Friday, August 2, 2013

Jesus as Roman Demi-God [Part One]

Chapter Two 
Jesus as Roman Demi-God 

Once upon a time there was a belief in a historical Jesus, a Jesus who was the messiah of the Jews. This is a story we all know well and assume to be true in spite of the fact that there is no actual textual support for our assumptions. Of course Jesus is referenced as ‘the Christ’ throughout the New Testament. Yet it is well established that this terminology is used in a way that is at odds with its normal usage in Judaism – i.e. a fully human king, the son of David, who is the redeemer of the Jewish people. Indeed a careful scrutiny of the writings of Irenaeus for instance reveals that this Church Father almost completely avoids the term ‘the Christ’ in his earliest writings. To be sure, the specific title ‘Jesus Christ’ appears on almost every page. Yet it is equally clear that Irenaeus goes out of his way to avoid defining what ‘the Christ’ is supposed to mean other than ridiculing the suggestions of his heretical counterparts with respect to a supernatural ‘Christ’ who descended from heaven.

Nevertheless at the very same time it should be noted that Irenaeus’s ‘Christ’ wherever this term is actually spelled out, is wholly supernatural. His enthronement is not, as the Jews expected, on earth seated on the throne of David, but in heaven ‘on the right hand of God.’ Irenaeus’s earliest explanation of ‘the Christ’ means appears almost midway through his massive five volume work Against Heresies where he speaks of Jesus as “Him who had been foretold as Christ by the prophets; that is, He set Himself forth, who had restored liberty men, and bestowed on them the inheritance to incorruption.” Yet even in this book the manifestation of ‘Christ’ is thoroughly un-Jewish. Irenaeus repeats over and over again the heretical notion of Christ standing at the heart of a Greek mystery religion demanding that we ‘unite with him’ in order to receive his 'incorruption.'

To this end, Protestants can only establish Jesus as a ‘Jewish messiah’ type through a thoroughly selective reading of the New Testament and related Patristic commentary. The canon of writings we received through Irenaeus does not support the idea of a historical Jesus who fulfilled the actual expectation of the Jews regarding their messiah. Irenaeus has of course drawn bits and pieces from this Jewish expectation – perhaps by means of a Jewish Christian tradition that believed that Jesus was the awaited Jewish messiah. But this is only one of many traditions about Jesus that have been effectively ‘thrown into a melting pot’ and blended together to make our current hybrid understanding.

The idea that the truth of Christianity comes down to accepting Jesus as the Jewish messiah, the son of David, is a wholly recent phenomenon. The earliest surviving traditions that have come down to us in all parts of the world save for northern Europe and America, draw from all parts of Irenaeus’s mixing pot – not just this Jewish typology. Indeed it is the Pauline typology – the direct communion with God which has always been the central focus of Christianity as a function religion. Irenaeus acknowledges how important this theology was to the Roman community when he takes great efforts through his third book to weave together the Jewish messiah typology and this Pauline mystery religion god. His writings make plain that there was an entrenched rivalry between the two communities associated with these beliefs, and moreover that he took great pains to resolve their differences by establishing a harmony between their otherwise inflexible positions.

Near the end of his third book for instance Irenaeus acknowledges the objection of Pauline Christians to the Jewish Christian notion that Jesus was a man, noting that they say - "If our Lord was born at that time, Christ had therefore no previous existence." In other words, if Jesus was actually born to a woman he couldn’t have been with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the other Patriarchs of the Old Testament as an angelic being – an extremely important part of the Pauline tradition. Irenaeus takes this objection head on responding that in his system Jesus was both “with the Father from the beginning” but later became “incarnate” through the Virgin Birth “and was made man, He commenced afresh the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam-- namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God--that we might recover in Christ Jesus.”

It has to be stressed that these ideas do not belong together. The Pauline tradition did not originally hold Jesus to be a man nor did this Jewish Christian tradition hold Jesus to be a God. The communities seem to have been at odds for much of the second century, but then – in the middle of the Commodian period – Irenaeus appears to reconcile the two together. How did he accomplish this? While there is no record of how Irenaeus accomplished this feat, we know that the heretics themselves viewed his canon as a systematic forgery – a falsified codex or a collection of codices. As such the implication must certainly be that they would have viewed Irenaeus as accomplishing this goal by the systematic falsification of writings from previous ages.

Even though Irenaeus is never specifically named as this canon’s forger, we have very little information about Irenaeus outside of his writings. We only have the barest of information about how the opponents of Catholicism viewed their canon of writings. Yet from what emerges from this portrait we hear over and over again the assertion that the Catholic canon was falsified – often times with the additional charge that it was done with the ‘help’ or encouragement of the Imperial government.

We have already developed an understanding of the Commodian age, so we needn’t take these claims literally. The Imperial government may not have put direct pressure on Christianity to transform itself to accommodate the cosmocrator concept. But as we just noted, it would certainly have ‘helped’ raise the respectability of the Christian faith if it could be found to be compatible with current Imperial theological interests. The question that stands before us is to what degree we can demonstrate the existing paradigm of 'Jesus Christ' that has come down to us has been specifically influenced by the Imperial cosmocrator dogma, and whether it is still possible to go to earlier strands of material which might isolate the 'Jesus the man' and 'Jesus the god' theologies which go to more original forms of Christianity. 

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