Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Secret Lives of Jesus


The National Geographic Channel is showing "The Secret Lives of Jesus" this week. I haven't seen it. I think it is on tonight at 9 p.m. I hope they show it again. I cannot figure out how to work my TV clicker let alone read the menus for where to find these channels. Presumably, ya'll are a great deal brighter than I am. So, if you find the National Geographic Channel, bring me word, so that I too, may worship it.

Anyway, an interesting show, this Secret Lives of Jesus. Here is the press release. It is based upon the non-canonical gospels. These were the gospels voted off orthodoxy's island. What amuses me most about all of this is that traditionalists get so upset about it. A reviewer on Fox News offered some hard to follow rant that somehow related this show, Muhammed, Rosie O'Donnell, and gays. He wrote:

"Why is it OK for a television network to air a special about the entirely suspect "secret lives of Jesus" based on "ancient documents recently discovered"? And just one week before Christmas?"

Why is it OK? Because not everyone thinks the way you do, that's why. Some people are interested in other views. And since this is America, and since we have free press, we can watch what we wish to watch. Obviously, he doesn't get it. These are ancient documents that speak about views of Jesus that were quite different from the story we inherited. They are part of our history.

A reviewer for Catholic Online wasn't impressed with Secret Lives either. At least this reviewer had an argument. This reviewer wrote:
"Despite its provocative title, however, the program – as with the Judas expose – provides no explosive revelations but merely rehashes the same old theological chestnuts refuted by the church over the centuries.
As if Holy Mother Church has refuted everything that She doesn't like. The point of recently translated and published documents is not that they give new information about the historical Jesus (if there even was such a person), but they do offer new insights about the variety of Christian thought in the first several centuries. These documents do provide "explosive revelations" about the diversity of Christian belief and the early struggles of the Church.

I think Holy Mother Church and Her henchmen would better serve Her glorious cause by being a bit more open to what scholarship is providing and what people are interested in reading and watching. Mother's message of "Just say no" doesn't communicate well.

The threat to traditionalists, as I see it, is that this scholarship puts questions to the historicity of the canonical gospels. We start to wonder that if these other stories are fiction, then who is to say that Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John aren't works of fiction as well? Exactly. These canonical gospels are mostly fiction, too, just a different kind of fiction. This is an idea that traditionalists either deny or simply do not want their followers to entertain.

Secret Lives of Jesus is a visual dramatization of some of these other gospels. One is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with the sayings gospel, The Gospel of Thomas) that tells stories of Jesus as a child. Here is a clip. Click on "Lives of Jesus." It may take a few seconds to load.

Here is another clip. Click on "The Birth." This clip is very good. It speaks about the situation for the authors of Matthew and Luke who write the birth narratives after the Jewish War.

Here is NGC's blog about Secret Lives. I personally think the National Geographic Channel does a good job. See for yourself!








15 comments:

  1. "These canonical gospels are mostly fiction, too, just a different kind of fiction" (Schuck)

    I think some of the things in those gospels are added in and may not be 100% factual - a great example is those birth narratives and possibly some of the endings of those books (namely Mark). I read Ehrman's work and I agree with a lot of his scholarship on the subject.

    However, to call the whole of the gospels into factional question (in that blanket sentence) is jumping the gun. Those books have to have some historical validity to them or why write them? I mean, if they are altogether false (or ficticious) then we are wasting a lot of time on a so called 'good' religion (by premise the foundation would be a lie - then this lie is a lie and nothing more - if there is no facts to be found).

    The gnostic books have a different kind of writing (from what I have read) where they do add things back into the some of the sayings - even alter them. Not saying it makes them null n void but it comes off like an addition (from a read of all thes things together).

    Just how much fact do you think is in the original gospels or even the letters?

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  2. The question of what is historical in the gospels and what is legend, midrash, fiction, or deception is one that will be asked for a long time. The whole idea of looking for the historical person of Jesus is based on separating the historical figure (assuming there is one) from the layers of legend added to him. Some scholars such as Robert Price (who I will talk about when I finally get to my section on Jesus) believes that the Gospels and Jesus are nearly totally fiction. He writes about this in his book, "The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man." Randal Helms is another. He wrote "Gospel Fictions."

    Let's say for the sake of argument that Jesus is a made up character--a fiction--if you like. Does that destroy your faith? Should we close down the churches and burn our bibles? Krishna is mostly fiction as is Buddha. The religions that revere them seem to be doing fine.

    I am not necessarily saying that Jesus is completely fiction. I tend to think there was such a person and that the gospels (including Thomas) have preserved some historical sayings and deeds of his. However, I do not think that any of the gospels (canonical or non-canonical) are historical. A literary reading pretty well makes it obvious. Mark's passion story is Psalm 22 in a narrative form. Matthew's birth story is a rerun of Moses in the bullrushes. The Gospels themselves are narratives with plot, conflict, two-dimensional characters and themes borrowed from the Hebrew scriptures.

