Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jesus in Kashmir? and Philip Pullman's new book on Jesus and Christ

Strange reports today in the press.

"From Our Own Correspondent" Sam Miller reports from Kashmir whether Jesus is buried in Rozabal shrine. Officially, the tomb is the burial site of Youza Asaph, a medieval Muslim preacher. But some argue that it is the burial place of Jesus. Behind this notion lies the belief that Jesus survived the crucifixion, and went to live out his days in Kashmir.

The stories of Jesus in India however, are part of a broader argument dating back to the 19th Century in which Jesus came to India between the ages of 12 and 30. Did Jesus visit a Buddhist monastery in Srinagar in 80CE? Such stories were part of attempts to explain the striking similarities between Christianity and Buddhism, a matter of great concern to 19th Century scholars - and also a desire among some Christians to root the story of Jesus in Indian soil.

And The Guardian offers an excerpt from Philip Pullman's book The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. Pullman has been reading the gospels and the Protevangelium of James. From the latter source comes this paragraph in the excerpt:

When they had nearly reached Bethlehem, (Joseph) turned around to see how she was, and saw her looking sad. Perhaps she's in pain, he thought. A little later he turned around again, and this time saw her laughing.

"What is it?" he said. "A moment ago you were looking sad, and now you're laughing."
"I saw two men," she said, "and one of them was weeping and crying, and the other was laughing and rejoicing."

There was no one in sight. He thought: How can this be?

Turns out that this passage is important to Pullman's novel: Mary "sees" that she will have twin sons, Jesus and Christ. Pullman has rendered the passage in ways that suit him. In an older translation of the this passage, M. R. James in 1924 renders it: And Mary said unto Joseph: It is because I behold two peoples with mine eyes, the one weeping and lamenting and the other rejoicing and exulting. I see two peoples, not two men (Greek: duo laous blepo). Laos connotes a people.

But Pullman's book reads Mary's vision as one of two men, presumably her twin sons. Jesus is tormented by Christ when they grow up to be adults. Jesus announces the kingdom of God while Christ realizes that people need institutions like an organized church. Paul's focus is on Christ rather than Jesus and Paul thus transforms the shape of the Christian tradition.

*      *       *        *       *

Its not too surprising to learn that Philip Pullman has been getting disapproving letters about the book.

Now what connects these two strange reports is India and the notion that Jesus had a twin. The apostle Thomas in some traditions is recognized as a twin, perhaps Jesus' twin, and in Indian Christian tradition, Thomas is the apostle who visited South India. And Rudolph Steiner wrote about Jesus and Christ as distinct figures in 1913.

It can't be accidental that the Pullman book is published in time for Easter. Time for a cup of tea, I think, or better yet, something stronger...

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