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Tears For The Soul


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I'm starting this thread because my heart is breaking to see the emotional and spiritual anguish of hope-filled liberal Christians in the world today.

 

I speak from a viewpoint of deep personal faith in God the Mother and God the Father. For me, faith is "a relationship with God that endures in the absence of sacred texts." I have no common ground with evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity. My values are humanist values: inclusiveness, compassion, egalitarianism, equal access to education and health care, honesty in the face of adversity, and openness to change. My favourite magazines are Scientific American, Scientific American Mind, and Biblical Archaeology Review, which tells you something about the way I view the world. I view the world primarily through the eyes of science and scholarly research.

 

Some of you here know I'm also a practising mystic. I begin and end each day with an intensive mystical practice that helps me find daily insight and healing. Not all mystics fall into the same category. I'm a nature mystic and a channeller. (I won't make any further attempt to explain this here, as I know from experience what will happen.) My work as a mystic and channeller has led me to transformative insights that have changed all my relationships -- my relationship with God, my relationship with others, and my relationship with myself -- in positive and healing ways. The journey has been slow, but the daily experience of Divine Love I now know has been worth every painful moment.

 

In the autumn of 2007, I entered graduate studies in theology at a mainstream liberal Canadian university known for its high academic standards. The progam I entered could have led to ordination had I chosen it. I eventually decided against ordination. Why? Because if were to be ordained I would have to give an oath saying I'm in essential agreement with the doctrines of the United Church of Canada. And I can't in good conscience make such an oath.

 

I'm not in agreement with the church's teachings on the soul. And I'm not in agreement with the church's stated positions on the relationship between Paul and Jesus. These two religious planks are, I believe, the source of the spiritual rot that is currently undermining the ability of regular folk to engage in a full and safe relationship with God.

 

When I submitted my thesis proposal to the faculty committee for approval, I received a startling reply. I was told I could proceed with my proposed research on early church teachings about the soul, but I would have to delete the term "doctrines of the soul" from the title because the church, according to my esteemed professors, has no doctrine of the soul.

 

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but the position my Christian professors have taken on doctrines of the soul is absolutely untrue. Factually untrue. It may not be convenient for liberal Christians in the third millennium to ask questions about the soul, but it's factually untrue to say that Paul and Jesus weren't talking with all their might about the nature of the soul. It's also factually untrue to say that Christianity has no doctrine of the soul. Christianity clings to several related doctrines about the nature of the soul, all of them based on the teachings of Paul and his orthodox successors, and none of them based on the teachings of Jesus that are attested in the Gospel of Mark and parts of the Letter of James.

 

There's been a lot of talk among liberal and Progressive Christians about the hijacking of Jesus by the far right and the far left. I happen to think Jesus is a pretty tough guy. I'm pretty sure he can survive the constant hijacking. So I'm not worried about rescuing Jesus. I am worried, though -- very, very worried -- about the hijacking of the soul. I'm worried that people of compassionate faith have been bullied mercilessly into believing there's no such thing as the soul.

 

It took me a long time to sort out the difference between religious teachings about the soul and the core scientific reality of the soul. (Yes, I believe the reality of the soul -- core consciousness -- lies within the realm of quantum biology, not religion.) It took me a long time to understand that traditional teachings about the soul have nothing to do with faith or relationship with God, and everything to do with spin-doctoring and political manipulation. The fact that Plato and Aristotle had theories about the soul does not make those theories true. The fact that Paul taught his followers a blended Platonic and apocalyptic theory about the soul does not make his theory true. Within the church, there has been a frightening lack of will to confront the history of these theories, to confront the content and the ramifications of these theories, and to delve more deeply into Jesus' own teachings on the nature of the soul. The damage to people's ability to trust in their own worthiness is incalculable.

 

So what I want to say to people of faith who believe in a loving God and who want to understand Jesus' own teachings is this: you don't have to be afraid to believe you are a good soul. Yes, I know you've made mistakes. And yes, I know you've done some things that make you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. But do you think Jesus the man was any different? Do you think he spoke of forgiveness and healing and redemption because your soul is unworthy of relationship with God? No. Jesus spoke of forgiveness and healing and redemption precisely because he could feel the tears of your own soul. The tears of your own good soul, who longs to find the path to peace in a difficult world.

 

The bullying has to stop. Those in this world who choose to see the glass half empty, who choose to reject the possibility of the good soul, are responsible for their own choices, and you are NOT responsible for their choices. You are NOT required to give up your belief in the possibility of healing, forgiveness, and redemption -- the possibility of living from the soul, in other words -- because some other person may be "offended" at the idea that all human beings are equally worthy in God's eyes. You are NOT required to accept theories of the soul that say you're corrupt, or inferior, or burdened with karma, or permanently consigned to the lower regions of heaven or hell. Pessimistic theories such as these are the teachings of human beings who are out of balance, who lack the courage of their own souls, who don't want you to believe you can have a simple, loving, kind, and healing relationship with God. These are the teachings of the bullies.

 

I'll be the first to admit it's difficult to live from the soul. It requires a lot of hard work and a lot of self-honesty. It also requires tremendous teamwork, because no one person has every answer. Not even Jesus. But within you, hidden beneath your anger and blame and pain, are strengths you may not even be aware of, strengths that originate in your heart and soul, strengths that nobody can take away from you once you claim them as the truth of your own soul.

 

I'm not making this up to suit my own modern, optimistic, hope-filled agenda. You can read it yourself in Chapter 12 of the Gospel of Mark, which tells you how to get close to the kingdom of God: being close to God is not about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but loving your God and your neighbours with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.

