The Eternal Return Part 1

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
One man's life.

Submitted: June 30, 2009

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Submitted: June 30, 2009



The Eternal Return






What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more' ... Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine’


Friedrich Nietzsche











By John MacDonald



Chapter 1 (a)

“Sorry I was running a little late, but it’s good to meet you Mr. MacNeil,” Dr. Atter offered a little half heartedly, though genuinely sorry for making her new patient wait.  Did you bring your medications with you?

“Yes,” Andrew replied in a dry, monotone voice, as the Psychiatrist took notes.  “I take 1 mg. of Risperidone three times a day as an anti-psychotic; 30 mg. of Cipralex once a day for depression; 1 mg. of Clonazepam twice a day for anxiety, and 50 mg. of Trazodone once a day to help me sleep at night.”

“I understand from your case worker that there has been some concern about the medication?”

“Yes,” answered Andrew. “I went to my family doctor recently and had a physical done because I haven’t been producing any semen when I come to orgasm, and my nipples have been swollen.  I’ve also had significant weight gain.  My blood work came back and showed that I had a high Prolactin hormone level.  My doctor thinks this is probably responsible for my physical issues, and could be a result of a benign tumour, or more probably a side effect of the Risperidone.

Atter thought for a moment.  “Well, it could definitely be a side effect of the medication, but you haven’t really been stabilized for very long, so I’d like to wait a while before changing your meds.  Are you getting further tests done for the tumor?”

“An M.R.I., yes.”

“Okay, so we’ll leave the meds where they are for now, and get into a bit of your case history.  I guess you’re with me now because you’ve moved out of the area from your old psychiatrist.”

“I moved from Burlington in the summer time,” Andrew said.  “I bought a townhouse just north of here in Milton.”

“Your diagnosis,” the doctor continued,” is bipolar affective disorder with a secondary diagnosis of panic disorder, although your old psychiatrist says here that the bipolar may actually be a case of schizo-affective disorder.”  Andrew looked visibly disturbed by hearing his diagnosis read to him, so Atter decided to change the subject.  “And you’re an elementary school teacher?”


“For how long”

“Next year will be my eighth year.  I’m off work on sick leave until September.  Oh right,” Andrew remembered the paper he was carrying in his right hand, “I need you to fill out this form saying I’m mentally safe to return to work.”  Dr. Atter took the form from him and put it on the desk beside her.

“I’ll look at that later,” she remarked.  “For now, why don’t you tell me what’s been going on this year.”

“Dr. Pasin, my old psychiatrist,  had given me enough repeats on my medications to last to about Christmas.  I was supposed to hook up with your office in August but I missed my appointment and never really followed up.  When I ran out of meds I let it go for a while because I was feeling okay, but my condition eventually deteriorated.  I was drinking heavily every night, so that was helping me sleep about five to six hours, but I was feeling horrible during the day.  My depression and anxiety got worse and worse, until I decided that I didn’t want to deal with life any more, so I sent E-mails to my school board and union basically saying I couldn’t handle things anymore  and I was going to the hospital.”

“What happened next?”

“My union officer was kind enough to go to my house and take the dogs to the kennel.  They weren’t my dogs.  My mother spends her summers in Nova Scotia and her winters in St. Petersburg Florida, and the trailer park she and her husband stay at in Florida won’t allow dogs, so I agreed to take them for the winter.  If you’ll believe it, my officer also took back the kitchen floor full of beer bottle empties and brought the money for them to me in the psyche ward in the hospital.”

“How long was it before you went back to work?”

“I was in the hospital for about a week.  After I got back home, it was already explained to all the parties concerned at the school board that I hadn’t been able to get my meds, so that was the reason for my erratic behaviour.  The board was pretty good about letting me get back to work fairly quickly.”

“But then three weeks later you were back in the hospital again?”

“It was the same sort of scenario.  I was feeling really depressed and just didn’t want to have to deal with life any more – I sent more E-Mails.  My mom flew up to see me from Florida this time.  She cleaned up my house for me, which was an absolute mess, and spent some time visiting me in the hospital.”

“What happened this time?” Dr. Atter asked.

“I suppose I could make up a lot of different excuses, but the truth is probably that I was still drinking heavily, and bipolar medication doesn’t work well with alcohol.”

“Are you saying that you weren’t drinking earlier in the year when you were

doing well?” 

“No,” Andrew admitted.  “With a few exceptions I’ve basically had the equivalent of twelve beers a day for the past eight years.”

“So,” Atter observed, “the fact that you lasted as long as you did this year was probably more luck than anything else?”

“I guess so.  This was the ninth time I’ve been in a psyche ward in the last five years.  The psychiatrist and the social worker met with my mother and me and I was basically told there was no point in me showing up to a psyche ward again because there was nothing they could really do for me.  All I was doing was hiding there.  The social worker recommended I go to the Briardale addiction and mental health facility for addiction disorder, so I was there for 28 days.  Luckily my insurance paid for it.”

‘How long have you been sober for?”

“My clean/dry date is April 6th, the day I went into the psyche hospital the last time.”  Dr. Atter wasn’t sure she believed him, but moved on.

“What kind of follow up do you have?”

“Well, I have you, and my case manager Nathan here at the mental health clinic.  I also attend AA meetings regularly, and I have to go to Briardale once a week for about a year for discussion groups.”

“It sounds like you’ve got a lot of good supports in place.  What’s your mood been like?”

“Since I’ve been off the alcohol I’ve been feeling really well,” Andrew offered, with a noticeable shake in his voice.  “I’ve been going for walks and journaling and meditating; basically doing all the things we were taught to do, and staying away from people and places where there is alcohol.”

“That’s encouraging,” the doctor continued.  “You were diagnosed bipolar about five years ago when you were twenty-seven.  Is that the first time you started having symptoms, or was it before that?”

