Monday, November 26, 2012

The Bible: History Or Myth - And Mary's 10-Year Pregnancy?

Here I continue my Christian exploration in Chapter 7 of Tom Harpur's 2004 book The Pagan Christ, which he entitles "The Bible - History or Myth."  Harpur begins with another quote from Alvin Kuhn, who says, "There is not one iota of history as we know it in the entire Bible!"

Harpur begins by noting several media articles and reviews disputing biblical historicity, and how many in the Church were deeply shaken by such. People began asking, "If the Bible is wholly unreliable as history, why should they believe any of it?"  Harpur goes on,
"The absolutist, literalist approach has been so successful that the concept of Scripture as entirely allegorical and mythical is still virtually beyond comprehension for most traditional believers. Yet that is proving to be Christianity's Achilles' heel in the present crisis. The old literalism simply cannot withstand the probing of modern thought, research, and scholarship. What was never history to begin with can't masquerade as history any longer. This marks a major, decisive turning point in Christianity's overall story. It brings with it the hope of the recovery of a much more spiritual belief system and experience of God." (p.116)
Harpur then, with the help of other writers, takes a carving knife to our old, literal understandings of the Bible stories, slicing up stories of the Israelites, the epic stories of Abraham and Isaac and David, and that the exclusive worship of the deity YHWA, or Yahweh "didn't fully coalesce" until sometime between an Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E. and the Babylonian conquest of the southern kingdom of Judah in 586. The Bible says this happened much earlier. Harpur notes that "the true origins (again) appeared in Egyptian religious thought.

Harpur relies heavily on the work of journalist Daniel Lazare, who wrote a leading article in the March 2002 issue of Harper's magazine and used other sources. Lazare calls into question Abraham's very existence, as well as David and Solomon: "If David and Solomon had been important regional power brokers, one might reasonably expect their names to crop up on monuments an in the diplomatic correspondence of the day. Yet, once again, the record is silent.

Calling again on the work of Massey, Harpur says that:
"Had it been real history, particularly the detailed accounts of battles in the Book of Joshua, Palestine and Judea ought to be overrun with ancient implements of war and work, of Hebrew manufacture and of the conquered races. But outside of the Bible story, there's absolutely no evidence to be found of the numberless combats and the devastation of Jehovah's enemies in great battles. Also, the country of a people so rich that King David, in his poverty, could collect millions of pounds to build a temple is found to have been without art, sculptures, mosaics, bronzes, pottery, or precious stones."
Harpur says the same thing about King Solomon and all his riches. "Not one single goblet or one brick has ever been found to indicate (his) reign existed!"

The Biblical Archaelogical Review (BAR) released its own article in May/June 2002, but had scarce to say in defence against Lazare's work. In fact, it defended it in some cases. For example, when it comes to the Exodus from Egypt, where Moses leads the Israelites across the Red Sea into the somewhat absurd and obviously symbolic forty-year wilderness trek - "I doubt you'd find many scholars who'd accept the Biblical account at face value. We have no archaelogical evidence of a man named Moses, of Israelites wandering in the desert or of the events at Mount Sinai." The BAR goes on to concede that it doesn`t have a definitive history of David or a battle of Jericho.

So, if what much of the Bible never actually took place, what can we take from it? If it is all, or mostly a myth, we can look underneath and find a treasure of timeless truths.

Harpur then begins to give his own interpretations (heavily influenced by Kuhn and Massey) of some of the Old Testament stories. For example:

  1. The story of Samson makes little sense literally but must be seen allegorically and with an astronomical background. Samson in Hebrew means "solar," and he is a sun-god figure. Delilah is linked with the feeble, waning aspect of lunar light - the dark of the moon - a sign of the sun's weakening.
  2. Gideon's soldiers each hold a candle in a pot and then suddenly breaks it open in an encircling ring of light. Their enemies run for their light. The meaning is the light within each of us (the Christ) can overcome all things.
Even more interesting are the discrepencies and the mythical interpretations of the New Testament. For example:
  1. Mary's song when she learns that her aged relative Elizabeth is with child is clearly a repeat of Hannah's song in 1 Samuel, chapter 2.
  2. There is no trace whatsoever of Augustus' decree that the whole world should be registered. "It's simply a means of getting Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for theological reasons. The messiah had to be of Davidic descent, and thus from Bethlehem." Luke says the birth happened while Quirinius was governor of Syria. That means it couldn't have happened before 6 C.E., the year we know he took office. At the same time, Matthew says Jesus was conceived while Herod the Great was in power of Judea. But Herod died in 4 B.C.E.! That adds up to a "ten-year pregnancy!"
  3. For Matthew, Jesus' hometown was Bethlehem. For Luke, it was Nazareth.
  4. The entire matter of Herod ordering the killing of all babies is clearly symbolic once you realize that an attempt to slaughter a holy child appears in all the ancient hero myths, from Moses to Horus to Saragon to Hercules.
  5. The two genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke have nothing to do with history and everything to do with myth. Luke traces the family "history" to Adam because his story is universal. Matthew traces it to Abraham because he's interested in establishing the Jewish line of descent. Strangely, both show that on the father's side, Jesus was a descendant of David. "But they fail to point out how utterly irrelevant this really is, since, in their view, Joseph wasn't the real father at all - it was a virgin birth. The myth required this."
  6. Every early messiah figure was heralded by a star, not just Jesus.
Harpur then discusses particular stories within the New Testament:
  1. The Prodigal Son: This story is about a person realizing his unique, inner self and how it turns his life around. It has an esoteric meaning The prodigal son represents the hidden drama of the soul. When we enter into matter, we are going off into a "far country," to be tested, fed on scraps, etc. One day, true enlightenment dawns and the divinity within is recognized and the sleeping Christ is awakened and we return home to the waiting "Father."
  2. The Raising of Lazarus: If it was meant to be such an important part of the account of Jesus' life, why is it only found in John? Rather, it is lifted straight from ancient themes. "Read allegorically, the way it is told in the Egyptian sources, this story is no problem. Read as history, it's a plagiaristic (though well-meaning) forgery." There is a story of Horus, the ancient Egyptian god, raising his father from the dead, and we see this here. Harpur goes on to explain how the name Lazarus comes from "father of Horus." Also, just as Jesus, Mary and Martha wept, Horus, Isis, and her sister Nephthys in ancient Egyptian lore also wept.
Tom Harpur concludes his 7th chapter by once again leaving us with what is seeming to be the main theme of his book. Even though what much or most of the Bible never actually took place, there is a deep mythological element that can be even more revealing than historical truth. Regarding the Lazarus story, he repeats his claim that "it was intended to celebrate the eventual resurrection to radiant glory of the individual's true self, the inner Christ."

I will continue my exploration of Harpur's book shortly, where he delves into the Gospel accounts even further.