Before I go into this analysis, I need to clarify a few things for my readers. If you wish to read a characterization of Christ that reaffirms all the orthodox notions of him, I recommend going back to your Bible, or to your local church and listen to your preacher. There’s no point in my simply restating what’s already been said so many times before.
I’m attempting here to argue something different: a combination of ideas from modern Biblical scholarship with some literary interpretations of my own. So if you, Dear Reader, happen to be a Bible-believing Christian who doesn’t like to have his or her cherished beliefs challenged, I’m afraid that this analysis isn’t for you; stop reading, and do as I suggested in the above paragraph. I respect your right to have your faith, but I don’t share it.
Also, if your beliefs are as I’ve said above, don’t assume that you’ll read this through, then ‘prove me wrong’ in the comments section with a reading list of links and books. Don’t assume you’re going ‘to win my soul for Christ’: almost twenty years ago, I went through a Christian phase, for about six or seven years, then I lost my faith by the end of the 2000s. I’d say bringing me back into the flock, through a little online arguing, is most unlikely.
Finally, if my analysis offends your sense of orthodoxy, I’d advise against making abusive comments, as such an attitude is decidedly un-Christian, and therefore will have the opposite effect of changing my mind. Recall Jesus’ words in this connection: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5: 43-47)
Then, there’s what Bill Hicks said in response to offended Christians (<<<at about 1:20).
Furthermore, if my interpretations seem to be ‘manipulative’ of Scripture, keep in mind how manipulative the Church and others in power have always been in their interpretation of the same Scriptures, typically for political ends. For those manipulations, the accepted ones, are ones that have been made by the owners of the most real estate!
Now, as for those of you who are open-minded enough to consider a different point of view, I welcome you.
II: Jesus, the Anti-imperialist Revolutionary
Jesus was not a “Christian.” He had no intention of starting a new religion, nor did his immediate followers, including James and Peter. It was Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, who introduced the idea of Jesus dying for our sins to save us from eternal damnation (see The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, by Hyam Maccoby, for a full argument), faith in this salvific death replacing the Torah, something neither Jesus nor his immediate followers ever intended to abrogate, an idea they would have been horrified even to contemplate.
Jesus saw himself as the Messiah in the traditional Jewish sense of the concept: descended from David (even Paul acknowledged this in Romans 1:3), a king “who would restore the Jewish monarchy, drive out the Roman invaders, set up an independent Jewish state, and inaugurate an era of peace, justice and prosperity (known as ‘the kingdom of God’) for the whole world.” (Maccoby, page 15) He did not consider himself divine; such an idea was added decades later by the Pauline Church. For him, ‘Son of God‘ was not meant to be taken literally, but was rather expressive of how he was a righteous follower of God, as used in the Hebrew Bible.
Now, I don’t subscribe to Caleb Maupin’s notion that Jesus was a socialist, but this notion of Christ as a revolutionary, who didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34), is an inspiring concept for us anti-imperialists today. For as Mao taught us, “Revolution is not a dinner party,” and “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” As I will argue below, there are revolutionary things Jesus and his followers said and did that can inspire us socialists today, if in a symbolic, allegorical form.
Of course one wouldn’t know that Christ was a revolutionary to read the New Testament, since the followers of the Pauline Church, including the four evangelists, edited out and minimized all discussion of militant action. Only a few such remarks, such as the quote given in the link from Matthew in the previous paragraph, remain in the Gospels as, so to speak, Freudian slips that go against the tendenz of the general message, and therefore hint at the hidden truth.
Other examples of the truth slipping out include how Jesus’ disciples included one called “Simon the Zealot,” as well as the “Sons of Thunder” (or does Boanerges mean “Sons of Tumult,” or “Sons of Anger”?). Why would a mild-mannered preacher of peace and love, so willing to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” include a Zealot, as well as such aggressive types, among his disciples?
A more important question is why this militant, revolutionary message was edited out (with the exception of such oversights as those mentioned above). Though some scholars have claimed that Roman rule over Palestine in the first century CE wasn’t all that oppressive, others say it was. Romans crucified men for the crime of sedition, as I discussed in my analysis of Spartacus. Thousands of Jews claiming to be the Messiah were put to death in this cruel, excruciating way. Why kill them this way if the revolutionary threat wasn’t so great, and why risk such a painful death if one’s oppression wasn’t all that severe?
The earliest of the Gospels to be written was that of Mark, written around 66-74 CE, either just before or just after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. The other three Gospels were written years, if not a decade or two, after this event, when the brutally defeated Jews were too demoralized to take up the revolutionary struggle so soon again.
