Friday, May 28, 2010

Questions and Answers About the Real Messiah

I was contacted by a student at a seminary who wants to write an article about my book the Real Messiah.  This is always fun because my book is so deceptively stupid that I always like to imagine the look on people's faces when they realize how much effort it took to write a silly book based on all this research.

Having a lot of research behind a book doesn't necessarily make for an authoritative book.  Nevertheless it does separate the Real Messiah from some of the idiotic books out there that claim Jesus was from outer space, claim that Jesus and Mary got married and lived happily ever after in Utah and the like.  Anyway here are the questions the student gave to me followed by my attempt to answer them.

Question 1 How did you come to the conclusion that Marcus Agrippa was originally an integral part of the Passion story?

Answer: There is no direct evidence to suggest that Agrippa had any role whatsoever in Christianity. There is also no direct evidence to suggest that anyone other than Jesus was involved in the Passion narrative.

Only one basic paradigm of Christianity has survived the ages - namely that associated with a certain 'Jesus of Nazareth,' who as both God and the messiah came to be born of a virgin and as a divinely born son of a virgin gave his life upon on the cross in order to redeem the world.

Sure this paradigm 'makes sense' to most Christians.  It's like the way that everyone thinks they are beautiful or smart because Mommy or Daddy say they are.  Reality can hit people like a brick wall but imaginary claims about divinely born sons of virgins don't ever face that kind of scrutiny.  Most people 'become religious' as it were as a means of escaping this sort of reality.

They apparently want to afford the same kind of escapism to their God and so never scrutinize the claims associated with his 'messiahood' the way they would - let's say - the warranty on a new car.

The fact that 'everyone else' seems to think that the basic paradigm of Christianity makes sense is enough for people.  It is just a matter of adopting the 'correct perspective' to help digest this basically illogical and unpalatable understanding of Jesus the messiah God-man.

The way I see it 'Jesus the messiah God-man' is like someone saying 'I like steak,' 'I like coffee' and 'I like ice cream' therefore it makes sense to put them all together.

So let me tell you why I think the whole paradigm doesn't make sense.

It's illogical because someone like Jesus couldn't have been considered to be Jewish messiah.

It's illogical because a messiah can't start off as God.

It's illogical because a virgin can't by definition give birth.

It's illogical because God can't die.

It's illogical because a redeemer can't redeem us from Himself (or His creation).

Of course everyone recognizes that these things don't make sense.  However as noted above, people quickly learn that 'the correct manner' of solving these seeming inconsistencies is to just accept the position the authorities imposed on us - namely the Roman or later Byzantine traditions.

It would be wrong and unfair to claim that there isn't an effort from time to time to make all of this sound rational.  An evolving interpretation of Passion has continued for generations systematically jettisoning authentic parts of the original equation.

My attempt to understand the origins of Christianity began with the assumption that those jettisoned 'things' might have been removed because they were used by 'the heretics' (i.e. dissenting voices WITHIN Christianity) to bolster their unacceptable teachings.  The point then is that we don't have to choose between one of two positions - i.e. 'Christianity is absolutely true' and 'Christianity is absolutely false.'  Truth might be found in the trash can that stands outside the Church.

To this end, I focused my efforts on the one locale that seemed to be home to almost all of the heresies - Alexandria - and its humbled apostle Mark.  Mark isn't recognized as an apostle by the rest of the world.  He is made to walk around with Peter in the manner of a servant rather than - let's face it - the recipient of the central revelation of the whole religion.

This never made sense to me.

Having spent fifteen years of life studying various heretical traditions (or what can be gathered about their beliefs) I came to embrace the surviving Coptic tradition as the closest living form to those 'faiths forgotten.' I could discern a faint line which connected the earliest Alexandrian Jews and heretics (all heretics are essentially too faithful to Jewish principles in Christianity) to the remnant of Alexandrianism today (the Coptic faith).

The basic thread here was that someone else other than Jesus was the messiah in Christianity. Severus of Al'Ashmunein, the great tenth century Coptic historian makes it explicit - Mark is the Christ. The same idea can be traced back to the Passio Petri Sancti and other early Origenist traditions. When I uncovered that Clement and Origen promoted the idea that Marcus Julius Agrippa was the messiah of Daniel (an interpretation considered authoritative among the Jews) I decided to connect the two ideas and attempted to SPECULATE how these ideas might be incorporated in a heretical Passion narrative.

While as already stated there is no direct evidence to connect Marcus Agrippa to the Passion narrative the Coptic tradition connects Mark to all aspects of the event. Mark is understood to have carried the pitcher of water to the Passover celebration which essentially begins the Passion narrative, a Passover narrative which is understood to take place in Mark's house, Mark is identified as the 'eyewitness to the Passion' (Passio Petri Sancti) or the 'beholder of God' there just as the narrative ends in the house where the doors were shut which is again Mark's house.

Given that the Passion narrative is understood to have a beginning, middle and end with Mark I assumed that he had a larger role in earliest Alexandrian tradition i.e. before the persecution efforts against the city effectively subordinated the Egyptian Church to Rome (and thus 'Mark' to 'Peter'). Furthermore by establishing the date of the Passion according to Alexandrian sources (i.e. through finding which year could allow for Passover to lead to a resurrection on Sunday March 25th) I found it coincided with the year Agrippa alluding to his imprisonment in Jerusalem c. 37 CE.

Given that this year had special significance in Judaism (i.e. was a forty ninth year or the seventh Sabbatical year immediately followed by a Jubilee) I developed a scenario where the Passion narrative was interpreted as heralding Marcus Agrippa's liberation of the Alexandrian Jewish community the next year. I drew heavily from traditional Jewish assumptions about the Passover, the Akedah, the Jubilee and the expectation that the messiah would be associated with these events.

There is no direct evidence again that any Christian tradition at any time developed the Passion narrative in this way (although there are sources for eighteen month period between the Crucifixion and the Ascension).

There is necessarily a great deal of creativity involved in putting all these pieces together. I might not be right about everything. But IF we accept that Jews ever had a role in the development of Christianity's liturgy the existing orthodoxy represents a moving away from those original ideas. My ideas by contrast would be only natural for the first Jewish believers in Christianity. I think they are closer to the truth.

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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