Powered by Bravenet Bravenet Blog

Mallow Castle at night

journal photo

Subscribe to Journal

December 19, 2014

8:25 PM

Excursus

Every Christmas I use to share the story of the birth of the Christ child to my children. As they got older I shared the many different ways it effects we here in America. One time I shared the "Gift of the Magi" by O'Henry . One time I shared how the Star of Bethlehem could have been explained (for my son who is now working for NASA) , The last one that I called "The fourth wise guy" was my last attempt at reaching out to my kids (they're all grown now) You can find all my attempts on line somewhere if you want. In the tradition of Irish scéalaí. A seanchaí is a traditional Irish storyteller/historian.  And now a wee bit that you didn't know about me.

"Read to me Grandmother" I would say in my best Irish, drawing myself up to my imposing two and a half feet tall for I was only two years and a few days old when I had this conversation. And in her fluent German Ist das, wie Sie bitte sagen? "Is that how you say please?" Bitte Großmutter "Please Grandmother" GrandmotherCallaghan was one of those "old fashion" teagaisc teaching grandmothers the kind you loved and who could generate the best from even a stick of wood.

And so would begin my lessons in the classics from Don Quixote (1605) by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Last Days of Pompeii (1834) by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Macbeth (1606) by William Shakespeare, Great Expectations (1861) by Charles Dickens, Treasure Island (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson, Faust (1808/1832) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Iliad (962 B.C.) Homer. And all of the best known Irish authors and writers such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, C.S. Lewis, Samuel Beckett. And her reading continued with the Latin authors for example Lucius Apuleius best known for The Metamorphoses often  referred to as The Golden Ass, is written in a Grecizing style, with fairly involved syntax, couched in a large vocabulary. These things make Apuleius slightly difficult reading to make my education well rounded Grandmother would read the classics in the original language, which I had to learn if I were to keep up.

Grandmother Callaghan would read until her voice broke and become raspy and hoarse. And Gentle reader, I grew up loving reading books, loving the histories of Ireland Lebor Gabála Érenn ( The book of takings ) Purporting to be a literal and accurate account of the history of the Irish, Lebor Gabála Érenn an attempt to provide the Irish with a written history comparable to that which the Israelites provided for themselves in the Old Testament. Drawing upon the pagan myths of Celtic Ireland — both Gaelic and pre-Gaelic — but reinterpreting them in the light of Judaeo-Christian theology and historiography, it described how the island was subjected to a succession of invasions, each one adding a new chapter to the nation's history. Biblical paradigms provided the mythologers with ready-made stories which could be adapted to their purpose. Thus we found the ancestors of the Irish enslaved in a foreign land, or fleeing into exile, or wandering in the wilderness, or sighting the "Promised Land" from afar.  Rome, the mythologies of Greece and others which for a small lad was quite exciting. And the Bible which was my favorite and of course the apostles, Paul being the foremost.

I was to find much later in life that I was considered a Wunderkind (from German: "wonder child") is sometimes used as a synonym for prodigy, particularly in media accounts, although this term is discouraged in scientific literature. Wunderkind also is used to recognize those who achieve success and acclaim early in their adult careers. I didn’t find it unusual to be teaching linguistics at the University at age fourteen until much later in life, with two earned Ph.D’s by the age of sixteen, I thought that this was the norm.   

My father was a University man would work all day and come home at night to tell us of the latest activities of the I.R.A. ( Irish Republican Army ( Poblachtach na hÉireann Arm) and to be perfectly frank to this day I do not know if he was a member or not he never said. But he was a solid Roman Catholic and never missed a chance to attend Mass and contribute the coffers of the church. I attended Catholic school taught by very strict nuns and priests who insisted that we learn several languages Latin being the foremost. The reason was so that the little boys would grow up to be priest and the girls to be nuns. We learned about guilt catholic style and let me assure you that the nuns put guilt and the "fear" of God into everyone, including the priest and Bishop in our little community of Mallow Ireland. My favorite priest was Father Dan who convinced me about God in our catechism class when he told us about how God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing and I told him "you can't make something out of nothin" much to the dismay of sister Consortia. Finely Father Dan told me that God was like Superman and He could make "somethin  outa nothin" that had me and I became to believe Father Dan was God's right hand man.

Those were the days in our little village that I look back on fondly and with a wee bit of regret now as I have grown older, a wee bit wiser and, would hope kinder and gentler.

I miss the soft days (rain so soft that it was like being kissed by a faery Daoine Sidhe (theena shee). A name for the faery people or as you would know them as wee folk) when we would walk the streets of Mallow looking for our special tea shop. And both my Grandfather and Grandmother would caution me if I would misbehave "Remember who you are!" Something I could never forget and was a sense of great pride in our family "descendent from the first Kings of Ireland" my father would say with a bit of pride swelling in his voice. "Remember who you are!"

Everyone has something in their history or family which brings to them a sense of Pride. We Irish pride ourselves on the education that we gain and now I have managed to accrue six or seven doctorates in various theological/ historical  disciplines. As I use to tell my students a diploma or a degree is just a piece of paper that tells others that your smart. What matters is what you have learned. Man’s mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions.    



So from my family to yours Merry Christmas.
0 user comments / leave a comment

December 2, 2014

11:25 PM

Part 12 But wait, there are two sides to a Pancake!

As most of my long time readers know I receive studies, books (for review) questions , comments etc. almost on a daily basis. It is not uncommon to receive 500+ emails a day. And I do try to answer each and every question. But today I received from professor Daniel Anderson (This I believe Ministry) a comment from Emily Ruppel, editor of the publication God and Nature, gave us a couple important reminders (1) Our understanding of the natural world doesn’t grow by "repeating the same experiments, running the same numbers, over and over again. And, (2) we don’t grow our faith by never moving from the same spot, never trying a new point of view, never questioning our creeds or the commitments that makes the most sense to us. The exercise in understanding may persuade changes for some. It may strengthen the place and position of others. And so as I continue to write based on a title " The mythological matrix paradigm" on my blog "Doc Notes". Remember we are looking at the beginning of our faith. And to examine what and to whom we hold allegiance   There are many responsible and reliable Historical theologians among these are the likes of Bart Ehrman and John Dominic Crossan both esteemed collogues who hold that the New Testament  was written late which then fits into their thesis  

Every knowledgeable scholar agrees that the Epistles of Paul were the first to be written so with that in mind allow me to share oart of my latest book. 

But wait! There are two sides to every pancake!

 

 

 

Here then is the internal evidence as to the Epistles of Paul and the dates of their writing. Note that all are written in the 1st Century before the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. [Note: Not all scholars agree that the New Testament books were all completed prior to the destruction of Jerusalem but this controversy will continue for years to come. However until satisfactory evidence is forthcoming on the side of late dating of the New Testament book, I personally would rather side on internal evidence that I have found. ]   

After believing for many years that 2 Timothy was Paul's last letter, I found myself dismissing my solid proof. My reason for 2 Timothy being the last letter was taken from chapter 4, verses 6 & 7: "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." This seemed to be my rock-hard proof of the conclusion to his ministry. To me, this had to be his last epistle. My other reason for this conclusion was that in Acts 13:25 I read that Paul used similar word describing John the Baptist finishing his course or work up until that time.

My commanding problem was that in Acts 20:24, Paul speaks of finishing his course also, but unlike John, he still had a long way to go. Paul also spoke of "dying daily" or being appointed to death, etc. long before he wrote these words to Timothy of finishing his course. This made me look again at the order of Paul's epistles. Maybe 2nd Timothy was not the last.

No one I have read after has the final word on a chronological order of the Apostle Paul's Epistles. That is, because it is difficult to be precise about the order of the events during his last days after the Acts period. However, in comparing the Epistles with the historical book of Acts, we find somewhat of an order of his early Epistles. As we establish the epistles written during the Acts period, we have those later epistles selected for us.

Paul's 8 Epistles written during the Acts period (AD 30 - 62)

AD 52 & 53 - (1st & 2nd letters) -

First & Second Thessalonians

from Corinth

These first two epistles of Paul were written soon after the conversion of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:8,9). The news of their conversion was spreading (present tense verb) through Macedonia and Achaia. Paul was taken from them for a brief period (1 Thess. 2:17) and was recently at Athens (1 Thess. 3:1). He had already preached in Achaia (1 Thess. 1:7, 8 ) . Timotheus and Silas just returned (1 Thess. 3:6) from Macedonia, which happened (Acts 18:5) soon after Paul's first arrival at Corinth. Then about four years later he writes......

AD 57 - (3rd letter) -

First Corinthians from Ephesus

The date of this epistle is established more accurately than Paul's other epistles. Apollos had been working at Corinth, and was now with Paul in Ephesus (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4,22; 4:6; 16:12). During the writing of this epistle Paul resides at Ephesus (Acts 19:1), during the days of unleavened bread (1 Cor. 5:7) and intended on remaining at Ephesus until Pentecost (1 Cor. 16:8 ) . He met with a disturbance in the theatre. Aquila and Pricilla were with him at Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19) and had taken up their residence at Ephesus just before the visit of Paul (Acts 18:26). After leaving Ephesus, Paul arranged to go through Macedonia to Achaia (1 Cor. 16:5-7). Also, at that time, the Great Collection was going on in Achaia (1 Cor. 16:1-3). When he wrote to the Romans from Corinth during his three months' visit there (Acts 20:3), the collection was concluded in Macedonia and Achaia (Rom. 15:26). Now, Paul hopes to go by Corinth to Jerusalem, and then to Rome (1 Cor. 16:4 & 15:25-28 ) . The time he entertained this personal plan was at the close of his Ephesian residence (Acts 19:21).

AD 57 - (4th letter) -Second Corinthians from Macedonia

Paul was exposed to a great danger in Proconsular Asia, i.e. at Ephesus (2 Cor. 1:8 ) . This happened in Acts 19:23-41. Paul traveled from Troas after staying there for some time and then made his voyage to Macedonia (Acts 20:1). Paul was in Macedonia at the time of the writing (2 Cor. 9:2). The verb is in the present tense. He intended (2 Cor. 13:1) shortly to visit Corinth. This was the course of his journey in Acts 20:2.

AD 58 - (5th letter) -Galatians from Corinth

It is my understanding that this letter was not written before Paul's second visit to the Galatians. He spoke of their conversion as having occurred at his first visit (4:13). This hints of two visits. "Am I now become your enemy by speaking truth among you?" (4:16) implies a second visit in which he had offended them. He was welcome on his first visit. However, Paul marvels that they forsake his teaching so quickly (1:6). A comparison of the structure of the doctrine of Galatians and Romans indicate that they were written around the same time. However, there is nothing in this epistle to fix the date of it. Nor is there any external evidence of a conclusive nature supplied by other epistles. The content of this letter is my basis for believing that it was written within a few months of the Roman epistle.

