Impressions while reading:
THE PROPHESIED MESSIAH
OF THE HEBREW BIBLE?
By Dan Kane
(WinePress Publishing, Enumclaw, WA 2009)
This is my second Dan Kane book, and like the first one, this one also impressed me with its clarity and straightforwardness. Kane, a co-worker of mine, knows what he knows, and in order to tell others what he knows, he diligently did his homework, he searched both history and scripture and tells a potentially compelling story in an engaging style.
Did I feel compelled? No, but I would have if I were a believer!
Dan knows I am an unbeliever and in his dedication on the title page dared hope only that I would find the book interesting. Somewhat to my surprise, I really did.
What made it interesting? It reminded me of my believing days, and brought back several swells of emotion in that process of recalling my former religious experiences.
I was touched by Dan’s telling of the story of the Christ in his central chapters, 2 through 5. Almost I felt again as I had when a six-year old in tears, hiding behind the curtain from my brother who would have made fun of me had he seen me. I was crying, more than that I was convulsing with deep sobs down into my very soul as I listened to an Easter-Sunday radio dramatization of the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I was so relived at the resurrection, and grateful for the gift Jesus had given me through his self-sacrifice, his suffering. That allowed me to recover some from being an obviously teary mess.
After I had composed myself some I was discovered with a wet face by my brother who asked me what the matter was, so I told him that I was very sad about Jesus having had to suffer so terribly for my being bad, and I really didn’t want to be bad anymore. He told me to grow up, those were just stories. That made me cry more and run to my mother who had also been listening, and she scolded my brother, told him to let me believe if I wanted to. Oh, OK, so that’s how it was.
I have obviously become more like my brother. Where belief is concerned, that is.
I was also reminded by Dan’s first chapter of what I went through, mentally and emotionally, for the short time that I was a convert to Mormon fundamentalism, complete with a belief in plural marriage as a commandment from God. That episode was short-lived, as I have explained elsewhere on this site. But what reminded me of that episode is Dan’s having to assure his target audience, people of Jewish background, that what they have seen of Christianity is not ... not true Christianity that is.
He does a nice job showing that Catholics persecuted Jews and others not believing as they ought to believe, and so makes a point of the Jewish experience with Catholicism not being a Jewish experience with the mild-mannered, peaceful and respectful religion Christ and his immediate followers actually taught. Dan suggests, in his first chapter and also later, that Protestantism was no better disposed toward Jews in the early years of the Reformation, and still harbors some damning ideas such as that they have officially supplanted the Jews (the House of Israel actually) in the world-salvation scheme being carried out by God. Fair enough.
But then he goes to some length to suggest that only a fraction of those with the Christian label on them are true followers of Christ, and suggests those who believe what their institutions teach them, without checking those teachings against the Bible, are often allowing themselves to be misled into erroneous belief (many Protestants), idolatry (Catholics), and even belief in a false Christ (Mormons).
It is here that I had the sense of deja-vu relating to my half year as a Mormon fundamentalist at heart. At the time I was quite enamored with and drooled a lot over a shockingly attractive Catholic woman. I was planning my strategy. I would first convert her to Mormonism. Then when she was in, solidly converted, I would tell her the great secret: the leaders of Mormondom had lost their authority when, to accommodate the world, they stopped the practice of “the Principle.” But, not to worry, there were secret holders of the Divine Priesthood who continued the Principle in secret, and we would be part of that very small remnant prophesied to reach the very heights of everlasting glory. (Of course I had not yet figured out how to tell her that this great eternal blessing had a tiny hitch, she would have to allow me another wife. One other wife, at least.
So what happened? When I told her I really really liked her and was having serious feelings when thinking of her, but I could only marry in my faith, she said the same thing back to me. Say what? She suggested we not worry about it now. WE ought to just have a good time and worry about this in letters later (I was on a very short home leave from the military). I still wonder what good time I passed up when I said then that I had to know now whether or not there was a chance for her at least listening to the teachings of my religion. She said “take me home.” I did and felt I had done a righteous thing not getting intimate with her as I knew was her intent and I really really wanted to also. But I was standing on principle (not yet “the Principle,” but it was in the back of my mind –of course).
