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Hello, again. Welcome to the year 3738.
Once again, this is Teachminder Phonias J. Futz, and it has been three years since my ground-breaking, earth-shattering work on the personage of Abraham Lincoln. As a result of that work, which definitively separated Lincoln the man from Lincoln the myth, I have become one of the leading educators in our reconstructed society - and now I shall with confidence apply my talents elsewhere.
This time, I shall tread into the field of religion. I begin by recognizing a 20th-century scholar of immense erudition whose book, The Jesus Puzzle, was discovered among ruins in the ancient nation of Usa. This scholar's name was Earl Doherty, and he, like I, was intent upon freeing a great civilization from its heart-held myths.
The existence of the historical religious figure Jesus Christ was called into serious question as early as the 18th century. Our records of the controversy are sparse - Doherty's work, what we have remaining of it, alludes to a scholar named Ga Wells, but in terms of other works, we are left blind (with the exception of one work, which we will look at shortly).
The details brought out by Doherty indicate, however, that the Christian movement in its first two centuries was comprised of two groups - the first and more original, which believed in a heavenly Christ that never walked the earth, and a later group that "historicized" this Jesus and had him walk the earth.
Doherty's compelling case concerns us, but it is not the subject of our work here directly. Rather, we will be showing here that this division in the Christian church - with two parties, each with differing and extreme beliefs on the matter of the historicity of Jesus - continued to exist into the 20th century, and that the "myth" party was overwhelmingly predominant. It was not just in the first and second centuries that this dichotomy existed, but also, as we shall see, in the centuries that followed, on through the 20th century.
All through this period, it is evident that the "historicist" party (as we shall call them) was a distinct minority in the Christian church, whereas those who believed in a heavenly Christ were by far the most influential and overwhelming in numbers. Our evidence for this comes from a most telling source - one of the very hymnbooks used by the Christian movement of the 20th century, which contains a variety of hymns of worship from the four to five hundred year period under consideration.
We should first validate the evidence itself by its own internal witness. Our books of hymns contains over 500 songs - certainly an adequate sample of material to draw conclusions from. The copyright date for the hymnbook is 1975, but the dated evidence of an offering envelope left inside the book indicates that it was still in use shortly before the Great Catastrophe.
Like the works cited from the NT by Doherty, we see references to things like blood, death, birth, etc. in reference to this Jesus; each of these sort of references he has explained in detail, and we will not repeat his findings here - it is at least clear that the tendencies he perceived continued on into the 20th century.
Let us consider the very first hymn offered in this book, for it substantially represents a major grouping of the hymns that follow. The title is Holy, Holy, Holy; credits for the words are given to a Reginald Heber who lived in 1826 - the early 19th century.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
Holy, holy, holy! all the saints adore thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
Who wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.
These first two stanzas reflect not only the content of the rest of the hymn, but several more that follow. God is the focus of these hymns, and all that takes place, takes place in the realm of the heavenlies. But even when the Christ is the focus, as in the second stanza of this next hymn (God, Our Father, We Adore Thee - George W. Frazer, 1904) there is not much difference:
Son Eternal, we adore thee! Lamb upon the throne on high!
Lamb of God, we bow before thee, Thou hast bro't thy people nigh!
We adore thee! We adore thee! Son of God, who came to die!
We adore thee! We adore thee! Son of God, who came to die!
Here and in the many hymns early in this collection, there is no sense of a Christ who became a human and walked the earth. True, in the above, this "Son" is described as having "come to die" - but this is easily explained by Doherty, who brilliantly interprets such references as being significant of this Christ's death in, as he puts it, "either in the primordial time of myth, or, as current Platonic philosophy would have put it, in the higher, eternal world of ideas, of which this earthly world, with its ever-changing matter and evolving time is only a transient, imperfect copy."
We shall see that such "details" of history will indeed crop up now and then - but their significance will be reduced not only by the feasible explanations of Doherty, but also by their contexts. In this particular hymn, that the first stanza praises "God the Father", the third stanza, the Holy Spirit, and the fourth, all three together, strongly suggests that they are to be considered together as occupying the same place.
We are justified in supposing that this early 20th-century hymnwriter had no conception of a Jesus who walked the earth.
The role of the Son, as opposed to the Father, continues to be muted as we progress through the hymnal. Events continue to occur, not on earth, but in the realm of the heavenlies. A strong indication is given in the eleventh hymn (Praise the Lord! Ye Heavens, Adore Him - by an anonymous writer, 1801). Note the second stanza:
Praise the Lord! for he is glorious; Never shall his promise fail;
God hath made his saints victorious; Sin and death shall not prevail.
