– The dying-and-rising God-Man.
by Liam Scheff
I’ve been reading and absorbing decades and centuries of writing and thinking about this piece of florid literature called “The Bible.” “Not a book, but a library,” I’ve been told, it has to be read as such. I’ve taken that advice a step further and read it as comparative literature, and mixed it with the metaphors of screen-writing, myth-making and film. Here’s how it looks to me, presently…
The “Old Testament” is really somebody else’s “Bible,” and deserves its own movie. It is the old Jewish bible, and has zero to little in common with part two, except for a few carry-overs hammered and wedged into place by anxious screenwriters who were hoping to cover the “continuity errors,” that were inevitable when marrying two differing pieces of historical fiction. That the Torah was renamed the “Old Testament” for Christians is a punchline of its own, and has left all Christians with a very confused internal dialogue about, well, everything. Welding Leviticus to Jesus will do that.
But it is the New Testament that Christians imagine they worship. The pure genius of the “Rashomon” epic that is collected “New Testament” is that it pits the reader against him or herself at every corner. We don’t get one version of a very crazy, clearly mythical story: we get FOUR. Four different tales of what is supposed to be the same event, with four different origin stories, four death scenes, three different cries to heaven (“Why have you forsaken me!?” “Forgive them!” and “It’s all cool, baby, I’m coming home!”), and so on, through every event.
What’s brilliant about this schisming of the tale is that it confuses not only the devotee, but makes the critic work four times as hard to understand what’s what, and what isn’t.
(Rashomon, a film by Akira Kurosawa, is the story of an event – a rape and murder – told from four perspectives: the bandit, the wife, the samurai and the woodcutter – in feudal Japan. Which is the ‘truth?’ You can never know; you can only listen and absorb the changing lines, and wonder about the process of perception.)
In looking at a hopelessly irreconcilable bit of bad logic, poor story-telling or a broken syllogism, the only defense is: Well, you just have to BELIEVE. And out goes all hope of critical thinking. (Sounds like what drug companies do! One message goes on the label, and then in the ‘side effects’ and package insert, you’ve got a world of hurt.)
Comic Book Heroes
Back to the collected “Bible,” and “new Testament.” Each ‘author’ (or group) re-told the story of the previous author, borrowing chunks, and adding new developments. The central theme was that of the ‘rising-dying God,’ the ‘god-man’ who comes to Earth from Heaven, does miracles, dies, is reborn, and ascends.
Each version embellished upon the previous, sometimes dropping whole segments or adding new information, often with significant contradiction to the last version of the ‘movie.’ Like when Hollywood makes a movie out of a comic book, and then redoes the movie years later, ‘fidelity’ to the ‘origin story’ is often done away with because the new audience wants a new adventure, with better special effects, new scenes, or old scenes with a new zing or interpretation. This is what happens over and over again in the re-told ‘Bible’ stories.
By the fourth go-round in “the gospel of John,” the changes were serving an overwhelming political purpose: to suit the progression of the developing new cult of Jesus/Joshua. The first ‘gospel’ named him as a great man, a holy man; the last named him ‘the eternal son of an eternal deity,’ who would return someday.
The middle ‘gospels’ let us know that he was going to return really, really soon! Reaaaaally soon! During the apostle’s lifetimes! They waited and waited…and waited. But, nada.
When it didn’t happen, the last ‘gospel’ had to play the explanation game. That ‘book,’ (or collection of papyrus), attributed to “John,” the fisherman, came decades after the first comic book (Mark – which came about 40 years after the dude himself died – that’s a long game of ‘memory’ or ‘telephone’ to transmit (and alter) an oral tradition). The ‘John gospel’ put the date of the ‘return’ to a day further in the future – where it’s rested for close to 2000 years. (It’s juust around the corner! You’ll see.) But this, too, is a redo of many earlier mythic traditions – ‘the End of the World.’
Nevertheless, the “John” gospel is roundly understood to have been assembled not by the fisherman/apostle, and has always presented problems for the Church. It looks like what it most likely is: the attempt of the growing church to ratify and solidify its doctrines.
The Dying-Rising God (But, Who’s Your Daddy?)
The ‘dying-rising God’is an ancient archetype found in all religious traditions, and those on which Judaism based or borrowed its own mythology, and which is the basis of Christian thought, as opposed to Jewish thought. Christianity absorbed Mithra, Horus, Prometheus, and other “God-Men” or demi-gods, and re-invented it as the: first, biological son of Joseph, in the line of King David.
Then, in later ‘Gospels,’ the emphasis was put on Joshua’s (Jesus’s) “miraculous birth by a God,” which took Joseph out of the picture. Nevertheless, “Jesus” is still credited with being in the biological line of King David – even though, by making Mary a virgin, he was taken out of it. (Unless we assume Yahweh is everybody’s father, and then we’re all ‘Jesus,’ really. Psst. Don’t tell anyone.)
– In every movie version, they keep making him more and more powerful…
I’ll Wait for the Movie
Of course, the “New Testament” was really a bunch of stories, like comic books, floating around the near East for a couple to a few hundred years, till it was all accumulated and semi-refined for the ‘movie version.’ The ‘producers,’ like with any Hollywood superhero blockbuster, did away with all the stuff that detracted from the pure story line (“The God-Man wants you to believe in him! And pay taxes! And be meek!”), and tried to straighten all the curves to serve the narrative.
They couldn’t knock it all into shape, but they managed to exclude meaty chunks of ‘the Good News’ that had been part of Christian (neo-Jewish) thought for the first couple Centuries after the mythical departure of Josh back to being one with himself/his father. They got rid of whole ‘books,’ like Enoch, Mary Magdalene, Thomas and others – all the stuff that was there till the newly-self-appointed church ‘fathers’ did away with it.
The Bible? It’s politics. It’s confused, conjectured anti-history. It’s religion (which is myth that imagines it’s history). It’s mythic invention. It’s what humanity has always done. It’s a strange set of remembrances of things not-necessarily-true, to busy the obsessive-compulsive mind of humanity. If we lived in 500 BC, we’d be talking about Mithra with the same fervor.
Hey, if I said, “Krishna, the Lord of Love and Peace, is actually a Mythic figure,” you’d say, “Uh. Yeah, duh!” Step outside of your own upbringing, put your life down on another continent, start it over. You’ll wonder why you believe any of the things you do.
Nothing changes, except in arrangement.
Liam Scheff is author of “Official Stories,” drilling to the core of the gooey religious center of science.