The Pokey Finger of God

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The Gnostic Calling of Jesus

July 12th, 2008 · No Comments · christianity, history

In reviewing some historical material, specifically the Prophets of the Old Testament, something new occurred to me. On one level, the Prophets of Ancient Israel and Judah were the real standard bearers for the Yah cult. Some of the kings seemed to like it, perhaps because they imagined that they could somehow politically reunite the “nation of Yah worshipers”. But, it was the Prophets who were most sincerely devoted to their Lord, and this sincerity is evident in their writings.

Something that the Prophets generally shared was an experience of their God entreating them to join in His service. It is the “Calling” from which they draw their authority to serve God. Abraham was called by God. Moses was called by God. Jeremiah was called by God. Samuel was called by God — and it’s an endearing story of Samuel as a small child hearing God’s call for the first time, and thinking it was his master in the next room. When God calls, Samuel is told, there is a very specific formula for responding.

You say, “Here I am.”

God told Moses that his name was “I am,” and so when Samuel hears God call his name, Samuel is told to respond with God’s name — “Here, I am.” As fond as the Hebrew writers were of patterns, this familiarity is one of those literary symbols used to indicate a supreme closeness to God. “Here I am.”

It is remarkable that for a character who otherwise is so closely patterned after Moses, Jesus the Nazarean never appears to have had a classic “calling” experience. We do not have a scene where Jesus is awakened from his slumber with God’s voice in his ear, “Jesus, Jesus”. We do not hear the Son of Man lifting up his voice to his God, “Here I am.” The mythos has God choosing Jesus from before birth, and when we first meet Jesus as an adult, it’s clear that he’s already established his divine relationship.

While we don’t have a classic “Calling” event, what we do have are two related scenes placed at the beginning of his ministry. The mysterious sacrament of Baptism is first revealed as the Christ was anointed as such. After which there was the descent of spiritual light into Jesus, all accompanied by some grateful words to the assembled crowd from a loving deity. “I love you all: thanks for coming. I’m here every Thursday. Try the corned beef.”

Not really. Although He does say something equally irrelevant if you’re looking for the classing “Calling” scenario. It’s a declarative statement from God that this fellow here is chosen by God and God already thinks he’s really neat and thus has obligated this fine fellow to die a horrible death. Oh, wait. He does kinda leave that last part out, doesn’t He?

And then, right after this deific crowning event, our newly moistened monarch hastens to the wilderness for a close and personal conversation with… The Devil. Yes, the tempter, old burning-britches, that Lord of the Flies, Satan himself is there to have a little chat with the Chosen One of God. Actually, because he’s the Devil, he had to be late, and leave Jesus waiting in the wilderness without food or water for 40 days. Jerk.

So this trickster offers Jesus all manner of worldly power and comforts, but these are all declined with the moral superiority of a Salvation Army parade. The message being that Jesus has placed his in the written word of a higher god. The story has cruel echoes of the “Calling” experience, but it is difficult to know if these are deliberate.

On one hand, it seems as if the folks who assembled the biography of the Christ had not really been close students of Judaic culture, history or traditions. As if there had already been some generations of distinction between Christians and Jews before the story of Christ had ever been created. Jesus simply doesn’t seem very Jewish. We’re not given to believe that he married or had children. The stories are emphatic that not only is he not following his father’s business — again, very odd — but he’s out doing all this proselytizing without even being part of a priestly family. (For that matter, his link to the monarchical line is suspect. If he was really in the line of David, wouldn’t he have lived in Judah, the land of David?)

Continuing, he appears to have discarded sabbath rules, dietary laws, and even broken with tradition on the very steps of the Temple. His teachings and parables ran counter to the traditions of his day, to the point of driving contemporary cultural leaders against him. His relationship with John the Baptist also marked him as a rebel. (El Baptiste was either trying to express a restorationist view of the Yah cult, or he was popularizing some other idealized local cult.) The story of the Baptism of Christ is equally weird in how the anointing and pronouncement of Jesus’ position occurred not in Yah’s official cult Temple in Jerusalem, but in the sticks with the fruits and the nuts.

The Gospels make the point many times that Jesus’ ministry was in opposition to the official Yah cult. Jesus’ behavior makes it hard to believe he enjoyed being a Jew — at the very least, the people writing the story of Christ had not been part of Jewish culture for a long time. The Gospel writers all disagreed in equally wrong ways about minor elements of Jewish tradition and custom of earlier periods. This might be why Jesus appears to be so iconoclastic, if not anachronistic: he was just a Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, as it were.

On the other hand, it could be that the writers of the Gospels were deliberate in their opposition to the Yah cult, and that their knowledge of Hebrew culture was in depth. The story of the Baptism and subsequent Temptation might have been a ironic take on the “Calling” experience, seen through eyes!

There’s way more to it than this, but the kernel of relevant fact here is that the Gnostics believed in a local deity that was responsible for the creation of the Earth, and that there was a further deity, a higher god, that was the real Prime Mover of the universe. The local god was seen as an evil demiurge responsible for all the ills of material living. Most gnostic readings of the period refer to Yahweh as being the local demiurge, with the Gnostics cleaving to a different god as the Most High.

From this perspective, the Temptation is a twisted retelling of the traditional “Calling” narrative. The Devil in this story, from the Gnostic perspective, is just Yahweh doing his usual “Calling” upon an obviously advanced spirit, and we see Jesus shunning the materialistic advances of this demiurge. Yah calls, but Jesus never says, “Here I am”. After all, he was just spoken for by the Most High. Why truck with the doorman?

Despite saying all this, it may simply be that placing the Baptism in the Jordan, and linking Jesus to prophecies by Isaiah and Ezekiel (who were prophets from a previous time when there was not a temple in Jerusalem) were both efforts to provide an answer to the Jewish people, after the destruction of the Second Temple, regarding their God and his relationship to them. As had been asserted by Ezekiel in a similar period in the past, Yahweh was there for his people on a chariot of fire at a moments notice, where-ever they were. Jesus was there to demonstrate that the updated cult was again everywhere you wanted to be.

It is possible that all of these theories are correct, and that the Gospel stories as we have them today are a fine weaving together of all these opposing views. And even if they’re all wrong, it’s still something interesting to think about.

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