Behind” series. In fact, he’s authored a whopping 160 books, covering any number of topics, fictional and nonfictional. For the first time, one of his solo novels, “Though None Go With Me,” has been made into a film–starring former Charlie’s Angel Cheryl Ladd, no less–which will debut on the Hallmark Channel on Sat (9 p.m./8 Central time).

I spoke with Jenkins about the project on what happened to be the day after he saw the finished product for the first time. He proclaimed himself pleased–no surprise there–though he did say, “It’s not quote-unquote a ‘Christian movie,’ maybe not the movie I would have made from the book… As an evangelical author, I probably would have been more overt about the themes.” Lest you think from that quote that “Though None Go With Me” has been stripped of its spirituality, consider its plot: A young woman decides, in Jenkins’s words, to “investigate the true cost of a lifetime commitment to Christ,” and pledges to follow Jesus’ teachings, no matter what the cost. She suffers great loses–becoming a sort of “female Job,” Jenkins says–but her faith remains strong, despite the trials she’s put through.

Jenkins is well aware that sweet love stories like “Though None Go With Me” are not what’s made his reputation. “A lot of people have asked me, ‘Have you written anything else?'” he says, adding that most of his work is more like “Though None Go With Me” than “Left Behind.” “Ironically, the idea of prophetic apocalyptic fiction is not what gets me up in the morning,” he says. “I’ve written 160 books and all the rest of them put together haven’t sold what ‘Left Behind’ has sold.”

Jenkins can look forward to retiring the “Left Behind” franchise. A final prequel is coming out in June, and a final sequel next year, the final title in the series. The production company he started with his son in 2001, Jenkins Entertainment, is currently producing a film of a short story by Jenkins, “Midnight Clear,” but don’t expect Jenkins to go all Hollywood on us. “As a novelist, I find the movie-making business almost way too collegial for me,” he says. “You need to have everybody else involved. A novelist, you go off in what I call a cave and write until you’re finished.”


The long-lost “Gospel of Judas” published by the National Geographic Society today has one thing going for it: it’s one of the shortest gospels on record. It’s a mere 25 (very small) pages long, in contrast to the canonical Gospel of Mark, which occupies 27 densely packed, double-column pages in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

The Gospel of Judas is a gnostic document (the version we have is in Coptic, but the original was probably written in Greek during the mid-second century). Like most gnostic documents, it’s all talk, no action, and to modern minds a wee bit dull. In this text, Jesus discovers that out of his 12 disciples, Judas is the only one who is from “another realm.” That is, Judas, like Jesus, wasn’t created by the God of the Old Testament—an evil being in gnostic theology—but by a higher, true God called the “Great One.” After much arcane dialogue, Jesus secretly arranges for Judas to betray him, telling Judas that he will actually be doing a service because the man Jesus will be killed off, releasing his spirit. End of gospel. Jesus laughs quite a bit in this gospel, mostly at how stupid the other disciples—and most of humankind—are. Elsewhere, Jesus sounds like a surprisingly contemporary New Age guru, as when he tells Judas, “The star that leads the way is your star.”

Obviously, the Gospel of Judas is an important and valuable record of the thinking of the gnostics, a heretical Christian sect that flourished during the second century, then gradually died away. As their name “gnostic” (from the Greek word for “knowledge”) indicates, the gnostics believed that people were saved, not by their good deeds or by Christ’s redemption, but by self-knowledge, which was available only to an elite few. The editors of “The Gospel of Judas” explain that gnosticism was one of many “competing” versions of early Christianity wiped out when the orthodox obtained political power. I must say that on aesthetic grounds alone (the canonical Gospels at least tell a rousing story), I’m glad the orthodox won.

The editors of “The Gospel of Judas” also argue that, by rehabilitating Judas into a hero instead of a renegade, the gnostics struck a blow against the anti-Semitism of the early church (Judas’ name in Hebrew is “Judah,” the root word of our word “Jew”). But isn’t dissing the God of the Old Testament just as anti-Semitic?

Previous Posts