For the early Christian Church, having just been persecuted under Nero, any antagonism of Rome would have been inadvisable, to say the least; whereas gaining as many Roman converts as possible would have been in the Church’s best interests. Hence, as appeasing an attitude to Rome as could be achieved, while also contradicting the known history as minimally as possible, was desirable to these early Christian missionaries.
Added to this issue was the growing antipathy between the original Jewish Jesus movement and the Gentile Pauline Church (In this connection, consider how defensive Paul gets in 2 Corinthians 11 against those “super-apostles” who doubt his authority as an apostle; consider also the controversy between Paul and the Jewish Christians as expressed in Acts 15.). It would work to the Church’s advantage to reinforce the bad Roman feeling against the Jews while as the same time ingratiating Rome. Hence, the Gospels’ shifting of the blame of Christ’s crucifixion onto the Jews and away from Rome.
Small wonder Jesus is understood to have said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) This statement is a clever de-politicizing of the notion of the Kingdom of God as wiping out Roman rule and reinstating the Jewish monarchy. Small wonder, when the Jews insisted that Pontius Pilate release insurrectionist Barabbas and crucify Jesus (“His blood be on us, and on our children!” [Matthew 27:25]), the Judaean governor washes his hands of the decision, carrying out the Jews’ apparent wishes while absolving himself, and all of Rome, of responsibility.
It is also easy to see how all of this whitewashing of Roman responsibility, and placing it instead on the Jews, brought about almost two millennia of Christian, particularly European, antisemitism, culminating in the Holocaust.
III: The Son of God, Figuratively to Literally
As I said above, the traditionally Jewish use of ‘son of God’ only meant someone with a special, close relationship with God, not one literally begotten of God, the way Zeus impregnated maidens to give birth to Greek heroes. Such a use originally applied to Jesus, too, though that would change over the decades and later New Testament writings.
Let’s start with Paul’s letters, the earliest New Testament writings, generally dated around 48-57 CE (i.e., Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, and Romans; all others attributed to Paul are either of doubtful authenticity or not considered authentically his writing).
One striking thing to note about this early Christology is that Paul doesn’t seem to know anything about the Virgin Birth. As I pointed out above with the quote from Romans 1:3, he said that Jesus was descended from King David, but that he was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).
In other words, according to Paul, Christ wasn’t the pre-existing Word from the beginning (John 1:1); he was “born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4), that is, born fully human. He became the Son of God when God rose him from the dead–no earlier.
Let’s move ahead a decade or two to the Gospel of Mark, which establishes Jesus’ Sonship, well, earlier, specifically, at his baptism, after which the Holy Spirit was said to have descended on him like a dove, and God declared that Jesus was “[His] beloved Son, in whom [He is] well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Still no mention of a Virgin Birth.
We get the Virgin Birth in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke/Acts, respectively believed to have been written around about 70-85 and 80-90 CE. There’s one little problem with this notion of a Virgin Birth, though: it’s based on a mistranslation.
Matthew 1:23 quotes Isaiah 7:14 as follows: “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” The problem with this is that the author of Matthew was quoting the Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which used parthenos, “virgin,” for the Isaiah verse; the original Hebrew Bible, however, uses almah, “young woman.” If the prophesy had intended to refer to a miraculous birth, why not use betulah, “virgin,” instead?
Another curious thing should be noted, one that will doubtless infuriate the fundamentalists, who insist that the Bible is ‘the inerrant Word of God.’ If one were to compare the genealogies of Jesus as given in Matthew and Luke, not only do the names differ so much as to be surely the genealogies of completely different men, but if one were to reckon only those names from King David to Joseph, one would find that in Luke, there are about fifteen more generations (Luke 3:23-31) than there are in Matthew 1:6-16.
In any case, we can see that Jesus was getting more and more divine by the decades. With Paul’s notion of Christ dying for our sins and being resurrected, we sense the, at least unconscious, influence on Paul of the dying and resurrecting gods of pagan mystery traditions (i.e., Attis, Osiris, Tammuz, etc.–see Maccoby, pages 195-198). As the notion of Christ’s divinity grows through the Virgin Birth, Mary, the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven and Earth, also slowly begins to acquire quasi-pagan/divine attributes.
