Saturday, August 21, 2010

Gorm reads the Gospels I

The Gospel according to St. Matthew

Overview:  There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Deities: Coming as I do from a Polytheistic perspective, I'm listing the major deities as depicted in the texts.

Jesus: aka. Emmanuel, son of David, son of Man, Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. A child of prophecy who has come to decry the corruption and hypocrisy he has seen in the established synagogues of the Pharisees and scribes. He spends a lot of time admonishing "this generation" and predicting his own death and resurrection (which he does a lot). Miracles performed: raising of the dead, healing the sick, casting out demons, making the blind see, letting the dumb speak, feeding multitudes of people with little food, walking on water, letting Peter walk on water, calming a storm, prophecy, the mere touch of his clothing also has miraculous powers. He is also capable of summoning "twelve legions of angels", but he does not. Following his "death", an earthquake occurs and the dead (saints) rise and walk the earth. Christ also resurrects himself.

YHWH: aka.God, the father. He shows up twice in the account, the first time after Christ's baptism (to Christ alone) and claims him as his son. The second occurs on a hill top to Christ and three of the Apostles (Peter, James and John), and once again YHWH claims Jesus as his son (though as a "voice from the clouds". Other than these instances he communicates through dreams, Angels and Jesus. Christ speaks of "the father" most of the time when he is referencing YHWH, and depicts him through parables concerned with the lord-servant roles (though these often allude to Christ himself as well.) Jesus states one of the major attributes recognized by most monotheists, that being omniscience in Matthew 6:8.

Satan: aka. The Devil, Mammon. He shows up early on, and tempts Christ three times while he wanders the dessert. Interestingly enough, in Matthew 4:10, Christ tells Satan that he works for "the father". I find this worthy of mention because it reflects the Judaic depiction of Satan as an accuser of men before YHWH, but acting on orders from YHWH. In most of the other depictions he is referenced as "the Devil".

Other divine agents:

Angels: Coming primarily in the form of dreams, but in some instances as visible beings (such as at the sepulcher of Christ).

Devils/demons: Christ and many of the disciples spend much of their missionary work "casting out demons". The Pharisees constantly accuse Christ of using demonic influence to perform his miracles.

Otherworldly Locals:

Heaven: Spoken of in rather abstract terms, usually as "life everlasting" or "the next life", the reward of the faithful for their suffering, to the extent of being rewarded "hundredfold (Matthew 19:20).

Hell: Again mostly in absract, there is an interesting allusion to the "burning of wheat", and `the casting off into a lake of fire" in Mathew 13:33-43; hell then is equated with burning in a fire.


Seeing as this is the main source of verses used in proselytizing, and most often quoted in most of the interfaith debates I've participated in they bear mention. The first thing I noticed was how often Jesus repeats himself, he does this, a lot. He will be quoted in one chapter, and in another will repeat the exact same thing he said. At first I figured this was because he was traveling a great deal and speaking to new "multitudes", however in almost all cases he is speaking to the Apostles, so yes according to Matthew, Jesus repeated himself. Secondly he was under the distinct impression that even the Apostles were "faithless", he says "ye of little faith" at least a dozen times, and explains that their unbelief is stopping them from performing the caliber of miracles he does. Jesus says many things which seem to contradict other statements he has made; in Matthew 13 he claims he " has not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." This to me implies that there are people who are righteous and therefore do not need to repent, yet he also says to a rich man (who is not a sinner) that he needs to follow him (and give up all his possessions), and when the man decides to not do that, he is condemned.

Minutia: Jesus claims that unless a woman has divorced her husband for adultery, she and any man she marries is guilty of adultery. (Matthew 19:9)

Chapters 23, 27 and 28 are pretty good example of the kind of scripture which would create (and propagate) much of the antisemitism which has plagued the Jews for centuries.

Chapter 24-25 is Christ's foretelling of the end of the world, and an excellent example of Christian eschatology.

Closing thoughts:

In terms of the virtues I personally see Jesus embody in this text, his compassion and willingness to heal the sick, as well as his determination are admirable qualities. I find his pettiness in some cases (the episode with the fig tree) problematic, and the "do as I say not as I do attitude, since he is exempt from the Laws (Matthew 12:1-9). Again because of the seemingly contradictory views he expresses, his "teachings" are not as clear as they could be. Also the issue of his willingness to be a sacrifice to save all of mankind is not expressed overtly here, rather he goes to his death (and does not resist) to ensure prophecy is fulfilled. I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm going to guess that this aspect which is so central to Christian belief is going to be emphasized in the other Gospels.

Join me next Saturday for part two of "Gorm reads the Gospels."


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