“I’ve been prone to fits of depression and elation my whole life, but I didn’t actually go fully manic and have my first psychotic episode until I was twenty-seven,” Andrew replied

“Could you describe the incident?”

“Sure,” Andrew replied, seemingly more confident now.  “I guess it had its seed some years before.  I was still in university doing graduate work in Philosophy when my one professor encouraged me to audit a summer course on the New Testament.  This was a time when I was considering doing a PhD., and he said it would be helpful if I went on to study the medieval Philosophers.  I didn’t really have an interest in it because I’m not Christian, but I figured I’d give it a shot.  Anyway, while reading the textbook it was pointed out that scholars had noticed similarities between Jesus and the older Greek God Dionysus.  My mind immediately made a connection between this and what Friedrich Nietzsche said at the end of his autobiography: “Have I been understood? Dionysus versus the crucified.”  For a while I became a bit obsessed trying to isolate the parallels between the two Gods because I got it in my head that the writers of the New Testament had done some copying from older sources, but it didn’t last for very long.” 

“University was going well and I was getting awards for my work, although thinking back it wasn’t really a big deal because there weren’t that many graduate students in the department.  I was also debating constantly at conferences and getting the praise of my professors.  In the end, I went to teacher’s college instead of on to a doctorate program, although I did apply and get accepted to some PhD. Programs.”

“Where did you go to teacher’s college.” 

“Buffalo.”  Usually Canadian teacher candidates go to the states because they

can’t get into a school in Canada, but for me I just decided to be an elementary school teacher too late to apply for a job in Canada.”  The doctor scribbled down some notes after he said this.

“Anyway, I couldn’t get a job at home in St. Catharines, so I eventually

got a job in Toronto, and made it through my first two years of teaching fairly well.”

“So you left St. Catharines?”

“I had an apartment in Toronto, but I came home and stayed at my mom’s house on the weekend,” Andrew replied.  “All my friends were there.”

“So what started to go wrong?”

“An incident happened during my third year that changed things.  I applied and was able to switch school boards from Toronto to Burlington so I could commute from St. Catharines every day instead of being away from home.  At the time, I was trying some fairly in depth language lessons with my students, and the other two grade four teachers thought I was bringing in concepts that were too difficult and not really teaching the curriculum I was supposed to, so they started distancing themselves from me.  Their two classes were basically coordinating activities while I was on my own.  I started getting really frustrated by this so I went to the principal to complain.  I think I cried in her office.  She brought in an arbitrator from the board to help us resolve our differences, but no solution really came of it.  As the school year went on, I became increasingly angry and started finding fault with anything that was going on at the school that wasn’t in line with my vision for the school.  No one was giving me any special recognition for my innovative reading and writing strategies.  I ended posting a lot of angry messages on our intra-school E-Mail conference, and ended up having a breakdown.  I started to think people were watching me and following me, and I became obsessed with the Jesus thing again.  I was hospitalized for the first time a few weeks later.”

Dr. Attler had scribbled the odd note during Andrew’s explanation, but she mostly just sat and listened.  “Well, that gives me a bit of a sense of how things started for you, although we will definitely come back to this because you were fairly vague on a number of points.  All the same, it was okay for a getting acquainted session.  If you wouldn’t mind, could you tell me if there is a history of addiction/mental illness in your family?”

“There’s quite a lot among the men, although the women seem to be better.  My grandfather on my father’s side committed suicide, although no one will really say why.  There’s a lot of depression and some delusional tendencies.  Almost all the men were into alcohol or drugs or both.”

“Did you ever use drugs?”

“I’ve tried marijuana, but that’s it.  I don’t use it.  I was always too scared to try anything harder.  You can check my hospital records.  They did many urine and blood tests on me when I went into psyche wards the various times and they never found anything.”

“Do you think I don’t trust you?”

“I’m just saying.”

“Well Mr. MacNeil you seem to be doing pretty well and you’ve had a bit of a stable period.  I’ll sign off on your return to work papers for September to return at full time, understanding that if anything changes between now and then we can always revise that.  It was good to meet you, and if you see my secretary she can book you an appointment for a month from now.  When do you see your case manager?”

“Next week Thursday.”

“Good.  If any issues come up between now and then you can always call him or the regional crisis team, and Nathan will keep me informed”

“Thanks,” Andrew said, with a little more intonation in his voice than when he began the conversation.












Chapter 1 (b)

Two days later, at four in the morning, Andrew sent the following E-mail to Dr. Atter’s office:
Dear Dr. Atter: Thanks for seeing me the other day.  I am doing well.  I’ve been doing some writing.  Here are a few fictional stories you may find entertaining if you’re bored sometime – just to say thanks for taking me on as a patient; Andrew

Story 1


(Part 1) The main part of the lecture material from my last day of courses:

We generally like to end your undergraduate career with what you started your first year in Philosophy with: Thoughts about God. I will do that here, but I will close with a number of other issues as well. 

It’s generally difficult to know how far you can trust Theological scholarship, because someone who has a doctorate in theology generally wouldn’t have gotten that far without having a faith of some sort that may be clouding their judgement when it comes to the exegesis they do. I’m not saying that it does, I’m merely raising the issue. Most of the scholarship you see is based on expanding tradition and reinforcing it, although certain trends in recent years in Early Christian scholarship have led to fundamental re-evaluations of what has long been held regarding who or what Jesus was. It has even come to the point now that The Committee Of The Scientific Examination Of Religion has proposed that the question of whether Jesus was a man or myth is a testable hypothesis, and has convened The Jesus Project, in part, to attempt to resolve this issue (how open and honest those scholars will actually turn out to be about the issue, remains to be seen). On the other hand, some feel that the important point is not trying to come to judgement about historicity, but rather to determine, from the texts that we have, what can be best inferred about the meaning of the New Testament Narratives.