We can see this Marian development already in Luke 1:28-55, from the angel Gabriel calling her kecharitomene up to the Magnificat. Mary has been full of grace right from the beginning of her life, as kecharitomene implies, according to the Catholic interpretation, which is used as proof of the Immaculate Conception. One doesn’t have to go far from this to the Cult of Mary (in spite of the Church’s condemnation of it), and thence to her role as Co-Redemptrix. Since Paul was, as I mentioned above, Apostle to the Gentiles, and Luke was written for a Gentile audience, notions of a dying-and-resurrecting son of God, born of an immaculate mother, must have inflamed their pagan imaginations.
Finally, it’s in the Johannine writings (the Gospel of John, in its final form, having been written probably some time between 90-110 CE) that we find Christ as the pre-existing Logos who was made flesh. He’s truly coming closer to God, though the Trinitarian doctrine isn’t yet quite fully established. An argument can be made that the Gospel of John is presenting the Arian position that Christ is homoiousios, not homoousios–similar to, but not the same, as God. After all, Christ seems to be denying his identity with God (John 10:30) to his accusers of blasphemy when he says, “Is it not written in your law, I said, ‘ye are gods?” (John 10:34-38).
The hypostatic union, that is, Jesus understood in the Trinitarian sense of being God and man, all in one indivisible whole, suggests that goddess-like status of Mary, the Theotokos, who couldn’t be merely the mother of a physical, but not spiritual, nature, as in the Nestorian heresy. The pagan influence on Christianity goes back pretty early, doesn’t it? Small wonder the Church was able to accommodate so many pagan traditions (i.e., transforming pagan gods into Christian saints, turning pagan holidays into Christian ones, etc.) so easily.
IV: The Ouroboros of Christ
So as we go towards the later New Testament writings, we go further away from the Jesus of history and more and more towards the Jesus of faith, or of myth, however you prefer to see it. As much as I see these later developments as ahistorical, though, I don’t see them as completely without merit or worth. I will, nonetheless, interpret their meaning in an unorthodox, metaphorical way.
In the last section, we saw Jesus rising from a man favoured of God to being man and God at the same time, since the Church insisted he must be both, for soteriological reasons. Now, however, we’re going to see Christ descend, though in a very different way. Here, I give you a new, metaphorical interpretation of the Christ myth, one that paradoxically uses the orthodox concepts to symbolize how we can think about the original, revolutionary message.
In the beginning was the already existing Word, the idealized, spiritual version of Christ, who dwelt with God. I like the New English Bible translation the best: “…and what God was, the Word was.” (John 1:1) It suggests the Arian notion of homoiousios, similarity between God and Christ, an emphasis of Jesus’ virtues and closeness to God, good qualities to have in a revolutionary figure.
When the Word was made flesh (John 1:14), though, a transformation of Christ occurred that requires us to take note of the influence of Gnosticism on Pauline Christianity. In particular, I’m referring to the dualism of the spirit vs. the flesh. Naturally, the spirit is idealized, Godlike, and the flesh is corrupt, evil, of the Devil.
Now, since Pauline Christianity is, as Maccoby conceived of it, a combination of Judaism, Gnosticism, and pagan mystery tradition, Paul was only a moderate Gnostic (Maccoby, pages 185-189). For Paul, the physical world and the Torah weren’t created by the evil Demiurge, but by God; instead, Satan took over this world from the time of the Fall, perceived as a radical plunge from God’s grace to the depths of sin (a notion whose logic I questioned here–scroll way down to find the relevant passage), and the Torah for Paul was only a temporary guide to be superseded by belief in Christ’s sacrificial death (Romans 8:3), the pagan element of Paul’s conception of Christianity.
So the physical world and the Torah aren’t evil in an absolute sense for Paul; they’re just inferior…bad enough. Indulgence in physical pleasure, and insistence on adhering to the Law, though, are evil for Paul; hence, his celibacy and recommendation of it to those who can resist sex (1 Corinthians 7:1-2), and “the power of sin is the Law” (1 Corinthians 15:56); also, there’s Romans 3:20.
My point in discussing this Gnostic influence on Paul, that the spirit is good and the physical is evil, is that it has a bearing on the Incarnation. As perfect as Christ is understood to be as both God and man, his very physicality is a descent from the absoluteness of that perfection. Small wonder the heretical Gnostic Christians couldn’t accept a Christ that came in the flesh (2 John 1:7); for them, he, not having a body, couldn’t be crucified, but someone else had to have been crucified instead (Simon of Cyrene), an idea that managed to appear in the Koran (surah An Nisa, 157).
