Alvast twee citaten uit wat volgt:
“To call Jesus a Son of God was to say he had, for an egregious lack of better terms, stood at the center of existence, an experience of inner transformation resulting in a radical acceptance of life and all its contents.”
“The atonement may be uniquely affected in Jesus, the ideal person in this respect, but it is a collective action, requiring the efforts of all members of existence — requiring Creation to come back together once more in eternal covenant. For this reason, the title “New Testament” may be somewhat misleading. “Testament” is a synonym for “covenant,” and in Hebrew and Aramaic “new” simultaneously means “renewed.” The New Testament is thus a textual locus and impetus for a renewed covenant — the renewal of the cosmic, eternal covenant. Thus to be a Christian is to seek to be a Christ: not to hold oneself innocent of or aloof from the blood and sins of their generation, but to take up responsibility, sacrificing their very lives if necessary, in pursuit of reconciling and reuniting their corner of existence, no matter how great or small. Consecrated and anointed like a high priest, one is called to restore the eternal covenant to its original state of wholeness, a state which Jesus referred to as “the kingdom of God.” “
Het volgende overzicht van Nathan Smith ( ontleend aan https://medium.com/interfaith-now/that-they-may-be-one-the-theology-of-margaret-barker-312531f6905a ) geeft een zeer goede indruk van de historisch betrouwbare en tevens inspirerende visie op de oorsprong en inhoud van de oudste Hebreeuwse en latere Joodse en Christelijke (en dus ook deels Islamitische) inspiratiebronnen, van de onderzoekster Margaret Barker ( zie http://www.margaretbarker.com/Temple/default.htm voor haar visie en teksten ). Hoewel deze visie door vele “eenvoudige volgelingen” van Jezus die – samen en alleen – de eeuwen door deze inspiratiebronnen lazen en bestudeerden, herkend en nageleefd is, hebben vele leidinggevenden en leraren in grotere en kleinere “gelovige” (!) kringen in plaats daarvan vaak een eigen verhaal gaan vertellen waarin het institutionele gezag belangrijker werd dan het bevrijdende voorbeeld en de bevrijdende boodschap van Jezus. Zie het citaat hierboven. Wil iemand in deze zin een “gelovige” zijn (om dat woord een keer te gebruiken), dan betekent dat de bereidheid om zich ten diepste en volledig in te zetten voor de ondersteuning en het herstel van (niet de zittende machten maar) de grote samenhang, van “het verbond” met en tussen alle delen en aspecten van de werkelijkheid. Daarbij mag ieder die dit doet, zichzelf “kind van God” weten, niet van een verre god, maar van en als degene die de banden tussen alle geschapen wezens en dingen onderhoudt en herstelt. Door de gemeenschappelijke rituelen maar niet minder door de individuele vormen van leven met oog voor het geheel en voor de delen, en dat zijn alle verschijnselen die ons van moment tot moment bewust zijn en worden.
In die zin is onderstaande tekst ook goed bruikbaar voor een vergelijking met Oosterse nondualistische geschriften en tradities (zoals de Chinese Daodejing , Indiase Advaita Vedanta en latere geschriften uit de Chinese Ch’an-traditie, die daoistische en boeddhistische inspiraties combineert en uit Tibetaanse en Japanse stromingen als Zen, de directe opvolger van Ch’an). Goed bruikbaar: niet omdat zij niet verschillen maar omdat bij vergelijking opvalt dat zij deels met vergelijkbare grondpatronen werken. Daardoor zijn de verschillen deels op te vatten als varianten op een vergelijkbaar grondpatroon, al zullen dogmatici en exclusief denkenden binnen iedere traditie de nadruk juist op de verschillen leggen (…)! (Tussen haakjes: natuurlijk ook goed bruikbaar voor een vergelijking met Westerse of nog andere nondualistische tradities. Die zijn echter nogal eens ondergesneeuwd door handboeken en overzichten die de gevestigde dogmatische hoofdstroom – vaak met bovengenoemd eigen verhaal – weergaven.)
