Hi and welcome! Today, we have something different on our dance card: a book discussion! Last year, we began talking about a book called How the Great Pan Died. Some of us even located used copies of this out-of-print 1968 work. Finally, we plunge into formal discussion about it! Come join us for an intriguing look at the possible origins of Christianity–and a look at possibly how everything went hideously wrong.
(If you couldn’t find the book in print, Scribd has a copy in PDF format that you can look at–or download if you have a subscription to their service.)
Who Is This Edmund Bordeaux Cat?
Edmund Bordeaux Szekely–or simply Edmund S. Bordeaux, on my own printed copy of the book–sounds like part mystic, part historian, part linguist, part New Age health nut, and part out-and-out weirdo.
He claims that at some point in the 1920s, he got his hands on some Vatican documents about Essene Christians in the religion’s earliest days. Translating these materials revealed some shocking truths to him about the origins of Christianity–and how it’d gone so wrong somehow.
Mostly, he sought to uncover what he felt was the Original Christianity that so many Christians seek. To him, the Essenes–a Jewish sect competing with the more militaristic and dominance-oriented flavor that became Catholicism–better captured that flavor. Along with pacifism and personal cleanliness, he felt that Essene-style Christianity prescribed vegetarianism and other forms of clean and honorable living.
The Vatican denies to this day as well that any of the books he translated even exist, much less that they allowed someone like him anywhere near secret archives of books. For what it’s worth, their denials sound quite plausible.
So What’s the Gist of This Book?
Okay. He thinks that the Jesus of the Gospels represents a sort of “germ of truth” of historical reality. And that’s fine, a lot of folks go that route. To him, though, the Gospels conceal some signal truths about who the original historical Jesus might have been.
Through a sometimes-circuitous route, he traces Jesus to a 1st-century family of rabble-rousers. This sect’s patriarch, Jesus’ father, ended up getting himself killed during an insurrection that very likely got sparked by the Roman-empire-wide census. Jesus was already by then the scion of the family of insurrectionists, preaching a gospel of messianic deliverance from Roman rule. Jews in the area divided themselves between loyalty to the Romans and blazing hatred of them, with the latter group resonating with Jesus’ message.
At the end, the Romans imprisoned Jesus along with another Jesus Bar-Abbas. Pontius Pilate released one prisoner but kept the other. In the Gospels, that released prisoner is the rabble-rouser, while the retained one is the sweet, meek, peaceful prisoner who’s done no wrong. In reality, the author thinks, Pilate released the sweet, meek, peaceful prisoner who’d done no wrong beyond sharing a name with the one he really sought: the rabble-rouser.
Oh, and Revelation may have been written by Jesus himself. (He was considerably older than most people surmise at the time of his execution.) Revelation may even have been the very first book of the New Testament, timeline-wise.
Then the author presents readers with a lengthy summary of what Essene Judaism involved. It does sound startlingly like the virtues most people associate with Christianity. It also sounds a lot less like the violence-condoning, threats-laden miserable sorry mess that is the New Testament.
An Interesting View.
Mr. Captain got sick of me stopping him from playing his current game (Kingdom Come: Deliverance) to read him bits from this book. “Kitten, I know this is important to you because you used to be religious,” he finally said. “But it all sounds ridiculous to me.”
He ain’t wrong.
It really is.
And its ridiculosity goes past the simple fact that none of the supernatural ideas contained in the religion are true. Regardless of its origins, it’s still a religion–with all of the faults contained therein. Maybe the Essenes knew that. Certainly the author’s retreat in Mexico doesn’t seem overtly religious.
We could begin a critique with a round examination of his sources–such as they are. We could also marvel at some of the linguistic leaps of logic made here.
But for all the book’s faults, I can’t help but think that it might get some startling points right. That census thing always bugged me. I just didn’t realize quite why till now. And the weirdly warlike, violence-loving Jesus in the Gospels never meshed with those traditional, sweetsie-syrupy Christian virtues.
What do y’all think? Interesting? No? Full of bull patties? The floor is OPEN.
NEXT UP: Tomorrow, we’ll be cruising into a weird statistic that’s entered fundagelical canon. I said weird, now, and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. See you tomorrow!
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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. I’ve started us off on a topic, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. Pet pictures especially welcome! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.