Chapter 10: Jesus: Fact, Fable or More?

Down the Rabbit HoleA critical matter of faith for most Christians is that Jesus lived out his life on the world stage, that his life was a fact, and that he existed historically. The eternal makeup and destiny of many believers today pivot on that specific moment in time back in the first century. On one hand, the story of Jesus is so profound, compelling, and in some respects so human that it could not have been fabricated from previous mythologies and compiled by human intellect; it had to have some existential root, born out of a profound experience of some sort. On the other hand, we would be in many ways raping the story of its profundity if we were to reduce it to a fact on a historical, linear timeline. While historians and biblical archeologists do not have any evidence to confirm or deny the physical existence of Jesus, the metaphorical perspective transcends the physical historicity of Jesus or lack thereof. The message of the Jesus story is the focal point and is of utmost importance because it speaks of a perception of unification that transcends space and time. However, the orthodox interpretation of the story of Jesus is utterly dependent on his physical existence. The entire orthodox Christian theology falls apart without the physical, worldly existence of Jesus. In contrast, a metaphorical reading goes beyond the messenger; it does not insist upon a physical existence of the messenger but recognizes the message as the key to our reality. Whether or not Jesus historically and physically existed in the First Century, his life story is first and foremost an ever-present psychological reality. The stations of his life and of the cross are alive and well in each one of us. That life is the mold out of which our True Life is lived. The metaphorical reading of the Jesus story subscribes to the notion that all forms originate as symbols or ideas, and ideas animate this world.

For example, Jesus as we know taught through parables. Is it so important that the characters mentioned in those stories, those parables, physically existed? Certainly not! Jesus attempted to get a message across through parables. Once a disciple understood the message or meaning of the parable, the parable was set aside. It is absurd for a disciple's understanding of the parable to hinge upon the physical existence of the characters mentioned in the parable. It is even more absurd to revere the characters in the parable, to worship them, especially if a disciple does not understand its message. That may be considered idolatry according to the religion itself. From the metaphorical perspective, orthodox believers revere the characters in the message. To these believers, the messenger in the person of Jesus is the goal, the end all, the aim; however, from the metaphorical viewpoint, the message is of utmost importance. From the metaphorical perspective, Jesus is a symbol. He points to something past himself, to something greater than himself, which he calls the Father. All metaphors point to something past themselves, as I mentioned, through symbols. Jesus as a living metaphor is transparent to the message. This is also the ultimate goal of the artist. The work of the artist points past itself, past the artist to something greater to be found in the beholder of the work, in you. Jesus likewise must point to something past himself if he is truly dynamic or divine; for if he did not, he would be a crystallized fact like a butterfly encased in glass, to be studied and dissected. Such a lifeless animal is a shadow of its real self that had once roamed the meadows and fields with such delicate grace and beauty.

To put it in another perspective, I ask this question: From a purely physical perspective, what is more important or everlasting, an individual human being or the genetics, the DNA code that make up a person? Metaphorically speaking the collection of human genes contains the message, the code that lives on and is passed through progeny and generations; the people whom the genes "construct" are secondary to the blueprint or code, if you will, for human beings. Destroy the code and there will be no more human beings, but the opposite does not hold true. My point is that the historical existence of Jesus is not pivotal to the metaphorical reading of the Gospels. It is inconsequential to assert or deny his physical historicity. In other words, Jesus can be thought of as being one with the blueprint of authentic humanity, of the Divine Human or Christ and not as a single individual.

Regardless of Jesus’ historical facts or lack thereof, I would suggest that contemplating the message by means of a historical Jesus, as a focal point, has important merit and necessity and readily evokes the experience of the message. In other words, by accepting the notion that Jesus physically walked the earth, by meditating upon his life as a historical fact, we are more easily engaged by the psychological reality of Christ, by the experience and understanding of the message. The richness of the Christian tradition can really be found in this personalization of God, in the human form of Jesus precisely because, through our human condition, we relate and connect with Jesus as a human being. But in that very connection lurks the risk of idolatry, which runs rampant in mainstream Christianity. But at the heart of the Gospel, we find a bridge to the divine through Jesus’ human form. This view opens up a world of association and allows us to speak of this connection in creative, poetic and personal language. If the affirmation of the physical existence of Jesus is important to orthodox Christianity, it is for this reason only and not that our eternal salvation pivots on our acceptance of a historical or temporal figure or event. That "wholly Other", otherworldly or God can now be known because He has entered the human realm, as a psychological reality that infiltrates and can be realized in our daily life. This idea of humanizing God is evident in Greek mythology and came to fruition, I believe, in the person of Jesus – fable or fact. The Greek gods were very human indeed and had a significant impact on Greek people and culture. In contrast, this approach is quite different from that of many of the Eastern religions, which de-emphasize the individual and tend to be less personal with their psychological projections. Christianity on the other hand thoroughly enjoys playing with or getting lost in the dramatization of God, which leads to symbols and events such as the grim suffering and crucifixion of Jesus.

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