Christ’s Incarnation is thus the beginning of his mythical descent, one that will end with his crucifixion, death, and harrowing of hell. His resurrection, in a spiritual body that’s incorruptible, is thus his return to that absolute state of perfection from the beginning, a coming full circle for him, which leads to a point I’ve made many times before.
I use the ouroboros as a symbol of the dialectical, unified relationship between opposites. I feel that that relationship is best expressed in the form of a circular continuum, with the extreme opposites meeting and paradoxically phasing into each other. For me, the ouroboros shows us that meeting of opposites with the serpent’s head biting its tail. Of course, every intermediate point on the circular continuum is corresponded to on the serpent’s coiled body.
Now, as I see it, the biting head of the ouroboros of Christ represents the pre-existing Word from the beginning of Creation up until just before he is made flesh. With the Incarnation, we shift from the serpent’s biting head to just after it, at the neck. The newborn baby is surrounded by the love of Joseph, Mary, the gift-bearing Magi, the shepherds, and the angels, but he is in the humblest of mangers.
Later, as a young man, Jesus is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). As we all know, he of course resists this temptation completely, but none of this is to say he doesn’t at all feel the itch of temptation: after all, without at least the urge to give in, it’s hardly temptation, is it? Thus, this is a further move down towards the tail.
After that, he begins his ministry, with the assembling of his twelve disciples. As we know, he performs many miracles–turning water into wine, feeding five thousand, walking on water, healing the disabled, etc.–so even though he’s gone further down the body of the ouroboros, he’s still in the upper half of it. At one point, however, he’s hungry and goes to a fig tree, one that is out of season; angry that it has no figs for him to eat, he curses it, causing it to wither away (Mark 11:12-14). This is hardly saintly behaviour, no matter how Christians try to rationalize or allegorize it. His enjoining us to forgive others so God will forgive our sins doesn’t seem to dovetail well with his cursing of the fig tree (Mark 11:20-25). Why couldn’t he forgive it? He has thus slipped another inch or two down the serpent’s body.
In his exorcising of evil spirits in a madman, Jesus sends them into a herd of about two thousand pigs, which immediately run into a sea and drown themselves (Mark 5:1-13). Why kill them? Couldn’t Christ have simply sent the demons back to hell? That large herd of pigs was surely part of a farmer’s livelihood. Couldn’t Christ have taken that into consideration? Again, he seems to have slipped a bit further down the serpent’s body in the direction of the tail.
One striking thing about his teachings, often in the form of parables, is that they’re part of the Pharisee style of teaching. Indeed, in spite of the hostility Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as having showed the Pharisees (whose way of doing things would evolve into rabbinic Judaism), he seems to have been a Pharisee himself (see also Maccoby, chapter 4). Though the Pauline New Testament tries to vilify all Jews not converting to Christ, his real condemnation is towards only those particular Pharisees and Sadducees who were collaborators with Rome, outwardly appearing to be righteous, but inwardly full of hypocrisy and iniquity (Matthew 23:28).
Indeed, as the controversies between him and the Jewish religious establishment grow, we find that, because of his popularity with the regular Jewish people, those authorities are afraid of showing antagonism to him. Recall that Jesus was thoroughly a Jew, not at all intending to destroy the Law or the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). Those Jews who opposed him weren’t ordinary Jews, as John would have you believe (John 8:44-49)–those Jews in particular were collaborators with Rome.
Now, with these controversies come the nearing danger of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, which therefore brings him further down the serpent’s body and closer to the tail. Since he is opposed to these collaborators with Rome, they at one point try to test him on his position on taxation, to which he gives a cleverly ambiguous answer (Mark 12:13-17).
I referred to the “render to Caesar” quote above, giving the interpretation that favours acquiescence to taxation, and therefore to Roman rule. The opposing interpretation, though, I’d say is the far likelier one, given Jesus’ revolutionary bent, and that is that what is Caesar’s is nothing, while what is to be rendered to God is everything.
As for the nature of Christ’s revolutionary leanings, as I said above, he was no ‘socialist,’ or even whatever the ancient equivalent of that would have been. Nor was he, much to the chagrin of your typical Christian fundamentalist today, the ancient equivalent of a right-winger, in spite of his Jewish traditionalism, and in spite of the later Pauline Church’s acceptance of the master-slave relation (1 Peter 2:18).
Jesus spoke of a kind of egalitarianism that many right-wingers today would balk at as being ‘socialist,’ even though it was nothing of the sort; and as I said in my analysis of It’s a Wonderful Life, such talk of Christian charity as socialism tells us more about the mean-spiritedness of those right-wingers, who often consider themselves Christian, than it does of whether or not such charity is at all socialist.
