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Wonnerful

How To Deal With The Suicidal Martyr Theme In The Nt?

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I have read almost every book by Crossan, Spong, McLaren, and Borg. I have found a way to be a progressive Christian in the face of biblical slavery, sexism, and theism, etc. But one issue that has tripped me up and I struggle with is the issue of the NT being pro-martyrdom.

 

I have been reading several articles by academics like David Seeley, Paul Middleton, and others, whose combined scholarship seems to say that the NT on whole is an alleged “suicide death cult.” At least that is my take away. For example, when I read the authentic letters of Paul, he seems to be all about denying life (e.g. he suggests celibacy, etc.) to be with Christ; and the Gospel message of “take up your cross,” according to these scholars, is about literally dying a martyr as Jesus did. To take just one example, in an article I found online titled Death with Honor: The Mediterranean Style Death of Jesus in Mark, the author John J. Pilch, Ph.D, it essentially argues that the Gospel message is a son being obedient to the discipline of the Mediterranean father. As a modern man who was not raised on shame and honor in this way, I find these themes hard to swallow.

 

For a good summary of this theme I am talking about, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_martyrs

 

So my question is how can I reinterpret this as a Progressive Christian living in the modern world who values life and who lives in the US (who is not up against Rome where you were asked to worship Caesar not Christ)? How can this idea of actively seeking voluntarily death as a martyr and its underlying fatalistic denial of life, which is a pervasive theme in Paul and the Gospels (according to these scholars), be dealt with from a progressive Christian perspective? In other words, how can I still value the writings of Paul and the Gospels when their main message seems to be life-denial and actively seeking to die a martyr in imitation of Jesus in order to assure one’s place in heaven?

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Everyone has an opinion, even so called scholars. As you know, the NT can be taken in many different ways. Since the times have changed as you say where there is no requirement to worship a ruler, why try to apply those "dying a martyr" writings to our times if they are no longer applicable? I think the message of dying from Jesus and Paul was more about dying to self interests (ego) and living to manifest the fruits of the spirit which benefit all mankind. We don't need more people dying physically for a cause but rather to self interests so that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and the like can live and change lives.

 

It seems to me one can make the writings complicated and say whatever one wants, to the exclusion of others verses, but to me, the overwhelming message is clear and simple. Things like "forgiveness" , "loving others as yourself", "thinking on things of good report" (avoiding negativity) etc.

 

Just my thoughts,

Joseph

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I agree wholeheartedly with Josephm on this, but I want to understand your opposition to martyrdom a little better. You've likened it to suicide. If I joined the military, do you consider that suicide? I will join knowing that I may die in the service of something I believe in. Let's say I'm captured by terrorists, (I realize this in an extreme case, but I want to better understand you), and I've got a gun to my head knowing that if I say I'm a Christian that I will be killed. Is that suicide?

 

As far as the pro-martyrdom goes, I agree with you to an extent. And in the time of Roman resistance, being a follower of the Way opened up the possibility of death and torture, but to what end? The ultimate end is the foundations of a way of life...of love, compassion, selflessness, and forgiveness. Personally, I'm grateful for those martyrs who died in the name of Christ. Perhaps if the deaths were senseless, meaningless, I might see it differently.

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To Joseph M:

 

You wrote: “Why try to apply those "dying a martyr" writings to our times if they are no longer applicable?

 

I agree. But then my understanding is that Paul’s entire corpus is based on this overarching theme of anti-Rome and dying a noble death and the writer of Mark picks up where Paul left off.

 

You wrote: I think the message of dying from Jesus and Paul was more about dying to self interests (ego) and living to manifest the fruits of the spirit which benefit all mankind.

 

I used to think that too. But since then I have been an diligent researcher and have been reading works such as:

> Gospel of Mark by Anderson

> When Did Christians Stop Seeking Martyrdom? Christianity's founder was a martyr, not Islam's. By Brian Palmer

http://atheistcamel.blogspot.com/2008/07/christianity-cult-of-death.html

> The Noble Death: Graeco-Roman Martyrology and Paul's Concept of Salvation by David Seeley

> A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom Among Christians and Jews in Antiquity Hardcover – November, 1992 by Arthur Droge (Author), James Tabor (Author)

> Radical Martyrdom and Cosmic Conflict in Early Christianity By Paul Middleton (Paul Middleton has a whole faculty website with articles on martyrdom in early Chrisinity: http://www.chester.ac.uk/departments/trs/staff/middleton )

> A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins By Burton L. Mac

> Blood Sacrifice: The Connection Between RomanDeath Rituals and Christian Martyrdom by Angela Dawne Kennedy. http://aquila.usm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1267&context=honors_theses

> Early Christianity's Martyrdom Debate By David Van Biema Wednesday, Mar. 07, 2007. http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1596991,00.html

> JESUS' DEATH IN Q by David Seeleyhttp://www.markgoodacre.org/synoptic-l/JDEATH.HTM

