Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Myth of Jesus [Chapter 2]

I began my investigation with the age old problem of reconciling man and God in the person of Jesus.  Liberal Protestant scholars have long attempted to strip away the 'fantastic' elements of the gospel in order to uncover the 'historical Jesus.'  They use a lot of fancy words to describe what they do, but it can be best likened to dropping a sandwich into a filthy latrine.  No amount of brushing off your lunch is going to get your sandwich clean enough for you to want to eat it again.  In the case of the search for the real Jesus in the gospels, no amount of 'correcting' the surviving material gets you back to a point where you can feel confident you have the 'real story.'

What about the miracles?  Did Jesus really walk on water or did he something less impressive - like, let's say, stand on a surf board in the middle of a lake?  Indeed it all comes down to where you draw the line with respect to this revisionist process.  On the other side of the ledger we have extremely early communities like the Marcionites make the argument that Paul wasn't just developing a 'high Christology' in his letters but that his letters reflected his status as the author of the original gospel. 

We no longer possess this gospel of Paul.  Indeed the Marcionites curiously denied that it was ever so called.  Many people have many different theories about what the Marcionite gospel looked like or was called.  For the moment at least it is enough to follow Professor Markus Vinzent of King's College London suggestion that it was something like the original gospel of Mark with many of its variant readings preserved in the canonical gospel of Luke.  Why and how this was exactly so, will be beyond the present investigation. 

It is enough to say that the Marcionites thought their one 'super gospel' as it were was original text behind Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and its existence was deemed to be reflected in the correspondences of St Paul.  We will look at this all in much greater detail later in our work.  The point of course is that alongside the 'high Christology' of the letters of Paul it is important to note that there was at one time an accompanying 'high Christology' gospel.  The two works were probably preserved into bound codices that made up the Marcionite New Testament. 

Unlike our New Testament collection which reflects the existence of a large and wholly unified Church almost magically operating in unison throughout the world, the Marcionite canon testified to the greatness of a single man - St Paul.  Paul knew Jesus was a god and that he was completely without flesh and blood as we know them.  He was a wholly glorious being who disguised the supernatural glow of his being by making it appear that he was 'of this world' to win many of us over. 

Indeed it stands to reason that my theory sounds so crazy to most people is that they haven't spent the greater part of three decades reading all the scraps of information that exist about the Marcionites.  Seeing Jesus as a supernatural being isn't at all difficult for me because I spent the greater part of my life trying to 'get into the head of the Marcionites' to try to figure out how they could be so comfortable with a flying Jesus, a Jesus who could pass through crowds, walk on water, change his shape, only be recognized by demons or men whose eyes had finally been opened. 

In fact, the Marcionite Jesus made so much sense to me in part because I was Jewish.  One of the crowning achievements of Professor Vinzent was his recent publishing of an important paper called Marcion the Jew.  In that peer reviewed article he demonstrates something I have advocated for most of my adult life - the unmistakable 'Jewishness' of Marcion and Marcionitism. 

Of course we get the exact opposite impression from much of what the Church Fathers tell us about Marcion.  They say that he raised up another god against the true god of the Jews, a kind, merciful being against the familiar 'severe judge' that we all know the Jewish god to be.  Nevertheless my Jewish heritage was very different than most of my fellows.  I came from a thoroughly mystical tradition which mostly died out after the Second World War.  Furthermore I spend most of my teenage years sunbathing in my parents backyard reading the collected works of Philo, a highly educated and thoroughly Hellenized first century Jew from the erudite city of Alexandria. 

Philo reminded me of what my ancestors had told me about the Jewish godhead.  There wasn't only one divine power but many and chief among them were two divine powers of mercy and judgement.  I really couldn't relate to Irenaeus and his cohorts demonizing Marcion for holding that there was another power beside the stern, vengeful judge, because this is exactly what I had been taught since my youth and what I found reinforced in the pages of Philo. 

As someone who spent most of his life being vilified by outsiders, I wasn't really affected by the sustained attack of the Church Fathers against Marcion.  Jews are used to being the scapegoats of Christians.  The more Irenaeus and company accused Marcion of teaching untruths about the Jewish religion the more comfortable I felt giving another heretic the benefit of the doubt that maybe he was preserving something related to an older form of Judaism that had fallen out of favor since the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 CE. 

In any event, those were my 'hunches' as I developed a more serious interest in Christianity as a whole.  There was also something of a paradox developing in the gap between my personal study and my personal life.  I haven't mentioned that I ended up marrying a Roman Catholic.  It is worth noting that the religion that I saw expressed in my wife's Church didn't seem very Jewish to me.  She herself, like most other Roman Catholics I knew, had absolutely no interest in studying the Bible or getting anywhere close to the sources which provide the logical foundations for the beliefs that they hold dear.

At the same time the more I studied religion the more I realized that the Catholic Church was very much at home in so-called 'high Christology.'  The ritual celibacy of its priesthood and many other features of this Roman religion made me suspect that it was somehow related to Marcionitism, albeit wholly watered down now by centuries of innovation and corruption.  Nevertheless there were clear signs in the liturgy and various other texts preserved only Latin of a not completely forgotten 'heretical' past. 

It was true, the priests and theologians of the last eighteen hundred years might have been wholly removed from the original truth of their own tradition.  Nevertheless the supernatural Jesus hadn't completely disappeared here or in the Syrian or Coptic Churches.  In every corner of the world it seemed, there were bits and pieces of the original god Man scattered like Dionysus.  My quest as a scholar, it seems, was to provide a viable framework to bring them all back together in a unified whole. 

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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