Bad Jesus

8 Feb

I grew up in a time when “juniorized” versions of popular (cartoon) characters were almost more common than their adult originals. From the Star Wars laden, delightful Muppet Babies to the terribly bland A Pup Named Scooby Doo, beloved, earnest, and admirable characters became even more adorable when transformed into younger versions of themselves. The formula seems logical: the innocence, naivete, and lack of power in childhood allows for slightly different (and easily pumped out) stories about characters with already well-defined personalities.

Not so with the tales of baby Jesus in the ancient world. In the beginning of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, five-year-old Jesus is a murderous, vengeful bully–think Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son–with superpowers. While Jesus plays at building clay sparrows and creating pools of water beside a stream, a scribe’s son takes a tree branch and disperses the water he collected. In response, Jesus drains the kid of his youth: “the child withered up completely,” and his parents “bemoaned his lost youth.”

Lest this seem like the worst kind of overreaction, Jesus quickly tops this perverse poetic justice. While taking a walk in the village, another child accidentally knocks into Jesus’ shoulder. Jesus strikes him down dead, exclaiming “You shall not go further on your way.” When the murdered child’s parents tell Joseph to control his kid, Jesus makes the parents blind by uttering the words, “these people shall bear their punishment.”

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Broken Jars and Bloody Swords

1 Feb

“Jesus said: The kingdom of the [Father] is like a woman carrying a jar full of meal. While she was walking [on a] distant road, the handle of the jar broke (and) the meal poured out behind her on the road. She was unaware, she had not noticed the misfortune. When she came to her house, she put the jar down (and) found it empty.”
– Gospel of Thomas, saying 97

“Jesus said: The kingdom of the Father is like a man who wanted to kill a powerful man. He drew the sword in his house and drove it into the wall, that he might know that his hand would be strong (enough). Then he slew the powerful man.”
– Gospel of Thomas, saying 98

Few early Christian texts have drawn so much attention and have provoked so much debate as the Gospel of Thomas. Its time of composition and relationship to the New Testament remain contested, and its contents are often more enigmatic than elucidating. Take a gander at saying 11, for example: “On the day when you were one, you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?” What could that possibly mean? (Another post, another day.)

Two of these sayings, however, unlike many others in the Gospel of Thomas, lack canonical parallels: sayings 97 and 98. And, while usually each saying is read in isolation, evocative contrasts arise when reading these two bizarre and lonely lines together. Let’s get to it!

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I Am the Utterance of my Name

28 Jan

In a text called The Thunder, Perfect Mind, an enigmatic, divine female figure describes herself as a series of opposites. Beckoning her hearers to listen, know her, and be on their guard, she proclaims:

I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter…
I am the silence that is incomprehensible
and the idea whose remembrance is frequent.
I am the voice whose sound is manifold
and the word whose appearance is multiple.
I am the utterance of my name.

I am the utterance of my name. It’s such a strange idea, and seems so counterintuitive. We receive (or later choose) our names. We hear our names spoken, and look around to find out who wants our attention. What would it mean to be the very sound of one’s name?

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This post is DEFINITELY mostly filler

25 Jan

My stomach is turning and turning in the widening gyre. Where else would it turn?

New post as soon as my fingers, brains, and guts can get it together. In the meantime, enjoy this thought:

“Every thinker who has called God ineffable, has nevertheless continued to speak of him.” -Eric Osborn

Among Things in Flux

18 Jan

[This follows up on last week’s post on the Acts of Andrew. Enjoy!]

After Andrew preaches for three days while hanging on his cross, his two-thousand strong supporters rally to rescue him from death. Struck by “the adamance of his thought, the sheer abundance of his words, the value of his exhortation, the stability of his soul” (the list goes on: you get the idea), they run off to the tribunal to protest his execution.

And the people actually win. Rather than face a revolt, the ruling powers release the holy man. And there was much rejoicing, right?

Not from Andrew. Angry and frustrated, he yells at his would-be saviors: “O, how many times I have prayed that I might lift them from these filthy habits… Why this excessive fondness for the flesh? Why this great complicity with it? Do you again encourage me to be put back among things in flux?”

Unwilling to be taken down from his cross, Andrew reads the crowd’s protest at his death sentence as “fondness for the flesh.” Life is fleeting; get out posthaste. He’s shocked that this interpretation of his extended and exhausting preaching sessions didn’t reach his attentive audience.

After such a thoughtful series of questions and reflections on the transience of life, escape is Andrew’s only solution. Instead of offering suggestions on how to live in the messy, ephemeral world, Andrew desires to avoid it entirely.

Suicide is the great answer for those of us “in flux”? How disappointing.

Conversations with Crosses

11 Jan

I want to love the Acts of Andrew. It’s one of the few Acts that’s actually fun to read throughout, with its titillating, platonic love triangle that leads to our hero’s martyrdom. Even better than the tame soap opera stuff, Andrew’s speeches are actually quite moving to this cynic. They’re filled with incisive philosophical musings that go beyond the usual “yay celibacy” and also, “praise Jesus” proclamations I’ve come to expect in these texts.

While the Gospel of Peter gives us a talking cross, the Acts of Andrew offers one that listens. Brought to his fated cross, Andrew greets the “weary” wood, and says  it can rest now that he’s finally arrived: “Greetings, O cross! … though you have been weary for a long time… now at last you can rest.” Empathizing with his means of execution, Andrew, who likewise has “been weary for so long,” is eager to rest with the cross. Adding one more strange romance to the list, it seems so sweet that they’re together at last.

Bound, but not nailed, to the cross (lest he seem too Christ-like), Andrew addresses a massive crowd from his literal post. He criticizes worldviews that sound much more modern than ancient, monologuing at length:

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Jesus the Alien

4 Jan

Weaving together fibers from each canonical gospel, the Gospel of Peter presents a familiar story of the crucifixion at first. It offers some typical elements: a blaming of “the Jews,” a crown of thorns, a vinegar-soaked cloth to drink, the casting of lots for Jesus’ (very few) wares, Jesus crying out, his death, burial, and diligent guards stationed at his tomb. Soon after these expected details, however, we get a scene unseen anywhere else that answers the question: after he was buried, how did Jesus leave that stone-covered sepulcher?

According to the Gospel of Peter, a pair of angels picked him up.

During the night, the guards stationed outside of the tomb see two glowing men descend from heaven, enter the self-opening sepulcher (the rock rolls over on its own!), and leave, supporting Jesus between them. It gets weirder: a cross follows behind them, and “the heads of the two reach[ed] to heaven, but that of him who was being led reached beyond the heavens.” Weirder still, that floating cross speaks. The guards hear “a voice out of the heavens crying, ‘Have you preached to those who sleep?’, and from the cross there was heard the answer, ‘Yes.’”

A floating cross follows three figures. Their heads stretch to the heavens. The cross answers a heavenly voice.

How. Utterly. Bizarre.

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