> ‘Noble Death or Death Cult?: Pagan Criticism of Early Christian Martyrdom’ by Paul Middleton. Abstract: The ‘Noble Death’ in Graeco-Roman thought was as good a way to die as any. It encompassed the heroic death in battle against the odds in defence of the homeland, the practice of devotio–voluntary death in the context of a pact with the gods for the good of others–and even self-killing, at least in the correct circumstances. Graeco-Roman philosophers could reflect on a ‘canon’ of Noble Deaths, which included Socrates, Cato the Younger, and Lucretia. Noble Death themes are found in Jewish writing, especially in the Maccabean literature and Josephus’ accounts of the Jewish War. Christian writers also deployed Noble Death tropes in martyr narratives and especially in apologia. Tertullian and John Chrysostom, for example, favourably compare Christian martyrs to pagan examples of Noble Death. However, while at first sight Christian martyrdom appears to share aspects of Noble Death tradition, pagan critics do not appear recognise this honourable tradition in Christianity. This paper analyses pagan critiques of Christian attitudes to death, and in particular, criticism of martyr practices. It will explore why pagan philosophers not only failed to register Christian martyrdom as constituting the Noble Death, but also why they effectively dismissed it as a form of self-killing which did not match the idealised accounts of suicide among the ‘canon’ of Noble Death. So, while Tertullian believed martyrdom had a positive impact on pagan observers, for at least some, martyrdom was evidence that Christianity was little more than an inexplicable death cult.More Info: International Society of Biblical Literature, Amsterdam, Netherlands (22-26 July 2012)

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martyr

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_martyrs https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_martyrs#Martyrdom_as_a_component_of_Christian_self-understanding

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/why/martyrs.html

> Salvation Through Participation: An Examination of the Notion of the Believers' Corporate Unity with Christ in Early Christian Soteriology by Daniel G. Powers. In the Google summary of Powers book it states:"Paul's essential notion of salvation is that of participationism. Because of their unity with Christ, the believers are conceived by Paul as sharing or participating in Christ's fate, including both his death and his resurrection."

> http://www.campbellsville.edu/Websites/cu/images/Library/Campbellsville_Review/Vol_4/Jesus__Death,_Martyr_Theology,_and_Exemplary_Suffering--Williams.pdf

 

Thus, yes many interpretations are possible, but being intellectually honest I can't ignore that in a historical context, that there is a best (most probable) interpretation that is most honest historically.

 

To fatherman

 

I understand your argument fatherman. No, dying for your country is not suicide. IF you read the articles I mention above and saw what I see when reading the NT, you’d see that the theme of Paul and Mark is not dying in a just war, but seeking to IMITATE the Messiah, who suffered and died a martyr. Thus Paul and Mark, are essentially saying to take up your cross, meaning suffer and die a martyr to earn salvation. This is why, you read of Christians seeking martyrdom, some even asking to be thrown into the lions den because for them it was their ticket to heaven. Now you can say these early Christians were interpreting Paul and Mark the wrong the way, but then again, that is rather costly misinterpretation don't you think?

 

And I am staring to think that yes, many of the maryyrs died senselessly. For example, Perpetua should not have sought death as she did. I find her actions unethical personally, given her family needed her. See http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/why/martyrs.html

 

I mean did the martyrs lead to the spread of Christianity? Yes, but at what cost to their lives? Like Marcus Borg I am agnostic about the afterlife, for all I know they died for nothing? And my understanding of history is that Constantine was responsible for Christianity surviving and being turned into a world religion. And if these martyrs were inspired by Paul and these other Gospels encouraging a martyr's suicide, then what use do these texts hold today? Yes we can cut and paste the nice bits. But then why not do as Jefferson did and cut and paste the whole NT to our liking?

 

I used to see it the way you JosephM and fatherman put it, just pick your emphasis. Again, I am well read in the progressive Christian stance. I favor it over fundamentalist that’s for sure. I even wrote a short unpublished book championing the Progressive view: no hell, no literal Satan, Tillichian ground of Being, a metaphorical lens, Jesus as Cynic Sage, etc. I still champion this. But as my studies have broadened my views are being tested.

 

It started when I re-read the NT using the Unvarnished NT, so I could better understand the text. It then became clear to me that the "authentic Paul" was clearly preaching being possessed by Christ (See: 1 CORINTHIANS 11:3–16: SPIRIT POSSESSION AND AUTHORITY IN A NON-PAULINE INTERPOLATION by CHRISTOPHER MOUNT. cmount@depaul.edu

DePaul University, Chicago, IL 60614) and suffering and dying as Jesus did (again, See the works referenced above).

 

We can agree to disagree on interpretation. But I think the scholarship is clear on the martyr emphasis, and my own reading of Paul and Mark, makes it clear to me these scholars are correct.

