Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Historical Jesus, the Mythical Jesus, the Baby in the Manger

In this Advent time period where we're waiting for the baby in the manger, it's interesting to meet Jesus in other incarnations.
I've been reading Reza Aslan's Zealot:  The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.  Reza Aslan would not be interested in the baby in the manger.  He talks about Jesus as a Jew, Jesus as a radical.  How do we know he was a radical?  Because of the way he was executed.  If you've read widely, especially in the realm of historical Jesus scholarship, these ideas won't shock you, as they did not shock me.  Still, it's interesting to read this book in Advent, to think about the messiah the first century Jews wanted, the messiah who came.

On the morning that I finished reading that book, I listened to this interview with Jay Parini on NPR's On Point.  Unlike so many others these days, he's trying to re-mythologize Jesus.  By that, I mean he's reminding us of the larger truths of Jesus.

As a poet, a son of a Baptist preacher, a scholar, and a long-practicing Episcopalian, Jay Parini is uniquely qualified to do this.

He talks about going back to the Greek and seeing how the translations have fallen short.  Consider the following:

"Repent and you shall be saved."

Using his knowledge of Greek, Parini translates that passage this way:  Open your mind to the larger mind of God and experience enlightenment--which will enable you to go out into the world and behave the way I've been teaching you.

Parini notes the geography of the Jesus story, that he lived at a crossroads of the Silk Road, and thus he's synthesizing Greek ideas and mystical, Eastern ideas.  And by his discussion, it's clear that he's done his research.

Aslan is a very different thinker as he tries to strip the mythology away from Jesus.  Along the way, he explores how we came to have these mythologies.  He lays the blame solely at the feet of Paul, and he makes a compelling case.  Let me also warn you that Paul looks like an egomaniacal, crazed leader in the hands of Aslan.  Again, it's not an unfamiliar picture, but having spent time avoiding Paul and then trying to reconcile Paul with my views, it's interesting to come across this depiction again.

There are days when I think I'm about ready to be done with organized religion, especially as a church leader who does more thinking about the church building than the spiritual development of the members.  But then I watch the actions of the new pope, and I think, well, maybe I'll continue on.

Granted, I'm not Catholic.  But I'm amazed at how Pope Francis has won over the grumpiest of people.  I listened to this interview on NPR's Fresh Air, and I am even more impressed--and hopeful that one could make a difference as an administrator.

It also makes me hopeful that even if I haven't reached my full potential, that there is still time.  As we've listened to the retrospectives on the life of Nelson Mandela, I'm struck by the fact that Mandela was elected to be president when he was in his 70's--and he did some of his life's most important work with the Truth and Reconciliation Committee during those years.

And with this pope, in his middle years, he was making mistakes (or so they seem to me) supporting the wrong side of justice.  But he is open about the mistakes he's made, and he has managed to move on--and now he is uniquely situated to do God's work.

May we all be able to say the same as we approach the end of our days.

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