Sunday, July 24, 2011


The NT documents were individually written primarily as stand alone texts 20-80 years after Jesus’ death.  There were no newspapers or significant records being kept of what was happening in Jesus’ daily life. Nothing of significance was being written about Jesus while he lived. So  the story of Jesus was carried by oral tradition in various Christian communities until these communities began producing written documents. Even as the documents were composed and circulated most teaching and story telling remained as oral transmission. Believers did not have individual documents to read and study. By the time the later books were written a central power structure had developed in the church. There were at that time conflicting interpretations regarding Jesus’ life and death among different Christian communities.

Some letters were written focusing on helping keep churches  unified, which meant  more rules and standards developed. Others reflect the human characteristic of some opposing others when different opinions arose in the various Christian communities. Much of this kind of material  appears in the later letters of the NT, with usually only one side of the difference being expressed. Equality of the sexes which Jesus undoubtedly practiced, in sharp contrast to the culture in which he lived, was one of the first things lost in Christian practice and writings. Soon those in power were calling others, such as the Gnostic Christians,  heretics. When the books, called the canon, of the NT were officially selected about 300 years after Jesus’ death, only the ones that fit the opinions of  the most powerful were included. The final choices of documents included were likely determined by a still extant letter from Emperor Constantine requesting that fifty ‘skillfully prepared copies of the divine scriptures’ be prepared to be placed in churches of Constantinople. ‘Church father’ Eusebius was authorized by Constantine to make any final politically approved decisions, such as whether to include Hebrews and the Revelation of John. This was in 331 CE. Documents circulating in Christian communities not included in this final canon were often burned. Some of these censored Christian writings of the first-third centuries were rediscovered in the mid twentieth century in Egypt and finally made available in the past two decades. Most writings ‘left out’ out of the NT are undoubtedly lost forever.

I keep seeing in the canonical gospels an amazing, highly developed and truly spiritual person, Jesus, who in his brief ministry made an indelible impression of the attributes of God on his closest friends and others. Particularly dominant in those attributes was love, that must have humanly personified the full range of the Greek words for love including Agape and Eros. This impression strongly lived on after his death in the hearts and psyches of those who were closest to him. It grew ever stronger as his followers reflected on their dazzling experiences with him. So it became inevitable that the only way they could find to explain his indescribable presence was to describe him as more than human.  They had experienced the presence of God in ways that present knowledge can somewhat explain, but even objective minded postmodern people may be struck that whatever happened, it seems nothing less than ‘miraculous.’ You may see how such a phenomenon could happen around such a qualified person, especially in an ancient culture that was religiously looking for and expecting such a person. 
The gospels, beginning with Mark about 70 CE, were written during or after two devastating Roman wars, ending also about 70 CE, had fully destroyed the  Jewish Temple and their religious, political and social  structures. Jewish Christians and other Jews alike had to begin 'reinterpreting'  why their shattered expectations of God  vindicating them did not happen. This was the devastation experienced for all Jews in the destruction of their Temple and culture.
The Destruction Of Jerusalem @ 70 CE.
The Christian Jews’ devastation was also the unexpected death of Jesus followed by failure of his anticipated physical return to vindicate his followers. Such times call out for extreme measures of reinterpreting a culture's  life meaning.  Such need  may be met by creative writers using highly symbolic language. This is what the gospel writers were doing.  From a Jungian perspective writers under such stressed circumstances can, to varying extents, unwittingly produce something that comes from the deeper levels of the Collective Unconscious.(Most of us are aware that sometimes something we are 'creating'  just seems to 'come', not from our direct thinking or intellectual process. Even scientists such as Einstein say  their greatest breakthroughs are moments of intuition.)

The gospel writers were producing something more profound than they were consciously aware of. This is truly the richest meaning of inspiration. These surely are ‘inspired’ writings and very symbolic, and thus the near perfect bearers of a truly ‘new’ religious communication. These events and the writings produced by them became the foundation for likely the most pervasive and powerful religious movement in human history. Each of the gospel authors used the religious metaphors of Judaism, the only ones they consciously had, to explain the nature of Jesus. Images of other cultures also made it into their writings and descriptions such as the way the Gospel of John begins by referring to the Christ as the Logos, a common Greek philosophical  metaphor for the Sacred.  They were saying that he was like Moses, Elijah and other Hebrew heroes but he was much  more. Much of the gospel narrative is a reinvention of the stories they already had at hand in their Greek translation of the Old Testament. They elaborated on them to create a story of Jesus that  showed how Jesus could not be explained but as the fullest ever  expression of God. They were truly  evangelists creatively and passionately seeking to convince others of their view of  what, in retrospect, Jesus of Nazareth was, nothing less than the promised Messiah of their Hebrew faith.

