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the Jesus Myth


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The Jesus Myth is comparable to numerous other myths. From the Monomyth chapter of David Leeming's book Myth:

 

The hero life often begins with a miraculous conception and birth. Water Pot Boy is conceived when a piece of clay enters his mother. The Aztec man-god Quetzalcoatl is conceived when God breathes on his mother Chimalman in his form as the "morning." Hainuwele is born of the combination of coconut sap and a drop of blood. In the case of the Buddha, divinity enters the world through the agency of a white elephant in Queen Maya's dream. A clot of blood is the vehicle for the Blackfoot Indian culture hero Kutoyis. Often the hero, the divine child, is born of a virgin. Almost always he or she comes at a time of great need- the darkest night of the cultural year, a time of general suffering.

 

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The adventure of the hero is marked by several universal themes. The first of these is the search. Sometimes the questing hero looks for something lost. Odysseus's son Telemachos, Theseus, and Water Pot Boy all search for the Father. Gilgamesh, Jason, the Knights of the Round Table, Moses, and the East African Kyazimba seek objects or places- often lost ones- of potential importance to their cultures- the plant of immortality, the Golden Fleece, the Holy Grail, the Land Where the Sun Rises, the Promised Land. More overtly "religious" or philosophical heroes such as the Buddha or Jesus look to less tangible goals: Enlightenment or Nirvana, the Kingdom of God.

 

The quest always involves difficult trials. There are frightening and dangerous gaurdians at each threshold the hero must cross. And there are tests. Herakles must perform the twelve labors, the Grail heroes must prove themselves through various deeds and, like heroes of many cultures, are tested by a femme fatale. This enchantress, a particularly popular nemesis of the patriarchal hero- Adam's Eve, Aeneas's Dido, Samson's Delilah- is the archetypal image of the dangerous sexual and merely personal alternative to the true goal.

 

Many heroes must die and descend to the place of death itself, sometimes as scapegoats for the mistakes of others. Jesus and Osiris die, as do the African heroine Wanjiru and the Ceramese heroine-goddess Hainuwele. In death the hero is planted in the Mother, and during that period of dark gestation confronts the terrors and demons of the underworld.

 

But the hero returns, usually in the spring. He or she is resurrected, as in the case of Persephone, Wanjiru, Hainuwele, or Jesus. Several of these heroes become sources for material or spiritual food for their people: Osiris emerges from the earth as the god of grain; Hainuwele's buried limbs become vegetables; numerous Native American corn heroes and heroines become the staple food for their people; for the Christian the resurrected Jesus is the "bread of life." These are all versions of the boon or great gift that the hero brings upon returning from the depths of the quest. Other versions include: the corn culture brought back by the Ojibwa hero from his vision quest; the curing qualities of the Grail brought back by the successful Grail hero; the "Law," brought by Moses; the knowledge of Enlightenment that is the Buddha's gift; the word of God that is Muhammad's; or knowledge of the runes, the result of the Norse god Odin's human and heroic act of hanging himself on the tree.

 

As an epilogue to the Departure, the Adventure, and the Return, the hero can make a second return, this time to achieve union with the cosmic source of his or her being. Jesus and the Virgin Mary ascend to God, and a legend has it that Abraham did too. The Buddha, King Arthur, and Moses all undergo a kind of apotheosis, a union with the ultimate mystery.

 

 

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