 

This is what Jesus taught. If you listen with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength, you'll feel the truth of Jesus' teachings about the good soul deep in your bones.

 

Don't listen to what Paul said (unless, of course, you prefer Paul's glass-half-empty teachings). Paul just didn't like Jesus very much. If Paul had actually agreed with Jesus' teachings, we would see frequent reference in Paul's own letters to the themes of forgiveness, healing, and redemption (not to be confused with salvation). But we don't. Because Paul had an entirely different understanding than Jesus did about the nature of the soul.

 

It's my belief, from careful observation, that it's possible to have religion without soul. It's possible to have ideology without soul. And it's possible to have pure logic without soul. But it's not possible to have faith without soul.

 

Faith is a relationship with God that endures in the absence of sacred texts. Take away the sacred texts and you can still hear God's quiet, hope-filled voice if you listen with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.

 

Such is the mystery of Divine Love.

 

God bless!

Edited by canajan, eh?
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Wow!

 

That touched me so much, thank you for sharing! Believe it or not, I, too, believe the soul is in the realm of quantum biology, as you stated. I think the care of the soul is the primary objective for any believer (Christian or not). I also applaud your courage for standing up for what you believe in. Too many people would just be quiet and go with the program. Again, thank you so much for sharing that, it made my day!

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Thanks, Yvonne.

 

I'm starting to think that saying the word "soul" out loud in a liberal or progressive church is about as safe as shouting "fire" in a crowded nightclub.

 

I, too, believe that care of the soul is the primary objective for any person of faith, Christian or not. We're all in this together, and we all need each other's help to effectively care for the soul. Amazing things start to happen inside a person's own biology when he or she starts to focus on the soul's daily needs for love and belonging, fellowship, open-minded learning, courage, faith, and TRUST.

 

For me, this is what the journey of daily relationship with God is all about.

 

Best wishes, Yvonne!

 

Jen

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So what I want to say to people of faith who believe in a loving God and who want to understand Jesus' own teachings is this: you don't have to be afraid to believe you are a good soul. Yes, I know you've made mistakes. And yes, I know you've done some things that make you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. But do you think Jesus the man was any different? Do you think he spoke of forgiveness and healing and redemption because your soul is unworthy of relationship with God? No. Jesus spoke of forgiveness and healing and redemption precisely because he could feel the tears of your own soul. The tears of your own good soul, who longs to find the path to peace in a difficult world.

 

This is very close to a Jewish understanding of the soul.

 

We do not separate it from the body and mind. We do not bend, fold or mutilate the soul. The Shema (our morning and evening prayers) tell us:

 

V'ahav'ta eit Adonai Elohekha b'khol l'vav'kha uv'khol naf'sh'kha uv'khol m'odekha

- And you shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

 

I view the "soul" as the complete package; i.e. - Me.

 

Thanks for sharing this. I wish all Christians had your perspective.

 

NORM

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Thanks, Norm. For me, Jesus' take on the Shema (and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength) and his repetition of the core law about loving your neighbour from Leviticus 19 are the essence of Jesus' teachings (Mark 12). (I know this isn't an original insight, but it's always worth repeating).

 

Christianity has really backed itself into a corner on the question of the soul -- "the complete package," as you describe it. I love your nutshell response: "We do not bend, fold or mutilate the soul." As I researched the history of different theories of the soul -- and believe me, there are a lot more theories out there than most people realize! -- I began to see that early Christian theologians who were arguing for the orthodox Pauline stance (the faction of early Christianity that eventually "won," so to speak) were doing exactly that -- bending, folding, and mutilating the understanding of the soul (the holistic core self).

 

For my thesis, I focussed on Tertullian, the first Christian theologian to write in Latin as opposed to Greek (that we know of to date). I downloaded a translation of Tertullian's late 2nd century/early 3rd century Treatise on the Soul, and pasted it into WordPerfect so I could do word searches, etc. A word count revealed the treatise is about 50,000 words long -- the length of a book! This treatise, along with some other material by the same theologian, are the source of the earliest defined statements about Original Sin in the orthodox Western Church. (These ideas are nascent, but not fully developed, in Paul's own letters.) You would not believe the philosophical contortions Tertullian goes through to try to persuade others about the depravity of the soul!

 

Interestingly, a couple of hundred years later, another theologian from the same region -- Augustine of Hippo -- became a big fan of Tertullian's writings.

 

As you read the documents written century after century by Pauline Christians, what you see (if you're looking at what's actually written there instead of what you think is written there) is adoration of Paul. The Apostle, this. The Apostle, that. (Everyone knows who you mean when you simply say "The Apostle.") Paul's letters are used constantly as proof texts for this miserable, depressing, demeaning understanding of the soul. Meanwhile, the words attributed to Jesus are mentioned much less frequently, and the Gospel of Mark is quoted least of all over the centuries, because the Gospel of Mark (don'cha know ;) ) has always been a troublesome, difficult book for Pauline Christians.

 

You know what the problem is with the Shema? Nothing. Nothing at all. It's an absolutely wonderful prayer that allows individuals to trust in their own worthiness to be in full relationship with God. Implicit in the prayer -- screaming from the core of the prayer -- is the outrageous idea that each of us, as individuals, has both the power and the responsibility to reach out to God in holistic, courageous ways. (As Jesus once did.)

 

When you stick with the wisdom of the Shema and related teachings, there's no need at all for Paul's "sin, separation from God, sacraments, and salvation" model (the "4 S's" as I call it for simplicity's sake). Needless to say, this reality creates a whole new set of problems for those who are willing to look at the history honestly.

 

Best!

Jen

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This is very close to a Jewish understanding of the soul.

