Saturday, November 21, 2009

(1) Jesus Unto Christ

Chapter Three. Jesus unto Christ

I felt that I had to return to what theologians deem as the "Historical
Jesus," before I swept into Teilhard's idea(s) of the Cosmic Christ.
Reading through Teilhard, I have no doubt he believed that Jesus
was the Christ. He felt that Jesus--as the Incarnation--was God's
Gift to the world.

But the modern quest for the Historical Jesus was barely under-
way when Teilhard was undertaking his probe into Christ. In
more recent times a considerable bulk of scholarship about Jesus
has become more available.

To begin, there has been an intense focus on the Four Gospels
that provide the major account of Jesus' life. Of course even I
knew that they were not written by scribes following him around,
jotting down his every word or action. But what did astound me
was how long after Jesus' death that these Gospels were written.

Tradition has it that the disciples--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and
John--were the authors of the Gospels named after them. The
only trouble with this was that it is now fairly well known that the
Gospels were written decades and decades after Jesus' crucifixion.
For example, it is believed as follows: Mark in 70 c.e.; Matthew in
90 c.e.; Luke in 90 c.e.; and John at the end of the 1st century c.e.

This makes a person hard pressed to believe that those first
disciples, some likely illiterate fishermen, could write the texts
of the Gospels. Matthew the Tax Collector perhaps was literate
in that we know he could count. And Luke the Physician was
likely literate--and probably spoke and wrote Greek, which was
actually the major language of commerce in the Hellenistic World.
But can we say the disciples from Capernaum, whose language
was Aramaic, could speak and write easily in Greek--the original
lingo found in the earliest versions of the Gospels that were
written so very long after Jesus' death.

Scholars also believe that the Synoptic Gospels--Matthew,
Mark, and Luke--were based upon Oral Tradition, or upon
another earlier record that is referred to as the Q-document.
This supposed unknown document has never been discovered.
As for John's Gospel, presumably written in Ephesus, it's more a
spiritual testament written maybe by several authors. (Computers
were being used to determine the writing styles of the Gospel
writers. Using this technological tool, the idea that there was
more than one writer in some texts was made more firm.)

And back in 1945 there was the discovery of what is called the
"Nag Hammadi Library." An Egyptian peasant discovered jars
full of codexes --ancient books--that contained *other* Gospels.
Presumed to have been part of the library of an early Christian
monastery located in the desert, scholars surmise that the monks
hid these books so as not to be persecuted. These other Gospels
are part and parcel of the dichotomy between the orthodox and
the heterodox groups in the Early Church. They represent,
probably at a later date, another perspective when it comes to
understanding Jesus Christ .

Some of these other Gospels were considered to be gnostic
writings, some not. Gnosticism actually existed before and
outside of Christianity, but there were also Christian gnostics.
And "gnosis" was about knowing, about a special insight, when
it comes to understanding God. There were Christian gnostic
bishops and leaders, just as there was in that other part of
Christianity that tended towards orthodoxy. But the crux of the
problem between the two groups would seem to have been
about "authority," mainly human authority. The differences in
outlook regarding this issue was like a wide chasm.

In time Christian orthodoxy seemed to have won the day,
mainly by eliminating Christian gnostics--usually by driving
them underground or by killing them.

Nevertheless, these new Gospels replete with new perspectives
about Jesus have emerged. Upon their discovery at Nag Hammadi,
scholars quickly translated the codexes--with the financial help of
the United Nations--and they are now available to the public.