Monday, March 29, 2010

That Jesus character

The thing that both atheists and fundamentalists fail to realise about the likelihood that the gospels' account of Jesus is almost entirely fictional is that it really doesn't matter - in fact it's better as myth than as history.

It’s taking myth literally (whether you're an atheist or a believer) that is the problem. That's what causes all the wars and arguments.

Just because something is a myth, that doesn't make it irrelevant. Myths are powerful stories that inspire people. Robin Hood and King Arthur were probably entirely fictional (or very exaggerated versions of historical figures) but they have inspired people down the ages to emulate their values. Jesus may well be entirely fictional too (and I am certain that his miracles are entirely fictional and symbolic), but he is still an inspirational figure. (And the same goes for the other solar dying-and-resurrecting vegetation gods such as Horus, Mithras, Attis, Adonis, Tammuz, Dumuzi etc.) Unfortunately there are things which Jesus is reported as having said that inspire fundamentalist bigots. But Jesus’ message of non-violence also inspired Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It’s a mixed picture.

Most of the stories about Jesus can be given a mythological reading which fits in well with the archetypal stories of the Hero Journey, or other myths. The same stories (virgin birth, massacre of the innocents) are told about other deities such as Krishna, Mithras, and so on.

Bill Darlison has shown how the Jesus myth fits in with an astrological initiatory system. Joseph Cambell showed how it fitted with other versions of the archetypal Hero Journey. The gospel of John in particular can be read symbolically (and was various scholars have shown that it was intended to be read symbolically). Various authors (notably Timothy Freke) have explored the similarities between Jesus and pagan gods. It's all mythology, and that's good.

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