In very ancient times the leader and the medicine wo/man were distinctly different roles within the group and they shared power in such a way as to bring, if not stability, then at least dynamic tension into the tribe.
When Kings started to take on the role of High Priest as well, from the Pharaos up until the time of Constantine’s conversion and his unprecedented incumbancy as a Holy Emperor, this maintainance of dynamic tension was ended, leading to all kinds of repercussions in our Collective Consciousness.. particularly on what it meant to lead a spiritual life.
The problem for the new bishop-kings, is that social control has to be levened with honouring the gods… a very tricky balancing act.
People need to make their observances because within those gestures lie the seeds of civic order but you can’t have people getting inspired or liberated from the burdens with which its taken so long to weigh them down.
Which is why the persecution of Christians escalated after Constantine’s conversion. You now have to be the right kind of Christian to avoid being thrown to the lions.
To this end the bible was endlessly re-written to accomodate the pressing and immediate concerns of those in temporal power, keeping their heads. The ideal scenario, if at all possible, is for people to be utterly controlled whilst believing themselves to be entirely free.
The best way to do this, to pull the teeth from a crowd that is only three square meals away from being a mob, is to get it to form an orderly queue in anticipation of some goody, something that might seem to be tangible but is just out of reach…
…and have everyone’s reward for staying in line be… later, in the Fullness of Time.
Very different from virtue being its own reward, the immanence of gratitude, the feeling grace of being blessed as you are, right here, right now, warts and all… that typified the earlier Wisdom tradition.
You can’t control people who feel that lucky, who already have a feeling of being fed. Luck is created by counting oneself amongst the blessed, so, we can’t have that.. but we don’t want to deny the possibility entirely….. otherwise folk will despair and the despairing rebel, so we’ll tuck it just out of sight…. but not so far that it becomes something we can no longer imagine.
”Tomorrow! Tomorrow. I love you tomorrow, its only a moment away….” from the film ‘Annie’.
Much biblical re-writing had to do with emphasising the faith in that..
God will keep his word and everything will be made alright.
This is most telling in the canonical formulation of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, which many veiw as the core of the most famous speech in the New Testament.
Here is how they appear in their modern rendering..
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:3)Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted. (5:4)Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth. (5:5)Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled. (5:6)Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7)Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God. (5:8)Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God. (5:9)Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:10)
Whilst the content is all very well and beautifully poetic, the way it has been written down for posterity lodges redemption in the future, at some hoped for point in time-that-is-not-now, where your worth will be subject to final book keeping. It minimizes what may be realised or embodied in the present moment between one another, the kind of lived experience that creates communal solidarity and individual confidence.
Such a rendering, whilst it speaks of love and charity, does so in such a way that the emphasis is more about having faith that god will deliver as a result, rather than in the unacknowledged reality of the immediate, redemptive effect of loving kindness, that is not concerned in the least with storing up merit.
It turns out that Matthew was edited beyond belief by powerful men with an earthly axe to grind, who even by 100 AD. had set to work rewriting the gospel..
”to provide Christian converts with moral instruction and took it upon themselves to reformulate Jesus’ version.” J. Olar
In the process The Principle of Relatedness and being-in-the-moment were written out of Jesus’ Beatitudes entirely, which is not consistent with what you might expect from a man who also says, ‘look at the lilies in the field, how they grow…’
These earliest re-writings, by a man called Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, at the time of the Council of Nicea which first agreed an ordered bible, were bound to include the unconscious prejudices of a man scrambling for a power base in a persecutory world.. In deed, Matthew was rewritten precisely to serve the advantages of those in power. Epiphanus’ other work, ‘Panarion’, was reprinted a millenium later as the tome,’ Against Heresies’, the handbook of the Inquisition.
In fact the original Hebrew gospel of Matthew, the only document contemporary with Christ in the language used at the time, was not strictly rewritten. It did not survive at all, except as fragments. The original… sadly, lacked a virgin birth story and insisted that people could experience spiritual fulfillment without recourse to church or state.
The Historian Jerome is said to have translated the original but then.. ahem, ‘withdrew’ it. The Ebionite movement that housed it for several centuries was actually wiped out by Epiphanius , so the ‘rewriting’ was a euphemism of sorts. Matthew and the Beatitudes as we know them are a fourth century cut and shut.
Just look at the difference in meaning between these two lines from the apocryphal Ecclesiastes, the precursor to the Beatitudes, interpreted by the NRSV and the NAB respectively.
“Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good; it is woman who brings shame and disgrace.” (Sirach 42:14 NRSV)
“Better a man’s harshness than a woman’s indulgence, and a frightened daughter than any disgrace.” NAB
The first rendering is an unforgiveable piece of misogyny whilst the second is the regret that sometimes you have to be hard on your kids to keep them safe.
Fortunately for us, the Beatitudes have antecedants in ancient scriptures that haven’t been messed with. By Jesus time there was already a long tradition of the Beatitudes which abounded in the Wisdom literature and Old Testament.
If we take one such book, the ‘Wisdom of Ben Sirach’, which was buried along with other gnostic gospels for 2000 years at nag Hammadi and therefore comes to us undoctored, uncensored by the personal whim of prelates and kings.. we find the Beatitudes represented in a very different light.
Ben Sirach was primarily thrown out of the Vulgate and the Septuagint because he would insist on adoring the Goddess..`
`Wisdom praises herself, and tells of her glory in the midst of her People. In the Assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth, and in the presence of His hosts she tells of her glory. `I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist. I dwell in the highest heavens, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.”ben Sirach 24;1
and the Protestants had it in for him because he would insist on giving away his stuff to the poor….
”Those pious souls who do good to gain the Kingdom of Heaven will never succeed..” M. Luther
but what annoyed them most of all, was that ben Sirach and his merry gnostic mates would insist on being in the moment and feeling blessed, Now. The Beatitudes we find in Ben Sirach, anticipating Christ by 250 years, are quite different, not just in content but in their temporal framing.. its all about you and me, Now.
The gnostic tradition so unacceptable in Matthew’s original rendering of Christ’s words holds that every human being is born with a small piece of God’s soul lodged within his/her spirit. God is thus intimately connected to and part of his creation. Salvation then lies in embracing the God-like qualities within yourself and others..
Blessed is a man who can rejoice in his children; 25;7
Blessed is the man who lives with a sensible wife, 8
and the one who does not plow with ox and ass together. 9
Blessed is the one who does not sin with his tongue, 10
and the one who has not served an inferior” 10
Blessed is the one who finds a friend,10
and the one who speaks to attentive listeners.10
How great is the one who finds Wisdom!! 10
He even expressly critisises those who look to the future for their redemption,
”Say not, ‘what profit is there of my service and what good shall I have hereafter.’ ben Sirach 11; 23-24
Redemption is now/between…
”Do good unto thy friend before thou die and according to thy ability stretch out thy hand to him.” ben Sirach 14;13
More, in-the-moment, from the Dead sea scrolls at Quumran… which scholars now recognize as the prototype for Christ’s Beatitudes, the remaining original fragments of Matthew’s actual hand…
4Q525 [Blessed is]…with a pure heart, and does not slander with his tongue.
Blessed are those who adhere to her laws, and do not adhere to perverted paths.
Bles[sed] are those who rejoice in her, and do not burst out in paths of folly.
Blessed are those who search for her with pure hands, and do not pursue her with a treacherous [heart.]
Blessed is the man who attains Wisdom, and walks in the law of the Most High, and directs his heart to her ways, and is constrained by her discipline.
And finally one from Thomas 54..
”Jesus said, “Congratulations to the poor, for to you belongs Heaven’s kingdom.”
All these latter renderings of the Beatitudes, whatever their source, have something in common. They are Now.
So, why would the Church Fathers introduce this subtle but profound temporal change of emphasis in Jesus’ rendering of the Beatitudes?
The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, …. ”was cast to one side, for the reason that it was a standing argument against the Alexandrian ideas of the Logos.” G. Reber.
The Codex Alexandrinus, an early Coptic/Greek version of the original Hebrew, has the pages about the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes ripped out. It wasn’t sufficiently concerned with the problems of centralised power and deference to authority as the one that replaced it.
Wearing both temporal and divine mantles does require that tad bit more control over the people than had hithertoo been… necessary.
”The truths contained in this Gospel stood in the way of a gigantic scheme, conceived by corrupt and arrogant men, who saw in a church established by the authority of God, the road to the highest point of human power and grandeur…” S Rives.
And so the people must be.. discouraged from depending upon one another..
We can’t have..
he who finds one finds a treasure.
no sum can balance his worth. – (Sir. 6:7-14)
And people must be dissuaded from refering to their own grateful experience…
”Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”. Eckhart Tolle.
but that means the State has less… appeal, less.. protection to offer, so let’s destabilise their security by focusing… on that which is nebulous and anxiety provoking.