Friday, 9 September 2011

Was Jesus Wrong?, Part 2

Before I back up and jump headlong into the "Jewish apocalyptic context", of Jesus' day, I feel as if I should say a few additional words about the "Was Jesus Wrong?" question...

The first two-thirds of this post will essentially be a re-hash of material covered effectively by ProfMTH, in the 5 "Jesus Was Wrong" videos I linked to last time (in particular videos 2 & 3).  So, fair warning, if you watched that entire series, you may find what follows to be somewhat redundant.  If so, might I recommend you just skip down a few paragraphs.

Having said that, let's briefly re-cap the state of investigations into the "Jesus questions" led me to conclude that the texts in Mark 8, 13, and elsewhere, are best interpreted as a failed prophecy.  The case for this reading is very strong, in my view, and again I would encourage you to read Thom Stark's excellent book for a more in depth analysis of the counter-arguments made by Christian apologists (and why they don't hold water).

In fact the case is even stronger still, for a reason I haven't yet had the chance to mention.

That reason is this...many New Testament writers, including the apostle Paul, also seemed to believe that Jesus' return would occur during their lifetimes.  If Jesus hadn't said this, why would they assume it so readily?  Obviously, if this fact could be adequately demonstrated, it would add further support to the aforementioned reading of the texts (a reading the Christian apologists are forced to deny).  Further, as a second prong of this same point, one can catch glimpses of Jesus' prophecy being re-interpreted, by his followers, as time passes and it does not come to fruition in the way they had expected. 

Let me begin with some verses that demonstrate the first prong...

"According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.   After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever." (I Thessalonians 4:15-17)

"The end of all things is at hand..." (I Peter 4:7)

Revelation 1 talks about the "revelation of Jesus Christ" which "must shortly take place", and "the time is near" etc.

"Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near.   Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:7-9)

If the truth be told there are numerous other passages, that I could have chosen, but I think you get the idea.

One might be tempted to think that Jesus' failure, to deliver on what He promised, would have necessarily caused his followers to realize the error of their ways (and, as such, to immediately abandon their belief in Jesus).  But a closer look at how other "apocalyptic" groups have handled such situations, historically, shows this to be a clear fallacy.  As ProfMTH notes, in quoting a paper by Dr. Lorne L. Dawson, "the resilience displayed by religious groups in the face of prophetic failure suggests...that the level of dissonance experienced by insiders is less than that imagined by outsiders."     

What sometimes happens, instead, follows a predictable and well worn pattern...and it includes things like the rationalization and/or spiritualization of the prophecy.  In other words, the meaning is re-interpreted by the faithful.  Listen again to Dr. Dawson, "successful the most important factor contributing to the maintenance of beliefs and the survival of (a religious) group" in the wake of a prophetic failure.

This brings me to the second prong...

"First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, Where is this 'coming' he promised?...But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."  (2 Peter 3:3-10)

First, take note of the defensive tone in the above passage.  Also, the whole "with the Lord a day is like a thousand years" argument sounds suspiciously like a "rationalization", in the wake of a failed prophecy, don't you think? 

Barrie Wilson makes a very similar point, in "How Jesus Became Christian"...

"Christians advanced differing strategies for dealing with the delay of the promised messianic era.  Probably some quit the movement, as failing to live up to its promises...Some second-century Christians continued to say that, eventually, Jesus would return to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth...But there were other ways of coping with the problem of the delayed reappearance.  Some began to spiritualize the concept, maintaining that the promised messianic era was not a political entity--not a transformed world after all.  On this view, the Kingdom of God came to be located within the hearts and minds of believing Christians.  The Kingdom message became reinterpreted as something spiritual--something available to everybody, in the here and now."

Sound familiar?

Let me state things even more plainly.  Not only did I come to believe, as a result of my research, that Jesus issued a failed prophecy...I came to believe that cognitive dissonance, experienced by His followers because of that failed prophecy, compelled them to re-think what it meant to believe in and follow Him.  A few centuries of heated debate later and, voila (well, not exactly), we have ourselves an "orthodox" Christianity (or should I say Christianities?).

Ok...deep breath...I'm getting way ahead of myself here so, on that note, I'll rest my case for now.  Actually, for my next post, I'd like to pull a George Lucas on you and discuss the "prequel", to all of this, the "Jewish apocalyptic context" that helps us to understand better why Jesus would deliver such a strange prophecy to begin with.  What was He thinking??  (Not that we'll ever really know, for certain)  Or, better yet, who was Jesus?  It is to this second question I will turn next time.

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