Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Apostles' Creed Jesus is Bankrupt

April DeConick is sticking it to the Jesus Seminar on her blog, The Forbidden Gospels. She is running a series with critiques of the methodology of the Jesus Seminar entitled The Jesus Seminar Jesus is Bankrupt, parts one, two, and three. Jim West has linked to her series with the clever title, Why the Jesus Seminar Needs a Bailout.

It is a bit of risk for me to post about this as any of these scholars can clean my clock (including the Jesus Seminar folks). I am a simple country preacher with an interest in these things. I am an associate member of Westar (the Jesus Seminar) and I have spoken of them favorably on this blog including this silly post Why I Heart the Jesus Seminar.

I have benefited from reading their books and attending and hosting their events. I have defended them against the fundies who claim that the bodily resurrection of Jesus, his ascension, and the resuscitation of Matthew's zombies are as historical as the inauguration of Barack Obama.

My quibble with April is the title of her series. I think she shows quite adequately that the methods themselves when pushed beyond their limits implode. The search for a hero always leads to the self. In the end historical Jesus scholars may have constructed a myth for our time, a Jesus that may be a model as we resist the forces of empire. If we must have a hero, that Jesus may fit our need.

Jesus was a god (and for many still is). Every story that we have about Jesus presents him as some kind of divine hero. We have little if any independent evidence that he even existed. The new Jesus Project will tackle this very question.

All stories and creeds of gods and other divine or partially divine figures are fiction. Whenever we speak about gods and "God" we enter the realm of myth. We can discuss whether myths are true or not and whether they resonate with us or not. That is a whole other topic. To situate myself, A Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell has been helpful.

The question since the Enlightenment is whether or not Jesus was more than a god. Was he a human being as well? The quest of historical Jesus research has been to transform Jesus from the wooden god of creed into as Geppetto would say "a real live boy."

It is that assumption that is under question more than any method. The methods have included simple scissors--a la Thomas Jefferson--to cut out the fantastic parts and find a moral teacher. They have included redaction criticism, form criticism, inventing/discovering "Q", as well as those methods April has been talking about so far: multiple attestation, dissimilarity, and coherence. More methods may yet be invented all in the quest to find a real live boy.

I am beginning to doubt the assumption that there was a human behind the myth. I don't think Jesus was ever more than a god. Yet searching for him has been a fun and educational quest. The Jesus Seminar accomplished the needed deconstruction of the tradition itself. They showed us that the Jesus that is bankrupt is the Jesus of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds.

Those myths came from a universe that no longer exists. Those myths haven't served many of us for a long time. There was some hope that the "historical Jesus" could do it. To some extent, he does. The clever non-violent poet on the side of the outcast is a helpful model for some problems. I enjoy preaching about him. Yet I wonder if this hero, too, is fading and will eventually go the way of Hercules, out of place in a world too large for him to master.

Turning to theology, if Jesus was a god and always will be a god of some sort, what form will he take?
Jesus of creed is an incredible god, too puny and dated. Jesus as the heroic human never existed. With what are we left? What god, myth, and metaphor will be large enough to guide us through not only the immediate problems we face but the vastness of the Universe that simply makes us dizzy?

That question might be interesting.

59 comments:

  1. John, I'm curious: you believe the historical Jesus never existed, that he was created a god out of whole cloth?

    What about Josephus, and the other handful of extra-biblical sources?

    Going in another direction, have you read the novel Quarantine by Jim Crace? He posits a Jesus who is such a shadow of the gospel Jesus as to be shocking, and then proposes a way in which the "myth" grew up and was spread abroad.

    These things fascinate me... I'm not seeking to be argumentative, merely to understand.

    As for me, my belief in a Jesus, fully human and fully God, has evolved over a long time. While I don't "need" a bodily resurrection for my faith to be valid (I'm with Bultmann on this: the crucifixion alone is enough), it is from my high Christology that my most radical social positions come!

    I love your blog, read it just about every day, even though I don't always comment. Thanks for keeping the dialogue alive.

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  2. This is the exact kind of stuff I've been trying to hit at on my blog, my unfortunately popular post on the Sins of Jesus, etc.

    I like thinking of Historical Jesus quests as their own kind contextual Christology/theology like Herzog does.

    All that to say, when I remember to, I'm going to link to this and add you to the blogroll. I've been reading your stuff too much lately and forgetting to add you onto the stuff I'm reading list. :)

    Thanks for writing.

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  3. Rev Shuck:

    The last line of your post reminds me of this aphorism of Nietzche

    "Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

    Have you read Nietzche? I think you might like him. Perhaps Nietzche's Superman can provide the mythic hero you need.

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  4. Hmmm. You have offered another way to see things. Thank you.

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  5. " What god, myth, and metaphor will be large enough to guide us through not only the immediate problems we face but the vastness of the Universe that simply makes us dizzy?"

    I think the problem with modern intellectual pursuits of the myth or the historical side of Jesus is twofold.