Praise the God of our salvation! Hosts on high, his pow'r proclaim;
Heav'n and earth and all creation Laud and magnify his name.
The obvious question for anyone familiar with the "historicist" position is: Where does the earthly Jesus fit into this, the Jesus who was supposedly the source of salvation? For here it is God, not Jesus, who offers salvation. There can be no thought here of any sort of historical event like the Crucifixion.
Nor is there any perception of a Jesus who walked the earth as a teacher. Consider now the last stanza of the twentieth in the set (God of Earth and Outer Space - Thad Roberts, Jr., 1970) from a work written not as long before the Catastrophe:
God of earth and outer space,
God who guides the human race,
Guide the lives of seeking youth
In their search for heav'nly truth.
God who reigns below, above,
God of universal love,
Love that gave Nativity,
Love that gave us Calvary.
At first it seems that this hymn gives us some striking historical detail. But the question is, if this hymn reflects a Jesus who walked the earth as a Teacher, what need is there for God to "guide" the human race and seeking youth? Why are they not instead referred to the guiding, teaching words of the earthy Jesus?
Clearly there is more here than meets the eye, and I daresay that it has to do with a sort of development in the heavenly-Christ conception that identified events in that eternal world of ideas with specifically named locations in that realm. When Doherty wrote his thesis, there were no such hints at all in the earliest Christian literature; that we expect ought to have changed, of course, in the intervening two thousand years.
It is obvious that the true Christian faith found some need to attach geographical names to the events that occurred in the heavenlies, and it is no surprise that they chose names from the "historicist" position - for undoubtedly the associations of those names had permeated societal consciousness. (This theme of seeking wisdom from "above" is repeated elsewhere in the hymnal.)
Next consider these words from the last stanza of the thritieth hymn (O Worship the King - Robert Grant, 1833), which, after three stanzas of praise for a "King" who is "above", whose "robe is the light, whose canopy space" -
Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In thee do we trust, nor find thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.
Can there be any doubt? No singer of such a hymn could have believed in an incarnate Jesus - no child of dust to be trusted. Only a heavenly Christ suits such a glorious paean.
The belief in a heavenly Christ was one that permeated even the most influential in the church. While our sources for the period are of course sketchy, we know of a major figure in the 16th century named Mark N. Luther who was a leader in a major church reform movement. See how this hymn written by him (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God) fits hand in glove with our reconstruction:
Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God's own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
From age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.
Other than the reference to a "Man" - easily explicable, as Doherty indicates, as a "divine man" of the heavenly realms - there is no promise here of a historical Jesus, and Luther himself was clearly no believer in a historical Jesus.
Next consider the thirty-ninth hymn (All Glory, Laud, and Honor - Theodulph of Orleans), which was written very early - about 800 AD - and was translated in the 19th century. We shall consider the first two stanzas:
All glory, laud, and honor, To thee, Redeemer King,
To whom the lips of children Made sweet hosannas ring:
Thou art the King of Israel, Thou David's royal Son,
Who in our Lord's name comest, The King and Blessed One.
The company of angels Are praising thee on high,
And mortal men and all things Created reply:
The people of the Hebrews With palms before thee went;
Our praise and pray'r and anthems Before thee we present.
At first glance, one might argue that we have reflected here a very concrete historical events related in the accounts of the life of Jesus known as the "triumphal entry" into the city of Jerusalem. But closer examination tells us something else. Any idea that this scene had taken place during Jesus' earthly ministry has to be read into things. The hymn-writer supplies us with no such context.
Moreover, no mention is made of the sending of the two disciples, or of the retrieval of the pack animal, or that the owner came out to object, or that the cloaks were spread - features found in all versions of the story. Nor is any mention made of Jerusalem, a detail which might better identify the event in the hymn-writer's mind as an earthly one. All this makes it highly unlikely that he has drawn his knowledge of this "incident" from a Gospel account.
Beyond that, of course, we note that the references to kingship and Davidic descent are easily explained by Doherty: The early Christians of course required this to fulfill OT prophecy - no less than later Christians would need it as well. This hymn in no way indicates a historical Jesus.
The fortieth hymn (All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name - Edward Perronet, 1779) likewise presents a paradox. It speaks in every stanza of crowning this Jesus "Lord of all" - and yet, there is not the slightest mention of the historical incident of the crown of thorns! Would any writer of hymns be able to escape this inescapable parallel? Or where is the historical Jesus in the forty-eighth hymn (Fairest Lord Jesus - Anonymous, 1679) where, when we would expect some attempt at a physical description of one who walked the earth, we find:
Fair are the meadows, Fairer still the woodlands,
Robed in the blooming garb of spring; Jesus is fairer,
Jesus is purer, Who makes the woeful heart to sing.