AD 58 - (6th letter) -Romans from Corinth

Paul had never been to Rome when he wrote this epistle (1:11-15). He intended to go to Rome after visiting Jerusalem (15:23-28 ) . This was his purpose in Acts 19:21. This gives us a time setting. He was going to bear a collection of alms from Macedonia and Achaia to Jerusalem (15:26, 31). He carried the collection from Corinth to Jerusalem at the close of this three months' visit (Acts 24:17). When Paul wrote this epistle, Timotheus, Sosipater, Gaius and Erastus were with him (16:21-23). Out of these four, Luke mentions three in the Acts as being with him at Corinth during the three months' visit (Acts 20:4).

AD 59 - (7th letter) -Philippians from Caesar's prison

Paul drops his Apostleship from this Philippian letter and the letter to the Hebrews. This epistle was obviously written during his first imprisonment (AD 59) in a Roman prison (Acts 24:27). The success of the gospel among the praetorian guard (Phil. 1:13) relates to Paul preaching the kingdom of God in Acts 28:31. Paul has hope of soon sending Timothy to Philippi and also the hope of his release (Phil. 2:23, 24). Philippians must have a prior date because the new themes of Ephesians and Colossians do not appear in the epistle. This would place Philippians at a time long ghbefore Ephesians and Colossians and the late revelation of the mystery. The lack of internal evidence in Philippians of the new and all important theme of "the mystery" gives weight to an early writing, long before "the mystery" was revealed.

AD 59 - (8th letter) -Hebrews from prison in Italy (Heb. 13:24)

I am fully persuaded that the author of this critical epistle to Hebrew believers was the apostle Paul. Although he was distinctively and essentially the "apostle of the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:13), his ministry was by no means confined to them, as the book of Acts clearly indicates. At the time of Paul's arrest, the Lord said, "He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My Name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel" (Acts 9:15). It is note worthy that our Lord mentions Israel last. This corresponds with the fact that Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews was written after most of his epistles to the Gentiles. It is clear from 2nd Peter 3:15 that this epistle was written by Paul. Peter wrote to the Hebrews as the opening verses of his first epistle indicates. Then in 2nd Peter 3:1, he says that this second epistle was also addressed to the same people as his first epistle. In verses 15, he declares that his beloved brother Paul "also...hath written unto you." If Hebrews is not that epistle, where is it? Although this Epistle was Paul's crowning connection with to the Jews, it was his last.

A great change is approaching. In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul says to the leaders of the Jews (Acts 28:17), "The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet (Isa. 6: 9, 10): 'Go to this people, and say, You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them'." (Acts 28: 26, 27). Then Paul declared to them, "Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen."

This is when the Jewish leaders walked out on Paul (28: 25) and then he turned his back on the nation that he had first gone to (Romans 2:10; 3:1-6). Now, he "welcomed all (Gentiles) who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" because he no longer ministered to the Jews first who had been a trouble to him.

This same passage from Isaiah was used by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 13: 10-17. After the Jews blasphemed (Matt. 12: 22-25) the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus told them that "the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.... in this age or in the age to come." (12: 31, 32). This is when Jesus turned His back on the Jews and started teaching the public (13: 1, 2). He severed all connections with His physical family (12: 46-49) and "went out of the house" (a picture of natural ties) "and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him..." THEN, Jesus changed the method of teaching. He started using parables. His disciples asked, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" (Matt. 13: 10) and Jesus explained that He did not want the Jews to understand (13: 11-17). So, he took the disciples aside and explained the parables to them. He wanted them to understand. The prophecy of parables is seen in Matthew 13: 34, 35.

So, what we have here is... two men, Jesus and Paul, turning their backs on the Jews and going to the multitudes AFTER they quote the passage from Isaiah 6: 9, 10. The Jews had forfeited everything in Matthew 12 and as the apparent second chance was given to them during the Acts period, Paul saw that there was no use in prolonging what was apparently dead and over, he turned his back on them also. These next epistles Epistles that follow are under the new administration of Paul, based on his second commission . (Quotes here are from the ESV.) Which we will pick up next time.

0 user comments / leave a comment

November 7, 2014

11:33 PM

Did Jesus claim to be God? (Part 11)

The following is Professor Bart Ehrman’s perspective on this issue. Sorry that it is so long , but worth the read.

What can we say about how Jesus most likely understood himself? Did he call himself the messiah? If so, what did he mean by it? And did he call himself God? Here I want to stake out a clear position: messiah, yes; God, no.

I think there are excellent reasons for thinking that Jesus imagined himself as the messiah, in a very specific and particular sense. The messiah was thought to be the future ruler of the people of Israel. But as an apocalypticist, Jesus did not think that the future kingdom was going to be won by a political struggle or a military engagement per se. It was going to be brought by the Son of Man, who came in judgment against everyone and everything opposed to God. Then the kingdom would arrive. And I think Jesus believed he himself would be the king in that kingdom.

I have several reasons for thinking so. First let me go back to my earlier point about the disciples. They clearly thought and talked about Jesus as the messiah during his earthly life. But in fact he did nothing to make a person think that he was the messiah.

He may well have been a pacifist ("love your enemy," "turn the other cheek," "blessed are the peacemakers," etc.), which would not exactly make him a leading candidate to be general over the Jewish armed forces. He did not preach the violent overthrow of the Roman armies. And he talked about someone else, rather than himself, as the coming Son of Man. So if nothing in what Jesus was actively doing would make anyone suspect that he had messianic pretensions, why would his followers almost certainly have been thinking about him and calling him the messiah during his public ministry? The easiest explanation is that Jesus told them that he was the messiah.

But what he meant by "messiah" has to be understood within the broader context of his apocalyptic proclamation. This is where one of the sayings of Jesus that I earlier established as almost certainly authentic comes into play. As we have seen, Jesus told his disciples—Judas Iscariot included—that they would be seated on twelve thrones ruling the twelve tribes of Israel in the future kingdom. Well enough. But who would be the ultimate king? Jesus was their master (= lord) now. Would he not be their master (= Lord) then? He is the one who called them, instructed them, commissioned them, and promised them thrones in the kingdom. It is almost unthinkable that he did not imagine that he too would have a role to play in that kingdom, and if he was the leader of the disciples now, he certainly would be the leader of the disciples then. Jesus must have thought that he would be the king of the kingdom of God soon to be brought by the Son of Man. And what is the typical designation for the future king of Israel? Messiah. It is in this sense that Jesus must have taught his disciples that he was the messiah.

Two other considerations render this judgment even more certain. The first has again to do with Judas Iscariot, the Jewish bad guy in the stories of the Gospels; the second involves Pontius Pilate, the Roman bad guy. First, about Judas. There has been endless speculation about who Judas Iscariot was—to the extent of wondering what Iscariot is supposed to mean—and about why he betrayed Jesus. As I pointed out, there is no doubt that Judas did betray Jesus (the betrayal passes all our criteria), but why did he do it? There are lots of theories about this, but they are not germane to the point I want to make here. Rather, I want to reflect on what it was that Judas actually betrayed.

According to the Gospels, it was very simple. When Jesus had come to Jerusalem during the last week of his life to celebrate the annual Passover meal in the capital city, he caused a disturbance in the temple—predicting in good apocalyptic fashion that it would be destroyed in the coming judgment. This made the local authorities sit up and take notice. The Jewish leaders who were in charge of the temple and of civil life within Jerusalem were known as the Sadducees. These were aristocratic Jews, many of them priests who ran the temple and its sacrifices; among their number was the chief official, the high priest. The priests were invested in maintaining order among the people, in no small measure because the Romans who were in charge allowed local aristocrats to run their own affairs and to do things as they wanted as long as there were no local disturbances. But Passover was an incendiary time; the festival itself was known to stir up nationalistic sentiment and thoughts of rebellion.1

That’s because the Passover feast commemorated that episode from the Hebrew Bible when God delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Every year the exodus event was celebrated as Jews from around the world remembered that God had intervened on their behalf in order to save them from foreign domination. The festival, climaxing with the special meal—the Passover seder, as it came to be called—was not simply celebrated out of antiquarian interests. Many Jews hoped and even anticipated that what God had done before, long ago, under Moses, he would do again, in their own day, under one of their own leaders. Everyone knew that uprisings could occur when nationalistic passions reached a fevered pitch. So this was one time of the year when the Roman governor of Judea, who normally lived in the coastal city of Caesarea, would come to Jerusalem with troops, to quell any possible riots. The Sadducees, who were willing to cooperate with the Romans in exchange for being able to maintain the worship of God in the temple as God had instructed in the Torah, were equally invested in keeping the peace.

So what were they to think when this outsider from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth, appeared in town, preaching his fiery apocalyptic message of the coming destruction of the armed forces and predicting that their own beloved temple would be destroyed in the violent overthrow of everything that was opposed to God? They surely did not take kindly to the message or the messenger, and they kept a steady eye on him.

According to all our accounts, Jesus spent the week leading up to the Passover feast in Jerusalem preaching his apocalyptic message of coming destruction (see Mark 13; Matt. 24–25). It appears that he was gathering more and more crowds. People were listening to him. Some were accepting his message. The movement was growing. So the leaders decided to act.

This is where Judas Iscariot comes in. In the Gospels, Judas appears to have been hired to lead the authorities to Jesus so they could arrest him when the crowds were not around. I’ve always been suspicious of these accounts. If the authorities wanted to arrest Jesus quietly, why not just have him followed? Why did they need an insider?

There are reasons for thinking that in fact Judas betrayed something else. Here there are two facts to bear in mind. The first is to reaffirm that we have no record of Jesus ever proclaiming himself to be the future king of the Jews, the messiah, in a public context. This is never his message. His message is about the coming kingdom to be brought by the Son of Man. He always keeps himself out of it. The second fact is that when the authorities arrested Jesus and handed him over to Pontius Pilate, the consistent report is that the charge leveled against him at his trial was that he called himself the king of the Jews. If Jesus never preached in public that he was the future king, but this was the charge that was leveled against him at his trial, how did outsiders come to know of it? The simplest answer is that this is what Judas betrayed.

Judas was one of the insiders to whom Jesus disclosed his vision of the future. Judas and the eleven others would all be rulers in the future kingdom. And Jesus would be the king. For some reason—we’ll never know why—Judas became a turncoat and betrayed both the cause and his master. He told the Jewish authorities what Jesus was actually teaching in private, and it was all they needed. They had him arrested and turned him over to the governor. Here was someone who was declaring himself to be king.