    From a historical point of view, it tries to look through a cataclysm that erased the data. It is still an archeological mystery what exactly happened in Palestine in the years between AD 0 and AD 140. Everything was destroyed and everybody died. Everybody who knew what happened, or knew somebody who knew what happened was killed and those that survived did so by not telling their stories.

    We have seen incidents like this in our own history. Who remembers what actually happened in the waning days of the civil war? Or what life was like in the South during the war? How did the Appalachian hillbilly culture end up in the interior of Brazil? It's there, but nobody has any idea when or how it got there.

    Western Civilization just becomes gradually aware that Christianity exists.

    The second issue is that it came into existence among people whose life was infinitely more difficult than our own, and gave them the purpose and strength to live when most people died.

    Nobody in Academia has any idea what that is.

    I find it highly unlikely that an idea is what did it. Ideas and myths are post processing. They come after survival has been established. They try to capture what it was that got them through.

    The Scriptures do that. The OT in the case of the Babylonian captivity, the NT in the case of the destruction of the Second Temple and the Judean wars. Going into that cataclysm we have one religion, and coming out we have two.

    If you want to know who that Christ really is, ask the survivors of concentration camps and the killing fields of the world.

    And ask them if the biblical account is a faithful testament.

    They know.

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  6. I can't remember who said this (anyone), but something happened in that small, radical Jewish community two thousand years ago. Exactly what is a subject of much debate.

    Deep faith, or at least a sense of abiding certainty, is not a gift that I've been given. My sense of the reality of God, and Jesus, and the mission of the Church waxes and wanes according to influences both external and internal more than I would like to admit.

    But something happened. I haven't read all of this criticism, although I am aware of the Jesus Seminar, have read several of Borg's books, and find him very compelling. But in my own mind the notion that this myth just sprung up out of whole cloth doesn't make a lot of sense.

    As an aside, have you read Rodney Stark's "Rise of Christianity"? Its written from a sociologist's point of view and does a good job tracing the development of the followers of "the Way" (as the early Jesus movement was called), and attempts to explain the growth of the movement for its first three of four hundred years.

    Actually interestingly (disturbingly?) he uses Mormonism as one of his contemporary examples, and suggests that it is following a similar pattern.

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  7. "We have little if any independent evidence that he even existed. The new Jesus Project will tackle this very question."

    I've explained this to you before, John.

    One only need understand the type of vermin that bore false witness against Jesus and betrayed him to execution to know that He did in fact exist.

    When the Jewish leaders realized that they had created a martyr the sought to destroy all trace of His existence.
    Stole and destroyed his body, killed his family and as many followers as they could. As many documents (which were obviously not in abundance) as they could find and began a publicity campaign to deem Him a "myth". Too bad so many have bought the lies of the campaign so blatantly.

    If any of these deniers really knew what they were talking about, they would go to Israel and ask around. They'll have no trouble finding one of those lying pigs that will brag about how happy they are and how "smart" it was to kill Jesus.

    Why are these Pigs getting so upset over someone "who didn't exist"?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MgGtIWJoPc

    Here's a little reality. Why would the vermin who murdered The Teacher be so clear about the fact that He existed if He didn't?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSAvaYY-y7Q

    Better to look beyond face value and the arrogance and ignorance of the "no physical evidence" simpletons sometimes.

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  8. Cecilia--I don't insist and don't really know. I tend to think the Bible is more "literature" than "history" and that Jesus is more literary character than historical figure. I appreciate that you read my blog. I too am fascinated by this and love to explore it. Thanks!

    David--thanks! Love your blog! Added it to my holy blogroll.

    Harry--I am wondering if we are finished with supermen and super-divine-men. Perhaps it is time to grow beyond heroes and gods.

    bill42--thanks for recognizing that this is yet another way to look at things.

    Jodie--I think you are showing how personally important religious symbols are and that to cast doubt on them can be insulting to people who suffer and who rely on these symbols for their survival. This is another argument for not offering a different viewpoint from the pulpit because you will hurt grandma's faith. Fortunately, for those who make that argument, most clergy do desist from repeating anything but the creed. I think it makes the church weaker in the end, but then I'm the heretic.

    Brian--I don't think a myth ever springs out of whole cloth. They are interconnected and arise from context and build over time. I think there was an event that led to the need for new mythologies. The destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem made people rethink and retell their stories and to create Jesus.

    Captain--wtf? You want there to be an historical Jesus so you can have something for which to blame contemporary Jews? In the middle ages, Good Friday was a day in which the Christians would leave churches in an emotional fervor and find Jews to terrorize for killing "their lord." You have too much hatred going on here, friend. We need to find the best in our religious mythologies not the worst.

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  9. Gonna have to go against you on this one, ol' buddy. I can stand with you on homosexuality, evolution, social justice and a ton of other things. But after reading both sides of the issue I am convinced that the Jesus of the creeds is the only Jesus there is.

