Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Who Do People Say That I Am? And Where Do They Think I'm From?

A reader has challenged me to conduct a complete exegesis of the Gospels, or more particularly, of Jesus. Of course, Jesus cannot be reduced to what is contained in the Gospels, but more importantly, I am no theologian, just a guy and his blog.

Therefore, I hatched the idea of rereading Pope Benedict's wonderful triptych starting with The Infancy Narratives, to Baptism through Transfiguration, and onto Holy Week and Resurrection.

In doing this I would like to preserve a kind of stereoscopic sensibility, in that I want to start from ground zero, or utter cluelessness, without too many assumptions about Who This Guy Is, even while bearing in mind that he is -- irrespective of whether or not one is a believer -- the most consequential person who has ever lived.

Now, "consequential," in the sense I am using it, means "laden with causation," so to speak. Again, irrespective of one's perspective, it is just an empirical fact that Jesus continues to cause an incalculable number of things to happen -- this post, for example. Obviously, I wouldn't be writing it if he hadn't existed (and this is leaving aside the question of whether Jesus is actively causing things in the vertical sense).

Take a contemporaneous historical figure, say, Tiberius, who was emperor of Rome during Jesus' ministry. Clearly, Tiberius was far more consequential at the time, as he had the power to make most anything happen, whereas Jesus had only the power of an anonymous peasant, which would have been a scintilla more than zero. His criminal's death on the cross would only seem to emphasize the point. Ultimately we would say that man himself had the power of life and death over God -- or at least so it would seem.

Fast forward 2000 years, and we see that Tiberius is essentially inconsequential -- whatever causes he initiated have eventually dissipated -- whereas Jesus' consequentiality only grows over the centuries, like some kind of mustard seed or something.

Again I want to remind the reader that I am attempting to begin this analysis from a standpoint of ignorance which may at times resemble blasphemy. But based upon what we have thus far said, it seems to me that even the most intellectually uncurious and even tenured person would find this rather puzzling: how does the most consequential man on earth become so inconsequential (hey, ask Obama!), whereas how does a common criminal -- whom contemporary psychiatry would frankly regard as delusional -- become the most consequential? (Enough about Obama!) You have to admit that this is odd, odder still if a lunatic is the most consequential man in history.

But let's not prejudge the case: it's not as if other lunatics, or knaves, or criminally insane, have not turned out to be quite consequential. I know, for example, of a religious founder who took pleasure in marrying underage girls and decapitating those who resisted his message of peace. And it is arguable that the second most consequential man in all of history has been none other than Karl Marx. He too continues to reach from the grave and cause any number of things to occur, for example, Obama (and everything Obama causes in return).

Where to begin, with theology, or metaphysics, or history? In a way, this goes directly to the infancy narratives, for what are they actually? Are they really just banal "history" as understood by the modern mind? Or are they theology presented in the form of historical narrative? Or are they, like Genesis, more like lessons in metaphysics and ontology, in this case revealed via biography (or word in flesh)?

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but we do have to begin somewhere. For the Jewish mind, one operating assumption was that man is already in the image of God. Boiled down to an abstract principle, it means that man and God are complementary, even if God necessarily takes priority: man illuminates God because God has first illuminated man.

So, one of our assumptions is that there is both horizontal and vertical causation. Frankly, if there were only the former, then man could never know it. Rather, to know of the horizontal is to be in the vertical; and to be in the vertical is to live in this mysterious space between matter and God; or relative and absolute, if you nonbelievers prefer.

Now, even the most thoroughly secular person is still trying to "ascend" (in the vertical). How? Well, science, for example, is, in its very essence, the reduction of multiplicity to unity. Note, however, that there is a kind of unity in both (vertical) directions. We can descend all the way down into a dark monistic materialism; or, we can ascend into an differentiated but integrated synthesis, which is the luminous way of genuine science (or at least philosophy of science).

But the Christian story -- or the infancy narratives -- begins at the other end of the vertical, with "a man on a mission," so to speak. In other words, this is a hypothetical descent from the most-high to the most-low (in human form).

