29. The God of Life

 

Since early agricultural society man has wondered: what mysterious force made the plants grow? Why did the coming of spring and rain have this impact on nature? What wondrous force could be hidden in the living waters running in the brooks and rivers? Without this water everything would wither and die.

And man discovered that it was the same fluid or juice of life raising in the trees, covering the forest with leaves, and bringing forward the many new saplings so crisp and filled with water. It was the same sweet water of life being stored in the grapes of the vine with the mysterious capability of fermentation. It was all closely connected with the living waters falling from the sky making the country blossom with a 1000 flowers, and making the dead and dry grains come alive, enabling them to sprout and multiply in harvest. This life-giving force had to have its utmost source in some powerful god, the God of Life dying, but in his death changed into living waters. In Egypt he was called Osiris. Osiris was killed by his evil demonic brother Seth and drowned in the Nile, but in his death changed into the life-giving water of the Nile. In Lebanon high in the mountains a well poured forth at Afca, running as a river down through a paradisiacal cedar forest created by the water. It was the river each year turning red from the blood of Adonis. In Scandinavia we have the myth of Balder. When he dies, a multitude of water streams are coming up from his barrow acc. to Saxo. In his death Jesus is pierced by a spear, and out of the wound comes water mixed with blood.

Unity with the god of life is sealed in the holy meal, where man eats his gifts: the bread that gives life to the whole world. A part of Him is in the bread, and therefore it gives the life which is eternally victorious over death. For although he is dead, he also lives eternally, each spring giving renewal to nature in all the fresh glory of early spring when the mild rain falls from the sky and the smell of life is everywhere, when the sun shines and all the lilies of the fields open.

He is life in the deep and concentrated sense of the word.

 

C.S.Lewis, the well-known English apologist and professor of literature draws attention to the fact that the miracles of Jesus are concentrations of what God does on a cosmic level: every year God makes a little corn into much corn. That is what happens when the field yields manifold. The feeding miracle is a small concentration of the great bread miracle, the miracle of sowing and harvesting which happens each year, and is that which keeps the world alive. Lewis does not mention the fact that John 6 even links the miracle together with Easter, and thus with the feast of the unleavened bread and the barley harvest. On millions of straws, God has made a small grain into many. Jesus acts as “the corn spirit”.

The wine miracle in Cana is also like a concentrated glimpse of what happens on a million vines: under the glow of the sun, the moisture of the earth and the rain of the sky are changed into the juice of the dark grapes. This is what the Greeks praise as the miracle of Dionysos. These connections became important for Lewis' conversion from atheism to theism. He was extremely fascinated by James D.Frazer’s research into “the dying god”, and saw Jesus as yet another variant of this theme of “the corn spirit”, until it was clear to him that in the gospels Jesus is not represented as a mythical, but as a historical person. In Lewis’ opinion, Jesus must therefore be the divine reality of which all the myths about Balder, Adonis, Osiris, Attis and Dionysos are “shadows”. He is the myth which becomes fact, becomes real history.[1]

In Catal Hüyük the high god is not identified with the bull. The bull is a symbol of his presence, and he is pictured as a man riding on the back of the bull (in the same way as the demon god is seen as a young boy riding on the back of a leopard). As we call the leopard god the big hunter it seems apt to call the bull god the shepherd. In fact in Accadian the moon is called “The Shepherd of Heaven”[2]. E.Schopen, “Das Christentum der Katakomben”,[3] points out that far the most common way of picturing Jesus in the catacombs is as the Good Shepherd. To Schopen it is also important that Attis is pictured as a shepherd carrying a shepherd's staff (pedum) and flute (syrinx), and the ram is his holy animal[4]. Also Tammuz is a shepherd. In my article “Salvanda et Pastor Bonus” I have shown that the gospel of John is drawing on the symbols of Near Eastern folk religion where the male god is the shepherd celebrating holy union with a goddess, symbol of earth, people, town, community. We will try to give an example:

The two first scenes in the gospel are the scene where the Baptist is identifying Jesus as “the Lamb of God”, and the scene of “the Wedding at Cana”.