Current issues in liberal scholarship range from debates on the authenticity of source texts (even the famous book of Q, the hypothetical doctrines of the earliest Christians, for example, is in a scholarly mess right now. Some proposes a stratification of Q, the earliest being the community that lived by the teachings of Q 1; Other deny the attribution of Q 1 to Jesus because at most the sayings display a common cynical tang, and as such need not come from a single sage, let alone Jesus; Others propose a proto-Luke hypothesis instead of Q {Proto-Luke is a hypothetical document that may have been the main source for the gospel writers. Making the New Testament Narratives acting as a haggadic midrash or creative-rewriting of the Elihja-Elisha narrative of 1 and 2 Kings in the Old Testament, it is an alternative theory to the Q hypothesis}), to issues of  contradictions and forgeries, to the problem of the extent to which the New Testament is in fact a creative Christian re-write of the popular pagan and Jewish stories of the day, a ‘haggadic midrash’ of the older literature.

The degree to which ‘haggadic midrash’ may be present in the New Testament depends on who you read. Some focus on the relationship between Jesus and the older stories in Homer. Others look at the derivative relationship between Jesus and various parts of the Septuagint (the Greek Translation of the Old Testament). Still others offer a more holistic point of view, arguing that if all the scholarship on the New Testament as creative-rewriting is taken into account, then virtually nothing is left over that would give us an original story about Jesus, or the need to posit that Jesus existed at all.

This latter view, though completely unorthodox, was given a major scholarly endorsement when Dr. Robert M. Price published an article supporting this theory in ‘Encyclopedia Of Midrash: Biblical Interpretation In Formative Judaism,’  2004, edited by renowned Judaism scholars Jacob Neusner and Alan Avery Pecks. The interesting thing is that what happened with the peer reviewed publication of Price’s article (whether you agree with the article or not), is that discussions about Jesus transported from the realm of historical debate, and moved purely into the realm of literary debate. What we are left with as the New Testament is a series of documents by Christian writers with absolutely no writers outside that community ever claiming to even have seen Jesus. What most people don’t seem to realize is that we now have a fully defensible interpretation of the New Testament that gives an entirely possible analysis concluding that the Jesus cult started as many other cults prior to that time, without any actual god or even person heading the movement, and then concluding that the details of Jesus’ life were fleshed out by re-writing the popular pagan and Jewish stories of the day, with particular interest placed on sources such as Homer, Josephus, The Septuagint, and Euripides’ ‘The Bacchae.’

Price wrote in a recent open letter that

‘I remember first encountering the notion that the Jesus saga was formally similar to the Mediterranean dying and rising god myths of saviors including Attis, Adonis, Tammuz/Dumuzi, Dionysus, Osiris, and Baal. I felt almost at once that the jig was up. I could not explain away those parallels, parallels that went right to the heart of the thing. I felt momentary respite when I read the false reassurances of Bruce M. Metzger (may this great man rest in peace), J.N.D. Anderson, Edwin Yamauchi (may I someday gain a tenth of his knowledge!), and others that these parallels were false or that they were later in origin, perhaps even borrowed by the pagans from Christianity. But it did not take long to discover the spurious nature of such apologetical special pleading. There was ample and early pre-Christian evidence for the dying and rising gods. The parallels were very close. And it was simply not true that no one ever held that, like Jesus, these saviors had been historical figures. And if the ancient apologists had not known that the pagan parallels were pre-Christian, why on earth would they have mounted a suicidal argument that Satan counterfeited the real dying and rising god ahead of time. That is like the fundamentalists of the 19th century arguing desperately that God created fossils of dinosaurs that had never existed ... Take the gospel Jesus story as a whole, whether earlier or later than the Jesus story of the Epistles; it is part and parcel of the Mythic Hero Archetype shared by cultures and religions worldwide and throughout history (Lord Raglan and then, later, Alan Dundes showed this in great detail.). Leave the gospel story on the table, then. You still do not have any truly historical data. There is no "secular" biographical information about Jesus. Even the seeming "facts" irrelevant to faith dissolve upon scrutiny. Did he live in Nazareth? Or was that a tendentious reinterpretation of the earlier notion he had been thought a member of the Nazorean sect? Did he work some years as a carpenter? Or does that story not rather reflect the crowd's pegging him as an expert in scripture, a la the Rabbinic proverb, "Not even a carpenter, or a carpenter's son could solve this one!"? Was his father named Joseph, or is that an historicization of his earlier designation as the Galilean Messiah, Messiah ben Joseph? On and on it goes, and when we are done, there is nothing left of Jesus that does not appear to serve all too clearly the interests of faith, the faith even of rival, hence contradictory, factions among the early Christians … I admit that a historical hero might attract to himself the standard flattering legends and myths to the extent that the original lines of the figure could no longer be discerned. He may have lived nonetheless. Can we tell the difference between such cases and others where we can still discern at least some historical core? Apollonius of Tyana, itinerant Neo-Pythagorean contemporary of Jesus (with whom the ancients often compare him) is one such. He, too, seems entirely cut from the cloth of the fabulous. His story, too, conforms exactly to the Mythic Hero Archetype. To a lesser extent, so does Caesar Augustus, of whom miracles were told. The difference is that Jesus has left no footprint on profane history as these others managed to do. The famous texts of Josephus and Tacitus, even if genuine, amount merely to references to the preaching of contemporary Christians, not reporting about Jesus as a contemporary. We still have documentation from people who claimed to have met Apollonius, Peregrinus, and, of course, Augustus. It might be that Jesus was just as historical as these other remarkable individuals, and that it was mere chance that no contemporary documentation referring to him survives. But we cannot assume the truth of that for which we have no evidence … Additionally, we can demonstrate that every hortatory saying is so closely paralleled in contemporary Rabbinic or Hellenistic lore that there is no particular reason to be sure this or that saying originated with Jesus. Such words commonly passed from one famous name to another, especially in Jewish circles, as Jacob Neusner has shown. Jesus might have said it, sure, but then he was just one more voice in the general choir. Is that what we want to know about him? And, as Bultmann observed, who remembers the great man quoting somebody else? … Another shocker: it hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized, after studying much previous research on the question, that virtually every story in the gospels and Acts can be shown to be very likely a Christian rewrite of material from the Septuagint, Homer, Euripides' Bacchae, and Josephus. One need not be David Hume to see that, if a story tells us a man multiplied food to feed a multitude, it is inherently much more likely that the story is a rewrite of an older miracle tale (starring Elisha) than that it is a report of a real event. A literary origin is always to be preferred to an historical one in such a case. And that is the choice we have to make in virtually every case of New Testament narrative. I refer the interested reader to my essay "New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash," in Jacob Neusner and Alan Avery-Peck, eds., Encyclopedia of Midrash. Of course I am dependent here upon many fine works by Randel Helms, Thomas L. Brodie, John Dominic Crossan, and others. None of them went as far as I am going. It is just that as I counted up the gospel stories I felt each scholar had convincingly traced back to a previous literary prototype, it dawned on me that there was virtually nothing left. None tried to argue for the fictive character of the whole tradition, and each offered some cases I found arbitrary and implausible. Still, their work, when combined, militated toward a wholly fictive Jesus story.’