And now a word about Pontius Pilate. As governor of Judea, Pilate had the power of life and death. The Roman empire did not have anything like federal criminal law, such as can be found in many countries today. Governors were appointed to rule the various provinces and had two major tasks: to collect taxes for Rome and to keep the peace. They could achieve these two goals by any means necessary. So, for instance, anyone who was considered to be a troublemaker could be dealt with ruthlessly and swiftly. The governor could order his death, and the order would be immediately carried out. There was no such thing as due process, trial by jury, or the possibility of appeal. Problematic people in problematic times were dealt with by means of swift and decisive "justice," usually violent justice.

According to our accounts, the trial of Jesus before Pilate was short and to the point. Pilate asked him whether it was true that he was the king of the Jews. Almost certainly, this was the actual charge leveled against Jesus. It is multiply attested in numerous independent witnesses, both at the trial itself and as the charge written on the placard that hung with him on his cross (e.g., Mark 15:2, 26). Moreover, it is not a charge that Christians would have invented for Jesus—for a possibly unexpected reason. Even though Christians came to understand Jesus to be the messiah, they never ever, from what we can tell, applied to him the title "king of the Jews." If Christians were to invent a charge to put on Pilate’s lips, it would be, "Are you the messiah?" But that’s not how it works in the Gospels. The charge is specifically that he called himself "king of the Jews."

Evidence that Jesus really did think that he was the king of the Jews is the very fact that he was killed for it. If Pilate asked him whether he were in fact calling himself this, Jesus could have simply denied it, and indicated that he meant no trouble and that he had no kingly expectations, hopes, or intentions. And that would have been that. The charge was that he was calling himself the king of the Jews, and either he flat-out admitted it or he refused to deny it. Pilate did what governors typically did in such cases. He ordered him executed as a troublemaker and political pretender. Jesus was charged with insurgency, and political insurgents were crucified.

The reason Jesus could not have denied that he called himself the king of the Jews was precisely that he did call himself the king of the Jews. He meant that, of course, in a purely apocalyptic sense: when the kingdom arrived, he would be made the king. But Pilate was not interested in theological niceties. Only the Romans could appoint someone to be king, and anyone else who wanted to be king had to rebel against the state.

And so Pilate ordered Jesus crucified on the spot. According to our records, which are completely believable at this point, the soldiers roughed him up, mocked him, flogged him, and then led him off to be crucified. Evidently, two similar cases were decided that morning. Maybe a couple more the day after that and the day after that. In this instance, they took Jesus and the two others to a public place of execution and fixed them all to crosses. According to our earliest account, Jesus was dead in six hours.

Did Jesus Claim to Be God?

This, then, in a nutshell is what I think we can say about the historical Jesus and his understanding of himself. He thought he was a prophet predicting the end of the current evil age and the future king of Israel in the age to come. But did he call himself God?

It is true that Jesus claims to be divine in the last of our canonical Gospels to be written, the Gospel of John. Here it is enough to note that in that Gospel Jesus does make remarkable claims about himself. In speaking of the father of the Jews, Abraham (who lived eighteen hundred years earlier), Jesus tells his opponents, "Truly I tell you, before Abraham was, I am" (8:58). This particular phrase, "I am," rings a familiar chord to anyone acquainted with the Hebrew Bible. In the book of Exodus, in the story of the burning bush, Moses asks God what his name is, and God tells him that his name is "I am." Jesus appears to be claiming not only to have existed before Abraham, but to have been given the name of God himself. His Jewish opponents know exactly what he is saying. They immediately take up stones to stone him.

Later in the Gospel, Jesus is even more explicit, as he proclaims "I and the Father are one" ( John 10:30). Once again, the Jewish listeners break out the stones. Still later, when Jesus is talking to his disciples at his last meal with them, his follower Philip asks him to show them who God the Father is; Jesus replies, "The one who has seen me has seen the Father" (14:9). And again later, during the same meal, Jesus prays to God and speaks about how God had "sent him" into the world and refers to "my glory that you gave me . . . before the foundation of the world" (17:24).

Jesus is not claiming to be God the Father here, obviously (since when he’s praying, he is not talking to himself ). So he is not saying that he is identical with God. But he is saying that he is equal with God and has been that way from before the world was created. These are amazingly exalted claims.

But looked at from a historical perspective, they simply cannot be ascribed to the historical Jesus. They don’t pass any of our criteria. They are not multiply attested in our sources; they appear only in John, our latest and most theologically oriented Gospel. They certainly do not pass the criterion of dissimilarity since they express the very view of Jesus that the author of the Gospel of John happens to hold. And they are not at all contextually credible. We have no record of any Palestinian Jew ever saying any such things about himself. These divine self-claims in John are part of John’s distinctive theology; they are not part of the historical record of what Jesus actually said.

Look at the matter in a different light. As I pointed out, we have numerous earlier sources for the historical Jesus: a few comments in Paul (including several quotations from Jesus’s teachings), Mark, Q, M, and L, not to mention the finished Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In none of them do we find exalted claims of this sort. If Jesus went around Galilee proclaiming himself to be a divine being sent from God—one who existed before the creation of the world, who was in fact equal with God—could anything else that he might say be so breathtaking and thunderously important? And yet none of these earlier sources says any such thing about him. Did they (all of them!) just decide not to mention the one thing that was most significant about Jesus?

Almost certainly the divine self-claims in John are not historical. But is it possible that Jesus considered himself divine in some other sense? I have already argued that he did not consider himself to be the Son of Man, and so he did not consider himself to be the heavenly angelic being who would be the judge of the earth. But he did think of himself as the future king of the kingdom, the messiah. And we saw that in some passages of scripture the king is talked about as a divine being, not a mere mortal. Isn’t it possible that Jesus understood himself as divine in that sense?

It is of course possible, but I think it is highly unlikely for the following reason. In the Hebrew Bible, and indeed in the entire Jewish tradition, we do have instances in which mortals—for example, a king, or Moses, or Enoch—were considered to be divine beings in some sense. But that was always what someone else said about them; it was never what they were recorded as saying about themselves. This is quite different from the situation that we find in, say, Egypt, where the pharaohs claimed direct divine lineage; or with Alexander the Great, who accepted cultic veneration; or with some of the Roman emperors, who actively propagated the idea that they were gods. This never happens in Judaism that we know of. The idea that a king could be divine may have occurred to his followers later, as they began to think more about his eminence and significance. But we have no known instance of a living Jewish king proclaiming himself to be divine.

Could Jesus be the exception? Yes, of course; there are always exceptions to everything. But to think that Jesus is the exception in this case, one would need a good deal of persuasive evidence. And it just doesn’t exist. The evidence for Jesus’s claims to be divine comes only from the last of the New Testament Gospels, not from any earlier sources.

Someone may argue that there are other reasons, apart from explicit divine self-claims, to suspect that Jesus saw himself as divine. For example, he does amazing miracles that surely only a divine figure could do; and he forgives people’s sins, which surely is a prerogative of God alone; and he receives worship, as people bow down before him, which surely indicates that he welcomes divine honors.

There are two points to stress about such things. The first is that all of them are compatible with human, not just divine, authority. In the Hebrew Bible the prophets Elijah and Elisha did fantastic miracles—including healing the sick and raising the dead—through the power of God, and in the New Testament so did the Apostles Peter and Paul; but that did not make any of them divine. When Jesus forgives sins, he never says "I forgive you," as God might say, but "your sins are forgiven," which means that God has forgiven the sins. This prerogative for pronouncing sins forgiven was otherwise reserved for Jewish priests in honor of sacrifices that worshipers made at the temple. Jesus may be claiming a priestly prerogative, but not a divine one. And kings were worshiped—even in the Bible (Matt. 18:26)—by veneration and obeisance, just as God was. Here, Jesus may be accepting the worship due to him as the future king. None of these things is, in and of itself, a clear indication that Jesus is divine.

But even more important, these activities may not even go back to the historical Jesus. Instead, they may be traditions assigned to Jesus by later storytellers in order to heighten his eminence and significance. Recall one of the main points of this chapter: many traditions in the Gospels do not derive from the life of the historical Jesus but represent embellishments made by storytellers who were trying to convert people by convincing them of Jesus’s superiority and to instruct those who were converted. These traditions of Jesus’s eminence cannot pass the criterion of dissimilarity and are very likely later pious expansions of the stories told about him—told by people who, after his resurrection, did come to understand that he was, in some sense, divine.

What we can know with relative certainty about Jesus is that his public ministry and proclamation were not focused on his divinity; in fact, they were not about his divinity at all. They were about God. And about the kingdom that God was going to bring. And about the Son of Man who was soon to bring judgment upon the earth. When this happened the wicked would be destroyed and the righteous would be brought into the kingdom—a kingdom in which there would be no more pain, misery, or suffering. The twelve disciples of Jesus would be rulers of this future kingdom, and Jesus would rule over them. Jesus did not declare himself to be God. He believed and taught that he was the future king of the coming kingdom of God, the messiah of God yet to be revealed. This was the message he delivered to his disciples, and in the end, it was the message that got him crucified. It was only afterward, once the disciples believed that their crucified master had been raised from the dead, that they began to think that he must, in some sense, be God.

0 user comments / leave a comment

October 11, 2014

2:01 AM

Part 10 Who was Jesus?

Gentle Readers,

Now lets look once again at what was taking place all around this issue of "Who was Jesus Christ?"

The Relation of The Son to The Father: Monarchianism

 

Within the Catholic (Universal) Church men continued to wrestle with the problem of the relation of Christ to God. They endeavored to preserve a belief in the unity of God and yet to find a place for the unique role of Jesus of Nazareth.

Some called Monarchians put forward a variety of views. Dynamistic Monarchians held that Jesus was a man born of the Virgin Mary and that in Him an impersonal power resided which issued from God. A view widely held among them was that this power came upon Jesus at his baptism or, some said, at his resurrection. This was called Adoptionism. Others, Modalistic Monarchians, maintained that the Father was born as Jesus Christ and that He died and raised Himself from the dead. This view was also called Patripassianism, for it taught that the Father suffered. Monarchianism was condemned by the Catholic Church and its proponents were excommunicated.

The Relation of The Son to The Father: Tertullian

 

Tertullian (c. 155-c. 222), a North African of Latin stock and a lawyer by profession, in his maturity was converted while in Rome. A pioneer Latin theologian, he brought to his writing a legal mind. His view of the Trinity proved highly influential in Catholic thought. He believed that God is one in His substantia, or substance, but that in God are three personae (a Latin legal term), Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He held that in Jesus Christ, one of the personae, the Word (Greek Logos) was incarnate, that Jesus Christ was both divine and human, but that the two natures did not fuse.

