Imagine receiving a generous prize from a Jewish organization on condition you spend three weeks in Israel. What would you do? Stephen Mitchell took it as a sign that now was the time to write the book on Jesus he had long wanted to write. That book became The Gospel According to Jesus, but he didn’t find what he need at first, he says in a young adult version called Jesus, What He Really Said and Did.
Until, that is, he went into Egypt with his Israeli guide-like Joseph, I think-and met this Bedouin man, their guide, a true patriarch from the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
And when the Bedouin man stopped to pray, praying with his whole body, his prayer was so pure, so whole, Mitchell wanted to bow with him, but he didn’t know how his Muslim guide and his Israeli guide would understand “a Jew bowing to Allah,” (xviii) so he bowed in his mind.
Meeting Musa and feeling the purity of his prayer was what Mitchell needed to feel he was ready to translate. But how to proceed? From his introduction to the Gospels in a Protestant grade school he had recognized that some of their words seemed full of light, and others full of anger. He decided to follow Thomas Jefferson’s example and pick out the words of light.
(The Church quoted Jefferson in two pamphlets, a tri-fold called something like “Apostasy and Restoration of the Gospel Foretold by Ancient and Modern Prophets,” and a 1983 piece called “Apostasy and Restoration”:
The religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers. . . . Happy in the prospect of a restoration of primitive Christianity, I must leave to younger persons to encounter and lop off the false branches which have been engrafted into it by the mythologists of the middle and modern ages. (Jefferson’s Complete Works, vol 7, pp 210, 257 quoted here)
Of course neither pamphlet said that Jefferson included all that nonsense about Jesus being the son of God in the deformities and caricatures. I wonder if the pamphleteer wasn’t exercising a bit of postmodern irony in standing Jefferson on his head.) Continue Reading →