 These two scenes are joined together by the small notice:

“On the third day there was a wedding…" Now, when Jesus is called “Lamb of God”, ”Divine Lamb”, it is old folk religion where the god of life is identified with the dying bull, the sacrifice. Tammuz is called “the lamb in the jaws of the underworld", and the original meaning of the word tragedy (Greek: tragodia) is “goat´s song”, lyrics about the dying Dionysos goat. The “third day” is the day of resurrection, both in the New Testament and, acc to Lucian’s report in the Adonis feast in Byblos. On the third day in Byblos the women have to serve the spirit of Adonis returned from the realm of death to “free air” (the air is the element of the spirits) in some kind of hierogamic feast where they have “to give themselves to strangers”.

“My time has not yet come”[5]. What is the right moment, the great moment Jesus is waiting for? It is easy to see that the same symbolism opening the gospel of John is returning at the end of the Revelation of John. John speaks about Lamb, wedding and revelation of the Glory of God in John 1-2, about Lamb, bride and final revelation of the Glory in Rev 21-22. In John 2 there is a changing of water into wine, in Rev 22,1 the “water of life” is like a river running from the throne of the Lamb, and every one “who thirsts shall come and receive the water of life for nothing” 22,17. The final glorification of the lamb with his wedding is the holy moment Jesus is waiting for. It is the moment for the pouring out of the water of life of which the good wine in Cana is a symbol. The key to the scenes are the high god as the giver of the juice of life, the life-carrying element in the vegetation. From the water of life come the leaves of the “tree of life", giving medicine and healing to all mankind (22,2).

At the end of Revelations we find the culmination of the themes of the beginning of the gospel, the sacrificial lamb, the wedding, the final revelation of the glory of the Lord of which the wine-miracle in Cana is only the first beginning, John 2,11 cf. Rev 21,24. “My time has not yet come”: Jesus thinks of the wedding of the lamb, the final union between Him and His people, where the water of life shall be given to everyone who thirsts. But in accordance with a thinking typical of the gospel, this final moment is already present in the sacraments of the early church, in the water and wine poured out at the moment of the death of Jesus, and symbolically given to man in the sacrament[6].

Without the life force of Jesus, without the Holy Spirit, our lives would be barren and rather dry. This is also the message of Jesus sitting by Jacob’s well where he is confronted with the woman representing Samaria, John 4.

In the Near East, the coming of the god of life is celebrated in early spring. In Athens, the Anthesteria (“Flower-feast”) celebrates the coming of Lord Dionysos across the sea. By his coming, the jars with new wine set aside for ripening during the winter months are opened and tasted, and there is a hierogamic ceremony between the basilissa (the queen) and the god. At Elis, the god is called upon as “Worthy Bull”, and asked to come to his temple and to the women calling upon him. He will approach on “hoof of a bull”, the sign of his coming being jars with water turned into wine. There is a common pattern to all this: the epiphany of the god of life-fluid in the humble shape of the cattle to be sacrificed to celebrate holy wedlock with the woman as a symbol of the earth, the town, the church, the heavenly Jerusalem.

In the Gospel of John this old fertility symbolism is spiritualized. Without the Holy Spirit our lives are without juice, empty and dry. The old law-abiding religion of the Jews, with their rituals of cleansing, is filled “up to the edge” by the heaven-given wine of joy, John 2,6ff. cf. Act 2,46f..

In my contribution to Essays in honour of Johannes Aaagaard[7] I tried to draw attention to the many scenes where Jesus (or the reader) in the Gospel of John and the Revelation of John is confronted with a woman, first his mother, then a harlot, then his bride, a woman often specifically addressed, not with her name, but with the word “woman”:

 

John 2: His mother addressed as “woman”.

Rev 12: The woman giving birth to a child.

John 4: The Samaritan woman.

John 8: The woman taken in adultery.

Rev 17-19,2: The great harlot.

John 11: Martha uses Mary to put pressure on Jesus. Obviously she is thought to have a more intimate relationship to Jesus. “The master called upon you”, she says, although Jesus has not called on Mary.

John 12: She anoints Jesus with nardus-oil. Jesus comes as the royal groom to meet the ‘daughter of Zion’.

John 20: Mary from Magdala is addressed: “Woman why are you weeping?” She wants to embrace Jesus, but is not allowed to do so, because Jesus has not yet ascended to his Father. The holy union is a heavenly wedding, as seen in the last chapters of Rev (21,2+9).