Jesus told a wealthy man to sell what he owns and give the money to the poor, in order to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17-22). A little later, he says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:25); this goes hard against the Protestants’ notion of the “Prosperity Gospel,” in which the material success of certain Christians is supposed proof of God’s favouring of them, rewarding their faith with wealth. On the contrary: as Jesus himself said, “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Mark 10:31)
In this connection, we must also allow for some nuance regarding this idea that one is saved only by faith in Christ’s death for our sins. The Gospel of Matthew, understood to have been written for a Jewish audience, seems to be an attempt to reconcile Pauline Christianity with the original Nazarene message, which insists on sticking with the Torah and even expanding on its morality (Matthew 5). After all, Jesus’ original teachings seem to have survived through an oral passing-on of them, as well as through the collection of Q sayings, so the Pauline Church would have had to address and reinterpret these words of his that wouldn’t go away.
The insistence on doing good works (Matthew 25:31-46) isn’t limited to Matthew: it’s seen also in the Epistle of James (e.g., James 2:17), which, as I see it, is another attempt to reconcile Pauline and Nazarene Christianity.
As I’ve been saying, Jesus has been slipping further towards the tail of the ouroboros, and he knows it. He predicts his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion (Matthew 20:18). Along with his lowering of fortunes comes more temptation not to have to endure the Passion, hence his grievous praying in Gethsemane, hoping that God will “let this cup pass from [him]” (Matthew 26:36-39). In his temptation, his fear of the terrible pain he is about to endure, Jesus is showing us more and more of his human, rather than divine, side.
Of course, he is then betrayed by Judas Iscariot, fortuitously named from the point of view of the increasingly anti-Jewish Pauline Church, and arrested. Jesus is now definitely down in the rear half of the ouroboros’ body, and getting closer and closer to the bitten tail. His suffering is vividly and graphically shown in Mel Gibson’s movie on the topic, the film that unfortunately affirms the antisemitic passages of the Gospels.
Jesus is beaten, mocked, and crowned with a wreath of thorns…he’s inching closer to that tail. This is quite a descent from the high position of the pre-existing Logos, from the loftiest honour to an abyss of degradation, culminating in what’s been represented in the pitiful images of those Ecce Homo paintings.
Nailed to the Cross, Jesus retains some of his nobility by saying of his persecutors, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), indicating that he’s still some way from the serpent’s bitten tail. Shortly before he dies, though, he quotes Psalm 22:1, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (Matthew 27:46). One would expect someone of moral perfection to suffer without complaint, knowing that God’s abandoning him is for the salvation of all of us.
With his death, understood to be confirmed by the spear in his side (John 19:34), and his descent into hell, we see Jesus reaching the bitten tail of the ouroboros. This is the lowest point of the low: his revolution has failed, it seems. His followers are all despondent.
A similar feeling has been felt in all the failed revolutions of history, including the short-lived Paris Commune, the 1905 Russian Revolution, the Spartacist Uprising, the Spanish Revolution of 1936, etc. After all the deaths and repressions, one can imagine the despair the insurgents felt.
Still, the early Nazarenes believed, apparently, that God rose Jesus from the dead (note that Paul also wrote of the passivity of his resurrection, as opposed to him raising himself from the dead). Now, we’ve gone past the bitten tail to the biting head of Christ’s return to glory. We also can see here the dialectical unity of his suffering, degradation, and death, on the one hand, and his resurrection in an incorruptible, spiritual body, in all his glory, on the other. The disciples’ hope has also been revived. To save one’s life, one must be willing to lose it (Luke 9:24).
V: The Resurrection and the Second Coming
We all know the traditional, literal meaning of Christ’s resurrection and Second Coming at the end of the world, so I have nothing new to say about that. Instead, given what we know of the original, revolutionary intent of the Nazarenes, I think it would be illuminating, and inspiring, to reinterpret the meaning of these two crucial Christian ideas in symbolic terms.
A revolution may fail; it may die…but it can be revived–it can come back to life, as it were…it can come a second time, or many times, until it finally succeeds. The Paris Commune failed, as did the 1905 Russian Revolution, but the revolution of 1917 succeeded (furthermore, the Soviet Union may have been dissolved, but that doesn’t extinguish the hopes of its return). The Cultural Revolution suffered many difficulties and setbacks…but look at China today.
