|Away from a manger. Nicolas Poussin, La Nourriture de Jupiter (1636-37). Wikimedia Commons.|
LOPEZ: Why is it important to notice that Jesus “doesn’t behave like a conventional hero”?
HAHN: Jesus’ story is so much a part of us that we no longer notice its strangeness. I hope, with this book, to help people to forget the intervening millennia for a few moments and see the first Noel as it was. Jesus was power made perfect through weakness, as Saint Paul said. He learned obedience through suffering. And that was true from the first instant of his incarnation. His way was not the way of the gods and epic heroes of antiquity. We need to recover a sense of amazement at the humility of God, who allowed himself to be swaddled and diapered, hunted like an animal, and hidden like contraband.Well, though, just one of the all-time biggest gods of antiquity was Zeus, whose babyhood ought to be fairly familiar to some of our older readers. He was born in a cave on Mount Ida in Crete, where his mother immediately abandoned him, not because she didn't love him but to prevent his father from eating him (a careless feeder, Cronos swallowed the baby-sized stone in swaddling clothes she gave him instead without realizing he'd been tricked). Instead of his own mother he was suckled in the cave by a she-goat, while a troupe of Dactyls, dancing shamans, banged their drums and clashed their cymbals so that Cronos would not hear his cries, which must have played hell with the infant's sleep schedule. If that's not hunted like an animal and hidden like contraband I don't know what is.
Even more impressive is the story of the epic hero Heracles, conceived in Thebes when Zeus seduced Alcmene, king's daughter of Mycenae, by disguising himself as her husband Amphitryon, who was off at a war. Even before his birth he had to share a womb with his twin, Amphitryon's son Iphicles, and as soon as he was born Alcmene took him to a field outside the city and left him there, exposed to the elements, not out of fear of her husband, who, like Joseph, was relatively easy about sharing his wife with God, but God's wife Hera, who would have killed him if she knew where he was. (Athena found him there and cleverly presented him to Hera, like, "Look at this cute baby I found!" Hera immediately started nursing him; he sucked so violently that she had to push him away—her milk splashing through the sky created the Milky Way—but he was already bound to her forever in spite of her hatred.)
Heracles is also noteworthy for having died in inconceivable torture (wearing a shirt poisoned with the Hydra's blood, which burned his torso down to the bone before it killed him) and then rising from his funeral pyre to the heavens, where he sat at the right hand of the god his father, a god himself.
Just saying, Kathryn Jean. There is really not one word in the Gospel accounts of Jesus that is not prefigured somewhere in the Old Testament and Greek and Roman and Near Eastern myth. The power of the story comes from its universality—he's really the most convention-bound hero there is. Educated Christians used to know about this too, it didn't even bother them particularly.
What we have today is American Christian Exceptionalism, idiots like General Boykin and Justice Moore who believe Muslims worship idols and themselves make graven images of the Ten Commandments. I'm not one of those New Atheists who believe that all religion is stupid, but I do think if you want to argue you ought to know something first.
Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.