“I can not live without the company of my forefathers”, Redbad said in an interview in 718. In 2018 this sentence caused turmoil in the social media and the European Union. Having such an impact 1300 after your death deserves some further investigation, we believe.
This article is about a medieval king, freedom of religion, Google Ads, movie trailers, ancient scriptures, paganism, Zuckerberg, censorship, a candid bishop, Frankish kings, freedom of speech and social media.
Confusion all over the Media
At the 26th of May 2018 it was mentioned that Facebook removed a movie trailer. The movie trailer was an announcement of the movie about the life of King Redbad who died in 719. The movie would launch that summer.
“That’s zucks, Mark”, I thought.
Later the news made corrections to their story. Facebook did not remove the trailer, but requested to remove the trailer. Then the news went on to mention it was not Facebook, but YouTube that requested to remove the trailer.
“Always found the YouTube red bad”, I randomly thought about the logo.
But the journalists got it wrong again. It was Google Adwords that did not allow to run the ad of the Redbad movie trailer on their network (managing YouTube ads too, Facebook is a seprate network).
The turmoil triggered some questions to the European Commission about the transparency of these social platforms in relation to the freedom of expression and requested an assessment to compare what the platforms find “shocking” or “offensive” as opposed to the EU´s code of conduct on hate speech.
Much ado about a movie trailer
Producer of the Redbad movie, Klaas de Jong, received a message from Google mentioning that their AdWords campaign contained “shocking content”. The letter furthermore stated: “We strive not to offend users by ads that are inappropriate for our advertising network“.
That wakes up the rebel in me. “What is shocking, offending and inappropriate?” Cool, I want to see it for myself!
Before I share my experience, please have a look for yourself. Here is the “shocking, offending and inappropriate” movie trailer. Put your helmet and sunglasses on, and brace yourself.
I bet you failed to see what was “shocking”, right? Sure, it showed battles and violence. But that is no different than Gladiator or Ben Hur. It also showed intimacy. Just one kiss in the dark (0:34 min). But these do not go as far as the nude scenes in the Inspector Clouseau movies, a.k.a. the Pink Panther (check out this one!).
Honestly, watching the trailer left me pretty confused. I love the images and special effects, but I could not find anything offending. Maybe 20 years in Amsterdam, a cesspool of crime according to Fox news, took the better half of my values. Or, did my parents fail to educate me? I dare to doubt it. My mom would kill me if I did 😉
So, for the lack of better clues, I will take a guess. I assume that the fuss is all about this scene. Or, sentence.
Earlier in the trailer, we hear “You believe the gods do nothing. But they have sent you, Redbad” (1:10 – 1:13 min).
This might have let Google Adwords to believe that Redbad is defender of some pagan faith opposing christianity.
Even though that is not said in the movie trailer, there happens to be some historical truth to that…
“I can not live without the company of my forefathers”
Redbad had lost a decisive battle in Dorestad in 689 against Frankish and christian king Pepin. In 713 Pepin died and Redbad successfully conquered back the lost territory in the years after.
He conquered back Dorestad which was important for trade. He also took Utrecht, the religious center in the area, and made a clear statement according to the original sources.
“All the work of Willibrord seem to break down, as the largest church was broken down by the Frisians, lifting the shrines, clergy were expelled, and Utrecht came under control of Redbad.”Totum opus Willibrordi iis annis dilabi videbatur, eccle siae maxima ex parte a Frisonibus destructae sunt, fana denuo surgebant, clerici expulsi sunt, Traiectum in dicionem Radbodi redactum est.”
In the years to follow Redbad made it deep into current Germany, knocking on the gates of Cologne.
Not much is known about Redbad’s take on religion. The destruction of churches was not necessarily a pagan act. It was common warfare practise. The Franks destroyed the Frisian temples the same way when defeating the Frisian king Poppo.
Perhaps christianity represented foreign domination for Redbad. Let’s explore. We found two historical sources from the old scriptures that reveal a bit of Redbad’s opinion about christianity.
Fragment 1: Christianity represented oppression
The predecessor of Redbad, Aldgisl, was more tolerant to christians and apostles. Aldgisl even saved the life of the christian priest Wilfrid from… the christian Frankish kings. According to the contemporary sources Redbad was less open to the christian faith.
The sources mention that it is because Aldgisl won the battles against the Franks, whereas Redbad lost a few and therefore started to oppose their religion too.
“It was less easy to undertake (red. the spreading of the gospel during Redbad) than in the year 678 and 679 under Aldgisl, compared to the leader Radbod, since he remained a pagan resisting the gospel, even more when Pepin, the leader in power (a. 687), fought a battle between the Franks and Frisians (a. 689) over a part of Frisia near the Rhine, bordering to the Franks, after the hostility between the Frank Christians and the pagans made the Frisones oppose the spreading of Christianity.”Munus iis iniunctum iam minus facile aggredi licebat quam a .678/79 sub Aldgislo, Quamquam enim etiam Radbodus dux, cum ipse paganus permaneret, minime obsisteret, ne evangelium genti praedicaretur, tamen post quam Pippinus dux rerum potitus est (a. 687), inter Francos et Frisones bellum gestum est (a. 689?), Radbodoque devicto Frisiae pars dir a Rhenum sita ad Francos per venerat, neque fieri potuit, quin inimicitiae inter Francos christianos et Frisones paganos obortae fidei christianae propagandae obstarent.”
Fragment 2: A question of loyalty
Finally we have arrived in the year 718. And you are in for a shock.
Redbad who supposedly opposed christianity is about to get baptised. Yes, Redbad had decided to become a christian himself. This is after he got even with the christian Franks on the battlefield. That is quite an extraordinary move for someone “rejecting” christianity. Even his tolerant predecessor Aldgisl allowed his people to be baptized, but did not convert to christianity himself.
“In 718 the holy Wlframni preaches to Redbad, the leader of the Frisians, to the point where he was a candidate to become baptised. When standing with one foot on the holy well, he inquired the holy bishop.”
Redbad seemed to have second thoughts. Or, at least one last question for the bishop.
“Where are the greater the number of nobles and Frisian kings? In the heavenly regions or in damnation in hell?”
“If you are going to spend an eterinity with them, you better have good company”, Redbad must have thought. A valid and crystal clear question. You have got to give him that. Here is what Wulfram said.”
“If the ancestors who have died without baptism, they are condemned without verdict.”
Redbad got an equally crystal clear answer. What would you do? This is what he did.
“He immediately withdrew his foot from the well. He said that he can not live without the company of his forefathers and predecessors. In the year 719, the leader Radbodus died without being baptized, in the 6th year of Charles Martel.”
There is a bizar twist to this story. Instead 718, this attempt to baptise Redbad must have taken place at least before 703, because in that year Wulfram died. Anyone a clue?
Does this mean Redbad was against christianity? Or, was it just not for him? Some articles (we could not verify their sources) suggest Redbad doubted his pagan faith too. Who knows. Redbad’s point seemed to have been: be free to choose what (religion) you want.