N.B. In de tweede alinea van het artikel hieronder legt de auteur, Nathan Smith, helder uit dat hij deze visie van Margaret Barker eerst tegenkwam binnen symposia van de Mormoonse Kerk maar dat hij haar nu waardeert vanwege de eigen merites ervan, die hij krachtig onderschrijft. Ik beveel zijn samenvatting krachtig aan, inclusief de literatuur die hij noemt, als kernachtige inleiding in deze imposante visie. Een visie die iedereen zal herkennen, die van (de geschriften van de) Joodse en Christelijke tradities heeft kennisgenomen en benieuwd is naar de kern ervan, en de samenhang erin. Want die is helaas in deze krachtige mate niet vaak te zien. Voor hen die de Joodse en Christelijke geschriften en tradities kennen zal dit snel duidelijk zijn, al valt op dat de verbanden naast inhoudelijk ook historisch en cultureel heel veel meer omvatten en zeggen! En wel: in de kern!
Dan volgt nu het overzicht. (N.B. in het origineel bieden de onderstreepte woorden boeiende links!)
Jun 28, 2019
11 min read
Renewing the Cosmic Covenant
Margaret Barker’s Temple Theology
I adore Hebrew Bible scholar and Methodist preacher Margaret Barker’s temple theology. Despite criticisms of Barker as a historian, she is a powerful theologian and preacher. A Methodist drawing on the great insights and temple-rooted traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, Barker outlines not only a vision of the universe, but an inspiring complementary agenda, which grows organically from that vision.
My own native Mormon culture enjoyed a brief though heated obsession with Barker nearly a decade ago, in large part because many of her findings seemed to match a great deal of what contemporary Mormondom thought of itself: a Melchizedek priesthood, a pivotal temple liturgy, a divine Mother (which Barker identifies with the Spirit and Mary, but whom Mormons often see as a Heavenly Mother parallel to God the Father), among several other elements. This is not to say others have simply used Barker to validate their own preconceptions, of course, only that I very much did. That has since changed. While I was enamored with these seeming parallels, I have since lost interest in seeing how I can validate my own preconceptions, and instead wish to know what early Christian temple theology (at least as Barker sees it) has to teach me.
Barker’s theology can be (mostly) summarized like this:
The Creation narrative of Genesis 1–2 mirrors the instructions for building Moses’ desert tabernacle in Exodus 25–31, exhibiting the temple’s function as a symbol for existence. The Israelite temple was a symbolic microcosm of existence itself, signifying the natural world in its outer courts, Eden or the world in wholeness (Hebrew, shalom; Greek, teleios) in its inner great hall, and the center-most Holy of Holies signifying heaven — not a wholly-other dimension, but the root of existence, nestled at its center (as symbolized by its place in the center of the temple); not only at the foundation of existence, but the beginning.
Creation itself, depicted as a series of separations in Genesis, is the blooming of plurality and multiplicity from “Day One,” the timeless eternity or “heaven” at the center and beginning of existence. Thus, while Creation possesses diversity and divergence, it is rooted in common unity. The Hebrew berith, “covenant,” is also related to bereshith, “creation”; the eruption of multiplicity was simultaneously a coming together of disorganized chaos in an eternal covenant, in order to keep the world of plurality from slipping into a senseless and chaotic state of fragmentation, the “things fall apart; the center cannot hold” of W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming.”
In the temple mindset, there are actions in this world which threaten that eternal covenant, at least in the human dimension; our actions thus hold cosmic significance. The Hebrew Bible calls these threatening actions “sin,” and their effect is a word often translated “iniquity,” which may be better rendered “distortion”: actions which damage the eternal covenant holding existence in wholeness result in distortion of those connections. To express this, the Israelites utilized a richly symbolic ritual complex, centered on sacrifices related to this concept of “sin,” further symbolized by figurative “damage” done to the temple, signifying the “distortion” of the world by “sin.” To sacrifice an animal (which came to symbolize the self), pouring out its blood (signifying the life or soul of a person; Leviticus 17:13–14) upon an altar (expressing a center of Creation, the primordial rock which arose from the chaotic sea in the creation of the earth) was the Israelite rejoinder to iniquity, Israelites expressing their own accountability (causal and reparative) for damage caused to their corner of existence. Additionally, the temple held complementary rituals depicting creation narratives, including at coronations of kings, who were to renew or “recreate” the world, often as the high priest themselves. Additionally, the ritual complex of the temple was facilitated by priests, symbolizing angels of the Lord; consequently, the high priest was thus the Great Angel, the Lord Yahweh himself.
