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Easter Brings Discussions of Jesus Broader than Just Resurrection

April 15, 2017

Did you ever wonder why it’s “news” that the Pope celebrated Mass on Easter Sunday? Or that Christians all over the world were commemorating Jesus’ Resurrection? Oh, well… understanding that one is out of my field of studies, I presume.

My headline points out that, as seasonal creatures, we naturally tend to cycle what’s on our minds in parallel with our cultural and/or religious celebrations.  Whether you’re religious, spiritual-but-not-religious or non-religious and non-spiritual in your interests, you may encounter extra articles, radio or TV pieces and such that deal with Jesus around now.  I hope you take time to read some of them.  Fascinating stuff.

Fascinating on more than one level.  Some of them deal with the question of the existence of an actual historical person known as Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Christ.  This makes it fascinating in terms of a puzzle of history.  And a revelation of the difficulties of finding any “objective” history from ancient times or even perhaps today.    

One good article by a solid biblical scholar is in The GuardianAnother, which I’ve commented on under the article, interacting with other commenters, is by psychologist and former Evangelical Christian, Valerie Tarico, found here.  They come from differing perspectives and both cite relevant modern experts and ancient documents, or the interesting lack of them.  Neither is technical nor hard to read so I recommend them both for a broad audience.

Another level of fascination brought out by informed discussions on Jesus and very early Christianity is “watching” the formation of the world’s largest religion (though we are missing much more of the story than the parts we do have).  There are so, so many lessons applicable to today’s situation both in the Middle East, here in America, and everywhere else.  Issues of cultural and ethnic tensions and how they sometimes are transcended, sometimes remain tense for incredibly long periods.  Issues of how the seemingly necessary “myths” of life’s meaning, spiritual “reality”, our destiny and such things are developed and sometimes changed rapidly.

I’ll expand briefly on just the matter about myth-making.  This comes up quickly and often emotionally in discussions of what is historical or not, from Jesus’ very existence, to what he said and did, to how Christianity was actually founded and by whom.  It’s right that it should come up.  Believers (all types of Christians, not just “born again” or literalist types) need to much better understand the reality and process of myth-making in general and in the founding of their faith in particular.   And non-believers or doubters with nagging questions often need to be much better informed on myth-making as well, and on what does stand on solid historical ground regarding Jesus and his early followers, even when much of it cannot be pinned down with specificity.

My own fascination may exist because of an early and quite long education in the Bible and Christian faith followed by a long widely-searching period and then much more study in both formal and self-guided modes in particularly New Testament and related texts and the subject of “Christian origins”.  This last phase has included exploration of the process of myth-making and its relation to cultural and/or nationalistic issues.  I will say categorically,

It is impossible to very deeply understand even one’s own culture–its values, memes, sense of place in the world–overall what drives it, without some examination of the mythology behind it.  This is particularly true for “Christian America”.

The scholar I’ve encountered who has developed the most (in my exposure in English language work) on myth-making within Christianity is Burton Mack (“Who Wrote the New Testament”, “The Christian Myth”, etc.)  He has developed “Social Interest Theory” along with anthropologist Jonathan Z Smith in a lot of detail.  It has strong explanatory power… a key test of the validity and usefulness of any systematic theory.  Some of his work is fairly technical, some of it not.  So I recommend some exploration of him to readers all along the scale of education on religion or Christianity and its formation.

But there are a whole lot of other authors who have made important contributions to this area.  Too many to begin naming them here.  But I do encourage you to look into any author’s credentials and try to identify his or her perspective (religious commitment and in what setting, an anti-religious sentiment, etc.).  This almost inevitably coincides, to varying degrees, with intellectual bias and with reasons a person researches and writes on a given topic.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. hoju1959 permalink
    April 17, 2017 11:26 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Howard. It just so happens that I’m reading Mack’s book on Q right now.

    I also read the article on Valerie Terico’s site and found it fascinating. It got me thinking about how much of modern-day Christianity is based on myth — that is, that there are crucial parts of the Christian narrative that just didn’t occur.