 

Now, given that, is there still a way to salvage the NT and revere it as a Progressive Christian? My own attempt to be the apologist for Progressive Christianity has been this: Why does Paul and the synoptic Gospels have to be the definition of the Christian path? Were there not many ways to be Christian? Like the so-called Gnostics? Or why not take the position of Elaine Pagels, who shows how the author of the Gospel of Judas was against the martyr emphasis, see: Early Christianity's Martyrdom Debate By David Van Biema Wednesday, Mar. 07, 2007. http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1596991,00.html

 

If there is no canon as a progressive Christian then martyrdom is not the only way to be a Christian. Also, there were Christians who rejected Paul and Mark’s martyr mythology, which the author Douglas Boin talks about in his book Coming Out Christian in the Roman World. If there were Christians who rejected martyrdom then Paul and Mark would not be the only expressions of Christianity.

 

There is also a New New Testament, that Crossan supports. In this book, so-called Gnostic texts are added. Thus you have disagreement in the same book.

 

This is my best attempt at an apologetic. But then it gets to a point that there is no revered cannon, then what’s the point of the label Progressive Christian? If there is no canon, why assemble at all? Why not just cut and paste from all the holy books and just be "spiritual but not religious"?

 

I am not trying to be argumentative, again I am in favor of the liberal view over the fundamentalist one. I really did write a short e-book championing progressive Christianity, until I faced this snag of apocalyptic martyrology. If I am going to be intellectually honest, when I read these texts word for word from a scholarly perspective, they have less and less relevance to me, as this apocalyptic, interim ethic, and maryrology spills over from nearly every page of the NT. Even Borg (may he rest in peace) and Crossan admit Paul was wrong about the end of the age, but then they say just get over it. But what if Paul (and the author of Mark) was not just wrong about the end of the age but how to live? What does it mean to revere his writings if his emphasis was on denying life, being celibate if one is able, and being literally possessed by the Messiah Spirit, and seeking a noble death as a martyr for the Messiah?

 

Do you see my conundrum?

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Wow Wonnerful, you have done your due diligence!

 

Paul and Mark. I believe they were speaking to a contemporary audience. Paul, in particular, was writing to specific churches. In that time, taking up your cross might truly have led to a crucifixion or some such. But I'm not convinced that this was what Jesus was talking about when he said it. The people in his times were perpetually confused about his words. Which were literal? Which were spiritual/metaphorical? We may never know for sure. But I think there is more to taking up your cross than physical martyrdom. In fact, that may be the least of it. I don't need to rehash Joseph's ideas on that.

 

"when I read these texts word for word from a scholarly perspective, they have less and less relevance to me"

 

I think you hit the nail on the head there. You're reading from a scholarly perspective something that isn't scholarly at all. It has very little relevance from that perspective.

 

I have a rather blunt, but prayerful question for you. What are you hoping to get out of the Bible?

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Fatherman, you wrote: The people in his times were perpetually confused about his words. Which were literal? Which were spiritual/metaphorical? We may never know for sure.

I agree, but then what relevance are the texts if they can be interpreted any way we like and there is no most probable interpretation? My epistemology is science and historical scholarship. I politely wonder, if you have a different method that is better at deciphering the truth/most probable please share. But as a former Mormon the pray and seek inspiration would just lead back to believing in the Book of Mormon.

You wrote: But I think there is more to taking up your cross than physical martyrdom. In fact, that may be the least of it. I don't need to rehash Joseph's ideas on that.

I used to think that too. Then I read the scholarship on Mark and martyrdom and could not honestly ignore the scholarship on this. I then held out hope that Luke seems to modify Mark, as Luke seemed to be saying take up your cross "daily," as if Luke was expanding 'take up your cross' to more than just martyrdom to mean die to selfishness/egotism, etc But then I read some scholarly papers on Luke and was like, darn, that doesn't work either. Luke too, is pro-martyrdom. The scholarship is there when I was open to it.

You quoted me saying "when I read these texts word for word from a scholarly perspective, they have less and less relevance to me". you then wrote "I think you hit the nail on the head there. You're reading from a scholarly perspective something that isn't scholarly at all. It has very little relevance from that perspective."

Again, by scholarly I mean what is the best method to interpret the text. Blind faith and feelings or science-based archaeology, linguistics, historical analysis, etc. Is that not the methods used by Spong and Crossan, etc? We may have different epistemologies it sounds like. After leaving Mormonism I learned that the best method is science and scholarship (meaning, linguistics, historical context, archaeology, etc.). Again, if there is a better method, then I will stop reading scholarship on the NT. If you can convince me there is a better method I am open to it, but I doubt there is. For example, Spong has emphasized reading the NT through Jewish eyes? I'm sure you'd agree that this scholarly way of reading with Jewish eyes is more accurate than reading the texts with only Gentile eyes? For example, if I just read a text by Jesus and came up with some non-scholarly poetic meaning that fit my fancy, and then later learned that the text meant something in its original Jewish context, would I be being honest with myself if I ignored that Jesus was a Jew, and instead just maintained my subjective interpretation with modern eyes, ignoring the historical context?

