Effeminate Christianity


Jesus is a metrosexual deity, sometimes seemingly transgender or outright feminine or at the very least androgynous. This was common among salvific godmen and divinities at the time. During the mass urbanization of the Axial Age, the old agrarian fertility goddesses became less of a focus. In their place, some male figures of worship inherited the characteristics of the old goddesses, not only aspects of their physical appearance but also key attributes such as self-resurrection and triune identity.

This mythological gender mixing has remained within Christian tradition. It pops up from time to time. Every few centuries or so, effeminate portrayals of Jesus begin appearing. This is partly because of the origins of Christianity, as within the early Roman Empire it was seen as a religion of women, slaves, and low class — an equation of power that Jesus sought to turn on its head. Jesus himself was described as taking a particular interest in speaking with, healing, and defending women. This sense of Christianity carried over even into more recent history such as how, for example, early Evangelicalism, in the post-revolution and largely unchurched South, was considered unmanly in how it initially attracted mostly women and slaves, not to mention the overly emotional (i.e., ‘feminine’) mode of religiosity.

Every now and then, some modern artist will portray Jesus as feminine. And of course, there is always outrage. But there is an ancient history to this going back to the earliest Christians. This Western crisis of gender identity is far from being a mere recent phenomenon inflicted on society by radical feminists. Supposedly ‘traditional’ gender roles have been overturned multiple times these past millennia. As one of the key figures in this ongoing anxiety, Jesus is constantly being re-envisioned.

This has lead to right-wing moral panics about emasculated males and demands for muscular Christianity. Even though women played major roles in the early church, even though there were influential female mystics and visionaries and preachers over the centuries, many conservative Christians to this day worry about women even having minor roles for fear they will turn churches into “women’s clubs”. And in American history, this fear has been real, considering churches have been places of political organizing and occasionally insurrection. The earliest feminists in the 18th and 19th centuries, after all, were feminists who often took inspiration directly from their Christian faith.

On a related note, one of the most famous black churches in Charleston, SC was the site of the planning for a slave revolt. And churches played a central role during the Civil Rights movement. In dreams of freedom, many blacks during slavery and Jim Crow took inspiration from the Bible itself (e.g., the Jews once having been enslaved and in their escape many of their oppressors died). This gives new meaning to Friedrich Nietzsche’s claim that Christianity was a slave religion. It also might be noted that it was common for Southern women to be likened to slaves in the expectation of their submission to the social order, but then again Biblical figures like Moses and Jesus also were expected to submit. Rebellion from within, sometimes by women, has been plaguing the church for centuries. The First Great Awakening (1730s-1740s) along with the American Revolution unleashed these internal tensions within Christianity.

In modeling themselves after Jesus’ teachings of turning family against family, Evangelicals like other dissenter sects, from the Quakers to the Shakers, sought to break free from kinship loyalties and form new spiritual families. Following Jesus’ example, Evangelical preachers put particularly great importance on women, praising their capacity of spiritual sensitivity and vision. Many women found they could gain a new kind of confidence, respect, and authority within their adopted spiritual families:

“Pious sisters could also rely on early Baptist and Methodist preachers to affirm that women of all ages and races might exercise their gifts by speaking before public, sexually mixed, religious gatherings. Thereby the clergy endorsed the view that acceptable forms of female spiritual expression went beyond fulfilling their private roles as dutiful wives, mothers, and sisters. Indeed, rather than advising women to restrict their influence to the uplift of their households, ministers encouraged them to display their talents in churches and religious meetings at neighboring homes. To assert themselves as authoritative public presences was an extraordinary liberty for women in a culture that otherwise required them to be silent and subordinate.”
(Christine Leigh Heyrman, Southern Cross, Kindle Locations 3283-3288)

This gave further evidence that these Christianities were effeminate and emasculating. As kinship loyalties were based on a highly entrenched patriarchy, this was a radical challenge to the entire social order:

“Both ritual practice and the association of fellowship and family thus sustained converts to early Methodist and Baptist churches. Separating the sexes at public worship obscured the painful absence of converts’ unbelieving family members. Condemning their upbringings eased converts out of past lives embedded in kinship networks. Identifying the church as a family endowed converts with a new circle of spiritual kin, often one more sympathetic to their religious strivings than were relatives by blood or marriage.”
(Christine Leigh Heyrman, Southern Cross, Kindle Locations 2953-2957)

Further challenges came from other of Jesus’ teachings such as, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female.” For those who took their Bible seriously, these were powerful words. Jesus didn’t only speak in this way for, through his actions, he demonstrated what it meant to defy authority. And as I’ve pointed out here, the very portrayals of Jesus showed him as a profoundly ambiguous figure who transcended the divides of social identities.

The ancient and extensive history of a ‘queer’ Jesus can’t be erased. There has always been a bit of the trickster to Jesus and the trickster, by nature, is always hard to pin down. For anyone who doubts that, ask the Roman and Jewish authorities during Jesus’ life. If Jesus were around today, he’d give the modern Pharisees a run for their money.

* * *

The Feminine/Androgynous Jesus
by Valerie A. Abrahamsen

Jesus was a man, right? In the New (Christian) Testament of the Bible he certainly was. However, in the first few centuries of the Common Era (CE), images of Jesus were not limited to male.

During this era, a great deal of Christian literature, generally called “apocryphal” or “extra-canonical,” circulated but did not make it into the New Testament (NT). Similarly, art depicting images of Jesus, his family, his disciples and their stories was also created, not all of the images taken from NT texts. In both the literature and art of the first Christian centuries, Jesus’ sexuality could be ambiguous, androgynous or even feminine.

What may be shocking, offensive or bewildering to us most likely resonated for the people of the time and had parallels in the culture. […]

What is more problematic for us moderns is the portrayal of Jesus as sexually ambiguous, with feminine traits. Examples of an ambiguous Jesus are found in both art and literature and, as Cartlidge and Elliott point out (page 66), some of this evidence leads to “intricate academic footwork” and “dodging and weaving” of interpretation; that is, scholars tend to dismiss the importance of images and texts of which they cannot make sense. […]

Cartlidge and Elliott point out that the debate about Jesus’ sexuality must have been raging from the earliest times of the development of the church, as attested in these literary and artistic pieces of evidence. If the feminine/androgynous Jesus and the tripartite Jesus are viewed from the point of view of ancient, even prehistoric, religion, it becomes more comprehensible as to why such depictions and images appeared and resonated with early Christians. The prehistoric nature goddess (whom we met earlier) was often accompanied by a young, vital male deity, especially in her aspect of the life-creating force; “male animals and humans stimulate and enhance life” (Gimbutas, Living Goddesses, 117). Taken alongside the power and influence of Mary – Mother of Jesus, Mother of God, Theotokos – the appearance of the young Jesus fits this ancient pattern. In the competitive Graeco-Roman and early Byzantine era, the pairing of the powerful Mary with the powerful, younger Jesus made sense.

Similarly, Jesus with feminine characteristics suggests that he took on attributes of powerful female deities in the Graeco-Roman and early Byzantine milieus. If Jesus had characteristics of these goddesses, devotees attracted to them might also be converted to the Christ cult.

Understanding Early Christian Art
by Robin Margaret Jensen
pp. 124-127

One of the most striking and, to modern eyes, curious aspects of the beardless, youthful image Jesus is Christ’s endowment with feminine physical characteristics, including small protruding breasts, sloping shoulders, wide hips, and long curling hair. Such representation obviously contrasts with the darker, bearded type of Jesus image, but it also often presents an image of Jesus that differs from congruent representations of the apostles, who usually are given quite masculine appearances, with clipped beards, short hair, broad shoulders, and square jaws. The contrast between Jesus and his apostles shows up very clearly on several fourth- and fifth-century sarcophagi (cf. Figures 42, 48). Such feminine features led to the original misidentification of a famous statue of Christ as a seated woman poet. […]

However, in contrast to mortal human males, long ringlets and beardless cheeks characterized the iconography of certain late antique gods — Apollo and Dionysus in particular. Moreover, Apollo and Dionysus iconographic types also share other feminine attributes seen in the youthful Jesus images, including the round shoulders, small but obvious breasts, wide hips, and full cheeks of the nearly hermaphroditic figures described by Euripides, Ovid, Diodorus, and Seneca, or portrayed in the classical iconography. Dionysus, especially, underwent transition from a mature, bearded, Zeus-like figure on archaic Greek vases to a late-classical and Hellenistic appearance as a youthful, androgynous and “Apollonian” image. However, while the changes in Dionysiac types have been noted by art historians, the variants in Jesus’ iconography (which parallel those of Dionysus) are rarely discussed in modern secondary literature.

The parallels between Jesus images and Apollo or Dionysus in earlier Roman iconography raise certain fascinating theological issues, including whether some art objects were specifically commissioned by or for women, who envisioned or experienced Jesus as female, and whether they emerged in non-orthodox Christian communities that varied their gendered images of the Triune God and transferred particular attributes from the pagan deities to Jesus, including Dionysus’ role as a god of fertility. Jesus’ application of the metaphor “true vine” to himself (John 15:1) may have strengthened the parallel. […]

A more likely possibility is that representations of Jesus were simply consistent with the portraiture of the savior deities of the Hellenistic mystery cults, especially Apollo, Dionysus, and Orpheus. The iconography of Jesus merely borrowed from the traditional and familiar portrayals of those gods, perhaps in part because of their similar divine attributes. Serapis, too, was known to be represented with female breasts (although not beardless) and statues of that god are known to have been restored as the goddess Roma or Minerva. These classical types had come to be visually synonymous with the concept of deity; certain physical characteristics automatically signified divinity to the ordinary viewer. The power of association encouraged those characteristics to be transferred to Jesus iconography, as they had become a kind of artistic marker — or shorthand — for the appearance of a certain kind of god. Jesus’ transformation of water to wine at Cana and his statement, “I am the true vine,” may account for the adoption of Dionysiac vintaging scenes for Christian monuments. Perfectly orthodox Christians could image Jesus with feminine physical attributes because those attributes visually signalled characteristics that were deeply rooted in the visual language of the surrounding culture. However, not only were these borrowings intended to suggest that Jesus possessed certain god-like qualities, but in fact subsumed all divine attributes in one person.

Jupiter’s portrayal and perception as majestic and powerful — both Lord and Judge — could be borrowed to transfer these same characteristics to Jesus in compositions like the enthroned apse of Sta. Pduenziana. Certain aspects of Orpheus’ or Dionysus’ portrayal as idealized, youthful “savior” gods were likewise applied to images of Jesus. The gods featured in the mystery cults of late antiquity were immanent and personal gods with whom devotees had intense encounters, not unlike Jesus. Moreover, they were gods of resurrection who survived descents into the underworld. Orpheus additionally was often depicted as a shepherd in a paradisical setting — a figure that parallels the Christian Good Shepherd. Clement of Alexandria had already pointed out certain parallels that formerly misguided pagans might find between the old gods and the divine Son in Christianity. No wonder, then, that aspects of traditional representations of these gods would be transferred to visual imagery of Christ, including the almost feminine beauty associated with such gods in particular.

The Roman god Bacchus as a Christian icon
by Riley Winters

Bacchus was the Greco-Roman god associated with mental and physical duality. His mythology began in Greece, under the name Dionysus, a foreign god joining an already existing civilization (Dionysus and Bacchus are comparable deities, but for the purpose of this article, “Bacchus” will be utilized to discuss the pagan god to avoid confusion).

In Euripides’ Bacchae, Bacchus came to Greece from a far off land and shook up the Thracian king with his new religious practices and effeminate ways. The Bacchanalia, a procession of satyrs and overly drunken women, led to the king’s disapproval of Bacchus’ religion, eventually resulting in the death of the Thracian king. Though this particular myth is vastly different from the stories of Jesus, there are similar visual themes the Christians expertly borrowed in their symbolic portrayal of Jesus to aid the Romans in accepting the new religion, allowing it to eventually become the primary faith of the empire.

On the surface, the similarities between Bacchus and Jesus are easily evident. Both gods are first depicted as youthful and feminine. Bacchus is intended to be androgynous, with long flowing hair and a soft face. Jesus, however, is in part portrayed young to reveal his innocence, highlighting his purity. […]

There is also an important similarity between these two figures in that their early imagery reveals that their faiths were initially targeted toward women in the beginning of their worships. Men were the religious leaders of both societies, and women were commonly ignored or pushed to the side. To gain a position within the Roman culture, both Bacchus and Jesus had to show a value for women, giving them a voice in the male-dominated world. The primary worshippers of Bacchus were the Maenads, women who reached a heightened level of ecstasy through excessive drinking. According to Greco-Roman thought, the drinking allowed the women (and the few men who participated) to achieve a spiritual release they were otherwise not allowed because of the norms of their society. Religious worship, however, temporarily exempted them from these rules.

Similarly, Jesus showed an interest in women by taking the time to heal those who otherwise were ignored and exiled. One of the images found in the catacombs relates to the Woman with the Issue of Blood who was cleansed by Jesus after reaching for his robe, her faith in his power alone healing her. According to the Biblical account, the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection was a woman, Mary Magdalene, who herself travelled with the twelve apostles. Both Bacchus and Jesus emphasized the importance of women early in their mythologies by providing women with the attention they desired from their deities right away. By focusing on women, a large faction of supporters rose around both men quickly, the power of the forgotten ones. This was a very strong image in both Greco-Roman and early Christian culture, and both were commonly depicted with women in their art.


