Natty Dread and Planetary Resplendence Christianity's Apocalyptic Tragedy and the Immortal Tree of Life
Unveiling Apocalypse: Reflowering the Tree of Life
The resolution of the religious dilemma of apocalyptic conflict lies in coming of age and acting as the planetary guardians of the generations of the diversity of life.
This is the cosmological fulfillment of our meaning in life, in taking full responsibility for our actions in the world and their consequences for life as a whole.
Jesus has a reputation as one of the most famous miracle workers in history. Joseph Klausner notes; "Only where mystic faith is yoked with practical prudence does there follow a strong enduring result. And of such a nature was the influence upon his followers" (Klausner 411). In this he was following a tradition of the nabi, the mouthpieces of god among whom the prophets were numbered, and the hasidim or 'devout ones'. This reputation was a necessary manifestation for a person emulating the tradition of Moses and Elisha. However despite their miracles with serpents and flaming offerings for the rain, their cures were only a leper or two (Numbers 12:13, 2 Kings 5:1-4) (Wilson I 99). However Elisha did raise the dead (2 Kings 4:34) and also made the sighted blind (2 Kings 6:18) and cursed to death by a she-bear small boys who mocked his baldness (2 Kings 2:14). Jesus by comparison was a white thaumaturge. One should note that Bar Kochba was later also anointed messiah but there is no evidence he pretended to any miracle apart for the vain one of winning against Rome.
The anticipation of healing miracle is heralded in the prophecy of Isaiah 35:5 "The eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf man unstopped." One can thus expect the Messiah to adopt the practice of the theraputae.
Josephus refers to Jesus' miracles as 'paradoxical deeds'. This perhaps gets to the core of the issue miracles represent. Both the Christian Acts and the Jewish commentray acknowledges Jesus in terms of his miracles, but for very different reasons: Acts 2:22 "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know." The Mishnath "On the Eve of the Passover they hanged Yeshu[a] - because he practised sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray" (Wilson I 62). Crossan (304) points out that the distinction between sorcery and miracle is purely one of social and religious status.
However the evidence for Jesus' miracles is by no means as secure as his sayings in terms of consistent attestation and idiom. There is no reference to them in the Pauline letters. Paul seems even to deny that Jesus worked any miracles (Wilson I 51). It is also clear that the miraculous deeds border on the mythical and that there are obvious motives for gospel writers to attest the divinity of Christ by elevating his miracles to a significance which makes his claims equal to those of other mythical miracle workers.
Crossan (311) has suggested that the miracle stories have become elaborated from a simple five-fold set corresponding to a water miracle, bread breaking and healings including exorcism and raising.
Jesus' miracles also fall into a tradition which was followed by other hasidim . Onias, or Honi the 'circle drawer' was said to have brought torrential rains after being called on to pray during a drought and closing himself in a circle until God obliged. He was later stoned at the Temple in 65 BC for not cursing Aristobalus, when John Hyrcanus beseiged him. A generation after Jesus, Hanina ben Dosa was similarly renowned with a variety of healing miracles, including curing from a distance and mastering the daughter of the queen of demons. "When Hanima ben Dosa died, men of good deeds ceased" Mishnath (Crossan 142-152, Wilson I 83, 108).
Fig 10.1: Woman with the issue of blood touching Chist's hem 3rd Cent Cemetry SS Peter and Marccellinus (Wilson I 100).
Long before Jesus, Aesclepius was a healer hero who may have lived around 1200 BC, but became deified as the God of medicine, carrying Hermes' caduceus which is still the symbol of the medical profession today. Cures involved rest, exercise, diet (including herbals) and magic. Hippocrates (d c 370 BC), father of the Hipocratic oath of medical ethics, and of careful medical practice, came from an Asclepiad family on Kos, one of 500 cultic and healing centres of the god, which became pilgrimage centres like Lourdes is today. Jesus' account of the woman with an issue of blood (Mark 5:25, Matt 9:20, Luke 8:43) has an echo in Aesclepius. A statue presumably of this hero was in Caesaria-Phillipi, complete with a woman kneeling before him with an herb growing to the hem of his cloak, indicative of herbal rather than faith healing. An early Christian tradition of Eusebius Bishop of Caesarea (d339) attached the woman also to Ceasarea and claimed she had erected the statue in Jesus' honour (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 86, Wilson I 100).
Suetonius tells us that in a book by Aesclepius of Mendes, Augustus' mother Atia attended a midnight service of Apollo when a serpent glided up, entered her and glided away again, leaving a serpentine mark which made her ashamed to visit the public baths. She dreamed her intestines were carried up to heaven and overhung the lands and sea. Her husband dreamed the sun rose from between her thighs. The inauguration of Augustus was likewise marked by the passage of a comet (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 24-25). The rumour of a son of god becoming emperor had caused a previous Senate to pass an edict against such a possibility. Augustus was later deified as Son of God (Divi Filius) by the Senate. A 7 BC inscription hails him as "Caesar who reigns over the seas and continents, Jupiter, who holds from Jupiter his father the title of Liberator, Master of Europe and Asia, Star of all Greece, who lifts himself up with the glory of great Jupiter, Saviour.' (Schonfield 199).
