Subject: Richard Helms's _Gospel Fictions_ Date: 21 Feb 90 01:18:02 GMT I have read Randel

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From: loren@sunlight.llnl.gov (Loren Petrich) Subject: Richard Helms's _Gospel Fictions_ Date: 21 Feb 90 01:18:02 GMT I have read Randel Helms's book _Gospel Fictions_ (available from Prometheus Books). He proposes that much of the four canonical Gospels, which are much of our source for the life of Joshua of Nazareth, better known as Jesus Christ, are essentially fiction. How? He suggests that the authors of the Gospels saw the Old Testament as essentially "prefiguring" the life of Jesus Christ, and "reconstructed" his life from parts of the Old Testament. The miracles, for instance, seemed to be copied off of the Old Testament miracles worked by Elijah and Elisha. Not surprisingly, there are some screwups here and there. Some of what he presents is not exactly new; some of you would probably be familiar with what he says about the nativity stories, for instance. Joseph is traced to the kings of Israel during its glory days by two genealogies that contradict each other; yet, we are also told that Joseph was not Jesus Christ's real father (virgin birth, you know). The concept of a virgin birth is absent from the Old Testament, but is to be found in abundance in pagan mythology; it was taken for granted that a male deity can make a woman pregnant. Such historical figures as Pythagoras, Plato, and Alexander the Great were alleged to have had divine fathers, Apollo for the first two and Zeus for the third. Helms even quotes an early theologian, Justin Martyr, who complain that there are some who think that the Virgin Birth was a myth, comparing it to Zeus making Danae pregnant. The main Old Testament "support" is a Septuagint mistranslation, with a word for "young woman" (Hebrew: almah) being translated to "physical virgin" (Greek: parthenos). For my part, I think that one legend of a virgin birth is as plausible as any other. Helms even seems to account for that story about Jesus Christ cursing that fig tree. In Luke, there is a parable featuring a fig tree that would not bear any figs. In Mark, that gets turned into Jesus Christ cursing a fig tree for not bearing figs when he wanted to eat, just because it was not in season. Matthew tells it that way, but with the overtones of childish petulance toned down. He even starts his book with a dramatic beginning -- he describes a religious prophet who lived in the eastern Mediterranean in the first century AD, who taught the worship of one true God and that true religion does not consist of sacrificing animals but of living virtuously, who was charged with treason, and whose followers believed that he was the son of a god. Is this Jesus Christ? No, Apollonius of Tyana. Helms's whole thesis is that the Jesus Christ of the New Testament was made to fit certain mythological patterns, the patterns followed by (among others) Apollonius of Tyana. I was a bit disappointed that Helms did not take on the question of what the "historical Jesus" was like; but if he is correct in stating that much of the Gospels is manufactured pseudo-history, we may never know for sure. It would be interesting to evaluate other famous figures by this sort of technique. First on my list would be Socrates. There are two main sources on him, the general Xenophon and the philosopher Plato, and they have (1) serious discrepancies between them and (2) differing agendas. There have been controversies over how much of the Socrates described by Plato is the "real" Socrates and how much is an invention of Plato's for illustrating philosophical ideas. As a personality, Socrates had a lot in common with Jesus Christ, including the conviction that he was on a divine mission, and his having been prosecuted and executed for allegedly subversive activities. There are others worth considering, like the Buddha, Zoroaster, and Mohammed; I wonder what's been done on them? I get the impression that Buddhism, for instance, is less dependent on the purported historicity of the Buddha than Christianity (for example) is dependent on the purported historicity of Jesus Christ. Perhaps not surprisingly, this kind of "history" is not confined to ancient times. Just consider the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. After he (supposedly) chopped it down, he confessed this black deed to his father. Or consider the Fundamentalists who believe that our Founding Fathers were Fundamentalist theocrats -- wrong on both counts. Or ideologically motivated revisionism -- slavery was a good thing; or else that the United States is an evil, imperialist power and the Soviet Union a persecuted victim; or else that the Soviet Union is the cause of all the trouble in the world, with the United States being a champion of truth, goodness, and democracy that is worshipped by right-thinking people everywhere. Possibly the champions in the field are the Soviets themselves. Consider that disgraced Communist Party leaders tend to get written out of their history books. Leon Trotsky had been a leading figure in the Bolshevik takeover, but when he lost out to Stalin, he was officially turned into a nobody. Stalin set up a massive personality cult out of himself when he was alive, but was thoroughly hushed up by his successors. I have a little Russian history book that I bought back from the Soviet Union when my family visited there in 1970. It talked about Lenin's being persecuted by the Tsarist regime before he came to power (there's no good reason to doubt _that_), but made no mention of Trotsky. In fact, it made no mention whatsoever of any other Soviet leader, not even Brezhnev, who was on top at the time. It pictured the Soviet Union developing econonmically, prospering, and winning military victories against the "fascists" under the wise guidance of "the Party." Instead of Stalin, it was the Party which called people to the front to fight Hitler, for instance. It pictured the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as one big happy family (no mention of the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, of course) and it pictured the "Korean People's Democratic Republic" and Vietnam as victims of aggressions perpetrated by a certain militaristic, imperialistic evil empire -- the United States. There was no mention whatsoever of China. Even scientists have been known to indulge in such dubious history. Stephen Jay Gould points out that Darwin, in his _Autobiography_ for his children, claimed that he followed Baconian induction; even though Darwin pointed out elsewhere that Baconian induction is an inadequate model for scientific procedure. In effect, what Darwin said is that if one does nothing but collect facts, one will end up with a mass of disconnected information. Yet Darwin may have been trying to demonstrate to his kids that he had practiced reputable research techniques, and offered simple induction in the absence of any fully worked-out improvement on that model of research. So if Helms is right, and I think that contention very plausible, then the Gospels in the New Testament, our major source on Jesus Christ, must join the ranks of ideologically slanted and fictionalized histories. ^ Loren Petrich, the Master Blaster \ ^ / loren@moonzappa.llnl.gov \ ^ / One may need to route through any of: \^/ sunlight.llnl.gov <<<<<<<<+>>>>>>>> lll-lcc.llnl.gov /v\ lll-crg.llnl.gov / v \ star.stanford.edu / v \ v "Crucifixes are sexy because there's a naked man on them" -- Madonna

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