Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Myth of Jesus Christ Part Three

What stands in our way of coming to terms with the Jesus cult is that we already think we know the essential details.  At its core Jesus the Jew claimed to be a descendant of David, born to a virgin who happened to have other children.  Since messiah was an established concept within Judaism, it is only natural to assume that Jesus would have also conceived of his 'Christhood' in traditional terms or at least terms with 'jibed' with the contemporary understanding.  Yet it is utterly impossible to reconcile any of these individual claims.

For instance the Jews understood that the messiah was bloodthirsty general.  He would slaughter the enemies of Israel and pave the way for the ultimate Jewish conquest of the world.  Jesus the 'nice Christ' is utterly incompatible with these expectations.  Indeed Jesus's kindness in the gospel narrative undoubtedly hearkens back to his original title Chrestos which can mean 'nice' or 'good.'  It is as if someone came along and substituted all the references for the 'kind' Jesus with Jesus the 'king.'  

Of course in the original Greek manuscripts of the gospel you wouldn't even need to do any letter substitution to go from chrestos to christos.  When we examine all the earliest Christian manuscripts the holiest words appear in an highly stylized form.  This literary convention called nomen sacrum from the Latin meaning 'sacred name' reduces all references read 'Christ' in our English translations from a partial reading of the original word often with a line or some ornamentation to distinguish it from other profane words on the page.  In other words, the specific word 'Christ' never appears on any of the earliest texts of the Bible.  Instead we see the Greek equivalent of the first two letters or the first and last letters or any number of combinations which would make it impossible for us to know whether 'Christos' or 'Chrestos' was the original term behind the obscure 'code word.'  

Traditional scholars of course simply assume that when we read the equivalent of 'CR' (= Greek XP) or 'CS'  (= XC) on the page the authors were writing ChRistos or ChristoS.  Yet there is one very good reason for questioning their assumptions.  The same symbol was to be found written in the margins of manuscripts to alert readers to an important, even memorable and quotable passage in that line or paragraph.  Again the original word behind this 'chi rho' has to be chrestos (= useful, good) rather than christos for the scribal sign was called Chresis, Chreston or Chresimon by early authors.

The only unfortunate thing for us is that very physical manuscripts survive from before the Christian period.  Yet we have readers from after the Common Era using this ancient nomenclature.  For instance the Senator Cassiodorus is recorded writing to a friend the following:

Tyconius the Donatist also added some unobjectionable material on this book, but he contaminated some of it with the foul teachings of his poisonous belief; where appropriate I have affixed the chresimon on the approved statements and on all unacceptable statements I found in reading through it I have fixed the mark of disapproval, the achriston I urge you to do likewise on suspect commentators so that the reader will not be bewildered by the admixture of unacceptable teachings. 

The point of course is that it is only silly stubbornness and myopia of Christian scholars that fails to see that the original Christian title associated with Jesus was 'Chrestos' rather than 'Christos' given that the christogram - i.e.  chresimon - was unquestionable associated with the former.  

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