Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Miracle-Less Gospels; Jesus the Magician?; Divinization

I finished Howard Clark Kee's Miracle in the Early Christian World.  I have three items.

1.  On page 292, Kee states that the Bultmann school liked the Gnostic Gospels (including the Gospel of Thomas) and upheld them as the oldest sources for us to access the historical Jesus because these Gospels consist largely of sayings and they lack miracles, which the Bultmann school deemed to be embarrassing.  Rudolph Bultmann himself, after all, asked how we in the modern age can believe in miracles!  I like the concept of a Gospel that relies on teachings and sayings, rather than things that are hard to believe.  At the same time, many of the New Testament scholars whom I have read deem the Gnostic Gospels to be late (in that they appear to assume the synoptic Gospels) and inauthentic in terms of what the historical Jesus was like.  I have to admit, however, that I have not read much Karen King or Elaine Pagels.

2.  On pages 268-271, Kee talks about Celsus' criticisms of Jesus' miracles, and Origen's response to those criticisms.  Celsus essentially states that Jesus was a magician who did his "miracles" in alliance with demons.  Celsus compares Jesus with "sorcerers who profess to do wonderful miracles...who for a few obols make known their sacred lore in the middle of the marketplace and drive demons out of men and blow away diseases and invoke the souls of heroes" (quotation of Celsus on page 268).

Origen responds that this was not so because (1.) a magician would not try to instill in people a teaching about the fear of God, and (2.) Christianity opposed magic.  Origen acknowledged that miracles might occur among the Greeks (Contra Celsum 5.57), but he said that the fact that sorcerers invoke Jesus' name shows that the name has power (Contra Celsum 2.49).  Origen also affirmed that the resurrection of Jesus surpassed previous miracles, even though the risen Jesus did not appear publicly as Celsus would have liked, but rather he appeared only to the spiritually-worthy who were prepared to see him (Contra Celsum 2.61-63).

On pages 211-212, Kee discusses Morton Smith's book, Jesus the Magician.  Smith argued that Jesus was a magician who ate flesh, drank blood, and participated in "nocturnal lustrations in the nude with his circle of male followers" (Kee's summary).  But Smith contends that Jesus' role as a magician has been obscured under subsequent layers of redaction, as the Christian editor made Jesus into a miracle worker like figures in the Hebrew Bible.

Was Jesus a magician?  At the moment, I am skeptical about Jesus eating flesh, drinking blood, or engaging in those "nocturnal lustrations" that Smith talks about.  But there are occasions when Jesus heals through certain rituals, such as spitting on a blind man's eyes (Mark 8:23) and anointing a blind man's eyes with clay he made out of spit and dirt (John 9:6).  Are these acts of magic?  Why perform a ritual, when Jesus can heal by word?

3.  In an excursus, Kee talks about human beings becoming divine.  He quotes Plato's statement in Republic 6.500.C-D that "the lover of wisdom by keeping company with the divine and orderly becomes himself divine and orderly in so far as it is possible for a human being" (page 298).  Kee also refers to Aristotle's principle that a man with political insight be followed as a god among men, for whom no law exists.  This interested me because it gave me insight into divinization in the ancient world: that a person in this life can become divine through wisdom.

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