Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Water into Wine into Mythology

I am currently reading Tom Harpur's new book 'Water into Wine' and I am not sure what to think of it all. Pieces of it are really good (interpretation pieces) and part's of it I think are very questionable (Paul's mythology). So here is what I will put out there after 3 chapters of reading.

(1) Jesus is mythical - it's an interesting idea - but I am not sure this is the case. I can see the virgin birth and a few other things being questioned as myth - but the actual person? He is similar to mythic characters - agreed - and maybe that adds to the stories - also agreed - but he does come off as a real person - and at that in a Jewish culture and community (which the writings also reflect - even if all we have is greek to go by). Maybe these scholars are missing something here in the historical study?

(2) The whole Mark, Matthew, Luke, and Q thing is tired and old. Mark is always first - and that's the current concensus (agreed) - but this is a field still wide open. The argument Mark came first and Matthew copied makes sense. But the opposite does also - Matthew came first and Mark was a shortened version of it - with 2% changes - for a different crowd. And Q - hell if we know that exists - there is no proof whatsoever (nor a document found). I think this is all questionable and if someone stakes a claim on any of this for some new-founded idea - it is at the very least - worth questioning.

(3) The whole Paul see's Jesus as myth is right from left field and makes no sense. I am not saying Paul doesn't allegorize a lot and some of his stuff can be mystic - agreed. But I think Paul saw Jesus as a real person that lived on one simple basis - Jesus crucified gets mentioned a lot in his writings (and is in each gospel). Now if crucifixion was something from 100's of years ago when Paul wrote - I might agree - however it was a known form of death during Paul's life. If Paul is going to wax mythic on everything - he has a very stange way of doing it.

(4) The problem of Acts and Luke weighs in here. Luke seems to have no problem writing a gospel and an 'acts of the apostles' that clearly lays out Jesus was a person and that Paul knew the original disciples. This actually has to lend creedence to the idea since Luke is a 2nd generation believer who also seems to know Paul (mentioned in his letters and even uses the communion idea Paul does verbatim in his gospel). Luke copied the gospels - clearly - but who do we think he got them from...well if he's honest in any sense - then possibly the first community of Christians. I think Luke is very strong evidence that a Jesus existed. Also if Luke wrote last and Paul mentions him in letters - doesn't it go to figure the other gospels possibly existed (even Paul mentions problems with 'gospels' - plural - in his letters).

(5) I like the idea of looking at the teachings from a more mythological perspective - not everything has to be literal - agreed. I like this - there seems to be something to learn here - and Harpur makes a great point about the 'mysteries of God' and 'parables' revealing deeper ideas about who God is. I can dig that.

(6) This whole mythology thing is based on the historical Jesus and builds from there (which I must say is quite the sturdy platform). I wonder - how much proof is there for a Peter, James, or John in 1st century AD? Or Paul? I mean, why stop at Jesus here - we have many names to peruse. If they all come up blank - then are they all made up also? Where did they come from then?

(7) Finally, my last qualm starts with Luke again. Isn't it odd that Luke has name attached to a gospel at all - and Acts? I can see Matthew and John - but Luke - who was not even a disciple at all? I thought the idea was attaching names of prominence to these things - even Thomas carries some weight - who the hell is Luke I ask? Yet he has 2 written documents - more than all of the actual disciples in terms of volumne of writing. Isn't that at all strange? And then we see Mark and Luke as travelling companions via Paul's letters - were they writers for people? Is Mark Peter's son - possibly that close to him - thus a gospel? Just maybe Luke was the author - and if that is so - then he wrote alongside Paul (or close to him). And if he copied - well - need I say more where this is going.

I am having as tough a time turning possible history into mythology - kinda like I would turning water into wine.


DagoodS said...


I haven’t read this particular book, but I am familiar enough with the Mythical vs. Historical Jesus debate. Coupla points to address, in the same numerical fashion you used (helpful, by the way)

(1) Jesus is Mythical – the concept & (5) The Teachings as mythology

I can’t quite get myself to buy the idea the whole persona is mythical either. I think there must be a historical presence at the core—even if it only consists of a cynic philosopher being crucified.

However, the interesting issue raised by this debate is to create a methodology by which we determine myth from historical. You say you find a “few other things” being myth—how? What method did you use to determine “this” was myth but “that” was historical? It is extremely difficult to come up with a consistent method by which we can safely make such a determination, other than personal prejudice. (And I am just as guilty, of course.)