Feminine Images of Jesus: Later Medieval Christology and the Devaluation of the Feminine
by Jenny Bledsoe

During the later medieval period in Western Europe, feminine representations of Jesus abounded. Medieval Christians had begun to emphasize the humanity of Jesus in reaction to the religious foci of the era before their own (early medieval focus on the spirit and Jesus’ resurrection), and seemed to find that “feminine” characteristics were most expressive of the human nature of Jesus. […]

As a result of economic changes, the later medieval period refashioned Christology, as well as conceptions of self. Feminine images of Jesus express changing ideals of femininity and also the socially accepted roles of women in the Church and the public. This study explores later medieval representations—both textual and visual—of Jesus as mother in order to determine the implications of such representations for actual women. We will sample three medieval writers who wrote about feminine Jesuses, two writing in the heyday of incarnation theology and feminized Jesus imagery—the twelfth century monastics Bernard of Clairvaux and Hildegard of Bingen—and later, one fourteenth century theologian who inherited the legacy of her predecessors, Julian of Norwich. In her book on Hildegard’s theology of the feminine, Barbara Newman describes the shared focus and understanding of all medieval representations of a feminine Jesus: “The common denominator is a sense that the feminine is somehow problematic; being neglected, undervalued, or wrongly understood within a patriarchal culture, it needs to be perpetually redefined, revalued, and relocated in the general worldview.”1 Although all of the medieval writers subscribed to essentialist understandings of gender based in a patriarchal society, it is true that they all seemed to think that it was necessary to explore and define the feminine more fully and consider how the feminine fits within human understandings of God. […]

Feminist Theology

Some feminist theorists argue that descriptions of divine motherhood refer to long-suppressed ancient worship of female goddesses or androgynous gods. Elaine Pagels writes that the monotheistic religions are unusual in comparison to other world religions in that the former do not employ feminine imagery to describe God.2 By 200 CE, upon the establishment of the Christian canon, orthodox Christianity discouraged feminine symbolism for expressing the essence of the divine.3 While women played leading roles in Gnostic Christian groups, which sometimes described God in feminine language, the orthodox tradition banned female leadership and description of the divine as female. Pagels questions why the orthodox Christian tradition so ardently demanded that women and feminine conceptions of God be banned from Christian hegemony: “Is it possible, then, that the recognition of the feminine element in God and the recognition of mankind as a male and female entity bore within it the explosive possibility of women acting on an equal basis with men in positions of authority and leadership?”4 […]

Medieval Conceptions of Motherhood

At this point in Western culture, there was no conception of separate religious and secular realms. And so, religion defined all aspects of later medieval society, including the role of the mother. Spiritual writers define the medieval woman or mother as having three distinct characteristics: “The female is generative (the foetus is made of her very matter) and sacrificial in her generation (birth pangs); the female is loving and tender (a mother cannot help loving her own child); the female is nurturing (she feeds the child with her own bodily fluid).”15 In medieval representations of Jesus as mother, Jesus displays these feminine characteristics, all of which are based on medieval physiological theories


Aesop and Jesus

“The Life of Aesop and the Gospels”
by Mario Andreassi
p. 164, Holy Men and Charlatans in the Ancient Novel

While individually heterogeneous, the analogies so far highlighted show the similarities in narrative structures of the biographies of Aesop and Jesus. However, analogy certainly does not mean textual interdependence, but it does led to the thesis that the authors of the Life of Aesop and the Gospels aimed, where possible, to place the life of the protagonist in a literary and narrative context known to the public and variously attested in the lives of the philosophers and in the Christian aretalogies. Apart from its complex editorial genesis and notwithstanding many severe judgments in the last century, the Aesop Romance belongs within a wider and consciously literary production: it is no paradox to maintain that ‘those who wrote the Gospels were likely influenced by the same literary model that gave rise to the Life of Aesop’.

‘Aesop’, ‘Q’ and ‘Luke’
by Steve Reece

The last chapter of the gospel of Luke includes a story of the risen Christ meeting two of his disciples on their way from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus and chastising them with the poetic expression ὦ ἀνόητοι καὶ βραδεῖς τῇ καρδίᾳ ‘O foolish ones, and slow in heart’ (Luke 24.25). No commentator has ever observed that Jesus’ expression occurs verbatim, in the same iambic trimeter metre, in two poetic versions of animal fables attributed to the famous Greek fabulist Aesop. It is plausible that Luke is here, as at least twice elsewhere in his gospel, tapping into the rich tradition of Aesopic fables and proverbs that were widely known throughout the Mediterranean world in the first century ce.

The Fisherman and his Flute
from Wikipedia

Commentators have seen a likeness to the story, although only in the detail of dancing to the pipe, in Jesus’ parable of the children playing in the market-place who cry to each other, “We piped for you and you would not dance; we wept and wailed and you would not mourn” (Matthew 11.16-17, Luke 7.31-2).[8] There is an echo here too of the criticism of unresponsive behaviour found in Herodotus.

[8] Francisco Rodríguez Adrados, History of the Graeco-latin Fable 3, Brill 2003, p.20 (“The proverb in the Gospels may be compared with the fable in that it uses the same musical metaphor of dancing accompanied by flute-playing.”)

Aesop’s Fables in the Bible
by Kent West

About five-hundred and fifty years before Yeshua was born, Aesop collected and/or created many fables, one of which was “The Fisherman and His Pipe”:

There was once a fisherman who saw some fish in the sea and played on his pipe, expecting them to come out onto the land. When his hopes proved false, he took a net and used it instead, and in this way he was able to haul in a huge catch of fish. As the fish were all leaping about, the fisherman remarked, ‘I say, enough of your dancing, since you refused to dance when I played my pipe for you before!’

[…] Nearly six hundred years later Yeshua makes reference to this same fable, having probably learned it as a child:

To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance….”
Luke 7:31-32

Aesop as Context for Matthew 7:15-23
by Brandy Vencel

The passage begins with “beware of false prophets.” We must consider the entire passage in light of this introductory phrase. We are given a metaphor, in order to better understand false prophet: they are wolves which get in amongst the sheep by dressing up in sheep skin. {This is a direct reference to Aesop’s The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, but we will come back to that.} […]

What makes me so sure that this is an entire passage is its perfect parallelism with Aesop. It is said that Aesop lived around 500 years before Christ. His fables were so powerful, they were the first principle of the progymnasmata writing and rhetoric curriculum, which we know was formalized as early as 100 BC. Because Aesop was utilized not only to instruct in wisdom, but to teach writing and storytelling, and because almost every student would have had to retell Aesop’s fables, we can safely assume that this idea of a wolf in sheep’s clothing had slipped into the culture and provided a frame for discourse for at least 150 years, if not half a millenia, before Christ said these words.

Please realize that He was taking a universally known cultural story, and applying it those who would hurt His sheep.

Aesop’s tale of The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing has two parts. In the first part, the wolf has trouble getting any sheep to eat because the shepherds are so good at protecting them. The wolf’s problems are solved when he discovers a discarded sheepskin and puts it on. Almost immediately, he manages to snag a sheep for lunch. This is the fist half.

The second half takes an interesting turn. In this half, one of the shepherds decides that he’s in the mood for mutton broth for dinner, and heads out to the flock. He grabs the first sheep he finds…which just happens to be the wolf. The wolf becomes soup, not unlike the fool of Proverbs, who falls into his own pit.

Depending on your version of Aesop, you will have different morals attached {the morals were added much later}. One is: Appearances are deceptive. The other is: The evildoer often comes to harm through his own deceit. {There may be others, of which I am unaware.}

Jesus recasts the wolves as false prophets, and instructs His followers in how to pull the sheepskin off {look at the fruit}.

In the first half, Jesus covers deceptive appearances, and in the second half he covers the harm that comes to the evildoer in the end, as a result of his own choices and actions.

Just like Aesop.

Humor in the Gospels
by Terri Bednarz
pp. 208-209

Whitney Shiner (1998) gives interesting insights on humor when he compares The Life of Aesop and the Gospel of Mark. Both of these works, the argues, were built by editing together various independent narrative episodes. These episodic narratives share common features: 1) their writing style lacks sophistication, 2) they were concise and short, and 3) their main characters persistently outwit antagonists. The main characters tended to be populist tricksters who succeed in unmasking the foibles of the elites, thus making them appear ridiculous. The tricksters target their antagonists with satirical barbs.

Shiner writes that The Life of Aesop advances its plot much more simply than the Gospel of Mark. Aesop merely outwits his antagonists in episode after episode. In hearing the stories of Aesop, one would more likely say, “Not again!” The Gospel of Mark has a more complex plot in which Jesus must repeatedly perform miracles, relate wise dicta, and outwit opponents in order to convince the audience of his ability to get the better of his antagonists. With the Markan Jesus, the hearer would more likely say, “Prove it!” Both the Markan Jesus and Aesop succeed in making their antagonists look foolish.

Shiner details other similarities in the Aesopic and Markan plots. Aesop’s rank and success increase in accord with the mounting hubris that leads to his eventual death at Delphi (Herodotus 2.136). The Markan Jesus also increases in stature, entering Jerusalem as a king (Mark 11:19-11), which also comes at great cost. Like Aesop, Jesus will meet a political death. Shiner notes another similarity: the use of divine causation. For Aesop, there is divine intervention in disputes, in posing and solving riddles, and even in his death. For the Markan Jesus, there is a divine plan that keeps unfolding until it culminates with Jesus’ death.

Shiner examines the ancient practice of intercalation, where an episode is woven into the middle of another episode. He argues that intercalation increases tension in the audience. This technique is found in both the Aesopic and Markan narratives. He gives an example from the Gospel of Mark where Peter stands in the shadows as Jesus is led into council. The audience is led to suspect that Peter follows Jesus in order to watch for an opportunity to express his bravery (Mark 14:53-54). Then Mark inserts the intercalation (14:55-65), which recounts Jesus’ courageous testimony, but then Mark jerks back to Peter where the audience hears Peter’s own bravery melt into a dramatic account of cowardliness (Mark 14:66-72). Shiner then presents an example of Aesopic intercalation. As Aesop cooks his lentil, there is an interruption in which Aesop and Xanthus engage each other in agonistic rhetoric, after which the scene of the cooking of the lentil resumes (Aesop 39, 41).

Shiner stresses that the episodic narratives and the intercalations are designed to keep the audience engaged, but not in the modern sense. Modern audiences anticipate that characters will break from their characterizations, and evolve into more complex figures. Shiner argues that this is not the case with ancient audiences, which expect characters to be static and predictable. For example, Xanthus will always be the butt of Aesop’s witty barbs. For ancient audiences, the episodic narratives do not produce tension by introducing the unexpected but by fulfilling what they anticipate will happen. In other words, the tension builds because the moment of comic recognition is delayed. Aesopic and Markan episodes and their intercalations simply postpone what the ancient audience expects will happen. They know that the antagonists will always receive Jesus’ witty or barbed riposte, or that Peter will stumble yet again, or that Aesop will once more outwit Xanthus.

Whitney Shiner, “Creating Plot in Episodic Narratives: The Life of Aesop and the Gospel of Mark”
by Matthew W. Ferguson

Shiner (pg. 155) begins her analysis by noting that there are “two distinct ways” that the Gospels have been read. One approach, following the from critics, is to view the Gospels as a conglomeration of self-contained episodes that have been stitched together from oral tradition. The other approach is to view the Gospels as a continuous narrative. Shiner argues, however, that these approaches can be harmonized through an “extended episodic narrative.” As Shiner (pp. 155-156) explains:

“In reading the Gospels as episodic narrative, one must see the narrative as simultaneously episodes and as extended narrative. The extended narrative is built from more or less self-contained blocks. Continuity in the extended narrative is found not so much in the continuity of detail in action and characterization between episodes as in continuity in the overall impact of the episodes. To take an analogy from art, extended episodic narrative is like a mosaic.”

Shiner goes on to note that the Life of Aesop, much like the Gospels, is built around narrative episodes that are largely independent. These independent episodes, however, are organized to advance the plot of the macronarrative. As Shiner (pg. 156) explains:

“This is especially true of the most extensive section of the Life, in which Aesop repeatedly outwits his master, the philosopher Xanthus. Much of the macronarrative structure of Aesop, such as Aesop’s sale to the philosopher, his manumission, and his entering into service to Lycurgus, serve to move the narrative from one type of episode, appropriate to Aesop’s earlier situation, to a different style of episode, appropriate to the new plot situation.”

Shiner (pp. 169-174) identifies eight different narrative strategies shared between the Life of Aesop and the Gospel of Mark that are used to weave episodes into a continuous plot:

  1. Similar episodes are repeated to develop a point […]
  2. Within the plot as a whole discrete sections are created that are, in terms of size and content, amenable to episodic development […]
  3. The discrete sections are ordered to suggest a coherent plot development from one to the other […]
  4. Sustained conflicts between the hero and another person or group are established and episodes are used to illustrate conflict […]
  5. Episodes of various lengths are presented to create variety […]
  6. Narrative within episodes is elaborated to enhance the narrative quality of the whole […]
  7. Discrete episodes are interwoven to extend narrative tension or to provide keys for interpretation […]
  8. Similar episode plots are presented at different places in the narrative to recall earlier episodes and to suggest an underlying unity of theme or plot […]

Through these narrative strategies, therefore, Shiner argues that the episodic structure of the Life of Aesop and the Gospel of Mark does not conflict with a continuous narrative. Instead, these strategies are employed to weave continuity within the narrative and a continuous plot.

Lawrence Wills: “The Life of Aesop and the Hero Cult Paradigm in the Gospel Tradition”
by Matthew W. Ferguson

After identifying novelistic biography as the best analogical model for the Gospels, Wills goes on to argue that the anonymous Life of Aesop makes for the best comparison. Wills (pg. 23) explains:

“The tradition of Aesop as a teller of barbed fables … is found as early as the fifth century B.C.E., and the account of his life, which circulated in multiple versions, may derive from narrative traditions that are as old. The extant versions, however, are dated to about the turn of the era, that is, roughly contemporary with the gospels…”

The process of composition described above is very similar to The Certamen of Homer and Hesiod, where an anonymous editor compiles multiple earlier accounts into a single episodic narrative (which then circulates with multiple textual variations). As I explain in my essay “Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels,” the NT Gospels are also better described as edited volumes, rather than the unique work of a single author, based on how they borrow and redact earlier materials (often verbatim), with the editor of the text remaining anonymous.

Beyond these structural observations, however, Wills also notes a number of thematic similarities between the Gospels and the Life of Aesop. As Wills (pg. 23) explains about the subject of the biography:

“Aesop is introduced in the Life as an ugly and misshapen slave who is in the beginning unable to speak. He is devoted to Isis, however, and after he shows kindness to one of the priestesses, falls into a sleep and is granted by the goddess the power of speech. This gift he uses to the utmost–he never stops talking, but with an acid wit skewers the pretensions of his new owner, a philosopher, and also the owner’s wife and fellow philosophers.”