    Call me progressively orthodox, I guess, but I'll take my coffee strong, my women curvy and my Christ classic: Java, Jesus and Jessica, as it were.

    I'm not going to debate this matter with any potential challengers out there, as the issues are complex and my time limited. For those seeking balanced treatments on this subject I strongly recommend the books "The Meaning of Jesus: two Visions" and "Will the Real Jesus Stand Up?" as well as the transcripts of the debate between Bart Ehrman and what's-his-name at New Orleans Baptist Seminary a couple of years back.

    I will be more charitable than the fundies, though, and not consign you to Hell for being a good man who I think is sincerely wrong.That would conflict with my leanings towards Universalism anyway.

    I will expect you to take my Theology 101 class when we get to the Other Side, though. Did the married students at your college sit at the front of the class and ask annoying questions like they did at mine?

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  10. Note to Readers:

    Just Call Me Bill gets the award for capturing the spirit of Shuck and Jive.

    I will be more charitable than the fundies, though, and not consign you to Hell for being a good man who I think is sincerely wrong.

    Hallelujah. : )

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  11. "The destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem made people rethink and retell their stories and to create Jesus. "

    Sorry, John, but as you know, that happened once before and they didn't create a Jesus myth. Why do it the second time, but not the first? A hypothesis is only useful if it fits the facts, without a lot of post-hoc reasoning. So, if one proposes that it was the destruction of the Temple that created the Jesus myth you'd have to 1) explain why that myth wasn't created after the destruction of the first Temple, and 2) Why scholars date some of the Pauline epistles earlier than the destruction of the Temple. Even if the dates get fudged a bit, just 5 or 10 years seems like too short a period of time to build the sort of movement described in the Bible and elsewhere by 70CE, the date for the destruction of the second Temple. The dates just don't work, really.

    So something happened around that time, so that a "myth" was created about someone no one would ever create a myth about, during a time of great oppression of the very group of people who would have known (and I mean actually known) that it was all fake. Odd. To say the least. What would be the point of all those people lying to each other, and to themselves? It's an important question, because if you're looking for a new, larger myth, then it's exactly the sort of question you need to be asking yourself, I'd say.

    While I appreciate the perspective given by the scholarship of the Jesus Seminar, etc., the problem here is a category error. If you're looking for Jesus through scholarship alone, I'm pretty sure you won't find him. I've never seen him in my test tubes either ... but then it never occurred to me to look there for him there. ;)

    "They’ll no’ get him a’ in a book, I think,
    Though they write it cunningly;
    No mouse of the scrolls was the Goodly Fere"
    -- Ezra Pound

    Or put another way, GIGO. Garbage in, Garbage out. If you ask nonsense questions of science, you'll get nonsense answers out. Asking, "Is Jesus God?" of scholars and expecting anything like a meaningful answer is silly, as scholar should recognize immediately.

    You write, "What god, myth, and metaphor will be large enough to guide us through not only the immediate problems we face but the vastness of the Universe that simply makes us dizzy? "

    With all due respect John, and you know I mean that ... what on earth have you been smoking? What part of God is too small for you? The big flood parts? Or the caring for the sick and lame parts? What part is too small? I don't get it.

    Frankly John, as an academic, I can tell you that "Scholarship" is no more comfortable, or useful an idol than the Bible. I wonder, will the dusty, dry pages of scholarship and the Jesus Seminar produce this new mythos you ask about?

    I wouldn't count on it.

    And anyway, why would we or anyone else want to dupe another 20 or so generations of people into believing yet another myth? Seems like a cruel joke to me.

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  12. BTW, I'm not going to damn you to Hell either, though I am keeping a torch and pitchfork next to my desk, just to be on the safe side. :)

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  13. The search for the historical Jesus has resulted in many different portrayals of his life and ministry, as we have already seen. A historical portayal can be described as a telling of the Jesus story based on the evaluation of available sources following certain principles of historical interpretation. The historical portrayal of Jesus, therefore, is an expression of reason, historical reason. Some writers about Jesus are professional historians. Other writers are amateurs. Some write to serve and to nurture Christian faith, while others write to challenge and to undermine Christian faith. But all authors of historical portrayals claim to be telling the Jesus story, or a portion thereof, "as it really happened." (Tatum 1995: 110)

    Even the historian, of course, tends to make Jesus over in his or her own image. This was Albert Schweitzer's main criticism of many writers on the subject in the nineteenth century. He claimed that they had depicted Jesus as a teacher congenial to the modern era instead of an ancient apocalyptist. Certainly this historian brings to the task assumptions and commitments which influence what is said and how it is said. Nonetheless, historical inquiry persistently persued does establish a kind of distance between the interpreter and the subject matter. Historical portrayals should be "objective" by reflecting on objective quality in contrast to Gospel portrayals, on the one hand, and admittedly fictitious portrayals, on the other. Gospel portrayals and fictitious portrayals are primarily expressions of Christian faith and the literary imagination respectively. Historical portrayals are products of historical reason. (Tatum 1995: 110)

    -- Tatum, W. Barnes. In Quest of Jesus. Nashville: Abingdon Press; 1995; p. 110.