Rev 19,7ff; 21,2ff: The bride

 

The great mystery celebrated every spring in the Near Eastern folk religion was the holy wedlock between the shepherd, the king of light, and the dark queen of the earth. The earth has been mourning and barren for several cold winter months, but by the strong power of the sun she is clad in the beautiful dress of many flowers. The holy text to be read during the spring festival (Easter and the feast of unleavened bread) was the Song of Songs, about Shulamit, the dark lady longing for her friend coming to her surrounded by the strong scent of nard, the sure sign that he is coming from areas close to the sun and the paradise in the Far East. His hands have left so much nard that it trickles down from the hole in the door. Although he is called Solomon, he is in fact the king of paradise and the Lord of life, whose presence is like a scent form paradise, from the mountains filled with balsamic odour, and he is compared to a stag grazing on balsamic mountains.

The plot in the Song of Songs is that Shulamit was so sleepy that she did not care to rise when her friend was standing by her door. When she finally got up, he had disappeared, and now she is searching for him everywhere. (Like Psyche searching for her lost husband, Amor.) In her searching and roaming through the night she is harassed by brutal men, slapping her and tearing her veil. But she receives help from the daughters of Jerusalem: “Where has your friend gone? We will join you in your search for him”. “Who are you searching for?” is the question put to the “woman”, Mary of M., in John 20,15 (cf. “You are searching for Jesus from N.” Mark 16,6).

In early Gnosticism (Simon Magus´s Helen, the harlot) and in the Mandaean Gnosis a woman plays the role of the soul to be saved (Latin: salvanda). In Mandaean litt. she is called Mirjai. A similar role as the symbol of the soul converted into Judaism is played by Asenath in the novel, “Joseph and Asenath”. The lack of respectability of the women approaching Jesus in the gospel of John, anointing him and being saved from stoning by his wise intervention, is a symbol of the unclean, unchaste soul of the sinner who has nothing to offer the Lord but love, and is assured of his undeserved grace and acceptance. But not only that: the Lord is pictured as the lover of the poor soul thirsting for him. That these scenes are full of strong feelings of love is seen from the resurrection of Lazarus, where L. is called “he who was loved by Jesus”, and where Mary´s weeping makes even Jesus burst into tears. In John 20, Mary is pictured as weeping, and she recognises Jesus only when he kindly, lovingly utters her name.

What is told by these scenes is that love is something divine, and what is felt between man and woman in their most tender moments is only a faint reflection of a spark of the great divine flame called Agape – love. The ideal, heavenly Agape is the love felt by the Saviour towards the poor, beaten, sinful soul with its torn veil, and its shame only partly covered. This is the soul to be filled with something beyond all understanding, when it seeks in great despair.

In the Song of Songs, the women of Jerusalem went out to seek the beloved in the gardens outside the city, cf. “It is Jesus, the crucified, you are searching for”, Matt. 28,5. We know that even in the cave under the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem was performed the ritual mourning for the bridegroom taken away, the old mystery expressing the pain and loss which is so often the close companion of love in this transitory world, where human happiness is like the flowers blossoming today and withering tomorrow. In this world our only consolation is that our soul, even if it is dark and wrapped in the filthy rags of many sins like the soul of an old harlot, is the object of the undeserved love of the Lord.

 

  To behold the Glory of God is the highest goal in this early Christian religion: "And we saw His glory...", John 1,14 cf. 17,24. This is also the end to all the tribulations of Job: The Epiphany of God in the Glory of the Gold from the mythic mountain of the north, Job 37,22. The ecstatic vision of God is the culmination of all theology and makes all theology seen as "rumours of God" 42,5 disappear. It is already in the suffering Job seen as the final goal of human life and death 19,26  ("away from my flesh I shall see God" – that is out of the body shall I see God).