Thus, on the one hand people knew exactly where Jesus was "from": he's that guy from Nazareth. But at the same time, the Gospels record consternation about how this guy from Nazareth could presume to know all that. When Jesus asks, "Who do people say that I am?," he's also posing the question, Where do you think I am from?, and even Why do you think I am here?, or What is my vertical message?

For Benedict, the Gospels, each in their own way, "set out to answer these questions." In short: Who? Where? Why? and, How can we participate? Each of these is inextricably intertwined with the others, and I would say goes to the question of how Jesus can be so consequential and continue to cause things like this post to happen today.

Benedict points out that Matthew and Luke present two very different genealogies, one essentially extending from the origin to the now, the other from the now to the origin. As Abraham's life "points forward" to his multitude of progeny (both horizontal and vertical), Matthew wants to say that this stream reaches a kind of focused intensity in the person of Jesus -- or Mary, rather.

If the genealogical stream suggests horizontal continuity from Abraham to Mary, then the vertical ingression into Mary implies discontinuity: "Mary is a new beginning. Her child does not originate from any man, but is a new creation, conceived [vertically] through the Holy Spirit."

At this point -- if not sooner -- non-believers will have already manifested the Jesus Willies, meaning that something in them recoils from all this sappy Jesus talk. Again, I am attempting to avoid this, to the extent that it is possible. Rather, I am trying to open up a space for understanding, even if one ultimately rejects what one has understood.

You might say I am trying to provide some cognitive "hooks" for the modern mind, which will otherwise reject the whole thing out of head.

In this case, I am simply positing the idea that man self-evidently has access to the vertical; that this vertical is either hierarchical (conditioned from top to bottom) or an unintelligible absurdity; and if the former, then the possibility that the top of the hierarchy may manifest in the bottom. This latter would represent "Incarnation," but let's not get ahead of ourselves. At this point we are simply affirming the possibility. And if it is possible for dead matter to come to life, we should keep an open mind as to other possible secrets matter has in store for us.

So, the gospels imply that "Jesus belongs by law, 'legally,' to the house of David. And yet he comes from elsewhere, 'from above' -- from God himself." The point is that this man has a mysterious "dual origin"; he is both one of us and not like any of us: brother and stranger, friend and superior, Jesus and freak.

To be continued... assuming interest.

46 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

I so love this post. I dream about ones like this.

I only wish Obama weren't in it.
He spoils everything and won't matter soon -- if not sooner.

10/28/2014 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger JWM said...

Van der Leun just re-posted his Hitchiking in the land of the Dead essay. And now this from Bob. This may be the One we've been waiting for. I'm excited.

JWM

10/28/2014 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

This is the very same JWM who coined the term "Jesus Willies."

10/28/2014 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

And the very same Rick who gave me the idea of doing this six or seven years ago. Or maybe it was old Hoarhey...

10/28/2014 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

To paraphrase Reagan, I don't care whose idea it was, long as I get credit for it.
Coulda been that other president.

10/28/2014 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

"Assuming interest." Heh - as if this isn't Raccoon crack. See, you even brought JWM out!

10/28/2014 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Again I want to remind the reader that I am attempting to begin this analysis from a standpoint of ignorance which may at times resemble blasphemy.

I think at some point, for most modern people, it becomes necessary. Depending on how much and what you learn as a child, one may need to throw off all that prior knowledge (or rather, (-k)) and begin with a mind made new, but also capable of understanding. I know so many young people who have grown out of their childish understanding, but then found no deeper teaching to fill it out - as though they were taught that math consisted of simply adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing, and that there was nothing else to know. Then finding out that higher math exists, seeing that they use letters as well as numbers and a lot of other "crazy" symbols, and writing it off as insanity and all of math itself as the domain of idiots.

Speaking for myself, the knowledge that I had as a child was woefully incomplete (perhaps shallow is the better term), and usually rather poorly represented by the people in a position to teach it. Then when I tried to discover on my own (reading the gospels in my early 20s), but lacking the requisite inner space, I probably managed to comprehend even less. I read, but without eyes to see, so it all looked like the life and times of crazy people to me.