According to Barker, the culminating ritual of the Israelite temple was the Day of Atonement: the high priest and king, as Yahweh, would emerge from the Holy of Holies with animal blood with which to sprinkle symbolically damaged portions of the temple, ritually taking upon himself the damage, before ejecting it into the wilderness on the head of a goat wearing red (one similar in appearance to the goat whose blood was used by the high priest to absorb the damage), which was then beaten on its way out of the city gates and into the wilderness. For Barker, this ritually symbolized Yahweh himself emerging from “heaven,” the root and foundation of existence, repairing the distorted eternal covenant by absorbing into himself — bearing and forgiving (Hebrew, nasr, means both) — the effects of fragmentation, to the point of destroying them with his very life. The ejection of the crimson-clad goat, likely meant to be identified with the goat whose blood cleansed the temple grounds, represented the Lord carrying this distortion and fragmentation back out into the disorganized chaos from which Creation arose — the “wilderness” where it belongs.
According to Barker, echoes of this liberating high-priest-as-Yahweh can be seen, among other passages of the Hebrew Bible, in Isaiah’s Songs of the Suffering Servant — the one who will “sprinkle [with blood?] many nations” (Isaiah 52:15, King James Version). A review of Isaiah 53 (KJV), with some explanatory notes inspired by Barker’s work, may suffice to bring out the priestly nature of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant:
“Surely he hath borne [nasr, also ‘forgiven’] our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted [like the crimson-clad goat expelled into the wilderness]. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities [absorbing the effects of ‘sin,’ or ‘distortion’]: the chastisement of our peace [Barker reads this as something like ‘our covenant of wholeness’] was upon him; and with his stripes [or ‘covenant bonds’] we are healed.
“All we like sheep have gone astray [notice the animal-self parallel]; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth [again, animal-self parallel]. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
“And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify [bring back into covenant bond] many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
— Isaiah 53:4–12, KJV
The parallels with Jesus may be obvious: an anointed (Hebrew mashiach; Greek christos) high priest (Hebrews 4:14–16) absorbs the distortions — sicknesses, violence, horrors, even death — of human and cosmic existence into his very body, overcoming them in a resurrection reverberating throughout the cosmos. What may not be so obvious after centuries of Western Christian commentary — since St. Anselm of Canterbury’s medieval-legal interpretation of the atonement of Christ (satisfaction theory, and its descendant penal substitution theory) — is that this was not a judicial action, a judge sentencing an innocent though voluntary victim to the punishment others deserve, but a genuinely just and righteous (Greek, dikaios; indicating a person who lives in harmony with the eternal covenant with all Creation) person making the suffering of the world his responsibility, taking on the fragmentation of himself and his world, even to the point of death. Jesus, far from punished in others’ place in a miscarriage of so-called “justice,” instead joins humanity in the effort of repairing the disintegrating eternal covenant of existence and all its contents, that which holds life in wholeness, by entering where the suffering and division are in order to heal it, even by absorbing it into himself.
According to Barker, utilizing in part the Gospel of Philip, Jesus accomplishes this atonement (Greek, katagein; Old English, at-one-ment, English, “reconciliation, reunion”) not before his resurrection, but because of his resurrection. Philip (trans. Willis Barnstone) reads:
“Some say the lord died first and then ascended.
They are wrong. He rose first and then he died.
Unless you are first resurrected, you will not die.
As god lives, you would already be dead. …
“Christ came to repair the split, there from the beginning,
and join the two and give them life
who had died because of separation. …
“When you say you will die first and then rise,
you are wrong. If you are not resurrected in life,
you will receive nothing when you are dead.”
Rather than a spiritual escape to a remote heaven, or the resuscitation of his body, Jesus’ resurrection is the moment he realizes his oneness with God — “repair[ing] the split, there from the beginning … join[ing] the two and giv[ing] them life,” overcoming the “separation” first in himself, then others. Resurrection is Jesus’ “ascent” to heaven — the center, root, and foundation of all existence. That experience resurrects Jesus by breathing life into him, causing him to see all things and people as equally sacred emanations or “children” of the same Source, according them and himself the dignity and love which naturally grow from such fundamental union.
It is this sense of resurrection that causes Jesus to speak against the injustices that damage and divide the world, while healing their effects, even to the point of dying for this cause. Like the goat in red, cast out into the wilderness, symbolically destroying the “distortion” fragmenting the world, Jesus is cast out of Jerusalem, bearing the accusations and violence of the people he still intends to heal, dying in the proverbial wilderness outside the city walls. An early Christian text, the Letter of Barnabas, describes Jesus as the goat clothed in scarlet, cast out into the wilderness, who absorbs and destroys distortion of the eternal covenant in his very body (Barnabas 7:6–11). Furthermore, according to Barker, the Letter to the Hebrews describes Jesus as a high priest entering the Holy of Holies for the initial stage of the Day of Atonement ritual, the moment before the high priest as Yahweh reemerges to cleanse the temple; in a sense, the author of Hebrews lives in a baited-breath moment between the beginning and end of the atonement, as a priest under Jesus’ high priesthood of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7), aiding in that cleansing (cf. 1 Peter 2:9).
