Archive for August, 2009

Vote for Me!

August 2, 2009

Observing the political situation I was wondering how much better the world would be if I were in parliament.

So I thought to myself “why not stand for election to the House of Commons?”

Unfortunately, it is not quite as simple as that and I have some forms to fill in. I’ll let you know how I get on …..

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The Authentic Gospel of Jesus

August 2, 2009

 

I recently came across the work of Professor Geza Vermes. He comes from a Jewish Hungarian family that converted to Roman Catholicism. He trained as a Roman Catholic priest, but left the church in the 1950s.  Later he became the first professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Oxford.  Some see him as the greatest Jesus scholar alive today.  His works included The Religion of Jesus The JewThe Changing Faces of Jesus, The Authentic Gospel of Jesus

It sounds incredible today, but a hundred years ago few regarded Jesus as a Jew at all.  It is a credit to the work of Vermes and other scholars that we can start to see and appreciate Jesus for whom he really was.  Some say it was down to Vermes the Oxford English Dictionary changed its definition of Christianity to the current one which is as follows:

The religion based on the person and teachings of Jesus Christ, or its beliefs and practices

Previous editions of the dictionary had stated that Jesus was the founder of Christianity.

As a distraction from wall papering I started the The Authentic Gospel of Jesus.  Vermes looks at the various sayings of Jesus in the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke.  The Gospel of John is rejected as being totally unhistorical.  That’s interesting as when we are confronted with religious tracts or posters outside churches threatening us with eternal damnation the quotation is generally taken from The Gospel of John.  Oh dear.  Anyway, it would appear that most scholars date The Gospel of Mark to about 70 CE.  Matthew and Luke come later between 80 and 100 CE.  So we are not really dealing with eye witness accounts.  The authors of Matthew and Luke, according to the view of most scholars, had read Mark.  They also relied on something called Q which comes from the German for Quelle or source.  This is a bit more controversial as no one has ever produced a copy of Q.  Most conservative biblical scholars , not surprisingly, reject it totally.   As well as Mark and Q, the authors of Matthew and Luke also added their own material.

Vermes divides the sayings of Jesus in to three categories:  Narrative and Commands; Controversy stories; Words of Wisdom; Teaching in Parables; Quoting or interpreting Scriptures; Prayers and Related Instructions; Son of Man sayings; Sayings about the Kingdom of God; and eschatological rule of behaviour.  He analyses what Jesus says and compares it with what we know about Jewish religious thought and practice from the same period.  Doing that, and using his knowledge of Aramaic, he tries to decide whether or not the saying is authentic.  I would really recommend the book which is very easy to dip in to and out of, particularly as you will probably be familiar with many gospel sayings.  In fact through Vermes,  Jeshua bar-Joseph, the Man of Nazareth, becomes a much easier figure to understand than the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of history.

Let me share one of the passages with you taken from the chapter on “Quoting or Interpreting Scripture”.  It discusses Jesus’ cry

Eloi, Eloi lama sbachthani?   /  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  (Mark 15:34, Matt. 27:46)

This is one of the first instances in the Gospels where we see a quotation in Aramaic, which was after all Jesus’ first language.  The New Testament was, of course, written entirely in Greek.   It is often claimed that in uttering this cry that Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22.  The psalm begins:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  [Psalm 22, v.1  The Revised English Bible]

but nonetheless has a happy ending:

The coming generation will be told of the Lord; they will make known his righteous deeds, declaring to people yet unborn: The Lord has acted.  [Psalm 22, vs. 30-31  The Revised English Bible]

Unfortunately, Jesus and every Jew of his time would have been used to hearing the Psalms recited in Hebrew.  The Hebrew text is actually:

‘eli, ‘eli lamah ‘azabtani

So why did Jesus speak in Aramaic rather than Hebrew?  The only conclusion that a dispassionate 21st century observer can come to is that it was not actually a quotation from scripture, but rather a genuine cry of despair. (The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, pp.193-194)

Vermes argues

Jesus was an existentialist preacher who endeavoured to persuade his disciples to change their lives and to collaborate with him in the great enterprise of preparing the way towards the Kingdom of God (The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, p.398)

He goes on to argue

Compared with the dynamic religion of Jesus, fully evolved Christianity seems to belong to another world.  With its mixture of high philosophical speculation on the triune God, its Johannine logos mysticism and Pauline Redeemer myth of a dying and risen Son of God  (The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, p.415)

It is all very sad when you think how it all turned out on the cross.  According to Vermes as quoted above Jesus wanted to bring together a community of people to help bring about the Messianic Age.  Did he regard himself as the promised Messiah?  It is difficult to say and Vermes does not seem to discuss the issue in the passages I have read.  The Jesus that emerges when you understand a bit of his Jewish background is not some soft figure who urges people to wait around, put up with a bad life in return for heavenly bliss.  See for example this passage from Paul who many regard as the true founder of Christianity:

Every person must submit to the authorities in power, for all authority comes from God, and the existing authorities are instituted by him.  It follows that anyone who rebels against authority is resisting a divine institution, and those who resist have themselves to thank for the punishment they will receive  (Revised English Bible Romans 13 vs 1-2)

Jesus certainly resisted and if there is any relevance to his message today I think it is that resistance is always the key to bringing about change, regardless of whether or not we succeed.