    Perhaps, the historian is just as mislead by his own "story" as some of the early witnesses.

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  14. Hey Alan,

    Yes, we ought to look at the epistles in Paul, which were before the destruction of the temple and see what kind of Jesus we find there. Pretty thin on Jesus but thick on a Christ mythology.

    I am not saying anything that NT scholars haven't been saying, that Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John come after the Jewish War and reflect that reality as they put their stories of Jesus together.

    To what extent they copied sources or made their own stories by drawing from the Bible and other stories is hard to say.

    Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus battled with Satan. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus fed 5000 people. Jesus was born of a virgin.

    You tell me. What do you call those stories?

    I call them myths or legends or fictions. Perhaps there was a guy who was so inspiring that people attached legends to him. This of course was the purpose of HJ scholarship, to see if they could find the guy. Some think it is impossible to find the guy. Others think they might get close.

    I don't know. I don't insist. I think that it is likely the Jesus we have in the gospels is more of a literary creation than an historical person. So burn me at the stake.

    If it matters, I am not the only person on the planet who thinks that.

    What part of God is too small for you? The big flood parts? Or the caring for the sick and lame parts? What part is too small? I don't get it.

    The god created in and for a three-tiered universe in which Earth is the center is too small.

    The god created before evolutionary theory is too small.

    And anyway, why would we or anyone else want to dupe another 20 or so generations of people into believing yet another myth? Seems like a cruel joke to me.

    Could be. Some people think that myths (when they work) point to our deepest selves.

    Dominic Crossan's Jesus resonates with me. I like the Jesus he found/created. It points to what I most value. Did he find the real guy? Is it a construction or myth? I don't know. April DeConick calls it bankrupt. I kind of liked it. Pops your balloon, eh?

    Maybe it is all just bullshit and always has been and atheism is the only way forward.

    But I do like the stories, and the songs, and the potluck suppers.

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  15. For every revisionist scholar who supports your skeptical views I can cite a highly qualified traditionalist who provides compelling rebuttals. But what good would that do?

    I am wondering if those who say "I believe so that I may understand" may have the right idea after all. It comes down to a simple decision: do you believe the old, old story of Jesus and his love or not? And your choice in that matter determines how you see everything else.

    To me that sounds intellectually bankrupt, but then again I'm just a hairless ape who thinks he's a lot smarter than he probably is. Who am I to look down on those who simply believe?

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  16. For every revisionist scholar who supports your skeptical views I can cite a highly qualified traditionalist who provides compelling rebuttals. But what good would that do?

    Depends what good you want to have come from it. My opinions are my opinions and they change. I like to think for myself and allow others to do the same.

    It comes down to a simple decision: do you believe the old, old story of Jesus and his love or not?

    I don't think that has anything to do with it. You can believe and act in love whether Jesus was an historical figure, a literary creation, or the reality of God Almighty.

    I'm just a hairless ape who thinks he's a lot smarter than he probably is. Who am I to look down on those who simply believe?

    Not sure what you are getting at here, but I don't intend to look down on anyone, although I do know that any time a person departs from traditional views (and especially views regarding personal faith) that emotions rise.

    I am really expressing my thoughts, that's it.

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  17. Of course the letters of Paul and the Gospels reflect the reality in which they were written. But only if that reality is entirely dissociated from ours does it make any sense to completely discount their stories.

    I understand that the great Achilles Heel of the project of modernity was that it attempted to decontextualized knowledge to the point that we could no longer see the specific (in science, in art, in theology, in philosophy...). But to do the reverse, and contextualize our history in such a narrow way as to propose that we cannot in any way connect with the truths being written about 2000 years ago is to make the precisely opposite mistake.

    "Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus battled with Satan. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus fed 5000 people. Jesus was born of a virgin. "

    I believe they are stories from people who experienced Jesus (a dude who actually walked around. I see no evidence in all of history that anyone would go to these lengths for a lie they knew was a lie), and attempted to write through the inspiration he provided. I believe they "reflect the reality in which they were written", and that my life and their lives aren't actually very different in so many important ways, and so their reality can inform my reality too. And it should.

    That doesn't make them myths.

    "The god created before evolutionary theory is too small."

    Well there I am definitely perplexed. Evolutionary theory, as we have been trying to teach the creationists, makes no claims about God whatsoever. Nor does God make any claims about evolutionary theory, that I'm aware of. :) To use evolutionary theory, or even its existence, to try to disprove or comment on God is a misuse of a scientific theory.

    If one believes that God created the Heavens and the Earth, I honestly do not see how that has anything to do with a scientific theory.

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  18. "Not sure what you are getting at here."

    Nothing, just musing, as I am wont to do more and more as the years go by. If anything I am wondering what Kierkegaard would say about the whole thing, or Kant.

    "I don't think that has anything to do with it. You can believe and act in love whether Jesus was an historical figure, a literary creation, or the reality of God Almighty."

