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John Frum and the Jesus Myth
August 15, 2014 J. P. Holding

John Frum and the Jesus Myth

Posted in Forum Post

I’ve had exchanges with a Christ myther who has posited the case of the John Frum “cargo cult” as an example of how a person could be invented wholesale and inserted into history, just as Christ myther’s suppose Jesus was. Although I have not seen this example appealed to often, it seemed to be worth a look.

Fortunately, a comprehensive account of the Frum cult was easy to find in a reliable place — the online version of Smithsonian magazine. Using this description, we’ll now analyze the Frum cult to see if it provides any useful analogies for Christ myther’s.

In summary, the Frum cult in modern times has a group of South Pacific villagers from the island of Tanna in the nation of Vanatu, who imitate an American military organization, complete with faux American military uniforms and weapons. On February 15, they observe “John Frum Day” to honor Frum as a sort of Messiah who will bring them all sorts of American food, drink and technology.

This “cargo cult” apparently took hold when American GIs gave locals some of their goods, and having liked them so much, the locals started the cult in hopes of enticing Frum to bring more. Frum is prayed to as a messianic figure capable of delivering the goods, and is said to reside in a local volcano.

At this point, the appeal by Christ mythers becomes suspicious. John Frum resides in a volcano? Has this cult indeed invented a human being that lived in history , or has it invented a deity? Here’s a quote from the article that points in the latter direction:

“But if John Frum, an American, is going to bring you modern goods, how does that sit with his wish that you lead a kastom life?”

“John is a spirit. He knows everything,” the chief says, slipping past the contradiction with the poise of a skilled politician. “He’s even more powerful than Jesus.” I ask…

“Have you ever seen him?”

“Yes, John comes very often from Yasur to advise me, or I go there to speak with John.”

“What does he look like?”

“An American!”

“Then why does he live in Yasur?”

“John moves from America to Yasur and back, going down through the volcano and under the sea.”

John Frum is a spirit? That’s not a real person invented in history. But maybe, the critic says, John Frum was once perceived as a real person, but he became a spirit in the cult’s mythology. The article, however, refutes that as well:

Chief Isaac and other local leaders say that John Frum first appeared one night in the late 1930s, after a group of elders had downed many shells of kava as a prelude to receiving messages from the spirit world. “He was a whiteman who spoke our language, but he didn’t tell us then he was an American,” says Chief Kahuwya, leader of Yakel village. John Frum told them he had come to rescue them from the missionaries and colonial officials. “John told us that all Tanna’s people should stop following the white man’s ways,” Chief Kahuwya says. “He said we should throw away their money and clothes, take our children from their schools, stop going to church and go back to living as Kastom people. We should drink kava, worship the magic stones and perform our ritual dances.”

Perhaps the chieftains in their kava reveries actually experienced a spontaneous vision of John Frum. Or, perhaps the apparition has more practical roots. It’s possible that local leaders conceived of John Frum as a powerful white-skinned ally in the fight against the colonials, who were attempting to crush much of the islanders’ culture and prod them into Christianity. In fact, that view of the origins of the cult gained credence in 1949, when the island administrator, Alexander Rentoul, noting that “frum” is the Tannese pronunciation of “broom,” wrote that the object of the John Frum movement “was to sweep (or broom) the white people off the island of Tanna.”

In all of this, one is missing the clear, down-to-earth, non-supernatural claims that attend Jesus, of a man who was born in the flesh, interacted with friend and foe alike, was crucified, and buried and rose again on the Third Day, and after 40-days, ascended into Heaven as many onlookers affirmed in the historical record and the pages of the Bible.

There is one variation of this story, in which “John Frum” was an alias assumed by a real person. But neither that, nor the primary story, is of any aid to Christ-mythers in achieving a parallel to what they mistakenly suppose as the history of Jesus.

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