Aesop is prominent for teaching in fables, a form of fiction quite similar to the parables used by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. On this point, it is also worth noting John Dominic Crossan’s recent book on the subject, The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus. For his teachings, Aesop, like Jesus, runs into problems with the authorities and is executed. As Wills (pp. 23-24) explains:

“Through his cleverness he manages to help both his master and the citizens of Samos, and ultimately attains his freedom. Once free, however, he soon runs foul of the citizens of Delphi, and rebukes them with his sharp-pointed fables. They condemn him to death on a trumped-up charge, and he is executed. When a plague strikes the city, they consult an oracle of Zeus and learn that they must expiate their sin through sacrifice.”

Here, Wills draws a major parallel with the life of Jesus, namely the wrongful execution of the subject, followed by divine vindication. As Wills (pg. 28) argues:

“The relationship of blame, violent reaction, impurity, expiation, and immortality of the hero are drawn close together. Similarities to the expiatory death of Jesus can be seen here, especially if we begin to consider the latter in terms of ambivalent worship with his people, that is, to Jews, Israel, or Jerusalem.”

Wills (pg. 29) also notes that the length of the Life of Aesop is a bit longer than Mark and John, and and about the same length as Matthew and Luke. Wills points out, however, that in terms of structure the Life is more similar to Mark in John, particularly in how the text does not begin with a narrative of the subject’s birth (though Aesop is briefly said to have been born a slave in Amorium of Phrygia, without discussion of the circumstances), or his early growth and development, but is instead focused on his adult life.


“The Aesop Tradition”
by Lawrence M. Wills
pp. 223-224, The Historical Jesus in Context

The Aesop tradition is important for the study of the Gospels for two reasons. First, Aesop’s fables can be formally compared to Jesus’ parables. Readers will recognize in some of the fables below individual motifs that re also found in the Gospel parables, as well as the use of ideal scenes that provoke reflection, even if the point to be taken from them is quite different. Second, the Life of Aesop is roughly contemporary with the Gospels and bears some remarkable similarities. These similarities may derive from the fact that the Life and the Gospels both dramatize the life and death of the ostracized hero, told in an age of prose novels and novelistic histories. (Later Christian tradition [Acts of Peter 24; Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 3.1] even adds that Jesus was ugly, based on a reading of Isaiah 53:2.) The Life is about the same length as the Gospels, written in a relatively low style. Like the Gospels, it gives the sense of being a longer text composed of many originally independent episodes. If Jesus in the Gospels is more prophet than sage, and Aesop is more sage than prophet, the difference is minor compared with the overall similarity in structure:

  1. The protagonist has lowly beginnings but experiences a deity’s favor.
  2. The protagonist has a period of ministry with a salvific message.
  3. The protagonist is despised as a result of the message.
  4. Trumped-up charges involving blasphemy of the deity are brought forward.
  5. The protagonist is executed as a result.
  6. A cult of the protagonist is instituted.

Within some of the general similarities, we can perceive even closer parallels in the details. The Life of Aesop begins with a visitation by the goddess Isis and the bestowal of powers on Aesop, not unlike the scene of Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of the Gospels with the voice from heaven. At the end of the Life there is a geographic shift from Samos to Delphi, that is, from the periphery to the center of the worship of Apollo, just as there is a shift in the Gospels from the periphery of Galilee to the center at Jerusalem. Finally, at the transition at the end of these texts from ministry to a trial and passion, the process by which this shift occurs is also similar. In both groups of texts, conflicts that are punctuated by the use of a special kind of discourse arise. and this leads directly to the trial and execution of the protagonist […]

In addition, in all three texts the charge of “blasphemy” figures heavily in the conspiracy to execute the protagonist (Life of Aesop 132; Mark 14:64; John 10:33). This is true even though the charges of blasphemy n the three cases are not clearly stated and may be quite different. In Aesop, the protagonist is accused of being a temple robber; in Mark, blasphemy is often discussed by scholars in terms of Jewish law on this subject (Leviticus 24:16), but the charge seems to focus instead on Jesus’ implication that he himself is the coming Son of Man; in John the Jewish authorities tell Jesus that the charge of blasphemy arises because “you are making yourself God.” Blasphemy should thus be seen in its literary context as the “standard” false charge that separates the wise hero from his people. It is also roughly equivalent to the false charge of impiety leveled against Socrates. In Socrates’ case the charges were corrupting the young, neglecting the gods, and introducing new ideas (Plato, Apology).

The difference in tone between the Gospels and the Life of Aesop — urgent and demanding in the case of the Gospels, broadly satirical in the case of the Life of Aesop — can be attributed to the difference in the protagonists’ message. Jesus brings the good news of God’s plan of salvation at the end time, while Aesop the Cynic sage preaches a gospel of liberation from human convention and complacency and an awareness of the true nature of things. (Some scholars would argue that this places the Life of Aesop closer in religious outlook to the sayings source Q or the Gospel of Thomas. If that is the case, then the Life of Aesop is structurally closer to one part of the Gospel tradition, and thematically closer to another.) This overall literary similarity between the Life of Aesop and the Gospels indicates that the genre “gospel’ was not as unique as some have thought, and the particular motifs of the Gospels may owe more to the general background of reverence for philosophers than has been previously acknowledged.

My Flesh Is Meat Indeed
by Meredith J. C. Warren
pp. 54-55

In addition, Berenson Maclean points out the generic compatibility found by other scholars such s Lawrence Wills between the biography of the poet-hero and the Gospel of John in particular. Wills’ study argues that the novelistic pattern of the poet-hero’s life and death, including the poet’s antagonistic relationship with both the city and a deity, makes it appropriate for comparison with John’s structure. Specifically, Wills suggests that The Life of Aesop fits the same pattern as Mark and John; for instance, all three begin at the adulthood of the main character rather than with his birth and all three involve, close to the outset, an experience from heaven. Jesus’ ambivalent relationship with the Temple and oi ioudaioi also make John’s comparison to Life of Aesop appropriate.

Nagy’s work on the hero now becomes very relevant to the discussion: “by losing his identification with a person or group and by identifying himself with a god who takes his life in the process, the hero effects a purification by transferring impurity.” The expiatory understanding of Jesus’ death is apparent in early Christian works such s 1 Corinthians 15:3, Romans 3:25, 1 Corinthians 5:7, and Mark 10:45. For Wills, this further locates the early Christian understanding of Jesus in the context of the Greco-Roman hero, though he cautions that the paradigm of the hero is more variable than a single genre could contain. Gunnel Ekroth concurs with this point, saying, “a characteristic of heroes and hero cults is their heterogeneity.” Rather, for all three of the texts Wills examines, the paradigm of the hero is narrated in a way that establishes the cult even if not all the elements are present in any given text and with the reservation that there is no single paradigm that encompasses all of early Christianity’s understanding of Jesus’ life and death.

pp. 209-212

Nagy’s treatment of the Aesop tradition is significant for this study of John because in it, Nagy is careful to pint out the feedback loop present in the myth and ritual: Aesop’s death is the cause of the ritual institution he critiques while at the same time, his death in the narrative is caused by his critique. That is, everything is occurring at the level of narrative. It is this relationship that establishes the association of Aesop with Apollo. Thus Life of Aesop, too, reflects the understanding of the relationship between chosen human and god that is recorded in literature from the time of the epics to the turn of the millennium and after. In particular, the complicated cause-and-effect relationship between the antagonism, the ritual, and the divine identification found in Aesop as observed by Wills and Nagy is also found in the Greek romances. As I have illustrated above, this feedback loop of antagonism — sacrifice/cannibalism — divinity is a key manifestation of the type of relationship Nagy finds between heroes and gods in Homer’s epics. Likewise, I argue that this “antagonism in myth, symbiosis in cult” is also found in John.

Further, Wills notices similarities with the ways in which Jesus and Aesop die. In Life of Aesop, the Delphians put him to death in a way that makes him a pharmakos, a scapegoat. The act of putting a person to death is polluting, and the only way for this act to be purified is with the establishment of the hero’s cult. Wills’s outline of Jesus’ death shows the parallels between his sacrifice and the trope of heroic death in the Greco-Roman world. He points out that (likely pre-Pauline) formulas speak of Jesus or Christ as one who has died for the sins of others — in other words, as an expiation. In particular, Wills observes that the oracle uttered unwittingly by Caiaphas in John 11:50 makes a significant point of contact with the heroic death narratives, where frequently the “sacrifice of the hero is demanded or predicted by an oracle.” Caiaphas’s words, “It is expedient that one man should die for the people, so that the whole nation not perish,” make it clear to the readers (though ironically not to Caiaphas himself) that Jesus’ death is on behalf of the nation and can therefore be seen as expiatory. Jesus’ death at the request of certain factions of oi ioudaioi results in his worship by certain other factions of that same community.

Wills also observes that Jesus’ death in John occurs at the same time as sacrifice of the Passover lambs in the Jerusalem temple. As I have observed earlier, John’s Gospel avoids discussion of the expected Christian rituals of baptism and Eucharist and yet maintains a concern for the practice of ritual; Nagy, too, notices this feature in the heroic epics that are the focus of his work, the Odyssey and the Iliad. The fact that John shares his concern for right ritual practice with Homer suggests that the leap from literary death to cultic concern is indigenous. Likewise, John’s location of Jesus’ death at the time of that other, ordinary expiatory sacrifice further establishes Jesus’ death in a sacrificial, and therefore heroic, context. In other words, John’s concern with right ritual practice combined with the manner and timing of Jesus’ expiatory death, as prophesied by Caiaphas, creates an image of Jesus that shares significant points with the hero of the epic and with Aesop. Jesus’ and Aesop’s manners of death are therefore comparable; in this way, Jesus can also be viewed as heroic pharmakos.

Wills also points out that there seems to be striking similarities between Aesop’s characterization and Jesus’: the travelling distributor of pithy wisdom is persecuted and eventually executed as a kin of scapegoat/pharmakos. Clearly much of Jesus’ narrative follows a very similar pattern, especially, Wills observes, if we consider Jesus’ relationship to his own community, oi ioudaioi. It is especially appropriate for the current study that Wills there quotes Nagy:

By losing his identification with a person or group and identifying himself with a god who takes his life in the process, the hero effects a purification by transferring impurity. . . . In such a hero cult, god and hero are to be institutionalized as the respectively dominant and recessive members of an internal relationship.

This method of establishing such an eternal relationship can also be observed in the romance novels we have been discussing so far. In each case, the protagonists have experienced alienation from their communities. There are some differences worth articulating: whereas in the novels, the great beauty of the heroines gave them away as divine creatures, Aesop’s disfiguring ugliness is remarkable. John Winkler calls this satirical characterization of the main character the trope of the Grotesque Outsiders, one who is more capable of penetrating humanity’s veneer because of his or her marginal status. As such, this characterization marks the novel as satirical, but this, Wills is quick to point out, in no way effaces its usefulness in examining the finer points of the genre as a whole, especially since Leucippeand Cltophon might well fall into the satirical camp itself. The overarching theme of alienation and execution in both Aesop and John also plays out in the romances; Aesop’s satirical ugliness functions has a reversal of the goddesses’ beauty, but further, the trope of the outsider is clearly visible in all the examples. In short, while Wills compares just Aesop and John for his comparison, for the purposes of this project, where consumption is also a factor, it is significant that the romances also follow this narrative pattern in which the protagonists experience exile.

Paul and the Rise of the Slave
by K. Edwin Bryant
pp. 57-58

I also employ The Life of Aesop as a resource for conceptualizing how Paul’s construction of messianic life reclaimed slaves from the deadening violence imposed on conquered peoples. This investigation makes full use of Aesop as a hero who, in grotesque disguise, utters critical truths and contests the legal and political definitions imposed on slaves. Aesop is a common man’s Socrates who “cloaked his wisdom in foolishness.” We suggest that Rom 6:12-23 demonstrates how slaves of Messiah Jesus re reclaimed from the sinful domination of Empire, and subsequently illustrates how Paul’s polemical construction of messianic life provides eschatological comfort to the “vanquished.” Paul’s language in Rom 6:12-23 has more in common with the theatrical representations of slavery in the mine, than with the elite philosophical discourses of wisdom. Locating Paul’s description of himself as a Slave of Messiah Jesus in the language of comedy, jest, and the mime maybe controversial. Nevertheless, it seems clear that Paul’s description of himself as a Slave of Messiah Jesus was formulated from a grotesque perspective, in response to violence, and to facilitate an upsurge of the human spirit that challenged slaves to rise above the profane and juridical conditions imposed upon them. […]

The life of Aesop provides suggestive parallels between Aesop’s fables and Paul’s characterization of his calling as that of a slave, particularly in the ways that both resisted and contested power relationships. That Aesop is presented as a hero who is ugly, deformed, and disabled contests the Hellenic picture of wisdom and intellect. The Life of Aesop frequently portrays Aesop’s wisdom as disconcerting elite persons and challenging them as subjects. Yet, at times, Aesop is unable to transcend his grotesque appearance. On other occasions, Aesop consciously employs his wit and ingenuity to create anxiety in members of his master’s social class. The Life of Aesop is polemical in that Aesop ruptures the legal and social definitions of the slave as a subject, and annuls the impact of the power imposed upon him. Xanthus’ students marvel as to how Aesop’s intellect is greater than their professor’s. That Aesop constantly brought about a reversal of expectations indicates that the problems associated with his grotesque appearance were intermittent. Nevertheless, it would have been difficult for most slaves to subvert the continuum of power without the help of a construct like Paul’s ethic of messianic life. […]

pp. 65-66

It may be that the grotesqueness of The Life of Aesop, and the positive valuation of the slave as a subject, will infuriate the “modern bourgeois readers.” Such a reading will undoubtedly elicit scandalous remarks and reactions. In contrast to the bourgeois reactions, the staging of Aesop’s many reversals “provide the only defense, and occasional revenge, for those who routinely suffered maltreatment.” Now let us imagine the implications for slaves in Rome, if they too, had an encounter with the divine and awakened to a new way to conceptualize their existence. This analysis does not suggest that Paul’s readers had access to The Life of Aesop, but does highlight the fact that a contemporary non-Christian source portrayed slaves with the capability to transcend power relationships; one can only imagine how Roman slaves could replicate the same conditions by participating in the death of Messiah Jesus through baptism. The Life of Aesop presents a literary source contemporary with Paul that, in a similar way, challenges slaves to subvert how institutions and power structures imposed identity on slaves as subjects. Paul’s theological concept of identity formation subverts how the Empire imposed identity on subjects. Such a reading also asserts that Paul’s description of himself as a Slave of Messiah Jesus resonates with aspects of the slave Aesop’s identity that had been silenced by conquest. The Life of Aesop suggests how Paul’s polemical construction of messianic identity may have facilitated a role reversal that generated the acceptance of one’s new calling as a Slave of Messiah Jesus. On the one hand, this reversal of fortune annuls the negative implications of social cohesion and formation. On the other hand, we suggest that Paul’s polemical construction of messianic life contributed to an upsurge of the human spirit.