In fact, I thought that the whole point of Progressive Christianity, is that Borg, Spong, Crossan, and McLaren are using the scholarship to create an alternative to Fundamentalism: by emphasizing among other things the message of "Enoughism" (as Crossan puts it) and other liberal political ideals in the Bible. Which I support by the way. You then wrote, "I have a rather blunt, but prayerful question for you. What are you hoping to get out of the Bible?" Well, I have a John Spong opinion about prayer as a non-theist like Spong. Out of the Bible? I thought it could be used as an anchor for a path of living in the modern world with Spong and Borg offering their reinterpretations and having an anti-fundamentalist, and more metaphorical lens. I was hoping to use it as a common language with fellow liberal Christians. Seeing it as a philosophy of non-violence (as Walter Wink argues) and an ethical stance toward yes "the fruit of the spirit" (as JosephM mentioned earlier) and the unifying philosophy of 1 Cor. 13, etc. Note: after writing this, I recalled that 1 Cor. 13 implies martyrdom was an accepted practice, otherwise why would Paul bring it up? Paul seems to be saying that even if you die a martyr, if you did it lacking love in your heart, then that was for nothing. But in context he seems to imply martyrdom is a noble path if done with love.

 

1 Corinthians 13: 3 (DLNT) reads "And if I dole-out[a] all my possessions, and if I hand-over[b] my body so that I may boast[c], but I do not have love, I am profited nothing." Footnotes read:

 

  1. 1 Corinthians 13:3 Or, give away (piece by piece).
  2. 1 Corinthians 13:3 Or deliver. That is, deliver into slavery to help others; or as a martyr.
  3. 1 Corinthians 13:3 Some manuscripts say ‘be burned’.

Here is the verse from the EXB: "3 I may give away everything I have, and I may even give my body ·as an offering to be burned [L to be burned].[a] But I gain nothing if I do not have love." Footnotes read:

  1. 1 Corinthians 13:3 give… burned Other Greek copies read “hand over my body in order that I may brag.”

 

Which brings me back around to my last post, which is still hanging in the air, my conundrum as presented in that post. I can cherry pick the nice bits, but I wonder if I am ignoring the over arching theme of apocalyticisim, interim ethic, and martyology. I am a deeply honest person with myself. I am not afraid to question my prior views if the truth(s)/most probable conclusions, given the evidence, tests my former views. It is not fun to spend a few years reading nearly everything on the progressive Christian view, then continuing your studies and find this other scholarly view you find more honest to the texts themselves.

 

To be blunt myself, I have started to think that Borg and Crossan allowed their liberal political views (I'm a liberal myself) and cultural attachment to the Christian subculture, to skew their views and their emphasis, while ignoring the martyology and apocalypticism. That is just my opinion. I sympathize with them as a liberal myself, but have questioned recently whether or not their political bias has led to an interpretation that is more invention than historically accurate?

 

Again, back to my central issue, why revere these texts if martyology is the central theme? Why not cut and paste from Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus (as Jefferson did), and others, and form your own philosophy? Why narrow the focus to Paul if he was flat wrong on how to live and on dying?

 

On a side note: I mean imagine if Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers took on the NT ideal of welcoming martyrdom, then the US would not exist! The Founding Fathers would have turned themselves over to be hanged as willing maryters. Just turn over a Dollar Bill to the back side and see that the eagle has in it's talons the message of peace or war. Paul was not for war and democracy, but dying to bring on the coming of the Messiah and the resulting Jewish Theocracy was he not? I think even Borg and Crossan would agree. If we are honest, was that not Paul's message? The end is nigh, the Jewish Deity is coming to Rule?

 

As for Jesus, the majority of NT scholars think he was an apocalyptist like Paul. But even if he was not an apocalyptist and was instead a Jewish Cynic Sage and taught non-violent resistance as Walter Wink says, again, what relevance does that hold for today when Hillel said some of the same things Jesus did, and the symbol of America includes the talon of war? Quite frankly, I think Jesus was a composite character, on one end the texts says he is against taking up the sword, in another text he says to buy a sword. In some texts he is for peace and the Kingdom is merely an ideal here and now, in others he looks forward to the end of the age like Paul and the coming Jewish Theocracy. Then again, why can't both views go back to the historical Jesus, maybe he was forming a unified loving ideal now, yet also looked forward to the end of the age and a Jewish Theocracy? That is the consensus among NT scholars by the way. Not that consensus' are always right, but it does give us pause don't you think?

 

The Jesus Seminar I think puts less than 20% of his sayings and deeds of Jesus in the NT as going back to him. I don't recall if take up your cross was a saying considered red or black in the Seminar voting. But it's beside the point, what is the over arching message of Mark as a text? My own reading of the NT, and these scholars referenced above, has convinced me the central theme throughout the NT (especially in Mark and Revelation) is anti-life and pro-martyrdom.

