Chapter 1: The Cultural Conjunction of 'Messiah' and 'Complex'
by Scott Cherry—
Society craves icons, or heroes. And why is that? Russell Brand can mock this craving all he wants, but I doubt he is above it. Could it be that we actually need great people and exemplars in the world? Could it be that a kind of hero-recognition code has been ‘pre-installed’ into our collective psyche that even spawns some of them? I mean, not that it would be unjustified—there are an awful lot of disturbing maladies and crises in the world. Who does not (openly or secretly) yearn for a Superman or a Wonder Woman, or a whole team of heroes like the Avengers? And isn’t that why the recent Marvel Avengers series and other superhero movies have been so wildly successful and seem never stop being popular? (The glaring thing, of course, is that the world’s problems are too big and too numerous even for them.) We are desperate for great Humanitarians and lots of ordinary ones too. We rightly crave them and we should all want to become one. Humanity is in no position to disparage people who want to do great good for the world and have the means to do it. On the other hand, an actualized “messiah complex’ can produce a dangerous kind of person if not tempered by love, humility, compassion, etc. Not everybody is qualified to be a “messiah”. Actually very few.
The Sum of the Parts: Not only did Jesus DO miracles, he WAS the miracle.
It has been said that the test of a person’s greatness is their use or abuse of power. On this score how did Jesus fair, we may ask?
The four gospels’ collective portrait of Jesus is not just that he was a doer of miracles, but that he was himself a miracle. In all of world history, never has there been any other historical figure to whom so many miracles have been attributed, from birth to death—nay, even beyond death. Never another historical figure to whom so much other-worldly power has been ascribed—power over disease and disability, power over nature, power over demonic forces, power over discourse, and power over death itself. In conjunction, never has there been an historical figure to whom so much humanitarian goodness has been attributed. Power and goodness.
How variants in the canonical gospels prove they were not redacted.
The Bible’s four canonical gospels are the world’s best information for the person and work of Jesus, bar none. That is my position that is shared by a great many scholars, past and present. And yet there is an apparent problem with several facets: 1) Why are there four? 2) Why are the first three gospels—so called the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke)—so similar to each other yet so different from the fourth (John)? 3) Why do even they have so many differences among them, some of which look like contradictions? And 4) Why do they have so many similarities among them, including even identical material? ...If the early church community had been predisposed to redaction ('super-editing') they could have thoroughly redacted the gospels to edit out all the discrepancies, especially any bonafide contradictions. Almost certainly, if there had been a Master Editor or, say, a Master Board of Redaction for the New Testament, they would have done so. It would have been in their better interests because the presence of variants and apparent discrepancies is inconvenient at best. But they did not. That they did not strongly suggests that their primary interests were authenticity and truth.
Why The Apocryphal Gospels Pale In Comparison to the 4 True Gospels
The gospels of Thomas, Mary, Judas and Peter are nonsense. These and many more are included in a collection of 52 gnostic manuscripts discovered in the village of Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. Today they are readily accessible online. Myriad online sources say that they are all in Coptic and largely dated to the 4th century. The exception is the gospel of Thomas which is generally dated (in apparently the most prominent system) as early 132 AD, but which is no longer viewed as “gnostic” by one of the foremost experts on them, Elaine Pagels. Then there’s the gospel of Peter, the one to which I was assigned to give special attention on this occasion: Apparently, the author of our textbook, John Dominic Crossan believes that its original composition predates even the New Testament’s synoptic gospels (Wikipedia on Gospel of Peter). But almost no scholars agree. In broad strokes, the gnostic writings are a menagerie of esoteric sayings and reports that bear some resemblance to the stuff of the canonical four Gospels. If they didn’t then they would hardly be included in this category. It exists as a grouping of writings that were not invited to the “in-group” and that some say could have or should have been. But I think not. One reason is that they contradict each other, let alone the canonical gospels. Another is that they contain material that would be considered nonsense and/or repugnant by most thinking people. Another is their blatantly false authorship, and still another is their extremely late dating—far later than the gospels.
10 Gospel Variants. *Click on title to open.