By: Dan Hettmannsperger III
Of course it is common knowledge that Christianity began as a goof perpetrated by the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce that got so far out of hand it ended up becoming the largest religion in the world. Right? Well, actually, no that’s not what happened but if it had it would probably make more sense then the truth, which is murky and more then a little frustrating. There is a pattern one finds in the growth of religions that is unmistakable and it goes like this: at some point a man comes along (it’s always a man, women who have serious work to do would never waste their time with this type of thing) who has insight into what I like the call The Big Everything. His insights are always seen as unique and profound and perhaps they are to the primitive mind, certainly they’re profound enough for him to gather a nucleus of devotees who listen to him and follow him around. Inevitably this man dies either through old age, sickness or assassination. How he dies it beside the point. What is significant is that after he dies those who were close to him decide they only they and they alone really understood his message and what it meant. Eventually this is how you end up with an approved upon scripture, a hierarchy of priests/ministers/Imams to keep the franchise expanding, and a culture of devotion and obedience to the power-structure and it’s ordnances.
Let me digress for a moment. As children we are all familiar with Superman. We watched the various movies, cartoons, television shows and read the comics and on one occasion even saw him in a commercial with Jerry Seinfeld. But few people understand that the character of Superman has been developed over many decades with vast changes. When Superman was first introduced in 1938 as written by the late Jerry Siegel, he was bullet-proof, strong enough to lift a car (as seen on that first cover) and he could not fly but could leap tall buildings with a single bound . But a few years later World War II broke out and it was decided that Superman was going to war, so now Superman is capable of withstanding artillery shells and he’s strong enough to lift a tank or punch through the side of a battleship…and he can fly. By the 1950’s science fiction was never more popular, so now Superman was powerful enough to withstand death-rays and defeat aliens armed with unearthly technologies. By the time Superman: The Movie came out in 1978, 40 years after he’d been first published, he was now virtually omnipotent. Superman as portrayed by the late Christopher Reeve could easily withstand the vacuum of outer space, move the tectonic plates of the earth at will and fly fast enough to travel back in time. How did we get from this working class hero in 1938 to this deity whose only downfall was kryptonite and increasingly inferior sequels?
Much the same way the exact same thing happened with Jesus Christ. Paul, the artist formerly known as Saul, was the one who gave us the resurrected Jesus. But his Jesus is essentially another version of the various Hebrew Prophets that one finds in large numbers in the Old Testament. Paul does call Jesus ‘the son of God’, a title bestowed upon the various Kings of Israel but Paul meant that Jesus was favored by God. Paul knows nothing about a virgin-born Jesus and never mentions the virgin birth in any of his letters. he also doesn’t mention the Sermon on the Mount or The Lords Prayer. Why? One must conclude that when Paul was writing at the time such tropes didn’t exist yet because the Gospels didn’t exist yet. That Jesus wasn’t to come until decades later in Mark, Matthew and Luke. But clearly the authors of John were not satisfied to have a Jesus who was merely the offspring of God much like Hercules and Perseus was the offspring of Zeus. So John’s gospel gives us a Jesus that is essentially God incarnated as a human being through a series of theological knots as impossible to untie as they are to understand…because they never were meant to be “understood”, merely believed.
We begin to see after awhile that the fiction Jesus was from the very beginning was a fiction built upon over many years just like the Superman of our own popular culture. His journey from prophet to Messiah to son-of-god to God is pretty much right there for all to see. That so many still fall for what is at bottom a bunch of old men topping one another with tall tails is perhaps the most disheartening aspect of all of this. Ultimately what we have with Jesus is a vast scaffolding that surrounds no actual structure….truly it seems the cloths have no Emperor.