Tacitus notes that Vespasian, when entreatied to cure a blind man with his spittle and a man with a withered hand by stepping upon his hand, in honour of Serapis at Alexandria did so after some prevarication, was assured that the event might presage the divine will and that if he succeeded it would bring glory but if he failed, the ridicule would be upon the supplicants. The hand was instantly restored to use and the day shone again for the blind man.
Later, the kings of France would similarly touch the sick, particularly of scrofula (tuberculosis of the lymph glands, or the 'king's evil'), with the cry "May God heal you, the King touches you". Louis XIV touched 2400 in a single day.
Fig 10.2: Shamanic serpent healing (Shaman's Drum 43)
Shamanic healing has been a global practice of virutally every society from the earliest beginnings of human culture. It is by no means unique to Jesus and the theraputae. One aspect of Shamanic healing should be mentioned. Often it does not seek to find the logical cause of the illness, but rather why this person happened to become ill at this particular time. It thus always remains complementary to conventional medicine, looking for the synchronicity rather than the causality. Often the sources are found in bewitchment or the casting of evil spells, just as Jesus' cures were generally associated with exorcising demons. As later belief systems came to centre around established religions, these universal practices became absorbed into the area of faith healing. Just as the pool at Bethsaida was believed to produce good cures before Jesus arrived, so Lourdes today is believed.
Two important points emerge from all these accounts. Firstly it is the patient's expectations, rather than the power of the healer which is the pivotal factor. Crowds didn't stream towards Jesus because he healed many people; rather, because crowds streamed towards him, he healed many people. Secondly peoples expectations are focussed on rulers and other eminent or charismatic personalities. Tacitus observes, a failed cure is not blamed on the thaumaturge; the cause is in all cases sought in the sick person. In the case of Jesus, it is peoples' lack of faith (Mark 9:17) (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 84-5).
Apollonius of Tyana illustrates raising from the dead. He meets the funeral bier of a bride, followed by the grieving bridegroom and the mourners and resurrects the dead woman (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 91). "Let them that bear the bier lay it down, for behold I will stay the tears that are shed for the maiden". He touched her and said some words in secret, so that at once she awakened from what had seemed death, and returned to her father's house. Apollonius is also recorded curing a devil afflicting the son of a woman by writing the devil a threatening letter, of curing a blind man and a man with a withered hand. Hierocles had remarked that Apollonius compared favourably with Jesus because his miraculous accounts were from first-hand intelligent and reliable observers (Graves and Podro 40-1). Apollonius also ascended to heaven in front of witnesses (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 144).
David Friedrich Strauss's Life of Jesus (1835) which earned him an official ban against any career in the Church or academy notes it is a "false premise that the narrator who is more detailed and vivid is the more exact reporter, the eyewitness" (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 92). This is an important theme which we will see is somewhat devastating in its truth in many places. It is exemplified by Matthew's richly allegorical fantasies of angels, and of the dead rising in the crucifixion.
Although rationalist theologians have tended to ignore the miracles as unsubstantiable, however they appear to originate from the earliest traditions, and are told straightforwardly as if they are reported traditions.
The miracles fall into several distinct types which should be understood to be quite different. The first are the acts of healing and exorcism of demons. These two are both central to Jesus' popularity and credibility as one of the theraputae. They are common practices of shamanic healing the world over and stand as a central aspect of Jesus' style and character. The healing miracles should be sharply distinguished from the more incredible nature miracles.
We then have prophetic or ritual 'miracles' such as feeding the five thousand, which look more like an allegorical way of talking about a great teaching, which was in fact, one of the first communion services. They are expounded in symbolic manner, indicating ritual significance for example in the number of baskets.
The third category consist of nature miracles - apparent acts of shamanic power, some of which defy explanation, such as walking on water. Most of the miracles in this category, including Cana, as well as some of the major healing ones such as Lazarus and the woman with the issue of blood appear to be statements of Jesus' powers designed to emulate other known figures in the surrounding cultural landscape. Command of the ocean's chaos was a characteristic both of Ba'al and of Yahweh as gods of order, the water-into-wine of Cana is the central mystery of the miraculous god Dionysus, celebrated on the very day of his festival, and the woman with the issue of blood is a statement of healing to rival Aesclepius, portraying his own statue. All these were cultural figures impinging quite closely on the spiritual life of Palestine, and a response to them was necessary for Christianity to claim their adherents.
Barbara Theiring has an Essene interpretation which deserves consideration. The water and wine are the first baptism and completion of the apprenticeship. By turning water into wine, Jesus is thus metaphorically short-circuiting the process in one gnostic awakening at the feast. Where Mary and by implication Janes and the brothers fit into this Essene gnosticism is a further intriguing question.
