Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Jesus On My Mind: the Man & the Myth

Two recent blog articles got me to turn to Jesus, as I often do, to note the One Vehicle at work in the Jesus story of the Christ as well as the Siddhartha story of the Buddha.


The first was a Salon story by Andrei Codrescu under the headline “Zealot’paints Jesus as a Nazarene Che Guevarareviewing the newly published book by Reza Aslan titled ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

I’m not a fan of Codrescu’s style so I won’t go into what he writes except to say he uses his usual hodge-podge approach for contextualizing and politicizing which makes critique of his content as confusing as the content itself. Suffice it to say Codrescu hides good points within his self promoting use of superfluous points. Codrescu didn’t like Aslan’s Zealot, but he tell us little of the evidence he is relying on to come to this conclusion and he doesn’t reveal his own version of Jesus that provides a better portrait of the man.

 I haven’t read Aslan’s book, but if Codrescu’s one real examination of the book regarding the story of Caesar’s coin is accurate, then Codrescu is correct that Aslan has come to a conclusion that is based on inserting his own interpretations at the beginning of the analysis and not on the facts of the story.   However, neither Aslan nor Codrescu mention the most important point necessary if we are to have a serviceable historical picture of Jesus the man, and that is that Jesus was an Essene.

Here’s the man as I see him. There is nothing in the historical facts or the orthodox narrative to suggest that Jesus was ever a member of the Zealot party.  He could be called a “zealot” in the generic sense that Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi were zealots having great zeal for their mission.  By birth and family upbringing, Jesus ben Joseph was a member of the Essene community of Nazareth in the Mr. Carmel area. His cousin John, later known as “the Baptist”, was in the Southern Essene community associated with Qumran.

Jesus felt that the Essene teachings were the truest teachings of Judaism, but that the Essenes were too closed off and insulated from the mainstream of the two major sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees which had lost the true way. While accepting that the Essene teachings were the most true to the prophets and the Essene communities were the most “right with God” in their formation and activities, Jesus did not accept the isolationist and separatist social structure of those same Essene communities. Jesus’ mission was to bring tear down the divisions within Judaism and its three major sects, to bring it back to the truth centered on God and to show the Pharisees and Sadducees the error of their ways.

Jesus did not say "You must become Essenes" because he knew that was hopeless politically and socially, but he did teach what the Essenes held and believed, for example, as in the Sermon on the Mount and regarding the correct way to pray in private, and he said this is how to worship God. 

Some people hold that to have a picture of Jesus the man we can only use the Gospels, including Acts, of the Bible and we must take them at face value without going beyond the four corners of their pages.  From this position the objection is raised that since the Gospels were written in the format of Greek biography and history we cannot say that Jesus was an Essene because the Gospels do not identify him as Essene.

However, and it is not just sophistry to say it this way, the Gospels did not identify him as an Essene exactly because he was an Essene. There is no way to portray Jesus the man without going beyond the pages of the Gospels to the history of the times and of the Jewish people.  There were three sects at the time: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Gospels identified the Pharisees and Sadducees because they were the two major sects that Jesus was aiming his criticism at for failing God. The Gospels do not mention the Essenes because Jesus did not criticize the very sect that he grew up in and whose teachings were the foundation of his own teachings.

This is most important in perceiving his mission. Jesus was not on a mission against the Roman Empire, he was not on a mission to recover the lands of Judaism for the Jews, and he was not on a mission to teach the Gentiles anything at all.  His mission was to awaken the Jews to their own heritage and their own need to get right with God according to the prophets of their own scriptures.

So how do we know that Jesus was an Essene? Primarily by taking the description of Jesus in the Bible and comparing it to the historical records from outside the Bible. He learned the scriptures as a child as the Essenes taught their children; but the Pharisees and Sadducees did not teach their young children the sacred texts. This explains the story of the amazement of the men at the Sadducee synagogue when the young Jesus knew the scriptures so well, because none of their own children were taught scripture at that age. 

The Essenes lived communally without individual possessions being more than another’s, and this is why Jesus taught the disciples to not worry about where the next meal would come from because all they had to do was identify themselves in any community and they would be fed by the Essenes living there. As the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote, “No one city is theirs, but they settle amply in each. ... For this reason they make trips without carrying any baggage at all.”  