Second, the reclamation of identity generated the courage for slaves to resist aspects of the identity that Roman rule imposed on conquered peoples. After receiving his gifts from Isis, Aesop became aware of the maltreatment of slaves and contested how the propertied class exploited the ambiguities of slavery. Aesop was also conscious of how Xanthus attempted to exploit his intellect. In ways similar to the Life of Aesop, Paul’s description of himself as a slave of Messiah Jesus facilitated an awakening of Christian identity. The final episode in The Life of Aesop reveals Aesop’s willingness to be hailed by the deity in order to thwart the attempt of the men of Delphi’s to kill him. Instead, Aesop accomplishes his own fate to prevent dying at the hands of moral slaves. That Paul describes himself as a Slave of Messiah Jesus serves as an invitation to auditors who were slaves to realize their calling by participating in the death of Messiah Jesus. We posit that the grotesque perspective generated the grammar required for urban slaves to imagine an existence apart from their legal condition.

p. 76

To contest the ways that dominium ideology facilitated violence required slaves to employ a grammar of resistance that permitted them to subvert the identity that Rome sought to impose on its subjects. Our exploration of The Life of Aesop revealed a representation of a slave who possessed the intellectual prowess to negotiate, and in some ways transcend violence, and subvert how masters understood the legal and political definitions of the slave as subject. Thus, The Life of Aesop provides a helpful resource for appreciating the language of Paul’s letters, at the same time that it illustrates how slaves tried to imagine an existence apart from the identity that Rome imposed upon them. In this context, we may form an impression of how Paul’s description of himself as a Slave of Messiah Jesus was understood by members of urban slave congregations. We propose that Paul crafted Rom 6:12-23 to convince Slaves of Messiah Jesus, who were restricted to conditions similar to modern ghettos, that they might awaken to a new messianic life. Thus, Paul’s description of himself as a Slave of Messiah Jesus functioned to reclaim slaves from the negative implications of subjectivity and generated a positive valuation of the slave as subject.

p. 200

Turning now to Paul, it is impressive how closely Paul’s requirements for slave participation in messianic identity parallel Aesop’s decision to take his own life rather than allowing the men of Delphi to force a meaningless death upon him. Paul’s exhortation to slaves in the “now” time signals that the only way to “rise” from the profane verdict assigned to slaves involved the willingness to share in the death of Messiah Jesus — only then can one generate a new meaning for life that transcends the imposition of Rome’s demonic rule. Paul’s repeated use of the word vuv (now, present time) in Rom 6:19, 21, and 22 confirms our exegesis of Rom 6:18-20. The process of interpelation awakened slaves to a new messianic consciousness that facilitated an awareness of how humiliation, torture, and violence were employed to reinforce the subjectivity of slaves as subjects. Thus, the positioning of “now” in Rom 6:19-23 announces an end to the domination, humiliation, and torture produced in a context of shame. Paul’s reference to the “now time” of salvation signals that slaves encountered “new ethos that had ethical and theological implications.” Roman Imperial ideology assigned slaves as weapons of wrongdoing: slaves can now participate in community with a “messianic consciousness.” Based on Paul’s use of […], we can say that slaves who participate in messianic community are able to reimagine their existence in positive ways without shame (cf. Rom 1:16).

Christians Dancing

In Dancing in the Streets, Barbara Ehrenreich writes that (p.58):

From a Roman perspective, Christianity was at first just another “oriental” religion coming out of the east, and, like others of similar provenance, attractive to women and the poor. It offered direct communion with the deity, with the promise of eternal life, but so did many of the other imported religions that so vexed the Roman authorities. In fact, there is reason to think that early Christianity was itself an ecstatic religion, overlapping the cult of Dionysus.

The Roman Empire looked east, to the “Orient”. Almost everything of significance was came from that direction where most of the other great empires, societies, and cities were to be found: Persia, Greece, Alexandria, etc. Jews and early Christians, to the Roman mind, were perceived as Easterners. A practice like circumcision made Jews stand out in Rome, but in the East there were other religions and ethnic groups that did the same thing.

Jews and Christians, along with Stoics and the worshippers of Dionysus, Isis, and many others — they were all hard to tell apart. Before the Romans came to power, the Greeks developed a worldview of everyone who wasn’t Greek was therefore a Barabarian. In the ancient world, it was only the ruling authorities of the empires that eventually became concerned about sorting people into the proper box and labeling them accordingly.

So, if you vaguely looked like or did anything approximating the behavior of some known group, that is who you’d get lumped with. Simply refusing to eat Pork because you were a vegetarian could get you accused of being a Jew. At times, being Jewish had great advantages and so large numbers converted to Judaism. And at other times, some other identity was preferable. Ancient people were often taken at their word. If you claimed to be a member of a particular religion, ethnicity or nationality, you’d likely be treated as such.

It wasn’t usually a matter of deception, though. Most ancient people had fluid and overlapping identities. The distinction between one group and another was often rather fuzzy. The various populations were constantly intermingling, borrowing traditions from each other, incorporating foreign elements into their religions, and otherwise shifting their identities and cultures as social and political conditions changed.

Ancient people didn’t think in modern terms. But there was beginning to be changes. With the rise of colonial and expansionist empires during the Axial Age, the greater contact put greater emphasis on identity. This can be sensed most clearly in the late Axial Age when religions like Christianity arose. If you were in the growing Roman Empire, how a group defined themselves and were perceived became increasingly important. This is why, “The obvious parallel between the Christ story and that of pagan victim gods was a source of great chagrin to second-century Church fathers” (p. 58). Paul, as a Roman citizen, was particularly concerned about making Christianity respectable to the Roman authorities and within Roman society.

This was a challenge. It was obvious to everyone involved that Christianity had borrowed heavily from diverse religious and philosophical traditions. There was nothing unique about early Christianity. There were thousands of small cults like it. The worst part about it, from a Roman perspective, is the stark similarities and connections to Eastern groups. And how could it be denied. The first Christians were themselves Jews who were from the East.

The Jews had spent centuries mixing up various oral traditions with elements of nearby religions before writing any of it down. Then the Jews became heavily enmeshed in Greek culture. In the centuries immediately prior to Christianity, many Jews were worshipping pagan deities, including the ancient practice of conflating deities. Yahweh, for many Jews and non-Jews alike, had become identified with Zeus and/or Dionysus, the relation between those two Greek gods laying the ground work for the relationship between Yahweh and Jesus. Ehrenreich briefly quotes from Robert M. Price’s “Christianty, Diaspora Judaism, and Roman Crisis” and here is the passage she quoted from:

What about the challenges of Diaspora assimilationism? There surely was such a thing as Jews taking attractive features of Gentile faiths and mixing them with their own. My caveat is just to say that wildly diverse Judaism already existed back in the Holy Land. And I would say the mythemes later assimilated from Hellenistic Mystery Religions were able to gain entry because they answered to elements already present in Judaism, perhaps all the more attractive once they had become forbidden fruit in the wake of Javneh. In other words, when the family next door celebrated the death and resurrection of Osiris or Adonis this might appeal to a Jew who was dimly aware that his grandfathers had celebrated pretty much the same rites in honor of Baal, Tammuz, or even Isaac, years before.17 2 Maccabees 6:7 tells us that Antiochus converted large numbers of Jews to the worship of Dionysus. One suspects it was no arduous task, given that some Greek writers already considered Jehovah simply another local variant of Dionysus anyway. The Sabazius religion of Phrygia is plainly an example of worshipping Jehovah as Dionysus. The Phrygian Attis was another version of Adam, his mother and lover Cybele a cognate form of Eve. No wonder the Naasene Document identifies the resurrected Jesus with both Attis and Adam. No wonder we have Jewish sarcophagi from this period depicting both the menorah and the symbol of the resurrected Attis.18

The temptations and challenges of the Diaspora only served to increase the diversity of ancient Judaism, a diversity directly reflected in emerging Christianity, which demonstrably partakes of Jewish Gnosticism,19 Zoroastrianism,20 the Mystery Cults, etc. As Rodney Stark has shown, Diaspora Jews remained a major and continuous source of new Christian converts on into the fifth century.21 Christianity would have been, Stark very plausibly surmises, the ideal assimilation vehicle, since the “new” faith allowed one to retain the cherished ethical monotheism of Judaism yet without keeping up the walls of purity rules that separated one (arbitrarily, as it seemed, and as it would seem again to nineteenth- and twentieth-century Reform Jews) from one’s neighbors. It seems to me that adherence to Christianity (the “true Israel”) would also have been the natural way of clinging to traditional elements of popular Judaism upon which Orthodoxy had frowned but which, as Barker shows, had never died out. I suspect that such Christian-leaning Jews eyed emergent Rabbinic Javneh Judaism as a modern product and viewed it as most pious non-Pharisaic Jews had always viewed the stricter party of the Pharisees (and the Essenes). It would have been entirely natural for Christianizing Jews, hanging on to cherished “underground” mythemes, etc., to have viewed themselves as the real Judaism, the old-time religion. We have, again, been too eager to take the Rabbinic claims to pedigree and originality at face value. Perhaps one more piece of evidence that this is a proper way to view matters is the otherwise odd fact that many Christians continued to attend synagogue for centuries, alongside church, often to the great consternation of their bishops. This implies that the synagogue-attenders viewed the defining label for their religiosity as Judaism, not as a new, split-off religion. Their Christianity was Judaism in their eyes, even if Christian bishops (like Chrysostom) and Jewish Rabbis alike bemoaned the fact.

That fascinates me endlessly. It was such a different world. Monotheism had yet to become monolithic because monotheism itself was a rather fuzzy concept. Sure, you could believe there is one true god, but which god and how many forms could he take. In practical terms, there is no absolute distinction between monotheism and polytheism. Even the Jews often referred to their god using a word that was plural, Elohim. There was a polytheism within Judaism that was very much within living memory of many ancient Jews. And it seems a cultural memory of this continued into the early centuries of Christianity, which maybe explains why there came to be so many violent purges by the heresiologists who gained power. In order to make Christianity into a new religion, they had to annihilate the last remnants of the old time religion. They were never entirely successful, but not for a lack of trying.

An area of struggle was the ecstatic tradition of Christianity. That is part of Ehrenreich’s focus in her book. What has dancing and related practices meant to humans over the millennia. We modern Westerners, especially Americans, don’t associate dancing with the Christian tradition. But there has been a long struggle about this within Christianity itself. And this struggle has taken many forms. One site of struggle has been the dancing so typical of carnivals and festivals. These ecstatic forms of religiosity have sometimes been included within Christianity, at other times they were merely tolerated, and at yet other times they were forbidden. There is evidence that in early Christianity dance was considered by many as a normal expression of worship and devotion. But it isn’t entirely clear what kind of dance it was. Ehrenreich discusses this in great detail (pp. 65-66):

Most of what Christians of the first and second centuries actually did together—whether they even possessed a standardized form of worship, for example—is unknown to us today, but the general scholarly view is that “church services were noisy, charismatic affairs, quite different from a tasteful evensong today at the parish church.”20 They met in people’s homes, where their central ritual was a shared meal that was no doubt washed down with Jesus’ favorite beverage, wine.21 There is reason to think they sang too, and that the songs were sometimes accompanied by instrumental music. 22 Justin Martyr, a gentile convert who died at the hands of the Romans in 165 CE, once wrote that children should sing together, “just as in the same way one enjoys songs and similar music in church.”23 Very likely, Christians also danced; at least this is how the historian Louis Backman interpreted various statements of the second-century Church fathers. Clement of Alexandria (150-216 CE), for example, instructed the faithful to “dance in a ring, together with the angels, around Him who is without beginning or end,” suggesting that the Christian initiation rite included a ringdance around the altar. At another point Clement wrote that in order to invoke the “zest and delight of the spirit,” Christians “raise our heads and our hands to heaven and move our feet just at the end of the prayer—pedes excitamus,” where, according to Backman, pedes excitamus is “a technical term for dancing.”24

So Christians sang and possibly danced, but did they dance ecstatically, as did members of the old Dionysian cults? The evidence for ecstatic dancing, such as it is, hinges on Paul’s instruction, in his letter to the Corinthian congregation, that women should keep their heads covered in church (1 Cor. 11:5). This may represent nothing more than a concern that Christianity remain within the normal pagan and Jewish bounds of gender decorum. After all, Paul did not want women prophesying or even speaking in church, despite the fact that he worked with women as fellow proselytizers and had at one point proclaimed that “male and female are one in Christ.” An alternative explanation for the head-covering rule, proposed by the theologian E. S. Fiorenza, is that the women of Corinth were becoming a little too exuberant for Paul’s tastes.