Jesus' healing miracles are central to his entire mission. This could not be summed up more accurately than in his conversation with John's dicsciples: Luke 7:22 "the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached." These are all healing feats, not nature miracles.
The curing of a paralytic at the pool of Bethzatha in John 5:1-4, illustrates a miracle which appears to be supported by archaeological evidence. The five porticos have been excavated this century under the church of St. Anne with some of the stonework dating from Herod the Great (Wilson I 100).
John 5:2 "Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had."
Now Jesus cured a cripple there who always missed out on the chance to jump in at the right moment. But we should stop for a second and consider. John says that by itself, the breath of a wind on the water was also accepted as an effective cure, and that the reason the cripple hadn't been cured was simply that he was unable to take advantage of the 'angel' of the troubled water. Like many faith cures today, this illustrates that many spontaneous natural phenomena were equally associated with effective faith cures.
The early Bordeaux pilgrim notes the phenomenon (WilsonI 100) "Further in the city are twin pools having five porticoes, which are called Bethsaida. There those who have been sick for many years are cured. The pools contain water which is red when it is disturbed".
The particular man Jesus cured had been sick for very many years:
The man didn't in fact even know who had cured him because Jesus had to approach him later and tell him: John 5:14 "Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee." The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.
Ian Wilson (102) notes that some paralyses are hysterical in origin, and can be induced by stress of wartime conditions which were endemic to the times. There are a variety of conditions, both hysterical and of a wider variety from viral conditions such as warts to cancer, in which remission can occur from hypnosis or from a major experience of emotional renewal. Hysterical conditions are not feigned. No one can afford to underestimate the therapeutic effects of a powerful faith cure both on the immune system but also on a variety of bodily processes. Someone with Jesus' reputation, particularly in an environment where there were few scientific avenues of medical help would be capable of having a profound efect just by their presence and touch.
Fig 10.4: Curing ichthyosis by hypnosis (Wilson I)
Hypnosis constitutes a shared trance reality between the hypnotist and subject which has been demonstrated to be capable of curing certain cases of paralysis after accidental injury, warts selectively on only one side of the body, and in an outstanding case the disfiguring skin condition of ichthyosis, limb by limb, which had failed to respond even to skin grafting and is regarded as congenital (103). Leprosy was a term used to cover a variety of skin conditions which were often temporary as was the case with Miriam
It is possible that within the knowledge of the theraputae was an understanding of hypnosis which may have originated in Egypt, where papyri have been found which appear to invoke trance states during participation in mystery religions. The Essene life of contemplation may have included prophetic trance, if Josephus's account is one to go by (). It is also imminently plausible that the very intensity of Jesus' mission inspired hypnotic engagement on both the healing and the spiritual level.
This energy was a personal one which was immediately communicable to his disciples: Matt 10:1 "And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease." These powers were freely given Matt 10:8 "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give" and continued after his death Acts 8:7.
Jesus cured a variety of physical ailments including the blind (John 9:2), dumb (Matt 9:32, Luke 11:14), blind and dumb (Matt 12:22), gout (Luke 13:11), dropsy (Luke 14:2), leprosy (Luke 17:12), palsy (mark 2:5), fever (Luke 4:38), dystrophy or paralysis (Mark 3:5), and menorrea (Luke 8:43). All these were regarded as possessed.
In dealing with unclean spirits, Jesus was often described dealing with significant mental conditions which are identifiable with epilepsy, severe psychosis and personality disorder:
The latter comes closer to being the subject of an exorcist than a psychiatrist, however this is again a phenomenon which has proved to have continuing therapeutic demand over the centuries, including some people who commit crimes of violence and the phenomenon of multiple personality (Wilson I 108).
It is typical of Jewish popular religion and in Galilee particularly to attribute disorders to unclean spirits. Powers of exorcism were common to several known hasidim and appear to represent a traditional skill. Jesus had a characteristic sharp style and command with exorcism "Be quiet! Come out of him!" (Mark 1:26) "Be opened!" (Mark 7:34) "Little girl, I get you up!" (Mark 5:41). Two attributes of Jesus appear to have accentuated his powers. The first was his conviction that God was acting and speaking through him in amanner unparalleled since thdays of Moses - 'the finger of God' (Luke 11:20). The other was the urgency of the dread "last Times". (Wilson I 108-9).
An important feature of Jesus' healing was the remission of sins. Any sign of sickness was construed in a sense to be a comment from God, and possibly a result of the sins of the victim. There was an idea of an adding up of one's sins, for which the Day of Atonement sacrifice was supposed to substantially lighten the heavy pan of sin. However Jesus, as an integral aspect, of his healing claimed to forgive sin and further denied that misfortune and sickness arose from the sin of the victim, although he does attribute misfortune to the Last Times:
This stands in stark contrast to the Jewish theologians of the times: "There are three kinds of dropsy: when it results from lewdness the body is hard; when it results from hunger, the body is bloated; when it results from magic spell, the body is emaciated" Exodus 2:38 "And youshal take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials" Leprosy was believed to come from seven causes: calumny, bloodshed, perjury, fornication, pride, robbery and envy. "Whoever engages in intercourse by the light of a lamp will have epileptic children" Women who make love on top will have lame children and those who talk during lovemaking will have deaf (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 83).