The Essenes especially studied and revered the Book of Isaiah and Jesus was especially well versed in Isaiah.   The Essene community of Nazareth was among the most successful and important of the Essene communities throughout the land, and Jesus was from Nazareth.  One could go on, but it is clear that Jesus was an Essene.

Objection: Some people say that since we have no objective source regarding the details of Jesus' life and words, all attempts to create a "historical" Jesus are doomed to failure. Evangelical Christians have even said this as a reason to not look for the historical Jesus the man and to therefore only look to Christ the Savior portrayed in the Bible. They see the historical Jesus as a “a figment of your imagination” but somehow see no contradiction or aspect of imagination in the “fact” of Christ the Savior.


Creating a historical Jesus based on the best of the actual historical knowledge we have is not an endeavor "doomed to failure."  It is the essential enterprise of telling the story of history.  On the other hand, we need to bear in mind that the historical Jesus should be distinguished from the myth of the Christ. We can talk about the historical Jesus and we can talk about the myth of Christ. But we should not confuse or conflate the two.



In this regard, the second blog article that caught my attention is from the website Pathos and confronts the question of myth verses history head on.  The blog is called “The White Hindu” from blogger Ambaa, and the post is titled “Krishna is a Myth; Jesus is aMyth

I like this blog. Ambaa is sharing her spiritual journey in a very sweet and generous way. Ambaa notes that people often get upset if the stories of their religious founders and figures might be more mythical than literally and historically true. She says,

I don’t think it matters at all whether Jesus really lived or whether he really said what he said. I don’t care if it was Lau-tzu who said the things attributed to Lau-tzu. Someone said them and they have wisdom. It’s the message itself, the wisdom itself that matters to me, not what name you stick on it.

I don’t know if Krishna was a real person. I don’t know if he was more than one person whose lives got glomed together over the years. I don’t know if the stories are literally true but I do know that they are metaphorically true and that is far more important to me personally.

(Note for the sticklers, I think “Lau-tzu” is how they spell it in Scotland.)

This is a different view of the historical picture issue that takes the position that the picture of the historical man is not important at all and what we know of the myth is what is important.  In this view, the myth of the Christ is not taken as a fact, but man Jesus is taken as a myth. To me, it is still important to distinguish between the man and the myth, and that is why I use the names Jesus for the man and Christ for the myth.

What is a myth anyway? Today, many people think the word "myth" means "false." This is the materialistic bias of people misinformed by junk science, not real science. As the real scientist of psychology, Carl Jung, has taught us, myth is a psychological orienting principal or matrix of the mind, i.e, psyche.  Myth is good because we can't live as humans without myth. Without a myth, there can be no consciousness, because the consciousness would be too chaotic and disorganized for awareness to cohere into a coherent worldview. Jesus the man is now totally cloaked within Christ the myth. To have our own best-estimate opinion about the man does mean we have to take account of the myth.

Jesus the man and his historicity doesn’t directly inform us about Christ the myth. Personally, I follow the myth of Buddha and that works well for me. There are many points of contact and comparison between the myth of Buddha, the Awakened One, and the myth of Christ, the Anointed One. But that is another essay.

And while it can be a lot of fun, as well as educational, comparing our myths and how they orient and organize our psyches, but it can also be dangerous when someone doesn't understand that their myth is just a myth, that is, when they don't understand their very own worldview and sense of self within that worldview is based on myth not on something outside the realm of myth.  

Why is that? Because there is no consciousness outside of the matrix of the mind and therefore there is no worldview outside the matrix of a myth. There is no objective perspective outside of the psyche. The myth of objective science is not wrong because it is a myth; it is just that objectivity is also a myth within the mind's view of the world.
Objection: "Myth" means "story of beginnings" and there is no implication of history or fiction.

That "definition" of myth is itself characterized by its own myth. Myth is not just the story of beginnings, but the story of what is primary in our own living worldview, which must also mean now, and not just in some beginning to be found in the past. When myth comes in the packaging of time and space, then it often does wear the clothing of historicity in the "once upon a time" or "in the beginning" variety. But it is in the present that the myth is alive.  People who believe the myth of objectivity of materialist science view myth as a synonym of "fiction." People who are fundamentalists believe in their own myths as absolute history while saying that other people’s myths are make believe.  