 

If I am to be honest with myself, and use the best truth finding methods, and go where the evidence leads me, what then is the relevance of these texts, in their original martyr-centered context, for a modern reader today?

 

Again, I offered my own attempt at an apologetic and am willing to be swayed or hear other opinions.

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Upon reflection, hopefully my post will not be taken as overly argumentative. I am at heart a philosopher, and benefit form the dialectic. I like to test my views and other's views (like the Bereans, test all things hold to the good) to reach the most probable as Socrates did. I truly am frustrated that my previous view is now being tested by what I perceive as scholarship challenging my previous views. Thus the posts, which are an attempt to seek further insight and perspective.

 

I did offer one attempt at an apologetic in my second post above. My own apologetic does offer some solution, but not fully satisfying.

 

After reading through the post I saw here: http://tcpc.ipbhost.com/index.php?/topic/2457-just-what-is-progressive-christianity-to-you/... Perhaps I am a bit too intellectual? Perhaps it really is more of a heart thing. I did not know where else to post my questions/perceptions, if not here. Hopefully, my thoughts have not troubled anyone.

 

I guess this is an attempt to soften how I might sound above.

 

Now I will be leaving for a day or two to the beach here in California. If I do not respond right away that is why.

 

Thanks for your responses thus far :)

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I am also very intellectual and am a philosopher by nature. And our talks on this site are mostly that. There are many reasons to take biblical scholarship very seriously, and I do. What I'm saying is that I'm not so much questioning your approach as trying understand your end goal.

 

If it is simply good discussion then carry on. It's a really great topic, and there are some amazing scholars and thinkers here to really dig in to it. I just felt very compelled to ask.

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When I left fundamentalism, Wonnerful, (a number of years ago now), I wanted to get to a more scholarly, more historical approach to the scriptures, to Jesus, to early Christianity. I wanted to know what the bible really said, who Jesus really was, what the early church (including Paul) really believed. But through my research (facilitated by Bart Ehrman, Robert Funk, the Jesus Seminar, and others you've mentioned), I've come to realize that it is impossible and futile to get to the real history of these things. The scriptures have been tampered with, made to serve whatever the needs of the church were for a particular time and place. Did the church need "Christian soldiers" to fight for or maintain their control? Then it was easy to change the scriptures to meet this need. Did the church need more authority? Then it was easy to have Paul say that government rules by divine right. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and the church has had this.

 

So, in my journey, I faced a dilemma. Fundamentalism focused on getting as close to the original scriptures as possible and then taking that to be literal truth. If the bible said Jesus rose again on the third day, then it historically happened. Liberal Christianity focused on getting as close to the meaning of the scriptures as possible and then taking that as metaphorical truth. If the bible said that Jesus rose again on the third day, what truth does that mean in our lives today. But my dilemma highlighted to me that we cannot get to the original scriptures, the historical Jesus or the historical Paul. The "quests" go on, but there is no resolution. Biblical scholars cannot agree as to what the historical Jesus was "really" like or what he "really" taught.

 

In fundamentalism, Jesus was exactly who the scriptures said him to be, even if I found him quite unbelievable. In progressive Christian, Jesus is whoever the PC says he is or isn't. The dichotomy is between the fundamentalist "Jesus on the page" to the liberal "Jesus in my heart." Both claim to have the "real" Jesus. But we no longer have the original, so there is no way to know. Some people claim to have their experience, claiming that is enough for them. While I agree that experience is important, I don't think we are as infallible and inerrant as some seem to think we are. We are easily deceived, especially when our experiences have no correlation to the experiences of others. I found that the "Jesus" that people claim lives in their hearts is nothing like the "Jesus" found on the pages of scripture. So I have had to, sadly, give up my quest for a real bible, a real Jesus, a real Christianity. There is no plumb line. There is no place where we can say, "Yes, this is how it originally was, let's get back to that." Some see this as a blessing, as impetuous to move forward unchained and unburdened by the past. Perhaps so. But when the elephant no longer has any characteristics of an elephant, why continue to call it an elephant. It has become, in fact, something else.

Edited by BillM

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To Joseph M:

 

You wrote: “Why try to apply those "dying a martyr" writings to our times if they are no longer applicable?

 

I agree. But then my understanding is that Paul’s entire corpus is based on this overarching theme of anti-Rome and dying a noble death and the writer of Mark picks up where Paul left off.

 

You wrote: I think the message of dying from Jesus and Paul was more about dying to self interests (ego) and living to manifest the fruits of the spirit which benefit all mankind.

 

I used to think that too. But since then I have been an diligent researcher and have been reading works such as:

(snip)

 

Thus, yes many interpretations are possible, but being intellectually honest I can't ignore that in a historical context, that there is a best (most probable) interpretation that is most honest historically.