Jesus overturned such religious conventions even going so far as to cure on the sabbath when the malady was not life threatening and when there is no danger in delaying treatment (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 83): Mark 3:5 And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.
Of course, exorczing demons came with the stigma of being regarded as a practitioner of sorcery. Exod 22:18 "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Jesus answers the charge by saying "How can Satan cast himself?" Mark 3:22 And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub (Ba'al Zebul), and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils. And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. At the time his friends tried to restrain him: 3:21 And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.
The picture in Nazareth gives us a very good insight into the nature of Jesus' miracles. Jesus had already established a divergence with his family by Mark 3:31 [Thomas 99] "There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of the Father, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother."
John 7:2 likewise exposes a divergence of attitude between Jesus and his family: "Now the Jew's feast of tabernacles was at hand. His brethren therefore said unto him, 'Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world.' For neither did his brethren believe in him. Then Jesus said unto them, 'My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready.'" This follows on from his disclaimer to his mother at Cana "Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come."
The desposyni or line 'belonging to the Lord' became the progenitors of the Jewish Christian church, beginning with Jesus' brother James the Just. The strong Essene view of these family members contrasts not only witth the synoptic gospels but with the diversity of teachings Jesus expressed across the gnostic and canonical accounts. While Paul is doubtless adding born-again ornamentation to the tradition and there is a clear tension between the Roman Pauline tradition and the repressed desposyni - the Lord's own family, the family itself is neither the Christ nor Jesus own inspiration. James is characterized as elect to enter the holy of holies.
At Nazareth Jesus fails to perform. The honesty of the accounts is supported by the failure of the disciples (Mark 9:17) or even Jesus (Mark 6:4) to perform miracles. "A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them." The gospel writers use various schemes to hide their embarrasment Mark covers by saying 'though he cured a few people by laying hands on them' Matthew says 'he did not work many miracles there' and Luke changes the whole plot to a different source.
Mark 6:1 "And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, 'From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda[s], and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?' And they were offended at him. But Jesus, said unto them, 'A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.' And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief."
Matt 13:54 "And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, 'Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?' And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, 'A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.' And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief."
Luke takes a very different tack. He has Jesus deliver a sermon at the Synagogue in Nazareth at which Jesus delivers a sermon in which he uses Isaiah to in effect declare the messiahship. Luke 4:17 "And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, 'This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.'"
In John Jesus retires to a mountain to aviod being taken and made king: 6:15 "When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone." Jesus was called by the Jews Baalam the lame and is believed to have been lamed on a mountain in the wilderness in a coronation rite as sacred king.
Next in Luke comes a passage in which his physical deformity is hinted at and speaks to their incredulity at his messianic claim: 4:22 "And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, 'Is not this Joseph's son?' And he said unto them, 'Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, "Physician, heal thyself": whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.' And he said, 'Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country'." Luke than has Jesus then point out that the previous miracles were few and far between by comparison and moreover, exclusively to the gentiles, which sees him nearly thrown off a cliff. "But he passing through the midst of them went his way." Escaping an angry crowd seething with controversy is scarcely a miracle.
Wilson (109) notes that it is just under these circumstances that a hypnotic or trance cure would be most likely to fail, because the awe and mystery is replaced by frank familiarity.
The water into wine at Cana is another miracle which could be attribtued easily to hypnosis, as it is almost a clich of the hypnotists art to have a group of people believe thay are becoming very drunk on mere glasses of water. Moreover, drunk people would be even more suggestible. This is at least a more fleshy interpretation than the idea that 'the good wine' is Jesus' message of love.
Jesus even used such powers as evidence ofthe Kingdom Matt 12:28 But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.
The Transfiguration and the initiation into the Kingdom of God at Gethsemane may thus have been equally hypnotic visions, as suggested by Morton Smith (1978) or if you like shamanic trance states induced by Jesus through the power of the moment and the message he was communicating (Wilson I 113).
Jesus rejected the use of miracles to make people believe, and significantly refused to perform a miracle sign for any sceptics: John 4:48 "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe." In this case the nobleman's son does get better, but he doesn't find this out until the next day. When they ask for a sign at John 6:30 he offers them only the bread of life.
However the believers founded their belief on his miraculous reputation John 7:31 And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?
Mark allows for no sign at all, but Matthew twice responds, with Jonas and the rising on the third day, followed in the second case by a red sky of the end of days.
Significantly, the Apostolic letters say nothing of miracles by Jesus (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 80). This in itself suggests that the raising of the miracles was partly a response to the failure of the big miracle, the Kingdom of God to arrive within one generation, as stated by Jesus.
In John, the major miracles appear to have been derived from an older miracle list. Cana is the first and the Nobleman's son is the second, despite wonders in many places between these two.