 

Fr.Heiler, Das Gebet,[8] develops the famous distinction between prophetic and mystic religion. But the Bible is not altogether free from mysticism and ecstatic out-of-body experiences of a supernatural reality. The great Near Eastern symbol of that reality is the primordial paradise. Characteristic of the faith in God-Jhvh is the belief in a darker side of supernatural reality symbolised in the two trees in paradise, the tree of life and the dangerous tree of knowledge of both good and evil. In most Near Eastern religions there is only one tree, the tree of life. But acc. to the biblical ethical religion there are also evil forces, and contact with the supernatural centre of existence can also be a channel through which these forces find their way into the human world. One of the ways can be the attempt to reach divine vision through some euphoria-giving fruit, eating something that gives "opening of eyes” busts the frames of normal day-to-day conscience giving some kind of chemical mysticism to the consumer. The story about the fall of man wants to warn against this kind of mysticism, and already here the snake is acting as a representative of the kundalini-arousing techniques.

 

Later in the Qumran-scrolls and in the early rite of baptism we find that this developed in the teaching of the two supernatural spirits who permeates everything, even the human mind: we have to forsake the evil spirit and yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit. Whether the human mind is dominated by the evil spirit or the Holy Spirit shows itself in the two roads: the road to Life and the road of Death – also an important motif of early baptismal preaching.

Following the leopard you nurture the dark destructive feelings of the heart: violence, anger, aggression, bloodshed, getting drunk or doped.

In early Christianity Jesus was seen as the good shepherd, who is life and light to the world. He is the lamb of God giving living water, he is the grain of wheat dying to bring forward fruit, the bread of life that brings resurrection, the true wine with the vegetational force, the life juice which flows and makes the branches live and bear fruit. The devil was the roaring lion roaming to see who can be swallowed up.

  In early Christianity man was seen as standing at a cross road, choosing among two spirits. One road characterized by all the dark feelings: hate, strife, sorcery, greed, chaotic lusts. The other road governed by the Holy Spirit was: love, peace, modesty, joy, mercy, patience, gentleness, goodness, mildness, faithfulness, Gal 5,19-23,Col 3,5-17.

 

The supernatural world is not a system of neutral energies that can be manipulated by man by using certain techniques or magical devices (or pseudo-scientific devices invented by modern healers). The supernatural world is light and darkness, God and demons, life giving or chaotic forces. History is the spiritual struggle between the kingdom of God and civitas terrena, the powers of this world. This is the reason why such phenomena as Nazism and Communism appear and spread infinite cruelty and killings before they finally are conquered.

 

The key to the life of Jesus as it is described in the gospels is “spiritual warfare”:

“It was the unavoidable collision of the unhindered power of the Holy Spirit manifested through a sinless life with the opposing power of Satan. It was impossible for the Son of God to be in the vicinity of evil power, and not expose it and challenge it. Shadows of twilight and the curtain of night only temporarily hide what the brilliance of the noonday sun reveals.”[9]

 

Christianity is a dualistic religion. There is a dualistic ending to most of the parables, so typical of the preaching of Jesus: some are saved, and some are not. The sheep are placed on the right side of the Son of Man, the rams on the left. Lazarus is born by the angel to the bosom of Abraham, the rich man goes to a place of torment. 5 virgins are clever and admitted to the feast, 5 are foolish, and to them the door is closed. The wheat is brought into the barn, the poisonous weeds are burnt. One servant is lazy, two are good and enter into the joy in the presence of their Lord. One house is built on rock and stands firm, the other falls apart. The net catches all kind of fish, the good are sorted out and laid into baskets, the bad ones are thrown out. This seems to be a main structure in the teaching of Jesus, and has something to do with the fact that there is good and evil, truth and lies, God and devil. It is closely connected to the fact that Judaism and Christianity are ethical religions, and man is called to choose between good and evil, light and darkness, false and true prophets. It is also closely connected to the strange fact that the world, so full of pain and death, is also so full of infinite beauty.



[1] Lewis’ articles about this subject were collected by W.Hooper in: C.S.Lewis, God in the Dock, Fount Paperback, 1979, see art. “Miracles” p.15-17, “Myth became Fact”, p.43-45, “The Grand Miracle”, p.59-61.

[2] re-u E-anna, Weidner, Babyloniaca VI, 27

[3] ARW 37, 1941-2, pp.329-54

[4] p.333n1

[5] John 2,5

[6] John 19,34

[7] Dialogue in Action, ed. L. Thunberg and M. Lal Pandit, 1988, pp.85-110

[8] 5th ed.1923

[9] Merril F.Unger, Biblical Demonology, 1952, p.79