The idea that there are innumerable similarities between the New Testament Narratives and older pagan and Jewish literature is not a new idea. Early church fathers such as Firmicus Maternus, Justin Martyr, and Terturlian, among others, saw the parallels between Jesus and the pagan myths.  Dr. Barrie Wilson writes in his recent ‘How Jesus became Christian’ that ‘There were simply too many divine-humans and too many virgin births within the Roman world to mark out the Christian movement as in any way unique … Justin Martyr’s response was that the Devil invented these non-Christian tales.  So, too had Satan devised figures of previous divine humans – Bacchus, Hercules, Dionysus, and many others.  The whole intent was to confuse Christians.  Likewise the mysteries of Mithras arose to create confusion.  Clearly, Justin Martyr was embarrassed by the similarities between the virgin birth and divine-human tales from his own culture.’

To take even one example, the parallels between Jesus and the dying-rising Greek god born of a god and a mortal woman, Dionysus, have long been posited, either in traditional myth or in places like Euripides’ ancient play ‘The Bacchae,’ with work ranging from scholars like Bultmann and others in the 19th century, to the more recent studies of scholars like Martin Hengel, Barrie Powell, Dennis MacDonald, Robert M. Price, and even popular writers like Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy.  Parallels, for example, in the play ‘The Bacchae’ can be drawn as to general overarching themes, as well as to specific details of the New Testament Narratives.  In ‘The Jesus Mysteries,’ several striking parallels are drawn out between The New Testament and the ‘Bacchae,’ the latter being a much earlier work.  To begin with, Freke and Gandy teach that 

(1) According to the gospels, Jesus is an innocent and just man who, at the instigation of the Jewish high priests, is hauled before the Roman Governor Pilate and condemned to die on spurious charges.  Exactly the same mythological motif is found five centuries earlier in Euripides’ play The Bacchae, about Dionysus.  Like Jesus in Jerusalem, Dionysus is a quiet stranger with long hair and a beard who brings a new religion.  In the gospels, the Jewish high priests don’t believe in Jesus and allege that ‘His teachings are causing disaffections amongst the people.’  They plot to bring about his death.  In The Bacchae, King Pentheus is a tyrannical ruler who does not believe in Dionysus.  He berates him for bringing ‘this new disease to the land’ and sends out his men to capture the innocent godman … Like the Jewish high priests who are appalled at Jesus’ blasphemous claim to be the Son of God, King Pentheus rants in anger at stories of Dionysus’ divine parentage … Like Jesus, Dionysus passively allows himself to be caught and imprisoned … The guard relates the wondrous things he had witnessed Dionysus perform and warns King Pentheus: ‘Master, this man has come here with a load of miracles.’  The king, however, proceeds to interrogate Dionysus who, like Jesus before Pilate, will not bow to his authority.  When Pilate reminds Jesus that he has the power to crucify him, Jesus replies, ‘You would have no authority at all over me, had it not been granted you from above.’  Likewise Dionysus answers the threats of Pentheus with: ‘Nothing can touch me that is not ordained.’  Like Jesus, who said of his persecutors, ‘They know not what they are doing,’ Dionysus tells Pentheus, ‘You know not what you are doing, nor what you are saying, nor who you are.’ … As Jesus is led away to crucifixion, he warns the crowd not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children, who will suffer for the crime of his execution (cf. Luke 23 v 28-30) … As he is led away, Dionysus, likewise, threatens divine vengeance.

(2) Before his death, Jesus celebrates a symbolic ‘Last supper’ of bread and wine.  In The Bacchae, Euripides calls bread and wine the ‘two powers which are supreme in human affairs,’ the one substantial and preserving the body, the other liquid and intoxicating the mind.  The ancients credited the Mystery godman with bringing to humanity the arts of cultivating grain and the vine to produce bread and wine.

(3) As [Joseph Campbell] writes, ‘To drink wine in the rites of Dionysus is to commune with the god and take his power and physical presence into one’s body.’  In the Christian rites of the Eucharist Jesus is said to symbolically become the wine drunk by the participant in the ritual.  Likewise, Euripides tells us that Dionysus becomes the wine and is himself ‘poured out’ as an offering.  In some vase representations, bread and wine are shown before the idol of Dionysus.  Just as in the Eucharist a Christian is given ‘redemption’ in the symbolic form of a wafer biscuit, in the Mysteries of Dionysus the initiate was presented with makaria (‘blessedness’) in the form of a cake.

(4) In Euripides’ The Bacchae, King Pentheus tries to insult Dionysus by describing him as ‘the god who frees his worshipers from every law [cf. St. Paul],’ but Dionysus replies, ‘Your insult to Dionysus is a compliment.’