The miracle at Cana is discussed in another chapter because it stands so clearly as an emulation of the works of Dionysus on the very day of his festival. This leaves the question wide open as to whether the entire episode is invented by later gospel writers. However it does apparently come from a previous miracle list and the involvement of Jesus' mother is more than interesting: John 2:4 "Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it."
This miracle comes at the very beginning of Jesus' mission, in fact three years before his crucifixion according to John and two years before his baptism according to synoptic reckoning. Mary is a figure, who outside the birth sequence, and the odd unsuccessful visit by 'thy mother and brethren' is virtually absent elsewhere. Yet here we find the mother commanding the messiah to perform a Dionysian miracle as if it is she who is assigning him to his destiny and who is aware that his hour is going to come.
Is this a vignette from an earlier part of Jesus mission that comes from even before his baptism? Cana, the baptism and the magi are all celebrated on the triple epiphany of Jan 6th, the date of the festival of Dionysus. Of the three it is Cana which is the defining date. This suggests that it is it which is the founding tradition of the Epiphany. Does this mean that Jesus' mission began with the true vine and only subsequently gained John's baptism. Jesus' brothers are known as nazirite in demeanour like John the Baptist, but here it is Mary of Nazareth, and the disciples, not Jesus' brothers who are invited.
The miracle of the man with the legion of spirits (Mark 5:1, Matt 8:28, Luke 8:26) has an amusing and in Josephus' redacted words 'paradoxical' result. If the legion is a case of multiple personality disorder, his case is legend for he had no less than 6,120 personalities on Roman convention. Jesus calls out the legion and consents for it to go into a herd of swine grazing nearby. Then the herd, numbering about 2,000 rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned.
Uta Ranke-Heinmann (1992 89) has a charming commentary on this situation. Given a demonic army of thousands, they neither resist, nor hide despite causing such grevious possession, but rush to capitulate. Why do they address Jesus as the Son of the most high and adjure Jesus in the name of God, when this is what Jesus should be doing to them? Why did they willingly agree to enter pigs at all, and "why did the demons instantly rob themselves of the very biotype they had requested?" Was this really the end of them? "Another disturbing thought is that, with the permission amiably granted to the demons, Jesus did serious damage to the owners of the herd." Mark 5:17 notes that "they began to beg Jesus to depart from their neighbourhood". At best this would promulgate a reputation for sorcery not messiahship, although it does function as a folk-tale of deceiving the devil into a poor bargain.
The three descriptions of raising the dead, the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:22, Matt 9:18, Luke 8:40), the young man from Nain (Luke 7:11) and Lazarus (John 11:1) form a spectrum in which the miraculous becomes successively heightened. In the first, we see a healing act in which the girls may just be comatose. Jesus even says "the child is not dead, but sleeping' (Mark 5:39). There are many conditions from diabetic shock to low blood pressure which can induce unconsciousness.
The young man from Nain is apparently dead, but the report occurs only in Luke. Furthermore, this miracle is clearly cast in the scriptural shadow of Elija's miracle. The bier also closely resembles the sory of Apollonius. One could hardly avoid suggesting that Luke generated his passage directly from Kings:
Once again, the raising of Lazarus occurs only in one book, John. Like much of John's unique contribution, itis situated in Judea rather than Galilee. Moreover, the key players are not merely objective observers, but key participants in the whole event, who are well-known and beloved unto Jesus. One has to either take a credulous or somewhat cynical view of this event.
In the case of Lazarus, we enter the domain of the Passion itself, in which any motif has to be interpreted in terms of its relation to the main act of the play, because in the very act of raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus is passing the death sentence upon himself. Indeed afterwards he is anointed by Mary, and notes she has kept the ointment against his burial. This strongly suggests that the entire episode has been carefully pre-planned by all the participants, not to deceive anyone concerning Jesus' powers, which they doubtless believe in, but as a ritual piece six days before the Passover, to set the Crucifixion in motion, through an act of conjuring magic. John 12:10 comments that the chief priests also sought to put Lazarus to death, so they presumably believed him to be a cogniscant party. It is easy to see the stench as a theatrical effect, laid on for 'pungent' conviction, along with the bandage-clad figure. It is also clear the the disciples did not know any of the details of the arrangements in Jerusalem, including the passwords Jesus had set up for the ass and the Last Supper venue. All these features gel into one clear message - a carefully-planned Dionysian passion drama.
Renan (184) did not believe Lazarus was raised from the dead but neither could he concede that he knew the raising was false. This leaves a much more superficial and fragile explanation: "They thought that the joy that Lazarus would feel at his arrival might restore him to life. ... It may be that Lazarus, still pallid with disease caused himself to be wrapped with bandages, as if dead, and shut up in the tomb of his family. ... The emotion which Jesus experienced at the tomb of his friend, whom he believed to be dead, might be taken by those present for the agitation and trembling which accompanied miracles. Jesus desired to see once again him whom he had loved, and the stone being removed, Lazarus came forth in his bandages, his head covered with a winding sheet. ... Faith knows of no other law than the interest of that which it believes to be true. ... Being intimately persuaded that Jesus was a thaumaturgus, Lazarus and his two sisters may have aided in the execution of one of his miracles, just as many pious men , who convinced of the truth of their religion, have sought to triumph over the obstinacy of their opponents by means of whose weakness they are all well aware."