    Of course you can, but if you are going to do so wearing clerical garb, in a building with a cross on top of it, with a bunch of Bible toting people, then your opinion of the old, old story of Jesus and his love matters quite a bit.

    At some point honest differences of opinion diverge so much that people of good will can share only so much common purpose.

    For example, we can all work to feed the hungry, but some of us will do it in Jesus' name, others because the Prophet commanded it, and still others because, well, just because.

    We can all work together at the soup kitchen, but when it closes some go to church, some to mosque and others to the Electric Cowboy for a night of beer drinkin' and hell raisin', yee-hah!

    "whether Jesus was an historical figure, a literary creation, or the reality of God Almighty."

    I wonder if he might be all three.

    "I do know that any time a person departs from traditional views (and especially views regarding personal faith) that emotions rise."

    Not in my case. My regard for you won't change at all, assuming of course you don't wander from, say, the belief that human life is sacred and decide it's okay to shoot up the Elizabethton Wal-Mart one night. Even I have some limits.

    Did you ever see the Andy Griffith where Otis rides the cow into the courthouse? That was a funny one!

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  19. Alan, you might enjoy "The Physics of Christianity," a thought-provoking if somewhat bizarre attempt to reconcile Christian faith with science. Did you know Jesus may have had unusually small testicles?

    Lost is on tonight - cool!

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  20. Alan,

    Thanks for the push.

    To say a story in the gospels is a fiction or myth is not necessarily to discount it. It is an attempt to understand it.

    I see no evidence in all of history that anyone would go to these lengths for a lie they knew was a lie

    I am not sure if a myth is a lie. Is the story of Noah and the flood a myth or a lie?

    I enjoy these stories and the truths they tell. I just don't happen to think they are historical reports. I think they are creative fictions drawn from mostly the Hebrew scriptures designed to tell the old story in a new way--a contemporary way for them in light of their circumstances in which Jesus is the main character.

    To use evolutionary theory, or even its existence, to try to disprove or comment on God is a misuse of a scientific theory.

    I think you and I may be using the word "God" differently. I am not talking about proving or disproving God.

    I am starting from this assumption: the stories of the gods including the Christian god come from a time in which we understood the universe quite differently than we do today.

    How do we translate the those ancient truths to our time? Some of the concepts we will keep, some we will not. Remember the church resisted Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, etc. because their science impinged on the church's theology.

    There may be a number of different things that we might rethink regarding our concept of God given what we are learning through science.

    If one believes that God created the Heavens and the Earth, I honestly do not see how that has anything to do with a scientific theory.

    Granted. I affirm that creedal statement as metaphor, poetry, or mythology that speaks a truth regarding the sacred worth of creation.

    Although, the language is a bit archaic. What are 'heavens' and is 'created' simply past tense?

    You know what I am saying, right? When the creed was created it assumed and spoke to a conception of the universe that we no longer hold.

    How do we communicate this sacred worth of the universe in our time and to our conception of the universe?

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  21. Of course you can, but if you are going to do so wearing clerical garb, in a building with a cross on top of it, with a bunch of Bible toting people, then your opinion of the old, old story of Jesus and his love matters quite a bit.

    I happen to think I tell the "old, old story." Some may not think so.

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  22. Way back to Cecilia at the top! I never did address your question about Josephus. No I haven't read the novel by Jim Crace. Do you recommend it?

    I am kind of a Bultmann fan myself!

    Here is a link that I thought interesting that shows the arguments from both sides. The author discloses his/her view at the end. It is from Religious Tolerance

    Others might be curious too.

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  23. John,

    Lots of action since you responded to my last post:

    "insulting to people who suffer and who rely on these symbols for their survival."

    I was not talking about relying on symbols. I was talking about understanding them. About getting behind the story and seeing what the authors saw, and knowing what the authors knew, then asking: "Did they explain it right?" About relying on their survival, their salvation, for their symbols.

    Such people don't believe in myths.

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  24. Thanks for the continuing conversation, John.

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  25. Jodie,

    The story speaks of one's own experience. I get that. On a number of levels I get it. That's why I am a minister.

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  26. Thank you Alan! I appreciate that you engage me with this!

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  27. "How do we communicate this sacred worth of the universe in our time and to our conception of the universe?"

    That is the question!

    There is the Fundamentalist model that most of us agree is so flawed that it requires rejecting faith altogether.

    But do we have an alternative model? We don't have something that equals the complexity we affirm of the known Universe.

    One guess is that you back into it. You have to embrace the complex universe and move through it and come out the other side.

    It is 40 days of powerful life altering temptations after the high of baptism. It is 40 years in the desert after the victory against oppression. It is the coming home after generations of diaspora. It is the awakening that comes after death by torture.

    There is no going back. One of the reasons I like your blog is that what I see are the reflections of someone who says "I will cross the desert come what might. The future is on the other side, not behind"

    It takes balls. It takes faith. And it takes a beating.