It was only years later, after coming across this place, that I was ready to begin to understand.

10/28/2014 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Paul Griffin said...

And it is arguable that the second most consequential man in all of history has been none other than Karl Marx.

Pfft. Only if your metric is number of people murdered. We'll see if Marx's ideas are still kickin' around in another 1800 years. Until then, he's just another Tiberius as far as I'm concerned.

10/28/2014 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/28/2014 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of Tiberius, we just spent a few nights rewatching I, Claudius. There's a reference in there to the Jewish messiah - nobody knows who it is, but Herod Agrippa (not the one who met with Jesus) may have believed himself to be the one. And of course, Caligula thought it was himself - not that he was Jewish, but he was pretty certain he was god, so it must be he.

10/28/2014 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

16 million descendants of Genghis Khan. Think of it!

I like to speculate that in 1000 years, half the population will have "Duggar" genetics.

It's a consequence, if only a horizontal one. (Hyuk!)

The Catholics are onto something, I tell ya. God's first directive was "go forth and multiply." We try to make it so much more complex than simple multiplication.

10/28/2014 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"If the genealogical stream suggests horizontal continuity from Abraham to Mary, then the vertical ingression into Mary implies discontinuity: "Mary is a new beginning. Her child does not originate from any man, but is a new creation, conceived [vertically] through the Holy Spirit.""

IOW, 'What are my X,Y CoOrdinates?' and 'Do you really think you can have dimension without both?'

""Who do people say that I am?," he's also posing the question, Where do you think I am from?"

Curious, does anyone know if the "I am" there, used the same wording as "I AM" from the burning bush did?

10/28/2014 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Good question. On a hunch, I'm going to guess that if not exactly that, it was close, and also part of the reason the clerics hated him so much. What he spoke was blasphemous, if he were actually just an ordinary schlub.

10/28/2014 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

I love the Story. All of it. And each one's attention to it and embellishment of it. The vertical and horizontal story is His Story, ever. It's replayed so beautifully in each moment. Love it.

10/28/2014 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

Van, I'm not sure if the "I am" in Jesus' question "who do they think I am" is the same as the name God called Himself "I AM", but I suspect not because it did not cause the same reaction as when (in John 8) he answered the Pharisses "before Abraham was, I am" which was the same as it resulted in the Pharisees taking up rocks to stone Jesus.

10/28/2014 01:22:00 PM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

Bob, great topic. I'm ravenously waiting for the next bite.

10/28/2014 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

ER, I'm curious if it bore a punnable relation to it, or whether that's simply a result of translators translating the translation it into English.

I'll have to check into that when slack descends....

10/28/2014 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Van asks: "Who do people say that I am?,"

I wish UF was here. He'd know what to do...

Wait!
Lemme search me digital MOTT..
Stand by to stand by..

10/28/2014 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Yeah, I'm interested.

Funny, "facts" don't seem to matter much to me anymore. I used to think that I should just concern myself with Mark, which seemed to be the source of Matthew and Luke -you see I just wanted to get to the core facts of the matter and try to sort out the truth from the myth -not knowing the Truth was entangled in the myth.

It shook me to find out in a footnote that some scholars believe the ressurection account wasn't originally in Mark.

Now? It's all good.

10/28/2014 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

UF does not seem to make mention of it. Only the seven I AM aspects of the perfect self; such as "I am the way..", etc.

10/28/2014 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Can't remember where I read it (heard it?) maybe here. But Christ never answers the question, but seems to prefer that people tell Him who He is, such as when Peter says he is Lord and one of the two the robbers beside Him on the cross.
Seems to reinforce the value of faith.

10/28/2014 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

John said "Funny, "facts" don't seem to matter much to me anymore."

They sure aren't the leading indicator of value. While it's a fact that Attila & Genghis obliterated millions... their impact ended with the echoes of their deeds. Even if as Joan mentioned, they sired mucho many leetle toddlers... they have no connection to them. Alexander the Great had no great impact upon the world by what he factually did within the world, but by those things 'outside the world' which managed to be spread along with his actions, the Greek culture and philosophy, such as Alexandria (and the Septuagint) caused larger ripples than did his deeds of daring do.