 

We do not separate it from the body and mind. We do not bend, fold or mutilate the soul. The Shema (our morning and evening prayers) tell us:

 

V'ahav'ta eit Adonai Elohekha b'khol l'vav'kha uv'khol naf'sh'kha uv'khol m'odekha

- And you shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

 

I view the "soul" as the complete package; i.e. - Me.

 

Thanks for sharing this. I wish all Christians had your perspective.

 

NORM

 

Norm,

 

This is the same understanding I grew up with, but in a progresssive Protestant denomination. It also matches C. G. Jung's definition of "soul". There is a deep history here, I suspect.

 

Myron

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You know what the problem is with the Shema? Nothing. Nothing at all. It's an absolutely wonderful prayer that allows individuals to trust in their own worthiness to be in full relationship with God. Implicit in the prayer -- screaming from the core of the prayer -- is the outrageous idea that each of us, as individuals, has both the power and the responsibility to reach out to God in holistic, courageous ways. (As Jesus once did.)

 

When you stick with the wisdom of the Shema and related teachings, there's no need at all for Paul's "sin, separation from God, sacraments, and salvation" model (the "4 S's" as I call it for simplicity's sake). Needless to say, this reality creates a whole new set of problems for those who are willing to look at the history honestly.

 

Best!

Jen

 

This is what attracted me to the Jewish faith from Christianity. I saw how, in the common understanding, one begins with the premise that humanity is inherently evil (due to the "Fall"). In Judaism, it is the exact opposite. Humanity can be nothing BUT good from its core (soul), because G-d created it.

 

The Genesis account, to the Jew, is not about original sin, but about what we can aspire to accomplish (the symbol of the Garden is very important to Jewish philosophy as a metaphor for completeness). It is difficult to explain, but is much clearer in the original Hebrew. English translation of Jewish philosophy sucks!!

 

NORM

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Norm,

 

This is the same understanding I grew up with, but in a progresssive Protestant denomination. It also matches C. G. Jung's definition of "soul". There is a deep history here, I suspect.

 

Myron

 

Was it Dutch Reformed? I am familiar with Jung's description of the soul. You are correct; it very much coincides with the Jewish perspective. Of course, without all the supernatural stuff. B)

 

NORM

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Was it Dutch Reformed? I am familiar with Jung's description of the soul. You are correct; it very much coincides with the Jewish perspective. Of course, without all the supernatural stuff. B)

 

NORM

 

Norm,

 

It was German Reformed and what is now part of the United Church of Christ.

 

"- And you shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."

 

This has been part of our weekly Service for as long as I can remember. Still is.

 

Myron

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This is what attracted me to the Jewish faith from Christianity. I saw how, in the common understanding, one begins with the premise that humanity is inherently evil (due to the "Fall"). In Judaism, it is the exact opposite. Humanity can be nothing BUT good from its core (soul), because G-d created it.

 

The Genesis account, to the Jew, is not about original sin, but about what we can aspire to accomplish (the symbol of the Garden is very important to Jewish philosophy as a metaphor for completeness). It is difficult to explain, but is much clearer in the original Hebrew. English translation of Jewish philosophy sucks!!

 

NORM

 

I took one semester of Biblical Hebrew, and from the first week of the course, the professor launched us into a translation of the first three chapters of Genesis. Our translations were pretty crappy, of course, but it was easier to grasp the "basics" of the grammar and vocab by working with material we were already familiar with.

 

Never mastered the vowel points. My Bibical Greek is much better than my Hebrew.

 

What I really want to emphasize on this thread, though, is not how individuals may perceive the soul today in a progressive context (Norm, is your congregation a Reform congregation?) I want to emphasize the historical reality of Jesus' own teachings on the soul. This is a site that's dedicated to discussions about how we might better understand and follow the teachings of Jesus. In this context, I'm suggesting that although there's been tons of helpful discussion among progressive Christians about social justice and compassion and equality and inclusiveness (all of which I support), there's been much less discussion about Jesus' original teachings on the nature of the soul.

 

Social justice is wonderful and important, but, as many committed atheistic and agnostic social justice advocates have shown, you don't have to have faith in God to make a difference in the world. So while it's clear that Jesus was committed to the core themes of social justice, it's also clear that he believed deeply in God. He wasn't an atheist. So it would be difficult to truly follow the path Jesus walked -- the whole Yeshuan path, rather than parts of the path -- and be an atheist at the same time. If one prefers to follow the path of atheism (which is up to each individual) it would be more honest to walk that path in its entirety, and not pretend it's the path that Jesus himself once walked. There are many positive role models who can teach us about atheistic social justice advocacy, but Jesus isn't one of them.

 

It's clear Jesus had a novel understanding of both God and the soul in comparison with others who lived within the same socio-religio-political context of early first century CE Roman/Jewish/Hellenistic Palestine. He saw something different in the way we, as human beings, can be in relationship with God. Today, his ideas may seem less novel, less revolutionary to us. But in the context of his time, he wasn't a pious religious follower. He was a religious innovator.

 

Maybe this doesn't seem important to those who believe they don't need an understanding of the soul. But it was important to Jesus. And it remains important to many Christians today. So it's worth looking at in honest, thorough, academically supported ways.

 

In 1988, Elaine Pagels produced a wonderful work of historical scholarship on the evolution of Christian ideas about the Fall of Adam called Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. It's time for a scholar of this stature to tackle a history of doctrines of the soul in the same objective way. I think the evidence would be very helpful and healing for progressive and liberal Christians in the third millennium.