It seems that during their ecstatic-pneumatic worship celebrations some of the Corinthian women prophets and liturgists unbound their hair, letting it flow freely rather than keeping it in its fashionable coiffure, which often was quite elaborate and enhanced with jewelry, ribbons and veils. Such a sight of disheveled hair would have been quite common in the ecstatic worship of oriental deities.25

Roman women spent hours on their tight coiffures, leaving the long, unbound look to the worshippers of Dionysus, Cybele, and Isis. If we know one thing about Paul, it is that he was greatly concerned about making Christianity respectable to the Romans, and hence as little like the other “oriental” religions—with their disorderly dancing women—as possible.

This may seem like a rather tenuous inference, but the association between hair-tossing and ecstatic practice is widespread and was well established in the ancient world.

All that we know of early Christianity, along with most other early religions, is a fading memory of what came before. It was that fading memory that was written down and typically written down by those who were attempting to eliminate the traces of that memory. All that we can be certain of is that modern Christianity probably has little if any resemblance to early Christianity, in either substance or form.


* * *

Dance of the Savior

The Round Dance–text and commentary
by Michael Howard

Singing with the Savior: Reconstructing the Ritual Ring-dance in the Gospel of the Savior
by Erik Yinglin

The Evolution of Sacred Dance in the JudeoChristian Tradition
by Jade Luerssen

Greek Dance: An Ancient Link — A Living Heritage
by Athan Karras

Jesus as Lord of the Dance
From early Christianity to medieval Nubia

by Paul Dilley

Notes on Jesus Christ, Scarab, Dung Beetle, etc

I was just remembering these notes I took a long while back. I meant to put  it together as a followup to my previous posts on the topic (see here), but I never got around to it… and I don’t know if or when I might ever get around to it. So, I’ll just present the notes as they might be of interest to some people.
“Homage to thee, Ra ! Supreme power, the god with the numerous shapes in the sacred dwelling, his form is that of the beetle.”
The Litany of Ra from Egyptian Literature, by Ephanius Wilson
“‘These creatures, like many others in the insect world, deposit their eggs in the ground, where they are hatched, and the appearance of their progeny rising from the earth is by some writers supposed to have suggested to the Egyptian priesthood the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Certain it is that beetles were very common in Egypt, and one of them, thence styled by naturalists Scarabeus sacer, was an object of worship: and this fact gives strength to the conjecture that this creature is meant in Exod. viii, as the sacred character of the object would naturally render its employment as a plague doubly terrible. Besides its being worshipped as a divinity, stones cut in the form of the beetle served as talismans among the Egyptians. The under surface was filled with figurines cut in intaglio of solar, lunar, and astral symbols and characters. They were held, according to Pliny, to inspire the soldier with courage, and to protect his person in the day of battle, and also to defend children from the malign influences of the evil eye. There is little reason to doubt that the Hebrews learned the use of these things Egypt, but they were prohibited by the Mosaic law. The Gnostics, among other Egyptian superstitions, adopted this notion regarding the beetle, and gems of gnostic origin are extant in this form, especially symbolical of Isis (q.v.).”
p. 467: “The biblical terms slsl in Deut. 28.42 and slsl knpjm in Isa. 18.1 were never satisfactorily defined. A thorough analysis of Ancient Egyptian texts, classical literature, Aramaic and rabbinic sources, post-biblical texts and archaeological material suggests that slsl in the Pentateuch means beetle and Isaiah’s phrase can be translated ‘land of the winged beetle’, that is, Egypt. Moreover, the Egyptian beetle metaphorically could represent a (sacred) boat and in Christian commentary, cruicified Jesus.”
International Review of Biblical Studies, by Bernhard Lang
The author writes that, according to Massey, “The beetle-headed Kheper-Ptah is Cancer, the Beetle and, later, the Crab.”
The Suns of God, by Acharya S
The author writes about Kheper-Ptah, the sign of Cancer, the Beetle and the Crab.
Ancient Egypt, the Light of the World, by Gerald Massey
The author goes into detail about Khepr, the scarab, and Isis and Nephthys rolling a ball; and also mentions Ambrose.
Book of the Beginnings Part 2, by Gerald Massey
The author has some interesting thoughts about the allegorical meaning of the dung beetle in terms of Christian theology.
Who Is This King of Glory?, by Alvin Boyd Kuhn
The author mentions that Khepr is born his own son.
Lost Light, by Alvin Boyd Kuhn
And he mentions the motif of 6 months above and 6 months below in terms of the beetle.
The author describes the beetle in European mythology and folk rituals.
Encyclopedia of Religions, by John G. R. Forlong
An early Christian story: while fleeing to Egypt, Mary is looking for Jesus and soldiers are close behind.  When the soldiers pass where Mary had been the day before, they ask some farmers when the other had passed.  The farmers give a misleading answer, but a black beetle tells the truth and so helps the soldiers.
The Flight Into Egypt, by Henry Van Dyke (Harper’s Magazine)
‘ Saw ye passing to-day or yestreen,
The Son of my love— the Son of God ? ‘ ‘
We saw, we saw,’ said the black beetle, ‘
   The Son of freedom pass yesterday.’
‘ Wrong! wrong! wrong art thou,’
Said the sacred beetle earthy:
‘ A big year it was yestreen
  Since the Son of God passed.’
Carmina Gadelica
This is strange as it seems to show the knowledge of the Egyptian dung beetle survived into much later apologetics:
The apology for the Church of England: and A treatise of the Holy Scriptures, by John Jewel, William Rollinson Whittingham
The author quotes Ambrose: “He was crushed although He was the Word made man; and He became poor, although He was rich, that we might be enriched by His want. He was powerful, and offered himself to be despised, as when Herod rejected and mocked Him; He was moving the earth, and He hung on a cross; He covered the sky with shadows and crucified the world, and He was crucified. He bent his head and the Word went out, he was emptied out and refilled everything; God came down, Man went up. The Word was made flesh that flesh might claim for itself the throne of the Word on the right hand of God; He was wounded and the perfume flowed. The beetle was heard and God was recognised.”
In his Against Cainites, Epiphanius concludes: “After exposing the opinion—like exposing poisonous dung-beetles!—of such people, who desire what is bad, and after crushing it by God’s power because of its harmfulness, let us call on God for aid, sons of Christ, since we intend to inquire into the others.”
The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Sects 1-46, by Epiphanius, Frank Williams
In his Against Archontics, Epiphanius writes: “For I find even in the so-called naturalists—or rather, I observe this for myself—that dung-beetles, which some call bylari, have the habit of rolling in foulness and dung, and this is food and a task for them.  But this same filthy food of theirs <is obviously> ofensive and bad-smelling to other insects.  For bees too, this dung and foul odor is death, while to dung-beetles it is work, nourishment, and an occupation.  For bees, in contrast, fragrance, blossoms and perfumes serve as refreshment, property and food, work and occupation.  But such things are the reverse for the dung-beetles, or bylari.
Anyone wishing to test them, as the naturalists say, can cause the death of dung-beetles by taking a bit of perfume, I mean balsam or nard, and applying it to them.  They die instantly because they cannot stand the sweet odor.”
The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Sects 1-46, by Epiphanius, Frank Williams
In speaking about women worshippers of the Virgin Mary, Epiphanius says, “…since we crushed with the word of truth this beetle, so to speak, golden colored, winged, and buzzing about, at the same time very venomous and full of poison…” Cantharides beetle, some varieties of which are poisonous, are compared to Mary-worshipping (Isis?).  Certain beetles lick the chemical off of Cantharides in order to attract mates, and it is from Cantharides that is derived the aphrodisiac Spanish Fly but there are also other medicinal uses (diuretic, skin irritant).  Dung beetles are a type of blister beetle.  Blister beetles are also ground up in drinks.
The Virgin Goddess, by Stephen Benko
Palladius says, “So Theophilus arrived at Constantinople, like a beetle loaded with the dung of the best that Egypt, emitting sweet scent to cover his stinking jealousy…”
The Dialogue of Palladius Concerning the Life of Chryisostom, by Palladius
The author writes, “What is striking, for my interests, is the fact that John Scotus elaborates, as did Origen, naturalistic imagery for the resurrection, making full use of Clementine cyclical metaphors and of the Pauline seed.  The resurrection of the phoenix from ashes or the beetle from dung, the gradual unfolding of seeds in things, the turn of the seasons from winter to spring, all become analogies for a return to God that is transformation.”
The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, by Caroline Walker Bynum
“The “Hieroglyphica” of Horapollo is cited as an important source of information concerning the unicorn symbolism of Mercurius. According to this work there exists a genus of scarab which is unicorned and thus sacred to Mercurius. In addition to being one horned this scarab is described as being “born of itself.’ In Paracelsus, the prima materia is also depicted as “uncreated” and is directly linked with Mercurius. A further parallel found in the Hieroglyphica is the dismemberment of the scarab. Such a dismemberment was undergone by the dragon, a common symbol of Mercurius, in what is referred to in Egyptian alchemic literature as the “separation of elements.”
Abstracts of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, by Carrie Lee Rothgeb


scarab images


several pages on scarabs from above book.


More about Kircher on the scarab including an Osiris-headed scarab.


In reference to the 17th century Athanasius Kircher, the author mentions the scarab in context of alchemy and cabala.  The author also points out the scarab being representative of the Son of God and defends this by quoting Augustine.

Roman and European Mythologies, by Yves Bonnefoy
pp. 219-20: “Athanasius Kircher (1602-82), the hero of the quest of Isis, even while attacking alchemy magnified its purely spiritual doctrine, finding it in concord with the true Cabala, which he did not condemn along with the Cabala of the rabbis.  Dazzled by John Dee’s discovery, copied by Cesare della Riviera, of the hieroglyph of Mercury, Kircher perceived the hieroglyph of the scarab as the key to the chemical art, in perfect concordance with the famous exegesis of bereshit, the first word of the Hebrew Genesis, at the end of the Heptaplus.
The scarab signifies the raw material of the metallic art: rolling up the bodies of the whole world, it produces an egg, visible above its tail.  The seeds of all the metals that hide there eventually rise up to the seven spheres of the planets: besides the five spheres of the minor planets, the head of Horus designates the sun, and the segment of a circle above it designates the moon, and inside it is the cross, natural symbol of the elements.  Between its forelegs the scarab holds a tablet bearing (in Greek script) the word phulo which signifies love.  If like doctors we dissect this hierogrammatism into its parts, we obtain this phrase: The soul of the world or the life of things is hidden in the machine of this lower world, where rests the egg fertile in seminal reasons, which, exercising its power over the spheres of the metallic planets, animates them with its heat and makes them act, so that Horus, that is, the sun and the moon, emerges through the dissolution of the elements and the separation of pure from impure things.  When this is done, each thing is linked to every other thing by a natural and sympathetic love, and this is the completion of the work.
Kircher before explaining a discourse too obscure for novices, referred to his Prodomus Coptus, in which, after analyzing the hieroglyph of the scarab, he connected it with Pico della Mirandola’s analysis of the first word of Genesis: “The father to the Son or by the Son, beginning and end or rest, created the head, the fire, and the foundation of the great man by good accord or alliance.”  “What can the winged globe in the hieroglyph signify other than the famous circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere, to speak with Trismegistus, which is the supermundane abstract Intellet, first Intelligence, celestial Father.  What could the body of the scarab signify other than the Son whom his Father has constituted principle, rest, and end of all things, by whom all was made and without whom nothing is made.  Lest someone be angered at seeing God himself, who surpasses all admiration, being compared to the most vile, the most horrible, the most stinking of all beings, let us hear what Saint Augustine, the great light of the Church, has said of the admirable humanity of Christ in his Soliloquies: ‘He is my good scarab, not so much because he is the only son of God, author of himself who took on our mortal form, but because he rolled in our filth, when he sought to be born a man.’  By this son, then, eternal Wisdom and true Osiris, the world was created, this great man, whose head is the angelic world, source of knowledge, whose heart is the sun, source of movement, life, and warmth, and whose foundation is the sublunary world.  What could the character signifying love designate but this Spirit, who, ‘meharephet peney ha-maym, floating on the waters,’ gives life to all things by the fire of his most fertile love, and ties all together in a good alliance.”


p. 22: “The beetles in the zodiac Dendera have, according to Dr. Young, much more of a mythological than of an astronomical nature.  The beetle near the beginning of the zodiac is well-known symbol of generation, and he is in the act of depositing his globe: on the opposite side, at the end of the zodiac, is the head of Isis, with her name as newly born; both the long female figures are appropriate representations of the mother; and the zodiac between them express “revolving year” which elapsed between the two periods.”

A History of Egyptian Mummies, by Thomas Joseph Pettigrew


pp. 178-9: “Remarkably, a stylistic representation of the Rostau meteorite appears in the fifth chapter of the Book of the Hidden Chamber.  In figure 73, we see the beginning of the creation, as if it were frozen in time.  In the lower register is the body (or flesh) of Sokar, contained within an ellipse of sand, representing his ‘hidden land’.  He is about to put on his wings of transformation.  Above him, in the middle register, a pyramid-shaped hill represents the body (or flesh) of Isis, whose head is seen at the apex of the mound.  Above the head of Isis, in the upper register, there appears a dark, bell-shaped chamber, flanked by two falcons and surmounted by the hieroglyphic sign for ‘night’.  From the bottom of this chamber, a scarab beetle — symbolic of rebirth — descends towards the head of Isis in order to converse with Sokar below, but is menanced by a two-headed serpent who ‘sets himself in opposition to the scarab’.  Between the beetle and the head of Isis, there runs the rope by which the barque of Re is towed through the underworld by seven gods and seven goddesses.”

Pyramid of Secrets, by Alan F. Alford


“On the central vertical band, beneath Nut with her outspread wings, are (from top to bottom) a shrine with two crouching figures of Osiris flanking a scarab, Isis and Nephthys adoring the symbol of Osiris, a scepter flanked by winged wedjat eyes, and a winged scarab above the boat of the sun.”