Morton Smith also suggests that Lazarus may have been put into a death-like trance by hypnotic techniques, which could even be done from a distance by pot-hypnotic suggestion (Wilson I 113). This heavy emphasis on hypnosis however counts as much against Jesus' intentions even more than a straight ritual enactment, because in both cases he is well-aware that Lazarus is far from dead, but in the hypnosis scenario he is a lone deceiver. In the enactment, it is a spiritual mystery play performed by an inner gnostic circle. Lazarus has made the baptism of descent in advance of Jesus.
A passage found by Morton Smith at the Mar Saba monastery twelve miles from Jerusalem sheds a whole new complexion on this episode. Discovered in a 17th century manuscript was a hand-written extract of a commentary by Clement. This concerned a secret version of Mark designed for 'those who were being perfected' or 'those who were being initiated into the great mysteries', which included an additional passage describing the events parallel to the raising of Lazarus, which also involved a secret initiation (Wilson I 26):
"And they came into Bethany, and a certain woman, whose brother had died, was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, 'Son of David, have mercy on me'. But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over [his] naked [body]. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan."
Clement follows up the quotation with a reassurance that 'Theodore' the recipient of the letter had obviously heard, that Jesus and the rich young man were not naked together during the initiation (Wilson I 27). Some people have suggested a homosexual liaison is implied by Mark 14:51 "And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked."
This passage portrays the entire episode as a bapitsmal initiaition into the mysteries of the kingdom of God, in which a ritual death possibly akin to the shamanic crisis which is accompanied by near-death in illness or vigil is followed by rebirth into the new world of power. The raising from the dead and the night of the kingdom of God thus combine into both a dramatic and a spiritual event. The episode also has a tighter explanatory power of the passage "Son of David have mercy on me"
A second insert is believed to complete another passage in Mark 10:46 "And they came to Jericho: ... and the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved and his mother and Salome were there and Jesus did not receive them; ... and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging."
This episode raises a paradoxical question. Was this the 'beloved disciple' of John's gospel, who was described as a well to do young Jerusalem priest, whom many people have identified with John himself? If so, what light does it cast on Lazarus? 13:23 "Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved." 19:26 "When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother!" 20:2 "Then [Magdalen] runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him."
The baptism has also been described with a heavy sexual innuendo by Morton Smith and Bishop Montefiore has suggested that Jesus might have been a homosexual (Wilson I 96-7) . Although he is associated with Magdalen, he is unmarried. However the emphasis of innocent nudity in trampling Eden's garments of shame is also associated in Thomas and other gnostic sayings with returning the two to the one - the sexual to the innocent genderless androgyny (Crossan 329).
The breaking of the bread for the five thousand "men, not counting women and children" (Matt 14:13, Mark 6:44, Luke 9:14, John 6:10) has been referred to as a ritual episode, the first great communion service, rather than a miracle, in which the five loaves many be the fivefold testimony, the two fishes the baptism and eucharist, the word the abundant meal and the twelve baskets the mandate to the disciples. It is recorded in all four gospels, so it is a pivotal episode, like the crucifixion. It is clearly a Dionysian or Tammuz-like manifestation as John's bread of heaven is the flesh of the redeemer, but it also has precedents in the Old Tesatament. The bread of heaven is the word of god, manifest in actuality in the communion wafer. A loaf divided in 10 in each direction constitutes a thousand good-sized morsels, as any communion priest should know well.
2 King 4:42 And there came a man from Baalshalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof. And he said, Give unto the people, that they may eat. And his servitor said, What, should I set this before an hundred men? He said again, Give the people, that they may eat: for thus saith the Lord, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof.
These quotes set a precedent, both for feeding many with a small offering and particularly for the role of Jesus as the new and greater Moses. It is really quite intriguing that Psalm 78 refers to the bread as 'flesh'. The bread only ever becomes flesh in Tammuz. The psalm probably dates from the time of Hezekiah as it has the philosphy of decline but refers to the first Temple (Cohen A 249). At this time the old sacrifical worship had an integral place.
It is significant that the disciples themselves did not see the episode of the feeding of the 5000 as a miracle. When Jesus is purported to walk on the water, theystill did not belive the loaves: Mark 6:51 And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.
Even when the second bread-breaking occurred, the disciples still had so little belief in Jesus actual powers of feeding the hungry that they mistake the bread of the Pharisees for a comment about their lack of bread on the boat. Jesus has to remonstrate with them again. Thus it seems neither the walking on water, nor two episodes of bread-breaking convinced the disciples themselves of a miracle: Mark 8:14 Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, neither had they in the ship with them more than one loaf. And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread. And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven. And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?
