Tat Tvam Asi wrote:
it isn't really a situation of INSTEAD as much as it's a situation of AS WELL AS.
Here are some comments I have posted at Jesus Mysteries that partly address this theme of the need to incorporate solar mythology into the explanation for the origin of the Christ myth, in addition to the more well known historical factors.
Sid Green wrote: "Everything begins from a "single discrete starting point" - from the universe to skin cancer; from conception to a thunderstorm."
No. A perfect storm is a confluence of unrelated events that produce a result greater than the addition of the individual inputs. This well describes Christianity as a synthesis of disparate factors where the whole is more than the sum of the parts.
The book The Perfect Storm describes the confluence of warm air from a low-pressure system, cool dry air from another direction and tropical moisture from a hurricane. You could similarly map the separate inputs for the perfect storm of Christianity as the combination of:
- Jewish prophetic messianism
- Egyptian and Babylonian myths
- Politics of conflict with Rome
- Greek Logos philosophy
- widespread mystery cults open to a unifying message
- A new age 'written in the stars'.
Earl Doherty then commented: "The missing link in Sid's conundrum vs. Robert is the Q tradition. Robert's list produced the Pauline side of the things, the heavenly Christ whom scripture revealed not only existed but had undergone a crucifixion. That
'collective' did not have a specific starting point. Many groups and exegetes came up with their own version of elements that were literally in the air; the wide variety present between Paul and Hebrews and Paul's rivals who did not have a theology of the cross (his "another Jesus"), each with its own 'revelation' experience at the start of the group (as in 1 John 1 and Hebrews 2:1f, which are entirely unconnected experiences by unconnected groups), shows this."
Sid Green said: "I would suggest that your 'confluence of unrelated events' implies a sequence - or that a sequence to any confluence is inevitable anyway ... I am surprised that no gospel is represented in your list of inputs for the 'perfect storm' of Christianity, nor any story, myth or rumour about anyone called 'Jesus', nor any Jewish belief that a Messiah had arrived by being resurrected, nor any sign of the Nazorean mission to the gentiles - a rare if not unique example of proselytisation by the Jews. Personally, while I don't disagree with any item on your list, as it stands I cannot see it coming to anything that looked much like Christianity, so I presume you do not intend it to be seen as exhaustive?"
Thanks Sid and Earl. Sid, you are right that such a table of inputs would struggle to be exhaustive to explain a historical phenomenon as polyvalent and luminous as Christianity. Earl is perfectly right to note my emphasis on the eternal mythic side, and the need to add the ethical teachings from Q as an essential part of the causal mix that produced the Christ story.
Today I visited Thirroul, a beach south of Sydney, and sat just where DH Lawrence wrote Kangaroo, where a coal seam meets the headland. Watching the sea makes me think of another analogy, expanding on Christ as the perfect storm.
The waves of the ocean have travelled unbroken for perhaps ten thousand miles, until the sand rises beneath them and they curl and break. In similar fashion, Christianity imagines that the eternal logos has existed for all time, with the rational constancy of the laws of physics, like a wave rolling steadily across the deep. Something about the time of Christ was analogous to a breaking of the wave, as other factors arose, like the sand of the beach beneath an ocean wave, to create a story of incarnation of the logos at one point in time and in one special person, Jesus of Nazareth.
Like the perfect storm, the `perfect wave' arose in Israel. Watching the ocean, there are very many waves which would perfectly fit a surfer, but they roll to shore without a rider. What we do not know, in looking at Christian origins, is if there actually was a perfect rider, living there ready to catch the perfect wave at the right time and place, and with the skill to surf it to shore. One can well imagine that as the seers collected the evidence of the time and place of the perfect wave, they felt by an ineluctable logic that there must also have been a perfect rider.
The gospels bear comparison to the psychological compulsion of Anselm's proof of God, his argument that an existing God is more perfect than an imaginary one, and therefore God exists. Pressing the wave analogy, the original seers would have asked each other, what is the point of a perfect wave if its perfection is not crowned by the existence of a perfect rider, the anointed surfer Christ Jesus?
Like a tribute to the imagined greatest song ever written, the gospels saw the perfect wave as through a glass darkly, and imagined the identity of the champion surfer catching at the curl.
The denotation of the Roman Empire as the Common Era helps to explain why Christ had to be invented. The mashing of multiple myths in the maw of material might meant a magical messianic melding made sense, as a basis for peace and stability. Christ took over from Sol Invictus as a unifying narrative to redeem Rome, with the church coopted to secure Rome's power and to meld the mix of cultures into the common matrix of imperial belief.