Coffin set of Henettawy


pp. 10-11: “In one rendition of John’s Gospel, instead of the “only-begotten Son of God,” a variant reading gives the “only-begotten God,” which has been declared an impossible rendering.  But the “only-begotten God” was an especial type in Egyptian Mythology, and the phrase re-identifies the divinity whose emblem is the beetle.  Hor-Apollo says, “To denote the only-begotten or a father, the Egyptians delineate a scarabeus!  B this they symbolize an only-begotten, because the creature is self-produced, being unconceived by a female.”  Now the youthful manifestor of the Beetle-God was this Iu-em-hept, the Egyptian Jesus.  The very phraseology of John is common to the Inscriptions, which tell of him who was the Beginner of Becoming from the first, and who made all things, but who himself was not made.  I quote verbatim.  And not only was the Beetle-God continued in the “only-begotten God”; the beetle-type was also brought on as a symbol of the Christ.  Ambrose and Augustine, amongst the Christian Fathers, identified Jesus with, and as, the “good Scarabeus,” which further identifies the Jesus of John’s Gospel with the Jesus of Egpt, who was the Ever-Coming One, and the Bringer of Peace, whom I have elsewhere shown to be the Jesus to whom the Book of Ecclesiasticus is inscribed, and ascribed in the Apocrypha.

In accordance with this continuation of the Kamite symbols, it was also maintained by some sectaries that Jesus was a potter, and not a carpenter; and the fact is that this only-begotten Beetle-God, who is portrayed sitting at the potter’s wheel forming the Egg, or shaping the vase-symbol of creation, was the Potter personified, as well as the only-begotten God in Egypt.”

Gerald Massey’s Lectures


This article shows that beetles (and in particular dung beetles) are a religious symbol older than Egypt.  As a main source of food, beetles have always fascinated humans and taken on divine meaning.  Beetles are able to fly and descend into the earth, and they emerge out of the earth when they’re growing.  The beetle as a creator and a potter is found in tribal cultures, in Egyptian mythology and even Jesus is portrayed as a potter.  In Egypt, the scarab was identified as a solar deity.  This is because the dung beetle forms balls of dung which it rolls around (and out of which it is born), and also because they’re shiny beetles who can fly (and it was believed they could fly carrying a dung ball).

Egyptians came to believe in the scarab as a resurrection deity and that it was self-originating.  So, it was considered virginal as they believed no sex occurred.  The author doesn’t note this but it is reminiscent of how Mithras was born out of a rock.  The scarab became identified in two forms that were identified with Osiris who dies and his son Horus who is born from his death, but the two forms were also identified as singular.  This dual aspect god was a central prototype of Jesus Christ.  In its role as resurrection deity and ruler over the dead, the scarab was associated with the heart (the scarab being placed over the heart of the mummified deceased).  From the Wikipedia article on the Dung Beetle:

It may not have gone unnoticed that the pupa, whose wings and legs are encased at this stage of development, is very mummy-like. It has even been pointed out that the egg-bearing ball of dung is created in an underground chamber which is reached by a vertical shaft and horizontal passage curiously reminiscent of Old Kingdom mastaba tombs.”[8]

Another interesting connection (not from this article) is the understanding of gender in Gnosticism and in the Egyptian portrayal of the dung beetle.  Despite an earlier association with a goddess, Egyptians came to believe that all dung beetles were male.  Another excerpt from the Wikipedia article:

The scarab was linked to Khepri (“he who has come into being”), the god of the rising sun. The ancients believed that the dung beetle was only male in gender, and reproduced by depositing semen into a dung ball. The supposed self-creation of the beetle resembles that of Khepri, who creates himself out of nothing. Moreover, the dung ball rolled by a dung beetle resembles the sun. Plutarch wrote:

The race of beetles has no female, but all the males eject their sperm into a round pellet of material which they roll up by pushing it from the opposite side, just as the sun seems to turn the heavens in the direction opposite to its own course, which is from west to east.”[7]

The ancient Egyptians believed that Khepri renewed the sun every day before rolling it above the horizon, then carried it through the other world after sunset, only to renew it, again, the next day.

Strong arguments have been made that Gnosticism (and through it Christianity) came from Egypt, and certain Gnostic texts speak of the female becoming the male.  Also, during the Axial Age, there was a mixing of gender traits as gender identities shifted.  Many gods (such as Yahweh) had taken over aspects of prior goddesses.  D.M. Murdock, in her book Christ In Egypt, argues that in Christianity’s competition with Isis worship, Jesus became identified with that which had been formerly identified with Isis for centuries throughout the Graeco-Roman world.  Furthermore, Isis’ son Horus (in his form as Harmakhet the rising sun) was associated with Khepri (combined forming an image of a scarab with wings).  Murdock points out archaeological evidence of Egyptian Gnostic merging of Horus and Jesus; and, in the Alexandrian Gnostic system, Isis is Sophia and Horus is the Logos/Word.  Early Coptic Christians mummified their dead, had scarabs with Christian emblems etched on them (The Sacred Scarabs, The New York Times), used the ankh as a cross, and even invoked Jesus and Horus together.  Also, followers of Serapis (a mix of Greek and Egyptian gods) are another example as they were supposedly described as the first Christians by Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata.  In many locations in Egypt, such as at the Serapeum (temple to Serapis) in Alexandria, large sculptures of scarabs have been found.  (Besides Murdock’s Christ In Egypt, much of this info and more can be found in Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge’s Amulets and Superstitions, the Egyptologist Erik Hornung’s The Secret Lore of Egypt, and Theologian Karl W. Luckert’s Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire; also, check out the books of Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Gerald Massey, and G. R. S. Mead.)

To return to Cambefort’s article, the author mentions that Ptah the divine craftsman was connected with the scarab as the potter.  Ptah was also was at times confused with Osiris.  The wife of Ptah was Neith who was originally considered a beetle goddess before the scarab became identified as solely male and so she instead became identified with the vulture (which was considered solely female).  The vulture and scarab became a paired symbol and a word play.  In the 4th century, Horapollo wrote about hieroglyphics of this pair of deities. “He also described the scarab as “only begotten,” and the Greek word is the same used by John (3:16) referring to Christ (below).”

In Minoan Creta, horned “scarabs” crudely modeled in clay were used by peasants, probably in fecundity rites (right). Apart from these models, the scarab’s role is not obvious in archaic and classic Greek civilization. During late Egyptian periods, dwarves were devoted to Ptah (under the name “pataeci”) and many of them wore a scarab on their head. Probably for this reason, the scarab gained the reputation among the Greeks to be the king of Pygmies, although the Pygmies themselves represented the dead. In addition, we can find evidence that scarabs in a broad sense (sacred scarab and stag beetle were more or less confused) were important in the initiation rites of warriors (possibly due to the fact that warriors bring death). As a result, the scarab was consecrated to Zeus, to the same extent as the eagle. In fact, both animals seem interchangeable as favorites of the King of gods. Æsopus fable, “The Eagle and the Scarab,” is a testimony to the secular dispute between the scarab and the Eagle, or rather between their supporters. In this fable, the scarab wins, but historically, the eagle gained victory over the scarab, and remained the emblem of Zeus, carrying his thunder. The fable might also be a reminiscence of the late Egyptian periods, when the scarab and vulture (there are no eagles in Egypt) were united to write the Great Gods’ name T-N and N-T(above).

Meanwhile, the scarab became an object of derision and jokes, the most famous of them being Aristophanes comedy “Peace,” where a peasant flies up to Olympus riding a colossal scarab, whose coprophagous habits are insisted upon. Despite these trivial manners, the scarab retains his divine nature, which enables him to reach Zeus’ throne. Another clue of his importance could be the name “scarab” (greek: kantharos) of Dionysos’ cup, where pure wine is served in order to provide sacred drunkenness. Dionysos seems to be related to Osiris, who was said to have introduced wine in Egypt. As a sacred trance, drunkenness is related to shamanic powers of uniting the sky, the earth, and the underworld. Dionysos also had close relationships with Hephaistos, who was god of the fire. Since wine “burns” or at least heats as fire does, Hephaistos is often represented as being drunk. Hephaistos was confused by the Greeks with the late Egyptian scarab god, Ptah. In Germany, the property of thunder belonged to the god Thor (or Donar), who was second only to Odhin. The stag-beetle was devoted to Thor, and reputed to bear not only lightning and thunder, but also fire, in the form of embers. Thor was reputed to set fire to thatched houses, hence many names relating to fire and thunder are still frequently used in Germany.

…Coming back to Israel, the word “scarab” does not occur in the Hebrew Bible. The Jewish authors probably did not want to recall the detested enemy through this Egyptian emblematic character. However, in the Greek translation of the Bible (called Septuagint,) the word “beetle” occurs once (Habakkuk 2:11):

“For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beetle out of the timber shall answer it.”

Habakkuk’s passage would not have been quoted here except for the use that Saint Ambrose of Milan made of it. On five occasions, this Father of the Church alluded to the text and compared Jesus Christ to Habakkuk’s scarab. Other Christian authors (St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Alexandria, etc.) made equivalent or similar comparisons. These are the most obvious testimonies of a possible influence of Egyptian religion on Christianism. They also might have been influenced by (or had influenced on) some late Egyptian beliefs, e.g. reported by Horapollo (above), who described the scarab as “only begotten,” with the same Greek words (monogenes) as used by John 3:16 referring to Christ, and repeated by other Christian authors.
In Germany, where scarab worship, in the form of the stag beetle, has persisted longest, the equation scarab = Christ was widely accepted. The quintessential German artist, Albrecht Dürer, associated the stag beetle with Christ in various paintings, and produced a famous watercolor of the insect. The Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) did not hesitate to recall the identification scarab = Christ, referring both to St. Ambrose and Psalm 22:6:”But I am a worm, and no man,” verse which has been referred to Christ, and where (as Kircher says), “some read scarab instead of worm.” He went further to combine Christian faith with Alchemy: for him, the scarab was the prima materia of the Great Work. This idea was shared by some alchemists, e.g. Michael Maier (1566-1622), who explained in his writings that the so-called “philosophal stone,” product of the Great Work, was nothing other than Christ, resuscitated from the dead; a promise of resurrection for all human beings.
Beetles as Religious Symbols, Cultural Entomology Digest 2, by Yves Cambefort


The author connects the  dung beetle with the vulture in opposition to the eagle.  He uses as an example Aristophanes play Peace where the dung beetle is used by Trygaeus to fly up to speak to Zeus.  This connection of dung beetle and vulture is similar to Bruno Schultz’ story “Cockroach”.

The Gardens of Adonis: Spices in Greek Mythology, by Marcel Detienne
Peace, by Aristophanes
Aesop’s Fables, “The Dung Beetle and the Eagle”
The author discusses the gospel genre comparing the Christian, Judaean, and Greco-Roman traditions.  Specifically, he compares the text titled Life of Aesop.  I observed two aspects of this text.  Firstly, Aesop starts off as an ugly, mute slave.  He helps a priestess of Isis who prays for him and so Isis (and her muses) blesses him with speech.  Aesop starts telling fables which are equivalent to Jesus’ parables, and he uses his storytelling as a way of teaching and challenging authority.  This, of course, leads to trouble (similarly to Jesus, an accusation of blasphemy) and is condemned to death.  It is while being brought to his place of execution that he tells his fable “The Dung Beetle and the Eagle”.  This is rather fitting as the dung beetle is a lowly creature as Aesop was portrayed.  It’s also relevant in terms of the gospel genre of the doomed hero because the dung beetle is a symbol of resurrection.  The fable could be interpreted as saying that, unlike the judgement of the Delphians, Almighty God will pardon Aesop (like Jupiter/Zeus pardoned the dung beetle)
The quest of the historical gospel, by Lawrence Mitchell Wills
“‘The Dung Beetle”: a medieval version of Aesop’s fable where Jesus speaks with the dung beetle.
The Peasants Bible, by Dario Fo
Later European fables involving themes of male pregnancy and birth and a beetle.  The way in which the beetle enters the priest or thief demonstrates a cultural memory of the birth of the dung beetle from fecal matter.
The Pregnant Man, by  Roberto Zapperi
A Mithraic magical ritual involving a scarab during early Christianity.  This ritual is the type of thing that Christians would’ve been aware of as the two religions shared similar motifs and Mithraism was very popular.
The Historical Jesus in Context, by Amy-Jill Levine, Dale C. Allison, John Dominic Crossan

Richard Marsh’s The Beetle has a woman that transforms into a scarab.  The author speaks about the Gothic being relevant during times of uncertainty and change such as during the urbanization of the industrial age.  He also mentions Darwinism that created a sense of the closeness between man and animal, and theories arose of the possibility of degeneration to earlier forms.

The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, by Jerrold E. Hogle


“Holland notes that beetles, unlike cockroaches, undergo total metamorphosis. Further, dung beetles are scarabs. The Egyptians venerated the scarab as an image of the sacred dung beetle linked to the sun god. Samson (Samsa) means in Hebrew “the sun’s man.” The German word for the title of the story, Die Verwandlung, means not only insect metamorphosis and transformation in general, but also transubstantiation… “The dung-beetle, then,” Holland concludes, “was the one animal that gave Kafka everything he needed: total metamorphosis from a wingless grub to a hard-working, traveling salesman-like adult plus the combination of loathsomeness and divinity”

The metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka, commentary by Stanley Corngold

“The brilliant writer Vladimir Nabokov wrote of the interpretative impact Kafka’s earliest translators had made by turning the character from The Metamorphosis, Gregory Samsa, into a lowly cockroach, when in actuality Kafka had Gregory metamorphosed into a magnificently domed scarab beetle. The implications here are profound when we contemplate Kafka’s intense intimacy with the figure of Christ, and his knowledge of ancient cultures and art. Kafka was obviously aware that Albrecht Duer associated the symbolic aspect of the stag beetle with Christ. ‘Some biblical linguists have written of the aramaic word “scarab” being mistranslated as “worm,” in Psalm 22:6, “But I am a worm, not a man.” Certain imminent alchemists considered the scarab to be a symbol for the Great Work of transformation. In ancient Egyptian alchemy the scarab beetle’s activity of making its nest out of dung for eggs to hatch from, symbolized the process of creating disciplines and procedures to bring forth spirit from flesh. The scarab is also associated in both Egyptian and Greek text with the solar aspects of the divine.”

