Trying to extract the substantive message of Jesus from all the myth and history
By Vince Exley
By the time you’ve finished today’s reflection from Vince Exley you might ask yourself if it would be possible today to have this conversation in Church?. As he writes: “I have recently watched The Teaching Company’s 48 thirty-minute lectures on ‘Religion in the Mediterranean World’, the 36 thirty-minute lectures on ‘Jesus and the Gospels’ and Franco Zeffirelli’s 210 minute movie ‘Jesus of Nazareth’.” He’s been on another of his lengthy quests to try and extract the substantive message of Jesus out of all the myths and the historical record. This is neither a quest in search of the historical Jesus, nor the mythical Jesus, but a search for the meaning that Jesus and Christianity might have for our lives today. As we suggested: is this a conversation you could have in Church?
Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World…
I don’t claim to be a scholar like many who post here, but I was a professional Land, Mining and Engineering Surveyor, and I did the Bachelor of Theology course although, as I was running a business that employed 70 people, I did not have any need of a degree and I audited some of the subjects.
I do claim to be able to discern truth when I see it.
In the first series of 48 lectures, Professor Glenn S. Holland, an historian, uses textual and archaeological evidence to explore the religious cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world. He covers times from the earliest prehistoric indications of human religious practices to the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity in the 4th century A.D.
He asks how people of ancient times coped with the overwhelming mysteries of the universe. The cycles of nature kept predictable time with the sun, moon, and stars; yet, without warning, crops failed, diseases struck, storms wreaked havoc, and empires fell.
In the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, they responded with a rich variety of religious beliefs that have provided some of Western civilization’s most powerful texts: the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Hebrew Bible, the Greek epics of Homer, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the New Testament, among many others. Composed largely of stories of human interaction with the divine, these narratives gave ordinary people a window into the unfathomable realm of the sacred.
People also responded with a complex array of religious rituals that survive in the archaeological remains of temples, cultic statues, funerary goods, and household devotional items—artefacts that are among the world’s greatest cultural treasures.
Religion during the time of the ancients was not something they remembered on occasion. Religion was part of everyday life and everything they did was infused with it.
Medicine was part physical, part spiritual.
The daily life of people was very involved with the various gods and goddesses who ruled mythology. It was quite acceptable to worship more than one deity and most towns and villages throughout the Mediterranean world did so, although a city would normally claim a patron god. Temples were built and scattered throughout the land, reflecting a religion that involved frequent rites, rituals and practices.
All of this mythology flowed over into early Christianity.
Jesus and the Gospels: mythical rather than historical…
In the second series of lectures, Professor Luke Timothy Johnson, an historian, when he comes to look at the Gospels, both Canonical and Apocryphal finds that this literature is mythical and in no way historical.
The figure of Jesus has tantalized both Christians and non-Christians who have sought definitive answers to questions about his words, his acts, and even his very existence.
For most of the last 2,000 years, the search for those answers has begun with the Gospels, but the Gospels themselves raise puzzling questions about both Jesus and the religious movement within which these narratives were produced. They also provide sometimes bewilderingly diverse images of Jesus.
What accounts for this great diversity in the images of Jesus that have emerged, or in the approaches taken to understanding the story of his death and resurrection? Is it possible to shape a single picture from the various accounts of his life given us by these Gospels? Can we really know who Jesus was?
What are the ‘Gospels’ and what can we learn from them?
Jesus and the Gospels is a far-ranging course. It examines not only the canonical Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John familiar to us from the New Testament, but also the many other, apocryphal narratives and literary works that have contributed to our perceptions of Jesus, Mary, and Christianity. All of these works are encompassed by the word “Gospel”.
So, Christianity was founded in a world that was totally mythical in outlook.
It has continued in this vein right up to this day. I am totally convinced that the God of the Old Testament did not exist, there is no life after death, it’s all a complete fabrication and it has continued over into modern day Christianity.
Franco Zeffirelli’s movie is really a summation of Christian belief, very little of it is historical. Virtually all we know historically of Jesus of Nazareth is that he was a wonder worker who was crucified.
I believe in a creator, be it a process or a being. I believe that the universe is permeated with a spirit of attraction. Many of these attractions we have named, gravity, nuclear force, etc.. Even within humans it can be seen that where the attraction we call love is allowed to flourish then humanity flourishes.
It is this universal love that people like Jesus, Mohammed, and many others, both ancient and modern have discerned and preached. As the Gospels sometimes show us, Jesus’ followers taught of this love in its many forms.
When Professor Johnson looks into the apocryphal gospels one really has to laugh at what was written. Although not in the canon these gospels were very widely read and actually form the basis for much of Christian beliefs.
The immaculate conception of Mary, proclaimed as Doctrine in 1854, and her being a virgin despite having given birth to Jesus are completely depended upon some of them. It is related that at the birth of Jesus the midwife examined Mary after the birth and was in awe at the fact that Mary’s hymen was not broken.
Why can’t our astronomers realise that the rings of Saturn are the Holy Foreskin of Jesus?
A few theologians argued that all the Holy Foreskins necessarily had to be frauds since, they asserted, Jesus had taken the actual Holy Prepuce with him to heaven when he ascended.
During the late 17th century, Catholic scholar and theologian Leo Allatius (Allacci Leone) published the treatise De Praeputio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Diatriba (“Discussion concerning the Prepuce of our Lord Jesus Christ”) in which he proposed that the Holy Foreskin had ascended into heaven at the same time as Jesus, and had become the recently observed rings of Saturn.
This type of superstitious drivel totally permeates Christianity today. That is why I see its doctrines as utter crap. Despite all this, Christian people have been, able to carry out, and still are carrying out, great works of love within the world. It is such a great pity that the superstitious nonsense is driving so many people away from Christianity.
Link to further commentary in our forum sparked by this commentary from Vince Exley: www.catholica.com.au/forum/index.php?id=96653