The Relation of The Son to The Father: Clement and Origen

 

Contemporary with Tertullian, who did his writing in Carthage, were Clement (his precise dates are uncertain) and Origen (c.185-c.254), younger than Clement but like him reared in Hellenistic thought and succeeding him as head of the catechetical school in Alexandria. Clement was a convert; Origen was born of Christian parents. In his teens Origen wished to follow his father in martyrdom but was deterred by his mother. Clement taught that God is one and that the Word, or Logos, always existed -- as the "face" of God -- and in Jesus was made flesh and shed His blood to save humanity. Origen, devout, a first-class mind, an indefatigable student, and an inspiring teacher, spent much of his life in exile in Caesarea in Palestine. Origen held that God is one, and is the Father, that Jesus Christ is the Logos become flesh, is co-eternal with the Father but subordinate to Him, and that the Holy Spirit is uncreated and is associated in honor and dignity with the Son.

The Relation of The Son to The Father: The Struggle over Arianism

 

A view which led to a sharp division in the Catholic Church was associated with Arius, a presbyter in the Church of Alexandria. Arianism, which took its name from him, taught that God is without beginning but that the Son had a beginning and is not a part of God. Arian views were influential in the eastern part of the Empire.

The controversy became so severe that the newly converted Emperor Constantine, fearing that it might divide the realm which he had so painfully united, called a council of the Catholic Church to deal with the issue. It was the first of what are known as Ecumenical Councils. It met in Nicaea, not far from Constantinople, in 325, and Constantine presided. Feelings ran high. As in many ecclesiastical assemblies, the love which Christ had enjoined on His disciples seemed conspicuous by its absence. In the end a creed was adopted and in its main features has been perpetuated as the Nicene Creed. It rejected the Arian position. As framed at Nicaea it read:

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance (ousias) of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance (homoousion) with the Father, through Whom all things were made, those things which are in the heaven and those things which are on earth, Who for us men and our salvation came down and was made flesh, suffered, rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead."

Essential in countering Arianism were the affirmations that Christ was "true God from true God, begotten, not made" and that He "was made flesh" (the phrase was later altered to read "was made man"). The Arian contention was emphatically denied that Christ was a lesser being than the Father and had been created. Homoousion ("of one substance") with the Father further stressed that He was "true God from true God" and was equal with the Father. "Was made man" sought to make clear the belief that Christ was "true man" as well as "true God."

The Council of Nicaea did not heal the doctrinal rift in the Catholic Church. Although the council anathematized -- cursed -- those who held to the Arian position, and Constantine banished Arius, ordered the death penalty for those who did not conform, and commanded the burning of the books composed by Arius, Arianism persisted and for a time appeared about to prevail. Within a few years Arius was permitted to return from exile and before his death was restored to communion. The animus of the Arians was directed chiefly against Athanasius. Like Arius, Athanasius was prominent in the Church of Alexandria. In time he became its bishop. He had been carefully trained in Greek philosophy as well as Christian theology. Still young and a deacon, he was present at Nicaea but, not being a bishop, could not engage in the public debates. As bishop in the see of Alexandria, the most important in Egypt and in a city prominent as a commercial and intellectual center, Athanasius attracted attention because of his firmness against the Arians and another group which made common cause with the Arians. In general, the Arians were influential in the eastern part of the Empire and the Nicene views prevailed in the West, with the Bishop of Rome as their chief protagonist. In an attempt to settle the issue, several councils were held, not recognized as speaking for the entire Catholic Church. Constantius, a son of Constantine, who for a time was sole ruler of the Empire, gave his support to the Arians. An effort to bring the two wings together took place through the adoption of the term homoiousion (of "similar substance") not homoousion (the "same substance") in describing the relation of the Son to the Father. Athanasius would not agree. In the ebb and flow of the controversy he was five times exiled from his see and each time, after longer or shorter periods, was permitted to return. He died in office (373). His firmness was due in part to his insistence on what he regarded as at the heart of the Gospel and in part to his conviction that the state should not be allowed to dictate to the Church.

Arianism eventually died out. It persisted for several centuries, but chiefly among Germanic peoples who had been won to that form of the faith when it was prominent in the Empire and who in the fourth and fifth centuries were invading the Empire and establishing themselves within its borders. Its Adherents regarded themselves as the true Catholic Church, but the overwhelming majority of the Roman citizens eventually rejected it. In the course of time the Germanic peoples conformed.

The triumph of the Nicene views was aided by the contributions of three men known as the great Cappadocians: Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory of Nazianzus, the son of a bishop, was familiar with Greek philosophy and the thought of Origen. He was a pioneer in the monastic movement and for a brief time was Bishop of Constantinople. Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa were brothers. Basil, a jurist and an eager student of philosophy, had joined with Gregory Nazianzus in compiling a selection of the writings of Origen. In middle life he was ordained a priest and in time became Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Gregory of Nyssa, somewhat younger, was Bishop of Nyssa, a small town near Caesarea. He, too, was greatly influenced by Origen. The three Cappadocians helped to call attention to the distinction between ousia (equivalent to the Latin substantia, put into English as "substance") and hypostasis (translated into Latin as persona, put into English as "person"). They held that in God is only one ousia, in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share, but there are three hypostases -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Emperor Theodosius, born in Spain and reared by parents who were attached to the Nicene convictions prevailing in the West, was vigorously anti-Arian. He called a gathering which met in Constantinople in 381 and is commonly regarded as the Second Ecumenical Council. Although not adopted by it, what is generally called the Nicene Creed has usually been associated with it. That creed was based on a fourth-century creed in use in Jerusalem and influenced by the one adopted at Nicaea. The major change from the latter were additions at the end in words made familiar by the translation in the Book of Common Prayer: "I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father [‘and the Son,’ a later Western addition] Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified: Who spake by the prophets. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." In this creed the majority of Christians have concurred.

The Divine and Human in Jesus

 

The Nicene Creed left an important problem unsolved. What was the relation of the divine and human in Jesus? Prolonged controversies arose on this issue; indeed, they have continued to the present day. They were often punctuated, as were those over the relation of the Father and the Son, by recriminations and lack of brotherliness which were in sharp contrast with the love enjoined by Jesus. In them, too, political factors entered. On the one hand were human pride and sin. On the other hand were an earnest search into the mystery entailed by the incarnation and a desire to preserve both the unity of love and the integrity of the Gospel.

In the debates over the relation of the divine and human in Jesus most of the participants held to the Nicene formula. They agreed that "the only begotten Son of God . . . very God of very God . . . being of one substance with the Father . . . came down from heaven . . . and was made flesh." But in what fashion were the Son of God and the human found in Jesus of Nazareth? Apollinaris, a younger friend of Athanasius, held that in Jesus the Logos was the rational element. That position left the divine nature complete but made Christ less than human, for a human being, it was held, had body, soul, and reason. The Cappadocians declared that Apollinaris was in error and that in Jesus both the divine and the human natures were complete. The general trend in Antioch, a major city and important in the life of the Catholic Church agreed with them. Several synods, including the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381) condemned the views of Apollinaris.

The debate continued. In it were involved Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, and Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, and rivalries over the relative dignity of the sees of Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople. Cyril rejected the views of Apollinaris. He maintained that in Christ the divine and human elements were both complete and that in the human element reason was present. But he held that, while the Logos became incarnate in Christ, the humanity of Christ was that of mankind in general and so belittled the historical character and individuality of Christ. This view was in contrast with that in Antioch, where the full historical character of Jesus Christ was upheld. Nestorius tended to agree with Antioch and preferred for Mary the title of Christotokos ("Christ-bearing" or "Mother of Christ") to the term Theotokos ("Mother of God"), employed by Cyril. Both men appealed to Rome. The Bishop of Rome opposed Nestorius.

The controversy developed unseemly features. In 431 a council, usually called the third in the succession of Ecumenical Councils, assembled in Ephesus. Chaired by Cyril, it condemned and deposed Nestorius before the latter’s friends appeared. After a few days the supporters of Nestorius arrived. Headed by the Bishop of Antioch, they declared themselves to be the true council and condemned and deposed Cyril. However, they were outnumbered by the other faction. When the representatives of the Bishop of Rome arrived, the majority reconvened and excommunicated the Bishop of Antioch and his adherents. Both parties appealed to the Emperor, who confirmed the deposition of both Cyril and Nestorius and commanded the latter to live in a monastery. The Bishop of Antioch sent a creed to Cyril declaring Christ to be "true God and true man, consisting of a reasonable soul and body" and spoke of Mary as Theotokos. To this Cyril assented and was restored to office. Nestorius remained in the monastery to which he had been confined.

Some clergy, including bishops, who sided with Nestorius were exiled and took refuge in Nisibis, a trading center near the border between the Roman and the Persian empires but within the latter’s domains. There some of them taught in the school in which clergy were trained for the Church in the Persian Empire. How far they adhered to the views ascribed to Nestorius is not clear. Rightly or wrongly, eventually the Church in the Persian realms was known as Nestorian.

Within the Roman Empire the discussion continued. A monk, Eutyches, declared that the two natures in Christ were so blended that there was only one, and that was fully divine. The bishop who succeeded Cyril in the see of Alexandria sided with Eutyches, but a council convened in Constantinople in 448 by the bishop of that city condemned Eutyches. The following year a council called by the Emperor met in Ephesus. The Bishop of Alexandria presided. By a large majority it restored Eutyches to communion and deposed the Bishop of Constantinople.

In 451 a council summoned by the Emperor met in Chalcedon, across the Bosporus from Constantinople. It adopted a creed which was based upon the tome of Leo, a document prepared by the then Bishop of Rome. Leo, usually referred to as Leo the Great, was one of the strongest pontiffs ever to hold that post. The creed of Chalcedon declared Christ to be "perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, of rational soul and body, homoousion with the Father according to the Godhead, and homoousion with us according to the manhood, like us in all respects, without sin, begotten of the Father before all time according to the Godhead, in these latter days, for us men and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, Theotokos according to the manhood, one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, in two natures, inconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparately, the distinction of natures by no means taken away by the union, but rather the peculiarity of each nature being preserved and concurring in one persona and one hypostasis, not parted or separated into two persons." Thus the distinctive views associated with Apollonaris, Eutyches, and those ascribed to Nestorius were condemned.

By another act of the Council of Chalcedon the Bishop of Rome was recognized as having priority in the Catholic Church and the Bishop of Constantinople was placed second to him. Thus the latter had precedence over the Bishops of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem.