 

(snip)

 

Do you see my conundrum?

wonnerful,

 

One can indeed come to many different conclusions and understandings when entering into scholarly study.I have had my fair share. Personally, i think many scholars make the PC walk too complicated as i insinuated earlier. To me the message is simple so that a fool would not err. I certainly don't accept the NT as the word of God so i read it and attempt to neither accept or reject what i read. I watch and wait for my own personal experience to shed light on what i read. I figure that if these writers were inspired and the record is accurate then i can also be inspired to come to the truth when i am ready. For me that light seems to shine best when when i remove my preconceived opinions and views and those of the multitude of scholars that try to sway me by mere scholarly words.

 

What written, is true, and what written is not true? That is the question. The answer to me is none of it until it is quickened in my spirit/heart by experiencing life for myself. I am not one to follow another writer just because he/she is well respected or has scholarly credentials. I will listen but if i can't receive for myself it means nothing to me. It is not a conundrum to me because i refuse to be led by others without my own experience verifying it and besides i do not see myself as an intellectual believer.in matters of God.

 

Joseph

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Wonnerful,

 

I'm afraid I don't have any real answers for you. My experience is that I have no idea what the writers of texts some 2000 years ago truly meant when they wrote it. I can guess, or postulate, but on the evidence available I simply cannot know for certain. And that's of course if we can even trust what we have to be the original text and not having been altered in the first few hundred years by alternate views, scribal error/mistranslation, etc.

 

Paul may well have held the views the scholars you have read, propose.

 

For me personally, I let the bible wash over me. What speaks to me speaks to me and what doesn't, doesn't. I feel free to disregard or write-off the bits that don't speak to me as somebody else's opinion/take on things and that's all.

 

It certainly seems that scholarship shows that Paul held some distinctly different views to the message of Jesus. As Paul supposedly never actually met Jesus that wouldn't surprise me. Maybe Paul has some things right about Jesus but other things wrong. Maybe Paul has introduced his own thought processes and superimposed them over Jesus'. Then again, Jesus does seem apocalyptic in some verses so maybe some of Paul's 'death wish stuff' is aligned with the real Jesus of 0-33CE. Who knows.

 

I appreciate your integrity for trying to understand the NT accurately, but I don't think anyone has that capacity, scholar or not. Unfortunately too much time has past, too many voices are represented/misrepresented in scripture, for us to really understand it as a whole. In fact, I don't think it can be read as a whole so to speak, but as a composite of many varied, even if somewhat aligned, personal views.

 

Cheers

Paul

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Wonnerful,

 

Even Paul of the NT is recorded as admonishing us to "prove all things" whether through reason, personal experience or observation.

 

The Buddha, similarly but in different words, is recorded saying.... “Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them. Kalama Sutta, AN 3.65]

 

Joseph ( the bold my emphasis)

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Fatherman: Yea I really am just seeking discussion and testing my opinions that I may modify them, I am quite ego-less in this regard. I go where the logic and evidence takes me, and occasionally my heart leads the way as well.

 

BillM: I find myself agreeing with everything you said. Funny but at the beach the other day I was thinking that there are really five kinds of Jesus that I see. 1. Sunday school Jesus. 2. PC Jesus (Borg, Crossan, etc.). 3. Fundamentalist Jesus (Graham, Shaffer, Falwell, etc.), 4. Historical Jesus of scholarly consensus (Ehrman, King, etc.). Then 5, the Mythicists.

 

The average person though knows only the Sunday School Jesus. A Jesus everyone likes it seems and can champion, including me. I don’t think most people care about the real Jesus, or the most probably Jesus of historical analysis. And when we do turn to history we at best just reach a consensus (e.g. Jesus was an exorcist, healer, apocalyptist, etc), again if you accept the consensus or believe it holds some authority which I myself am not sure about.

 

JosephM:

I understand where you are coming from. I am more like Spong who said the heart cannot accept what the mind rejects. But I do respect your position. I also mentioned where Paul says prove all things in my posts. As for the Buddha quote, I am a big fan of Siddhartha Gautama, mindfulness works for me. But the Buddha I think was also wrong about some things. If I can trust the quote in your post, and if he is disparaging rationality and scientific methodology then I disagree.

 

By the way this is also why I rejected Nietzsche in my 30s, for he was too anti-science for my taste. He gave too much credence and emphasis to the primal side of us in my opinion. Some scholars still say he indirectly contributed to the Nazis as well, who were far from rational in their weird national religion that mixed and matched.

 

I was bamboozled by Mormonism because I ignored my intellect and let my feelings rule. Never again. But I do use my heart, I just temper it with reason and science.

 

PaulS:

I agree with what you said. When I used to have verbal debates about the Bible, I’d eventually say, “Well, too bad we can’t get Paul or Jesus on the phone right now and ask them what they really meant? Paul, people say you didn’t write 1 Timothy, is that right? Paul, what did you mean when you wrote 1 Cor. 13: 2? Jesus, was the Kingdom the present Now as the Jesus Seminar says, or future vision of Yahweh ruling the earth as Bart Ehrman said you meant?”