This passage also has Jesus himself claim there were two episodes of breaking bread. This may be the case, although it is only in Mark and Matthew that we find the second breaking of bread. It is only Matthew who has Jesus claim the two are real in this way. Matthews account emellishing with such detail appears to be a case of mythical ornamentation, which is a common feature of the later gospels.
With the mariner miracles we are again in the territory of Dionysus a god of the sea who is renowned for his seafaring miracles. The case of calming the troubled waters (Mark 4:37) is a universal feature of gods of order, common to Ba'al and Yahweh and also the subject of Jewish myth in the Talmud concerning a Jewish boy who prays to Yahweh when the idols fail the mariners (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 95):
Psalm 89:9 Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.
Walking on the water as one of the most conceptually 'paradoxical' of the miracles. Jesus is purported to have walked out from his mountain sojurn over the lake where the disciples were struggling with the weather. He then enters the boat, which miraculously arrives at once at the other shore, where people marvel because they know Jesus didnt get into the boat back on the other side. Matthew again ornaments this tale mythically by including Peter having a try for himself and almost making it, but losing confidence part way out to Jesus. This latter part links in quite a poetic way to Psalm 69 which is one prophetic of the Crucifixion and several other passages (Schonfield 272).
This can be explained as nature shamanism. The disciples went out on the lake but were blown back inshore by bad weather. As they approached the shore, the wind changed. In the twilight, they saw Jesus in the distance over the water beckoning to them. He wades out to meet them as the storm miraculously stills, and they all sail for the other side of the lake. Jesus the shaman has circumnavigated them, they have been drawn back to him by synchronicity and he has arrived miraculously just as the storm vanishes at the turn of twilight. Or we could think of it as hypnotic shamanism. He tells them he is going up the mountain, and in a trance, they all set sail looking out over the stormy lake, thinking they can see him out over the water. But suddenly he appears with them miraculously in the boat. Or maybe Mark did what Matthew did and ornamented the previous simpler story of Jesus calming the waters.
Whether Jesus did physically walk on the water is a poignant question in the same territory as whether he really got resurrected in the body. This leads us to his next great miracle which was of course the Crucifixion itself.
The sombre aspect of Jesus' miracles is that, despite their purported God-given power, they appear to have been of no avail to him in his hour of greatest need. His own life, by contrast, appears to have been subject to the prophecy of others divined by the second Isaiah, Zecchariah and inadvertently by David and other Psalm writers and the inexorable physical reality of imprisonment and execution. Neither in his arrest nor his trial does he display any of his miraculous powers, although these would clearly be of even more significance than one more crucified Jewish insurrectionist. He is mocked forthis on the cross:
Are we to conclude this is all the pre-destined will of God, or debunk it as mere superstition, or should we rather consider the strange ways reality and human anticipation become woven together in the fabric of space-time? Should we now throw the same challenges back in the face of Abba? If you are the supreme God who can cause Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead, why not just show us and we will believe at once? Why not bring Jesus down from the cross and manifest your divine power without the atoning sacrifice of death? Why conspire to demonstrate our sinfullness for allowing your first-born, only-begotten to perish for us when we don't ask it, don't need it, and can equally turn to your manifested greatness, if you are the divine creator of immortal life? The answer lies in those prophecies - the Suffering Servant and the persecuted David of the Psalms - these are the buskins of the dying and resurrected god from which even miraculous Jesus could not escape.
The Crucifixion is itself nevertheless a major event of miraculous description. In Mark 15:33 events are relatively simple. The land goes dark from the sixth to the ninth hour, Jesus cries El, El, why hast thou forsaken me? ... And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God. In the gospel of the Hebrews when Jesus dies, the great lintel falls (Schonfield 274).
However in Matthew the process of mythical ornamentation has really set in: 27:45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
There is simply no parallel in the other gospels nor any historical justification for this flight of fantasy, into the Day of Judgement but there is a clear precedent for the shaking and darkness and that is the first covenant on Mount Sinai. This is successively expressed in more apocalyptic terms:
The Resurrection also has all the hallmarks of miracle and of fantasy. In Paul's earliest writings, there is simply an affirmation 0f the exhaltation of the rising on the third day. Jesus at first simply died for our sins, he was buried, he was raised up by God (Spong 1994 48). Paul made quite clear that 1 Cor 15:50 "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of god, nor can the perishable inherit the imperishable". Rom 6:9 "Christ, being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him" "seated at the right hand of God" (Col 3:1). This tells us essentially the same story as would any god which has risen in the spirit to heaven.
When anyone departs from this world, particularly a person of charisma such as Jesus, and particularly, given the intensity of the events, people in the throes of mourning could be expected to have visions of the deceased one. It frequently happens that people see a vision of a recently dead person, perhaps on awakening in the morning, or sitting quietly after a meal, or dream about them, as if they are still as real as life. However after the crucifixion we have a definite wailing party for the dying god.
