Sunday, August 1, 2010

"The Messianic Secret" (Don't tell anyone about it !)

One of my uncles was in the military with Lee Harvey Oswald.  They were good friends. 
At one point in their friendship, Oswald confessed to my uncle that one of his ambitions was to assassinate a president. 
There's a reason you haven't heard about this until now.  Oswald told my uncle not to tell anyone about his desire to murder a president, so he didn't say anything at the time, and didn't remember much about those conversations with Oswald until long after President Kennedy was murdered. 

Do you believe me? 

Now, try this out.  This if from The Gospel Of Mark, Chapter 5, verse 37, where Jesus raises a little girl from the dead:
41  He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum!" (which means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!" ).
42  Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.
43  He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Or look at this one from Mark, Chapter 1, verse 32:

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed.
33 The whole town gathered at the door,
34  and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

The majority of biblical scholars believe that Mark is the oldest of the four canonical gospels.  At the time of Mark's composition, there were still plenty of people alive who had known Jesus or had heard him teach.  Some of them might have been surprised to learn that a group of people called "Christians" was claiming that Jesus was the Messiah, or Savior.  If Jesus was God, they would have heard about it, right?   

This is from Mark, Chapter 3, verse 11:

11 Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God."
12  But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.

This is Mark, Chapter 7, verse 33, where Jesus heals a deaf man:

33  After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue.
34  He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!" ). 35  At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. 
36  Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone...

This is Mark, Chapter 8, verse 25, where Jesus heals a blind man:

25  Once more Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
26  Jesus sent him home, saying, "Don't go into the village. (According to the New Internation translation, there are some manuscripts that contain the phrase "Don't go and tell anyone in the village.")

My uncle was in the military with Lee Harvey Oswald. They were good friends.

At one point in their friendship, Oswald confessed to my uncle that one of his ambitions was to assassinate a president.
There's a reason you haven't heard about this until now. Oswald told my uncle not to tell anyone about his desire to murder a president, so my uncle didn't say anything at the time, and didn't remember much about those conversations with Oswald until long after President Kennedy was murdered.
The Warren Commission, which investigated Kennedy's death, would have been fascinated to learn about these conversations.  But my uncle didn't quite understand what Oswald meant.  I didn't understand it until now. 

Mark 8:27

27  Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?"
28  They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."
29  "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ."
30  Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Mark 9:7

7  Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!"
8  Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9  As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
10  They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what "rising from the dead" meant.

Skeptics would be tempted to say that the events and conversations written about in these verses didn't happen, since they were kept "secret" until long afterwards.  In fact, that's how theologians refer to Jesus's desire to keep his true nature undercover - The Messianic Secret

But I'm just sayin'....If there were still people around who knew Jesus only as a homegrown rabbi and teacher, well, claiming that Jesus had sworn his followers to secrecy would be one way to give Jesus posthumous miraculous powers and divine authority. 

Let me get back to what it was like when my uncle and I would discuss Lee Harvey Oswald.  We just couldn't understand (until recently) what he meant when he said "assassinate a president". 

Here's something from Mark 9....

30  They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31  because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise."
32  But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

In other words, the disciples didn't say anything about Jesus being the Messiah while Jesus was alive.  The small group of disciples only "remembered" these conversations much, much later. 

From Mark 10, where Jesus, the disciples, and a large group of camp followers are on their way to Jerusalem....

32  They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.
33  "We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles,
34  who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise."

Do you think more Jews would've converted to Christianity if Jesus had made this announcement to the larger group?  He could have easily done so. 

Do you think The Warren Commission Report on the assassination of President Kennedy would have been more believable if it had included my uncle's testimony about his conversations with Lee Harvey Oswald?  If only Oswald had told more people; if only my uncle had talked to The Warren Commission, we wouldn't have so many people doubting The Warren Commission Report....
Maybe my uncle should have said something about Oswald back in the 1950's instead of waiting until the 1980's, when he told me about the conversations. 

