Friday, December 15, 2017

The Teachings of Jesus Christ as the Teachings of Don Juan Matus

It's impossible to know most things with any degree of certainty.  There is a lot of discussion on the internet about whether or not Jesus had a historical existence.  I think its convenient to assume that Jesus existed.  It allows us to get on to other things which useful and productive.  Being useful and productive is always seen as good things so we 'go with this' understanding.  But in the end, we can't know the truth about Jesus until we know we have the earliest Christian texts about it - and I don't think that's at all true.  So we have to be agnostic about Jesus's existence.

I know this answer isn't going to satisfy anyone.  We live in an age of instant answers and in the end I am not smart enough to match the speed required for giving an answer on this subject.  I guess if you want speed, go to someone else as your 'service provider.'  I am happy taking an agnostic position on the existence of Jesus.  Maybe he existed or maybe he didn't.

I am pretty certain the gospel was intended as something more than mere 'history.'  Whoever the original author was, he had the Pentateuch in its sights and the Pentateuch is more than a story - it's the Law.  I am not even sure the first Israelites who received this text thought it was 'God's word' but that's what it became. Over the course of time a book written by a Hebrew scribe at the beginning of the Persian period masquerading as Moses was taken to be a book written by God.  I bet Moses the magician would have been proud!

But the gospel, in my opinion, wanted to do one better.  Magicians love to outdo one another.  If the one guy can make a woman disappear, the next guy does the act with a jumbo jet.  That's how these guys work.  The Jews had the story of how their fathers were friendly with God; the Christians literally made God their father.  That's the story of the gospel.  Even though it's present as the story of Jesus it's really, secretly about the way Christians became God's chosen people. 

Of course, in the end you can read any story any way you want to. We don't live in an age where heresy is actively persecuted or identified.  The fact that on surface indeed the text resembles a history of some sort is part of the magicians craft.  But to take the story as essentially being a history, well that is another matter entirely.  As I said we live in a free world, we can do what ever we want. If you go one step further and take away any trace of symbolism or allegory from the text you read the gospel as if Jesus was giving advice on husbandry, marriage, child rearing, yard work and other inanities.  So in the end, any concerted obtuseness can transform the gospel into an ancient precursor of the Farmers Almanac.

But to say that the gospel doesn't develop from myth-making ignores some basic facts.  Jesus is portrayed as something of a mythopoet.  Why is that?  Was Jesus really a maker of parables or is Jesus's parable-making nothing more than a clue planted by the author to understand his literary purpose?   The portrait of Jesus the parable-maker might well be like looking at an image of ourselves in a mirror looking at ourselves in the mirror.  The gospel is Jesus is telling stories about people like Jesus in a story written by someone like Jesus.

In fact Jesus is a lot like the stick figures from his parables.  Jesus only tells us as much as we need to know about the man who buries a treasure just as the author offers us the barest of outlines about his Jesus.  Why doesn't he just remove Jesus from the dizzying vertigo of looking at ourselves looking into the mirror?  Jesus is portrayed as weaving riddles and allegories because he is nothing more than the double of the mythopoet who is the gospel writer.  Jesus is a walking stick man, a man who has no history or at least a man's whose history is unknown to the author.

Maybe the author heard about a crucified man and wanted to use him as the protagonist for his extended parable which is the gospel.  It's possible.  And that makes Jesus a historical figure.  Fine.  But if we learn something from the gospel it is from only what the gospel writer wants us to see, it is only from what the gospel writer knows from his own reality.  The Marcionites thought Paul wrote the original gospel and various texts tell us his only say Jesus in a vision.  Maybe there was a historical Jesus, but all we have now is a stolen copy of Paul's original dream of Jesus.  Good luck finding history in that! 

No wonder Jesus can only tell parables or act symbolically.  He's little more than a punchline in a gag.  He has no childhood reminiscences because he had no childhood.  He has no stories of lost loves, relationship problems, illnesses or any of the things you can't escape when you are forced to make your way through existence, because he never lived.  He's given a tabla rasa because he is a virgin, not only with respect to sexuality but with regards to this world.

Indeed it is impossible not to see the similarity between Jesus and one of the faceless, nameless figures from his own parables.  Go beyond the citation of Isaiah chapter 40 and the Gospel of Mark opens like a joke making the rounds at a bar - 'A rabbi walks into a bar ...'   That's why it is so strange to see Jesus depicted as a maker of parables.  He's the double of the gospel writer, the evangelist who tells the story of Jesus evangelizing.

The gospel on some level is a parallel universe to the author's own world.  What Jesus did, the author now does.  He tells the story of how he came to be, through an account of Jesus's becoming.  Yet the author doesn't go on to mention himself seeing, hearing or knowing this precursor, this literary doppleganger.   Jesus is the 'rabbi' of the original evangelist's extended parable.  A man walks into a synagogue and ended getting crucified.  You can hear it as a punchline over a couple of beers in its rough form or you can wait and see it stretched out to a written narrative.  The choice is yours.

Is Rodney Dangerfield's wife really that fat?  How fat is she?  Do any of the things that the comedian tells his audience happened to him the other day actually happen the way he tells it?  Did they happen at all?  We don't care.  They're all so funny because what he says is so true!  But what if they aren't true at all?  We don't care as long as he makes us laugh.

It's the same way with the gospel.  It's a story about hierophant as told by a mystagogue.  Copperfield on Houdini.  When one puts the other in the box, we shouldn't be surprised to find them switch places by the end of the 'act.'  Watching Jesus walk on the earth in the gospel narrative I am reminded of Casteneda's dream reality when Don Juan instructs him to look at his hand after he has fallen asleep and entered in another world.  Casteneda tells us that eventually he manages to summon enough power to do the impossible - he raises his hand in the dream and stares at his palm.  Don Juan promises that he can visit with people in the waking world and they will mistake him for his real self and he will have unlimited power.

The Teachings of Don Juan were written as history and Juan Matus is still believed by some to be a historical shaman.  Carlos Casteneda's books have a 'cult-like' following no less than the gospel did in its earliest years.  It is impossible to prove that the young UCLA professor did not in fact meet a Mexican shaman.  Juan Matus like Jesus occupies a midpoint between pure history and pure fiction.  I find it difficult to believe that any argument for the existence of Jesus can be made stronger than the case for the existence of Juan Matus - this in spite of the fact that we live within a few years of Casteneda's death.

As my grade 10 English teacher once said, 'even as fiction it's great stuff.'  So too the gospel ...

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