Inspection- Repurposing the Jesus Story
I challenge no one’s faith, nor insist which version of what has been called “the greatest story” you should accept. Likewise if you reject them all I understand that too. This is all about human nature and our narratives.
Easter 2019. Why should we be surprised there are so many alternate versions of what happened to JFK? Or RFK? Or MLK? Why would we be surprised there’s always some official story that one dare not question, and that official story is often convenient to those in power? This is an old human endeavor going back to our first sentient moments. Once people understood there was power to be had in controlling the narrative controlling that narrative became crucial.
Repurposing the Jesus story has been happening at least since Calvary. Who went to the tomb, exactly what happened there: the story varies per book. Differences between eyewitnesses were to be expected, if that’s what happened. Temptation to expand the story, edit the story, variations among scribes, certainly were to be expected, if that’s what happened. It’s almost impossible to talk about historical Jesus without using the Bible: the Romans wrote little to nothing about him.
These stories, these narratives, were like religious romance novels and theological partisan rants of their time. These stories were told, eventually written, for those who would find lessons within and enjoyed hearing them again like we enjoy seeing a movie again and again. These stories, these narratives, were also told and written to convince, to convert.
This isn’t just some Bible only comment, it’s what most narratives are.
We have been spinning tales about stars, virgin births, human events, Gods and heroes long before Jesus, long before the Ark, long before Moses, back when we painted images on cave walls. The Bible is a very human document.
According to more contemporary standards it starts to get a little weird and wild once you read gospels written by Gnostics, followers of Marcion, Ebionites. I suspect if their narratives had been included at the Council of Nicaea we might think those more traditional theological standards were “weird and wild.” In abandoned one book resurrected Jesus leaves his tomb as a giant accompanied by angels. In another, while his body is being crucified, Jesus dangles above laughing at the efforts. Even wilder: in another Earth was created by an evil, lesser deity. Jesus served the true God. The books missing between his youth and ministry had Jesus building a bridge out of rainbows so children would play with him, in another he murdered them.
Not exactly a story to be told before kids go to Sunday school, but like Grimm I’ll bet it was used to frighten them into behaving. Not unlike all the warnings about where terrorists coming to hit America after 9/11, and that confusing multicolored warning system.
Humanity is never happy with what is, always looking to what could be. So changing and shifting the narrative didn’t stop after The Council of Nicaea. The Protestants cut out two books. KJ was commissioned because the king wanted a more authority friendly Bible. Thomas Jefferson edited his down to what are considered direct quotes from Jesus, words which TJ called, “Diamonds in a dunghill.” In the 60s we had the poorly edited “Good News Bible” that was only NT and took a lot of liberties with the text trying to “simplify.” Recently I learned some religious conservatives have started cutting out unbiblical “liberal bias” that has been “inserted into the Bible:” a strange claim from those who often claim to be literalists, call the Bible “the Word of God,” and reject scholars who point to how the Bible has been altered.
I suppose it all depends in those who think their interpretation, their theologically correct ox, is being gored.
The Jesus story has always been shifted, altered, cleansed of heresy, some would argue heresy added. The intent behind The Book of Mormon was to add to the narrative. Hererical? You decide.
Humanity has a horrid history of doing otherwise: from the Inquisition to burning down the library at Alexandria twice, just to be sure they got it all. They didn’t: many of those lost books were found clutched by the corpses of the religious because they were so beloved, or in jars, hidden long ago to avoid the purges.
None of this should be a surprise in an era of competing ‘truths’ and repurposing ‘truth’ to serve partisan causes. Daily tweets, counter tweets, memes and Facebook wars are not unlike attempts to purge the inconvenient; maybe just a less violent… most of the time.
Narratives are footballs that keep being grabbed with multiple runs towards many goalposts.
The other day I saw a meme pushing the lie that Donald Trump served in Nam and was caught by the regulars and one soldier: Vladimir Putin, took pity on him. Not an ounce of truth. If it was a joke it wasn’t even a weak one, and either way we must still ask how many read and believed? Will that story be accepted as truth 200 years from now? There have been beliefs as strange, like relics.
Christian relics have been big business for well over 1,ooo years. Rumor has it the Vatican has many; including the placenta and foreskin of Jesus. Tempting: at 65 I have so many physical problems. I want to be able to say…
”I was HEALED by the foreskin of JESUS!”
By the way anyone recall any passage in the official story where Jesus says pieces of the cross, bones of his disciples, the corpse of his mother, his cup, his placenta would have magical properties? Seems to me his message was almost 180 degrees the other way. It was more about how we treat each other and believing.
Jesus has been resurrected many times, by us. His narrative has been augmented and taken apart over and over again so it can be put back together in ways that suit various versions of predetermined theology. Any “good story” can be repurposed for evil or good, political or theistic gain. When literalists and purists claim there’s only one version that’s perfect, which version? Why, of course: THEIR version.
How much is that like today?
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 40 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks, and into the unseen cracks and crevasses, that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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