 

 

Change your life in three days with Christopher Howard (with a little help from a nutritional therapist)

August 2, 2009
If you attend our $1000 seminar we will shoot you ......

If you attend our $1000 seminar we will shoot you ......

Back in December 2006 a Christmas card arrived through the letter box.  It was from a nutritional therapist.  I bet that makes you jealous doesn’t it?  Well, the card was from a fully qualified member of Patrick Holford’s Institute for Optimum Nutrition.  So there.  You may not think the Nutrionista religion allows them to celebrate Christmas.  Well they do, just not the same way as everyone else.  In with the card was the most expensive present anyone has ever given me. There was a ticket to attend an event that would change my life in three days.  Normally the charge would be £695, but since my friend was recommending me I would get to go totally free of charge!  Wow.

So in March 2007 I turned up at the Excel centre in London to listen to lifestyle coach Christopher Howard who was coming over from the United States of America to help me change my destiny.  On signing up I had to declare that I did not have any mental health problems.  It seemed of an odd thing for them to ask.  I also had to confirm that I would not disrupt proceedings.  I have to confess I lied and put my signature in the right place.  The challenge was on: (1) not to let on to anyone how weird I was and (2) not to cause any trouble.  Surely if anyone did upset the organisers they would refund the value of their £695 ticket ehhhh readers?

It seemed to be a less exclusive event that I thought it would be.  There must have been more than 2000 of us in the hall just waiting for our lives to be transformed.  Before Chris arrived there was a warm up act from a former Australian doctor now working as a key member of the team.  At the side of the room were young people known as “The Crew” dressed in black T-shirts.  Their job seemed to be to look enthusiastic and run around.   Then Chris arrived to a raptuous reception.  Obviously, he was a good looking 40-something American.  He told us a little bit about his life.  Apparently in his younger days he had been stuggling, but then started attending seminars which helped to revolutionise his life. It all reminded me of an exhibition I attended in Nuremberg a couple of years before.

We were then asked to “buddy” up with the person next to us.  By getting their Mobile telephone number we could provide each other with support.  Unfortunately, the “buddy” I found was a young Italian who had heard it all before and said he was going to leave.  Oh dear.

At various points during the week end Christopher gave us pearls of wisdom.  He seemed interested in quantum physics and quoting from Jung and Gandhi.   Where Chris had learnt about these subjects was very unclear as he told us that he had left school at the earliest possible age.  Possibly his education had been derived entirely from training seminars.  Every so often some one would be called up to the stage for a bit of special personal attention.  Two people stand out.  One was a cage fighter.  I cannot remember the exact technique, but I think he was told to close his eyes and visualise himself winning the fight.    This rather went against the grain of the cuddly image of the self-help movement!  Later in the day Chris helped a single parent who worked part-time to change her life.  She seemed a bit lacking in confidence that Chris’ advice would work.  Funnily, enough he did not advise her to join a trade union, political party or campaign for better training and child care facilities.

I certainly met a number of interesting characters over the three days.   One of them was a postman who wanted to be be a life coach.  Not such a bad career choice as he would certainly know the way wouldn’t he?  Unfortunately, he had been off sick for the last six months.  How the course was aiding his recovery was most unclear.  In another practical session I found myself paired up with some one else who worked as some kind of a life coach.  He offered a bit of one-to-one tuition.  Excellent.  I told him a bit about my life. He suggested possible solutions.  Apparently, it was all about whether we as individuals were cause or effect.  He had decided that I was just an effect.  No matter what I suggested about future plans he always told me that I was an effect.   Fortunately, the session was over before I could become the cause of him having a black eye.  My partner in the next session was also a life coach, though she seemed a much more sympathetic character.  Her response to everything I said was: “Wow. That sounds great. You go for it.”  This proves I suppose that if you are not happy with your life coach just change the coach rather yourself!

Of course three days was not sufficient to change.  It was necessary to come back for more.  Unfortunately, there seemed to be costs involved.  However, by signing up that day we could make serious savings.  The most interesting seminar being offered was the Billionaire Boot Camp which offered the chance to get you inside the mind of a billionaire.  How they would do that or why you would want to be inside the mind of a billionaire was left unexplained.  Chris kept telling us that if we followed his techniques we would have loads of money and be able to live the life of our dreams.  All we had to do was follow the principles of NLP.  Unfortunately, by the end of the seminar I was still unclear what exactly his techniques were.  One could well understand how a vulnerable person could sign up in the expectation of being initiated further in to the mysteries of NLP.

As the seminar closed I was pondering on what I had learnt over the last few days.  I then heard a voice and looked across and saw a smiling young woman

I have been looking for you

Have you now

I walked on not really paying much attention as my mind was on other things.  It then struck that the friendly who had just spoken to me was the sympathetic who had seemed so enthusiastic about my life a couple of days before.  There was only one thing for it.  I had to go back in to the hall, find her, invite her out to dinner, be coached and live happily ever after.  Unfortunately, the hall was filled with several thousand life coaches so finding my friend would have been like looking for a needle in a haystack.    There is a moral to this story, but for the life of me I can’t think what it is ….