    T.S. Eliot got when he said

    "We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time."

    There is no other way I think to understand the Bible stories. The Gospel is in the promise that coming home we will "know the place for the first time".

    It's not history, and it's not myth. It has both, maybe, but it is much much more.

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  28. A question comes to mind: When we look at the other god myths of that same era and same area, are they based on real humans or are they complete fabrications? It's my understanding that they were based on real people, sometimes even several real people, but I may be wrong. Anyone know?

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  29. Thanks for the good words, Jodie. And for this:

    It's not history, and it's not myth. It has both, maybe, but it is much much more.

    Hey Russell,

    Good question!

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  30. Russell,

    In answer to your question (or one answer at least), this is Robert Price's take on his position that speaks about other god myths and Jesus, The Quest of the Mythical Jesus and other articles can be found on the Jesus Project page.

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  31. I thought you might like to read what I thought would be a good hymn to go along with what you wrote in this blog entry:

    http://timeforthetruth.wordpress.com/2009/02/06/some-who-call-themselves-christian-believe-that-jesus-never-existed/

    Thank you for the material.

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  32. Adel,

    Ugh. Those lyrics don't remotely scan with the tune. It's almost as amateurishly awkward as some of the hymns in that "Sing the Faith" hymn supplement. Heck, even "Earth and All Stars" is better than that (but not much better.)

    I mean, I like clever satire as much as anyone, but ... well ... the key word there is "clever." It's one thing to be snotty, but don't ever let your work be artless and boring.

    In other words, don't quit your day job. ;)

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  33. Alan - nice shot. Of course the real truth lies somewhere in the middle of all this dialog. I am happy to be blessed with an inquiring, logical, thoughtful mind so that I may find my own position in the spectrum. With all the gross inconsistencies in the good book, unless you are a sheep you cannot take every word as literal and absolute. I guess I would say that one ought to know what they believe and WHY they believe it. It should resonate deep within yourself, not be treated like some kind of insurance policy.

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  34. If you'll forgive some shameless promotion, my new blog post, "God, Gay Marriage and the Bible is up."

    John, ever done a thread on the Servetus issue? That seems to be one the Arminians love to stick you Calvinist fellers with.

    BTW, every get an answer to the query about breakfast for 80-90 people?

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  35. Adel,

    Alan is right. Don't quit your day job.

    BTW, what >>is<< your day job?

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  36. I can't reconcile your statements, John, with your congregation's webpage where it says:

    "First Presbyterian invites you to become a part of our fellowship as we worship God and serve others in the spirit of Jesus Christ."

    Do I understand that you worship a myth and serve in the spirit of one that never existed??? Help me with this?

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  37. Adel!

    So glad I inspired you to song. But we do need a little work on meter and rhyme. Let's touch up this first verse, shall we?

    Jesus loves me! This I know,
    Because he’s fiction, I made him so,
    Little ones are ignorant;
    They’ll believe everything I chant.


    You get seven syllables in the second line. You used nine. How about:

    For he's fiction, I say so.

    Isn't that better?

    Little ones are ignorant.

    You have seven syllables, but it is tough to find a rhyme for ignorant. Chant? Not quite. And you have eight syllables in the fourth line. How about:

    Try to teach them; they will grunt.

    Now try it out from the top.

    Alan!

    I thought "Loud boiling test tubes" was written for you! : )

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  38. Thanks for the fun, everyone. I'll keep at it with you! What is important is the journey (at least that's how I see it).

    JCMBill--I will check your post. Breakfast went well. Servetus had it coming--poor bastard.

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  39. Bill42--That is the point for me. Folks need to be free to find their own path. I do not know the mysteries, but I sure love exploring them.

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  40. Another thought.

    I remember hearing a sermon in which the minister was talking about a guy he knew who made up all kinds of proofs to show that there could have been a fish big enough to swallow a man alive and keep him alive for three days. It was critical for this person's faith in the truth of the Bible that the account of Jonah was an historical report.

    My hunch is that most folks reading this would see the story of Jonah as a short story--a fiction--designed to tell a truth (or more than one truth). The importance is not whether or not Jonah existed. He is a character in a narrative. The change is how we look at the literature. Is it a story told around a campfire or an historical report? Does that matter for faith?

    Admittedly, this gets trickier with the Jesus tradition as there is a great deal of "spiritual weight" attached to Jesus.

    But in a similar way to Jonah, we can look at the Jesus literature. Are the gospels historical reports or stories told around a campfire so to speak? Or are they some combination?

    All of that is a question that is independent from faith. At least I think it is. I can still have faith that the Jesus stories like the Jonah story tell the "truth."

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  41. There are numerous reasons I would place the Gospels in a completely different category than stories like Job and Jonah, such as the attention to detail, the copious references to real world persons, places and events, and the fact that one's eternal destiny is repeatedly tied in with how one responds to the Jesus that is portrayed in the stories. But I will leave the details of those reasons to people far smarter than I, such as Anglican scholar NT Wright.

