Today my wife Naomi, along with a couple from the West Seneca 1st Presbyterian Church, drove to the Chautauqua Institution to hear Bishop Spong speak in the Hall of Philosophy. He will be speaking there each afternoon this week as the guest Religious Lecturer. The Hall was filled to capacity along with several lawn chairs set up around its perimeter.
I have read several of John Spong’s twenty some books, one of the most popular being “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism.” Many of his ensuing books I have seen as an expansion of this theme. He impresses me with his vigor and quick mind, even at 80 years plus. He will go down as one of the pioneers in this “post Christian age”. He introduced me to many of the scholars who have contributed to what has been called “The Jesus Seminar” who have seriously challenged traditional 4th Century Christianity over the past 35 years. John Spong perhaps has reincarnated as a modern Galileo and Copernicus in placing the test of science and reason alongside long held religious beliefs. Agreeing with the studies of many current scholars, John Spong believes there actually was an historical Jesus but that the miracles and other stories about him were myths and not facts. There was no literal Virgin Birth, walking on water, quieting storms, or a body waking up from the dead and lifting off into the skies.
After the 30 minute talk, I stood in line several minutes waiting to ask the Bishop a question. Just as it came my turn, questions were stopped ending the forum! I felt a sense of disappointment but as suggested, I had my question printed on a piece of paper and left it with his wife Christine who said she would give it to John and perhaps he would answer me in his bi-weekly column published and sent out to subscribers like myself. I will await the answer.
My question was to ask why he had given one of the largest recommendations to Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy’s 1999 published book, “The Jesus Mysteries” and yet he has never really addressed their thesis. These two British scholars gave shocking but to me credible evidence that the Jesus we were taught to be a literal person, and as John Spong still teaches, was actually the continuation of a mythological story based on Lunar symbolism dating back thousands of years to ancient Egypt. After reading this work resulting from twenty years of research, I then read others teaching the same conclusion; there never was an actual historical Jesus. Tom Harpur, a Canadian Anglican scholar from Toronto, wrote the well documented book, “The Pagan Christ” in 2004 based on Freke and Gandy’s book along with earlier pioneers such as Alvin Boyd Kuhn (1949, “Shadow of the Third Century: A Reevaluation of Christianity”), Gerald Massey (“The Light of the World”, 1907), and Godfrey Higgin’s pioneer works on ancient mythologies. (1771-1834) I wanted to ask the Bishop his reaction to these studies showing not which scriptures are mythological, but how they ALL are mythological in nature. Indeed, it was their very nature to be mythological in seeking to convey an experience of transcendence in our inner souls. As Harpur quotes Jesus Seminar scholar John Dominic Crossan, “My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.” (From his book, “Who is Jesus?”)
I am hoping to get an answer from the Bishop and regret I am unable to return to hear his other 4 lectures with Q and A. I will be looking to web stream them for clues. To me, it isn’t really that important one way or another as to whether there was an actual Jesus or the long history of Judaism. The stories themselves as myths and symbols can stand on their own power and message. But the evidence casting serious doubt about the actual historicity of the life of Jesus along with older Biblical stories is an issue modern scholarship, with its aim to seriously consider all such claims, needs to address, despite the consequence of probable further charges of heresy and betrayal. I eagerly await his response! If it comes, I will share it with you.