|Posted by [email protected] on February 19, 2013 at 6:50 PM|
Pythagoras,Socrates and Plato all believed in reincarnation and this was just one facet of Hellenic influence that had become pervasive throughout the Jewish worldby the 1st century. Reincarnation had become absorbed into orthodox Jewish faith before the advent of Christ and Jewish historian Josephus reveals that it was largely embraced by the Pharisees. Josephus also tells us that the Essenes- for whom Jesus drew so many of his followers- were devotees of Pythagoras for whom reincarnation was a core belief.
Reincarnation has several oblique references in the gospels.When the Pharisees rebuked a blind man for being “born in sin” (John 9:34) they were reasserting their guilt-laden purity laws that maliciously ascribed birth disabilities to punishment for sins in a previous life. When Christ’s disciples asked him if this was so, Jesus promptly dismissed that vindictive notion and proceeded to cure the man. But he did not challenge the blatant underlying presumption of reincarnation per se. He had previously indicated that suffering and evil in the world was not God’s will but an inexorable necessity. Accordingly he now simply advised them to adopt a positive attitude, regarding such adversity positively, as an opportunity to respond with compassion and thereby reveal the ‘glory’ of God’s intrinsic nature—his ‘holy spirit’ of compassion.
German scholar Günther Schwarz (Jesus Evangelium) has extracted much of Christ’s native Aramaic dialect from the original Greek language of the gospels. He has established that the actual words of Christ in John 3:3 were: “unless a man is born again and again, he cannot be readmitted into the Kingdom of God.” Born again is usually understood in biblical idiom as a metaphor for spiritual awakening. But an epiphany is expected to occur just once. The repetition of ‘again’ suggests a rather more literal meaning. Similarly in the gospels as well as numerous apocryphal and Gnostic texts, Christ uses the metaphor of the human body as a‘prison’. In warning that we will remain in “prison … until the last penny is paid” Christ seems to have co-opted this phrase from Plato who described reincarnation in terms of the body being “a prison in which the psyche is incarcerated, kept safe until the price is paid.” (Cratylus)
The Gnostic gospels of course are replete with Jesus references to reincarnation such as this one from the Gospel of Thomas: “But when you see your images that came into being before you and that neither die nor become visible, how much you will have to bear!”(Thomas: 84) That Christ was not more explicit about reincarnation might be attributed to the prevailing mania of his Jewish compatriots about the immanent end days. But reincarnation was a widely embraced tenet of early Christianity and remained so for hundreds of years. In the 6th century CE, the church elders branded it as heretical, no doubt deciding it impinged on their exclusive claim to broker the eternal fate oftheir followers.
If the message of Jesus was predicated on reincarnation, its logic is fairly obvious. In this tortured world, vast numbers of people are so impoverished and limited in their life choices that no fair judgment based on free will could be made after just one, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” lifetime.(Hobbes, Leviathan) As argued previously, Christ placed humanity on a long term trajectory of spiritual growth. For most of us, that journey may have barely begun.
But its course is clear.
Not just his closest followers but “every man and woman in all the earth” (John17:2–24) would eventually have to target much higher levels of spiritual attainment, bearing their own ‘crosses’ and ingesting the ‘flesh and blood’ of his compassionate wisdom, in order to steadily progress to a higher form of consciousness and civilisation. According to John’s Gospel, the ultimate goal for humanity is to grow to spiritual maturity in a virtually organic relationship with God—“the glorious unity of being one” (John17:22) —like the branches of a productive vine that bear the abundant fruits of God’s compassionate love. Real faith can only arise from the empirical evidence of these fruits, the visible reduction of suffering and measurable growth in human happiness arising from them. If and when that point is reached, Christ’s ‘Kingdomof heaven’ will have broken into our world and presumably the ‘final harvest’ would be at hand.
Categories: Jesus and the logic of reincarnation