Wednesday, May 25, 2011

(2) Gospel Truths

There's lots to learn in biblical scholarship; but, as one learns
more, it doesn't have to be threatening. Indeed the challenges
involved make these great Gospel Narratives even more intriguing.

The Gospels workshop at the ArchAbbey proceeded throughout
the week. During the breaks and the meals I was able to meet
more of the monks and priests. They were friendly, and maybe
for the first time I really began to be comfortable amongst the
religious and clergy. As for the workshop, it covered a lot of
territory that I can only discuss very peripherally. Even as far back
as then, computers were being used to determine the writing style(s)
of the Gospel writers. Using this technological tool, the idea that
there was more than one writer in some texts was made firmer.

The director of the workshop also mentioned what most of us
already know now, but maybe not so much back then. A whole
battery of major biblical scholars were hot on the trail of the
"Historical Jesus." (In more recent times I have read a good
number of these studies, but back then I hadn't even heard of the
term --the "Historical Jesus".) Much earlier Albert Schweitzer--
the great missionary and musician--had proposed a major
professional effort to try to find out more about the man Jesus,
about who he was, how he lived in the 1st century c.e. in Ancient
Palestine. And there were even efforts before Schweitzer!

There was also mention of the Nag Hammadi Library in the
workshop. Again zero--I didn't know a thing about this
momentous event. Back in 1945 an Egyptian peasant discovered
jars full of codices (ancient books) that contained other Gospels.
Well you could have blown me away with a feather! Presumed to
have been part of a monastic library in the Egyptian desert, the
monks hid these books so as not to be persecuted. These other
Gospels are part and parcel of the dichotomy between the orthodox
and the heterodox groups in the early Church. They represented,
probably at a later date, another perspective when it comes to
understanding Christ and the human ontological condition.

Some of these other Gospels were considered to be gnostic
writings, some not. Gnosticism actually existed before and outside
Christianity, but there were also Christian gnostics. And "gnosis"
was about knowing, about a special insight, when it comes to
understanding God. There were Christian gnostic bishops and
leaders, just as there was in that other part of Christianity that
tended towards orthodoxy. But the crux of the problem between
these two groups would seem to have been about "authority,"
mainly human authority. The differences in outlook regarding this
issue was like a wide chasm.

In time Christian orthodoxy would have seemed to have won the day.
For nearly two millennia there was only a trickle of information about
those other Gospels. Seemingly, they disappeared--except for
fragments here and there--until that momentous day in 1945. Alas,
the Egyptian peasant took these ancient codexes home, kept them
for awhile, and horrors upon horrors his mother tossed a few of
these ancient books into a cooking stove. She used them as fuel
for the fire. God only knows what was destroyed.

Participating in this workshop at the Benedictine ArchAbbey really
set me off onto a new exciting venture. Determined to follow
through on some of the presentations, I have spent many years
reading scholarly understandings of Jesus. Nonetheless,
questions--big questions--remained. Still (for me) the lesson
taught by this effort is that we need try to understand *the* world in
which the Gospel writers were addressing. Today many of us
haven't an inkling about these ancient conditions under which the
Gospel writers wrote their story.

However, what I did discover is that I really "like" Jesus. An *Imago
Dei* or not, he's my kind of man! Here's an incredible soul, born in
the midst of poverty, born under the rigid Law of the Pharisees,
born under the iron Rule of the Romans, yet somehow letting his
light shine, trying to bring forth the Light into a very dark world. It
was an impoverished world struggling towards light, towards
knowledge and freedom, towards making meaning. And Jesus
tried to provide an answer and was murdered for his efforts.

Scholastically I worked towards getting more of an insight into how
he thought, about how he presented himself. What were the great
themes, the great universal symbols, that tried to explain who Jesus
was. And beyond the scholarship I had also reached the point
where I was trying more to understand this Mystery of Jesus (of God)
within myself via contemplation, dreamwork, mystical accounts. I
was about to move into the territory of the Medieval Mystics as well
as facing my own depths while circling the Abyss.