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Friday, April 25, 2008

Soli Deo Gloria!

Soli Deo Gloria! One of five “Solo” hallmarks of the reformation. The others are Soli Scriptura, Solo Christo, Solo Gracio, and Solo Fide. (If you don’t know what they mean, maybe I’ll write a blog on each of them later.) Soli Deo Gloria, however, means only for the glory of God. We do nothing for our own glory, but we do everything for the glory of God. Unfortunately, serving God can sometimes be a very discouraging pastime. All of us who faithfully serve God need encouragement from time to time. We need to know that what we are doing makes a difference. We need to know that God is working through our obedience. I received such encouragement this past week – twice. I think perhaps it would be best not to provide the details, though, because that would exactly defeat the point of this blog, which is to give God the glory.

We need the encouragement, but we also need to remember that it is not about us. We don’t need to worry about how good our sermons are or how well the people liked our Sunday School lesson. The risk is that we lose our focus on God and begin focusing on ourselves. So how do you balance the very real human need for encouragement with the risk of becoming self-absorbed?

I recently read a very good book by Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima titled Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership (Baker Books, 1997). In it, the authors described the dark tendencies of five different types of leaders. Very briefly, they are

  • The Compulsive Leader - one who may be compulsively self-righteous and legalistic
  • The Narcissistic Leader – one who may always feeds his own need for adulation
  • The Paranoid Leader - one who may be in a constant state of denial or paranoia
  • The Codependent Leader - one who may try too hard to keep everyone happy
  • The Passive-Aggressive Leader – one who may have difficulty with uncontrolled outbursts

After taking the questionnaire in the book, I discovered that I am the Narcissistic Leader, so I especially have to be concerned about not taking undue credit or doing things whose only purpose is to feed my ego. Of course the point of the book is that we need to understand our tendencies and keep a close eye on those areas where we tend towards the dark side. For me, that means not actively searching for the adulation, but rather humbly serving where God calls me to serve. It also means not making such a big deal whenever God does give me the grace of a word of encouragement… rather, to realize from where all good and perfect gifts come…. Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Movie Review-Kingdom of Heaven

Ridley Scott, Director. Kingdom of Heaven. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation. (2005)

Kingdom of Heaven is a movie I had to watch recently for my History of Christianity class. I thought I might share with you insights on its historical accuracy. Speaking from a theatrical point of view only, I will first say that the movie is very well done and well worth watching. It is not, however, a great movie to watch for its historical accuracy. The move is a theatrical account of Balian of Ibelin (portrayed by Orlando Bloom) in his historical attempt to defend the Kingdom of Jerusalem from Saladin (portrayed by Ghassan Massoud) in 1187, an event that sparked the infamous Third Crusade led by Richard the Lionhearted and others. Although there are significant factual parallels to the actual historical account of the fall of Jerusalem in 1187, the movie also contained numerous significant historical inaccuracies. This review will attempt to address many of the accuracies and inaccuracies as portrayed in the movie.

In a general sense, the underlying historical subplot of the movie is generally accurate. In this subplot, the Kingdom of Jerusalem, led by leper-King Baldwin IV, is under the constant threat of attack by the Muslim Sultan, Saladin. The armies of the Kingdom of Jerusalem are generally divided between those who wished to maintain peace with the Muslims and those who wished to wage a holy war against the Muslims. The former were led primarily by Tiberias, regent of Jerusalem (in reality, the regent of Jerusalem was Raymond of Tripoli), and Balian of Ibelin. The latter were led by Knights Templar Guy of Lusignan and Raynald of Chatillon (in reality, neither were Knights Templar, but rather both were secular nobles). Upon the death of Baldwin IV, his sister Sibylla is crowned queen and subsequently crowns her husband Guy as King. Guy then leads his armies to war against Saladin, which are completely destroyed at the Battle of Hattin, leaving Jerusalem open to attack by Saladin. Balian then leads a valiant, but unsuccessful attempt to defend Jerusalem against Saladin and negotiates its surrender.

This generally accurate account leaves out many important aspects and also supplies the viewer with numerous completely inaccurate details as well, beginning with the nature of the main character himself, Balian. The movie portrays Balian as the illegitimate child of Godfrey of Ibelin, who was living as a lowly blacksmith in France until his father comes and humbly accepts his paternal responsibility, rescuing Balian from a murder charge and bestowing knight-hood upon him at his death. In reality, Godfrey of Ibelin is a fictional character. Balian the Younger, defender of Jerusalem, was the legitimate child of Barisan of Ibelin, who was also known as Balian the Elder.

The movie also provided an inaccurate account of the rise of Guy of Lusignan to the position of King of Jerusalem. In reality, the leper, Baldwin IV, and Guy had a falling out (presumably over relations with the Muslims) and Baldwin named his 5 year old nephew Baldwin V – who happened to be Sibylla’s son by her first husband – as co-King a few years prior to his death. In so doing, he ensured that Guy would not become king after his death. Baldwin V reigned as child-king with Raymond of Tripoli as his regent for one year until his death at nine years of age. At the time of his death, Raymond and Balian were attempting to have Sibylla’s half-sister (and Balian’s step-daughter) Isabella of Jerusalem crowned as queen. The coronation of Sibylla and Guy supposedly occurred in secret. The movie portrayed a romantic relationship between Balian and Sibylla that did not exist and in reality Sibylla was completely devoted to Guy. In the movie, Baldwin IV and Tiberias tried to convince Balian to marry Sibylla, who would divorce Guy. In reality, before Sibylla was crowned queen, she was forced to promise that she would divorce Guy and choose another consort, so the private coronation whereby she crowns Guy as King was a significant surprise to all.