The creed of Chalcedon remained the Catholic Church’s official statement of the relation of the divine and human in Christ. It has been followed by the Roman Catholic Church, by most of the bodies emerging from that Church from the Protestant Reformation onward, and by the Orthodox Churches. The position accorded the Bishop of Constantinople, later called the Ecumenical Patriarch, has remained that in the family of Orthodox Churches.

The struggles over the relation of the human and divine in Christ, and those concerning the relation of Christ with the Father were associated with striking disharmony. Some have seen in them the victory of Greek philosophy over the Gospel. However, while Greek and Latin terms were employed, they did not necessarily distort or negate the Gospel. Christians were groping towards an understanding of something quite new in human experience. They were under the necessity of employing terms which were available and which approximated as nearly as possible to what they were striving to put into words. They gave to these terms meanings derived from what they had seen in Christ but alien to the contexts from which they were drawn. Christians were dealing with profound and unique mysteries presented by God’s act in Christ. The large majority of thoughtful Christians who have since wrestled with the issues have been convinced that the creed of Chalcedon comes as near to an elucidation of the mysteries as the possible for creatures limited by the use of words.

Enough for now .... Watch this space

0 user comments / leave a comment

October 11, 2014

1:59 AM

Part 10 Who was Jesus?

Gentle Readers,

Now lets look once again at what was taking place all around this issue of "Who was Jesus Christ?"

The Relation of The Son to The Father: Monarchianism

 

Within the Catholic Universal Church men continued to wrestle with the problem of the relation of Christ to God. They endeavored to preserve a belief in the unity of God and yet to find a place for the unique role of Jesus of Nazareth.

Some called Monarchians put forward a variety of views. Dynamistic Monarchians held that Jesus was a man born of the Virgin Mary and that in Him an impersonal power resided which issued from God. A view widely held among them was that this power came upon Jesus at his baptism or, some said, at his resurrection. This was called Adoptionism. Others, Modalistic Monarchians, maintained that the Father was born as Jesus Christ and that He died and raised Himself from the dead. This view was also called Patripassianism, for it taught that the Father suffered. Monarchianism was condemned by the Catholic Church and its proponents were excommunicated.

The Relation of The Son to The Father: Tertullian

 

Tertullian (c. 155-c. 222), a North African of Latin stock and a lawyer by profession, in his maturity was converted while in Rome. A pioneer Latin theologian, he brought to his writing a legal mind. His view of the Trinity proved highly influential in Catholic thought. He believed that God is one in His substantia, or substance, but that in God are three personae (a Latin legal term), Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He held that in Jesus Christ, one of the personae, the Word (Greek Logos) was incarnate, that Jesus Christ was both divine and human, but that the two natures did not fuse.

The Relation of The Son to The Father: Clement and Origen

 

Contemporary with Tertullian, who did his writing in Carthage, were Clement (his precise dates are uncertain) and Origen (c.185-c.254), younger than Clement but like him reared in Hellenistic thought and succeeding him as head of the catechetical school in Alexandria. Clement was a convert; Origen was born of Christian parents. In his teens Origen wished to follow his father in martyrdom but was deterred by his mother. Clement taught that God is one and that the Word, or Logos, always existed -- as the "face" of God -- and in Jesus was made flesh and shed His blood to save humanity. Origen, devout, a first-class mind, an indefatigable student, and an inspiring teacher, spent much of his life in exile in Caesarea in Palestine. Origen held that God is one, and is the Father, that Jesus Christ is the Logos become flesh, is co-eternal with the Father but subordinate to Him, and that the Holy Spirit is uncreated and is associated in honor and dignity with the Son.

The Relation of The Son to The Father: The Struggle over Arianism

 

A view which led to a sharp division in the Catholic Church was associated with Arius, a presbyter in the Church of Alexandria. Arianism, which took its name from him, taught that God is without beginning but that the Son had a beginning and is not a part of God. Arian views were influential in the eastern part of the Empire.

The controversy became so severe that the newly converted Emperor Constantine, fearing that it might divide the realm which he had so painfully united, called a council of the Catholic Church to deal with the issue. It was the first of what are known as Ecumenical Councils. It met in Nicaea, not far from Constantinople, in 325, and Constantine presided. Feelings ran high. As in many ecclesiastical assemblies, the love which Christ had enjoined on His disciples seemed conspicuous by its absence. In the end a creed was adopted and in its main features has been perpetuated as the Nicene Creed. It rejected the Arian position. As framed at Nicaea it read:

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance (ousias) of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance (homoousion) with the Father, through Whom all things were made, those things which are in the heaven and those things which are on earth, Who for us men and our salvation came down and was made flesh, suffered, rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead."

Essential in countering Arianism were the affirmations that Christ was "true God from true God, begotten, not made" and that He "was made flesh" (the phrase was later altered to read "was made man"). The Arian contention was emphatically denied that Christ was a lesser being than the Father and had been created. Homoousion ("of one substance") with the Father further stressed that He was "true God from true God" and was equal with the Father. "Was made man" sought to make clear the belief that Christ was "true man" as well as "true God."

The Council of Nicaea did not heal the doctrinal rift in the Catholic Church. Although the council anathematized -- cursed -- those who held to the Arian position, and Constantine banished Arius, ordered the death penalty for those who did not conform, and commanded the burning of the books composed by Arius, Arianism persisted and for a time appeared about to prevail. Within a few years Arius was permitted to return from exile and before his death was restored to communion. The animus of the Arians was directed chiefly against Athanasius. Like Arius, Athanasius was prominent in the Church of Alexandria. In time he became its bishop. He had been carefully trained in Greek philosophy as well as Christian theology. Still young and a deacon, he was present at Nicaea but, not being a bishop, could not engage in the public debates. As bishop in the see of Alexandria, the most important in Egypt and in a city prominent as a commercial and intellectual center, Athanasius attracted attention because of his firmness against the Arians and another group which made common cause with the Arians. In general, the Arians were influential in the eastern part of the Empire and the Nicene views prevailed in the West, with the Bishop of Rome as their chief protagonist. In an attempt to settle the issue, several councils were held, not recognized as speaking for the entire Catholic Church. Constantius, a son of Constantine, who for a time was sole ruler of the Empire, gave his support to the Arians. An effort to bring the two wings together took place through the adoption of the term homoiousion (of "similar substance") not homoousion (the "same substance") in describing the relation of the Son to the Father. Athanasius would not agree. In the ebb and flow of the controversy he was five times exiled from his see and each time, after longer or shorter periods, was permitted to return. He died in office (373). His firmness was due in part to his insistence on what he regarded as at the heart of the Gospel and in part to his conviction that the state should not be allowed to dictate to the Church.

Arianism eventually died out. It persisted for several centuries, but chiefly among Germanic peoples who had been won to that form of the faith when it was prominent in the Empire and who in the fourth and fifth centuries were invading the Empire and establishing themselves within its borders. Its Adherents regarded themselves as the true Catholic Church, but the overwhelming majority of the Roman citizens eventually rejected it. In the course of time the Germanic peoples conformed.

The triumph of the Nicene views was aided by the contributions of three men known as the great Cappadocians: Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory of Nazianzus, the son of a bishop, was familiar with Greek philosophy and the thought of Origen. He was a pioneer in the monastic movement and for a brief time was Bishop of Constantinople. Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa were brothers. Basil, a jurist and an eager student of philosophy, had joined with Gregory Nazianzus in compiling a selection of the writings of Origen. In middle life he was ordained a priest and in time became Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Gregory of Nyssa, somewhat younger, was Bishop of Nyssa, a small town near Caesarea. He, too, was greatly influenced by Origen. The three Cappadocians helped to call attention to the distinction between ousia (equivalent to the Latin substantia, put into English as "substance") and hypostasis (translated into Latin as persona, put into English as "person"). They held that in God is only one ousia, in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share, but there are three hypostases -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Emperor Theodosius, born in Spain and reared by parents who were attached to the Nicene convictions prevailing in the West, was vigorously anti-Arian. He called a gathering which met in Constantinople in 381 and is commonly regarded as the Second Ecumenical Council. Although not adopted by it, what is generally called the Nicene Creed has usually been associated with it. That creed was based on a fourth-century creed in use in Jerusalem and influenced by the one adopted at Nicaea. The major change from the latter were additions at the end in words made familiar by the translation in the Book of Common Prayer: "I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father [‘and the Son,’ a later Western addition] Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified: Who spake by the prophets. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." In this creed the majority of Christians have concurred.

The Divine and Human in Jesus

 

The Nicene Creed left an important problem unsolved. What was the relation of the divine and human in Jesus? Prolonged controversies arose on this issue; indeed, they have continued to the present day. They were often punctuated, as were those over the relation of the Father and the Son, by recriminations and lack of brotherliness which were in sharp contrast with the love enjoined by Jesus. In them, too, political factors entered. On the one hand were human pride and sin. On the other hand were an earnest search into the mystery entailed by the incarnation and a desire to preserve both the unity of love and the integrity of the Gospel.

In the debates over the relation of the divine and human in Jesus most of the participants held to the Nicene formula. They agreed that "the only begotten Son of God . . . very God of very God . . . being of one substance with the Father . . . came down from heaven . . . and was made flesh." But in what fashion were the Son of God and the human found in Jesus of Nazareth? Apollinaris, a younger friend of Athanasius, held that in Jesus the Logos was the rational element. That position left the divine nature complete but made Christ less than human, for a human being, it was held, had body, soul, and reason. The Cappadocians declared that Apollinaris was in error and that in Jesus both the divine and the human natures were complete. The general trend in Antioch, a major city and important in the life of the Catholic Church agreed with them. Several synods, including the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381) condemned the views of Apollinaris.

The debate continued. In it were involved Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, and Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, and rivalries over the relative dignity of the sees of Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople. Cyril rejected the views of Apollinaris. He maintained that in Christ the divine and human elements were both complete and that in the human element reason was present. But he held that, while the Logos became incarnate in Christ, the humanity of Christ was that of mankind in general and so belittled the historical character and individuality of Christ. This view was in contrast with that in Antioch, where the full historical character of Jesus Christ was upheld. Nestorius tended to agree with Antioch and preferred for Mary the title of Christotokos ("Christ-bearing" or "Mother of Christ") to the term Theotokos ("Mother of God"), employed by Cyril. Both men appealed to Rome. The Bishop of Rome opposed Nestorius.

