Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sunday Lesson: Does Kevin Exist?

Kevin Drum wades into what is, for him, untypical territory.  He asks: did Jesus exist?  And he answers: yeh, I guess so, but I don't really care.    I agree on "yeh."    Like him I'm a nonbeliever, and like him I do not get the point of nonbelievers who feel that denying the historicity of person named Jesus is an entailment necessary to help them in their larger nonbelief.  

But I would press Kevin's point a bit farther.  I think the study of early Christian history--call it, if you will, "How Jesus  became Christ"--is fascinating.  Watching early "believers" (hazardous to call them "Christian," so early) as they stitch together the various patches of Hellenistic dogma, folklore, whatever, into what they can perceive as a unified whole--well okay, again, absolutely nothing turns on it, but as a chapter in the history of a culture can be most absorbing.   Do we need the Jewish Bible (soon to be "the Old Testament?") or not?  If we need it, can we still eat pork?  Do we have to chop off the tip of our tackle?   And what about all those stories?  Are they messages to the Jews and Us?  Or just to Us?  

I should add that I'm just as intrigued by the  history of how the Judaism of the temple gave way to the Judaism of the diaspora: if anything, that one is even more interesting, because it is not just the creation of a new faith but rather the turning of a theological battleship 180 degrees in stormy waters. Anyway, now this:

And now for that saying of Moses, You are not to eat of the swine; nor yet of eagle, hawk, or crow; nor of any fish that has not got scales.  In this there are three distinct moral precepts which he had received and understood.   (For God says in Deuteronomy, I will make a covenant with this people that will embody my rules for holiness; so you see, the Divine command is in no sense a literal ban on eating, and Moses was speaking spiritually).  The meaning of his allusion to swine is this: what he is really saying is, 'you are not to consort with the class of people who are like swine, inasmuch as they forget all about the Lord while they are living in affluence, but remember Him when they are in want--just as a swine, so long as it is eating, ignores its master, but starts to squeal the moment it feels hungry, and then falls silent again when it is given food.

Next, you shall eat neither eagle nor hawk, kite nor crow.  This means that you are not to frequent the company nor imitate the habits of those who have no idea of earning their own bread by toil and sweat, but in total disregard of all  law swoop down on the possession of other people; going about with every appearance of innocence, but keeping a sharp lookout and darting glances in every direction to see whom their rapacity can prey upon next....

When he says, you are not to eat of the lamprey, the polypus, or the cuttlefish, his meaning is that you are not to consort with or initiate the kind of people who have rejected God altogether. ...
--"Of the Laws of Diet," from The Epistle of Barnabas (A.D. 70? 200?)
(Maxwell Staniforth trans.,, rev. Andrew Louth)


Jimbo said...

This a great post. Yes, post Jesus history is highly relevant if only because the institutional Church which emerged post-Constantine and the compromise of the Nicene Creed basically shut down the further evolutions of Christianity until the rebellion of the Reformation. For example, there is evidence that the early Church had a strong female influence in its practices and was very communal (as opposed to hierarchical) both tendencies long rejected by the institutional Church.

Obviously, the current ossified and misogynist Church (I was raised Catholic) can only offer a backward vision of the future (like the GOP IMO) and it will continue to lose developed country adherents as a result and this is also occurring in the developing world, though usually to evangelicals, who are even more backward, unfortunately.

Ebenezer Scrooge said...

It's prolly worth noting that there are a fair number of Christians today who look back to the Gospels and early church, and don't want to go much further.

(And Jimbo is only half-right that Christianity didn't evolve until the Reformation. There was plenty of evolution, but the evolvers suffered the fate of the Albigensians.)