And as Gagdad pointed out, they all, from the pikers of change like Atila & Genghis, to the movers & shakers like Socrates, Plato & Aristotle, pale against the waves and current that flow from the no-name Nazarene who died the death of a common criminal.

Something's up with that.

Even those who have some claim to shaking these up in our day, Rousseau, Kant & Marx... and even mahomet, they're but the troughs of those who came before Him - they might stir up the water but they don't affect its flow.

Only that 'no name' fellow at the center of our calendar could accomplish such things.

Something's up with that.

10/28/2014 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Rick said "Seems to reinforce the value of faith."

As the quip goes, answers are too easily the end of thought. Only questions intensify and expand it.

And when you can offer up an answer that is more Q than A... winner!

10/28/2014 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I'm reminded of the headlines going around a couple of weeks ago about the so-called "invisibility cloak," which was actually just a couple of lenses placed precisely so that the narrow point of their focus matched up, and anything next to that narrow point, though close, seemed to be out of the field of vision.

Kind of like this: >✝<

Which is to say, a tiny point which takes on magnified importance both forward and backward in time.

10/28/2014 02:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morning and evening star. Lion. Lamb. Son of Man.
I wish sometimes disparate identities would hold their positions. Medicine Wheels, and such. Elijah, the Baptist.

Not words on a page. Alive, and dynamic. Just over time, with not much space. That is how the cross lays over this stuff.

That is the irony. To get close, one must form an identity.
It is the place where memory and mentation wrestle.

Who is on first? The ladder or the dynamic?

And who wants to know, and who is willing to watch and wait for most everything?

It must be nice to be comfortable in space. Maybe going around a few times is better for the stuff that stays.

10/28/2014 02:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Who do people say you are? I mean the doctors?

10/28/2014 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Griffin said...

Rick said: But Christ never answers the question, but seems to prefer that people tell Him who He is.

Well, He wants us to know our own answer to that question. It's not as though He was having an identity crisis. Even on a strictly historical/horizontal level, given His massive influence on the world we live in, anyone's answer to that question is (or should be) incredibly important.

It may be a story about something that happened once, but it is also a story about what is always happening. We are all Peter, pondering our answer to that question.

Seems to reinforce the value of faith.

Well, I do like to say that there is no faith without relationship, and that question strikes at the heart of our relationship with Him like no other. It is almost shockingly blunt.

10/28/2014 02:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes. I remember:

"Do you trust Me? Then pick up your cross, and follow..."

10/28/2014 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

What I mean is, reinforces the value Christ places on faith. Not just what we think of it.
There is a trinity of sorts here as well: One asks the question, the other answers, and faith is revealed between them.

10/28/2014 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

Anon (mis)quoted "Do you trust Me? Then pick up your cross, and follow..."

Jesus didn't ask if they trusted him, at least not in any interpretations I've seen.

Jesus said "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

Then he added "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?"

I think it's a good thing to quote Jesus accurately and completely.

10/28/2014 03:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. But in this case, I was not quoting the book, but rather the answer to a prayer.

10/28/2014 03:57:00 PM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

Let me be more direct.

Anon said "That is the irony. To get close, one must form an identity."

Compared with "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it"

Or maybe I misunderstood you.

10/28/2014 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Just got in from a long, long day. I was all-in for continuation even before I saw it lured JWM down from the treetops.

10/28/2014 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Taranto's piece today mentions a Democrat politician from Maryland who has written a couple of spiritual classics, Baptist Gnostic Christian Eubonic Kundalinion Spiritual Ki Do Hermeneutic Metaphysics: The Word: Hermeneutics and Trapezium Giza Pyramid Artificial Black Hole Theory .

10/28/2014 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Oh, my. Is this guy a serious contender, or is he some kind of write-in kook? The reviews are hilarious.

Speaking of pyramids, so out near where I live there's what I believe is either a synagogue or a Jewish funeral home that looks like a miniature version of the Luxor hotel. It strikes me as particularly odd that any group of Jews would build something in the shape of the architecture of their Talmudic oppressors, but what do I know?

