Was Jesus a Demi-god?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Jesus depicted in stained glass in St John the Baptist's Anglican Church via Wikipedia

This post follows The Difference Between Gods and Demi-Gods.  Please read that article first.

Hi Alexandrabond, of course the Christian church is mostly Pagan in ritual, although forgotten are the meanings of the rituals.

Isn’t Jesus a Demi-god? The fact is that Christianity looks nothing like Judaism so what does it look like? – bdrex

The Catholic practice of revering saints:

My suggestion is concerned more with the actions of followers than the nature of their saints. The cult behavior towards saints/heros/demi-gods is very similar in our respective religions.

Christian ritual:

I also agree that it’s very interesting how pagan their rituals are and that they have forgotten the meaning behind their rituals. That’s the unfortunate result of such a strict hierarchical church structure in which (at least until at least the Reformation) only priests and some nobility read and recited their mythology.  You’re also right that Christianity departs a great deal from Judaism. How interesting that this obscure Jewish cult divided so significantly from its parent religion and gained such notoriety over time.  While Judaism had its own, separate and contained, culture, the Christians under Paul reached out to gentiles (non-Jews) to convert them.  Any similarities they could borrow from pagan religions would make the transition easier and for utilitarian (not necessarily spiritual) reasons.

Disclaimer:

As always, as a modern Hellenic polytheist, I’m much less concerned with orthodoxy (correct thought) than orthopraxy (correct practice).  I don’t presume to hold a direct line to divinity, am not writing to fight over personal gnosis, and really don’t care to tell Christians what to believe.  Quite frankly, belief doesn’t matter, actions matter.  What I care about is how we relate to each other.

That said, here is my approach the subject of Jesus and whether he was a demi-god:

I don’t know for sure if Jesus of Nazareth existed; if he was a good, inspiring, mortal like Ghandi; if he was a god in disguise, or if he was descended from a mortal-immortal pairing and was therefore a demi-god/hero. If Jesus of Nazareth was a hero, then he could have undergone a process like apotheosis (elevation to godhood).

The story of his life and death reminds me of Asklepios: born of a powerful god and a mortal female, rescued from death at birth, possessed life-restoring power, was a kindly man, and underwent apotheosis at the same time as his death.  Some also say that his mother was sent to the heavens.  It’s possible Jesus was the kind of hero Asklepios was – not one of strength, cunning, or quests – but of doing good deeds – and was rewarded for them by his father’s favor.   Yet it’s also possible that much like our holidays and rituals, this too was borrowed from our mythology and Jesus wasn’t divine at all. It’s possible he didn’t even exist.

The Christian mythology is a knot of contradictions and it’s wound too tight for me to untie.  Personally given how many accounts there remain of Jesus, I’m inclined to think that he did exist and was a very good person, but as I have no gnosis of the Abrehamic god or Jesus, I cannot say whether he was anything more than that.

Do you think Jesus was a demi god, a god, or just a man?  If he was just a man, do you think he was elevated to a demi-god or god?

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6 comments on “Was Jesus a Demi-god?

  1. Morchu says:

    There are a number of at least interesting books and articles on the themes you touch on here. The cult of saints is a particularly attended development. Peter Brown works on this and you might want to check out his book: The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (U. of Chicago Press, 1981), though some disagree with him and the debate has moved on since. You might also find his ‘Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of the Christianisation of the Roman World’ (Cambridge U,. 1997) insteresting.

    Your noted difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy is very well placed. It highlights a very important and necessary distinction when considering the relationship of pagan culture to Christian. During the Western European conversion period (let’s say 300-1000: from the formulation of Western orthodoxy to the Scandinavian conversion) all that was necessary for conversion was the adoption of certain specific beliefs, i.e. those things established in the creed. This meant that some of the non-Christian orthopraxy could remain largely unaltered and carried over. Nevertheless, much was deliberately dropped and debates over what could and could not be maintained in the new faith continued apace with new conversions. The Irish maintained much of their previous culture, for example, while the Anglo-Saxons did not.

