I’m currently reading Mark Townsend’s fabulous book ‘Jesus through pagan eyes’ (review at TDN and other places to follow soon!). It’s made me pause and re-examine my own beliefs and attitudes about Jesus. Apparently, like a lot of pagans, I don’t have much trouble with Jesus as a figure, but I have a lot of trouble with the things that have been done in his name.
I was Christened – a social event and Grandparent pleaser that I don’t recall. I did go to Sunday school a bit aged 4 – I’d been asking awkward questions about death. They gave me fuzzy felt. I needed philosophy. I wasn’t raised Christian. My first sense of Jesus wasn’t there though, it was at my Church of England Primary school, sat cross-legged in assembly, listening to someone talking about who he was and what he means. I remember thinking how lovely it would be, to be able to believe in a reassuring, kindly protector deity who was going to make it all nice. Even as a child, I found the world a hostile, frequently unforgiving, unmerciful sort of place. If there was a benevolent God, he certainly wasn’t taking care of me.
I have such mixed feelings about deity, not least because I have no capacity for the kind of belief that works without evidence. I feel comfortable with the idea of nature gods because there’s no reason to assume they’d give a toss about me anyway. But the loving, benevolent Jesus figure?
I do see him as the original hippy. I like the idea of Jesus the rebel and Jesus the peacemaker, trying to get people to play nicely, but I’m not sure it fits the evidence. So here’s my take. He’s of the house of David, the royal line. The title ‘king of the Jews’ keeps coming up. He’s got supporters wealthy enough to own a private tomb in a garden. That sounds to me like a political figure, not a religious one. Which makes it easy to see why both the Jewish elite and the Romans would have a problem with him. If anyone could have roused the locals to fight the Romans and overthrow the current leadership, it would have been a man descended from King David. I have no idea where the carpenter story fits in to this. Unless he was a Robin Hood figure, a bringing together of many people, archetypes, lives lived, lives imagined. I do buy into the idea that if he came out of the Jewish tradition, he must have been married. I like that version of Jesus better. A rounded human being, not an impossible god. My Gran always said Jesus was a template for how we should all live, and that we seldom manage to. She’d have loved Mark’s book, and his whole outlook.
One thing I’ve noticed is that pagans, especially at moots, are fascinated by Jesus – the man, the myth, the impact. I’ve probably spent more moot time talking about Christianity than any other single issue. However you might feel about it, this is a path with a lot of power.
I’d love to feel there was some benign figure, willing to listen to my woes, offer guidance, answer prayers. I’m perfectly happy to believe that Jesus, and other kindly deities are there in just that way for other people. There has been nothing of that in my life. Perhaps I’m not open enough. But I’ll stick with the disinterested nature gods, voices of thunder and wind, energies of tides and seasons. I can see them, I have a sense of awe and reverence. And if the sun shines on me sometimes, that’s going to have to be blessing enough.
August 30th, 2012 at 1:59 pm
This is one of those places I may be able to shed a little light (BA in Biblical Studies, 20 odd years as an RE teacher) In terms of my own spirituality I thing ‘ecclectic’ is the best term. I have many Pagan friends and tend to identify myself more with this (particularly Druidry) than anything else, but I also have a great deal of sympathy with certain types of Hinduism, Buddhism and even, under certain circumstances, Christianity. Much of my MA (World Religions) ended up being on the relationship between early Christianity and the Mystery Religions of the Mediterranian in the first 2 centuries CE.
The thing about the Historical Jesus is that it is almost impossible to know anything about him. The Gospels were written over a long period of time by a lot of people with varying vested interests. The birth narritives (including the claim that he was decended from David) are comparitively late and part of a wider agenda (he couldn’t have been the Messiah if he wasn’t) so I shouldn’t take that too seriously.
As for his being married…frankly I doubt it. I have heard many people say that Jewish men HAD to be married. Certainly that was (and is) the norm in Judaism. There is no surviving monastic type body and reproduction and family life are central to the faith. However it is not true that there was no tradition of celibacy in the First Century. The Qumran community/Essenes, John the Baptist and St Paul all spring to mind so it most certainly was not unthinkable that Jesus fitted into this tradition and if he had been married I suspect it would have been mentioned. There again, maybe it wouldn’t…we only know that Peter was married because of a throwaway comment about his mother-in-law’s house.
The bottom line is that the Gospels, whatever else they are, are not relaible historical documents about Jesus.
I find both the Jesus of history and the figure of The Christ fascinating and valuable in both a Christian and a Pagan context, but of the former, very little can be said with any certainty.
August 30th, 2012 at 3:35 pm
I read Fingerprints of Fire – Footprints of Peace by Noel Moules which examines Jesus’ message of peace. I found it nourishing and inspiiring. For many generations, my ancestors were Christians, following the life of Jesus through his parables and teachings which tell us to ‘do unto others as we would be done by’ and I wish to honour their sacrifices and beliefs by not knocking Christianity as I have heard pagans do. Though the Vatican have a lot to answer for, grass-roots Christians were often in the past – and in the present – doing their best to care for the neediest. I was brought up in the Christian faith and I didn’t torture and murder pagans. I am pleased you have heard different from the pagan community. Sometimes, I think some pagans are angry people and can only exist on the fringes of any community, like the ‘witches’ of old.
August 30th, 2012 at 8:18 pm
There is a strong case to argue that originally Jesus was a mythological figure in a mystery cult, that somehow evolved into a real person.
August 31st, 2012 at 10:58 am
Its certainly not impossible, but I wouldn’t say it was a strong case. For my money the balance of probability is that he was a reforming charismatic rabbi in an eschatlological tradition (by no means unique at the time) who, due to a variety of circumstances was morphed into something else (several other things, actually) in the centuries following his death. Actually, the New Testament itself contains several different Christologies.
Only John’s Gospel (a late, Gnostic influenced document) actually goes so far as to unambiguously as to claim that Jesus was God. Everything else, even Paul, stops just short of that.
August 30th, 2012 at 9:53 pm
Love this post Nimue! My sentiments exactly and I’m gonna make sure I go out and purchase Mark’s book as soon as I can. That’s the way I’ve always felt about Jesus the man. Love him…at least the idea of him and how he was made out to be anyway. I always thought if I could have one person dead or alive to my house for dinner and conversation it would be him…lol! I think I’m a lot like him for sure….an ole hippie soul from way back just born in the wrong generation. And if he is true to what his word seems to be then I think he taught some pretty important basic things that would do many people good to start practicing again. So totally would include him in my arsenal of deities for sure. But as for his fanclub…well…don’t think I need to go that far….lol! Thanks for your opinion and keep it comin!!
August 31st, 2012 at 5:54 am
Clear to see how you struggle with this subject. Text is not as fluent as when you write about other things. No wonder! It’s one of the hardest subject to dive into. Cudos to you for even trying and for courage.
August 31st, 2012 at 11:47 am
hard to condense it all down as well, so much to say…. and yeah, I think you’re right, much ambiguity with me.
September 2nd, 2012 at 5:54 pm
“Apparently, like a lot of pagans, I don’t have much trouble with Jesus as a figure, but I have a lot of trouble with the things that have been done in his name.” This is how I view Jesus – a great teacher and the best thing about the Christian bible….but not the only way into the house of many rooms! Enjoyed and could really relate. I was raised Roman Catholic – at current my husband and I just go by the title “pagan.” For me, the life of a tree and nature tells me everything I need to know!