Christ stood at the head of a new literalist pantheon that would deftly displace imperial guilt into a supernatural story that spoke to popular emotional resentment, channelling political dissent away from the throne of Caesar and sublimating it towards belief in Christ in heaven, a common myth for a common era.
Against this image of the incarnation as the riding of a breaking wave, Sid's comment that 'a sequence to any confluence is inevitable' does not look to be the whole story. The shape of the wave is caused by multiple co-factors, which do not form a linear sequence. The spinning of the earth, the direction and speed and temperature of the winds and currents and tides, the shape of the ocean floor and the beach, all come together in a way that is not just sequential, but integral. Yes there is a sequence from causal factors, imagined event, debate and interpretation, but the causal factors all occur simultaneously, and have to be synthesised into the narrative. Irenaus was like the pretty girl kissing the champion cyclist on the Champs Elysees podium in the Tour de France, marking a point of victory but not explaining the events that led to that point.
My view is that there was no 'rider of the wave' and that Jesus Christ was invented afterwards. But still, and especially with the cosmic story, the time of Pilate has a natural elegance that well fits it to provide the context for the Gospel narrative, and this beauty helps to explain why the story has been so compelling for believers.
Jane asked "Is this your way of expressing that "if Jesus did not exist, he had to be invented"?"
Hi Jane. Yes. The questions can be posed, why was Sol Invictus inadequate as a unifying myth for the Roman Empire, and why was the sun supplanted by the Anointed Saviour, Jesus Christ? My view is that Rome had a guilty conscience about its violent subjugation of conquered peoples, and needed a narrative that would assuage this guilt while legitimizing the authority and stability of Empire. The blank and pitiless sun lacked the human element required to serve this function of conferring legitimacy. A recognition was needed that good and evil are human qualities seen in history, and that the evil of imperial conquest had to somehow find a channel for forgiveness as a necessary condition for imperial unity.
Christianity displaced the cosmic functions of the sun onto Jesus Christ as the source of light and life, while identifying evil with the desire to crucify the messiah, placing it within the political framework of history. Unlike the Manichaean idea of good and evil as conflicting cosmic principles, Christianity located evil as a corruption of an originally good nature. As such, Christianity provided a hope for redemption of the world, dissolving corruption by grace, where the pre-Christian myths were essentially hopeless.
Enter the Anointed Saviour. This phrase starts as an empty shell, an idea that salvation is necessary, and must originate from a point of connection between heaven and earth, as the presence of eternity within time, or as Bonhoeffer put it, 'the beyond in the midst of the world.'
From an initial vague and general concept, the Anointed Saviour, denoted with the abstract name of Christ Jesus, was steadily concretized. How did this abstract concept save? How was it anointed? Only through incarnation in history, presence in the world. The Anointed Saviour was Christ Jesus by definition, just from the very meaning of the words. But the events of the anointing required imaginative expansion for popular use.
Such presence required a persuasive narrative. Starting with the idea that just as the sun dies and is reborn each year at Christmas and Easter, with winter and spring as turning points, the saving idea steadily acquired a mythology, with the Epistles and then the Gospels as decisive elaborations.
Hope means we can see a path out of inevitable destruction, and is necessary for human life. As the Psalmist said, without a vision the people perish. A story that explains the path of hope through faith and love is necessary for moral legitimacy, and acquires power through vesting it with the mandate of heaven.
From the initial vision that our world is part of the cosmos, that earth is necessarily connected to heaven, that time is the moving image of eternity, the question arises of where and when the decisive point of connection occurred. The answer, initially abstract and timeless, was that the world is saved through the redeeming grace of the Anointed Saviour Jesus Christ. This eternal word was steadily enfleshed, as the bare bones came together and acquired life, with the abstract Nazarene becoming the man from Nazareth in Christian imagination. A story that touches the emotional nerves of the desire for belief will naturally evolve to encompass those features to which hearers respond most strongly. In Kantian terms, we can say that insofar as hope and unity are needed for social existence, an anointed saviour must exist a priori, as a necessary condition of experience, as viewed by transcendental imagination.
These psychological and political and philosophical needs of the Common Era for a common framework of belief could not possibly be satisfied by previous myth, but the vital parts of older myths could be combined and transformed into a shared story, a new mythology for a new age, Christianity.