    All this is to say that it is too much a generalisation to say that Christianity is *mostly* pagan (and I realise that it was a commentator that made this claim and not yourself). What makes Christianity distinctive is not the degree of pre-Christian orthopraxy that was carried over, but the maintenance – even an imposition – of a thoroughly Christian orthodoxy in the context of continued orthopraxy. The twelfth and eleventh centuries in Scandinavia illustrate this prefectly. The cult of saints was tied culturally to the cult of ancestors that thrived in late Roman society. Certainly heroes (in the sense of a demi-god) were involved in this, but the question is highly complex and differs according to region and culture.

    This and its antecedant post are my first of yours to have read. I look forward to reading others.

    • Thank you, Morchu, for your insightful comment! This was a delight to read. Sorry I couldn’t get back to you earlier…

      I’ll certainly check out the books you mentioned, they sound excellent for following up on this topic.

      On orthopraxy vs. orthodoxy, I agree it’s especially important to note the difference because it wasn’t until Paul, and after him Augustine, that faith was emphasized over good works. This is an important note given that both Paul and Augustine were not adult contemporaries with Jesus while he was alive.

      Your examples of the Irish and Anglo-Saxons orthopraxies is very well noted. The degree of carry-over of traditional rituals and diverged at the fall of the Roman Empire. With the lack of central government, it would be difficult (if not impossible) for all Christian practices to change in the same way (if they changed at all).

      I agree 100% with you on how Christianity is unique in its treatment of orthodoxy and orthopraxy – the imposition of orthodoxy in the context of traditional pre-Christian orthopraxy. Perhaps that’s a large reason it spread so widely – people could keep doing most of what they had been doing before, as long as they directed those actions towards the Jewish god and Jesus and recognized new heros (the saints).

  2. executivepagan says:

    Interesting discussion… although, as someone who has spent significant time in both Christian and Jewish services, I do have to say that Christian worship *forms* (particularly the more traditional) are strongly related to their Jewish antecedents; while the theology is pretty radically divergent.

  3. bdrex says:

    Alexandra, some background, all disputed of course. Most ante-Nicene writings still existing are called apologies. They defend Christianity. Often the Pagan position is — your religion is a poor copy of ours–nothing new.

    Researching first century sources (Josephus, Clement) and the dead sea scrolls . . . giving equal weight to all (rather than dismiss writings the Church calls pseudo writings) I found the following.

    Many revered sayings attributed to Jesus were said and made popular by others. James the brother of Jesus said while being stoned “forgive them for they know not what they do” This was around 62 ad. about the time the first Gospel was written. It appears as though sayings of revered Jewish leaders, Hillel, James, King David, were attributed to Jesus in the Gospels.

    Jews in 1st. century Jerusalem, who followed messianic teachings saw Jesus as a man Messiah only, not divine. Many early church fathers, such as Justin Martyr. . . Describe the nature of Jesus as divine but not equal to the father God. Whether he existed or not, it seems Jesus was viewed in a manner consistent with the culture and myths of each area. Did he become a God in Rome to trump other Demi-Gods?

    • Sorry I wasn’t able to get back to you sooner. Yes, as far as I know, there were no first-hand accounts from Jesus himself. In some cases, the most influential sources in the New Testament (such as St. Paul) never met Jesus. If the chronology is correct, Paul of Tarsus lived from 5 BCE to 67 AD, which means he was roughly five years old when Jesus supposedly was crucified. It was Paul who initialized the idea that salvation is based on correct faith and not on correct action, and began the process of converting Gentiles (pagans outside of the Jewish community) all in the name of Jesus. Meaning, that I agree with you that a lot of what has been attributed to Jesus actually came from older Jewish leaders, like you mentioned, or from later authors, like Paul, who wrote such things in Jesus’ name or claimed that he had told them to do so.

      That’s why I think it’s important to distinguish between what we know of Jesus himself, and his followers. The underlying messages from Jesus as translated through his Apostles are good, particularly the ones who witnessed him first-hand were trained historians (like St. Luke).

      I also agree that he was viewed in the context of the cultures and myths of each area (and era). It’s possible, what you say, that he was promoted as a good among his later followers after St. Paul had influenced the approach of Christianity towards Gentiles. From what I understand, modern scholars attribute the growing claim that Jesus = the Jewish god because of his frequent use of the phrase “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30, John 17:11, 22; John 5:19; 14:9) as reported by John. It would make sense – if Jesus were a god, then this would sway more of the Jewish community and convert more Gentiles away from their gods and heros.

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