Monday, November 19, 2012

Historicity vs. Theology of Pagan Poets

I wonder if J. R. R. Tolkien, who entitled one of his printed volumes, an essay plus a story, Tree and Leaf, had ever read Walter Leaf. I tend to think that is the case, but have so far no direct proof.

Jebb wrote in his Homer, p. 147, what Walter Leaf cites in his Homer and History on p. 19, without agreeing:

"it is fantastic to treat the siege of Troy as merely a solar myth....It is equally fantastic and more illogical to follow the 'rationalizing' method - to deduct the supernatural element, and claim the whole residuum as historic fact. Homer says that Achilles slew Hector with the aid of Athene. We are not entitled to omit Athene and still affirm that Achilles slew Hector."

Actually, before we go further, Leaf does not agree. Not quite thinking that two Valkyries decided who fell in the battle of Brávalla, as one poet affirmed, he still knows tha battle has to be accepted as historic and that the poet, apart from two Valkyries, gives a fairly accurate account of it. That is what he proposes to be the case with Homer too.

Something similar to Jebb's words do make more sense about the Gospels or about Celano's account of St Francis of Assisi. Because there the supernatural is not just the explanation, it is clearly a question of events themselves supernatural. And very pregnantly significant for the story. We are not entitled to cite Jesus' words about a wicked generation asking for a sign and omit the very clearly supernatural sign he had just given previous to the Pharisees "asking" for a sign. To nag about what has already been given is not what one calls asking, though the Gospeller following Jesus avoids ruder words about that attitude. And we are - as Gilbert Keith Chesterton said - not entitled to affirm, following Celano, that St Francis entered the Portiuncula and then omit that he cured a leper.

We are, however, quite entitled to say for instance that Achilles followed a will-o'the-wisp to the gates of Troy, and still not to believe that will-o'the-wisp was one of the rulers of the universe, like origin of poetry and healing alike, though both Greeks and Troyans as portrayed by Homer and also Homer himself believed so.

If you were to explain the miracles of Jesus as Blavatskaya did, by his being an "initiate" rather than by His being the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father, that in itself is not yet a historically illogical attitude to the Gospels, you only get that when you add these further considerations:

  • Why did Gurdjeff and his disciple P. L. Travers (who wrote the Mary Poppins series) raise no dead and cure no lame?
  • Why did Jesus Christ say things that contradict the ideology of Blavatskaya, such as the saying about "bringing not peace but the sword"?
  • How come he revealed no initiations and Blavatskaya did? How come she rose no dead, and he did?

Only when you come to that point, the Blavatskayas openly attack not just theology but also historicity of the Gospels. Which they, poor, misguided souls as they are, do.

You see, you can take a lot of heathen theology away from Homer or from Mahabharata while leaving the story basically as it is. You cannot come very far on that road while accepting the Gospels as historical. Which is why the historicity of the Gospels is being attacked. The historicity of Homer and Mahabharata is being attacked mostly to supply fuel by parallel argumentation for the attack on the Gospel. Where the Blavatskayas are by no means alone.

If I think that Homer, Virgil and the Mahabharata poet had the wrong theology, I am quite free to accept the history and reject the theology, as long as the history does not contradict the true Theology revealed by Christ. I can freely believe an angel or a demon conducted Ulysses back to Ithaca (I would hardly say demon for that one, whatever I may think about giving plans about cruel battle deeds) without believing also what Ulysses seems to have believed that "she sprang adult and armed from the head of her father."

Similarily I can believe Krishna spoke with Arjuna, but when it comes to his being an avatar of Vishnu or of his soul mounting from the funeral pyre to heaven and being received as a god, I think that the poet, whose vision this was, knew not the truth.

This of course answers a pretty common argument among atheists: Bible contains miracles and supernatural beings just as epic poetry labelled as mythological, since this poetry is not received as truth, why is the Bible?

Well, I receive both as far as possible as historical truth. I also think that the history in the Bible is such as to entail its theological truth. Deads raised to life is pretty uncommon, it is as good as absent from Paganism. If you cite Hercules reclaiming Alcestis from Thanatos, that and Hercules mounting to Heaven may well be a loan from the story of Elias. With a mistaking of the chariot of fire as a funeral pyre. It is something which, if it ever happened, makes a pretty stark theological statement aboutv the man who did it.

And the statements about Pagan heroes, demi-gods, avatars and gods that I find in the Pagan poets do not make such a stark statement.

Of course, slaying giants and laying foundations of the known cosmos are pretty stark statements too. But Hesiod never claims to have them from either his or any other man's observation. He claims to have them from the Nine Muses.

And, of course, the Nine Muses may have been demons knowingly laying the foundations of a Pagan Cult. They may also have been nearly innocent elves who thought of it as an innocent prank and thought that men would never be stupid enough to fall for it. A bit later we find a faun weeping in front of St Anthony or St Paul the First Hermit over the stupidity of men and its involving them, quite against their wishes, in their idolatrous cults. The "Nine Muses" may have been as innocent, only more naive.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Nanterre, BU
St Elisabeth of Marpurg

*Wonder if anyone counting my uses of the word "however" feels like nicknaming me "Hibbs" .... I do not subscribe to his psychiatric view of man, however!

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