Pushing Ultimates, by Lew Paz


Gregor Samsa “is “a phonetic contraction of the Czech words sam (‘alone’) and jsem (‘I am’).” Also there is the suggestion of “samson” (literally “the sun’s man”), combining the image of the lowly dung beetle with the sacred scarab linked to sun god worship, an ironic “combination of lothesomeness [sic] and divinity.” The name “Gregory” (literally “watchful” or “awakened”) strengthens the symbolism of the story by implying that Gregor’s transformation corresponds with his sudden awareness of his own alienation.”

The modern allegories of William Golding, by L. L. Dickson


“In “carry, as earwigs do their dead, their soil to the earthball,” Joyce confuses (probably intentionally) the earwig with the dung beetle, the prototype of the Egyptian scarab.”  In a notebook, Joyce mentioned the scarab along with other symbols of regeneration.

Narrative design in Finnegans Wake, by Harry Burrell


Author describes Joyce’s reference to scarab (in terms of creation and generation) in a notebook that was later developed in Finnegan’s Wake.

Greek and Hellenic culture in Joyce, by R. J. Schork


Dick writes in his Exegesis:

“Ugly like this, despised and teased and tormented and finally put to death, he returned shining and transfigured; our Savior Jesus Christ (before him Ikhanaton, Zoroaster, et; Hefestus). When He returned we saw Him as he really is — that is, not by surface appearance. His radiance, his essence, like light.  The God of Light wears a humble and plain shell here. (Like a metamorphosis of some humble toiling beetle).”

Mckee comments on this:

“For Dick, Christ will not return riding a white horse, but rather in the form of a beetle, a beggar, or an empty beer can kicked to the side of the road. God, though remaining all-powerful, allows himself to be made weak and to appear defeated in this world. But his moment of apparent defeat is truly his moment of final victory: Christ’s death on the cross is the moment that assures the salvation of humankind.

‘In this concept of the deus absconditus Dick’s theology overlaps with thtat of Martin Luther. Luther’s “theology of the cross” depends on just such a view of God’s hiddenness in wretched and helpless forms in our world.”

PKD’s God in the garbage is Augustine’s Christ as beetle who “has rolled himself in our filth and chooses to be born from this filth itself”.

Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter, by Gabriel Mckee


The author quotes PKD describing an event from third-grade where he was tormenting a beetle that was trying to hide itself:

“And he came out, and all of a sudden I realized — it was total satori, just infinite, that this beetle was like I was.  There was an understanding.  He wanted to live just like I was, and I was hurting him.  For a moment — it was like Siddhartha does, was like that dead jackal in the ditch — I was that beetle. Immediately I was different.  I was never the same again.”

Divine Invasions, by Lawrence Sutin


Jung: “A young woman I was treating had at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab.  While she was telling me this dream I sat with my back to the closed window.  Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping.  I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from the outside.  I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in.  It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. (The Structure and the Dynamics of the Psyche, p. 438)

The scarab here can be interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, of new life, an external manifestation of an inner awakening.  The dung beetle lives in filth, the material world which the rational mind can comprehend.  And yet the dung beetle represents that which is greater than rational and above the physical, the solar disk.  The Sun of God is Logos, but this isn’t rationality.  Logos signifies an ordering principle beyond causality, which Jung termed synchronicity.

A large section that describes the context of the scarab in Jung’s life.
Who Owns Jung?, by Ann Casement

The War on Democracy: a personal response

I wrote in my previous post about democracy, specifically the war on democracy. Both that post and this post are a continuation of my thoughts in my other recent posts: Is Classical Liberalism Liberal?, Political Labels – Meaningless? Divisive?, and Bashing My Head Against a Brick Wall: Love of Truth or Masochism?. The war on democracy is, in the final conclusion, a war on liberalism. Conservatives are often unwilling to acknowledge that America is a democracy at all. They think by denying the word they can make the reality go away.

I’ve been trying to grapple with the issue of ideologies and labels which can irritate me immensely at times. As a liberal, I often feel misunderstood living in a country where conservatism is portrayed as the norm, although the polling data seems to show that Americans are way more liberal than most mainstream pundits and politicians would prefer. To be a radically idealistic, freedom-loving, bleeding-heart liberal is to be forever discontented with the status quo of established power and authority, forever discontented with the forgetting of history’s horrors which leads to its repeating.

– – –

In my above mentioned previous post, I offered a simple answer to a problem often made complex by ideological debates and rhetoric. By offering that simple conclusion, I was questioning whether the problem actually was complex at all. Those with complex answers will seek to make the problem appear more complex than it is. As such, I was hoping to find the heart of the issue.

My basic point, in that previous post, was that democracy is more about people than politics, more about how humans can relate well to each other on the largescale of society. My suggestion was that, if we actually care about seeking solutions, we should begin with caring about people. Either you care about others or not. It’s that simple.

I’d also add that to the degree that you care about ideology (personal beliefs, political systems, religious dogmas, ethnocentric groupthink, etc) is the degree to which you don’t care about people. When we see people in terms of their place within society, as labels and categories, social roles and demographic data, as voters and citizens… when we see people as mere ‘other’, as strangers and foreigners, as objects and resources… when we see people as as ‘us’ vs ‘them’, as workers or unemployed, as rich or poor, as their religion or skin color, as part of or excluded from some group… when we do this, people become less in our eyes (and in our hearts). We lose our own humanity when we embrace labels and categories. And that is a very sad way to live one’s life.

This isn’t to say all labels and categories are always negative. They serve a function. In and of themselves, they are value neutral. However, labels and categories (when used without awareness and understanding) can easily lead to seeing the world through the filter of biases and preconceptions. This is how prejudice functions. Labels and categories are only dangerous when they are used in defense of an ideological worldview, a dogmatic reality tunnel.

– – –

In the rest of this post, I will continue some of those thoughts but in the context of more personal experience and feelings, along with some complaints, questions and ponderings of a less personal nature.

I acknowledge that everything I have written applies to myself as well. I’m all too aware of that fact. I know that I don’t live up to my own hopes and ideals. I often feel the attraction of what is offered by ideological righteousness, by ideological labels and categories. I feel weak in my sense of self and in my experience of the world. I feel weak because I feel isolated, because I feel disempowered and disenfranchised. I don’t feel part of a community, that my life is integrally significant to the life of those I interact with on a daily basis. Even so, it may be true that I’m more rooted to the place I live in than many people (which, if true, is a sad statement about the lives of many people). I love this town where friends and family live, where I’ve spent much of my life (although with many intermittent years spent living elsewhere). But I always feel a bit disconnected, a blurring of the edges between myself and the world around me.

Modern life makes it more difficult to deeply connect (which causes many people to cling even more to artificial group identities). We have busy lives, each person isolated in their respective activities and goals. So many people spend their entire lives moving around from place to place… chasing careers, chasing dreams… seeking to escape the sense of dissatisfaction and unease that haunts the modern soul. I’m as much a product of the modern world as anyone else. I grew up in a family that moved on a fairly regular basis… and following that I moved around for a number of years.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to find a community to be a part of. I choose to live in this town where I’m surrounded by memories, a place that feels like home. During a period of my life, I sought to find my niche in this community. I went to many churches and found one I liked to an extent. I socialized and volunteered. I found people I connected with and made some new friends. But in the end the effort was too taxing for an introvert like me. It takes a lot of effort to try to create, almost ex nihil, a sense of community in the modern world. This town, for example, is a college town. It’s probably a majority of the population that either attends or works for the university and the university hospital. It’s a very transient population with very few people who were born here and lived their entire lives here. In a place like this, people come and go.

My life isn’t unusual and the town I live in isn’t atypical. Most cities in urban and suburban areas are to varying degrees like this town. Most people live in larger cities with transient populations and most people have moved a number of times in their lives. It’s just the social norm of modern life and of American society.

– – –

This is the challenge we face.

Most of the evolution of the human species happened prior to modern society and so human nature isn’t designed to work optimally in large societies with concentrated populations. Well, to be more accurate, the problem didn’t just begin with modernism for the world we live in is merely the outgrowth of the first civilizations. The Axial Age religions were a response to the early urbanization of human society… which was when the human species first had to deal with the conflicts of cultural diversity, with the disintegration of traditional lifestyles, with challenges to ancient religious authority.

The reason Buddha and Jesus preached universal love and forgiveness,  unreserved acceptance and compassion for all (even strangers, even criminals, even prostitutes… heck, even the rich) is because the rise of civilization was stretching the limits of human nature. Humans are mostly just capable of identifying with and sympathizing with a very small group of people who they know intimately. In many ways, this is as true today as it was millennia ago.

However, humans didn’t stop evolving after civilization began. If anything, evolution quickened because civilization allowed the simultaneous mixing of diverse genetics and the concentrating of certain genetics. We can see the results of this today with the fact that liberals tend to gravitate toward cities and conservatives tend to gravitate toward rural areas. There is a theory that liberalism is a newer trait in human evolution which intuitively makes sense to me and which seems to accord with some data I’m familiar with.

A major difference between conservatives and liberals, as shown in psychological research, is that: (1) the former tends to respond with fear and disgust when faced with the new and different, the unusual and foreign (one particular study showed conservatives feeling disgust toward rotten fruit which, from a liberal perspective, seems like an oddly strong response toward such a harmless object); and (2) the latter is more open to new experiences, new ideas, new possibilities and, as such, more sympathetic to the plights of those perceived as being outside of the norms and standards of any given society (strangers, foreigners, criminals, drug addicts, the poor, and the homeless; those who challenge authority figures, those who don’t submit to traditional rules of behavior, those who are ostracized, and those who are considered to be at fault for their own problems).

There is nothing wrong with the conservative attitude in and of itself. In a traditional society, such an attitude was beneficial and even necessary. But such an attitude, by itself or in aggressive opposition, doesn’t serve us well in a global society and we presently have no choice but to live in a global society, unless someone wishes to either seek the destruction of civilization or else colonize space. Even the few remaining isolated indigenous people can’t avoid the effects of modern society in that they are forced to drink water and breathe air that has become polluted, forced to depend on food sources that become increasingly scarce, forced to deal with new and deadly diseases introduced by foreigners, and are forced to constantly retreat from encroaching poachers, loggers, farmers, miners, missionaries, soldiers, bureaucrats, and others.

All humans (of all persuasions, in all places) are forced to adapt to a changing world. There is no conservative paradise where everything is frozen in some idyllic moment in time.

The Axial Age prophets like Jesus preached an essentially liberal vision, and radically liberal at that. Jesus was a leftwing loon of his era. The Axial Age prophets taught that we should treat all others as we would want to be treated; that we shouldn’t judge others according to ethnocentrism, class divisions, and other social norms; that one’s spiritual family was more important than one’s traditional nuclear family (that the water of baptismal rebirth was stronger than blood). The liberal ideals of egalitarianism and compassion (i.e., bleeding heart liberalism) are at the core of all civilization because only such ideals can counteract the negative side effects of building a civilization. Unless civilization collapses and we return to small traditional communities, we will have to come to terms with these liberal ideals.

– – –

This isn’t about liberal ideology defeating conservative ideology. I’m not saying conservatism doesn’t have it’s place, but I am saying that liberalism is increasingly necessary.

Even conservatives today are more ‘liberal’ than conservatives a few centuries ago. It’s all relative. Conservativism and liberalism exist on a spectrum which is always shifting. Conflict is only perceived when the middle of the spectrum is ignored and when history is ignored. The liberalism of one era becomes the conservatism of the next era. This is particularly confusing for American society. As Gunnar Myrdal explained, “America is conservative in fundamental principles… but the principles conserved are liberal and some, indeed, are radical.”

American conservatives may be an extreme example, but they may not be highly unusual. Jesus challenged the conservatives of his day (the social norms, the political status quo, the traditional religiosity of Judaism, etc) and yet has been embraced by the conservatives of later generations. Once Jesus was dead, he was safe for being turned into an idol, sterilized of radicalism. Similarly, classical liberalism is safe for conservatives today because it’s an ideology from the past, i.e., a dead ideology. A liberal ideal or vision, if successful, eventually becomes a set of dogmatic beliefs or other ideological system. Once that happens, liberals leave it behind and conservatives will then defend it (as a defense against the next new thing that liberals seek out). As such, every conservative principle began as a liberal ideal because every tradition began as a challenge to a former tradition.

Liberalism ultimately isn’t ideological because ideology closes down the mind which is the opposite of the liberal impulse. Liberalism is the impulse toward ever greater inclusion, acceptance, and openness. This liberal vision is idealistic but it isn’t ideology. Jesus wasn’t preaching politics. In fact, Jesus put no faith in politics whatsoever.

Maybe this is why liberal ideals can be placed in the context of any ideology, including conservative ideologies. The liberal impulse, by nature, will seek to expand any ideology to be ever more inclusive. Even the most righteously dogmatic Christian fundamentalism can’t entirely obscure the radical vision contained in Jesus’ own words and actions. Christians, no matter their ideology, can be inspired by these ideals. Liberals don’t own these ideals. This liberal vision isn’t liberal ideology. Liberalism, as a general concept, is defined ‘liberally’ because liberalism is expansive, ever reaching beyond divisions, reaching even beyond the status quo of liberal ideology. There is no and can be no definitive explanation of what liberalism is in specific terms for liberalism challenges limiting definitions, all definitions being limiting to some degree. The moment a liberal vision becomes an ideology it becomes less liberal, i.e., more conservative (to defend an ideology is to seek to ‘conserve’ that ideology).

That is the power of the liberal vision which is an inclusive vision, aspiring toward inclusion of all people even conservatives. It’s the same as Jesus preaching a universal message that applied to all people, even those who weren’t his followers, even those who actively opposed him (i.e., forgiving one’s enemies). There is no greater, no more radical vision of liberalism than this. And the most radical liberal vision of all is anarchism, both political and epistemological anarchism, because this is the extreme endpoint of the liberal desire for liberation, for liberty. Jesus’ refusal to acknowledge any earthly authority was a form of anarchism.

In the larger sphere of society, this liberal vision is basically the same as what is called ‘social democracy’. You can make it complicated with theory and with specialized terminology, but the ideals of freedom and egalitarianism are very simple. Even a child can understand these ideals. Even a child wants to be treated fairly. Children tend to be natural liberals because everyone is born with an openness to experience, a desire to explore, an endless curiosity. A child is just being a good liberal when he endlessly asks, ‘Why?’ And, when given an answer, asks ‘Why?’ again.