Please remember that, according to the majority of biblical scholars, the book of Mark was the first of the gospel stories to be written.  And it's the only one with Jesus telling so many people "Don't tell anyone about this event".  The device tapers off in the later gospels (Matthew and Luke) and in John's gospel, the last to be written, it isn't used at all. 
Mark was probably written in the late 50's or early 60's.  There were still plenty of people around who remembered the rabbi/teacher Jesus.  Would they have been surprised to learn that Jesus healed so many sick people, and cast out so many demons, or predicted that he would rise from the dead? 
Well, yes.  But the disciples had been told to keep these events (or perhaps the ones that could be tied to a specific time and place) a secret.

By the time Luke's gospel was written (in the late 60's or 70's) and a few more witnesses to Jesus's life and teachings had disappeared from the scene, the secrecy is replaced by, well, confusion and ignorance on the part of the disciples.  Here's Luke Chapter 9:

43  And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.  While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples,
44  "Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men."
45  But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.

Even the disciples didn't figure it out until much later???  It seems fairly straightforward.  But perhaps that's why Jesus's miracles and prophecies weren't discussed in Palestine until much, much later on.  Perhaps that's why more Jewish people didn't convert to Christianity on the spot. 

This is Luke 18, where Jesus gets even more specific.  Or at least the "memories" are more specific....

31  Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.
32  He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. 33  On the third day he will rise again."
34  The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

Otherwise, they would have told someone.  They would have reacted differently in the days leading up to Jesus' death. 

If my uncle had understood his conversations with Oswald about presidential assassinations, he would have gone to the authorities before that day in November of 1963.  But I'm only remembering this 40 years later.
There are more and more biblical scholars who believe that there was a rabbi/teacher named Jesus, a rabbi who taught peace, love, and forgiveness, and this rabbi got crossways with the authorities and was executed.  Long after the fact, people started hanging miracles, healings, prophecies and resurrections onto the Jesus story, claiming that Jesus wanted his true nature kept secret.  Sometimes they claimed that they just didn't understand what Jesus was all about until much later.  Sometimes they claimed that they were simply afraid to tell anyone. 

Here is the original ending of the Gospel of Mark.  At the end of Mark's story, there are no post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, Jesus doesn't suddenly appear in locked rooms to make prophecies, and none of the disciples see the empty tomb.  There are only two women who are going to embalm Jesus's body.  According to the New International Version of the Bible, our "oldest and most reliable manuscripts" end the Jesus story like this.

1  When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body.
2  Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb
3  and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"
4  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
5  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6  "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.
7  But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' "
8  Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.


Unknown said...

Much of what is written herein is pretty accurate - not according to me but to most biblical scholars. (As opposed to biblical apologists.)

I would dispute some of the dates: Most scholars believe Mark was written in the mid to late 60s, just prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 73 CE (therefore no" prophesy" of such), and the other gospels after that event. Therefore there would have been few if any folks around who heard or knew Jesus as adults. (They would have had to be 50 -70 years old, not impossible but not at all common in the first century.) There were in all likelihood no survivors of Jesus' times when the other gospels were written in the late 70s through the early 90s.

Just as importantly, the Jesus that emerges through Paul and the gospels is clearly an adaptation of earlier killed/risen saviors, a theme already a thousand or more years old and common across the globe in the 1st century.

TarrantLibertyGuy said...

Two things: First, Mark really comes across as a Mel Brooks "History of the World: Part I" scene....
Jesus: Ephphthathpahahth!
Deaf Man: Gesundheith. God Bless you...
Jesus: I already did.
Jesus: SHH!!! I cured you. Just don't say anything to anyone.

Deaf Man: But...
Jesus: Shhhhhhh. Don't make me have to strike you dumb again.

Secondly, in the vein of Mel Brooks... Here's the Council of Nicea like a group of studio executives sending 'notes' back down to the screenplay writers of the Bible...
Council Member #1: I really liked "Jesus". I just think we need to change him from Ethiopian to say, Jewish.
Council Member #2: Of course, you'd say that Greenbaum!
Council Member #1: Hey, it our demo! And these four scripts are all so 'down'. Can't we have some deal where Jesus just gets up from death?
Council Member #2: Ugh... Deis ex-Machina! Please!
Council Member #1: It'll sell! Trust me!