 

Jen

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Jen,

 

How do you think one gets 'in touch' with the soul, if indeed there is such a thing as getting in touch with something that is already a part of you.

 

Cheers

Paul

 

Hi Paul,

 

Well, to answer your question in a nutshell, I'm going to use the quote you're using as your footer, since Dr. Seuss is one of my heroes of spiritual leadership:

 

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."

 

I also really admire film as another form of "truth-hiding-behind-fiction." I've seen more truth about how to get in touch with the soul in uplifting films than in all the theological essays I've read. One of my all-time favourite spiritual films is Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. Bill Murray's grumpy, sneering, condescending, angry, self-pitying, and not-all-that-bright weatherman is strong-armed by the universe into finding who he really is, saying his feelings out loud (not only to other people but to himself) and working hard to build relationships that matter.

 

He doesn't lose himself. He finds himself. And in finding himself, he's able to make a lasting difference in the lives of other people. This film is two hours of pure spiritual wisdom!

 

What are your thoughts on this question? Any stories you'd like to share about this journey of rediscovery? Favourite films or plays or books that talk about the soul?

 

Best,

Jen

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So getting in touch with your soul is about just being yourself, your true self? Recognising the BS in your life for what it is, put it aside, and be your true self?

 

I too am sometimes 'struck' by a movie, or scene of a movie. I don't know if this talks about the soul or emotion (are the two different?) - I remember a few months ago watching an episode of Sons of Anarchy (a fictional TV series about a bikie gang) where the bikies desired to kill an enemy and they made the hit whilst he and his young son went to the toilet in a tatoo parlour (who was a friend of the bikies). They didn't expect the kid to accompany his Dad to the toilet and were caught suprised. Rather than use the bikie's hestitancy as a chance to fight back, but risk harm to his child, the Dad accepted he was going to die, calmy sent his child from the room with some loving words (but not enough to alarm the child) and calmly accepted his bloody fate (he was a kind of live by the sword/die by the sword fella).

 

I'm not certain just why this scene made me so emotional. I think it was partly attributable to the fact that I am a Dad to two young boys and could imagine what their life would be without me, but also I was struck by the 'goodness' of this bad guy who put his child's well being above his own, even in the face of death. So even the bad guy, wasn't neccessarily all bad.

 

I don't know if that's the kind of thing you were asking for, but it's something that struck me as perhaps revealing of the soul?

 

Paul

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I'm not certain just why this scene made me so emotional. I think it was partly attributable to the fact that I am a Dad to two young boys and could imagine what their life would be without me, but also I was struck by the 'goodness' of this bad guy who put his child's well being above his own, even in the face of death. So even the bad guy, wasn't neccessarily all bad.

 

I don't know if that's the kind of thing you were asking for, but it's something that struck me as perhaps revealing of the soul?

 

Paul

 

Yeah, that's exactly it.

 

To paraphrase what Norm said above about God's Good Creation, God don't make no junk. Even the bad guys are goodness when you get past all the anger and self-pity and BS. Even Hitler was a good guy somewhere way down deep.

 

The connection you've raised between soul and emotion is an excellent point. This is something that's HUGE.

 

At one point on my journey (in the early stages) I concluded on the basis of traditional spiritual teachings that all emotions are bad and are somehow "corrupt" and "unenlightened." I tried to detach myself from my emotions because I believed I could only get closer to my soul's elevated wisdom if I got rid of all those pesky passions.

 

I can't emphasize how wrong I was to try to do this!

 

Eventually I realized that emotions are like everything else that goes through the human brain for processing -- there's stuff you want to keep and there's stuff you want to throw in the garbage bin. Am I going to voluntarily give up my emotions of love and trust and friendship and laughter with my son? Like, no way, Jose. Am I going to voluntarily give up my anger at the way my boss is treating us at work? Yeah, I'm going to learn as quickly as I can from the experience of anger, and then I'm gonna let it go, because hanging onto anger (instead of healing it and learning from it) seems very harmful to human biology.

 

There are these crazy moments in life -- these turning points -- where the situation suddenly forces us to choose. The example you've given about the Dad who uses all his strength -- all his courage and love -- to protect his son is a powerful example. It's powerful because it's true. It's true that individuals can choose this kind of courage. What's even weirder is that when individuals act on their soul's immense courage, there's a ripple effect. The effects of their choice seem to spread outwards, like waves spreading out from a rock thrown into a still pool, and the waves seem to help others act upon their own inner courage.

 

So being your true self involves thinking and feeling, but also action. All three in balance. The soul is about all three.

 

Getting in touch with your soul is about balancing input from your mind (logic, reason) with input from your heart (positive emotions like love and trust) and input from your body (actions, movement, change).

 

It's not fancy, but it works.

 

Best,

Jen

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What I really want to emphasize on this thread, though, is not how individuals may perceive the soul today in a progressive context (Norm, is your congregation a Reform congregation?) I want to emphasize the historical reality of Jesus' own teachings on the soul. This is a site that's dedicated to discussions about how we might better understand and follow the teachings of Jesus. In this context, I'm suggesting that although there's been tons of helpful discussion among progressive Christians about social justice and compassion and equality and inclusiveness (all of which I support), there's been much less discussion about Jesus' original teachings on the nature of the soul.

 

Social justice is wonderful and important, but, as many committed atheistic and agnostic social justice advocates have shown, you don't have to have faith in God to make a difference in the world. So while it's clear that Jesus was committed to the core themes of social justice, it's also clear that he believed deeply in God. He wasn't an atheist. So it would be difficult to truly follow the path Jesus walked -- the whole Yeshuan path, rather than parts of the path -- and be an atheist at the same time. If one prefers to follow the path of atheism (which is up to each individual) it would be more honest to walk that path in its entirety, and not pretend it's the path that Jesus himself once walked. There are many positive role models who can teach us about atheistic social justice advocacy, but Jesus isn't one of them.