(5) A Letter To Philip explains that although from the time of the incarnation Jesus suffered, yet he suffered as one who was ‘a stanger to this suffering.’  This teaches that the incarnate Higher Self (represented by Jesus) seems to suffer when the eidolon suffers, but in reality is always the untouched witness.  In The Acts of John Jesus explains ‘You heard that I suffered, but I suffered not.  An unsuffering one was I, yet suffered.  One pierced was I, yet I was not abused.  One hanged was I, yet not hanged.  Blood flowed from me, yet did not flow.’ … Five hundred years previously Euripides portrayed King Pentheus as binding Dionysus, while actually he was not.  As Dionysus says: … ‘He thought he was binding me; But he neither held nor touched me, save in his deluded mind.

We also find striking parallels to ‘The Bacchae’ indicated in Robert Price’s

 encyclopedia article New Testament Narrative As Old Testament Midrash (2004): In

terms of Dionysus in general, we read from Price

Gospel of John, Water into Wine (2:1-11)

Though the central feature of this miracle story, the transformation of one liquid into another, no doubt comes from the lore of Dionysus, the basic outline of the story owes much to the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17:8-24 LXX. The widow of Zarephath, whose son has just died, upbraids the prophet: “What have I to do with you, O man of God?” (Ti emoi kai soi, 17:18). John has transferred this brusque address to the mouth of Jesus, rebuking his mother (2:4, Ti emoi kai soi, gunai). Jesus and Elijah both tell people in need of provisions to take empty pitchers (udria in 1 Kings 17:12, udriai in John 2:6-7), from which sustenance miraculously emerges. And just as this feat causes the woman to declare her faith in Elijah (“I know that you are a man of God,” v. 24), so does Jesus’ wine miracle cause his disciples to put their faith in him (v. 11).

In terms of The Bacchae, Price writes

Acts of the Apostles

Pentecost (2:1-4ff)

The whole scene comes, obviously, from the descent of the Mosaic spirit upon the seventy elders in Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25, with an assist from Euripides’ The Bacchae, where we read “Flames flickered in their curls and did not burn them” (757-758), just as tongues of fire blazed harmlessly above the heads of the apostles (Acts 2:3). Ecstatic speech caused some bystanders to question the sobriety of the disciples, but Peter defends them (“These are not drunk as you suppose” Acts 2:15a), as does Pentheus’ messenger: “Not, as you think, drunk with wine” (686-687). 

Paul’s Conversion (9:1-21)

As the great Tübingen critics already saw, the story of Paul’s visionary encounter with the risen Jesus not only has no real basis in the Pauline epistles but has been derived by Luke more or less directly from 2 Maccabees 3’s story of Heliodorus. In it one Benjaminite named Simon (3:4) tells Apollonius of Tarsus, governor of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia (3:5), that the Jerusalem Temple houses unimaginable wealth that the Seleucid king might want to appropriate for himself. Once the king learns of this, he sends his agent Heliodorus to confiscate the loot. The prospect of such a violation of the Temple causes universal wailing and praying among the Jews. But Heliodorus is miraculously turned back when a shining warrior angel appears on horseback. The stallion’s hooves knock Heliodorus to the ground, where two more angels lash him with whips (25-26). He is blinded and is unable to help himself, carried to safety on a stretcher. Pious Jews pray for his recovery, lest the people be held responsible for his condition. The angels reappear to Heliodorus, in answer to these prayers, and they announce God’s grace to him: Heliodorus will live and must henceforth proclaim the majesty of the true God. Heliodorus offers sacrifice to his Saviour (3:35) and departs again for Syria, where he reports all this to the king. In Acts the plunder of the Temple has become the persecution of the church by Saul (also called Paulus, an abbreviated form of Apollonius), a Benjaminite from Tarsus. Heliodorus’ appointed journey to Jerusalem from Syria has become Saul’s journey from Jerusalem to Syria. Saul is stopped in his tracks by a heavenly visitant, goes blind and must be taken into the city, where the prayers of his former enemies avail to raise him up. Just as Heliodorus offers sacrifice, Saul undergoes baptism. Then he is told henceforth to proclaim the risen Christ, which he does … Luke has again added details from Euripides. In The Bacchae, in a sequence Luke has elsewhere rewritten into the story of Paul in Philippi, Dionysus has appeared in Thebes as an apparently mortal missionary for his own sect. He runs afoul of his cousin, King Pentheus who wants the licentious cult (as he views it) to be driven out of the country. He arrests and threatens Dionysus, only to find him freed from prison by an earthquake. Dionysus determines revenge against the proud and foolish king by magically compelling Pentheus to undergo conversion to faith in him (“Though hostile formerly, he now declares a truce and goes with us. You see what you could not when you were blind,” 922-924) and sending Pentheus, in woman’s guise, to spy upon the Maenads, his female revelers. He does so, is discovered, and is torn limb from limb by the women, led by his own mother. As the hapless Pentheus leaves, unwittingly, to meet his doom, Dionysus comments, “Punish this man. But first distract his wits; bewilder him with madness... After those threats with which he was so fierce, I want him made the laughingstock of Thebes” (850-851, 854-855). “He shall come to know Dionysus, son of Zeus, consummate god, most terrible, and yet most gentle, to mankind” (859-861). Pentheus must be made an example, as must poor Saul, despite himself. His conversion is a punishment, meting out to the persecutor his own medicine. Do we not detect a hint of ironic malice in Christ’s words to Ananias about Saul? “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16).

