Wednesday, January 21, 2009

notes towards a paper on Jesus

I apologize if I am speaking out of turn, but it seems to me That site has too many flashing, turning things. It all seems a bit hyperbolic.

I did like this quote though...
"Judaism needed to be preserved separate, in order to preserve the bedrock from which truth could once again emerge more easily in the future."
I do remember reading some things about the collection of writings referred to as the dead sea scrolls which do seem to inform the idea of a true or original teaching which has been obscured.
Some scholars have concluded that the four gospels all share some references, in other words they are quoting some other older texts, and there appear to be three or four of these texts. Some of the references are shared by some of the dead sea scrolls, so it is possible to piece together a king of hazy image of what those original lost texts might have contained.
Another observation about these ancient texts is that the four gospels were treated as independent books and often included with some of the other texts like the books of Thomas and Philip. I guess it was a little like the way that American Buddhists might have Titles by Thich Na Han, Chogyam Trungpa and Shunryu Suzuki all on the same shelf.
It is clear from looking over the material, that some of the Texts share references to texts that did not inform any of the four Biblical gospels. Taken all together these texts do portray a very different Jesus from the one the Catholic Church shows us.
These collections of text were likely maintained by groups or individuals who had a regular practice of proto-Christian worship, and it is most likely that they were very scholarly. The texts would have been commissioned to be copied in Coptic or Greek. It seems that there must have been an original in Aramaic or Hebrew. The consistencies between the texts from Oxyrhyncus and those found at Nag Hamadi. I suspect that these early Christian may also have been reading Plato and Phythagoras. I'm not sure where I got that idea but the history of Neo-Platonism in Christian writings is well known.

The issue of Gnosticism inevitably comes up here, and there is often an almost reflexive rejection of this by more traditional Catholic and Fundamental Christians. I know that generally Salvation is thought to be earned through good works and strong faith, That is how I was brought up Episcopalian, but the core Gnostic idea - that one can find salvation through direct experience of the divine, - that does seem to pre-date the historical Jesus.  It is interesting to me that so many modern Christian put a strong emphasis on accepting Jesus as a personal savior and having direct communication with him. To me it sounds like a kind of gnosis - experiencing The Divine directly and being guided by this divine intuition. It does seem a bit hypocritical to reject the apocryphal texts or the Gnostic view of Christ, if one is claiming that he or she receives direct guidance from God.

My view is that there is an historical Jesus, or perhaps two of them. One was certainly allied with John The Baptist and I think that part of his ministry was encouraging people to disengage from the branches of Judaism which had come under the complex influence of the Roman empire and the Persians.
For the followers of John and Jesus, it was important to go out and set up a community apart from the cities and the Synagogues. The Baptism has something to do with this, the process of washing off the world and being reborn into a new community is integral to Christian life back then as it is today. Of course I don't think that they were trying to start a new faith, they were trying to purify themselves from the corruption and entanglements of history and their own political world. It has been suggested that the baptisms were done in a cave actually in the womb of the earth, by the light of little oil lamps. So imagine yourself in that situation, underground, and perhaps the water is springing directly from the earth, icy cold an pure, or they might have drawn the water into special basins carved in the rock and added herbs to heighten the sense of cleansing and purification. They would have done this more than once, repeating the ritual with prayers and confessions until one emerged into the light of day reborn as a new person.

I really don't know Judaism well enough to know if there is any precedent for this kid of ritual bathing. I know that the Romans loved their baths, but this is different. There is a precedent in Greek religion. The Eleusisan Mystery Cult revolved around an experience similar to what I have described. The Romans did borrow Greek architecture and Pantheon of Deities, but I'm fairly certain that the resemblance between the two cultures is a very subjective and superficial thing. We tent to see the Greeks through Roman eyes and our view of the Romans is similarly filtered through centuries of Christian history. As far as I know, the Romans had a very complex array of religious practices. On the one hand were the Cult of the State, and the well known pantheon of deities borrowed from the Greeks. These were often composite deities blending elements of Etruscan gods with the more recognizable Greek figures. On the other hand there were household gods of the hearth, doorways, and the  very personal ancestral deities, the lares and penates. Additionally there were local deities of field and stream, perhaps more like nature spirits.