 

It's clear Jesus had a novel understanding of both God and the soul in comparison with others who lived within the same socio-religio-political context of early first century CE Roman/Jewish/Hellenistic Palestine. He saw something different in the way we, as human beings, can be in relationship with God. Today, his ideas may seem less novel, less revolutionary to us. But in the context of his time, he wasn't a pious religious follower. He was a religious innovator.

 

Maybe this doesn't seem important to those who believe they don't need an understanding of the soul. But it was important to Jesus. And it remains important to many Christians today. So it's worth looking at in honest, thorough, academically supported ways.

 

In 1988, Elaine Pagels produced a wonderful work of historical scholarship on the evolution of Christian ideas about the Fall of Adam called Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. It's time for a scholar of this stature to tackle a history of doctrines of the soul in the same objective way. I think the evidence would be very helpful and healing for progressive and liberal Christians in the third millennium.

 

Jen

 

I attend a Reform Community.

 

I think it is admirable that you are seeking to discover the philosophy Jesus was attempting to communicate. I think it unfortunately gets bogged down in all of what Thomas Jefferson called "nonsense" by all the added miracles and contrived "fulfillment" of prophecy. Their is scant "there" there concerning the thoughts and beliefs of Jesus.

 

And, as you have so eloquently pointed out, the message gets even more distorted with the "teaching" of Paul.

 

Personally, I think that the Jesus of history was a student of Hillel. It's possible, if we are to believe that Jesus was born in the early part of the first century CE, that he actually studied personally under the great Jewish thinker. Of course, this is all speculation on my part, but from what I've studied of Hillel's writings, it all makes sense - particularly in light of what you are saying concerning Jesus' thoughts on the soul. Hillel goes into great detail about the subject. Hillel was considered a reformer because of his emphasis on the "spirit" of the Law rather than the "jots and tittles." Sound familiar?

 

I've read quite a bit of Ms. Pagel's work, but not the one you reference. I will seek it out.

 

BTW, a former Rabbi in my Minyan would disagree with you on the subject of atheism (from a purely intellectual basis - i.e.; not able to accept the idea of deity). He is convinced that it is entirely possible to obey the Shema while an atheist. I've come to agree with him on this point. I do not call myself an atheist, but I am most definitely a non-theist.

 

This is why I've adopted the little Jewish community. It matters not to them that I cannot intellectually conceive of a deity. It is enough that I love my neighbor as myself. Therefore, I have standing in the community.

 

NORM

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Norm,

 

A bit of a sidetrack (I hope that's okay) but is there any commentary or thoughts from the Jewish community just why somebody like Jesus 'took hold' instead of perhaps somebody like Hillel? If we eliminate miracles, prophecy and other 'nonsense', is Jesus any different to Hillel? What perhaps drove these people to form a religion around Jesus?

 

Cheers

Paul

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Norm,

 

A bit of a sidetrack (I hope that's okay) but is there any commentary or thoughts from the Jewish community just why somebody like Jesus 'took hold' instead of perhaps somebody like Hillel? If we eliminate miracles, prophecy and other 'nonsense', is Jesus any different to Hillel? What perhaps drove these people to form a religion around Jesus?

 

Cheers

Paul

 

From what I've learned, Hillel was a century too early for his teaching. He wasn't popular until he was well into his old age (The Talmud says that he lived over 100 years).

 

I believe that the teachings of Jesus spread because of the age in which he was born. The advent of traveling merchants (like Paul of Tarsus) helped spread new ideas and religions; Christianity being one of them. Someone must have been writing down the sayings of Jesus (or someone like the Biblical description of Jesus) which became the basis of the Gospel stories. The Talmud was written in Hebrew (not a lingua-franca) and in a cloistered community under duress (the Palestinian Talmud). The Babylonian Talmud was written free of Roman persecution, so it is the one most commonly referred to. It is important to keep in mind that the Talmud was an oral tradition well into the third Christian century, many considering it erroneous to write down the "living document" of the Talmudic teachings.

 

Many Rabbi's I've had discussions with are convinced that the Sermon on the Mount was a "leaked" version of some Talmudic instruction attributed to Jesus. Even the convention of "you have heard that it is said..." is a common device found in the Talmud where the teacher is altering some common understanding of the Law and "turning it on its head," which is a loose translation of the phrase Midrash halakha, the storytelling style of the Talmud.

 

Hillel's teaching has had somewhat of a renaissance of late in the Jewish community because of his emphasis on the "spirit" of the Law rather than simply going through the motions of ritual.

 

I hope this helps.

 

BTW, if you can get your hands on a copy of Adin Steinsaltz's The Essential Talmud, he discusses this subject in some detail.

 

Take me advice, though, and tread lightly on this subject with some of the older Rebbe's - it's a source of anger that Jesus got credit for a LOT of Jewish thinking.

 

NORM

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I attend a Reform Community.

 

I think it is admirable that you are seeking to discover the philosophy Jesus was attempting to communicate. I think it unfortunately gets bogged down in all of what Thomas Jefferson called "nonsense" by all the added miracles and contrived "fulfillment" of prophecy. Their is scant "there" there concerning the thoughts and beliefs of Jesus.

 

And, as you have so eloquently pointed out, the message gets even more distorted with the "teaching" of Paul.