    The bottom line for me is: is the real point of the story independent of whether it occurred or not, or are meaning and historical veracity inseparably intertwined? The Gospel writers weren't just using fictional characters to communicate moral precepts. They really believed that Jesus is a unique Person who must be encountered in order to gain eternal life.

    Either they were right or they were wrong - choose your position. But trying to turn their writings into a Semitic version of Aesop's fables appears to me to be disingenuous and patronizing. Better to tear up one's copy of the New Testament than take such a condescending approach to its message.

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  42. They really believed that Jesus is a unique Person who must be encountered in order to gain eternal life.

    How do you know what "they really believed?"

    The Gospel writers weren't just using fictional characters to communicate moral precepts.

    How do you know that? Is Satan in the temptation stories fictional or historical?

    I appreciate your opinion. I don't think it is matter of 'either they were right or they were wrong' and I don't plan on tearing up my New Testament. I will continue to try to understand it.

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  43. "How do you know what "they really believed?""

    By the fact that they state what they believe. If I say "I believe that chiropractic medicine is an effective treatment for low back pain" is it more reasonable to think that: a.) I believe what I said; or (b.) I am really conveying some subtle moral or spiritual truth unrelated to the plain meaning of my sentence?

    The burden of proof, and it is a weighty one, is on those who claim that, contrary to what the text plainly and repeatedly says, the Gospel writers didn't believe what they were writing was true in a historical sense.

    "How do you know that? Is Satan in the temptation stories fictional or historical?"

    I think you are revealing something of your inner mind by asking that question. Believing in entities such as Satan seems silly to many moderns, so well meaning individuals such as yourself feel that we must reinterpret biblical texts to fit current thinking. I would submit that such attempts make the Gospels captive to whatever the current fad in thinking is.

    I have no trouble believing in a malevolent non-human entity
    with a personality and will of its own. In many ways it requires less faith than believing in a good God. And so I accept the stories as true because I accept the Gospels as essentially true.

    Are there historical problems with some of what they say? Of course. But there is a difference in my mind between getting the name of a Roman governor wrong or screwing up a date and deliberately placing fictitious events in a document intended as real history. One is an honest mistake that may be due to copyist error. The other is deliberate falsehood.

    "I appreciate you opinion."

    And I yours...although if you don't repent you're "gonna bust Hay-ll wide open when you die," as a well-intentioned fundie once told me, lol.

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  44. Bill,

    I don't think it is a matter of "deliberate falsehood." They could be adopted stories that eventually came to be taken as history.

    I don't know of anyone who argues that the Infancy Gospel of Thomas is historical reporting. Was the author guilty of deliberate falsehood when he told stories of the boy Jesus? What really is the difference between those stories and the story of say, Jesus in the temple in the Gospel of Luke? The quality of the writing perhaps is a difference.

    Back to Satan. When you read the temptation story, do you see it as a report of an event? That appears to me like a common story that gets applied to Jesus. You can go through the gospels and see their literary antecedents.

    It doesn't mean the stories aren't true--evaluating their truth is a matter for faith or for recognition on the part of the hearers as it resonates with experience.

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  45. John,

    Are you familiar with Van Voorst's book "Jesus Outside the New Testament" or Richard Bauckham's "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: the Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony" or Craig Blomberg's "The Historical Reliability of the Gospels"?

    Are you truly interested in real scholarship, or only that which affirms your positions?

    Thank you for your comments on my lyrics. Feel free to use them.

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  46. Thanks for the bibliography, Adel. I'll try to get to them. Working my way through "Green Eggs and Ham" at the moment.

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  47. Owner:

    Whether or not the accounts in the Bible are partially or even completely allegorical, they are valuable. We were created as rational, reasoning beings, so if we individually accept various passages as historically accurate or "fictional", not having to come to total agreement with everybody, serving others in the "spirit of Jesus Christ" is still very valuable. It is a shame if one expends great amounts of energy debating historicity instead of living one's life using Christian precepts.

    For instance,I consider the accounts of Jesus' birth to be allegorical since they were "recorded" (written) 75 to 100 years after the fact by people who were not in attendance and may not even having been born yet. This does not detract from the message.

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  48. "Whether or not the accounts in the Bible are partially or even completely allegorical, they are valuable."

    Let's look at some alleged sayings of Jesus from those accounts:

    "I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh to the Father but through me."

    "Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of th Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."

    "He who believeth is not condemned, but he who believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

    What is the value in the above words if they aren't true? They should be denounced as lies, along with the persons who fabricated them.

    Those men are responsible for the biggest hoax in history, one which has led to countless millions suffering and being deceived needlessly. And you say we should consult their writings for moral guidance? It makes as much sense to seek wisdom from the sayings of Al Capone or PT Barnum!