Another hymn, the eighty-ninth (Silent Night, Holy Night - Joseph Mohr, 1818), provides us with what may yet seem the strongest evidence for belief in a historical Jesus:
Silent night, holy night, All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child! Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night, Darkness flies, all is light;
Shepherds hear the angels sing, "Alleluia! hail the king!
Christ the Savior in born, Christ the Savior is born.
But note here the absolute lack of essential historical detail which absolves any connection with the traditional Nativity scenario. This "virgin mother" is not given a name. Nor is a place of birth mentioned. Any connection to the traditional Nativity must be read into these passages, and must ignore the indications of a scene in the divine realm - where one may indeed have "heavenly peace", where "all is light" and angels sing in chorus.
And so it goes.
- The 102nd hymn (The Great Physician - William Hunter, 1859) leaves us aghast at the total lack of mention of any of the healing miracles of Jesus - who merely "speaks the drooping heart to cheer"!
- The 206th hymn (Rise Up, O Men of God - William P. Merrill, 1911) tells us: "Light high the cross of Christ! Tread where his feet have trod" - does this sound more like a reference to a historical event, or to some event in the realm of ideas in which all men may easily participate?
- How can the 345th hymn (Satisfied - Clara T. Williams) speak of a "Well of water, ever springing" without any hint of the supposed encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well?
- How can the author of the 483rd hymn (I Saw the Cross of Jesus - Frederick Whitfield, 1861) speak as though he has seen this event of the Crucifixion himself, 1800 years after the fact?
The only satisfactory answer is that this is not history, but spirituality. The 20th century church as a whole had no belief in a historical Jesus whatsoever.
Welcome back to the 20th century.
The point of this brief exercise in satire has been to make a certain point. In correspondence to this author, Earl Doherty offered up a suggestion to take a look at his work on The Odes of Solomon. I have done so, but I have no recourse to a full-fledged article on the subject: I have not been able to obtain key sources for evaluation, and so can make only a few brief points beyond what my satire has indicated.
Could these 42 hymns in the Odes be the product of a Christianity with no belief in a historical Jesus? They might be. Or they might be the product of people who, like the writers of the hymns above, believe in a historical Jesus. Or, they might be the product of someone like the author Robert Winterhalter - a member of the Unity school who, though a believer in a historical Jesus, nevertheless asserted that the Odes represent the truest form of Christian belief.
We simply cannot say, because the author of these hymns is unknown to us. We do not know his name or his motives (the traditional ascription to Solomon is obviously incorrect!). This is in marked contrast to the Gospels and most of the rest of the NT, where we have at least a traditional ascription we can argue about. The question is, why should we use the Odes as Doherty has, as proof of a non-historical Jesus?
I could argue further on this topic, but I see no need to do so, and my scruples will not permit me to go further when I cannot obtain sufficient background source material, an eventuality that appears unlikely. I will note one oddity: In quoting the 19th Ode, Doherty for some reason stops at the eighth verse. He quotes it thusly:
1 A cup of milk was offered to me, and I drank it in the sweetness of the Lord's kindness.
2 The Son is the cup, and the Father is he who was milked; and the Holy Spirit is she who milked him...
4 The Holy Spirit opened her bosom, and mixed the milk of the two breasts of the Father.
5 Then she gave the mixture to the world without their knowing, and those who received it are in the perfection of the right hand.
6 The womb of the Virgin took it and she received conception and gave birth...
8 And she labored and bore the Son but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose.
Of this, Doherty says that "when Ode 19 speaks of the Son born of the Virgin, this is not an allusion to Mary or the Nativity, as Charlesworth and others would have it. Here the poet is presenting a symbolic picture of the relationship between various aspects of the Godhead." I might find this acceptable, only two more verses that complete the hymn - which Doherty for some reason ignores - indicate otherwise:
9 And she brought Him forth gently, and acquired Him with great dignity,
10 And loved Him in His swaddling clothes and guarded Him kindly, and showed Him in Majesty. Hallelujah.
This sounds like Nativity to me - but perhaps Doherty, like our fictional Dr. Futz, has a ready explanation. (He cited translation issues in later correspondence.) I have, in any event, no further comment on the subject. I think we have shown how hazardous it can be to impose our expectations upon the works of others and use our presumptions to read their minds across the ages.
All hymn references are taken from the Baptist Hymnal published by Convention Press, Nashville, Tennessee, 1975 edition.