“For Plato ideas are archetypes of the things themselves, and not, in the manner of the categories, merely keys to possible experiences. In his view they have issued from highest reason, and from that source have come to be shared in by human reason, which, however, is now no longer in its original state, but is constrained laboriously to recall, by a process of reminiscence (which is named philosophy), the old ideas, now very much obscured. I shall not engage here in any literary enquiry into the meaning which this illustrious philosopher attached to the expression. I need only remark that it is by no means unusual, upon comparing the thoughts which an author has expressed in regard to his subject, whether in ordinary conversation or in writing, to find that we understand him better than he has understood himself. As he has not sufficiently determined his concept, he has sometimes spoken, or even thought, in opposition to his own intention.”
—Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1787), B370 (Norman Kemp Smith, trans.; the emphasis is mine)
I’m going to suggest a very big paradox—one that may at first be difficult to get one’s mind around. I believe there is actually reason to think that the authors of the Bible may have been using an “esoteric” (i.e., “cryptic”) mode of discourse in their writings with the partially unconscious intention of criticizing the esoteric form of religion (a category in which I would include orthodox Christianity, Judaism, and Gnosticism, among many other world religions).
By “esoteric religion,” I basically have in mind any religion whose core, authoritative writings are capable of having and were intended by its authors to have “double meanings”; so that any religion whose authoritative writings are overtly and indisputably allegorical, or parabolic, or obscurely metaphorical, symbolic, or figurative, would qualify as an “esoteric” religion. And any “mythical” religion would necessarily also be an “esoteric” religion, since “myth” obviously involves obscurely metaphorical, symbolic, or figurative communication.
My personal belief is that the so-called “mythicist” position regarding the life narrative of Jesus, which views that life narrative as myth or allegory, is the correct one; and that means, based on what I just wrote, that I believe Christianity qualifies as an “esoteric religion.” Even if it were assumed for the sake of argument that the character of “Jesus” was originally based on a single historical individual, so long as it can be shown that there was substantial embellishment, “legend-making,” “myth-making,” and allegorizing occurring in the telling of his life-story, then at some point that just blends into the mythicist position anyway. So the essential question to be asked is whether or not significant allegorical or mythical elements can be discerned in the Gospel narratives of Jesus’s life story; if they can, the figure of “Jesus” becomes a “mythical” figure—and thus an “esoteric” figure, located at the center of an “esoteric” religion. Mythicist authors have already made an argument for the position that these allegorical or mythical elements do in fact exist in the supposedly “historical” accounts found in the Gospels and elsewhere in the Bible; so that, in terms of what I am personally trying to do, I do not feel the need to revisit that particular argument except to refer people to the writings of those authors if they still have doubts about the allegorical or mythical nature of the Gospels. (As for myself, based partly on the amount of time I have spent trying to make sense of the Bible, I cannot help but consider the matter to be obvious, and so have not felt any pressing need to read those authors’ books myself.)
Continue reading “A new interpretive approach: Viewing the Bible as an esoteric critique of esoteric religion”