Some  apologists like R. Joseph Hoffmann have struck back hard and fast against reductionists like Price, MacDonald, Brodie, Helms, Miller, Freke/Gandy, etc.  One of the most popular apologetical books currently in circulation is Paul Rhodes Eddy and Greg Boyd, ‘The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition,’ primarily arguing that there would not have been a paganizing influence on the  Jews of Jesus’ time.  In his review of this book, entitled the Jesus Mirage, Price makes the very poignant counterpoint that  

Another egregious case of Janus apologetics, facing both ways at once, is Boyd’s and Eddy’s argument that the resurrection of Jesus cannot have been borrowed from polytheistic mythemes. Their first step is to circumscribe a magic zone from about 165 BCE to 70 CE when there was no Jewish inclination, but rather the reverse, to accept Hellenistic influence. They figure that the Hasmonean victory over the Seleucid Hellenizers put an end once and for all to the temptation to Hellenize. Hellenization began to rear its ugly head again only after the Roman victory over Jews. This strikes me as a gratuitous assumption. Indeed, the fact that there is during their magic period much evidence of Jewish anti-Hellenistic Zealotry surely means the “danger” of influence continued. You don’t strengthen the fortifications when there is no enemy at the door. And no evidence of Hellenization? What about the astrology of the Dead Sea Scrolls? Ah, er, it’s not what it looks like! The presence of horoscopes at Qumran doesn’t mean the sectarians actually used or believed in them, say the apologists. Perish the thought! It was probably because they needed them to write scholarly refutations of them! And second- to third-century synagogues with mosaics of Hercules, Dionysus and the Zodiac? Purely decorative, that’s all. Come on! Obviously, you don’t decorate your house of worship with images of gods you find abhorrent! And this was just at the time Yavneh Judaism was getting stronger and stronger! Judaism just was not a solid monolith even at this time, much less in Jesus’ time .. ... Our authors find it necessary to misrepresent Margaret Barker, too. She argues very powerfully (in The Older Testament and The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God) that popular Judaism had not embraced the monotheism of the Exilic prophets yet, even in spite of priestly indoctrination and interdiction. She ventures that Jesus as the resurrected Son of God was a direct survival of Israelite polytheism. Boyd and Eddy cannot seem to get through their learned heads that Barker is not talking about a Jewish embrace of pagan mythemes. Her point is that mythemes the rabbis later reinterpreted (explained away) as pagan were always indigenously Israelite, shared with Canaanite neighbors, not borrowed from them. Thus there is no need to posit some repulsive borrowing from hated paganism to account for easy Jewish familiarity with dying and rising gods. Ezekiel knew the daughters of Jerusalem were engaged in ritual mourning of the slain god Tammuz even in the days of the Exile. Baal and Osiris were well known in Israel, too.  

The evidence suggests, then, that the reductionists do have a prima facie case that a paganizing / Jewish midrashic influence was present.  This possibility then allows for the stronger assertion a la Price, Freke/Gandy, Robert Alter, John Bowman, Thomas L. Brodie, John Dominic Crossan, J. Duncan M. Derrett, Earl Doherty, C.F. Evans, Randel Helms, Frank Kermode, Dennis R. MacDonald, Dale Miller and Patricia Miller. Liliann Portefaix, Wolfgang Roth, William R. Stegner, Rikki E. Watts, and many others that there is ample evidence that ‘haggadic midrash’ was rampant in the writing of the New Testament.

Moving on, while it is quite correct to deny the necessity of positing a single sage behind the Q1 writings and community, even if you accept that they do refer to a man named Jesus, the community thought of him as a talented human teacher, not the son of God. And, moreover, this earliest Christian community basically just taught simple things like loving your neighbour and not judging him or her, and is removed from virtually everything that is canonical in Christianity, including any account of a crucifixion or judgements about a person’s sexual behaviour.  Jesus may have existed, but because the realm of the argument has been pushed fully into the field of literary analysis, the door then opens to all kinds of literary device.

For example, it could be posited that the real meaning of the New Testament is the more mystical self realization “Christ in you” theology of Paul, one of our oldest sources of the New Testament, whereby the crucifixion took place, a la the analysis of scholar Earl Doherty, in a mystical realm. This would leave the crucifixion resurrection accounts in the Synoptics (the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke) open to a whole range of interpretations. 

For instance, as James Tabor points out, the Davidic Genealogy or royal bloodline of Jesus given in Matthew has two shocking peculiarities about it. First, Matthew’s reported Davidic bloodline itself, unlike that in the pro-Pauline Luke, was cursed by the prophet Jeremiah. Second, there are four women included in the genealogy, each with having well known scandalous sexual histories in the Old Testament. That in itself deserves further thought, since, as Tabor says, even the inclusion of women is not proper to a royal Jewish bloodline, but the woman who concerns us here is Rahab, who is part of Jesus’ bloodline in Matthew’s genealogy. What is peculiar about Rahab is not so much her prostitution, but what made her righteous in the eyes of the New Testament, specifically for James. Let’s explore this. 

There is a very interesting line in Euripides’ ‘The Bacchae’ (which we already said might very well be a source text for the New Testament) where Cadmus says "Even though this man (Dionysus) be no God, as you say, still say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him the son of Semele, for this would make it seem that she was the mother of a god, and it would confer honour on all our race." This makes one wonder, given the parallels already suggested between Jesus and ‘The Bacchae,’ if the New Testament writers had picked up on this theme and created the "Son of God" story as a political ploy in order to restore the Jewish people to their “rightful” place in the world - The dying rising godman of myth that everyone in the pagan world always talked about, except with a impressive Jewish pedigree, and this one was a real, existing human being!