I suspect that ancient Greeks as a similar, if not richer religious life. Simply put, the 12 or thirteen Olympians are more of a synthesis, while actual worship varied from one region to another. There were also hero cults, forms of ancestor worship and oracles. One practice which has always interested me is the Pharmakos where a person, usually a slave was beaten stoned and expelled from the city. This scapegoat was supposed to take with him the collective sins and defilements of the community. The Greek Tragic plays like Sophoclese Oedipus Rex, were supposed to have taken the place of such sacrifice, by placing the cathartic action in a symbolic context on a stage, for all the community to see. Some suggest that the early dramatic festivals actually culminated with the sacrifice of a goat, hence the word 'scapegoat'. I tend to think that catharsis was the actual expulsion of a person rather than a ritual execution. This is after all what happens to Oedipus in his tragic cycle. First he is cast out by his father, to prevent the fulfillment of a prophecy and later in the action of the play he blinds himself and exiles himself in punishment for his own crimes of incest and patricide. The real sin here is hubris which can be translated as something like pride, ambition, or the vain notion that one could actually outsmart the gods. Later In the cycle, Blind Oedipus achieves apotheosis where he achieves a state of grace, having transcended his flawed human condition through suffering and through recognition of his own true nature.

So is the sacrifice of Jesus a "Greek" idea? Or is this a kind of universal role -- that of a dying god-- tied to agriculture in the origin myths of cultures around the world?
I can find those threads in George Frazer's Golden Bough, or Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces.

What about Jesus as a reformer of Judaism? I can see him as a radical figure, leading his people out of the influence of Rome and puppet kings like Herod, towards a simpler, more righteous lifestyle. This thread continues up to the present, from the Puritans and the Shakers up to the contemporary Amish, and the communes of the seventies like the Farm in Summertown, Tennessee. There is a strong message of simplicity and voluntary poverty in the Gospels, This is likely ot a Greek or Roman idea. There is also the aspect of opening up faith of the Hebrews to others, not born out of Jewish bloodlines. This is one of the most radical concepts in Jesus' message. Judaism still remains a very conservative almost tribal religion, while the faiths of Christianity and Islam are open to all - and all ore seen as equal in the eyes of God.

As far as the Christ being a divine being offering salvation through knowledge, We can see that this also has roots in Neo-Platonic philosophy. This is also where many also find the influence of Asian religion. In fact some Indian people do revere Jesus as an avatar of Vishnu - like Lord Krishna.

I don't intend this as a research paper, or an exegesis of my personal beliefs. These are some thoughts I wanted to explore and I hope that others might want to read some of the materials and form their own opinions. I do apologise for the repetitive rambling nature of this post, - spelling errows typo's etc. - I just wanted to put this out and get some reactions before I go back and do some actual research.  This roughly follows some beliefs of mine, formed at a much earlier age. I reserve the right to change my position on any of these ideas.

Perhaps you have other thoughts on this?

Pax Vobiscum

misc. lincs

"The Gnostic myth also describes the exile of the soul in the material world as a form of bondage or enslavement to the body, a type of ignorance or forgetting, and as a state of being asleep."

"Woe to you who put your hope in the flesh and the prison that will perish. How long will you forget and suppose that the imperishables will perish?"
Didymus Jude Thomas

"I am the light that presides over all. I am all: it is from me that all comes, and to me that all goes. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me there."

1 comment:

  1. You should become familiar with the so called Dead Sea Scroll 4QMMT and you will find there was Judaism and Judaism and Judaism in the first century. The the man Yehoshua was teacher in the mold of the Perushim (Pharisees.) So there was no J-esus only an Orthodox Jewish teacher who happened to meet the criteria for the Mashiach for Israel. Israel is the only people he came for so one had better find out how to join Israel.


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