Friday, December 24, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 25, 2021 - The Gilded Frame

The sun moves one degree north today following three days of “death” near the Southern Cross constellation where it sat virtually immobile, waiting to begin the slow movement toward summer again. This cycle is thought of as the death and resurrection of the sun. 

Interestingly, around midnight last night on December 24, the North Star sat in direct alignment with the three stars of Orion’s Belt, also known as “the three kings.” These three stars point directly to where the sun rose this morning on the 25th. 

There are other parallels as well with the gospel stories including the constellation of Virgo the virgin also known as the “house of bread,” which happens to be the exact translation of the name Bethlehem. 

What might there be to consider in all this? Does it beckon as proof that the story as it’s told in the Bible of Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection didn’t happen? Perhaps. But not necessarily.

Whether or not the story happened literally is somewhat beside the point. I know that’s not true for everyone, and I respect the religious views of those who take the story in its literal form. But it creates an interesting thought around the way we traditionally frame our hero tales. 

Jesus was not the first individual in history to be reportedly born of a virgin, perform miracles of healing, to die and be resurrected three days later. He was one in a long line of ancient hero stories that includes individuals such as the Zoroastrian/Roman god Mithras and the Egyptian god Horus. As well, Osiris, Heracles, Dionysus, Tammuz, Adonis, and others as well are given December 25 as the date on which their births were honored. Several of them were reportedly born of virgins and had other coinciding points with the story of Jesus as we know it. 

One thing that’s also interesting to note, many of these heroes were born to women, virgins or otherwise, whose names are derived from the root “ma” meaning mother. Maia in Greek mythology, Maya in the Hindu tradition, Myrrha in the Syrian myth, and Maryam (Mary) in Hebrew.

Recognitions of this sort are usually used to refute the biblical tales, and perhaps they do in their way. But what if they simply point to a different kind of truth told in a way that we no longer recognize?

I know that traditional Christianity believes in the exceptionalism of its central figure, and Jesus was an exceptional person, of course. But what’s interesting to me is that during the fourth century, when these decisions about the placement of Jesus’s birth festival were being made, Mithraism, for example, was in direct competition with Christianity in Rome. In fact there were nearly 700 temples dedicated to Mithra in the city at that exact time.

It makes me consider where the truth lies, and in what form it exists.

It is likely true that a human figure named Jesus was born around the third or fourth year of the Common Era, probably in the spring. Whether he was actually born of a virgin, I could not say. Whether a star in the sky heralded his birth and lead people to the place of it, I don't know. I was not there. 

But that this person existed, possibly performed miracles (miracles do happen, after all), and taught an insightful life practice through which we might slowly change the trajectory of the violence in the world toward peace, seems true enough to me. It is even plausible to me that this individual had an advanced connection with the divine, enhancing his insight toward ways in which humans could learn to better live with one another and bring about peace on earth in its time. 

Since these similar stories about special birth and death exist throughout the human timeline, I am forced to consider whether or not these are ancient and traditional literary tools used to present a real individual as being more than merely human, but semi-divine or even divinity itself. 

Are the stories of virgin birth and resurrection, etc. a reusable framework around which a real person sits? When we perceive specialness in historic figures, have we packaged them in a literary gilded frame so that future generations would understand their specialness?

Again, these considerations are not an attempt to diminish the personhood or divinity of Jesus. They are merely important points to consider when wondering about how our ancestors chose to propel a story of an exceptional person into the future for the benefit of all. I believe a truth is being revealed here, even though I would not consider myself qualified enough to assert it with scholarly authority. 

I can reasonably believe that our religious forebears wanted to ensure that we did not take the story lightly, nor relegate its tales to a footnote of ancient spiritual anecdotes. They wanted us to know something here. They wanted us to take a close look and see where, if anywhere, there is sacredness to be found. 

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