Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Secret Life of Jesus [Part Ten]


As we are beginning to see early Christians developed a path to communion with God in relation to the Jewish rules governing bread-making – viz. Num 15:18 – 21 and "misheret," (משארת) or mixed dough. This understanding died out very early – perhaps as late as the third or fourth century CE. No one today understands why people line up to consume the host other than it was something Jesus ‘talked about in the gospel.’ As such it survives as one of many unexamined superstitions associated with the supernatural Jesus.

Jesus is acknowledged to be the spiritual ‘leaven’ which raises the whole lump. He is at once also ‘the bread of life’ and this bread really is understood to be his flesh. As we already saw, the statement of St Paul that ‘those of the first are hold, the whole lump is holy’ refers to the priest’s role in establishing the sanctity of the communion host. In other words, there is a consecrated order of holy men whose principal responsibilities is ensuring that ‘Jesus’ settles in the bread and is consumed by the faithful.

There should be no doubt this mystical understanding was originally grounded in a sectarian interpretation of Numbers 15:18 – 21. This was a community that had rejected the consumption of meat and wine owing to – or perhaps even in anticipation of - the destruction of the temple. The early authority R. Ishmael b. Elisha said: "From the day when the Temple was destroyed we should by right make a decree binding upon ourselves not to eat flesh nor drink wine, but it is a principle not to impose on the community a decree to which the majority of the community cannot adhere.” (Hor. 3b; Av. Zar. 36a) While such strong ascetic tendencies were frowned upon by Irenaeus and his followers they hearken back to the earliest period for Christianity, and a reflection of their Jewish origins.

Once we recognize that primitive Christianity was undoubtedly rooted in a Hebrew or Aramaic culture related to Jewish – and specifically Samaritan – culture we can see that the word שאר means both ‘flesh’ and ‘leaven.’ At once we resolve how Jesus’s ‘flesh’ was understood to be ‘spiritual’ – i.e. the leaven which penetrated the material substance of the misheret. The initiates weren’t so much as believing in ‘magic bread’ as they were a substance added to the dough which was understood to give what they were consuming supernatural properties. The שאר is the leaven which is not understood to be a supernatural – even immaterial - substance or meat.

One might even imagine that the early vegetarianism tendencies in Christianity can also be explained by an appeal to the command to the Israelites at Exodus:

Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away שאר out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.

The word שאר certainly means ‘leaven’ here. Yet Epiphanius tells us that the founder of the Ebionites was a Samaritan, who interpreted שאר both as meaning leaven and flesh – flesh in the sense of both meat and family.

At once it should be obvious to see the mystical sense of שאר in the sacrament of Communion. The consumption of Jesus’s spiritual ‘flesh’ stands at the end of a lengthy adoption ritual which brings the individual into the greater family of God. In other words, we become ‘one flesh’ with Jesus. The central role of mishereth in this communion rite makes especial sense in the writings of St Paul where the baptism is specifically a baptism of individuals from a ritually dead state.

This word "leaven" שאר actually present in the Hebrew word "mishereth" which is spelled משארת. It is found in the middle of the lump, as many Jewish mystics have already noted. If we treat mishereth as a pictogram we can actually see the dough being kneaded with leaven – i.e. מ–שאר–ת. "Leaven" is sa’or שאר. "Death" is mot מת. "kneading-trough" is "miseret," leaven שאר in the middle of death מת which means that the words "leaven" and "death" make up the word for the "mixed lump" - where leaven was added to the unleavened dough מ–שאר–ת.

מ–שאר–ת Mixed lump
שאר Leaven
מת Death
We already saw the prevalence of the kneaded dough being taken to represent the human ‘lump’ – i.e. Adam. Now it is plain that Jewish mystics already saw שאר (=sa'or ) as being buried within a ‘body of death’ and ‘raising’ it in the fires.

Now let’s get back to the Exodus narrative. There we see ordinary bread consisted of dough (bazek) mixed with fermented dough (sa'or), which raised the mass into soured bread (chametz). The Mandaean sect, an unusual antinomian Jewish sectarian offshoot which survived in Iraq and Iran, actually preserves the name of angel of death as Sauriel – and he is described as re-clothing the body of Adam with a spiritual garment of flesh. We will go back to Sauriel in our discussion of his Jewish namesake Sariel in the context of Jacob wrestling with Jesus shortly.

For the moment we should recognize that the Exodus narrative provides the ultimate ritual context for the rules regarding bread offerings in Numbers 15:18 – 21. The Feast of the Unleavened Bread was originally developed undoubtedly to highlight the transformation of the miserable body of the ancient Israelites in slavery to redemption through the process of leavening – i.e. coming into contact with a divine power which sustained them through their desert wandering. At some point however after the destruction of the Jewish temple the early Christian sectarians saw the consumption of heavenly שאר as the very fulfillment of the Law. In other words, being made divine made one stand essentially above the Law.

To finally understand this concept and its relationship with Numbers 15:18 – 21 we will finally have to come to terms with what is at the core of the commandment – that is the determination of the precise point in the processing of the dough at which the dough becomes liable to the offering to God and the amount that one must separate. Once we understand this commandment and put it in the context of the statement of Paul cited earlier – i.e. if the head is holy, the lump is holy – the entire supernatural presence of Jesus in the host will finally make sense to us.

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