Thursday, October 15, 2009

Between Scylla and Charybdis

A rose by any other name is still a rose... ?

Which will it be: Jesus, Jesus, or Jesus? Evidently, whoever Jesus is, he is not dependent on how we think of him, but nonetheless, confusion is rampant. People's associations with the name can be very powerful at times, and yet, he is unaffected by any of it. Having said that, it remains a helpful thing at times to realize the many ways people have looked at him, and all of which he is not. No different than the famous Buddhist saying that "What is known as the teachings of the Buddha, are not the teachings of the Buddha." Ultimately whether you follow Buddha, Krishna, or Jesus, the only thing that could possibly matter is your own relationship to them, and more precisely, the more you can let them teach you the meaning of their being and their teachings, rather than the interpretations of others. It really gets to be absurd to substitute these teachers with the interpretations of them by others, yet that is what "religions" have always done and are still doing.

Some bitter idols have been made of him who would be only brother to the world. Forgive him your illusions, and behold how dear a brother he would be to you. For he will set your mind at rest at last and carry it with you unto your God. (ACIM:C-5.5)

With early Christianity there were major differences from the start, most notably the "Jerusalem" church under Jesus's brother James, a.k.a. the Ebionites, which maintained a Jewish focus, and felt that Paul c.s. Romanized Jesus, and they were certainly right about that, but does that mean that they got Jesus right? Paul, and Peter c.s. made the most noise, and ended up establishing the very Roman tradition which for a while was the Church pure and simple, but then quickly split again in East and West, Greek and Roman, and that process has been repeated many times over until today. Pursah, the ascended master who appeared to Gary Renard, and who was the apostle Thomas in another life, represents yet another school, that of Thomas and Thaddeus, which ended up via Syria in India in the years after Jesus' death, and their central text was the Thomas Gospel. And of course there were numerous other schools, we can't even keep track of them, but very soon it was in the hundreds and even thousands.

All in all the Thomas group, and of course Mary Magdalen, left precious few historical traces, and seemed to have sailed between the Scylla and Charybdis of these dominant groups who were the major power blocks of early Christianity. So as always, it is the victors who write history, and this is why our perception of Christianity in the West is so biased towards the Pauline tradition. In Gary Renard's book Your Immortal Reality, Pursah points out that in order to understand the source of the movement, you would want to go back to a time before it splits into many different traditions. By that logic the Thomas Gospel is our best source, because it is the oldest, and least corrupted record of actual teachings of Jesus, along with that other sayings tradition, the Q document, of which we don't own a copy, but which has been reconstructed from quotes that are common to the texts we do have. Clearly Jesus was not a Christian, not only historically, because it was invented long after his time, in the modern sense that we attach to the term today, but also, his teachings are clearly very different than the religion(s) founded in his name. In fact everything points to the fact that he had no intention of founding any new religion. As I recently blogged here, under the title Being There, just one little theme alone shows the completely different thought of the original teachings versus Christianity, namely the very clear emphasis on the Kingdom as not something in the future, but something here and now, that is within us and around us, but which we do not see, unless we get an attitude adjustment - and for that Jesus offers some ideas. Therefore he is also not pro or con any religion, and not concerned with founding a new one, but merely a teacher of truth, a truth which finds its only validation in inner experience.

Thus the answer is not in making him out to be a Jew, although he was a Jew, that fact was not important to his teachings. Thus James and the Jerusalem school, although they are very reflective of the culture from which Jesus sprang, and were certainly very justified in their skepsis of Paul, but they do not do Jesus a service by restricting him to being a Jew. Still we can learn a lot of useful stuff from scholars like Robert Eisenman (James the Brother of Jesus), Hyam Maccoby (Mythmaker, Paul and the Invention of Christianity), and Barrie Wilson (How Jesus became a Christian). The mass of Pauline writings which became so dominant and constituted the New Testament, has filled entire libraries, but it's good to realize that essentially any book that does not reflect and appreciate the complete difference between the teaching of Jesus and Paul, is inevitably from the Pauline tradition, and beholden to justifying his views, a practice which started with the Gospel of Luke, and the book of Acts, whose purpose really was to prove Paul right and James wrong. So it is that for our own understanding of him, we need to navigate between all of these systems which claim to represent him, and seek our own relationship with him. The preface of A Course in Miracles expresses that very clearly, here:

The names of the collaborators in the recording of the Course do not appear on the cover because the Course can and should stand on its own. It is not intended to become the basis for another cult. Its only purpose is to provide a way in which some people will be able to find their own Internal Teacher. (ACIM, preface)
And this makes it very clear what needs to be done. Not a degree in theology, but starting a relationship with your own Internal Teacher, to which the Course may be a help, but it is not a substitute, nor is any particular writing. A book is not the truth, at best only a reflection of it, and some books may be more helpful finding it than others. The key thing is to let the teacher teach us, rather than us telling him what to say.

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