Among my many interests is ancient religion and the intersection with ancient politics. I regret that there’s not enough time in my lifetime to study this even more deeply.
Karen Armstrong is one of my favorites. Her book, A History of God led to many other interesting books and articles. A former Roman Catholic nun, her thoughtful and carefully researched books, are filled with provocative ideas. Others I’ve read include Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, and Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths.
Then there’s Bart Ehrman, the once born-again Christian, now atheist New Testament scholar at University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, blew my socks clear across the room. A lot of things I remembered from my youthful days as an Episcopalian made a different kind of sense. I’ve read many of Ehrman’s books and learned a lot about the history, and politics, of the early Christian church.
Reza Aslan is another author whose work I find important. I’ve read Zealot twice. Robin Lane Fox‘s Unauthorized Version: Truth And Fiction in the Bible, Jack Miles, Bishop John Shelby Spong … all important parts of my reading, and library. Were I so inclined, I could go a few rounds with a street preacher. I don’t have the energy or time, and arguing with an ideologue only frustrates us both.
All of this to say, LitHub has a fascinating article by Jay Parini about Paul, the founder of the Christian church. Some of which reinforces what I’ve already learned, and what would upset Evangelicals if they ever bothered to actually learn their history.
Jesus’ last name was not Christ, it was a title. And in Jesus’ time there were many wandering the desert claiming to be the Messiah.
Jesus was not a Christian, nor did he found the Christian church. He was Jewish, trying to set Judaism back on the path of rightness.
Jesus was a rabble-rouser and was killed by the Roman authorities because his views interfered with their ability to govern and collect taxes from the Jews.
It was Paul who codified the teachings of Jesus into what is now recognized as the Christian church, long after Jesus died. Paul traveled the region tirelessly preaching and writing about his interpretation of Jesus’ life.
Parini, like Ehrman, learned Greek (Koine Greek) in order to read the New Testament in the original. What he found there was different from the popular notions of Christianity and the early church.
“This is astonishing. The whole universe of enlightenment will be found within the individual psyche, or soul … . The Christian message is, in effect, a message of reconciliation between the individual and the universe itself … “
This message, the one of being a part of the larger universe is one that speaks to me more thoroughly than any religious ideology. And, I’m finding more and more thoughtful people who find resonance in it too. However we go about making peace with ourselves and the ineffable, it’s important to realize it’s work that must be done in order to survive the chaos that is the world around us.
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