The world is weirder than I could ever imagine.

10/28/2014 06:37:00 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

We once had some missionaries to Papua New Guinea come to our church and share with us their story. They were the first white western people to arrive to these particular folks. They spent years learning and writing the language, and then transliterated the Bible. They began teaching it starting in Genesis. It took them 4 years to get through the Old Testament. Talk about, "start[ing] from ground zero, or utter cluelessness, without too many assumptions about Who This Guy Is." When Jesus was finally introduced to the natives, they were ready for Him. They KNEW who he was and were excited and delighted, and believed.

10/28/2014 10:18:00 PM  
Blogger JWM said...

Even though I haven't dropped a comment here in a long time this place still seems like my first home on the internet. And it's been a few years, now hasn't it? I used to be sure that I always had something to add to a discussion. But it has been a long strange trip from the wild west internet of (early)LGF, to Bob founding this blog, to now. Somewhere along the way I got changed into a Christian. If you told me that was going to happen I might not have stayed. I've changed a lot and I feel more inclined to listen, and utterly disinclined to argue. The heart business had a lot to do with it. (see John C Wright). Day to day life has become an exercise in joy. I keep my focus on home, work, and most of all, the bicycle gang, It's fun bein' Leader of the Pack (only without the vroom vroom) We work at creating fun, and we're doing OK at it. I do try (with little success) to avoid the news.
And this post is doing what Bob does best. He animates the mystery of it all; brings out all the strange and wonderful stuff that we've already seen, and shows it to us like something newly discovered. Looking forward to what comes next.

JWM

10/28/2014 10:39:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"And this post is doing what Bob does best. He animates the mystery of it all; brings out all the strange and wonderful stuff that we've already seen, and shows it to us like something newly discovered. Looking forward to what comes next."

Aye, that he does, John.
And with little or no saturation or cluelessto-all to clog up the arteries to our minds as we seek the Truth.

10/28/2014 11:40:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Holy moley, how do they fit those titles on the books?
I reckon there can't be any large print versions.

10/28/2014 11:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Skully said...

Heh, then there's this from the same guy:

Christian Kundalini Science- Proof of the Soul- Cryptogram Solution of Egyptian Stela 55001- & Opening the Hood of Ra

I had no idea Ra lived in the hood.

10/28/2014 11:54:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

This guy also doesn't believe in paragraphs.
Or writing coherently.
Makes sense that he is a Democrat lawmaker from Maryland.

10/28/2014 11:59:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"But let's not prejudge the case: it's not as if other lunatics, or knaves, or criminally insane, have not turned out to be quite consequential. I know, for example, of a religious founder who took pleasure in marrying underage girls and decapitating those who resisted his message of peace."

Nothin' says peace like decapitations and sexual assaults on a 9 year old child.

10/29/2014 12:35:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I woke up a little earlier than usual this morning -- here I am! -- all fired up to write a post. I noticed the date, and something in my head asked if maybe I was forgetting something. Eventually my brain reminded me that yes, I had forgotten the unpleasant fact that I have to attend another all-day seminar for my continuing education. At least it's the last one for another two years of procrastination.

So instead of a trackless oasis of slack spreading out before me, I have to give myself over to a regulatory prison for nine or ten hours, including travel time. I may begin a post, but I doubt that I'll finish it. FYI.

Oh well. At least there's a game seven at the end of the day. And maybe I can get some reading done at the seminar, so I can try to stay ahead of the pack. I feel like a music teacher who has had one more lesson than his students, so he merely teaches them what he learned the day before...

10/29/2014 06:42:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Sorry you hafta go to seminar hell again, Bob.

10/29/2014 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Ahoy, mateys, I jest hadta share this:

http://youtu.be/wct6herMlfo

Taliban Epic Fail. Epic stupidity and epic funny.

10/29/2014 09:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Skully said...

The only way that couldv'e been funnier is if they blew themselves up.
Which happens more often than most people might think.

10/29/2014 09:27:00 PM  

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