 

Personally, I think that the Jesus of history was a student of Hillel. It's possible, if we are to believe that Jesus was born in the early part of the first century CE, that he actually studied personally under the great Jewish thinker. Of course, this is all speculation on my part, but from what I've studied of Hillel's writings, it all makes sense - particularly in light of what you are saying concerning Jesus' thoughts on the soul. Hillel goes into great detail about the subject. Hillel was considered a reformer because of his emphasis on the "spirit" of the Law rather than the "jots and tittles." Sound familiar?

 

I've read quite a bit of Ms. Pagel's work, but not the one you reference. I will seek it out.

 

BTW, a former Rabbi in my Minyan would disagree with you on the subject of atheism (from a purely intellectual basis - i.e.; not able to accept the idea of deity). He is convinced that it is entirely possible to obey the Shema while an atheist. I've come to agree with him on this point. I do not call myself an atheist, but I am most definitely a non-theist.

 

This is why I've adopted the little Jewish community. It matters not to them that I cannot intellectually conceive of a deity. It is enough that I love my neighbor as myself. Therefore, I have standing in the community.

 

NORM

 

Norm, you've raised a number of points here I have to disagree with.

 

You seem to have built up a personal theory of who Jesus was and what his teachings actually were. Many others in the past have presented their own theories about who Jesus was. You can read about these diverse theories at http://www.earlychri..../theories.html and clicking on the link for "Theories of the Historical Jesus" at the bottom. You'll also find a treasure trove of non-canonical early Christian writings from the early centuries of the church.

 

There is no agreement among scholars -- current or past -- as to who Jesus was and was his teachings were. However, one general approach that's been in vogue since the late 19th century or so (eg. Albert Schweitzer) is to start with the assumption that we must ignore all the "nonsense" of the "added miracles," as you put it.

 

Another idea that's currently in vogue is the idea that Jesus was a knowledgeable Jewish teacher who didn't really say anything new and was simply repeating moral teachings spoken by earlier teachers such as Hillel. This, as I understand it, is your take on Jesus, Norm.

 

In the context of the Golden Rule, it's important to bear in mind that Jewish teachers such as Hillel were no more "original" in this regard than teachers from other traditions. Greek poet Hesiod, who is believed to have written c. 700 BCE, wrote a version of the "Golden Rule," a moral principle that seems to arise universally among human beings. (Kenneth J. Atchity, Ed., Classical Greek Reader (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 28.)

 

Indeed, one can find many close parallels between laws that appear in the Tanakh and laws that appear in earlier Ancient Near East texts such as the Code of Hammurabi. An excellent scholary compilation of these parallels can be found in Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East, Fully Revised and Expanded Third Edition, by Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin (New York: Paulist Press, 2006).

 

Religion in the Ancient Near East, in the post-Alexandrian Hellenistic world, in the nascent Roman Empire of the early 1st CE, and in the early Christian world was syncretistic. People borrowed ideas from each other. Much as some individuals today would like to find a "pure" early Judaism or a "pure" early Christianity, there's no such thing. Theological doctrines in 1st century Judaisms showed significant diversity. There wasn't even an agreed-upon body of canonical Jewish texts. Agreement on a body of texts didn't come until a generation after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (possibly at the so-called Council of Jamnia (or Yavneh)) . Rabbinic Judaism in the form it's known today also didn't exist until the end of the 1st century CE. It's academically insupportable to try to place Jesus within a context that simply DID NOT EXIST at the time he was teaching, healing, and writing.

 

I infer from your comment above -- "Hillel was a century too early for his teaching. He wasn't popular until he was well into his old age (The Talmud says that he lived over 100 years)." [actually, I believe the tradition states that Hillel lived to be 120 years old] -- that you would prefer to take Hillel out of his own historical context and place him in the most idealistic light possible as a reformer who was perhaps teaching an earlier version of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount. (Am I reading that right?)

 

I don't disagree that there seem to be some similarities between the reputed teachings of Hillel and the teachings that were recorded in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (I say reputed because we have to rely on much later written traditions to get a glimpse of Hillel's actual teachings, and I've learned to be wary of the accuracy of written accounts based on oral traditions). But the problem here lies in the assumption that Matthew's Sermon on the Mount is an accurate representation of the teachings of Jesus son of Joseph. I argue that the Gospel of Matthew is not a sincere attempt on the part of its author to expand upon the heretical teachings of Jesus, but was instead an attempt to move the teachings back in the direction of Pharisaic interpretations of Jewish law. (Note: I'm starting with the assumption that "Matthew" wrote his gospel before the eventual agreement on Jewish canon that seems to have taken place in Jamnia, but after the physical destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.)

 

Whoever wrote the Gospel of Matthew was keen on the "jots and tittles" (Matt 5:17-20). If you want to try to prove that Jesus taught his followers about the "spirit" of the law instead of the "letter" of the law, Matthew won't help you much.

 

Luke/Acts won't help you much, either. If you want to read a careful analysis of what "Luke" was actually trying to accomplish when he wrote his 2-part myth about Jesus and Paul, you can check out Barrie Wilson's How Jesus Became Christian (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2008). Dr. Wilson is a professor of Religious Studies at Canada's York University. Interestingly, during the course of his research and reflection, he chose to convert from Anglicanism to Judaism.

 

The Gospel of Mark, however, says a lot about who Jesus was and what he taught without providing apologetics for either Pharisaic authority of a particular school that no longer exists (Matthew) or Pauline authority (Luke/Acts).

 

When you read Mark from start to finish and let it speak for itself (without all the changes and inversions made to Mark's book by both Matthew and Luke) you see the story of a man who had deep faith and who didn't fit into any of the categories of religious understanding known from his time.