 

To all:

What I am hearing from everyone is a basic theme, there is no one set creed, no one set interpretation, just shared principles. Principles lined out in the 8 principles I presume, and as PC one can interpret the Bible how they like as there is no dogma police like in Fundamentalism.

 

Lastly, regarding my posts themselves. I did come up with another apologetic. It occurred to me that just as the concept of God in the Bible seems to evolve from a war god to a God of Love (per Spong, Crossan, & Borg), so too perhaps the Gospels may have evolved from initially martyr tracts as with Mark and Luke (that is if these scholars I mention are correct) to a non-martyr tract with the Gospel of John (which I don’t think is considered a matyr tract by anyone). If my memory is correct, scholars argue that in John the Kingdom is more like in the Now. Then as time pasted, Christians stopped interpreting Mark and Luke as martyr tracts, especially when Rome adopted Christianity as the state religion.

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So here is a further apologetic: The theme of Progressive Christianity is that scripture is not static, it actually changes and is modified. Jesus slightly modifies the current teachings in Judaism in his day by rejected the Tradition of the Elders, Paul modifies Judaism even further welcoming Gentiles; the god of War becomes a God of Love in the NT, martyr tracts become, as in John, about the Kingdom here and now. There is a trajectory in place, from stoning for adultery to he is who is without sin cast the first stone, from Proverbs saying God rewards good people and punishes the bad to Ecclesiastes and Job challenging this (as Borg argues in Reading the Bible Again for the First Time). There is this internal debate within the scriptures themselves, that follows a trajectory toward greater enlightenment and practical wisdom.

Edited by Wonnerful

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Wonnerful, I fell in love with the "Sunday School Jesus" when I was twelve at vacation bible school. This was the typical Protestant Jesus who loved everybody, who would forgive your sins if you were sorry for them, who would come to live in your heart, and who would take you to heaven someday. Using a few cherry-picked verses from the bible, I accepted this Jesus as my lord and savior and promised to live the rest of my life for him.

 

For some people, I suppose this is an easy thing to do. They live in a "Christian culture" and this is the only Jesus they know through their entire lives.

 

But I made the "mistake" of reading many of the other verses from the gospels (as well as the writings/opinions) of others and came to see that there is no monolithic view of Jesus in the scriptures. For Pete's sake, we have four different gospels who don't quite agree on who Jesus was or what he did and taught. And who knows how many other gospels were lost or excluded from the canon?

 

The popular Jesus right now is either "family friendly" or someone who wants you to be successful and rich. My wife's family is into this "family friendly" Jesus who would never ask someone to leave their family in order to follow him or who would never say that you have to hate father and mother in order to be his disciple. ;) They cherry-pick the kind of Jesus they believe in.

 

But so do I.

 

I am not convinced that there ever was a Yeshua of Nazareth. Possible? Yes. Probable? Not from my studies. This means that I have to consider his alleged teachings based, not upon his personage and authority, but upon their own internal sensibility and morality. I have to reconstruct who I believe he was according to what I have learned over the years. And I am well aware that this is my own personal Jesus, that I am picking and choosing what teachings and deeds I think come closest to who I believe he was. The Jesus I believe in now is no longer God or my savior and lord. If I had a Christian label, it would be Unitarian. So I see Jesus as a human, as a brother on the journey. This is quite different from the Sunday School Jesus I grew up believing in. And because I don't consider Jesus to be God in the flesh, it excludes me from the Christian faith. This is no big deal for me because Jesus never called anyone to become Christians anyway. :)

 

So do we have the right/freedom to create Jesus the way we wish him to be? That has certainly been the case down through the centuries. And, perhaps, doing so if the best Jesus we can find.

Edited by BillM

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Just some thoughts....

Is there a real need to reconstruct a Jesus? What does it really matter anyway? Don't we have teachings that we can test and prove for ourselves? it seems to me. we can study for a lifetime with all the scholars and build a wealth of head knowledge but to what avail? Isn't the basic message of all religions transformation? .... Walking in love, peace, forgiveness and the fruits. While it may be interesting to study ... will we ever know which scholar is right or wrong or will it add to the basic message accepted by most all? That message being loving God and ones neighbor as oneself ?

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Those are some good questions, Joseph. For me, they go back to "What does it mean to be a Christian (or to follow Christ)?"

 

In popular Christianity, the focus is on the person of Jesus, usually upon worshipping Jesus as God. What you believe about him is key. The focus of the Christian Creeds is to make beliefs about him very clear.

 

In other forms, possibly the more progressive views, it is not the religion about Jesus, but the religion of Jesus -- as you have said loving God, self, and neighbor. But even doing this cherry-picking certain teachings from the canon that we have no assurance that he ever said.

