A friendly rebuttal.
Great post, Mark! The story about Jesus is powerful and conveys some deep truths that we only dimly understand. If we take St Paul at his word, he had a personal revelation of the risen Lord, yet said that in this life, we can only "see through a glass darkly." The details of the story were changed for theological and political reasons (one need only note the differences between the 4 gospels to see this), so who knows what the historical Jesus was really like or how much of the mythos maps onto any historical reality. But that story!
Something I've entertained as a possibility: would it make a difference in the story's meaning or Truth if (assuming a multiple parallel universes) the story of Jesus actually did happen the way it is believed (or at least the key points of it) in one universe, but just not this one? What if our desire to map the mythos onto the historical and religious record is just some dim, dreamlike intuition about a story that actually did happen in a different universe in another dimension? Would it really change anything for us, in terms of how we should understand and relate to the story? (Honest question; I really don't know.)
Anyway, thanks for the though-provoking essay!
This was excellent, Mark. Insightful and thought-provoking, touching on a number of deep issues. Indeed, this is precisely the sort of conversation I was hoping to provoke.
I'd actually meant to mention in my last piece, but forgot to (I always forget something), Dante's inclusion of Brutus (and Cassius Longinus) stuffed into the mouths of Satan in the 9th circle of Hell, alongside Judas. To me that suggests rather strongly that Dante's sensitive artist's soul perceived some deep symbolic kinship between the two figures. That, or he knew something (but let's not get too Dan Brown....)
Regarding Magdalene, big mea culpa on that one. I think I'd picked up the 'affair' bit via cultural osmosis - I don't think I've ever seen the movie in question. Somehow that got lodged in my mind without getting checked. However, that influenced my inflammatory phrasing more than anything. If I recall, Carotta also draws a connection between Cleopatra and Magdalene as symmetrical dramatis personae in the respective stories, which was what I was drawing attention to.
There's a lot to think about here, some subtle points that I'm going to have to ponder over as I compose a reply. Exactly the sort of stimulation from which the best insights emerge.
Ooof. This probably deserves a much longer essay than my job and life provide me time to compose. But a few observations, cast whither they belong.
As much as I love stories and fiction in general, for the real life history matters that mean the most, I've been more interested in what is TRUE rather than what makes a good tale. It's why I've been reluctant to discount later revisionist takes on the tales of Herodotus, Tacitus, even that big sissy Plutarch. The past may be unknowable but and also far stranger than we likely can give it credit for. Troy had been considered artistic fiction...until a German who believed Homer more than Harvard went digging and found it. Mentions of the supernatural in historical events don't phase me or make me inclined to disregard the author.
So how do we know what is true? Well to some extent, we have to rely on those telling us the things. Who are they, what is their character, are they believable, is there corroborations, who are their detractors and what motivates them? There is independent documentation about Jesus Christ than there is for most Roman emperors. My faith does require some degree of trust but it also rings true to me. (I won't go into personal revelations and divine intervention, but that's also a factor)
Which brings me around to Julius. From my readings of him, Julius is far, far too flawed and human to be any kind of divine figure. And I disagree with the attempts to fit his life events into the Monomyth (and oh how I wish I could go point by point here, time, time, time). One thing Ceasar never seemed to lack is self-confidence, yes perhaps to the point of hubris. I can see him either disregarding the warning or...accepting the assassination as fate. Not one he seeks, but not one he feels he can avoid, not if he is to be Ceasar. His dismissal of his bodyguards, and other acts just before his death seem to be almost like him daring fate. Or embracing it. But there I'm straying for history into speculative fiction so I'll stop here.
Great piece, Mark!
In my mind-movie, the Gospel dynamics are the heavenly reality; Caesar's life the earthly shadow.
The thing about Jesus, is that He knew we (everyone who gives it any thought) expected Him to fight back. And the way that He could win, forever and ever, was through the Akido move of taking the frustration of all of human agency in the form of an attack on a man, praying at night in an orchard; take it with Him, then leave it in Sheol and come back. And it was only by opening Himself up to that attack that He could overcome it.
Wait, so JC* was serious? I thought he was doing a kind of over-the-top "Fr. Fulton Sheen deboonks Napoleon"** meta-satire thing?
*I guess in this context I need to expand: John Carter==JC.
First off, let's address the Gnosticism. There's more than one tradition, e.g. Valentinian Gnosticism, the one I'm partial to: http://gnosis.org/library/valentinus/Brief_Summary_Theology.htm So, not all Gnostics believe the worldview you (and just about everybody else in alt-media) lays out as "Gnosticism". Everybody really needs to stop smearing them (edit: Mark didn't smear them but others have, and I'm writing this when I'm tired, cranky, and easily triggered).
Now, onto the question of JC...