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  49. Wow! We are angry , aren't we. You can cherry pick a few items that should be taken with a grain or handful of salt, but that does not mean that there are not many truly valuable lessons to be considered. You are throwing out the baby with the bath water. Yes, too many people over the centuries have committed atrocities in the name of "christianity". But countless others have done much good. Hopefully you and I have enough brain power to tell the truly good. If I remember correctly, Mother Theresa turned out to be an atheist yet she did a tremendous amount of good.

    I have little tolerance for literalists. The Bible is not "inerrant". We need to approach it with intelligence and reason. I agree that more evil has been done over the centuries in the name of religion than maybe for any other reason. But that does not mean religion is all bad. Every day is a new beginning and all we can do is to do better than we did yesterday, individually and collectively.

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  50. "Wow! We are angry , aren't we."

    I don't know about "we," but I had the day off from work and thoroughly enjoyed the warmth and sunshine, and have been in quite a pleasant mood the entire day.

    "You can cherry pick a few items that should be taken with a grain or handful of salt,"

    The verses I listed are at the heart of the Gospel message: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. If that message isn't true then the authors were either crazy or con artists. Why search for diamonds in their barrel of rotten apples when Buddhism and other traditions offer the same moral guidance without the "Jesus is Lord" hoax hanging over them?

    "I have little tolerance for literalists. The Bible is not "inerrant". We need to approach it with intelligence and reason."

    Exactly my point. An intelligent, reasonable approach to a lie is to expose it, repudiate it and move on.

    BTW, there is an important difference between inerrant and infallible.

    "If I remember correctly, Mother Theresa turned out to be an atheist yet she did a tremendous amount of good."

    You need to check your memory. I have never, ever heard anyone claim that she was an atheist. If you have proof she was then I and the rest of the world would love to see it.

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  51. "Working my way through "Green Eggs and Ham" at the moment."

    Gotta love it!

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  52. Spiritual life

    Analyzing her deeds and achievements, John Paul II asked: "Where did Mother Teresa find the strength and perseverance to place herself completely at the service of others? She found it in prayer and in the silent contemplation of Jesus Christ, his Holy Face, his Sacred Heart."[67] Privately, Mother Teresa experienced doubts and struggles over her religious beliefs which lasted nearly fifty years until the end of her life, during which "she felt no presence of God whatsoever,"[68]"neither in her heart or in the eucharist" as put by her postulator Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk.[68] Mother Teresa expressed grave doubts about God's existence and pain over her lack of faith:

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  53. What is the value in the above words if they aren't true? They should be denounced as lies, along with the persons who fabricated them.

    That is why many former apologists have become atheists.

    Others recognize that the authors of the gospels were theologians who saw nothing deceitful in borrowing or even inventing sayings and putting them on the lips of Jesus, as long as these sayings and stories contributed to the message and character of Jesus as they saw it.

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  54. If everyone who ever experienced doubts about God's existence was an atheist we would all fit the bill. The label simply doesn't fit.

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  55. "Others recognize that the authors of the gospels were theologians who saw nothing deceitful in borrowing or even inventing sayings and putting them on the lips of Jesus, as long as these sayings and stories contributed to the message and character of Jesus as they saw it."

    So they invented a fictional Messiah, made up a bunch of things that never happened, and peddled their creation to the world as a real person. In plain language they were grifters, liars and con artists selling spiritual snake oil. I can find better people to learn moral and spiritual truths from.

    "That is why many former apologists have become atheists."

    And in doing so they have committed a logical fallacy. Just because Christianity may be a lie does not mean that there is no entity that fits the definition of God.

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  56. JCMBill,

    True. I am actually referring to those who self identify as atheists who formerly were Christian apologists. They proclaimed the truth of the gospel in historical terms and when their study finally moved them to where they could no longer believe it as such, they threw out the whole thing.

    Part of the issue, as I see it, is that they put themselves in a box before they started.

    For example, I often hear people say something like "if Jesus didn't rise bodily from the dead then the Christian tradition is a lie and should be dispensed with."

    Then some of these same folks through study and reflection discover that these narratives are not historical reports (therefore "lies" in their eyes) and decide to leave their Christian faith and become self-identified atheists.

    This is a common story.

    I don't make that choice. I find value in the metaphor and the deeper truths it proclaims. In that sense I value the work of Marcus Borg on this.

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  57. So they invented a fictional Messiah, made up a bunch of things that never happened, and peddled their creation to the world as a real person. In plain language they were grifters, liars and con artists selling spiritual snake oil. I can find better people to learn moral and spiritual truths from.

    Great. Do what you want. I am not trying to convince to be a Christian at all.

    I happen to enjoy storytellers. If I want to insist that their stories are factually and historically true, that is my problem, not theirs.

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  58. Too late, o aficionado of Calvin. I already am a Christian. I just don't happen to think that the idea of seeing the Gospels as "true myth" or whatever term they're using these days is a viable option.

    We're not going to resolve this issue, so let's agree to disagree without being disagreeable.

    How 'bout those Twins?

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  59. Sounds good my friend. : )

    I assume you mean the Elizabethton Twins who have been red hot. Looking forward to another great season!

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