Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Logical Thing That Didn't Happen

(This is a reprint of a post I wrote in 2011.)

What If the logical thing had happened and the Christian movement was stamped out by the early AD 200's. After all, word on the street was that being a Christian was a good way to get killed. "I interrogated them to find out if they were Christians," one Roman political functionary wrote. "If they confessed, I repeated the question two more times, adding the threat of capital punishment. Then, if they persisted, I had them executed," (Pliny the Younger, Letters book 10, letter 96).

And, quite frankly, the better educated thought followers of Christ were rather dumb. "The poor wretches have convinced themselves that they are going to be immortal and live forever," Lucian, a satirist said. "If any charlatan or trickster... joins them he soon gains sudden wealth by taking advantage of these simple folk," (Lucian, The Passing of Peregrinus, section 13).

Jesus and the idealistic society he founded would fade into obscurity, known only from a few scattered references in Jewish and Roman history books mainly read by scholars.Two thousand years later "Christians" would be mentioned in passing, together with Mithraites, Druids, and Bacchae, during graduate level history classes...

Then one day a young Palestinian shepherd boy digging in the sand outside his village finds a buried cave inside of which are several Greek manuscripts dating from the mid-2nd century. Intense conservation and study by scholars the world over reveals them to be the sacred writings of the long-lost Christian sect. The discovery merits an article in National Geographic. A documentary is produced for the History Channel. Bart Ehrmans holds forth about their provenance and charming but naive teachings on The Colbert Report.

Among the newly discovered accounts of the heretofore dim figure of Jesus, nestled almost unnoticed among the vigorous ethical teachings, is a prophetic statement. Although it is found in 3 different accounts of his life, evidently written by 3 different men, each quotes it verbatim. This saying must have been very precious to the communities that preserved them, the scholars comment.

In the so-called Gospels of Matthew (chapter 24, verse 35), Mark (chapter 13, verse 31), and Luke (chapter 21, verse 33, all from the NLT), we find Jesus saying this: "Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear"
Later on, in the only account of the movement's early days found among the manuscripts, a Jewish rabbi known from other sources is portrayed saying this about the Christian Movement:
"Here’s my recommendation in this case: Distance yourselves from these men. Let them go! If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. If it originates with God, you won’t be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!"
(Acts of the Apostles chapter 5, verses 38-39, CEB)

"This must have been the way they saw themselves," the historians comment. "They were so optimistic their movement would succeed against all odds. But they were doomed from the start. The Romans were never going to permit a group to exist that claimed there was another king named Jesus..."

* * *
And yet, here we are!

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