 

But even in that, I find that I don't believe in God as Jesus did. He was a Jew. He held a great deal to 1st century Judaism, even though he sometimes challenged it. I'm not a Jew. I don't see the world (or the universe) as the Jews do. So I don't hold to the religion of Jesus either. My path is my own. Sometimes Jesus' insights help me along the way. Sometimes they are stumbling blocks to me. So, as I've said earlier, even the "Jesus Scholars" say that a historical Jesus is impossible to get to. This leaves us to either disregard him completely (perhaps a Christless Christianity?) or to say what fascinates us about this character from history - what he maybe did, maybe taught.

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I think Christianity will find out that "Christ" has more to do with the spirit man (light) in each of us than the physical man Jesus just as "buddha" has more to do with an awakened one than the man Siddhartha Gautama.

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I wish that were the case, Joseph, I really do. But I tend to think that the "divine rescuer" is way too dominant within Christian culture, rather than Christ as a means of personal and social transformation. This doesn't mean that I don't think Christians desire or embrace transformation. I think they do. But the Christian paradigm constantly reinforces to most of them that they are sinners and will forevermore be so. It also reinforces the notion of surrender or "dying to self" which, IMO, negates any positive message that we could actually change ourselves and our world if we used reason, science, compassionate and the "gifts of the Spirit" to do so.

 

For 2000 years, the world has been waiting for Jesus to return to fix things. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus has been waiting for us to carry on his work in transforming this world into the kingdom of God. :)

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BillM, I agree with everything you say. We can cherry pick this or that saying of Jesus and modernize it but the fact is he was a Jew preaching to Jews. I also question his literal existence, as I said in the posts above, I think he is a composite character. Maybe there was an original Jew name Yeshua whose sayings were past down through oral tradition. But by the time the Gospel writers started forming their Christ of Faith, these Gospel authors, using midrash developed their own Jesuses. And then later scribes and copiers added their take, like he who is without sin cast the stone is well known as a later scribal addition.

 

You mentioned the Sunday School Jesus, what you call Sunday School Jesus is what I call the Christ of Faith (or evangelical Christianity). I define the Sunday School Jesus as what I was taught in Mormon Sunday School, where the focus was Jesus being a hippie nice guy with long hair in a robe teaching love and kindness. But we are on the same page I think. we just use different meanings for our terms. Your family friendly Jesus is what I call the Sunday School Jesus, and this has to do with our childhoods, as the Mormons are more family friendly than some churches. This again is evidence that we are not talking about science but mythos which is like a poem is open to interpretation. I like to say, one math, one math book; and all mathematicians agree on it and unite around it globally. One NT, a thousand Christianities and endless factions, global conflict, and holy wars.

 

I sympathize with JosephM's wish for a gnostic-like form of Christianity, where we have the divine spark within and Christ is merely the Buddha-like example that allows us to recover our own divinity. JosephM, you'd like A New Earth by Tolle, as he presents Jesus as an enlightened Buddha. But like BillM, I think this view is not popular except in new age circles and among some progressive Christians. The scholarly consensus is again that Jesus was a Jew with Jewish beliefs in the 1st century, which was apocalytic.

 

For me progressive Christianity is: Joseph Campbell + Liberal/Progressive Politics. As a liberal myself I think that is fine. And I also think the Bible as a whole contains more liberal politics than conservative. The "greed is good" theme just does not fit the NT. As I wrote above, the theme is "Enoughism." This I can support.

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Wonnerful, you and I have probably been somewhat assimilated by the Borg. :) Marcus references quite a bit in his writings about the differences between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith, and I think it is helpful to realize that this dichotomy exists. And I think Dom Crossan gives us the most probably picture of what Jesus was like, if he indeed existed at all. I, too, tend to think Jesus was apocalyptic, believing that God would wrap up history very shortly and establish a kingdom on earth (which is quite different from "heaven after you die"). In this position, he was, obviously, mistaken. But I still like the kingdom of God as a metaphor for compassionate communities.

 

I even appreciate the Christ of faith as a metaphor. We all know that "Christ" is the Greek translation of "messiah" which simply means "anointed." Contextually, it did not mean "God in the flesh". Rather, it meant someone anointed by God (up there) to do God's work (down here). God's agent, so-to-speak. In that sense, I appreciate the metaphor that Christians could be considered to be "little Christs", God's agents to do his will on earth. I don't even mind when someone speaks of the divine spark in us that enables us to do the same. It is just when it is literalized as the "ghost" of Jesus coming down from heaven to dwell inside a human body (sort of a holy possession) that the notion of "Christ" become problematic for me. It seems to me that if such were the literal truth and if the bible is a historical account of what Jesus did. This "Christians" possessed by Christ's spirit would be able to do what he did and, as he is claimed to have said, even greater things. But I see no evidence of this amongst Christians. I certainly couldn't do these things when I was an orthodox Christian.

 

Anyway, I've dragged this conversation why off your initial topic. Sorry 'bout that. I am, obviously, still curious about and fascinated with Jesus. But I don't care for the "Jesus wars." IMO, we just don't know enough to know. :) If you'd like to discuss this further, why not start another thread?

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