The Education of Jesus

We now move into Chapter 2, titled “The Messianic Mission of Jesus.”  The chapter begins with an exploration of the cultural and world context from which Jesus’ thought and ethic grew…

Schweitzer says, “The ideal would be that Jesus should have preached religious truth in a form independent of any connection with any particular period and such that it could be taken over simply and easily by each succeeding generation of man. That, however, He did not do, and there is no doubt a reason for it.”

A look at the world in the time of Jesus may reveal the reason, for more assuredly  He did not ignore its thought patterns.  The question is – how much of the world and of its prevailing beliefs did he know?

One must pause here to consider the multi-cultural influences that permeated the Middle East at the time of Jesus.  The trade route of the Silk Road was the conduit for ideas in all realms of human experience, and the Middle East sat right at it’s crossroads.

Image From the Asia Society’s website: “The religious beliefs of people along the Silk Road at the beginning of the 1st century BCE were very different from what they would later become. The peoples of the Silk Road in its early decades followed many different religions. In the Middle East, many people worshiped the gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman pagan pantheon. Others were followers of the old religion of Egypt, especially the cult of Isis and Osiris. Jewish merchants and other settlers had spread beyond the borders of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judea and had established their own places of worship in towns and cities throughout the region. Elsewherein the Middle East, and especially in Persia and Central Asia, many people were adherents of Zoroastrianism, a religion founded by the Persian sage Zoroaster in the 6th century BCE. It posited a struggle between good and evil, light and darkness; its use of fire as the symbol of the purifying power of good was probably borrowed from the Brahmanic religion of ancient India. The Greek colonies of Central Asia that had been left behind after the collapse of the empire of Alexander the Great had, by the 1st century BCE, largely converted from Greco-Roman paganism to Buddhism, a religion that would soon use the Silk Road to spread far and wide. In India, on side routes of the Silk Road that crossed the passes to the Indus Valley and beyond, the older religion of Brahmanism had given way to Hinduism and Buddhism; the former never spread far beyond India and Southeast Asia, while the latter eventually became worldwide in extent.”

Preston Harold sees the possibilities here:

In truth there is no way to define the type and limits of Jesus’ education.  After the report of his visit to the temple at twelve years of age, with His parents, it is said, “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them…”  Here the record breaks off and takes up again with the ministry of John the Baptist.  Within the years lost to the record, Jesus coud have traveled to the ends of civilization and back; studying along the way – or in neighboring cities He coud have studied the cultures and philosophies of East and West.  In the Gospels there is a statement that could be interpreted as an indication that Jesus was away for Imagemany years: when he goes to His native place to teach and heal, people do not seem to know for sure who He is – which is to say, they ask, “Is this not the son of the joiner?”  Strange question to ask, even to express incredulity, had Jesus lived there since childhood and been away but a short time.  Because the townspeople know His family so well, they are offended at His brilliance even though they are astounded at His teaching.

He goes on to say:

There is a similarity, however, between (Jesus’) words and those of other philosophers.  Renan attributes this to “secret channels and…that kind of sympathy which exists among the various portions of humanity…conformable to the instincts and wants of the heart in a given age.”  Is this indicated, considering all that surrounded Jesus and His inquisitive, discerning mind?… In many ways His approach resembles that of Socrates, who, as Robert de Ropp describes him, followed the bidding of his “inner voice” endeavoring at all times “to lead men to truth by Imagequestioning.  And the truth he valued most highly related not to externals but to the laws that govern man’s inner being.”  In discussing ancient Greece, Edith Hamilton points to Plato’s philosophy: “Freedom is no matter of laws and constitutions; only he is free who realizes the divine order within himself, the true standard by which a man can steer and measure himself.” (emphasis mine)

And here we have the impetus to jump into how Jesus saw his Messianic role, which we will explore more in depth beginning with the next post.  Until then, peace…

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The Gospels as History

There is quite a bit of modern scholarship that argues for the non-historicity of the 4 Gospels of the New Testament.  Much of it is quite excellent, as the standards and methods of inquiry and criticism have improved, not to mention the continued methods and findings of archaeology.  To cover all the ins and outs of the subject is a task that is too vast for this blog, but if you are interested, here is a Wikipedia link for you to peruse at your leisure.