The story of Jesus Christ is similar to the story of Hercules, which is similar to Gilgamesh. So there's that.
If you read The Naked Bible (Mauro Biglino) you'll get a very different, literal interpretation of the Old Testament than the one in the KJV, done by someone who the Vatican and head Rabbis have gone to when they need some fragment translated from ancient Aramaic or protohebrew (AKA 'First Tongue'). You'll also get a lesson on how much those texts were interpreted, edited, and perhaps just plain made up.
If you read the Codex Odra Linda, you'll find a reference to man named Yesus, who was also known as Buda. He traveled through the Holy Land to the East, and back, buying people out of slavery and spreading a reputation for righteousness.
So, who's got the truth? We may never know. But I'm less inclined to trust a warmongering Roman emperor (Constantine) than the people he tried to wipe out (Gnostics) and the texts he tried to wipe out (Nag Hammadi Codexes). In fact, I'm more inclined to believe them, than him. I'm also inclined to include other texts' references to him from those that may have known of him.
Funny thing is, despite the fact that everything the Christian churches teach of Jesus may well be bunkum, his name still casts out demons - and I'm a huge fan of whatever works.
Deep stuff, Mark. You and John are of a clan, a Christian clan if I may. The parallels John writes of a clear to a degree, but your point that 'there are no facts' speaks volumes. Ultimately, what we have, what we share now, in the future, and in history, are narratives, the stories we tell each other that give meaning. The mythos aspect is crucial, and as mythology is the key to Campbell, it's those mythical meanings that give life purpose. I can't say this strongly enough. When we look at the state of the world today, the propaganda of the media, the political blah blah, it's all stories. It's nothing to do with facts, even the fact checkers are confirming the stories. Could it be that Christ and Ceasar, John and Mark, are themselves just stories in flesh? As for the latter pair, I believe we will never know. We can interpret as we wish. There is no need for consensus.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about historical truth vs. metaphorical truth, specifically related to the Bible, but the lessons are universal. As you point out, historical truth is virtually impossible to corner, capture, and bring into the light in the ways that we often fool ourselves to believe.
And the verification of historical hypotheses is by definition impossible to carry out, and interestingly is subservient to the vagaries of metaphorical truths, the “movies in our heads” that take perceived accounts of the historical “Actual” and codify them into the filing system of metaphorical spirituality. That is the point of all perception to some degree, to determine future courses of action. And what happened does determine what will happen, but only from the scope of our limited islands of perception, from the “movies in our heads.”
This, I think, is foundational to all functional epistemics; the most true is that which focuses our attention and changes our future courses of belief, thoughts and actions. That is what metaphorical spirituality is, an “at-one-ment”, a convergence of self(present), truth (past), and Christ (perfect future).
The idea that knowing perfectly about what was and what is will elucidate perfectly what can and should be is a hopeless and impossible endeavor, not just due to the limits of perception and measurement, but also because we are looking in the wrong frame of reference. The manifestation of the (virtually) limitless possibilities of the future is a fundamentally spiritual act that we cannot escape through reductionism or measurement, but only through prayer, worship, epistemic humility and self-reflection. In many ways the modern age is defined by this hubris of knowledge, thinking that if we dive to the bottom of the pool all will be self-evident. The problem is, we’ve been diving in the wrong pool.
"In the mythos of Christ, we see a hero who stood unbowed before every form of human evil simultaneously, completed the underworld journey and conquered Death itself on both sides of the Veil."
That is why, despite that I was raised evangelical but am no longer, I see Jesus as the greatest of the gods. And while I recognize that is blasphemous to many Christians, I have only love for the Christians I know.
You can't see it, but I am stomping my feet, hooting and hollering. You get a standing ovation on this one! Bravo!
You liked this very much. It nicely summarized the problem I had with John’s posts.
My movie of Julius ends with him accepting that if he can't trust the people closest to him, he no longer wishes to serve in this world of men. He knows many who surround him are weak and venal, but is only surprised that even his friend Brutus joined in the attack motivated by so many base desires. A similar dynamic to Socrates drinking the hemlock. I am content to let the story of Christ be it's own movie, and one that I enjoy very much. I have to admit I am continually perplexed by the degree to which people are impressed by someone willing to sacrifice themselves for all of humanity. I think there must be many ordinary humans who have made such a sacrifice for less. In fact, I think many of us will need to if we're to have any hope of vanquishing the evil we face.
One last thing…has anyone here ever read Motel of the Mysteries? I bought if for one of my boys as a gift years ago. Although marketed as a children’s book, it immediately sprung to my mind as relating to the ideas being discussed in Marks’s article and the comments by others. A humorous take on how easy it is to think we’ve figured out what was going on in the past.
I can hardly understand the present!