The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum…

May 28th, 2007 · No Comments · christianity, history

More speculations on history and the development of myth.

Origins: The word ‘Gnostic’ is being phased out of my working vocabulary, as it fails to provide a consistent, definitive meaning. This word is frequently used as a wide brush to tar all manner of deviations from orthodoxy, yet the more I try to pin down the core elements of gnosticism, the more elusive and amorphous it becomes. The biggest problem is that when you look at the tenets of every supposed gnostic group, you get this enormous hodge-podge of conflicting belief. Generally, it’s some combination of Jewish-Christianity and Zoroastrianism. Some are hedonistic, others ascetic. Some are focused on the higher planes, others very clearly are focused on the lower planes. Once you filter out the Mazdaism and Yahwism, you’re not usually left with much.

[nota bene: Missing here is where I make the point that, based on the consistent elements, you could define gnosticism as “A”. For good measure, I would also likely list the consistent elements of Mazdaism, defining this as “B”. Although it should be clear to the reader that “A” very nearly equals “B”. Then the next paragraph could then be changed to something less jarring.]

Christian historians are in surprising agreement that gnosticism began in the 3rd century BC, and while this may have been the time when the Greeks first encountered it, gnosticism was a fundamental element of Indo-European Mazdaism. Zoroaster himself is now sought by academics in the 10-12th centuries before Christ, while his faith drew heavily from primitive Indo-European religious roots. When the Persians brought Zoroastrianism to the Levant, my expectation is that there was already a form of Mazdaism predominant in that place, so that this was a minor reform of existing practices rather than a radical alteration of the cultural landscape. Consequently, I’m no longer searching for the origin of Gnostic thought, given that it is apparently a significant part of the cultural landscape over the time leading up to the development of Christianity, if not also for Judaism.

Jesus of Galilee — Mystery Man of the Ages: Who is this guy, anyway? The more you look for him, he’s not there! It simply makes no sense that a guy of his educational and social status to have not left any evidence behind. No polemics or letters? No children? No official mention from the Herodian government before his execution? Not likely. Shouldn’t we have at least as much commentary and letter writing between The Twelve that we get between Paul and a half-dozen no-name true believers? Why didn’t Josephus even mention Jesus after spending six paragraphs going on about how nifty John the Baptist was? Shouldn’t there be at least one document stating that the author was personally taught by Jesus?

Quite a number of quandaries wash away when Jesus takes his rightful place alongside Heracles and Sherlock Holmes. Now we don’t expect to see writings or family from him, just a chain of initiates. So if Jesus was a fiction, who made him up? Presumably, the ‘why’ gets answered once one knows ‘who’, although one gets the sense that a Jesus of some sort would have been a required character right around the time he appeared.

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