Tuesday, October 25, 2011

S is for Second Coming

The evidence for Jesus’ First Coming from unimpeachable, non-Christian sources is scanty. It is so scanty that it is quite possible that Jesus—i.e. a significant Jewish prophet from the time of the Emperor Tiberius—never really existed in the flesh. The best non-Christian source for Jewish history during the supposed time of Jesus of Nazareth is a Jewish general named Flavius Josephus. (When the Jews were defeated, he joined the Romans and changed his name.) His failure to even mention Jesus of Nazareth—despite mentioning some other prophets with the name Jesus (i.e., Joshua) at the exact same time—stunned early Christians. That’s why they “interpolated” a passage into Josephus’ book, The History of the Jews that corrects his account of these troubled times. The practice of “correcting” texts to (or, as George Orwell later put it:“bringing them up to date”) was quite common in antiquity. So the Christian scholars who inserted a few pages on the amazing doings of Jesus of Nazareth into Josephus’ history were not doing so maliciously. But the very fact that this “pious interpolation” (as modern scholars invariably describe it) was necessary at all strongly suggests that if Jesus of Nazareth really existed in the flesh, he was a very minor figure whose activities were easily overlooked.

From this we might well conclude that Jesus’ First Coming was irrelevant. What’s truly important, and very interesting, is how this minor figure was blown up into a Giant God who said and did all sorts of memorable things and became the epicenter of a cult that grew to embrace millions and later billions of adherents. And for this, we must first credit (or blame) Saul of Tarsus better known as Saint Paul. It was he who took the message of Jesus (whom he never met) “on the road” to Greece. It was he who, in defiance of Jesus own brother, spread the Word to non-Jews and even permitted uncircumcised men to join “The Way” as the new religion styled itself. (It adopted “Christian” from outsiders who used this derisive name to call attention to the “cultish” nature of the new religion.)

So, if the Second Coming parallels the first, it will take place “below the radar” and Jesus will disappear once more without leaving a trace. No doubt his followers will then come up with all sorts of stories of what he said and did and how miraculous it all was. And, once again, he will predict that end of the world is at hand and the last days are near. And again there will be those who believe even though they have “not seen” and again there will be skeptics whose lack of faith prevents them from seeing what is obvious to all the true believers.

And, if history is our guide, this will produce a new religion arising reinvigorated from the ashes of the old—consider Mormonism if you will.

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