Thursday, January 05, 2006

Thomas, Jefferson

Skipping Towards Armageddon, an interesting blog that's been kind enough to post links to Codemorse, pointed me toward "Jesus Without The Miracles: Thomas Jefferson's Bible and the Gospel of Thomas."

I've been a fairly long-time advocate of Jesus as revolutionary moral philosopher, regardless of any belief in his personal divinity. The Gospel of Thomas (not Jefferson) reinforces the idea of Christ as someone with a radical, world-changing philosophy of self-improvement, charity, and tolerance. Jefferson's Bible, without awareness of the existence of Thomas's gospel, attempts an essentially similar feat, by removing the virgin birth and all miracles from the text to leave us with the documented proverbs and beliefs of Jesus himself.

It's this Jesus - He of the allegorical story and relentless, self-effacing humility - that I think I believe in the most. I've no real idea whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, but I'm pretty sure about "love thy neighbor as you love yourself" coming from his mouth. What is more important to the good of the world and to the improvement of the self? Adherence to the faith-driven belief in this man's divinity? Or following the teachings he left behind?

And if Jesus was not, in fact, the actual Son of God, does that make his teachings, so powerfully transformative after thousands of years - any less important to humanity? "Jesus Without the Miracles is a fine, thought-provoking read.

e.g.: read Jefferson's version [of the gospels] is to face a relentless demand that we be much better people—inside and out—than most of us are. Which leads, as Jefferson must have suspected, to this unfortunate conclusion: the relevance of Christianity to most Americans—then and now—has far more to do with the promise of eternal salvation from this world than with any desire to practice the teachings of Jesus while we are here.


At 1:23 PM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

"What is more important to the good of the world and to the improvement of the self?"

I suppose that assumes that Jesus was here to help you improve yourself and the world in some temporal way. I'm reading The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions and in it Borg says that Jesus while he was here was a healer, prophet, mystic, wisdom teacher, and radical. That is those were his "vocations". Whereas, Wright believes that Jesus' sole vocation was Messiah (not that he didn't do all of the above in addition, but they weren't the root of what he was about).

Now that isn't to say that Jesus' teachings weren't invaluable. We would do well to obey them and it would indeed make the world a better place were we to succeed.

The word "tolerance" in relation to JC always interests me since he wasn't always a very tolerant person, so I'm not sure where he taught "tolerance" as it so often gets defined today. He did teach the we should love all of our neighbors to the point that we should be ready to sell all that we had to help them.

"And if Jesus was not, in fact, the actual Son of God, does that make his teachings, so powerfully transformative after thousands of years - any less important to humanity?"

I get this question a fair amount on the net and if you ignore his teachings about his own nature (provided you believe that he said he was the son of God) then his other more secular teachings are certainly as important as any other teacher of wisdom. But I think you throw the baby out with the bathwater if you cut out what you find too unlikely or challenging. I know enough about humanity to know that the majority are either unable or unwilling to pay heed to his talk about love, humility, mercy, etc. or at least to pay any more than lip service. And that knowledge says to me that we need him just as much if not more as a savior, than we do as a teacher of self improvement.

At 3:24 PM, Blogger Scott Roche said...


At 4:21 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

Well, I'm no Bible scholar, but it appears to me that Jesus' intolerance tended to center around the intolerance of others (the woman at the well), or their hypocrisy (pretty much everything else).

I tend to see the belief in Jesus as Messiah to be a need for justification for a way of living, and as reassurance that we'll go somewhere when we die.

His divinity gives him authority that, sadly, he probably wouldn't have without it.

That's not to say that a belief in his divinity is a bad thing. It's just that the focus seems so heavily on Jesus as divine savior that Jesus as moral teacher (arguably just as important as his crucifixion, otherwise, why bother to teach at all?) perhaps gets lost in the shuffle a bit?

I'm also, admittedly, a recent admirer of the gospel of Thomas, which has Jesus informing his followers that the Kingdom of Heaven is all around them, and within them. That "Thomas" is non-canonical is problematic, because it's easy to write it off. But it's non-canonical because the Church chose to label it as such. It's very much in line with the four accepted Gospels. Jesus' emphasis on the here-and-now in "Thomas" seems in line with his overall teachings and raises questions for me abut what was truly important to Jesus, divine or no.

Have you read it?

At 4:22 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

(apologies for the delay)

At 8:48 AM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

Bits of it. I haven't avoided it on purpose, just because something isn't canon doesn't make it heretical or non-useful (in my mind at least). Doesn't it also have some juicy things about Jesus and Mary Magdalene?

You would definitely like what Borg says from what you're saying here.

(no prob on the wait I just wanted you to weigh in)

At 9:33 AM, Blogger codemorse said...

It certainly seems that way. My personal favorite writing on Jesus thus far is Joseph F. Girzone's "A Portrait of Jesus," which is both a quick, enjoyable read and (to me) a convincing melding of Borg and Wright's apparent views.

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

I'll have to check that out.

At 11:33 AM, Blogger codemorse said...

Most definately do.

"...that precisely is the problem Jesus had with the scribes and the Pharisees, that though they were totally involved with religion and made a show of their model observance of law, they never learned to love God or to treat people with compassion. 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' (Matt. 9:13)"

It's a terrific book.


Post a Comment

<< Home