The controversy developed unseemly features. In 431 a council, usually called the third in the succession of Ecumenical Councils, assembled in Ephesus. Chaired by Cyril, it condemned and deposed Nestorius before the latter’s friends appeared. After a few days the supporters of Nestorius arrived. Headed by the Bishop of Antioch, they declared themselves to be the true council and condemned and deposed Cyril. However, they were outnumbered by the other faction. When the representatives of the Bishop of Rome arrived, the majority reconvened and excommunicated the Bishop of Antioch and his adherents. Both parties appealed to the Emperor, who confirmed the deposition of both Cyril and Nestorius and commanded the latter to live in a monastery. The Bishop of Antioch sent a creed to Cyril declaring Christ to be "true God and true man, consisting of a reasonable soul and body" and spoke of Mary as Theotokos. To this Cyril assented and was restored to office. Nestorius remained in the monastery to which he had been confined.

Some clergy, including bishops, who sided with Nestorius were exiled and took refuge in Nisibis, a trading center near the border between the Roman and the Persian empires but within the latter’s domains. There some of them taught in the school in which clergy were trained for the Church in the Persian Empire. How far they adhered to the views ascribed to Nestorius is not clear. Rightly or wrongly, eventually the Church in the Persian realms was known as Nestorian.

Within the Roman Empire the discussion continued. A monk, Eutyches, declared that the two natures in Christ were so blended that there was only one, and that was fully divine. The bishop who succeeded Cyril in the see of Alexandria sided with Eutyches, but a council convened in Constantinople in 448 by the bishop of that city condemned Eutyches. The following year a council called by the Emperor met in Ephesus. The Bishop of Alexandria presided. By a large majority it restored Eutyches to communion and deposed the Bishop of Constantinople.

In 451 a council summoned by the Emperor met in Chalcedon, across the Bosporus from Constantinople. It adopted a creed which was based upon the tome of Leo, a document prepared by the then Bishop of Rome. Leo, usually referred to as Leo the Great, was one of the strongest pontiffs ever to hold that post. The creed of Chalcedon declared Christ to be "perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, of rational soul and body, homoousion with the Father according to the Godhead, and homoousion with us according to the manhood, like us in all respects, without sin, begotten of the Father before all time according to the Godhead, in these latter days, for us men and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, Theotokos according to the manhood, one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, in two natures, inconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparately, the distinction of natures by no means taken away by the union, but rather the peculiarity of each nature being preserved and concurring in one persona and one hypostasis, not parted or separated into two persons." Thus the distinctive views associated with Apollonaris, Eutyches, and those ascribed to Nestorius were condemned.

By another act of the Council of Chalcedon the Bishop of Rome was recognized as having priority in the Catholic Church and the Bishop of Constantinople was placed second to him. Thus the latter had precedence over the Bishops of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem.

The creed of Chalcedon remained the Catholic Church’s official statement of the relation of the divine and human in Christ. It has been followed by the Roman Catholic Church, by most of the bodies emerging from that Church from the Protestant Reformation onward, and by the Orthodox Churches. The position accorded the Bishop of Constantinople, later called the Ecumenical Patriarch, has remained that in the family of Orthodox Churches.

The struggles over the relation of the human and divine in Christ, and those concerning the relation of Christ with the Father were associated with striking disharmony. Some have seen in them the victory of Greek philosophy over the Gospel. However, while Greek and Latin terms were employed, they did not necessarily distort or negate the Gospel. Christians were groping towards an understanding of something quite new in human experience. They were under the necessity of employing terms which were available and which approximated as nearly as possible to what they were striving to put into words. They gave to these terms meanings derived from what they had seen in Christ but alien to the contexts from which they were drawn. Christians were dealing with profound and unique mysteries presented by God’s act in Christ. The large majority of thoughtful Christians who have since wrestled with the issues have been convinced that the creed of Chalcedon comes as near to an elucidation of the mysteries as the possible for creatures limited by the use of words.

Enough for now .... Watch this space

0 user comments / leave a comment

October 3, 2014

12:51 AM

Part 10 CAESAR’S MESSIAH

Gentle Reader,

We’re still looking at the background of Jesus and how people in the first century came to understand who Jesus was and their relationship to him. Along with that we are looking at how we have been influenced by the past until this very day. But as you well know me by now I like to stop along the way to look at interesting facts , sometimes fiction to see if there is a cognitive dissonance. In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the excessive mental stress and discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. We have such a one in a book called Caesar’s Messiah by Joseph Atwill . Atwill's new study will be both highly stimulating and enormously controversial. It will entertain, inspire, provoke, and enrage various learned scholars and informed lay readers.

Atwill approaches his subject with the plainly announced assumption that "the question of how Christianity began" is "an open one." This claim is grounded in the facts that numerous messianic sects and mystery religions were percolating through Roman and Jewish cultures in the first century, all of which have proven to be fictitious, if not hilarious, and all of which have come to nothing, except Christianity. Moreover, we have no objective evidence today that a person named Jesus of Nazareth ever existed at that time.

So the author of this innovative volume has proposed a new and radically unconventional approach to the "Jesus question," and then carries his thesis through consistently to formulate an alternative model for understanding the narratives of the New Testament and the works of Jesus' contemporary, Flavius Josephus.

Noting that events in the narratives of Jesus' ministry, reported in the gospels, parallel episodes in Josephus' reports of Titus Flavius' military campaigns, Atwill explores the possibility that "a Roman imperial family, the Flavians, created Christianity, and even more incredibly, ... placed a literary satire within the Gospels and War of the Jews to inform posterity of this fact."

Vespasian and his sons, Titus and Domitian, maintained the Flavian Dynasty from 69 - 96 CE, just the period of Josephus' tenure as their court historian, and the rise of the Christian Movement. Atwill contends that the Christian ideology and ritual practice built upon the model of Mithraism, was generated by the Flavians to offer a persuasive alternative to the numerous contentious and rebellious Jewish messianic sects constantly troublesome in Roman Palestine.

The author adduces a remarkable spate of data from the New Testament, the Works of Josephus, and the history of the Roman Empire of the last half of the first century, to weave a coherent, solid, and internally consistent tapestry. He tells a story never before attempted, sounds a trumpet never previously heard, and explores a world of potential truth until now thoroughly obscured from our vision. "Once Jesus was universally established as a historical individual, any other possibility became, evidentially, invisible. The more we believed in Jesus as a world historical figure, the less we were able to understand him in any other way." After being driven from Palestine by the revolutionary Sicarii in 66 CE, the Roman army under Titus reentered the Israelite domain and destroyed the revolutionaries. Atwill contends that Christian Messianism was then created by the Flavians to fill the vacuum so created. The experiment succeeded with enormous effect, marginalizing Judaism and the emperor cult, and moving the new religion toward a dominant role in the empire.

According to Atwill, the Gospels are not accounts of the ministry of a historical Jewish Jesus compiled by his followers sixty years after his death. They are texts deliberately created to trick Messianic Jews into worshipping the Roman Emperor 'in disguise'.

The essence of Atwill's discovery is that the majority of the key events in the life of Jesus are in fact satirical: each is an elegant literary play on a military battle in which the Jewish armies had been defeated by the Romans. This is an extraordinary claim-but supported by all the necessary evidence.

Why would the Romans go to the trouble of writing and disseminating such a text?

The Jewish War, culminating in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, had devastated the Mediterranean economy, and the Romans were anxious to prevent another messianic outbreak. In order to make any reconstruction of the country lasting, the Romans needed to offer the Jews alternative stories that would distract them from the messianic messages inherent in the Torah, and persuade them to accept Roman values.

Now understand Atwill’s book make interesting reading from the view point that many may have been persuaded the Jesus didn’t even exist. However for most of us this is another example of seeing what we want to see. Similar to Dan Browns "The Da Vinci Code" Some will believe Atwill who received a Jesuit education, is an expert at dating the Dead Sea Scrolls. He worked with Dr. Robert Eisenman in the1990’s, and the results of their work were published in the Dead Sea Scrolls Journal in 2004.

But those of us who have spent a lifetime searching the Gospels will have to examine his myth as well. Something for you to think about, till next time.

0 user comments / leave a comment

September 22, 2014

12:15 AM

Part 8 Jesus of Nazareth

 Gentle Reader,  It is difficult to conceive (perhaps not how many versions there were in the first century about Jesus of Nazareth ) Within the Catholic (universal) Church men continued to wrestle with the problem of the relation of Christ to God. They endeavored to preserve a belief in the unity of God and yet to find a place for the unique role of Jesus of Nazareth.

Some called Monarchians put forward a variety of views. Dynamistic Monarchians held that Jesus was a man born of the Virgin Mary and that in Him an impersonal power resided which issued from God. A view widely held among them was that this power came upon Jesus at his baptism or, some said, at his resurrection. This was called Adoptionism. Others, Modalistic Monarchians, maintained that the Father was born as Jesus Christ and that He died and raised Himself from the dead. This view was also called Patripassianism, for it taught that the Father suffered. Monarchianism was condemned by the Catholic Church and its proponents were excommunicated.

Tertullian (c. 155-c. 222), a North African of Latin stock and a lawyer by profession, in his maturity was converted while in Rome. A pioneer Latin theologian, he brought to his writing a legal mind. His view of the Trinity proved highly influential in Catholic thought. He believed that God is one in His substantia, or substance, but that in God are three personae (a Latin legal term), Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He held that in Jesus Christ, one of the personae, the Word (Greek Logos) was incarnate, that Jesus Christ was both divine and human, but that the two natures did not fuse.

Contemporary with Tertullian, who did his writing in Carthage, were Clement (his precise dates are uncertain) and Origen (c.185-c.254), younger than Clement but like him reared in Hellenistic thought and succeeding him as head of the catechetical school in Alexandria. Clement was a convert; Origen was born of Christian parents. In his teens Origen wished to follow his father in martyrdom but was deterred by his mother. Clement taught that God is one and that the Word, or Logos, always existed -- as the "face" of God -- and in Jesus was made flesh and shed His blood to save humanity. Origen, devout, a first-class mind, an indefatigable student, and an inspiring teacher, spent much of his life in exile in Caesarea in Palestine. Origen held that God is one, and is the Father, that Jesus Christ is the Logos become flesh, is co-eternal with the Father but subordinate to Him, and that the Holy Spirit is uncreated and is associated in honor and dignity with the Son.

A view which led to a sharp division in the Catholic Church was associated with Arius, a presbyter in the Church of Alexandria. Arianism, which took its name from him, taught that God is without beginning but that the Son had a beginning and is not a part of God. Arian views were influential in the eastern part of the Empire.