There is more to this supposition than one might suspect at first.  Although this is not well known, in the bible, lying is permitted under special circumstances when it is done in the service of God. In the Old Testament book of Joshua 2:4-6 (the Hebrew name for Jesus, interestingly), the prostitute Rahab (the one mentioned earlier as part of Jesus’ bloodline) is praised for an act of lying. We read “And the woman [Rahab] took the two men and hid them and said thus: There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were; and it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark that the men went out; whither the men went I wot not; pursue after them quickly, for ye shall overtake them. But she had brought them up to the roof of the house and hid them with the stalks of flax”  This was later picked up on in the New Testament in the book of James at 2: 25, where it is said that Rahab was righteous because of telling this lie in the service of God: “Was not Rahab, the harlot, justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?”  Was this mention of Rahab by James and her presence in the royal bloodline a secret among the writers that they knew the story itself was a deliberate fraud?  Recall the words of  Pope Pious X, quoted in John Bale, Acta Romanorum Pontificum "For on a time when a cardinall Bembus did move a question out of the Gospell, the Pope gave him a very contemptuous answer saying: All ages can testifie enough howe profitable that fable of Christe hath ben to us and our companie."

The permission of lying under special circumstances would not separate the Hebrew and Christian scriptures from other ancient spiritualities. It would actually put them all very much in line. The justification of lying hypothesis is very interesting. It resonates with much in spirituality … even shamanism ...where the neophyte is taken in with 'magic' to attract their attention and then is taken to the Truth... and the understanding that what they initially through was magic was simply deception ... and the recognition of how early they were deceived.

Justified lying occurs a lot in ancient spirituality. Confucius, in the ‘Analects,’ indicates “The Governor of She said to Confucius, 'In our village we have an example of a straight person.  When the father stole a sheep, the son gave evidence against him.' Confucius answered, 'In our village those who are straight are quite different. Fathers cover up for their sons, and sons cover up for their fathers. In such behaviour is straightness to be found as a matter of course.' (13.18)”  The Holy Lie also has a history of societal structuring intentions. For example, The pious fraud or noble lie is present in Plato's Republic in Book 2, Sections 414-7, where Plato says a functional stratified society could be realized if they could convince the people of the lie that everyone from different levels of society were created by God to exist in a certain level of society. 

This is also true of the Code of Manu.  Roger Berkowitz says of the Manu based society, that its division of society into four castes, each with its own particular obligations and rights, is a desired end because it reflects the natural order of society.  He says ‘“The order of castes, the highest, the most dominant Gesetz, is only the sanction of a natural-order, natural legal- positing of the first rank, over which no willfulness, no ‘modern idea’ has power.  It is nature, not Manu or the Brahmin legislators, that divides the predominantly intellectual from those who are predominantly physically or temperamentally strong, and both of these from the mediocre, who are extraordinary in neither intellect nor strength. The Indian caste system is an artifice, a Holy Lie—but it is a lie that serves natural end.’ 

Similarly, we see the permission of lying in Islam. In the Pro-Muslim book ‘The Spirit of Islam,’  Afif A. Tabbarah writes, concerning the mandates of Muhammed,

‘Lying is not always bad, to be sure; there are times when telling a lie is more profitable andbetter for the general welfare, and for the settlement of conciliation among people, than tellingthe truth. To this effect, the Prophet says: ‘He is not a false person who (through lies) settlesconciliation among people, supports good or says what is good.’

Now students, did the Prophet Muhammad even actually exist? Islamic scholar professor Muhammad Sven Kalisch, among others, don’t think so.

It is often supposed that lying is prohibited by the bible, but the situation is more complex than that. As we saw in the case of Rahab, it is permissible in special cases, if it is done in circumstances in the service of God and his people. We see, for example, in the Old Testament, Exodus 1: 18-20 “And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men-children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives.”; 1 Kings 22: 21-22 “And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him .. I will goforth and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him and prevail also; go forth and do so.”;  2 Kings 8:10 “And Elisha said unto him, go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lordhath showed me that he shall surely die.” 

Suppose a group of people a long time ago believed adamantly in a world-view that was impossible because their world was under Roman Rule and subject to a Jewish system that they no longer believed in. Suppose that they would have done anything to bring about what they considered to be a proper way of life, but did it in such a way that they knew one day, when the world had changed and become a learned, civilized place of their design, their spiritual offspring would be able to see through what they had done and be able to continue on their way of life without needing to believe in the superstition surrounding it. If you’re into conspiracy theories, I’d take this one over the Da Vinci Code any day, because the scholarship behind the’ DaVinci Code,’ Michael Baigent et al’s ‘Holy Blood Holy Grail,’ is laughable. Who knows? Jesus as factual God; Jesus as Man; Jesus as Myth; Jesus as Lie. When New Testament Narrative becomes pure literature, all you are really left with is Jesus, as you like him.

I can’t even tell you if there is a god or not. Go to an Alcoholic’s Anonymous meeting some time and try to persuade someone there that there isn’t a God, when they are convinced God saved their lives and is present in their group consciousness and presents them with innumerable evidences of His presence, from the special coincidences in their lives to the simple sublime presence of nature; although I guess one could wonder why God didn’t save the lives of others in similar conditions - and while it is true that there is a feeling of connectedness and a higher state while being part of the AA group meeting, its does not necessarily mean this is the beginning of the realization of a higher power that cares about you. This could simply be Social Psychology and the idea that people experience the world differently and behave differently when they are in a group. If you argue that a feeling of serenity in a group is evidence for a higher power that cares about you, is the experience of group rage that occurs at soccer matches where people trample other people in a group frenzy evidence of a higher demon power? Hitler knew well the simple effects of group dynamics, which is why he packed meeting halls with far too many people than should have been there in order to arouse their emotions.

On the other hand, go to a secular humanist meeting sometime and try to convince anyone that there is a God (you wouldn’t believe in invisible fairies would you, so what’s the difference?). One wonders though, since secular humanists ground their argument in analogies and not evidence, are they not also expressing a kind of faith, one where they are adamantly committed to their point of view because they so powerfully feel the absence of God in their lives? One thing I can tell you for sure, there is no evidence that there isn’t a God. 

