Friday, March 30, 2018

The God from the House of Bread: A Bridge Between Christianity and Paganism (Part 3)

The Wild Reed's 2018 Holy Week series continues with Part 3 of Druid author and speaker John Michael Greer's essay "The God from the House of Bread," originally published in the 2012 anthology, Jesus Through Pagan Eyes: Bridging Neopagan Perspectives with a Progressive Vision of Christ.

For Part 1 of this series, click here).


The mythic narratives that surround Jesus have the greater richness one would expect from the classical Levant, where fertility deities who die and rise again had been a commonplace of Pagan religious thought for thousands of years before the rise of ancient Greece.

It's for this reason that Jesus is paired throughout his myth with his alter ego John the Baptist. The two mirror each other seasonally; Jesus is born at the winter solstice and dies in the spring, the harvest time in the eastern Mediterranean, suspended above the earth like the ripe grain on the stalk; John is born at the summer solstice and dies in the autumn, the planting time, beheaded in a prison beneath the earth, like the seed that goes to its burial behind the plowshare's iron blade. "He must increase," John says of Jesus, "while I must decrease."

Evidence for this interpretation of Christian myth is abundant in the Bible and other early Christian sources. Jesus's traditional birthplace is in Bethlehem, for example, a town whose name literally means "house of bread" in Hebrew, and the central act of traditional Christian ritual centers on eating the bread that is Jesus's body and drinking the wine that is his blood. (John has no similar ritual attributed to him, since one does not eat the seed corn or the rootstock of the grapevine.) "I have come that they might have life," Jesus says in the Bible, "and that they might have it more abundantly"; any other fertility deity could have said as much, and it's only the intellectual distance that separates us from the context of early Christianity that makes so many people nowadays think that the "life" Jesus spoke of is a spiritual abstraction.

Christianity, it must be remembered, had its birth in the bustling spiritual marketplace of the classical Mediterranean world, where religious metaphors of this sort were commonplaces of contemporary thought. The mystery religions, which offered salvation to those who sought union with a god or a goddess through rituals of initiation and communion, were among the most powerful religious forces of the time, and nearly all of them focused on exactly this kind of agricultural symbolism. Thus it's hardly a leap to suggest, as so many scholars of myth have, that the precise parallels between Christianity and the other mystery religions – and the rich agricultural symbolism of Christianity itself – show that the original Christian faith may well have been something not far from what Owen Morgan claimed it to be: a mystery cult venerating the life force in nature, expressed through a rich mythic symbolism that became associated through a complex historical process with the events of the life and death of an otherwise obscure Jewish religious reformer.

– John Michael Greer
From "The God from the House of Bread"
in Jesus Through Pagan Eyes
(edited by Rev. Mark Townsend)
p. 154-156

NEXT: Part 4

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The God from the House of Bread (Part 1)
The God from the House of Bread (Part 2)
Advent: A "ChristoPagan" Perspective
Gabriel Fauré's "ChristoPagan" Requiem
A Day to Celebrate the Survival of the Old Ways
At Hallowtide, Pagan Thoughts on Restoring Our World and Our Souls
Celebrating the Coming of the Sun and the Son
The Pagan Roots of All Saints Day
Beltane: Celebrating the Sheer Exuberance of May
Beltane and the Reclaiming of Spirit
Beloved and Antlered
Integrating Cernunnos, "Archetype of Sensuality and the Instinctual World"
The Prayer Tree

Opening image: Detail from Salvador Dalí's "The Sacrament of the Last Supper" (1955).

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