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Did you see the 1971 Disney movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks starring Angela Lansbury? Set in World War II, the Germans invade a peaceful British town, but a ghostly and invulnerable battalion of animated suits of armor from the local museum fights off this modern force.

This wasn’t just an active imagination on the part of the screenwriters. No, this came from history.

It was August of 1914, near Mons in Belgium. The German army was making its sweep into France in the opening stages of World War I. Heavily outnumbered units of the British Expeditionary Force came under vastly superior German fire, and their destruction seemed assured. But in perhaps the strangest tale in modern warfare, the British were saved at the last moment by an inexplicable heavenly presence: a brigade of warrior angels appeared and wrought destruction upon the Germans, handing the day and the victory to the British.

This is an excerpt from The episode goes on to expose the myth, noting that the origin of the supernatural part comes from the short story “The Bowmen” by Arthur Machen, published five weeks after the battle. Machen was inspired by the Battle of Agincourt, the stunning and overwhelming English victory that took place almost exactly 500 years before the Battle of Mons. He imagined the ghosts of those English and Welsh archers using their fabled longbows to annihilate the Germans like they had done to the French cavalry centuries earlier in the same part of Europe.

Some months later, archers became angels in an article of supposed battlefield remembrances, and the angelic story was solidified by several books years later. The story inspired Mary Norton, author of the two books from which Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks was adapted.

Parallel with the gospel story

Granted, the horde of angels was never part of any official account of the battle, and even within the British public during the war this was probably a minority belief. But similarly, the historical resurrection of Jesus was never part of any modern consensus view of history, and Christianity has always been a minority of worldwide belief (according to 2010 estimates, Roman Catholics are 16.85% and Protestants are 6.15%).

If some combination of outright fiction, selective memory, and wishful thinking can become history in our well-educated modern era, shouldn’t this natural explanation win out over the supernatural Jesus story?

Is Islam such a weak religion
that it cannot tolerate a book written against it?
Not my Islam!
— father of 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner,
Malala Yousafzai

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 7/25/12.)

Photo credit:Lichfield District Council

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CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...