What on Earth does that have to do with Dan’s first chapter? I see him trying to dance a similar dance. Come look at the true teachings of the Bible, both the Jewish and the Christian scriptures, and pay no attention to either your own holy men’s interpretations of these writings which underlie your traditions, nor look at any historic or current branch of so-called Christianity because chances are very good that they are not true followers of the teachings of God and Christ.
Almost Kane’s book makes me ache again for my former childhood Christian beliefs or my adult belief in the Mormon version of Christianity which lasted several decades (that 6-month ‘fundie’ period was embedded in the very first year of those decades). With Mormonism came the comfort of a very supportive community. No matter where one went in the world, one was quite literally at home. Mormons live up to the implications that go with calling each other “brother” and “sister.” Largely. There are exceptions.
So it looks like I am jealous of Dan’s strong belief in his version of Christianity, a Bible-based version. But one of things that undid my belief was to read the Bible. I tell that story, in an oblique way, on this website as well.
In a really compelling manner Kane traces the doctrine of blood atonement from the time before the world was, through the Garden of Eden, through the history of the patriarchs that then became Israel, through the royal period when David composed psalms, through the prophets, and then right into and throughout the New Testament.
Really well done. I must never have fully realized, even with all of my former reading, that blood atonement was and is such a central theme through all of Judaic and Christian scripture.
Of course I always knew that the whole idea behind the Christianity taught by Paul, especially, and other New Testament authors as well, is that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament promise of a last sacrifice whereby God redeems all those who believe. That belief was my belief at one time and I was very familiar with it. But Kane makes it so very clear that this is a strong, central theme running though all of the Jewish scriptures, as well as the Christian scriptures (written by Jews, he keeps correctly pointing out).
Blood atonement is a real stumbling block for me. A barrier to belief. I find it an absurd concept, and although I am newly impressed with its pervasiveness in scripture, I find its being thousands of years old not a compelling argument for believing in it. Mormon scripture also has this theme in it, of course. I did believe, in it, at one time. Not anymore. And no amount of proof of its being an ancient doctrine will make me see it differently than I see it now.
What did I think of the statistical proof offered at the end of the book? If you multiply the conditional probabilities together for unrelated events you can get a composite probability. Kane uses this to argue that the odds are vanishingly small that chance alone can explain this one man’s meeting all of the subtle and not so subtle requirements set in the Old Testament for the Messiah.
I thought this when I read this argument: “This would only be proof for a true believer.” I would instead look at all of these subtle requirements, and the not so subtle ones, as direction signs for Christ and later for the authors of the life of Christ. Kane suggests that this carpenter’s son and his selected working class followers were not sophisticated enough to have discerned all these nuances of scriptural requirements and were not capable of steering Jesus’ life so as to be steering him hither and yon to have him take certain actions and obtain certain reactions so as to make sure he covered all of these bases. There were many such bases. Kane makes a fair point, causing one to seriously think on the matter.
But I have a distrusting mind, and it asks if the gospels were not written after there had been time to search the scriptures and to write some of these proofs into the account of Jesus’ life? There has to be trust, before there is faith. I lack trust in the Bible. To think this is the “word” of God is to imply way too much about both God and how men (almost always in those times) write. books. As Kane points out, justly, it was a big deal, back then, to write a book or even a part of a book.
I believe it was E.O. Wilson, an astute observer of cultural phenomena from a biological point of view, who had a good point when he tried to describe the career of Joseph Smith as a prophet and founder of a new religion. He said if you want to understand how this happened, look at Christ’s life. When the dire circumstances of a people create hopes and expectations, along will come a sensitive person who feels this burden and becomes inspired to act on it. I see Joan of Arc’s short career in this same way. In the case of Joseph Smith it was a subset of a people -his whole family, several generations, and much of his social circle- was expecting new instructions to come from heaven very soon. Expectations and hopes become fulfilled through the actions of a person who embodies those hopes and takes action.
In other words, I haven’t a clue.
Kane’s book is an interesting one, intelligently written, engaging, and thought-provoking. In my case it provoked a few emotional responses as well. One cannot ask for more from a book.
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