 

The list of dissimilarities is long. One of the most striking (from the point of view of the Jesus-as-student-of-Hillel question) is the role of Jerusalem.

 

You would agree, Norm, that Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Temple were central to Hillel's understanding of how Jews should be in relationship with God? The Gospel of Mark, in contrast, says that Jesus "did his best work" when he was far from Jerusalem and the Temple. Mark's book, which was written just a few years before the destruction of the Temple, is, in part, an anti-Temple statement. The Temple during the time Jesus lived and the time Mark wrote his book was a site of great corruption. Yet the Temple of Mount Zion was central to the religious claims made by Sadducees, Pharisees, and those of the Qumran community. The Temple was also central to Messianic claims made by earlier writers. So none of these groups were exactly rushing to dismantle its pivotal role.

 

In the first two-thirds of the 1st century CE, Herod's lavish Temple complex was one of the features that set Judaism apart from other religious traditions. Do you believe in all honesty that Hillel himself willingly set aside the importance of this sacred site? Where is the evidence that he walked away not only from the corruption of individual leaders (which you'd expect him to say) but also from the longstanding belief that Jerusalem was a sacred, holy city chosen by God as the place where prophecy would be fulfilled (eg. the prophecies of Ezekiel 43 and Zechariah 12)?

 

Matthew and Luke both work very hard to undermine Mark's claim that Jesus was a non-apocalyptic, non-Messianic, non-Covenantal man of faith who preached a thinking faith, a theistic faith, an uplifting faith where there are no chosen people and everyone is in equal relationship with God.

 

Are you prepared to say that Hillel, a scholar steeped in the covenantal scriptures of early Judaism, had rejected those covenants in the way Jesus rejected those covenants? Are you prepared to say that Hillel "did an Albert Schweitzer" and walked away from his theological training to go to the boonies and serve as a "doctor without borders" (as Jesus seems to have done)?

 

Hillel was a founding force in a religious tradition that has evolved over the centuries into different schools of Judaism that we recognize today. This is fine, and I have no quarrel with this. But I do have a quarrel with those who want to insist on unfounded grounds that Jesus himself was a devout follower of any well known school of Judaism that existed in the early 1st century CE.

 

You really have to piss off a lot of people to get yourself crucified for preaching healing, forgiveness, and redemption. The Jesus portrayed by Mark would have pissed off just about everybody, regardless of religious tradition, because he held such radical notions about God and the soul.

 

Jesus was a theist. He was not an atheist. Please note, as well, that Mark's Jesus is so heretical (in comparison with his Jewish peers) that he dares to add to the Shema. The shock value of this in 1st century Roman Palestine would be akin to somebody adding an extra verse to the Lord's Prayer in 16th century CE Calvinist churches.

 

Did Hillel dare change the meaning of the Shema?

Edited by canajan, eh?
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For some reason, I am being told that I am "over the quoted passages limit" in my response to your post. Therefore, I am dividing into two sections.

 

Norm, you've raised a number of points here I have to disagree with.

 

You seem to have built up a personal theory of who Jesus was and what his teachings actually were.

 

I wouldn't call it a personal theory - just a picking and choosing of random theories of the thousands floating around out there. I really could care less about the "historical" Jesus - I'm not even 100% sure he even existed and is not in reality a composite of many such wandering magicians / healers around the turn of the Common Era.

 

However, one general approach that's been in vogue since the late 19th century or so (eg. Albert Schweitzer) is to start with the assumption that we must ignore all the "nonsense" of the "added miracles," as you put it.

 

Not as I put it - as Thomas Jefferson put it:

 

I am a Materialist; he takes the side of Spiritualism; he preaches the efficacy of repentance towards forgiveness of sin; I require counterpoise of good works to redeem it, etc., etc. ...Among the sayings and discourses imputed to Him by His biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others, again, of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same Being. I separate, therefore, the gold from the dross; restore to Him the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of His disciples. Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. These palpable interpolations and falsifications of His doctrines, led me to try to sift them apart...from a letter accompanying Jefferson's Bible - emphasis mine.

 

NORM (continued next post).

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(continued from previous post)

 

In the context of the Golden Rule, it's important to bear in mind that Jewish teachers such as Hillel were no more "original" in this regard than teachers from other traditions...

 

Which is precisely how I countered those Rabbis who whined about Jesus copying Hillel.

 

 

I don't disagree that there seem to be some similarities between the reputed teachings of Hillel and the teachings that were recorded in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (I say reputed because we have to rely on much later written traditions to get a glimpse of Hillel's actual teachings, and I've learned to be wary of the accuracy of written accounts based on oral traditions). But the problem here lies in the assumption that Matthew's Sermon on the Mount is an accurate representation of the teachings of Jesus son of Joseph.

 

Yes, I would agree with you here. Again, I was referring to what some Jews believe - these tend to be Conservative. I'm Reformed.The Conservative have the biggest ax to grind with Jesus.

 

 

Whoever wrote the Gospel of Matthew was keen on the "jots and tittles" (Matt 5:17-20). If you want to try to prove that Jesus taught his followers about the "spirit" of the law instead of the "letter" of the law, Matthew won't help you much.

 

I don't think that I, or anyone else, for that matter, can "prove" exactly what Jesus taught his followers.

 

 

Luke/Acts won't help you much, either. If you want to read a careful analysis of what "Luke" was actually trying to accomplish when he wrote his 2-part myth about Jesus and Paul, you can check out Barrie Wilson's How Jesus Became Christian (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2008). Dr. Wilson is a professor of Religious Studies at Canada's York University. Interestingly, during the course of his research and reflection, he chose to convert from Anglicanism to Judaism.