– – –

It might seem like I’m getting a bit abstract or speculative here, but this relates to the personal for me.

I’m someone with a liberal predisposition. I feel strongly and I empathize easily. I care about others, even random strangers on the street or in the news. I’m a bleeding heart liberal. I don’t want to live in a society of blame, of ‘us’ vs ‘them’. I intellectually can understand that those with conservative predispositions are less likely to see the world this way, but in my heart I can’t understand.

From my (biased) perspective, liberal values seem to be the only way we will avoid collective self-destruction. Sure, if civilization collapses, the human species can return to it’s conservative roots. But I would hope that even conservatives aren’t seeking the destruction of civilization merely because it would benefit the predominance of the conservative worldview. It’s true that, during times of societal conflict and violence, the conservative worldview becomes persuasive and hence popular. However, any conservative who promotes a vision of conflict or incites violence in order to achieve this end has become cynical to the point of utter moral depravity. I hope most conservatives are above such realpolitik games of hatred and fear.

Also, I’d like to believe that empathy and compassion aren’t merely liberal values. Everyone has some capacity for empathy and compassion… well, everyone except psycopaths. It’s not that conservatives are heartless, but research has shown that conservatism as a trait predisposes one to have less capacity for empathy and compassion (relative to liberalism as a trait)… or rather they have a more limited, narrow focus of their empathy and compassion, less empathy and compassion for those not perceived as part of their group. But are these attitudes inevitable and predetermined? Are people just born one way or another?

The question is whether people, all people, have the potential to develop more empathy and compassion. If we are fatalistically determined by our genetics and our early upbringing, then maybe our only or best hope is that there will be an evolutionary leap. The problem is we can’t exactly plan for and depend on an evolutionary leap happening. But how else will change happen in society unless some fundamental transformation happens within human nature? Isn’t such a radical transformation what was being envisioned, even prophesied by some, during the Axial Age? Is there a way that we as a human species can manifest on a global level our potential for empathy and compassion? Is Jesus’ inspiring message of love a real potential or merely an empty dream? Isn’t there a way conservatives can maintain their conservative values while also stretching the comfort zone of their ability to empathize and be compassionate toward others, especially those different than them?

The conservative impulse is to identify with their group, their religion, their tradition, their culture, their ethnicitiy, their nation, etc. There is nothing wrong with this per se, but I’d like to believe that this group identity can be expanded to include all humans. But do we have to wait for an alien invasion before we have an enemy ‘other’ that will force all humans to identify as a collective humanity with a collective fate?

– – –

This is the problem I face.

I can, like Jesus, preach about love and compassion. But, as a liberal, I’ll mostly be preaching to the choir.

Is there a way to translate liberal values into conservative terms? Is there a way to translate conservative values into a larger and more inclusive global context? I don’t want to blame conservatives any more than I want to blame the rich. I don’t want to blame anyone, to exclude certain people or groups (because they are different, because they don’t conform to my values, because they don’t agree with my ideology). However, what am I to do if, as a liberal, conservatives want to blame and exclude me? And what am I to do if, as a working class person, the rich want to blame and exclude me? How does one persuade others toward an inclusive vision if their own vision opposes it? If someone doesn’t care about the poor living in slums or oppressed people living in developing countries, I can’t force them to care. I have a hard enough time convincing myself to care and not give into cynicism.

I hate this situation. It’s the eternal conundrum of being a liberal, the desire for universal values that transcend mere ideology… while, no matter what liberals desire, conservatives will still just see it as liberal ideology for the lense through which conservatives see everything is ideology. Liberals are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The desire to include those who desire to exclude you. The desire to treat others fairly and equally who don’t desire to return the favor. The desire to compromise with those who see compromise as moral weakness and failure. The desire for compassion even of those who choose prejudice and blame. Between openness and conformity, between idealism and ideology, why is it so often the latter that wins? I realize Jesus said my reward would be in heaven, but it would be nice to see a bit of heaven on earth.

I just don’t understand. Why are empathy and compassion often perceived by many as almost entirely exclusive traits of bleeding heart liberals? Why is unreservedly caring about others deemed to be a mere liberal agenda? And why do conservatives believe unreservedly caring about others will destroy society? Aren’t empathy and compassion traits found in all normal (i.e., psychologically healthy) people?

How can any ideology (whether religious, political or economic) be seen as trumping the basic human value of caring about others? How can conservative Christians continue to ignore Jesus’ message of love which, according to Jesus himself, trumps the oppressive Old Testament laws of hatred and divisiveness, of fear and vindictiveness, of blame and guilt, of retribution and scapegoating? Jesus never asked if the blind or sick person had the money to pay for being healed, never asked if people were deserving before he fed them, never asked if someone was to blame before dispelling the demons that were possessing them. Jesus simply acted compassionately in response to suffering. Jesus wasn’t acting according to ideology. Jesus wasn’t preaching about meritocracy or a free market, wasn’t preaching about constitutional republics or political revolutions, wasn’t preaching about traditional values and norms.

Why aren’t there bleeding heart conservatives? Why do compassionate conservatives seem lacking in compassion toward anyone who doesn’t conform to their own ideological agenda? And, when conservatives do help those in need, why is their attitude typically that of condescension and superiority as if the needy person should feel lucky that the well off conservative didn’t leave them to starve to death or to freeze alone under a bridge? Yes, I’m speaking of the extreme variety of conservatives, but I speak of them because this is also the extremely vocal variety of conservatives who vocally defend conservatism.

If we as a society are going to ignore Jesus’ radical message of love, then we should stop calling ourselves a Christian nation (not that Jesus would approve of nationalism in any form, especially not in his name). If being a Christian nation wasn’t mere ethnocentric nationalism and instead meant being a nation of love and forgiveness, a nation of acceptance and inclusion, a nation of helping the poor and needy, then maybe I (along with many liberals, atheists, and non-Christians) wouldn’t take such issue with this prideful labeling of America.

– – –

It’s become increasingly clear, with events over the past decade, how interconnected is the global society. What one person, one group, one corporation, or one government does, effects people all over the world. We can’t continue to live pretending we are independent and isolated. We benefit and suffer because of the choices made by others. No one succeeds or fails simply based on their personal merits.

Poverty exists despite there being plenty of wealth in the world to allow everyone to live a decent life. Homelessness exists despite the resources being available to provide everyone basic shelter. Starvation exists despite there being enough food to feed everyone in the world. Many diseases continue to exist and proliferate despite there being known cures. The amount of money that the US government alone spends on international meddling (wars, military bases, CIA, propaganda programs, etc) probably would be enough to build schools, hospitals, health care clinics, and food banks in every city in the world. Most of the oppression and suffering in the world exists because of decisions made by other people, usually not by those who are oppressed and suffer. People born into poverty, homelessness, and hunger don’t deserve those conditions because of some personal failure. People living in war zones aren’t responsible for nations fighting over the resources that happen to exist in the ground beneath their homes. People born black in America aren’t to be blamed for the history of prejudice which is still being imposed upon them.

What we choose to do (what we buy, how we vote, who we donate to) or what we choose not to do (injustices we ignore, prejudices we accept, suffering we don’t seek to end) isn’t just a personal choice. Every action is public because the results of our actions are collective. We are forced to be responsible for each other, whether or not we accept that responsibility. If we walk past someone who is homeless or hungry, they remain homeless or hungry because we choose to allow such conditions to continue. We may not consciously realize we’ve made a decision, but that doesn’t change the fact that a decision was made.

– – –

I’m complicit in all of these failings and problems. That is what pisses me off.

I want to live in a society of people who care. I want to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. It’s been said that we need to be the change we want to see. But I can’t get rid of the feeling that all actions seem futile, that nothing is ever going to change for the good. Despite all the superficial progress, the world just keeps getting worse in so many ways.

I’ve nearly lost all hope for the future, all faith in humanity. Part of me still wants to care and yet another part of me wants to give up. I just don’t know. What is the point? Change seems potentially so easy in that there is nothing stopping change besides ourselves (“We have met the enemy and he is us”). We are individually of no significance, but collectively almost anything is possible. The problem is that collective action too often is fueled by ignorance and fear-mongering, propaganda and herd mentality.

It may be true that, “United we stand, divided we fall.” But, even if united, are we united in anything worthy?

As someone raised as a Christian, how do I live up to Jesus’ radical vision?

As an American, how do I live up to Thomas Paine’s radical vision?

What can any of us do about such radical visions? What is the practical value of such inspiring idealism?

The Greatest Action Story Ever Told

The Greatest Action Story Ever Told

Posted on Dec 27th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
I’m trying to get more in the holiday spirit.  This blog is in commemoration of Baby Jesus.  As a gift of the season, I present this video of the Greatest Action Story Ever Told.
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Tagged with: Jesus, video

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 14 hours later

Nicole said

i’m terrified that you’re really get in the spirit Marm! LOL!

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 15 hours later

Marmalade said

We all celebrate the season in our own ways. 🙂

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 15 hours later

Nicole said

indeed! :):):)

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

1 day later

Marmalade said

You should be glad I didn’t post the South Park episode of Jesus vs Santa. It was quite crude, but funny in thetypical stupid humor of South Park. The kids end up deciding to be Jewish so that they’ll have more days of gifts.

Renaissance the Movie and Tim Boucher’s Thoughts on God

Renaissance the Movie and Tim Boucher’s Thoughts on God

Posted on Dec 26th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
This blog is a two for one deal.  I’ll offer you both a movie and a blog.

On this fine Christmas, I watched a very unusual animated neo-noir movie titled Renaissance.  It was enjoyable even if not precisely appropriate for this Holy of Holy days.  I’m sure Jesus would be understanding.  Why can’t anyone make a good neo-noir Christmas special?

The Wikipedia Article on the Rennaissance.

A good review by A.J. MacReady.

I was also spending some quality time with Tim Boucher on his insightful blog.  Here is one that particularly amused me partly because the funny quote he started off with.

God gets lonely too, you know

Three bears in the bed, and the little one said
“I’m crowded, roll over”
So they all rolled over and one fell out
Two bears in the bed, and the little one said
“I’m crowded, roll over”
So they all rolled over and one fell out

One bear in the bed, and the little one said
“I’m lonely”
– (from Sesame Street)

What I really found interesting was this diagram and a related quote.

I was wondering if there were any historical theological precedents wherein Jesus and Lucifer were two stages of the same entity. That is, Lucifer transforms into Jesus through a process of purification. Lucifer is thrown out of Heaven, descends like a meteor and burns, burns, burns, until one day he just cools off. At this point, he is transfigured, and rises into Heaven once again, like a rocket shot into space.

The quote is the third paragraph below the diagram, but I had the same exact thought when I saw the diagram.  Lucifer, afterall, is an angel.  Angels are direct manifestations, extensions even, of God.  According to some sources, Lucifer fell because his loyalty was so strong to God.  Lucifer coming into this world was the first time an aspect of God directly manifested on Earth, and Lucifer’s fall parallels that of Adam and Eve.  Lucifer led the way for Mankind to fully enter this world of limits and suffering, and so likewise Jesus in becoming Christ is the Wayshower back to Heaven.

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Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 15 hours later

Marmalade said

So, God is to Lucifer as Jesus is to Christ.  Makes sense to me.  

In Lucifer’s fall (and even more in Mankind’s fall), God becomes more distant.  This tendency becomes magnified with Protestantism in that any supernatural phenomena was largely judged as Evil.  As such, Lucifer became the representative of the supernatural; and by implication representative of the greatest supernatural being of all, God.  

Lucifer’s supposed pride is the same pride that is considered to be the greatest sin in man.  Lucifer is the the pride of ego which Jesus resists, but from a more Gnostic perspective this is an internal struggle as much as a cosmic one.  All of us fallen souls are Lucifer and everyone who rises is Christ.

If you wanted get all Wilberian-like, you could say God is the pre-personal and Christ is the trans-personal.  But that is probably going too far.  lol

Acharya S: Buddha and Christ

If you’re one of those rare people who are intelligent, curious and openminded, then you should find of interest the following.

Newly Updated “The Origins of Christianity”

The link is to a discussion on the forum run by D.M. Murdock (AKA Acharya S).  She is a scholar in comparative religion/mythology (her emphasis being Christianity from an astrotheological viewpoint).

I don’t agree with her scholarly views entirely (I don’t know about her personal views so much) because I tend to look at mythology less from a single viewpoint.  She is a great scholar in her field, but my difference in opinion is based on that I prefer to look at the underlying patterns (archetypes or whatever).  Archetypes (according to Jung and Hillman) are multivalent and so open to many interpretations.  So, despite my love of Murdock’s scholarship, I’ve at times found her conclusions more limited (not that I disagree with her conclusions that often).

I guess it’s that she seems to be in a position to defend a particular viewpoint which her scholarship is a part of.  I, on the other hand, don’t have a dog in the fight… and I just get tired of the fighting in the field of biblical scholarship (it mostly seems like nonsense, nitpicking over details — missing the forest for the trees)… which isn’t to say that I don’t get as irritated as Murdock when someone (such as an apologist) spreads lies and misinformation.  Murdock is very learned and she has strong convictions in what she knows (I respect that).  She suffers no fools, but sometimes she seems too over-confident or something (which causes me to hold her scholarship at arms length).

I’m not sure exactly what it is.  I just sense a difference of attitude between her and similar scholars I enjoy.  Two of my favorite are Jung and Campbell, and both of them seemed primarily curious with little interest in arguing about who is absolutely right.  I think it’s a personality thing.  I prefer people who endlessly consider possibilities and who hold conclusions very lightly (such as Charles Fort or Philip K. Dick).

My point being is that she is one of my favorite scholars even though her personality/attitude conflicts a bit with my own.  It’s important to try to separate out a sholar’s personality from their actual scholarship.  She may be a bit too confrontational for my tastes, but I’m glad there are people like her to aggressively defend a field of knowledge that has for too long been unfairly dismissed.