An attempt to answer a question that I have contemplated for years

“What does it mean that a given community of Jews accepted him as the Messiah (which is the Hebrew word for “the Redeemer” or “the Anointed One,” for which the Greek word is Χριστός or “Christ”) while the rest refused him?”

Introduction

When we reflect on the concept of history, we find that it is more than a mere catalogue of events. Instead, history is “intelligently selective” to prioritise meaningful events and disregard impertinent or arbitrary ones. [1] For example, to the extent of the present writer’s knowledge, there exists no extant account of Alexander the Great cutting his fingernails. In fact, it is exceedingly improbable that any such account would ever have been written, unless of course it swayed a critical battle, which it did not. At the same time, it is certain that ample opportunities were afforded for such an account to have been written, and yet it never was. The reason is, of course, that history is as we characterised it above. In fact, even something as apparently trivial as the example that we have conjectured from the life of the Great Alexander has already been culled out from processes of even lesser moment, such as variations in barometric pressure, the evolution of the wave-function for an electron, or the Krebs cycle in a paramecium. And further, each of these examples, represents an history of epic import relative to all of the obscure stirrings of inchoate physics which bear no description. A fortiori, nothing is outside of history, for by becoming a thing, or an event, the unnamed has received its historical christening. History, therefore, is a like a red thread through time, that traces its way amidst a nameless tangle.

The metaphor is not entirely fitting, as it stands, since each red thread would, at the same time, have to constitute the  “nameless tangle” of an higher order. “The evolution of the wave function for an anonymous electron,” for instance, would necessarily fade into the dark skein of time’s obscurity such that the red thread of the evolution of the eukaryote could stand forth in scarlet obviousness against a backdrop of oblivion. And again for the natural history of grasses, and again for that of horses, and again for the horse that bore Alexander into the fray against the Persians in his 4th century conquest of Anatolia. Thus a reflection on the concept of history reveals that it is the articulation of the prima materia of ineffable process by intelligible forms of meaning. Because they present a still further concentration of meaning than ordinary history, The Gospels are something of an apotheosis of history, or the “red of red threads.” History attempts to get at meaning by way of events; The Gospels start with meaning and are an historical expression of it. The events flow forth from the pith of meaning like rivers out of the Garden of Paradise.

Thesis

With the above I think I have provided sufficient background to pose my question in an intelligible manner: given that Jesus of Nazareth was born and died a Jew and that it was only after his death that Christianity distinguished itself from Orthodox Judaism,

“What does it mean that a given community of Jews accepted him as the Messiah (which is the Hebrew word for “the Redeemer” or “the Anointed One,” for which the Greek word is Χριστός or “Christ”) while the rest refused him?”

I take it as a postulate that it is not just an arbitrary and random fact that some people thought Jesus was the Christ and others did not. Anyone who is unwilling to accept the postulate that The Gospels are more than a haphazard hodgepodge of events will find it difficult to enter into the thesis that I propose. Still, I think such a person is playing a dangerous hand. After all, how would he know the difference between incomprehensibility and incomprehension? For my part, I don’t think our forbears would have thought The Gospels were worth preserving for a hundred generations if all the Evangelists did was record a few handfuls of arbitrary facts and then enchant them with a miraculous imagination. For this reason, I assume that events in The Gospels mean something and then attempt to understand what this might be.

Why did some people reject that Jesus was the Christ? I propose that it is because their expectation bereft them of their vision. In other words, they sought only what they already knew and therefore could not find anything further. A prejudice about what they would see prevented them from seeing what was. By prejudice, I mean what this word means in a precise sense: a foregone judgement. The people’s fixed idea of how the Christ would appear blinded them to recognizing how he in fact appeared when he actually did. Indeed, as the Torah chronicles the Israelite’s repeated atonement with, and estrangement from, YHWH, [2] the Gospels are largely the account of the disciples’ repeated failure to recognise the true nature of Christ, and his repeated rebukes of their blindness and lack of comprehension. Just as the Christ lived in the bodily form of Jesus of Nazareth, so the same Word (λόγος) also clothed itself in the voice of the Nazarene, though few had ears to hear. Jesus gradually transforms the disciples’ hearts and minds that they may begin to perceive his divine nature.

Examples

I will provide three especially characteristic scenes to emphasise this situation which are selected out of numberless other examples:

  • “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.” (John 1:10, 16). This sets the stage for the drama, since John the Baptist admonishes people to “repent” which is metanoiete in Greek, or literally “turn your minds about.” It is enjoining people to a reorientation of consciousness, which, in its original intentionality, rendered impossible their perception of the Christ. Only after the Crucifixion do people begin to grasp the meaning of this metanoia and to undergo the inner transformation that it implies. John the Evangelist and John the Baptist are perhaps the exceptions that prove the rule.

 

  • Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.
    When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said. (John 2:19-22) The disciples keep taking everything Jesus says in an obtuse and literalistic manner (not unlike certain parties today, who will, however, remain unnamed). Another especially striking example is John 3:7-14 when Nicodemus asks how a man can be “born again” (ἀναγεγεννημένοι) once he is grown old, and also in the next chapter when the Samaritan woman wonders how Jesus can give her living water if he has no buckets (John 4). In fact, I expect there is no limit to how many examples in illustration of this phenomenon one might discover, and I wish to express in advance my appreciation to any readers who wish to contribute with further additions. The case of the woman at the well points to another fundamental change that Christ brought, which was the transcendence of tribal religion based on blood. The Samaritan woman first balks at the notion that Jesus should have anything to do with her because he belongs to a different tribe, but she is quick to overcome her initial resistance and displays a willingness to hear from Jesus, and see in him, something she does not already expect. She thereby becomes a foil to the Pharisees, who are the supreme boneheaded literalists. The disciples eventually see through the wool of materialism that blinds them. Likely the imaginative exercises that Jesus forces them to undergo by always speaking in figure and parable encourages this clairvoyance.

 

  • Perhaps the most iconic representation of the basic thesis of this study is the scene of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1–11, Mark 11:1–11, Luke 19:28–44, & John 12:12–19). Everyone imagines that the Salvator mundi would enter Jerusalem in robes of purple, riding a great white steed with a bridle of fine leather studded with gold. Instead (in what almost strikes one as an ironic joke from Jesus) the Messiah enters the Holy City on a borrowed colt, with the tattered cloaks of his disciples as a makeshift saddle.
Duccio Christ Entering Jerusalem
Duccio, Christ Entering Jerusalem, Maesta altar, tempera on panel, 1308-11

[1] As R. G. Collingwood observed, “All history is the history of thought.” The Idea of History, 1946.

[2] The covenant, the Flood, etc…

5 Comments Add yours

  1. history is “intelligently selective”

    As opposed to what? Intelligently ignorant?

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I am both intelligently selective and intelligently ignorant, i.e. I pay attention to those ideas that are worth merit and unattentive to those that aren’t. Some call that “eclectic,” which is not entirely inaccurate. “Eccentric,” on the other hand, I fully accept.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Max Leyf says:

    I meant to emphasise that the history of the world is not something that can be separated from consciousness because any history is “intelligently selective.” So the inverse would be something like the chimerical notion of a view from nowhere chronicle of events. Is this helpful at all?

    I agree about your intelligence. I think being “intelligently ignorant” is a form of intelligent selection but maybe this doesn’t matter. Again, I wished only to establish that “the world” and its history is not something outside of consciousness, and any hypothetical descriptions of such a world, which are exceedingly common, are themselves further conjectures within it. The only difference is they deny their own origin.

    Liked by 2 people

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