The Messiah is supposed to come at the end of the world (or, for our purposes, the end of the world as we know it), establishing Zion and the Kingdom of God (hence Orthodox Jews are especially opposed to the man-made creation of Israel, along with a generally Jewish opposition to the oppression of the Palestinians, a situation that’s in ironic contradistinction to the plight of the Jews in first-century, Roman-occupied Palestine), a new era of peace and justice. For those of us who aren’t Bible-believing Christians, the resurrection and Second Coming can be seen to symbolize revived hopes of anti-imperialist revolution.
Of course, we have to believe, to have faith, hope, and love, those three things that last forever (1 Corinthians 13:13); recall Che’s words on revolution and love (the greatest of these), in this connection. Our love of the world drives us to try to make it better, to feed, clothe, house, educate, and give medical aid to the poor, as Christ would have wanted us to do (Matthew 25:40).
Now, the early Christians were no socialists, of course, but they did have some interesting practices worth discussing: they “sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:45). Also, “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” (Acts 4:32) These practices influenced Thomas More in his writing of Utopia, a book about a fictional Christian island with a form of welfare and without private property, ideas which in turn influenced socialism.
The Nazarenes may have failed to kick their Roman oppressors out of Palestine, but Paul’s Gentile Church, over time, accommodated itself with Rome, a kind of changing of the system from within. The problem with this takeover is that one authoritarian, oppressive system got replaced with another.
Indeed, the Church authorities, in replacing the pagan Roman ones, were rather like Orwell’s pigs in a manner that the Bolsheviks never were, in spite of the intended narrative of Orwell’s polemical allegory. Such examples as the Church’s stamping out of heresies (including the many thousands of lives lost over the iota that marked the difference between the orthodox homousios and the Arian homoiousios, as noted above–Hegel, page 339), including, for example, the horrors of the Inquisition, should be enough to illustrate my meaning.
This difference between the Nazarene and the Pauline Church’s way of dealing with the Roman Empire can be seen to symbolize the difference between the virtues of revolutionary change and the vices of accommodation with the imperialist system. There is no room for opportunism or compromise.
We wipe out imperialism and replace it with a “kingdom of heaven,” so to speak–‘heavenly’ in the sense that, ideally, it will provide for all human needs, and a ‘kingdom’ in the sense that all authority will be used to ensure that providing for those needs. We must believe in such a possible future world; have faith in, and hope for, it. In such a world, we’ll love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
It was believed that the ancient Hebrews fell under the Babylonian captivity as punishment for their sins, which sounds suspiciously to me like blaming the victim (similarly, many who suffer under capitalism today blame themselves unjustly for their suffering [i.e., they ‘lack ambition and talent’], instead of blaming the system that is causing their suffering). Nonetheless, those ancient Hebrews saw their prophesied Messiah as saving them from their sins, as Christians see Jesus has having done.
We secular-minded people, on the other hand, can see Jesus’ death and resurrection as symbolic of how revolutions at first fail, then hope in them is revived, then a ‘second coming’ ultimately leads to the success of the revolutions. Belief in his salvific death can thus symbolize our faith in persevering in a painful struggle that, after so many failures (and an unjustified blaming of oneself for those failures, our ‘sins’), ultimately leads to success, a kind of ‘eternal life’ in a much-improved world.
So, this is my secular, allegorical interpretation of the Christ myth, which I hope will inspire my comrades. Of course, many won’t be happy with what I’ve written.
Indeed, many will want to point out to me how my sources are at best controversial, and at worst, the validity of those sources has been eviscerated with criticism. The fact is, objectively, we don’t really know for sure what happened in first-century Palestine. One camp of scholars says this, another camp says that, using whatever arguments they have to back up their agendas; we all pick which story we prefer. As far as I’m concerned, criticism of the interpretation that my sources have given has less to do with their technical, historical inaccuracies than with hurting Christians’ feelings. It’s more about politics than logic.
So as I said above in the Introduction, if my reinterpretation of ‘sacred history’ is offensive to certain Christian readers who chose not to heed my warning not to read something they surely wouldn’t like, being abusive to me in the comments will neither change my mind nor do you much credit. So please, don’t waste your time with that.
Still, if what I’ve said here bothers you that much, perhaps there’s one thing you can do that will make you feel better.
Pray for me (Matthew 5:44).
Hyam Maccoby, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, San Francisco, HarperCollins, 1987
Michael D. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Third Edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001
Samuel Sandmel, general ed., The New English Bible with the Apocrypha, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1961
Georg W.F. Hegel (translated by J. Sibree), The Philosophy of History, Buffalo, New York, Prometheus Books, 1991