Rear Window

The Power of Fiction

Sandipan Deb is an IIT-IIM graduate who wandered into journalism after reading a quote from filmmaker George Lucas — “Everyone cage door is open” — and has stayed there (in journalism, not a cage) for the past 19 years. He has written a book on the IITs.
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If the Jesus story is mostly a fabrication, it could yet let me outdo Dan Brown.

If the Jesus story is mostly a fabrication, it could yet let me outdo Dan Brown.

I had written last week about a 100-year-old book I discovered by chance, by a German philosophy professor who propounds the theory that Jesus may not have existed. He backs his hypothesis with evidence from ancient religions, pointing out remarkable similarities between their mythologies and Jesus’ life story, as it has come down to us, including the virgin birth. So, what, according to Professor Arthur Drews, is the genesis of the Jesus legend?

Paul was the one apostle to whom the spirit of Jesus revealed itself as Paul was travelling to Damascus after the crucifixion. Paul said Jesus did not reveal himself to his mortal eyes; it was a sort of inner revelation. But, ‘when three years after his conversion, he returns to Jerusalem, he visits only Peter and makes the acquaintance of only James during the 14 days of his stay there, troubling himself about none of the other apostles. But when, 14 years after, he meets with the ‘First Apostles’ in the so-called Council of the Apostles in Jerusalem, he does not go about learning from them, but teaching them and procuring from them recognition of his own missionary  activity.’ From studying Paul’s life, no information is gained about the historical Jesus. Though he does invoke the Lord a few times, the exact words are not known.

According to Drews, Paul did not try to bring the Saviour as a man nearer to his readers. He seems to know nothing of any miraculous power in Jesus, or his sympathy for the poor and oppressed. None of Jesus’ moral-religious precepts were used by Paul to proselytise. He preached of Jesus not as a human being, but as the Son of God, the Lord as manifested through Paul. Post-Paul Christianity has little in common with what Jesus is supposed to have preached during his lifetime. It’s an entirely new religion. Paul spread the religion mostly in Asia, where nearly every major faith had the concept of a Son of God or a God incarnate. This is perhaps one of the reasons Paul was so successful in getting converts.

So what about the Gospels? There are, according to Drews, too many contradictions in Mark’s account for it to be a credible historical source. Luke’s Gospel must have been written in the early part of the second century, by an unknown Gentile Christian. And Matthew’s is not the work of one hand; it was produced—and unmistakably in the interests of the Church—in the first half of the second century. And each Gospel has its own version of what really happened, and they wildly differ. Even the speeches of Jesus, as they have come down to us, including the famous Sermon on the Mount, are actually compilations of individual statements supposedly made by him, put together much after his death. ‘This much is certain,’ writes Drews, ‘a ‘Life of Jesus’ cannot be written on the basis of the testimony before us.’

So what do we have here? That if a man called Jesus existed, we actually know little about him. Even the faith that we practice in his name bears little resemblance to what he actually preached. The religion we know today is what Paul thought would be right for mankind, and he single-handedly elevated a human being, if he did exist at all, to Divine status. Many of the events of Jesus’ life can be traced back to stories that already existed. Even Jesus’ temptation bears uncanny resemblance to Ahriman’s attempted seduction of Zarathustra, and even Moses’ temptation by the Devil in the Old Testament. Some of the other stories are similar to Hindu, Buddhist, Phoenician, Egyptian and Persian mythologies (these were recounted in some detail last week). West Asia, during Jesus’ time, was a massive melting pot of languages, religions and cultures. And international trade made sure people knew about the faiths of other places.Then, of course, there’s the theory that Dan Brown has made his millions out of, that Mary Magdalene had a daughter by Jesus called Sara, and she escaped by sea, and finally settled in France. But this one may be bigger. Now all I need is a plot to hang this theory on.