A review of The True Origins Of Jesus - The Myth Behind The Man by Geoff Roberts, edited by Colm Holland, foreword by Dean Wilkinson.
The Christian Advent season has arrived, and for many it is a strange mix of joyous family festivities and yet also painful memories of a loss of faith in the historical birth of a real baby Jesus; who all through their Christian upbringing at school and church, were taught that it was a factual truth and to be a real Christian, they had to accept the story as documented history.
I am recommending this book to that group of disenfranchised people, for whom the virgin birth, the Messiah in the manger and all the other trappings of the nativity story, no longer holds the magic of their childhood - instead it now represents the oppressive and uncompromising control over their minds, faith and lives of a religion that required not only an unquestioning belief in the historical authenticity of their church’s interpretation of the Christian Bible, but also an acceptance of their views on lifestyle, sexuality and a host of other demands beyond a simple faith in Jesus.
The question I want to ask is, if you are in that group of ex-literal believers in the historicity of the Bible; do you still have faith in a Jesus who, despite your newfound doubts about the accuracy of his story in the Bible, is a spiritual reality in your life today? Whether you answer yes or no, The True Origins Of Jesus, The Myth Behind The Man is potentially one of the most important books you will ever read, and here’s why.
In a very readable and exceptionally well researched way it explains what your Bible believing church did not teach you; the stories about Jesus, his birth and life, were not as original as they thought. In fact, not only is there no contemporary historical evidence to substantiate the life of Jesus of Nazareth of the New Testament, there is also plenty of evidence that the gospel narratives, apart from contradicting each other historically, are founded in much earlier stories and traditions dating back centuries before. For more illuminating details you will have to read the book, there is too much to mention here - except to say if you’ve not done your own academic research on the origins of the gospel stories, then the evidence will potentially come as a shock.
If you were taught, like so many ex-Bible believing Christians, that without a faith in an historical Jesus, you cannot be a Christian, and your chances of a Jesus centric faith is impossible, then this book offers another viewpoint. If the ‘reality’ of Jesus can only be experienced as a fact, then why is that ‘reality’ still lingering with you, even though you have rejected the factual necessity of faith and the church that demands it. What this book does illustrate conclusively is that a spiritual Jesus ‘reality’ existed in the beliefs of multiple early religious traditions, before and in contemporary times of early Christian belief. It was deeply embedded in the myths, legends, and stories of multiple religious practices, and was adopted, with immense success by the early founders of Christianity.
What I want to briefly add to the incredible insights the book offers is an overview of an understanding of faith and religion as seen through the work of Carl Gustav Jung and his revolutionary thinking on the place of ‘spirituality; in human nature.
While most of Jung’s thinking on psychology has been rejected by modern scientific-based psychiatrists today, on the topic of spirituality he still has a unique offering to make; an idea for me at least, that explains why even if I don’t believe in a historical Jesus, the spiritual Jesus is still of immense value - if not of more value - than the orthodox Christian version.
Jung was not a theologian and his ideas on Christianity were based on his personal experience, having been born the son of a Protestant minister in Switzerland in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Christianity of his childhood he decided was disconnected from real life, what he called ‘pious nonsense’. Jung went on to spend his life coming to terms with and exploring the activity of what he called the human ‘psyche’; the chaotic world of the unconscious mind from which he believed myths evolve and from where god images take form as a result of the work of the psyche to make the unconscious, conscious. By its own will, Jung decided, the psyche brings into consciousness its hidden reality through dreams, ‘archetypal’ images we all share, and active conscious imagination. The result, he said, of this bringing of the contents of the unconscious into consciousness is the development of the ‘Self’ - what he considered was the human potential that is created when we allow our unconscious to become conscious; the result being what he called ‘wholeness’.
“My life is a story of the self-realisation of the unconscious.” Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
When Jung was contemplating the human need for God, and how so many diverse, similar images of God appear in human mythology across all cultures, he decided that the God images have emerged not only out of his own psyche, but also from an inherited and shared ‘Collective Unconscious, and then over the millennia of human existence, these images of God become embedded in commonly held belief structures manifested through myths and legends - of which Christianity is one of a multitude of God traditions, and this one has the person of Jesus at its centre. The reason, he proposed, that the image of God as Jesus has been such a powerful influence is that of all the images it most closely resembles the image of the ‘Self’ for western civilizations.
For Jung, as a counterpoint to orthodox Christianity, the ‘Self’ is striving to come to consciousness through Jesus in the Christ myth, as first understood by the gnostics, then taken up by the Christian mystics, elaborated and integrated into ancient Egyptian religions by the alchemists, and finally through the scientific materialism of the modern age. So it is no wonder, in Jung’s view, that modern humankind is quickly losing its acceptance of the literal Christian story, and yet is still yearning for the future realisation of the ‘Self’ - to find the divine within.
When the modern human psyche fails to find a myth to assist with the development of the ‘Self’ the resulting ‘loss of soul’ often leads to a reversion to tribalism, violence and greed. Jung’s answer was that we must not abandon our Christian traditions but transform them. He said that we have come from what has gone before. Our ‘psyches’ have been formed by the Christian West, whether we are Christian or not, and will evolve out of it. Jung has given us a perspective from outside the box of Christianity to help us with the process. By exploring Christianity as one example of the evolving of human consciousness – all religions being pathways to consciousness – he has given us a new way of understanding Christianity and a new myth which can give meaning to our lives.
In other words, the real ‘truth’ of Christianity, lies not in a faith in the literal story or in a real baby born in a stable, but in the spiritual story of the birth of the ‘Self’, as represented in the Jesus Myth, and this was Jung’s myth and he called it ‘Individuation’. Jung did not create a new religion, in fact he wanted to find a way for the Church in all its modern versions, to find afresh the true mystery of the Christ who is born in our hearts and embodies divine love for ourselves and all humankind.
Available now: The True Origins of Jesus: The myth behind the man
Colm Holland - December 2022