There were also inaccuracies in the account of the Battle of Hattin. According to the movie, neither Tiberias (Raymond of Tripoli) nor Balian participated in the Battle of Hattin. Instead, Balian remained in Jerusalem to build its defenses. In reality, both Raymond and Balian played important roles in the battle, for Raymond led the first division while Balian led the rearguard. According to the anonymous text De Expugnatione Terrae Sanctae per Saladinum Libellus, Raymond and Balian fled the field of battle and ended up in Tyre. In fact, Balian was the ranking surviving noble from the Battle of Hattin and, as such, petitioned Saladin to allow him safe passage to Jerusalem to rescue the queen. Saladin grants him safe passage upon the promise that he would not take up arms against him. In Jerusalem, Patriarch Heraclius absolves him of his oath and convinces him to defend the city. As portrayed in the movie, although perhaps not to the greatest extent portrayed in the movie, Balian knights numerous burgesses and prepares for battle. Ultimately, Balian must negotiate the surrender of Jerusalem.

Despite the many inaccuracies in the movie, there were also considerable truths portrayed in the movie. For instance, Raynald of Chatillon did order numerous attacks on traveling Muslims, which did provoke Saladin to begin making preparations against the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Also, the Battle of Hattin was an absolute defeat of the Armies of Jerusalem that resulted primarily from Guy’s tactical mistake to leave the stronghold of Sephoria and attack Saladin in the desert. It is uncertain whether Saladin could have taken on the entire Jerusalem army at Jerusalem. In this battle, the movie accurately portrayed the capture of King Guy and Raynald, including the challis of ice water that was offered to Guy and the execution of Raynald.

There were other historical accuracies as well. The political friction between Baldwin IV and his allies, Raymond and Balian with Guy and Raynald most certainly existed and may have even been understated. As stated already, it is because of this friction that Baldwin IV named his 5 year old nephew as co-King prior to his death. At one point, there was virtual open warfare between Guy and Raymond, which was only thwarted by the intervention of Balian (this is not depicted in the movie). The movie portrays the war counsel prior to the Battle of Hattin with reasonable accuracy as Guy and Raynald convince the counsel against the advice of Raymond to lead the armies away from the safety of Sephoria.

As portrayed in the movie, Balian did lead the city’s defense and he did knight a number of its inhabitants. Saladin did besiege Jerusalem and, at one point, supposedly knocked down one of its primary defensive walls. Neither side could gain an advantage from this choke point in the wall. However, the movie does not portray how desperate Jerusalem became because so many men had died that at this point that there were only a few dozen men available to defend the walls. The movie’s portrayal of Sibylla’s cropping her hair was semi-accurate in that it was symbolic of the fact that many mothers did crop their children’s hair in penance, hoping that such would win them God’s favor. As portrayed in the movie, Balian did, in fact, lead the negotiations with Saladin and did threaten, at one point, to burn the city to the ground, killing all of its inhabitants. Ultimately, Balian did negotiate the safe passage of all those in Jerusalem prior to its surrender, but the movie does not point out that such safe passage only applied to those who could pay the ransom.

The movie’s inaccurate portrayal of Balian appeared again at the end of the movie when Balian supposedly returned to France to rebuild his life again as a blacksmith only to be approached by King Richard the Lionhearted to assist him in the Third Crusade. This is a complete fabrication. In reality, it is unlikely that Richard and Balian had amicable relations at all since King Guy was one of Richard’s vassals. Furthermore, Balian’s future and the future of his family remained in the Holy Land. Balian’s family of Ibelin became very powerful after the Third Crusade and remained such for several hundred years.

Despite all of these characterizations, the movie did portray in a non-historically accurate but nevertheless symbolically accurate manner certain stereo-typical sentiments related to the era. For example, while Balian was on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a monk is on the side of the road crying out that it was not a sin to kill an infidel. Another such example was the way in which Raynald manipulated his knights with the simple phrase “God wills it!”, which was often a battle cry of the Crusades. Similarly, the local priests – both in Balian’s home town in France as well as in Jerusalem – were portrayed as being corrupt. Likewise, the Knights Templar were portrayed as violent and ruthless while the Order of the Hospitalers were portrayed as kind and gentle. These over generalizations, while dramatically fictionalized, had some foundation in truth.

In conclusion, the movie Kingdom of Heaven was a very enjoyable portrayal of the fall of Jerusalem. While not completely accurate on a historical level, it had enough truth to make it reasonably credible and enough fiction to make it a “good movie”.

I give the movie 4 “crosses” ( VVVV ).

Sources of Historical Information used in this review:

Rickard, J. (12 December 2001), Battle of Hattin, 4 July 1187, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_hattin.html (accessed April 14, 2008)
Wikipedia contributors, "Battle of Hattin," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Battle_of_Hattin&oldid=204595104 (accessed April 13, 2008).
Wikipedia contributors, "Siege of Jerusalem (1187)," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Siege_of_Jerusalem_%281187%29&oldid=202613440 (accessed April 14, 2008).
Wikipedia contributors, "Kingdom of Heaven (film)," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Kingdom_of_Heaven_%28film%29&oldid=205484501 (accessed April 14, 2008).
Wikipedia contributors, "Barisan of Ibelin," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Barisan_of_Ibelin&oldid=201802080 (accessed April 14, 2008).