Jesus had been  so far ahead of others in spiritual development  that  he could later only be explained as being more than human.  They had experienced the presence of God in him. And so the symbols and accompanying myths(in the rich and powerful meaning of the term) of  nature miracle stories, bodily resurrection, virgin birth, bodily ascension, and expectation of his physical return were born into full outward expression.  None of these  were new ideas and all are ones that can  now be explained, without  necessarily being diminished in power or authority for individuals  touched at deepest levels, as being generated across all cultures by the archetypal  organs of the Collective Unconscious. . 

I think the gospel writers were aware  they were not primarily relating physical events in these powerful symbols describing Jesus as one who lived, died and was ‘resurrected’ by God. Though writing symbolically they were likely conscious that what they wrote was even ‘truer’ than physical and historical reality. These were not words of history primarily but words of the Soul, spiritual language, not materialistic language.. Their words claim  the kind of life and love that was in Jesus lives potentially in us all. And so the 'Spirit of Jesus' does  presently  bridge  the centuries and stirs up these qualities, timelessly alive  in the Collective Unconscious, into the conscious life of some individuals and communities.

 I think such a  community psychological process as this is  likely also the best explanation  I can find of what was going on in me individually(and many others through the ages), and the sufficient cause of rather extreme changes in my spiritual views, beginning some 27 years ago.

Passages like  Luke 15(usually called  the Prodigal Son but actually  more about a Prodigious Father -God image) strongly resonate with me and  I experience  it as a 'word of God'. Many religiously minded people today easily take some passages from the Bible, often as literal when they should be symbolic, and  use them to totally destroy or seriously water down the clear spiritual message of something like Luke 15.  Luke 15 contains stories that call for Jesus followers to ‘welcome and eat with sinners’ just as he did and  ' to celebrate, that a brother or sister who was lost from us has been found.’  If such  treasures of scripture were fully taken to heart nothing but good could come from the Bible but often  much less inspiring Bible content is focused on that creates distance and judgments between humans. In short, people use the Bible indiscriminately and frequently  in self purposed ways. When people use the Bible in such destructive ways, which I once did on an ongoing basis,  it may be because  the kind of message of Luke 15 has never captured their full being in the first place as their central  Christ- Image of God. So they are not aware  they are using one part of the Bible(usually an inferior and less soulful part of it) to weaken the impact  on their own souls of  the superior parts, such as the Luke 15 stories. And sadly some  are able to keep the self delusion alive that  they somehow are superbly  keeping 'all the commands  and teachings of the Bible.'

 I definitely have come to see some passages and  books of the NT as more  true to the original impression of Jesus than others. An important observation is that the synoptic gospels read chronologically show a gradual development of the Jesus story over time.  For example the first written Mark has no birth story and no witnesses to a bodily  resurrected Jesus, yet these are included and more elaborated as one moves to Matthew then Luke. The gospel of John  is obviously a symbolic  writing, so  recognized  by most authentic NT scholars, and it is recognized as having a strong Gnostic air about it. ( I am not by any stretch Gnostic but appreciate some of  their contributions to interpreting Jesus.) The gospel of John barely made it into the Bible due to its Gnostic flavor.  Other central books include the 'authentic' letters of Paul because they are the first written descriptions of the meaning  and impact of Jesus.
Paul Composing Letter To Church-Painting 13th Century
Paul shows no interest in any birth story, and can objectively be interpreted without  any physical  body resurrection or miracle stories*  the  gospels
describe. (People have always read these back into Paul because we have heard them in the gospels, but taking Paul alone as he was when first read, his statements regarding these can generally be seen as symbolic not literal.) He did speak of  'miraculous' types of personal  spiritual experience and I can I fully accept that as presently  and amazingly possible.  C.G. Jung’s work well explains such  psychological phenomena. Because such is psychological does not make it 'less true' or any less experienced as an authority of God.  (I think that such things happen occasionally, and perhaps frequently,  in human history.) So this strongly suggests  that these  other  external miraculous ways of interpreting Jesus came later than Paul.  A  significant fact I was very unaware of is that Paul  wrote and died by 68 CE, before any of the four gospels had been written.

