To a local, gospel minister, 1-16-12. –Robert M. Shelby. [1175 txt wds]

You asked me about “Jesus’ purpose on earth”, who I think he was, historically, how the “messages of Jesus and Paul differed” and “how conversion changed Paul.”

Your queries are in good point, but I’ll start more broadly than with Jesus and Paul. In the “Enlightenment Era” increasing numbers of intelligent people came to have less concern for personal souls than for human lives. This shift of perspective on relative values persists to this day and still increases, though many individuals and groups hold out against the change. Still gripped by ancient concepts and the feelings they evoke, these people shun much of the present world and strive to return to, or revive, an older one to which they imagine themselves more attuned, and which in their view affords utopian preparation for God’s kingdom on earth and “conclusion to the human drama” with Judgment and disposition.

At main issue seems continually to be how people regard and treat each other. In the economic frame, people are commodities to be processed, used, bought, sold and discarded; disregarded for all but extrinsic considerations. In the religious frame, (western or Christian version) people vacillate between cared-for ‘sheep’ to be shorn as often as wool can grow, or ‘soldiers of the cross’ supporting a church and extending its belief or rhetorical control system to others, especially children and conceptually vulnerable adults, helping them to ‘participate in the body of Christ-Jesus. ’ Our culture presents children with imagetic toys to enjoy and grow past. For instance: the tooth-fairy, Easter bunny, Santa Clause, halloween witches & ghosts, young George Washington’s chopped-down cherry tree. Less imagetic and more abstract are papal infallibility, divine inspiration of biblical texts and specially transmitted ‘authority’ or ordination of church leaders. Still more abstract is the virtually unconscious premise of dual or ‘bifurcated’ reality in which Nature ‘descends’ from Supernature. Things of Nature have little or no impact in determining things Supernatural, but Supernatural ‘things’ (so far as they are distinguishable) have great or total effect on Natural things.

In unitive thinking, the split disappears. Physicality becomes spiritualized and spirituality becomes physicalized. Consciousness is a reflex of life-process itself outside of awareness. The problem of body-mind relation vanishes when one grasps bodily consciousness or conscious embodiment directly. For reasons of mental structure and conceptual indisposition, many people cannot bridge this gap. They are fixated within antique forms or frames-of-thought inappropriate to a world later than about 1600 C.E. They display what in General Semantics is termed “hyper-intensionality.”

True-believers persist in the notion that all will be well if only they can make their vision universally shared by all earthlings, ignoring perhaps the fact that they have had two thousand years to make it so, without yet succeeding. If the Good News were truly cogent and persuasive, it would have prevailed. History shows otherwise. To blame the devil for Christianity’s failure is a cheap-shot, easy way out. Satan evolved in our culture for just this role, to “take the heat” off of our deficient competence, projecting it down and away while forcing us to try to perfect ourselves responsibly. Now, taking responsibility for upholding good standards cannot be bad unless one goes about trying to push it on others. The extreme height of this impulse was displayed in the Spanish Inquisition, of horrid memory. Religious ‘McCarthy-ism’ stems from the profound ignorance of bigots who need to be avoided or cured.

As to the historical Jesus, your question raises issues not only of epistemology and historiography but of philosophical understanding and knowledge in general. It  interests me that you pose your question in the frame of identity: “Who do you believe

the ‘historical’ Jesus to be (?)” Jesus (or Yeshua, Joshua) may have been as common a name in the Aramaic world as “Hay-sus” in the Latino worlds. Without believing it, I think there may have been conflation, historically, of more than one person so named, one having lived late in the second century B.C.E. and another early in the first century, one or the other of whom the Essenes referred to as “The Teacher of Righteousness.”

The Jewish diaspora did not happen all at once after 70 CE but was happening as early as during the 2nd century BCE. Even earlier, small enclaves of Jews scattered out along major trade routes and cities of the Near East and circum-Mediterranean area including Anatolia, Greece and Rome. When Paul “The Apostle” and some of the disciples traveled they found, among Jewish communities, already-established groups identified as the “Church of God.” They revered Jesus and were composed of Essenes, Ebionites and even some gentiles. Hence, Paul did not bring Jesus’ story to them. He brought the story of his own, revolutionary Christ-vision, putting (as it were) Jesus’ face on his trans-historic figure of divine mercy for all Jews and gentiles alike. [“Church” did not mean to them what it means to us; it applied to associations, guilds, clubs, etc. Ecclesia was equivalent to “clutch”(as in coffee-klatch.) ] It seems unclear whether “our” Jesus (executed ca. 33 CE) was the one revered in the Klatches of God, or an earlier Teacher similarly terminated and perhaps also (legendarily) resurrected.

If Jesus was an historic person, not a myth gradually coalesced out of obscure sources responding to human needs of the early 1st century, Jesus was a man, not God. Trans-historic Jesus, like God, has mythic standing. If Jesus symbolizes anything human

it is a potential power, freedom and goodness innate within us, meaning He can only be you and me, or anyone who will partake of humanly spiritual and saving motives. By “saving” I don’t mean for some metaphysical, heavenly future. Only the ego needs it.

As for Paul, I view him as more clearly historical than Jesus, but intrinsically as ambiguous as a coin in your pocket. Two faces and an edge. One face is that of a brilliant, socio-spiritual engineer who invented a religion (out of ancient, “gentile” sources and a then-recent, Jerusalem drama) responding to dissatisfactions with the High Priest’s circle and Roman rule, similar to those felt by the Essenes of Qumran, etc. Another face is that of a clever, personable charlatan, selling snake-oil to all buyers, trading on self-importance and saying whatever it took to skin through dangerous situations. Even the New Testament records his self-presentation as duplicitous. According to Acts (by Luke?), Paul takes sole & full credit for his new story of personal revelation from Jesus himself in arguing that no one “converted” him. In Galatians, he gets cured of his blindness in Damascus and coached by Ananias (on interpreting his road-event? Church of God doctrines?) Either I buy a half-rotted fish or I don’t. Early in life, I felt that Paul comes off like a wishfully well-meaning know-it-all and a stuffed-shirt. I just can’t buy that stinky fish. God don’t make him sweet in my nose, nor does Jesus put a good face on divinity, for me. Give me the fresh air of science and the sweet smell of fudge.

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