Monday, December 26, 2011

An Obscure Birth

I find it beyond strange that here I sit, two millenia later, commemorating the birth of a child in a backwater district of an ancient empire. The person of Jesus of Nazareth is known to us through the canonical writings of the New Testament and not much else. Just yesterday I had a mythicist approach me about whether he (Jesus) even existed. I haven't responded, mostly because I consider that kind of conspiratorial thinking to be rather ridiculous. And most conspiracists are also rather immune to reason and rational argumentation. But this obscure birth, in a backwater part of a vast empire, is intriguing nonetheless. The Jewish New Testament documents tell us about his advent, both through the gospel accounts, as well as the letters of Paul and other later followers. What's interesting in all of this is that the sequence of the New Testament isn't the same as the sequence of the writing of the New Testament writings.

My own evolution of belief has gone from the simple belief come from reading the text "as it is" to reading it through the lens of more recent critical scholarship. But this hasn't lessened my faith as much as refined it. As a child I read the text of scripture "as is" or so I thought. I didn't know back then that I had, in fact, imbibed assumptions which weren't necessarily of scriptural origins. I also didn't know that my own reading of the scriptural text was shaped by my cultural context. In other words, I didn't realize, like so many today, that "my" view isn't the same as unexpurgated "truth." That realization is both humbling and illuminating.

The Jesus of history was a Jew who was born and raised in an occupied Israel/Palestine, and who was intimately confronted with an occupying force who forced his people to decide between fidelity to their faith and obedience to a foreign power. He was, as best as what can tell, raised in the environment of being a political and religious refugee. He had a mother who understood herself to have borne into the world a prophet of Israel, possibly the Messiah. His role and identity was always contested, even among his closest followers and family.

This is part of what especially intrigues me in my reading of the New Testament texts. There's a self critical element in the writing that is very different than anything else I've read among the other ANE texts which I've read and translated. As I've mentioned about the Hebrew writings also known as the OT, what I'm struck by is the utter humanity and reality shown in the protagonists behavior. The "heroes" of the Bible are all "very" human. When I read their stories, I read my own. Thus I see truth expressed. Strangely enough, that's why I believe the Bible to be true.

Monday, December 5, 2011