For those of us raised in the Christian tradition, it can come as a bit of a shock to discover that the Word of God is not what is written in the Bible but the One Spirit of the Creator. We could liken it to a Holy Wind that blows through our lives and shakes us to the core of our being.
I’ve been contemplating this image since reading The Pagan Christ. If the Bible is only (?) an allegory, what exactly have we been holding on to as our Truth? Belief in a personal saviour called Jesus? That the resurrection is a promise made by God? That only the Faithful will ascend to Heaven?
As a preacher’s kid, I have a very firm grounding in Christianity. But all along I’ve had an undercurrent of Gnosticism, too. That makes for a very dual (and binary) pattern of thought. It’s like I’ve hedged my bets: if I believe in both, one of them may pay off.
But the Bible as allegory thinking means that the underpinning of my Christian beliefs is on very shaky ground. It wouldn’t take much for the whole edifice to come crashing down. Thank goodness for Gnosis.
The Jesus Puzzle (by Earl Doherty) quoted on Pages 152-154
Doherty explains that Jesus (Yeshua/Joshua) is a Hebrew name meaning “saviour” (strictly speaking, “God saves”). At the beginning of Christianity, he notes, it referred not to the name of a specific human individual but, like the terms Logos, to a concept — to a divine, spiritual figure who is the mediator of God’s salvation. As we have seen, the Christos, a Greek translation of the Hebrew word messiah, is also a concept, meaning “the anointed one of God.” “In certain sectarian circles across the Roman Empire, which included both Jews and Gentiles, these names would have enjoyed a broad range of usage. Belief in some form of spiritual Anointed Savior . . . Christ Jesus . . . was in the air.” Doherty writes. Paul and the Jerusalem brotherhood, he argues, were simply one faction of this widespread phenomenon, albeit an important and eventually very influential one. But later, in a “myth-making process of its own,” this group of missionaries came to be regarded as the whole movement’s point of origin. Did the Evangelists see themselves as writing history? he asks, answering that it is now a maxim that the Gospels are “faith documents.” The Evangelists had no concern for historical research as we know it; rather, they were engaged in a type of Midrash, an inspired commentary. He confirms that in the minds of the Evangelists, the Gospels expounded new spiritual truths through a retelling of Scripture. “New Testament elements are simply a reworking of stories recorded in the Old Testament. Jesus was cast in tales like those of Moses, for example, presenting him as a new Moses for contemporary times.” Mark, he says, might have thought there was some Joshua/Jesus figure who actually existed, but “in any event, before long, such Gospels came to be looked upon as purely factual records by gentiles who did not understand their Jewish roots, and scripture came to be seen as the prophecy of such real events rather than their source.” Mark, he argues, brought to a head an already fledgling process and added those biographical elements he found in the “sayings” traditions. With the Old Testament open before him, he fleshed out his story of Jesus’ ministry and passion.
Doherty reminds us too that the story of Jesus “resides in scripture more than in an assortment of isolated passages.” The overall concept of the Passion, death, and Resurrection has emerged out of a theme repeated in tales throughout the Hebrew Bible and related writings. This is the story modern scholars have characterized as the Suffering and Vindication of the Innocent Righteous One. As we have already seen, we find it in the story of the suffering servant in Isaiah, in Tobit, in Esther, in Daniel, and in other places. All tell a story of a righteous man or woman who suffers, is convicted and condemned to death, gets resurrected at the last moment, and rises to a high position. “It is the tale of how the Jews saw themselves; the pious persecuted by the powerful, the people of God subjugated by the godless,” he says. It was an image readily absorbed by the Christian sect, so the tale of Jesus also follows this pattern. Jesus’ redemptive role was a paradigm for Jewish motifs of suffering and atonement and destined exaltation, brought into a potent mix with the Hellenistic son (Logos) and saviour-god philosophies. Thus, he concludes, “Christianity emerged as a genuine synthesis of the leading religious ideas of the ancient world particularly, and it set the course of Western faith for the next two millennia.”
Right. So that’s OK then?