Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Imaginary Visions of True Peace (review)

Andrew Marr, a Benedictine monk, has written a review of The Nonviolent Messiah on his blog, Imaginary Visions of True Peace:

"Simon Joseph’s book The Nonviolent Messiah is another helpful study on the question of whether or not Jesus truly preached peace . . . Joseph uses examination of the Q document and the Adamic model of the Messiah in Enochic literature to argue that the historical Jesus consistently preached peace . . . Joseph builds a case that Jesus preached nonviolence and a violent eschatology was added later by the Q community.
   The lesser known Enochic literature is examined for a lesser-known element: the Adamic model that emerged in some of this literature in contradistinction to the Davidic Messiah who would be a political and military figure. The Adamic model posits the hope of a renewed creation that would involve all people and would be achieved by totally peaceful means. The Animal Apocalypse, so-called because animals signify the figures, is a particularly strong example of this. We can easily see the influence of this model on Paul’s use of the New Adam in his epistles. Joseph provides much evidence to suggest that this Adamic model, which was very well-known at all levels of Jewish society in Jesus’ time, strongly influenced Jesus’ self-understanding of the kind of Messiah he was . . . 
   Although a meticulous examination, the book is readable and is an important contribution to the investigations on Jesus’ attitude to peace and violence."

Friday, July 11, 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Friday, July 4, 2014

An Essene "Gospel of Peace?"

Is the Catholic Church hiding an ancient Essene "Gospel of Peace" in its dark vaults - an ancient Aramaic manuscript preserving the original teachings of Jesus - hidden away for 2,000 years? Yes, according to Edmund Bordeaux Szekely, its alleged "discoverer." In the late 1920s, Szekely made the bold claim to have discovered and translated this ancient manuscript while doing research in the “secret archives” of the Vatican. Unfortunately, Szekely’s ancient manuscript has never been seen. No photographs have ever been taken. There are no handwritten facsimiles, transcriptions, or original notes on the text. And there are no references to any Gospel of Peace in any ancient historical sources. 

What are we to make of all of this? Barring any sudden new discoveries, it seems clear that Szekely just made the whole thing up. He admits as much: "I myself wrote and published a number of books on the Essenes, most of them some twenty years before the discovery of the first scroll in 1947. Starting in 1927, these books were based on certain historical sources . . . and on manuscripts in the Archives of the Vatican." 

  Szekely wanted to expose Christianity as “one of the greatest deceptions in human history.” Dismissing biblical scholarship as “hopelessly sterile in substance as it is monotonous in form,” its methods “grounded upon falsehoods,” and its conclusions “either childish or obscure, or else so extravagant as to be almost laughable,” Szekely describes the Gospels as “literary fabrication” and Christianity “the product of innumerable forged documents.” Szekely failed to see the irony in accusing others of forgery.

   Szekely wrote a new "Gospel" for a "New Age" because he wanted Jesus to advocate peace, vegetarianism, organic food, reverence for the earth as our Mother, and regular colonic treatments. Szekely used this genuine photograph of the Copper Scroll from the Qumran caves in the inside book-jacket of a later re-addition of his "Essene Gospel" in order to lend mystique and credibility to his claims. The problem is that the Copper Scroll was not discovered until the 1950s, twenty years after Szekely’s "discovery."

   While "The Essene Gospel" is ignored by biblical scholars as historically useless, it illustrates the public milieu in which ideas about Jesus and the Essenes have developed. These writings may have also played an indirect role in the general public’s suspicion that the Church has “covered up” valuable information, a conspiracy theory revived during the delay in the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In fact, a small industry of New Age books about Jesus and the Essenes has emerged in recent years, many of which show signs of being influenced by this fictional Jesus, a "Gospel" that continues to be regarded as authentic by contemporary "Essene," "Essene-Nazarene," and “neo-Essene” communities.

What is "The Quest for the Historical Jesus?"

Since the dawn of the Enlightenment, a tremendous amount of scholarly energy has been spent searching for the “Historical Jesus,” but it has not always been exactly clear who that "person" is or precisely how this so-called "Quest" is to be conducted. The “Historical Jesus” is not the man who walked along the Sea of Galilee. The “Historical Jesus” is Jesus as he can be reconstructed using scientific historical methods.

    While few professional biblical scholars claim that an historical figure named Jesus (or Yeshua) did not exist, the basic problem is that every scholar’s historical Jesus is different. So there is not one Jesus, but many. The Quest for the historical Jesus attempts to identify the earliest traditions about Jesus, but again, there is not one Gospel, but many. The Quest for the historical Jesus has also been shaped by a worldview that rejects the possibility of “miracles.” Historians are not supposed to appeal to extraordinary “acts of God” to explain historical events but must bracket their personal theological beliefs (if any) and re-construct the most likely cause-and-effect explanations for historical events.

   The problem, of course, is that the story of Jesus contains numerous accounts of extraordinary phenomena. Our problem is, in part, one of language and definition. The words “miraculous” and “supernatural” are theological terms that presuppose the existence of God or some realm “beyond the natural.” Put this way, it is easy to see why historians do not allow for the “miraculous”: scientific naturalism precludes itIf history is the study of the past and theology is the study of God, it is not surprising that the disciplinary dichotomy of "the Historical Jesus" vs. "the Christ of faith" are so different: they are based on two different paradigms of interpretation.