    It got me thinking about the resurrection. I think now that the resurrection didn’t happen. I say that not because it’s miraculous. I’m saying that because I think that if Jesus had known he was going to rise from the dead he would have explained it to his 12 disciples and they would have been prepare to share this “gospel” after this death/resurrection. (As it is, the Bible has Jesus telling his disciples about the resurrection cryptically.) As it was, the 12 disciples were clueless what to make of the resurrection — other than to say it validated Jesus’ claim to the be messiah. But they still missed the point. They thought that the “gospel” was that Jesus was going to return any minute and set up the Kingdom of God in Jerusalem. They were clearly wrong. It was left up to Paul to explain the theological purpose behind Jesus ‘ death and resurrection.

    That seems like a real backwards way to kick off a worldwide religion.

    If Jesus knew he was going to rise from the dead, he would have explained the purpose of that resurrection to his 12 Disciples. That he didn’t shows to me that Jesus knew nothing of the idea of his death paying for the world’s sins.

    Anyway, those are some thoughts I’ve been having.

    • April 17, 2017 10:05 pm

      Thanks for the comment! I really value it when people take the effort and “risk” of putting their thoughts and reactions on “paper”. I want this forum to be more of a place of discussion but have found that difficult to get going.

      I know you are onto some key concepts. I’ve researched and pondered such things a lot, as this article and many others indicate. As to Mack, his Q book, though not his longest, is relatively technical and I encourage you to check the others I mentioned. His book on the broad system of “Social Interest Theory” is much less known but might also speak to you, in that I sense you operate on the level of seeking and understanding the use of paradigms or various perspective frameworks for interpreting texts, symbols, rituals, etc. For Mack (and his colleague, Smith), it’s heavily inter-disciplinary. My own education is such also, and I strongly believe the interplay of several related disciplines is critical to understanding the development and operation of any religion, their texts, etc.

      What you mention re. Jesus’ own belief re. his role and the possibility of his own resurrection I think you’re right about. To me, Jesus could have been and seems to have been a person particularly “close” to God, in the sense of understanding how things work best in the world for the advancement of all, and in relating that to a single “unifying” or guiding “person” (or “personal-type-being”) commonly labeled “God”. This was “Father”, often for him.

      On this topic, you might also enjoy John Cobb’s latest book, “Jesus’ Abba”, out last year, and which I’ve reviewed here: https://wordpress.com/post/naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/2820. If you’re not familiar, Cobb is responsible for much of the developed theology within Process Thought, and is still going strong at 91. On the more philosophical side of Process, Hartshorne was still publishing at 100 or 101 and died at about 102, a couple years ago…. Must be something healthy about Process thinking 🙂 . I’ll take me some of that…. It IS intellectually satisfying, and allows for spiritual development without hemming it in.

      • hoju1959 permalink
        April 18, 2017 12:15 pm

        Thanks, Howard. I’m really intrigued by process thinking. See this blog post I wrote:

        http://johndraperauthor.com/2016/04/04/occams-razor-inactivity-god/

        To date, everything I know about process theology I’ve learned from my Mom. I’ve got to say, every book I’ve tried to read about process theology and seemed purposefully/needlessly dense, as if the authors were trying to make themselves looks smart. I go with the maxim, “You don’t really understand something unless you can explain it to a kindgergartner.” I’m looking forward for such an explanation! 🙂

        • April 18, 2017 2:13 pm

          Thanks again, John. I enjoy your writing (checked the linked post, and had read a bit on your blog before)! We need your not-so-serious, yet serious style along with the more boring of my style :0

          I don’t have time to create that short, simple statement of Process you long for… though I’ve worked at it several times over the years. So have others. As you note, it inevitably gets involved. Now, John Cobb is capable of incredibly succinct and clear explanations, even impromptu… very impressive when you hear him, even now at 91. But if you get “Jesus’ Abba”, even it may prove a bit tedious…. My guess his editors said he had to make it appeal to a secular and/or academic audience even though it could have been kept more AWAY from philosophical issues, I think… and would have been even better than the good book I feel it is. It may be that the little booklet of 25 pages or so my Marjorie Suchocci is the best for short and simple on Process… has your mom mentioned that resource to you? I’m not sure if/where it is even available now… it’s several years old.

          More on this issue of how to “dumb down” the important paradigm of process as applied to theology, without causing it to lose the nuance that it requires to even be helpful. It’s kind of a “catch 22” I think.

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