On The Eleventh Minute Of the Eleventh Hour Of The Eleventh Day Of The Eleventh Month

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the armistice between the Allies and Germany took effect, and World War I thereby ended. Ever since, the Allied nations have remembered that day–known as Remembrance Day in France, Belgium, and the British Commonwealth nations, and first as Armistice Day, and later as Veterans Day, in the United States. By tradition, those countries observe a moment of silence on the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month to commemorate the fallen and the wounded.

Why all the elevens? It’s pretty clear that the armistice wasn’t delayed in order to achieve a symmetry of numbers; both the Allies and their opponents were exhausted and depleted by years of bloody fighting and were more than ready for it to stop as soon as possible. In fact, many of the opposing powers–including the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian empire, and Bulgaria–had reached armistices with the Allies before November 11; only Germany was a holdout. The armistice with the German Empire was finally reached at 5:10 a.m. on November 11 and was to take effect at 11 a.m., to allow the news and cease fire orders to be transmitted to the troops on the front line.

By then, choosing the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month as the time for the fighting to stop must have had a poetic quality that was impossible to resist. The concept of the “eleventh hour” as the very last point at which something can be done has long been a part of western civilization. It finds its roots in the parable of the workers in the vineyard, recounted in Matthew 20:1-16. Those hired early in the day agreed to work for a denarius a day and, after working for a full day, were upset when those hired later in the day–including at the eleventh hour–were paid the same amount. (For those unfamiliar with the parable, the vineyard owner holds the early workers to their agreement and says he gets to decide what to do with his money and concludes with the phrase: “For many are called, but few are chosen,” which also became a well-known phrase.)

By the time November 11, 1918 arrived, the participants in World War I probably felt that they had reached the last point at which something could be salvaged. By then, millions of soldiers and civilians had died in what was easily the bloodiest war ever fought to that point, and many of those who survived were left horribly wounded by gas attacks, lost body parts, and the traumas of trench warfare and shell shock. Dynasties were toppled, and the old ways of fighting gave way to the new, with World War I ushering in the era of tanks, and aerial warfare, and poison gas. By the time the war ended entire generations had been brutally decimated, and the desperate participants no doubt wondered why they had decided to fight the pointless war in the first place.

In short, they had reached their “eleventh hour.” It seems fitting that that is when the war effectively ended.

Greatest Headline Ever!

moses-breaking-the-tablets-of-the-lawI won’t spoil the suspense; you’ll have to click on the link to find out precisely what the greatest headline ever written is.  And I don’t want to cause our lofty family blog to sink to new, sordid depths, but whoever wrote the headline for the Nigerian Scoop website deserves a raise.

I predict this story will be required reading for men’s Bible study classes for so long as such groups exist, and that devout but worried mothers of teenage boys might leave a printout on their son’s pillows.

I also predict that the Book of Ezekiel will suddenly become a lot more popular.

No To Noah

We suffered some cabin fever today, so we decided to go see a movie. The pickings were slim, and our choice boiled down to Noah or The Grand Budapest Hotel. We chose Noah because it was at a theater that was close to our house. We chose wrong — which just goes to show that you shouldn’t let theater location influence your movie selection.

I’ll say this for Noah — it’s long. Really, really long. It’s as tedious as that part of the Old Testament that goes into mind-numbing, repetitive detail about so-and-so begatting such-and-such. Most of the additional length comes from a weird effort to spice up the story of Noah and the ark from the Book of Genesis with a bunch of odd and disturbing plot devices. Sure, Noah’s got a wife and three sons, and there’s a flood, and evil mankind gets wiped out, but the similarities really end there.

This Noah was assisted by rock-like fallen angels called the Watchers, who helped him build the ark, fought off the wicked who tried to get on board when the rains came, and then returned to their original form as creatures of light when the attackers stabbed them often enough in the right place. And there was an evil guy who stowed away on the ark, too, then fought Noah in a pitched battle after the ark hit land. And two of Noah’s sons didn’t have wives, which led to all kinds of tension and plot twists. And Noah lets an innocent girl whose leg gets caught in a trap that Noah planted get trampled to death by a mob. And Shem’s wife has twin girls, and Noah has to decide whether the stab them to death because he thinks “the Creator” wants all humans to die. (Fortunately, Noah decides to let them live.)

What can I say? I’m not a religious person, and I’m not wedded to the notion that every biblical epic needs to star Charlton Heston. But when you start adding computer-generated rock-like angels to the story of Noah and the ark — apparently because every movie these days needs some kind of computer animation — and turn Noah’s family life into a troubled nest of psycho-drama, I have to question the whole point.