I know professors of English. I like professors of English, and can respect their work. But then some professors of English publish total rubbish like this, and it’s facepalm time.
This scholar’s interpretation navigates between the perils of realism and fundamentalism
Read the whole thing, if you can stomach it. There’s no navigation at all; there’s nothing but totally credulous acceptance of much embellished legend, treated as if it were fact. Take the opening story, for example:
The burial of Jesus took place in haste, in keeping with Jewish law, as commanded in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hange him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day.” One can only imagine the eagerness of those who loved Jesus to remove his body from the cross, a position of extreme exposure and embarrassment, and to lay it gently in a crypt, safe from mocking Roman eyes. At last, the torture was over.
Having acquired permission to take charge of the body, Joseph of Arimathea wrapped it carefully in fine linens and, with the help of Nicodemus, put it in a crypt hewn from rock not far from the site of the execution on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Nicodemus had brought a mixture of embalming spices: aloes and myrrh.
“One can only imagine…” Yes, that is the one true phrase in the whole mess. It’s all built up out of imagination. We have no contemporary accounts of the death of this person, Jesus; we don’t even have reliable sources for the existence of the person at all. Yet here this Parini fellow is reciting speculative BS about how people were feeling during events that may not have happened at all.
Maybe, to Parini, navigating between realism and fundamentalism means avoiding both and dwelling on kitschy rose-colored portrayals of fantasy events?
Huge questions confront anyone thinking about Jesus. Did he really rise from the dead? Was there an actual Resurrection? If so, what would that look like? A large number of Christians throughout history have imagined a resuscitation, refusing to countenance the slightest hint that the Resurrection should be regarded as something beyond human understanding. I myself would argue this: life and death are mysterious, at best, and the membrane between the living and the dead is a porous one, perilously thin. Jesus rose from the dead, the scriptures say. I see no reason to doubt this. And yet a literalistic belief in the Resurrection cannot be, as many fundamentalist churches insist, the only important part of the “good news” of Christianity. The message of God’s love in operation in the world trumps everything and must be regarded as the necessary extension of the idea of rebirth, the social basis for true spiritual enlightenment. Nowhere more so than here does it matter that we find a proper balance between the literal and the figurative, giving full weight to the concrete meaning while relishing the mythic contours of the story.
He has no reason to doubt a magical account of a god-man rising from the dead 2,000 years ago? Really? No reason at all? Does he have a brain in his head? Perhaps I have no reason to believe that.
I can appreciate the difference between literal and figurative, like the difference between science and art, but sometimes there is no concrete meaning to balance, and the best answer is rejection of the nonsense, rather than wallowing in it.
We’re going to be seeing a lot of this pious bullshit in this month before Christmas, aren’t we?