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It is obvious to me that the Gospels are written not so much as scene by scene biography, but in a mythological style that attempts to get the point across about the nature of Jesus in the archetypal language that is appropriate for a “divine hero.”  Something akin to our friend Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey:

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The main question for our purpose, though, is did Jesus actually exist?  Even if the Gospels are seen to be historically inaccurate “propaganda” written to underscore Jesus’ divine mission and elevate his simple human status, it can still be argued that they are at least stories based on the life of an individual who actually lived at a historical time in a historical place.  But the actual historicity of Jesus is now a hotly debated topic in scholastic and religious circles.  At the forefront of this movement is Acharya S. (aka D.M. Murdock), who has written many well documented works.  Although I enjoy her works and find them impecable and fascinating, my problem with her conclusions and others like her is the presupposition that:

1. Because many of the religious and mystical themes that were used to describe Jesus were also used to describe god-men of other cultures…

2. Because many parallel claims are made for these other savior figures that are made for Jesus…

3. Because many of these gods and saviors predated Jesus…

4. Because these myths and stories are used to describe inner, spiritual initiatory processes and not outward history…

…then these evidences are major proofs that Jesus never existed.  Talk about jumping to conclusions!  Since when did applying these religious and theological principles to a historic personality become a complete impossibility?  One may argue that it wouldn’t be likely that literature of this type would refer to a real, living human being, but it certainly COULD.  Whatever the truth, though, the story of Jesus has obviously made a major historical impact.

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Taking the opposite approach from Acharya S., the great European sage Rudolf Steiner believed Christianity was a mystical fact, that Jesus lived and was killed for bringing the teachings of the mystery centers into the open, violating the oath taken not to divulge any of the secrets expounded within. The deed at Golgotha was enacted on the plane of history, saving the earth and mankind from the decent into pure materialism.

Albert Einstein was taken by the force of Jesus’ personality as presented in the Gospels, and accepted the historical reality of Jesus.

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But what does Preston Harold think?  On the page immediately preceding Chapter 1, he lays it out.  I will quote in full…

No concept of Jesus can be definitive if it is contrived by arbitrary dealing with the Gospels, choosing to affirm certain reports that support one’s own theory while dismissing others as falsifications, elaborations, interpolations, or errors deriving from the disciple’s loss of memory.  Casting doubt upon the veracity of reliability of the Gospels renders one report and one Gospel as suspect as another, because it is possible to make a case for accepting or rejecting any part of any Gospel.  Thus, a theory resting upon an unreliability of the Gospels perforce becomes as suspect and questionable as the author holds the Gospels to be.

Whatever may be said about the rest of the Bible, if a concept of Jesus is to have a firm base it must rest upon the conviction that the four Gospels are honest reports, albeit each offers a subjective view.  Therefore, in THE SHINING STRANGER, concomitant with the attempt to draw a true picture of Jesus, the integrity of the four Gospels is dealt with – for example, how each could be so contradictory and different from the others, yet true, and how the memory of each disciple could have been adequate to the task of recording Jesus’ actual words.  Here, it may be pointed out that no one can say when the disciples recorded their reports – information as to the earliest copies in circulation is all that is available.  No doubt some errors in copying and omissions occurred, but such as these do not obliterate or seriously distort the full body of the record of Jesus as given in the four versions, in which the testimony of his mother is incorporated.

It is unlikely that the disciples deliberately falsified or contrived the story of Jesus’ life or His words.  If this were the case, the reports would be less contradictory, certain unfavorable passages would have been omitted, and certain gaps would have been filled.  It is doubtful, also, that the early Christians would have suffered martyrdom to found a religion based upon their own inventions.  For these and other reasons given in the text of this book, the author accepts the four Gospels as basically honest reports, and regards every word in every Gospel as given data with which one must deal in formulating as true and complete a picture of Jesus as it is possible to obtain.