 

Heh - the Rabbi who saw me through conversion actually gave me a copy of that book! She thought that I would relate to him. I did.

 

 

The Gospel of Mark, however, says a lot about who Jesus was and what he taught without providing apologetics for either Pharisaic authority of a particular school that no longer exists (Matthew) or Pauline authority (Luke/Acts).

 

When you read Mark from start to finish and let it speak for itself (without all the changes and inversions made to Mark's book by both Matthew and Luke) you see the story of a man who had deep faith and who didn't fit into any of the categories of religious understanding known from his time.

 

 

There is a play written locally that is the entire book of Mark "acted" out in its entirety. It is quite phenomenal, and hits on some of the points you mention above.

 

 

Are you prepared to say that Hillel, a scholar steeped in the covenantal scriptures of early Judaism, had rejected those covenants in the way Jesus rejected those covenants? Are you prepared to say that Hillel "did an Albert Schweitzer" and walked away from his theological training to go to the boonies and serve as a "doctor without borders" (as Jesus seems to have done)?

 

I'll have to dig out some of the articles I've read concerning exactly how Hillel was perceived in the Jewish community of his age. There are strong commentaries against his teaching - calling him a false prophet BECAUSE of his disrespect for the letter of the Law. Are you perhaps thinking of Rabbi Shammai? The two are often compared and contrasted with Shammai being the staunch traditionalist and Hillel the reformer. There is a Talmudic story that describes a young acolyte who approaches both Shammai and Hillel with the challenge to teach him the Torah while standing on one foot. Shammai chases the young man away with a rod, but Hillel responds:

 

"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it."

 

 

 

Hillel was a founding force in a religious tradition that has evolved over the centuries into different schools of Judaism that we recognize today. This is fine, and I have no quarrel with this. But I do have a quarrel with those who want to insist on unfounded grounds that Jesus himself was a devout follower of any well known school of Judaism that existed in the early 1st century CE.

 

I don't have enough information to say one way or the other on this point. Is there some documentation you have to support your knowledge of exactly what Jesus was taught, and by whom? I can only think of one instance in the Bible where it is even mentioned - and the teachers of the Torah are unidentified.

 

 

You really have to piss off a lot of people to get yourself crucified for preaching healing, forgiveness, and redemption. The Jesus portrayed by Mark would have pissed off just about everybody, regardless of religious tradition, because he held such radical notions about God and the soul.

 

My ancestors would point to a hundred thousand crosses littered all over the Hinnom Valley to argue that it didn't take much to piss off the Romans!

 

 

 

 

Did Hillel dare change the meaning of the Shema?

 

Perhaps not, but he certainly contributed much to its understanding among my people.

 

NORM

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(continued from previous post)

 

Which is precisely how I countered those Rabbis who whined about Jesus copying Hillel

 

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery puts a positive spin on this.

 

Also what is more important the message or "the commentary"?

Edited by romansh
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BTW, a former Rabbi in my Minyan would disagree with you on the subject of atheism (from a purely intellectual basis - i.e.; not able to accept the idea of deity). He is convinced that it is entirely possible to obey the Shema while an atheist. I've come to agree with him on this point. I do not call myself an atheist, but I am most definitely a non-theist.

 

This is why I've adopted the little Jewish community. It matters not to them that I cannot intellectually conceive of a deity. It is enough that I love my neighbor as myself. Therefore, I have standing in the community.

 

NORM

 

Norm,

 

I started this thread for people who believe in a theistic God (you say you don't), for people who believe in the historical Jesus (you say you're not really sure and don't care), and for people who believe the soul is perhaps part of the Divine mystery (I'm not clear what your thoughts are about the mystery of the soul).

 

Norm, it's reasonable for a reader to believe you share Jefferson's Materialist beliefs, since you make no effort to refute them, and your own statements of belief seem to align with Materialist beliefs. If I'm mistaken in this regard, please clarify.

 

Your quote above -- "Personally, I think that the Jesus of history was a student of Hillel" -- indicates clearly that you call this a personal theory. Please don't say you didn't say something when you clearly said it in print. Geez! :blink:

 

Your points, when taken on an individual basis, make sense, but they don't add up to a unified understanding. (No worries if you haven't figured it out yet. We're all trying to figure it out. But be HONEST about your own thoughts and feelings. Don't hide behind thinly veiled excuses such as "Not as I put it -- as Thomas Jefferson put it." If you think you made a mistake, say so. If you think you could have made your point less ambiguously, clarify it!)

 

Jesus can't be both "a composite of many such wandering magicians/healers around the turn of the Common Era" AND "a student of Hillel," who was presumably a real person and not a composite. You have to make a choice, Norm. You can't have it both ways. You either have to walk away from Jesus (if you think he's a composite or an unoriginal ho-hum teacher) OR you have to decide to try to work your way through his difficult teachings (or at least not dismiss that journey when chosen by others).

 

My comment about crucifixion was not meant to undermine the brutal reality of crucifixion in the Roman Empire. I was thinking of one of the major criteria used by researchers of the historical Jesus (eg. the Jesus Seminar) to better understand why Jesus was attacked by everyone, not just the Romans who eventually crucified him (i.e. the "Rejection and Execution" criterion). I apologize for my lack of clarity.

 

I'd like to see the play you describe about the book of Mark. For a long time now, I've been sure the author of Mark wrote his book as part parable and part play. It must be a play with a lot of action.

 

Norm, if you want to start a thread about your own theories about the historical Jesus and other historical teachers of the time, that's great. But I'm going back to the purpose of this particular thread, which is to talk about the soul and what this means for people of faith today.

 

Jen

Edited by canajan, eh?
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