Another oddity of Jesus’ atonement, as compared to many normative Christian narratives, is that it is fundamentally incomplete. The “once and for all” of Jesus is that we see in him a genuine example of a person who has experienced absolute reconciliation; nothing which enters his field of consciousness is subjected to the hurried neuropsychological calculus of attraction and reversion, the valuations of pain and pleasure, but met with unconditional embrace. Often the question is asked whether Jesus was “really the Son of God or just a really nice guy” — but this is to miss the point of the title son of God, applied to anointed kings and high priests who stepped into the Holy of Holies, the center of the temple. To call Jesus a Son of God was to say he had, for an egregious lack of better terms, stood at the center of existence, an experience of inner transformation resulting in a radical acceptance of life and all its contents. To call Jesus Son of God is to call him not merely a good guy, but the Good Guy. A good guy is someone we can pat on the head and ultimately ignore; the Good Guy is someone we feel called to follow, to emulate in some substantial way.
For Jesus’ earliest disciples, the idea was not to pedestalize Jesus as an ontologically-untouchable absolute, but to raise him as the ideal person, the personification of an experience of life which is open to all and sundry. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace [in the Holy of Holies] with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15–16, New Revised Standard Version). For the Gospel of John, Jesus, Son of God, gave his followers the opportunity to become Sons of God themselves. Outside the New Testament, the Gospel of Thomas purports to be written by a figure named Thomas (Aramaic) or Didymus (Greek), both of which mean “twin,” in this case denoting the author as a twin of Jesus; and the Gospel of Philip insists to its readers that, far from “being Christian,” followers of Jesus should become Christs themselves.
The atonement of Jesus is incomplete because one man cannot save the world — he can do what he can, then inspire, empower, and encourage others to do the same (Luke 10:36–37). The Day of Atonement was a cosmic ritual which one may argue was composed of the individual instances of people symbolically answering for their own actions, confessing their part in fragmenting the world, and seeking to repair any damage done. The atonement may be uniquely affected in Jesus, the ideal person in this respect, but it is a collective action, requiring the efforts of all members of existence — requiring Creation to come back together once more in eternal covenant. For this reason, the title “New Testament” may be somewhat misleading. “Testament” is a synonym for “covenant,” and in Hebrew and Aramaic “new” simultaneously means “renewed.” The New Testament is thus a textual locus and impetus for a renewed covenant — the renewal of the cosmic, eternal covenant. Thus to be a Christian is to seek to be a Christ: not to hold oneself innocent of or aloof from the blood and sins of their generation, but to take up responsibility, sacrificing their very lives if necessary, in pursuit of reconciling and reuniting their corner of existence, no matter how great or small. Consecrated and anointed like a high priest, one is called to restore the eternal covenant to its original state of wholeness, a state which Jesus referred to as “the kingdom of God.”
This is a herculean redemption, not only unbound by the confines of a singular Christian denomination, but of Christianity itself. Whatever Christianity may describe, it cannot be provincial or solely limited to Christians, as it attempts to describe the Holy of Holies of the cosmic temple — the root, center, and foundation of existence itself. Thus this great cosmic resurrection — this at-one-ment — is constituted by the efforts of anyone wishing to reverse fragmentation and reconcile the elements of existence they encounter in their lives. In this respect, Jesus is not a lonely Son of God insisting there should be no other, but a son of God calling out to all other children of God to come and join him at the “right hand of God” — at the heart of existence, where resurrection may occur.
- “‘Yahweh our angels is Unity’ — Notes on Margaret Barker’s King of the Jews,” Nathan Smith, Medium, 3 July 2019
- Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God(Westminster John Knox Press, 1992); The Risen Lord: The Jesus of History as the Christ of Faith (T&T Clark, 1996); The Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (T&T Clark, 2003); King of the Jews: Temple Theology in John’s Gospel (SPCK, 2014); Temple Mysticism: An Introduction (SPCK, 2012); Temple Theology: An Introduction (SPCK, 2017)