The only sources we have for Jesus are Christian writings. And the primary sources—the earliest—are the works of Paul and the Gospels. Within even those we see the development of myth. How can we determine what was developed as myth prior to their writing? Not an easy issue.

(2) Synoptic Problem

“Tired and Old”?? *falls off chair in faint* Take a knife and just stab it in my heart, why don’t ya? *grin* I find this area of study in the creation of the three Gospels fascinating. Why did Matthew and Luke both feel free to make up a birth story, yet each include a genealogy, a virgin birth, an angelic announcement, and a Bethlehem birth with a Nazareth infancy? Where did the Sermon on the Mount come from? Why did Matthew and Luke change Mark? Why did Matthew and Luke use Mark in the first place? Why does Luke skip the Tyre trip in Mark?

I love to dig and explore and tear in this issue. Ah, well. Just because I love it does not mean you have to. (While I agree Matthean priority is the best viable alternative to Markan priority, Matthean priority still creates more problems than solutions in that regard. I would go into it, but apparently it is “tired and old.” [I hope you know I am kidding you when I say that.])

(3) Paul

I would agree Paul sees Jesus as a historical figure who was actually crucified. I question whether Paul sees Jesus as a Miracle worker. I significantly question whether Paul considers Jesus as being physically resurrected with a physical body appearing on this Earth.

(4) Luke/Acts

The more I study Luke, the more I see corrections to Mark made in order to be historically accurate. (e.g. moving the Sanhedrin council of Jesus trial from night to morning.) The more I study Acts, the less I trust it for any historical accuracy whatsoever. On oddity that, but for the similarity in style, would cause me to question it was the same author!

As to Luke being Paul’s traveling companion, the Acts “we” passages would indicate he was for at least a short period of time, yet his doctrine diverges from Paul. Eventually, I am resigned to believing the author is writing Christian polemic, just like Matthew, and is equally as trustworthy (or not) when it comes to being careful with historical events.

(6) Other names historical

Some are probably historical. Some are not. If there was a traveling philosopher/rabbi, it is very probable he had some followers. If they promulgated his beliefs, post-mortem, their names could easily be connected to him.

Mark uses the name “Simon” but then cleverly adds “Peter” or “Rock” to play on Peter’s lack of sticking with the teaching. Unfortunately with Mark, he is a bit too clever, in that it is difficult to tell whether he created the name “Peter” to attach to the Parable of the Sower, or create the Parable of the Sower to attach to the name “Peter.” Mark also has the big Three – “Peter, James and John” – yet when we come to the claims of the early church, the Leaders are “Peter, James the other one and Paul.” The only person in common is Peter, yet the name “James” is in common, and John seems to have disappeared. Odd.

The rest of the Disciples Mark conveniently makes up their names, to round out to the magic number—12.

(7) Luke’s name attached

Actually ALL the names being attached are interesting…but…*sigh.* (Again, just kidding ya!) To speculate one way or another is just that—speculation. I tend to fall on the side that it WAS Luke, the traveling companion for this reason, yet could be easily swayed otherwise. It is not a strong enough argument for me to make a definitive opinion statement one way or the other.

The problem, SocietyVS, is that we have been trained and taught and stated and heard over and over how Jesus is historical—to the point it seems so impossible to not be true. Like some conspiracy theory claiming we are all aliens from the Planet Persei-8. But once we start to declare some of it as mythical, we enter a difficult (albeit not necessarily impossible) world of making a reasonable determination as to what must be historical and what must be mythical.

It is that method which has remained elusive to me thus far.

SocietyVs said...

Dagoods thanks for the input - I find your view very honest and refreshing.

"The only sources we have for Jesus are Christian writings. And the primary sources—the earliest—are the works of Paul and the Gospels. Within even those we see the development of myth" (Dagoods)

I have very little problem with this - since I think Paul was using the skills he had available to him - and this lines up with Jewish interpretation (see Yael's PaRDeS chart right below this).

Our approach to Biblical exegesis is PaRDeS:
Pshat - surface meaning
Remez - deeper meaning other than the literal
Drash - interpretation of the passage, making comparisons to other passages, pulling ideas together (a lot of my writing is at this level, midrash)
Sod - the secret meaning, sometimes quite mystical

Using that chart I can see Paul's writing a little more clearer (and even the gospels) - and the use of various meanings throughout his work. Paul jumps from literal to mystical in certain passages - so I can see how he does not have to be literal all the time.