The controversy became so severe that the newly converted Emperor Constantine, fearing that it might divide the realm which he had so painfully united, called a council of the Catholic Church to deal with the issue. It was the first of what are known as Ecumenical Councils. It met in Nicaea, not far from Constantinople, in 325, and Constantine presided. Feelings ran high. As in many ecclesiastical assemblies, the love which Christ had enjoined on His disciples seemed conspicuous by its absence. In the end a creed was adopted and in its main features has been perpetuated as the Nicene Creed. It rejected the Arian position. As framed at Nicaea it read:

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance (ousias) of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance (homoousion) with the Father, through Whom all things were made, those things which are in the heaven and those things which are on earth, Who for us men and our salvation came down and was made flesh, suffered, rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead."

Essential in countering Arianism were the affirmations that Christ was "true God from true God, begotten, not made" and that He "was made flesh" (the phrase was later altered to read "was made man"). The Arian contention was emphatically denied that Christ was a lesser being than the Father and had been created. Homoousion ("of one substance") with the Father further stressed that He was "true God from true God" and was equal with the Father. "Was made man" sought to make clear the belief that Christ was "true man" as well as "true God."

 

To be continued . . . .

0 user comments / leave a comment

September 14, 2014

11:32 PM

Jesus man or God (part1 )

I said when I start this journey that I have more questions than answers. And that when one questions very often you come up with answers that you didn’t know were out there. So I decided to take a more circuitous route. And while the purpose of my doing this may not be clear at first, all will be revealed in good time. I want you to remember that Myths represent to the hearer or in our case reader, sacred stories. A myth is a traditional story, which may describe the origins of the world and/or of a people. A myth is an attempt to explain mysteries, supernatural events, and cultural traditions. Sometimes sacred in nature, a myth can involve gods or other creatures. And, a myth represents reality in dramatic ways. Some with morals but all with meanings. I wanted to know as best as I could. How was it that Jesus became to be God, or the son of God. Well, if you listen to most of those in the business of being a church, (Don't give your money to the church. They should be giving their money to you watch the last episode of the movie called "the Shoes of the fisherman staring Anthony Quinn, I won’t spoil the ending but if you haven’t seen it I recommend it highly). So again I won’t spoil the ending although we’re getting quite close. My question still lies unanswered "How is it that a peripatetic Mediterranean Jewish Peasant was able to make such an impact on not only his hearers but countless thousands, nay millions throughout the sands of time and history. So keeping that in mine. Lets consider those from the First century and what they thought before taking a further step back into Sacred Writ itself.

Did the first Christians worship Jesus?

We need to consider first of all what caused this movement from the beginning.

The question underlying this can be expressed simply: Is it possible that modern-day (and nineteenth-century, and medieval, and early Christian) doomsayers who have proclaimed the imminent end of their world have actually subscribed to the views of Jesus, who proclaimed the imminent end of his?

But was Jesus considered God in his own time?

Groups who thought of themselves as followers of Jesus but who sought to confine Him to Judaism continued for several generations. Some, called Ebionites, held that Jesus was a prophet, a spokesman for God, but a man. They differed among themselves but united in condemning Paul and his insistence on breaking the integuments of Judaism. The large majority of Christians rejected Ebionism.

A more serious challenge came from Gnosticism. As I have suggested in some of my other writings, Gnosticism was of pre-Christian pagan origin. It took many forms and when Christianity appeared was widely popular in the Mediterranean world. In general it accepted the sharp disjunction between matter, identified with evil, and spirit, regarded as good, which was axiomatic in much of popular thought and Hellenistic philosophy. The Gnostics taught what they held to be a Gnosis, a knowledge which had been revealed and was transmitted to initiates. In accord with the current dualism, they said that pure spirit is good but has been imprisoned in corrupt matter. Salvation, they believed, is the freeing of spirit from matter. This they promised to bring to the believer. Gnostics who professed to be Christians held that they had sayings of Jesus which had not been committed to writing but had been handed down secretly. Although they varied greatly among themselves, in general they taught that a first Principle exists, the All-Father, unknowable, Who is love. Since love abhors dwelling alone, the first Principle created other beings, aeons. This present world was created by one of the aeons, who, moved by pride; sought to do what the All-Father had done. That aeon was associated with a subordinate being, the Demiurge, who, the Gnostics declared, was the God of the Old Testament. The present world, of which men are a part, they went on, is compounded of spirit and matter, and salvation, the freeing of spirit from matter, was accomplished by Christ. Various accounts were given of Christ. Some Gnostics held that He was an aeon which had never ceased to be spirit but merely seemed to be man. Many men, the Gnostics said, have little or nothing of spirit and in due time will be destroyed. The others, with a portion of spirit in them, can be saved through being taught the hidden knowledge, the Gnosts.

For a time in the second century the Gnostics who thought of themselves as Christians may have been more numerous than the members of the Catholic Church. They had special rites, some of which resembled those of the mystery religions, but no central organization. In general they tended to minimize the historical elements in Christianity. They sought to acclimatize Christianity to a popular religious trend.

Resembling Gnosticism, but not a phase of it, was a movement begun by Marcion. Said to have been the son of a Christian bishop and to have been reared a Christian, Marcion came to Rome in the first half of the second century. Like the Gnostics, he held to a sharp distinction between spirit and matter and maintained that the former is good and the latter bad. Unlike them, he laid no claim to a distinct and secret Gnosis. He taught that the world, with its wickedness and suffering, was the creation of an evil god, whom he called the Demiurge. That god, he said, is the one described in the Old Testament as rejoicing in battles and bloodshed and as vindictive. In striking contrast with this god, Marcion insisted, is a second God Who remained hidden until out of pure love He revealed Himself in Christ. Christ, so Marcion believed,-was not man but only appeared to be a man. He proclaimed a new kingdom and deliverance from the Demiurge. Those loyal to the Demiurge crucified Christ, but in doing so they contributed to the defeat of the Demiurge, for the death of Christ was the price paid by the good God to the Demiurge for the release of men from the latter’s dominion and so enabled them to escape into the kingdom of the good God. Marcion said that Christ also rescued from the underworld those who had previously died but in their lifetime had not submitted to the Demiurge. All that the good God asks of men, Marcion taught, is faith in response to His love. Marcion believed that Paul understood the Gospel but that the Catholic Church had obscured it. To support his views he made a collection of the letters of Paul and the Gospel of Luke but expurgated all that seemed to him contrary to the Gospel. In the churches organized by Marcion chastity and celibacy were enjoined on all the members, for sexual union perpetuated the flesh, which Marcion said was evil. Churches embodying his teachings persisted into the fifth century, especially in the eastern part of the Empire.

Another movement, quite distinct from Gnosticism, the mysteries, and Marcionism, was Montanism. It arose in Asia Minor and flourished in the latter half of the second century. Montanus, its founder, "spoke with tongues" at his baptism, declared that the Holy Spirit had utterance through him, and taught that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that the end of the world was at hand and that the New Jerusalem would "come down out of heaven from God." Montanism spread widely and persisted into the fifth century. While prizing the records of the teachings of Christ and His Apostles, it held that the Holy Spirit continued to speak through prophets and that some of the latter were women. In the second century others than Montanists, including two bishops, taught that the end of the world was imminent. To prepare for it Christians were urged to be celibate, to fast, and to hold martyrs in high honor.

To meet divergences from the faith taught by Christ and His Apostles the leaders of the Catholic Church stressed what to them were its distinguishing marks. They did not create them, but they emphasized them. The three marks, or guarantees, were the apostolic succession of the episcopate, the New Testament, and the Apostles’ Creed.

By the apostolic succession was meant that bishops who had followed in unbroken line from the Apostles had transmitted what Christ had entrusted to the Apostles and the Apostles had handed it on to the bishops they had appointed. One of the earliest to apply this test was Irenaeus, bishop in Lyons, who gave the succession of the bishops of the Church of Rome as he understood it. These bishops continued, he said, what Peter and Paul, the organizers of that church, had conveyed to Linus. Linus, he insisted, had headship which had begun with Peter. Irenaeus hints that he could, if he wished, give similar lists for other churches. Early in the fourth century Eusebius, the most famous of the early historians of the Church, gave lists for several other churches. As time passed, the bishops who were held to preserve the apostolic succession met locally and regionally to consult on issues which concerned the Catholic Church.

To be continued ....

0 user comments / leave a comment

September 1, 2014

7:05 PM

Men and Gods

We have looked at several Myths. To give you some idea of how Myths begin. Religion and mythology differ but have overlapping aspects. Both terms refer to systems of concepts that are of high importance to a certain community, making statements concerning the supernatural or sacred. Generally, mythology is considered one component or aspect of religion. Religion is the broader term: besides mythological aspects, it includes aspects of ritual, morality, theology, and mystical experience. A given mythology is almost always associated with a certain religion such as Greek mythology with Ancient Greek religion. Disconnected from its religious system, a myth may lose its immediate relevance to the community and evolve—away from sacred importance—into a legend or folktale.Many scholars in other fields use the term "myth" in somewhat different ways; in a very broad sense, the word can refer to any traditional story. In fact, many societies group their myths, legends, and history together, considering myths to be true accounts of their remote past. One theory claims that myths are distorted accounts of real historical events. According to this theory, storytellers repeatedly elaborated upon historical accounts until the figures in those accounts gained the status of gods.

Now before we go forward let’s ask how are gods came to be and how did men come to called "gods"? Roman emperors were gods or at least many of them were proclaimed as such afer their death. As far as we know, in the period from 14 C.E. until 337 C.E., of the 60 emperors overruling over the Roman Empire 36 were deified, together with 27 members of their families. They received a cult and had their own priest hoods and festivals. Altars and temples were consecrated to them. Whether they were seen as gods when still alive remains an open question and a subject of many scholarly controversies.1

While we are most interested in Jesus of Nazareth and how He came to be God we need to look at others wherin lies our concept of mythology. Apollonius of Tyana, is often called the "pagan Christ," since he also lived during the first century, and performed a similar ministry of miracle-working, preaching his own brand of ascetic Pythagoreanism2--he was also viewed as the son of a god, resurrected the dead, ascended to heaven, performed various miracles, and criticized the authorities with pithy wisdom much like Jesus did.

Naturally, his story is one that no doubt grew into more and more fantastic legends over time, until he becomes an even more impressive miracle-worker than Jesus in the largest surviving work on him, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, written by Philostratus around 220 A.D. This work is available today in two volumes as part of the Loeb Classical Library, published by Harvard University Press, a set that also includes the surviving fragments of Apollonius' own writings (if only Jesus had bothered to write something!) as well as the Treatise against him by the Christian historian Eusebius. There were other books written about him immediately after his death, but none survive.