    That is how I read the gospels. That is simply my opinion. My opinion doesn't matter much. It is just an opinion!

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  3. The Gospels themselves are narratives with plot, conflict, two-dimensional characters and themes borrowed from the Hebrew scriptures.
    Have you discarded the possibility that these historical narratives could be inter-connected because Christ inspired them? But of course you have long since given up on the Christ narrative!

    Give me one reason why you shouldn't be peremptorily dismissed by your church. Do you even still consider yourself a follower of Christ?

    Merry Christmas!

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  4. It is refreshing to hear a fellow Christian with your views! I saw parts of this documentary, and what I saw was fascinating. I, too, believe that the Bible is more a narrative than a historical fact. There is definitely wisdom in the Book. But there is also man's words to go along with man's propaganda to rule the law. It has been tampered with. So how do we believe. Faith. Plain and simple. I don't disregard the Bible, but I trust God in my heart and soul more than I do on those pages.

    Merry Christmas, for real!

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  5. Well said, Crissi! Welcome! And Merry Christmas for real to you too!
    john

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  6. "The whole idea of looking for the historical person of Jesus is based on separating the historical figure (assuming there is one)" (Schucks)

    I don't disagree with the fact we are all allowed opinions - nothing wrong with that - actually quite normal. But saying 'Jesus' is mythological and saying he is a real person basically make or break the faith. It would mean Paul was also wrong (who wrote letters only) - and that his idea's of the Christ were based in falsehoods (even his experience). It would mean there was nothing to being a 'Christ'-ian. When we coulda been Bob Dylan-ians or John Lennon-ians.

    I am not saying I have not considered the possibility of there being no Jesus - I have checked into it. I find it harder to explain away the the gospel writers and letters (plus early church history - which carried the torch in persecution and even verified the gospel writers existed and died) than it is to say 'Jesus' was a fictional character. For some oddball reason, those writers believed in him as a 'real human' person, even to the detriment of saying 'he is coming back'.

    "Some scholars such as Robert Price believes that the Gospels and Jesus are nearly totally fiction. He writes about this in his book, "The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man." Randal Helms is another. He wrote "Gospel Fictions." (Schucks)

    I like the fact these people use sources outside the bible to try get to the heart of the reality of who Jesus was historically - but what makes either writer the 'final answer' on the subject? If I get a chance I will check out their books - as I have not seen these books anywhere. Thanks.

    "Let's say for the sake of argument that Jesus is a made up character--a fiction--if you like. Does that destroy your faith? Should we close down the churches and burn our bibles?" (Schucks)

    Yes (to both questions). Then the premise of the early writers, Paul, Peter, James, John, Luke and others were all lying about 'a messiah' to Israel - then all their claims of history and promises is made in nothing but imagination. If so, 'imagine their was no religon' (lennon) - I would be so there - I would start just believing in 'me' or looking more into Atheism - which makes a lot of the same claims as mentioned in your excerpts (ex: Sam Harris).

    "I do not think that any of the gospels (canonical or non-canonical) are historical" (Schucks)

    That's an opinion based on scholarly criticisms of the texts and likely historical evidence - which I am not one to dis-avow. Hey we all gotta lay down the line somewhere on the issue I guess. I guess I don't want to part too harshly with history with new criticisms based 1000's of years after the fact.

    The other thing about the writing of those gospels - they were not written like historical texts (ex: Josephus) nor were they meant to be - or maybe Luke tried? These are people that tried to relate a story in the words of their forefathers - the Israelites - who have plenty of writings (many based on real events) that don't come off like a history text. So I think to look at it from their perspective makes sense of the stories being so one dimensional. I think it was the point they tried to convey, not the historical fact, that is of importance - but they also don;t deny these events really happened as the end of John's gospel mentions, Luke's gospel points out, and many of the letters also acclaim - including Paul (who accorsing to himself - hated this religion at one point). There is some quite credible characters in that text that are hard to 'write-off'.

    But in the end, it all comes down to faith - but faith isn't without it's reasons. My reasons have a historical basis - if no basis for that historicity exists (ex: mythology) - then these things are only good for a class to be taught within mythology - not for one to base their life on.

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  7. Hi Society,

    Thanks for your very thoughtful post.

    First, I don't insist.

    I am on the journey and I have far more questions unanswered than answered. The historical Jesus is an unanswered one!

    As to your last sentence:

    "My reasons have a historical basis - if no basis for that historicity exists (ex: mythology) - then these things are only good for a class to be taught within mythology - not for one to base their life on."

    Ghandi, a Hindu, found great value in the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, he placed nearly as much value in it as he did the Bhagavad Gita.