In Mark these are simple and sparse. He appeared to Magdalen (16:9) and later (16:12) in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. Finally (16:14) he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. Sparse as they may be, even these passages are held by some to be a false addendum (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 137).
Matthew takes off into the world of the angels again, giving Magdalen and the guards a supernatural shock of their lives: Matt 28:2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.
Jesus then appears to them, and as Spong (1994) has astutely noted, tells them to meet him back in Galilee, where their unusual movement had its spiritual roots: 28:8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word. And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.
Finally they do go to Galilee and he appears in power and even the trinity gets a preview: 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
In Luke, two are again taken up with another man while walking to Emmaus, whom they do not recognise. They tell him of Christ's death, and he upbraids them "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" and he expounds the scriptures. When they invite him to tea. He breaks bread and manifests, suddenly disappearing from their eyes. They race off to Jerusalem and just as everyone gathers, he manifests again and says "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have ... Have ye here any meat?" And having seen his hands and feet they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and honeycomb."
He now makes an etherial exit 24:50 And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. The authenticity of this passage is questioned (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 145).
We have obviously made a major inroad into new theological territory. This is no Dionysus who departs his flesh and blood to vanish etherially into the heavens, but a spiritual lead balloon - a physical flesh and blood god who nevertheless rises etherial again to heaven! It is a wonder none of the disciples ask for an extra drop or two of blood to complete the eucharistic supper at Emmaus. Presumbably this blood is full of the holy ghost. One dose should be enough for immortal life!
Matters could not really get worse, but they do. In John we firstly have a truly poetic episode in the Garden of Eden sequence, with Magdalen wailing for Tammuz, and Jesus appearing as Adam (the gardener). He then personally instructs her to tell the disciples. This would all be straightforward because Jesus says "touch me not for I am not ascended". Then later when they were together when the doors were shut, Jesus appears and says "peace be unto you". Eight days later he appears again under the same circumstances both of which are again like unto the meal-time visitation at Emmaus and this time Thomas is present, who says he will not believe unless he thrusts his hand into his side. (It is only in John that Jesus is actually wounded). Jesus says 20:27 "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. This is the real meatworks resurrection".
Jesus appears yet again, but this time ephemeral, by the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew him not. He then suggests they fish on the other side and they catch a royal catch. He now invites them to the sacred supper 21:12 "Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord." Then he asks Simon three times if he loves him to get his dander. He then tells him the death he is to die and that the beloved disciple is to wait for Jesus to come back. "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" This of course echoes the earlier episode of Luke 5:4, which suggests a reconstruction.
We finally reach in Acts the completely fairy tale departure of Jesus from the (all male) apostles after a mythical forty day period of intimacy in the beaming up witnessed by two angels : 1:4 "And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight."
Just to complete the mythical cycle, the two angels tell the gaping watchers that Jesus will descend just the same way in the second coming :And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
The following passage is in honour of David Friedrich Strauß (1837) who is one of the first to take Jesus down from the cross, or in this case from the stratosphere.
We know that anyone who wants to go to God and the precincts of the Blessed is taking a needless detour, if he thinks this means he has to soar into the upper levels of the air, Surely Jesus ... would not have taken such a superfluous journey, nor would God have made him take it. Thus one would have to assume something like a divine accomodation to the world-picture people had back then, and say: In order to convince the disciples of Jesus' return to the higher world, even though in fact this world was by no means to be sought in the upper atmosphere, God nevertheless staged the spectacle of this sort of elevation. But this would be turning God into a sleight-of-hand artist (Strauss 1837 678).
With regard to the resurrection in the flesh, Strauß is even more poetic: "It is impossible that a being who had been stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging strengthening and indulgence ... could have given the disciples the impression that he was the Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life."
It is only the exaltation which has any substance in myth, let alone history. The root truth is that Jesus was exalted on the third day.
In every gospel he has risen, but, like the failure of the Kingdom to arrive, which is their raison d'etre, the exaltation gets delayed. Jesus becomes a psycho-physical chimera. Even in Matthew he was well ascended from the mountain in Galilee. By the time of Acts, Jesus has gone up to heaven enough times to be getting like the legion who entered the pigs. What we are seeing, as we always do, is God fashioned in the image of the human imagination. It is a case of god made by man, not God who makes humankind.
That is not to say that Jesus did not appear in exhaulted form as a hallucinatory or dream vision, or even as Wilson (I 141-2) has suggested as a post-hypnotic suggestion. A person experiencing such a condition appears to manifest a dream-like subjective image which cannot easily be distinguished from genuine perception. Many people receive visionary or dream visitations of loved ones, particularly in the aftermath of sudden and tragic death. Given the circumstances of the Crucifixion, the fervour of the followers, and the expectation induced by the eschatological messiah it would be very surprising if such witness did not occur. One could even suggest that these visions may in a sense be the shamanic Christ risen in the visionary mind, but then their central purpose has to be a democratic, rather than an elitist one - that we are all the visionary Christs - every bit the equal and the very embodiment of the Lord.