Even Eusebius, in his Treatise against Apollonius, does not question his existence, or the reality of many of his miracles--rather, he usually tries to attribute them to trickery or demons. This shows the credulity of the times, even among educated defenders of the Christian faith, but it also shows how easy it was to deceive. Since they readily believed in demons and magical powers, it should not surprise us that they believed in resurrections and transmutations of water to wine.

We also know that the cult that grew up around Apollonius survived for many centuries after his death. An inscription from as late as the 3rd century names him as a sort of pagan "absolver of sins," sent from heaven (Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd ed., 1996). The emperor Caracalla erected a shrine to him in Tyana around 215 A.D (Dio Cassius, 78.18; for a miraculous display of clairvoyance on the part of Apollonius, see 67.18). According to one account, the ghost of Apollonius even appeared to the emperor Aurelian to convince him to stop his siege of Tyana, whereupon he also erected a shrine to him around 274 A.D. (Historia Augusta: Vita Aureliani 24.2-6).

Later Arabic sources even discuss the fame and potency of certain relics associated with him, which remained in use well into the sixth and seventh centuries, the last of them apparently destroyed by crusaders in 1204 A.D. So popular was the belief in the power of these "talismans" that the Church was forced to accept their use, even while condemning Apollonius and his shrines as demonic (see sources below). And so, we see here an independent confirmation that blind belief in the divine status and miraculous powers of mere mortals easily captivated the people of this time, a fact that even modern Christians must admit.

An even more colorful story is that of a crazy fellow called Peregrinus, nicknamed "Proteus," who set himself on fire during the Olympic games in 165 A.D. to prove his faith in reincarnation. The notion of suicide as a proof of such faith was not new. Indian Brahmans had immolated themselves before Western audiences on several occasions before, the most famous being Calanus, at Susa, in front of Alexander the Great, and Zarmarus, at Athens, in front of Augustus (Plutarch, Alexander 69.8). What is most relevant, however, is the fascinating story told about him by the skeptic Lucian in his satirical work, "The Death of Peregrinus." Lucian knew Proteus personally, and he gives us a look at what the story of Jesus might have been had a skeptic been around to give us a different account.

While Aulus Gellius had also met this man in Athens, and was impressed enough to call him a man of "dignity and fortitude" (Attic Nights 11.1-7), Lucian had another point of view. He describes the vainglorious motivations of Proteus, and the duped mobs clamoring for a miracle. He also mentions the gullibility of Christians, who, he says, were easily duped by scam artists (13). Indeed, after the death of Peregrinus, people reported that he was, like Jesus, risen from the dead, wearing white raiment, and that he ascended to heaven in the form of a vulture (40). The punch line is that this latter story may have been a deliberate invention of Lucian himself (39), told to gullible followers, and later recounted to him as if it were fact, showing the effects of the rumor mill at work. Indeed, even people who were in the same city at the time were ready to believe that an earthquake accompanied his death, reminding us of the absurd miracles surrounding the death of Jesus recounted without a blush in Matthew 27:51-54. How easy it was for such stories to be believed! Even if this tale is filled with rhetoric on the part of Lucian, his criticism of gullibility would have no weight if it did not ring true

Peregrinus also had a small cult following after his death. His staff was treated as a religious relic (Lucian, The Ignorant Book Collector 14), his disciples preached his doctrine (Lucian, Runaways), and his statue healed the sick and gave oracles (Athenagoras, cited above). But his bid for religious glory was not as successful as another man, Alexander of Abonuteichos. Lucian dedicates an even longer and more vicious account of his personal contacts with this man, whom he calls "the quack prophet." The account alone is detailed and entertaining, but for our present purpose it illustrates how easy it was to invent a god and watch the masses scurry to worship it. His scam began around 150 A.D. and lasted well beyond his death in 170 A.D., drawing the patronage of emperors and provincial governors as well as the commons. His cult may have even lasted into the 4th century, although the evidence is unclear.

The official story was that a snake-god with a human head was born as an incarnation of Asclepius, and Alexander was his keeper and intermediary. With this arrangement Alexander gave oracles, offered intercessory prayers, and even began his own mystery religion. Lucian tells us the inside story. Glycon was in fact a trained snake with a puppet head, and all the miracles surrounding him were either tall tales or the ingenious tricks of Alexander himself. But what might we think had there been no Lucian to tell us this? So credulous was the public as well as the government, that a petition to change the name of the town where the god lived, and to strike a special coin in his honor (Lucian, Alexander 58), was heeded, and we have direct confirmation of both facts: such coins have been found, dating from the reign of Antoninus Pius and continuing up into the 3rd century, bearing the unique image of a human-headed snake god. Likewise, the town of Abonuteichos was petitioned to be renamed Ionopolis, and the town is today known as Ineboli, a clear derivation. Even statues, inscriptions, and other carvings survive, attesting to this Alexander and his god Glycon and their ensuing cult (Culture and Society in Lucian, pp. 138, 143).

As for his influence, Lucian tells us that Severianus, the governor of Cappadocia, was killed in Armenia because he believed an oracle of Alexander's (27), and Rutilianus, the governor of Moesia and Asia, was also a devout follower, and even married Alexander's daughter. Indeed, Alexander's "god" was so popular that people rushed all the way from Rome to consult him (30), and even the emperor Marcus Aurelius sought his prophecy (48). From this it is all the more apparent that religious crazes were a dime a dozen in the time and place of the Gospels, helping to explain why a new and strange religion like Christianity could become so popular, and its claims--which to us sound absurd--could be so readily believed.

Myths are once and for all sacred stories that are (were) believed by the common man/woman. Were they entirely true, or perhaps partiality true and elaborated on by the believers. Could they have been completely false? I rather doubt that as there would have been no starting place for a false story to have taken root.

Watch this space

0 user comments / leave a comment

August 20, 2014

1:17 AM

Hpw we find myths (Part 5)

Lets now consider something a wee bit closer to home.

People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. 1 don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

Ring Around the Rosie" first appeared in Mother Goose in 1881. However, the nursery rhyme already enjoyed a colorful history by this point. It seems to have been recited in 18th century America and appeared in nineteenth century novels. The Old World poem seems to predate the American colonies as it has been associated with the London Plague of 1665 and the Black Death. The origin of the poem may actually rest with the original Black Death outbreak of the mid-fourteenth century. Under this interpretation, "Ring Around the Rosie" is actually a grim remembrance of a cataclysmic event as opposed to a cheery children's nursery rhyme.

The Black Death struck Europe with a fury in 1347. The disease migrated from Asia via trade routes. It decimated Asia, Africa, and Europe unlike anything before or since. The plague wiped out entire population centers. The disease depopulated the world by at least 20% and killed between 30-60% of Europe’s population. The cataclysm left lasting scars for the survivors and a death culture evolved. The period’s art often included skeletons and other dark symbols. The literature and correspondence smelt of death. "Ring Around the Rosie" seemingly transposes this culture into rhyme.

The first line, "Ring around the Rosie," or some variation, describes the buboes that formed. A bubo is a swelling in the lymph node. This swelling is often circular making up the "ring." The center turns black and is surrounded by a red rash. The "rosie" is the center of this reddish ring.

As the victim’s condition worsened, an odor emanated from them. The living began rotting before becoming a corpse. In response, healthy individuals used flowers to cover the odor. The poem recounts these attempts to disguise the smell in the second verse, "a pocket full of posies." The posies represented fourteenth century air fresheners.

The third stanza continues to recount symptoms. In the British version, children sing "Atch chew! Atch-chew!" copying the unmistakable sound of a sneeze. The American version altered the sneeze to "Ashes! Ashes!" Some believe ashes represent cremation. However, it could simply be an Americanization of the tale.

After the disease runs its course, the victims usually die. The last line in the poem announces death’s arrival with a dramatic "we all fall down." The use of "we" denotes the apocalyptic nature of the disease and the times. No one survives the apocalypse and no one survives the plague.

However, people did survive for one reason or another. Some folklorists doubt "Ring Around the Rosie" dates to the Black Death. The link between the poem and plague is made after World War II and some consider the ties tenuous at best. The lack of evidence is the best evidence against the poem coming from the plague generation. Folklorists have traced the poem to the 18th century, but not before. They argue that if the poem went back 650 years, then there should be a written copy of it dating back to the period, or at least before George Washington’s time. Despite this, documentaries on the subject often recount the nursery rhyme and attribute it to the period.

Whether "Ring Around the Rosie" is about the plague or not, the poem matches the symptoms of the disease. The first three lines recount the disease’s progression. The final line represents death. It is fascinating that a children’s fairy tale may in fact have its origin in the worst pandemic in recorded history.

And next Jack and Jill is rare in that there are several suggestions as to the real meaning of the nursery rhyme.

The original rhyme comprised four lines

Jack and Jill went up the hill

To fetch a pail of water.

Jack fell down and broke his crown,

And Jill came tumbling after.

One of the suggested meanings is that Jack was Louis XVI of King of France and Jill was his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, famous for saying about the peasants "If they won't eat bread, let them eat cake".

 

The nursery rhyme relates to the execution of the king and queen of France and Jill went up the hill and the steps to the guillotine represented the hill, Jack (King Louis) was the first to be beheaded, and lost his crown then Jill (Marie Antoinette's head) came tumbling after.

One of the suggested meanings is that Jack was Louis XVI of King of France and Jill was his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, famous for saying about the peasants "If they won't eat bread, let them eat cake".

The nursery rhyme relates to the execution of the king and queen of France. Jack and Jill went up the hill and the steps to the guillotine represented the hill, Jack (King Louis) was the first to be beheaded, and lost his crown then Jill (Marie Antoinette's head) came tumbling after.

So much that we take for granted is perhaps in fact truth disguised as fables or as we are considering myths. The problem lies in sorting out what is fact and what is fiction when we have years and perhaps centuries intervening.

Greek and Latin and biblical literature used to be part of everyone's education. Now, when these were dropped, a whole tradition of Occidental mythological information was lost. It used to be that these stories were in the minds of people. When the story is in your mind, then you see its relevance to something happening in your own life. It gives you perspective on what's happening to you. With the loss of that, we've really lost something because we don't have a comparable literature to take its place. These bits of information from ancient times, which have to do with the themes that have supported human life, built civilizations, and informed religions over the millennia, have to do with deep inner problems, inner mysteries, inner thresholds of

passage, and if you don't know what the guide-signs are along the way, you have to work it out yourself. But once this subject catches you, there is such a feeling, from one or another of these traditions, of information of a deep, rich, life-vivifying sort that you don't want to give it up.

So we tell stories to try to come to terms with the world, to harmonize our lives with reality.

Think about what you have heard or read over the years and how much you have accepted and just too for granted.... Then get back with me.

0 user comments / leave a comment