    Here is a quote from him:

    “I have not been able to see…any difference between the Sermon on the Mount and the Bhagavadgita. What the Sermon describes in graphic manner, the Bhagavadgita reduces to a scientific formula. It may not be a scientific book in the accepted sense of the term, but it has argued out the law of love—the law of abandon as I would call it—in a scientific manner. The Sermon on the Mount gives the same law in wonderful language….Today supposing I was deprived of the Gita and forgot all its contents but had a copy of the Sermon, I should derive the same joy from it as I do from the Gita."

    And in the same book he is quoted:

    "I may say that I have never been interested in a historical Jesus. I should not care if it was proved by someone that the man called Jesus never lived, and that what was narrated in the Gospels was a figment of the writer's
    imagination. For the Sermon on the Mount would still be true for me."
    (Ghandi, Christmas Day, 1931). Ghandi on Christianity, Orbis Books


    I am not insisting nor trying to convince. But I offer Ghandi as an example of one who could base his life on a teaching regardless of whether or not one could precisely locate the historical source of that teaching.

    Glad to have you in the conversation!

    Blessings,
    John

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  8. As if Holy Mother Church has refuted everything that She doesn't like....

    I think Holy Mother Church and Her henchmen would better serve Her glorious cause by being a bit more open to what scholarship is providing and what people are interested in reading and watching. Mother's message of "Just say no" doesn't communicate well.


    Bravo! I couldn't have said it better myself.

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  9. Thanks John, I am actually pretty fond of Gandhi and his life's mission and accomplishments - seeing in him the nature of the true human 'being'.

    But Gandhi by self-admission never gave much thought to the historicity of Jesus and may have accepted by faith he 'was' (he doesn't deny that the person may have existed but just that he isn't interested in the scholarly stuff of his day - having been schooled himself in European ways). So Gandhi never set out on the journey to disprove the claim of historicity - but had it been already set in motion and believed this was myth - he might of tried - or just left those teachings well alone - possbily attributing them to a rip-off of the Gita. But we'll never know - Gandhi was not into this historical jazz anyways - and in some respects - I thank him for that cause he got to the essence of 'being'.

    I still think Gandhi didn't go into this religious beliefs with no idea about history - that makes no sense - well, no reasonable sense. I am not sure about the whole history of Jesus either but I have to take the books as something (or at least make a certain decision on them as true/false/myth/fabrication/etc). I think it's as probable they are factual (with modifications) as it as plausible to have another view - ie. they are fabricated. But who knows - history is such a blur 2000 years ago - all I know is some people staked their lives on the ideas in here and the persona of Christ - who am I to take their blood and throw it in their families faces.

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  10. Thanks Society.

    I hope you don't think that using the historical method regarding the gospels and other texts is somehow insulting to early Christians.

    My point is that those folks who revered the Gospels that did not make it into the canon were also real people who gave their lives and reputations as well.

    Historical study isn't about bashing people, but it is about trying to uncover what happened as best as we can.

    I remember growing up in church and hearing on more than one occasion that Jesus either was who he said he was (ie. Son of God) or he was a liar or a madma--or something to that effect. That statement is meant to silence all questioning.

    To me, it isn't necessarily that black or white. The gospel writers (both canonical and non-canonical) were trying to tell the story of Jesus that spoke truth about his essence and meaning.

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  11. Thanks Seeker.

    The church so often thinks its job is to defend the faith rather than to seek the truth.

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  12. You and your readers might be very interested in watchin After Jesus: The First Christians on CNN this weekend. It plays tonight at 10pm and again on Saturday and Sunday.

    Pay extra attention to Prof. Marvin Shipman's section on gnostic texts and Amy Jill Levine's thoughts on what caused the split between Judaism and Christianity. Both of these folks are Jewish scholars of the New Testament.

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  13. Shuck wrote "That is how I read the gospels. That is simply my opinion. My opinion doesn't matter much. It is just an opinion!"

    Unfortunately, your opinion does matter since you are an ordained pastor.

    Since you are "on the journey and I have far more questions unanswered than answered", as you write, perhaps you should resign your post as leader of a flock, albeit a very small one, until you find some answers.

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  14. Anonymous, that's a little harsh - Shucks asks some sincere questions and does not admit to having all the answers and he is supposed to 'resign' - if that was the criteria not a single church would exist - can't say that's the worst thing in the world - but it does tell me he is being sincere.

    But I think having questions and not the most solid answers is just the fact we are 2000 years removed from the original incident - what's wrong with some questions? I ask questions all the time about our faith and I don't think I am betraying my faith by doing so - I am actually paying homage to it - by asking in the first place.

    But hey, I ain't no pastor - so I can't speak from that line of thinking - but if you want someone with all the answers - you're in the wrong religion - just know God is unknowable - and if that is true - then questions will be asked irregardless.

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