The synoptic idea will always be a problem I think - and finding the clear-cut answer is not something that will be 100% proven. I do find it interesting on an academic level to be honest - and the main problem will always be what is discussed and seen in the letters and gospels themselves. If we dismiss them as reliable sources - then any theory will be valid I would have to say. But I guess we have to wait until we find more proof - or maunscripts - for definitive answers (and this might not happen).

"I question whether Paul sees Jesus as a Miracle worker. I significantly question whether Paul considers Jesus as being physically resurrected with a physical body appearing on this Earth." (Dagoods)

These are questions we can only peruse in Paul's letters and then decide what we think. I lean to the idea he knew the original group of disciples and built his doctrine from them - and never saw a miracle (yet is attributed them in Acts). I think Paul see's a Jesus that is human - and how resurrection looks to him - well that's a whole nother thing (but he does mention it more than anyone else).

"I am resigned to believing the author is writing Christian polemic, just like Matthew, and is equally as trustworthy (or not) when it comes to being careful with historical events." (Dagoods)

I agree - he is writing in the same style as the gospels (for sure) - but to me - since he is not an original disciple - where he is gathering this info from? We do know he was in the same time frame as Paul. He does know the original community - enough so - to write a polemic on it (and a gospel). He is an interesting character to say the least. The huge question is - did he write the same time as Paul - which I belive he might of (based on that communion passage).

"Mark also has the big Three – “Peter, James and John” – yet when we come to the claims of the early church, the Leaders are “Peter, James the other one and Paul.”" (Dagoods)

You see this is interesting on one level - even Paul names Peter, James, and John as the big 3 (Galatians 2:9). Oddly enough so does Mark - who seem to be travelling companions also -according to Paul's letters. So who declares 'Peter, James the other, and Paul'? Luke? Even Acts makes Paul look like an outsider to the 'apostles' authority (Acts 15). But what never changes from the gospels - to Acts - to the letters - is Peter's role (he seems to be always regarded as the senior apostle). This tells me there is some continuity in everyone's approach as they write - as if in a community (during the same time).

What I also ponder is the role of Luke and Mark - the travelling companions. They (and a few others) show up in Acts and Paul's letters as fellow workers to bigger names in this faith (ex: Paul and Barnabus (mark's cousin), Luke and Paul, Peter and Mark). I actually wonder if they were writer's for the people they pal around with - even Paul points this out in a letter that someone wrote for him. Because their role is not defined - but we do see these same people bringing parchments to Paul (2 Tim 4:13) - and it seems to be in regards to Luke - and mark). These 2 people are never clearly defined - but oddly enough they have their names on writings in the NT.

"To speculate one way or another is just that—speculation." (Dagoods)

Agreed - I cannot prove any of this but I do speculate on it - and maybe I am giving too much room for the gospels, Acts, and the letters to define themselves - but this is the strongest avenue to use as far as I can tell - as we all know - history is still pretty silent on this group.

So in essence, from merely using the books and letters to define themselves I am able to reason to this conclusion:

The Traveller's
Paul wrote letters - that mention and lot of people
Luke was a contemporary to Paul and the Apostles
Mark was a travelling companion - and lackey - to Paul and the Apostles
Barnabus was Mark's cousin and did the same thing Mark did
Then there is a list of others that Paul also mentions as fellow travellers (ex: Demas)
- What these others did is not specifically mentioned - but if Paul was writing - they would of knew or even helped.

- Paul states he knew Peter, James, and John (and the council at Jerusalem) and that he was in 'sharp debate' with them - this scene is also in Acts 15.

- Mark is found with the Apostles and then travels with Paul (it would seem this is a pattern Paul adheres to) - same with Barnabas and a few others.

- Luke writes Acts and a gospel - and travels with Paul - but is found in the Apostles midst (then we see his 'we' chapters from Acts).

- Matthew and John are seen in Acts as being included in the title 'Apostles' - that group -(Acts 1:13) - who also get mentioned in each synoptic gospel.

-It seems to me there is a small community of people who followed Jesus that each knew one another enough to write all these things in some kind of unified effort. Do they all look the same in writing - no. But it is not proposterous to say they all wrote in similar time frames - from within that small Jewish community - and all share similar values. But with no original manuscripts - who can be certain?