Personally, and this is just me, I think the belief that there is a supernatural father figure that is infinitely interested in the minutiae of your life is more a sign of arrogance than anything else. To me, human life is no different than plant life or fish life or fungal life or bacterial life, and it ends up the same as those forms of life as well. Just the same, for all we actually know, the Hare Krishnas could be the ones that have it right – or maybe one of the now defunct religions like the ancient Greeks, or Egyptians, Persians, Norse, Aztecs, Hindus, etc.

I, and again this is just me, have serious personal objections to those who view Judeo-Christian God as a loving and supporting father figure. Suppose a father had a son, and this son, like all sons, had things he enjoyed, and hopes, and dreams, and fundamental ways of being and doing that gave purpose to his life. All of these things were important to the son, and none of them caused harm to anyone. Now suppose the son, to take one example, enjoyed eating pork from time to time, a healthy, nutritious meat. The father told him that doing this was bad, and gave him no reason that made no sense to the son. Now suppose the son took great fulfilment in his work and enjoyed to put in at least some time at work each day, but the father said if you do that, you are being bad because I don’t want you to work every day. Now also suppose the son took as one of his highest values the pursuit of love, and for him that meant the love of another kind, caring man, and as one of the highest expressions of that love, the son so expressed himself physically with this other man. The father, again, told the son that even though what he was doing hurt no one, and was one of the highest affirmations of the son’s life, the father hated what the son was doing - but gave him no reason as to why. On top of that , suppose the father gave him a whole list of laws and rules that had no other justification outside the fact that the father liked the rules and had no interest in whether the son liked them or not. Again, suppose the father gave some rules that seemed to make constructive social sense independently of whether the father liked them or not, like rules against things like lying and killing (but not all killing, just killing without cause), but at certain times encouraged the son to kill for peculiar reasons, killed vast amounts of people himself, and praised lying if it suited the father to do so. Now imagine again that the father never really let his son grow up and leave the nest, because he told the son ‘if at any points you act in such a way that does not coincide with my world-view, I will hate what you are doing.’ Also, suppose the son had been so mentally traumatized by all this that he thought that in order to show love for his father, he needed to think of him and thank him for everything he had multiple times every day, and spend hours on the phone with him trying to better understand his father’s worldview so that he could live up to it ever more precisely each passing day. And, further, what if the father told the son that he had to try to explain to everyone he met of his father’s point of view, and let them know his father would hate their actions if they didn’t follow them -  Now, would this be considered a mentally stable father who was loving and supportive toward his son?

In any case, I hope you have learned enough in your time here to take the stance that I am completely wrong about all this and point out that this whole discussion has left out many of the world’s other religions. Never mind that, because you have been taught comparative religion at some point over the last four years. In the end, there are no facts that I can give you about God. You may have been given a lot of information about Him, but as for actual knowledge, you could have learned as much from your four years by watching Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters.” In the end, we just don’t know.

Perhaps if you really wanted to learn about Theology you should have taken a degree in Theology

(Part 2) The Professor’s Closing Remarks

It’s always kind of ironic to tell you at the end of your degree what we could have told you at the beginning of your studies in Philosophy, but I guess that as long as you get it now, we’ve done our job. You have spent a number of years learning the rules of thinking, and becoming better writers, readers, and debaters. Whether any of that will have any relevance to your future career I can’t say, and I really can’t say it isn’t the exact same thing you could have gotten from an English Degree where rhetoric is one of the course areas.

One thing I can say is that if you think you will take a four year BA in Philosophy and translate it into a career of some sort, you are a much more optimistic person than I am. If, on the other hand, you are looking to use your degree as a basis to apply for law school or medical school or teacher’s college, or something of the sort, I think you have been given a good base.  Pursue a graduate degree in Philosophy if you must, but understand the realities of it. We had a temporary position open up in our department this year and over 500 people with doctorates in Philosophy applied for it.

In terms of your studies in epistemology, the theory of knowledge, you have been presented with an overview of what humans have taught about what knowledge is for about the past three thousand years up until the present day. Perhaps along the way you have picked up an interesting tidbit or two, such as the fact that human beings use the world as a mirror to describe their own internal states – through the use of metaphor. Mostly, you have been given a history of epistemology, explaining what one thinker said about knowledge, and then why the next thinker disagreed with him or her. Perhaps if you really wanted to study human cognition you could have take Psychology or Education.  You were taught a course on cognitive science, but that was taught by a professor from the Psychology department.  We can’t even tell you if there is a real world existing outside your mind.

I guess Philosophy of Science could probably have been better time spent by taking a degree in Science.  Originally, there was only Philosophy.  Now, it’s difficult, with all the specializations, to determine what Philosophy has left to call its own. For you guys out there who took the Philosophy of sex course wanting to learn something, perhaps you did. You learned that you are attracted to an idea of a woman that is so far removed from what a woman actually is that you would probably have no interest in her whatsoever if she presented herself to you in her natural state: with hairy legs and hairy armpits and no make-up and an unshaven vagina and whatever else women do to present themselves to look as though they were just beginning puberty – breasts, but hairless. This is a condition of your age, a psychological condition that you have been programmed to believe in that is very recent in our history. It is the same type of social conditioning that tells us female homosexual behaviour is erotic while male homosexual behaviour is offensive or even insane, because who would ever look at himself naked in the mirror and get turned on by his penis?  However, if this was something you were really interested in, you could have taken Gender Studies.  Was Philosophy of History your thing, learning about some of the great philosophical movements in history, like Marxism, or would we have better served you by sending you to the History department?

Many of you came to Philosophy to get a good grounding in the study of ethics. I certainly hope that you weren’t hoping to get a job as a bioethics advisor or something of the sort from that because hospitals tend to promote internally. You were given many ethical ‘debates’ to ponder and argue, but, to take one example, is there really a right side to be on in the abortion debate, or does a person just generally side where his/her values are and then attempt to justify it? I imagine it was a shock when we taught you about Nietzsche and slave morality, the idea that most of the ideas we consider ‘moral,’ like b

© Copyright 2020 John MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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