This  kind of information changes what one learns from the NT and I think makes one appreciate it all the more. It is sort of like accepting a person, such as a parent, for who they really are than what we want them to be, which is what love is all about. My view and love of the Bible is like that. One has to, in a sense, lower his estimate of something(or quit making it a god) before he can appreciate it for what it actually is and it's the same with the Bible.  It  is possible for people to be taught of Jesus and the Bible  this way  and to more efficiently use the Bible as a tool for spiritual growth, but clergy and Christian teachers most often have yet to accomplish this. There is yet no widely accepted language to help get this communicated to the people in the pew. This is I think a present crisis in the Christian Church. Many seem to keep teaching and perhaps believing from a  literal interpretation of the Bible; even though they may have had exposure to information that could have stimulated change to, in my opinion, a more truthful and spiritual view of these matters. God bless us all. Jim H. Sept. 22, 2007(edited December 30, 2011)
*The reader may be interested in this  post about the nature of miracles:;postID=8341199713600037895

Addendum  June 29, 2014:  (Based on a Facebook post describing a book Notes From (Over) The Edge.. by outstanding progressive Christian writer Jim Palmer.) I think there is a need to find words as Christians that do not make the name of Jesus the center and end-all  of the human path to fuller love,  joy and  meaning of life so needed today. I think it is closer to the truth to say  that the archetype of Jesus and 'The Christ' is an example of the first fruits of humanity's evolved capacity to receive and give love in a more extensive way than ever before. Jim  Palmer's message is a great resource to those suffering the throes of Christian dogma but Jesus is only part and one opening to the path to a more embracing, inclusive human life and love. This may be missed  in Palmer's continuous Jesus emphasis? But  I am indeed very grateful for his voice and the attention it receives by those suffering deep religious transformations. It is a good and loving voice born of real experience.                                                                                                                                                

The Jesus story must surely be a great leap forward  in the unfolding  process of God becoming human , not the completion of it. Because by the time the gospel writers have finished writing about  him he is truly no longer a representative of the  pure empirical human .... but one born miraculously, existing with God from eternity, living beyond nature at his willing, whereas nature and its principles is the only true and full  home for all humans.  So the incarnation of God in man, in the Jesus story,  had its start in one who became, in the minds of the collective who followed him, far more than a human. 

The Jesus story describes what was a profound  leap  in history toward more and more truly ordinary humans  (not of unnatural miracle making  or 'eternal with God' humans ) to be the place of God becoming fully human. I think such did happen in the real and limited human Jesus of Nazareth. But the "darkness(the collective consciousness of Jesus' day) could truly not comprehend that light" and the drastic change it heralded in the meaning of direct connection and interdependence of God and Human. And so the collective human psyche protectively  backed away from  such bedazzlement by producing, in the gospels,  the archetypal hero Jesus, the claimed 'one and only ' place where God has "dwelt among us." (It's like humanity could only bear the consciousness of its evolving  mutuality with God by approaching it in historical stages, Jesus thus  being interpreted as only half human. This way humans could indirectly approach the dazzling light of the Sacred.  That light was just too bright to contain at first  for the mortals who surrounded Jesus).

The latest evolution of  God and Human drawing near to each other  is what  could be a dazzling 'numinous' image for some, otherwise quite materialistic and/or past  believers in an orthodox anthropomorphic(human like being) god, people today..... that God incarnate in the human Jesus was such a bright light psychologically  it could only be tolerated by creating Jesus into something  more than human. The split moment a person first  realizes, becomes conscious,  today that God seeks to become fully human in  ones own self can be such a leap into the beyond-space-and-time world that it calls forth in today's human consciousness an authoritative non-negotiable experience of the 'numinous' or bedazzlement  of the reality of  God. One at such a moment may become a 'believer' in the richest and most comprehensive meaning of the word. This potentially could parallel and transcend  the experience behind any  'miracle' story we read about in ancient religious texts. Jesus is  clearly  presented in the gospels  as only perhaps half human and the rest god.  But  now, two millennia  later, we are more psychologically prepared  to 'see' just what the expression 'God becoming Human' is actually saying about us all and our mutual connection to the Divine.   

 Hopefully we are beginning to see more clearly the continuation of what the Jesus story shows us in its natural  mythical symbolism, not historical recording, as the first fruits of the emerging capacity of the creature-human, in a mutual cooperation with the eternal creator God principle, to experience personally being extensively  more fully loved and loving.(The gospels have not become mythical and  symbolic in our day, they have been that from the beginning. We are just rediscovering it. ) This to me is the nature of the hope that is now available , not just to the individual but to collective humanity with all of its hostilities and threats to end itself.  

This can be a sound psychological/spiritual  understanding for the next great step for a third millennium new unfolding of the meaning of the Jesus story, making it more transparently not self-serving but collectively relevant and meaningful for our day and for humanity's  most urgent needs.

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