Harold will take the Gospels at face value, realizing their subjectivity and imperfections, but understanding that they were written in good faith in witness to a real individual.  For us to take the journey through his book in good faith, we will accept that these are his conditions.  We may be surprised where this leads us!  Now, onto Chapter 1.  Peace…

Who is Preston Harold?

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As mentioned in my last post, it’s time to find out more about our esteemed author, Mr. Preston Harold.  This is where the fun begins.  The author of the introduction to the 3rd edition of the book (published in 1973, it was originally published in 1967), Winifred Babcock, tells us about him on the “About the Author” page:

Preston Harold is a pen name. Neither Mr. Heard, Mr. Barrie, myself, nor anyone else connected with publishing the Harold manuscript knows who or what the author was.  They know only that he is deceased, and they are confident his identity can never be made known.  The anonymous author was convinced that truth makes its own way, because it enlists the aid of those whose hearts resound accord as they are presented with it.  To him, THE SHINING STRANGER must and could withstand this test.

So our author is a mystery. Like the wind, the spirit, we know not from whence he comes nor where he goes. It is obvious the author wished it to be this way.  The reader will have no appeal to a “higher” authority.  The weight of the words will stand on their own. The reader will him or herself be the ultimate authority to which he or she will turn upon for verification of truth.  The author believed truth makes “hearts resound accord,” and therefore sets men free (John 8:32).  We will see how this ties in with Jesus and his mission as we take our steps through Harold’s work.

In his introduction to the first edition of the book, Gerald Heard says:

It was the author’s desire to let the work speak for itself (Preston Harold is a pen-name.) The manuscript was given to Michael Barrie and me.  Although I do not agree with all this book has to say, I believe it should be published, and that other efforts to discover a new meaning in Jesus’ teachings will be made…

I, too, am aware of the limitations of this book, and of the criticism that may justly be directed against it… A work of such scope, however, is necessary to accomplish the objective Harold saw to be essential, an objective he took from Jesus’ command: “Either make the tree good and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt; for the tree is known by his fruit.” To accomplish this objective, Jesus’ revelation must be posed against the vast body of twentieth century knowledge, an overwhelming task for one man to undertake.

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The reader will have to decide what sort of fruit Harold’s work will bear. Heard tells us the ultimate objective of our author:

Harold’s effort was not to challenge every theology and many prevailing theories so much as it was to restore man’s faith in Jesus by presenting Jesus’ idea of man, based upon the authority of his own words as reported in the Gospels.  Harold believes Jesus’ idea of man is valid and that humankind can accept it wholeheartedly because in his view Jesus’ teaching is congruent with the “given data” of science and human experience, and through Jesus’ ability to tap the fount of truth in his own unconscious, he was able to reveal the true nature and psychological operation of each human being.  How near THE SHINING STRANGER comes to stating a valid interpretation of Jesus and a valid idea of man, each reader must decide for himself.  Probably, the book will stir up violent controversies, but whatever the reaction of its readers, it will do one thing: it will force them to re-think their whole position in regard to Jesus and Christianity.

As far as I know, this book never stirred up any type of controversies, violent or other.  I had never heard of it until the day I stumbled upon it.  Perhaps it was just too overwhelming when it was released in 1967.  Perhaps people just weren’t very interested.  A Google search for “The Shining Stranger” or “Preston Harold” brings up scant information apart from the books published by the Harold Institute, which Institute itself yields little to no information.  Maybe this is as it should be.  However, one of the objectives of this blog will be to make this work better known and appreciated, and each of you reading this are helping to make that happen. Thanks for coming along for the journey!

In my next post, we’ll cover the main points of Harold’s interpretation of who Jesus was, and how he understood his mission.  Hold onto your hats, it gets windy!  Until next time, peace…