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Using fiction to explain a deeper truth

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Training Handout

Most bible stories have earlier versions

Tom Harpur, former Anglican pastor, who teaches theology in Toronto, talks about using parables to teach truths that go beyond our usual comprehension.

The related story itself, as a metaphor, may be fiction, but the truth that lies behind the story is the true message.

After studying Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Harpur demonstrated that every story in the bible was already known in early Egyptian religion, dating 3,000 years earlier.

One of the popular themes in many religions before Christianity was the notion of virgin birth (identifying divinity). They were not prepared to say there were just some knocked up teenagers, as we would today, but they had to be mothers of Gods. Deviki was the virgin mother of Krishna. Celestine was the virgin mother of the crucified Zunis. Chimalman was the virgin mother of Quexalcote.  Mavence was the virgin mother of Hesus. Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25, celebrated in Northern Europe every year at Yule, and gift bearing shepherds and magi came -- centuries B.C.  As well as Mithra, Attis, Frey, Thor, Oseis, Tammuz, Cernunnos, and many others were born December 25.

Do a Google search of Kuhn and you will find many poisonous essays about him by the Christian Taliban; ie fanatic literalists. Their arguments are ad hominum (against the person) rather than logical refutation of his ideas.

Going on from there, he argues that there was no historical Jesus Christ (Jesus being the Greek word for Joshua which did not appear until 400 ad –– CE), but the teachers of the true message of Christianity (love, forgiveness, tolerance, spiritual growth) had meant the story of Jesus as a parable to teach that truth, not for us to think of him as existing in history.

The Roman records of the day, which were very detailed, which included court cases and punishments, did not include what would have been the biggest judicial event of the times, the state execution of someone accused of being “The King of the Jews.”

There is an interesting parallel, using fiction to communicate a truth, in the study of sociology.  My first sociology teacher, the late Stanford Lyman, told us that sometimes fiction can be used to describe and explain a community better than all the formal and scientific reports could.  As an example, he asked us to read the work of fiction, Hawaii, by James Mitchener.

Because he could do things in fiction that could not be done in a sociological report, Mitchener was able to describe and explain many elements of the society in Hawaii that could not be reached by scientific writing.

One work of fiction which is more recent, is Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore, 2002.

In this fiction, the thirty three years of Christ’s life missing from the Bible is described.  It tells of Joshua (Jesus) and the narrator of the story (Biff), travelling to Asia and coming into contact with various religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

It sees many of the values preached by Joshua as thus having diffused from the non Solomonic religions of Asia.

While a delightful story in itself, it later becomes apparent that Moore did a lot of research in preparing to write the story.

He looked often, for example at the Gospel of Saint Thomas, which was purged from the bible by the fourth century bishops of Rome because it had ideas in it that, if spread, might reduce their patriarchal power.

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Last update: 2012.02.03

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