Ambaa wrote: "For those who need their religion to be seen as the best one or the only “real” one in the world, being able to say that their saint or prophet actually lived while others did not must help them bolster their belief that it is real."

Objection: I think you're maybe being a little unfair; at least, I think that you're generalizing more than is accurate. Speaking as a Christian who believes Jesus for-real lived, I don't think that religious supremacy or exclusivity would primarily motivate most Christians who believe Jesus is a historical figure, though it might motivate most to greater or lesser degrees. Based on the conversations I've had, it seems most Christians are concerned that losing the historical Jesus would render the logic of salvation invalid...and most Christians are pretty serious about salvation. I assume the concern with salvation, or some similar mechanism which seems to depend on a particular event actually happening, would hold true for other historical religions (Judaism, Islam, etc.). That being said, historical religions tend to be monotheistic, so your suggested motivation probably is a real motivation, just not the only one. But I do know lots of Christians (or some, anyway) who aren't especially hung up on exclusivity (I hope I can include myself) and simultaneously affirm that Buddhism etc. has mythic wisdom and that Christianity has historical truth. And I also know Christians (a lot this time) who would largely agree with you regarding Genesis and other early Biblical books, that Adam and Eve or Abraham are mythical, not historical. That being said, for those who are triumphalistic in their religions, I think you are right that historical truth helps them feel superior. And I also agree with the general point of your post, that the wisdom winds up being more important, practically, than the history.

The objection seems to have difficulty seeing the distinction between Jesus the man and Christ the myth? Between Siddhartha Gautama the man and Buddha the myth? Between Arthur the man and the Once and Future King as the myth?

To me, the point of contact between the man (or woman) and the myth is exactly our own point of contact between life and death. The historical person (man or woman) had their own life and death, and it is the myth that informs us about our own life and death through the orienting images of the mythic life of the “historical” person.

In one sense, unless there is a person in history or historical legend upon whom the myth can be draped as a mantle, then the myth has no home within the world of life and death. So in this sense, there must be an incarnation of the myth to make it real. So yes, there can be no salvation or enlightenment unless there was a person who embodied that mythic story of salvation or enlightenment. The myth would be just fiction without the embodiment of the incarnation. But given the necessity of the myth to be embodied, it is still the core of misinterpretation to confuse the historicity of the person embodying the ahistorical myth with the myth itself.  

The incarnation makes the myth historical, but on its own ground, the myth itself is ahistorical and outside the strictures of the contextualizing myth of time and space. Otherwise the myth would be trapped in history and we ourselves would not be able to embody it in our own time with our own realization.

Objection: I like the argument that you have put forward, but without sun, there is no light, and if you look at these as a fact, then the sun really doesn't matter day to day, but in reality they go in hand in hand, and I think this is vital when it comes to faith, otherwise you will never take it seriously, and when you don't, it can't become part of you. I like Harry Potter but it's not part of my life.

Myths are myths, and that is why they are not real, or they may have been real, it's because of this word maybe, they are called myths, and when we have the word maybe involved, then there is no faith, and without faith I would be an atheist. It's not bad thing, but I would rather believe in something then nothing. Therefore what ever you believe in, then it matters whether anything is real or not and without that there is no point in the system.

By sitting in a fake aeroplane pretending you are going nowhere. And what is a point in that. Period.

Beyond the somewhat confused statement of the objection, which is the sun and which is the light? Is the historical person that the myth is hanging on the sun or the light? Is the myth the sun or the light?

Myths are most definitely real, because there is no "reality" without a myth of what is "real." Believing in something or believing in nothing are both the expressions of myth. "Faith" is a wide spectrum including hopeful supposition, belief, expectation, trust, confidence, and certainty. If we take something "seriously" then that is the evidence that myth is at work in our mind. It is our personal myth of reality that sorts things out as "this is really important" and “this is not important.” 
If we want to know the context, shape, and texture of the myths that are at work in our own mind, then we simply have to describe what it is that we take to be “true,” “really true,” and “really important.”  And since consciousness works by polarity, we need to be aware of and describe the things we take to be “false” and “unimportant” to see how our myth casts its own shadow.