Monday, July 7, 2008

Dead Sea Scrolls & The Power of Myth

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and recently a new find, of a stone with writing on it that appears to date from the same period of history and also involving the subject of a messiah who rises from the dead named Simon and involving the Archangel Gabriel, according to news stories.

No matter what religion you follow, or even if you count yourself as a follower of no religion, these types of discoveries are fascinating. I think we can expect to see even more such discoveries in the future.

This is all about understanding how the world works, or appears to work. It is all about our stories, and archeological discoveries can cause us to rewrite stories that we appear to know well.

As we know from history, there were councils held by the church to decide what writings would be officially included in the Bible and which would not. For a long time, people simply took the church leaders word for it that the writings that were excluded were heretical, in other words, seriously in error, or just not very good or did not cover anything important. But we can also see how this whole maneuver was about power and control. If you do a web search on heresies of the church, you will find some that sound quite sensible, and you will quite naturally wonder what the objection was to them.

But since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, our minds have been opened wider to include other possible explanations or other possible versions of our stories. For years immediately after the discovery, these documents were closely guarded and the churches wanted to keep close control over any interpretations related to them. Why? They knew that different points of view might change people's minds and erode the power of the institutions.

Recent years have seen the publication of not only interpretations of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but The Lost Books of the Bible, The Gnostic Gospels, The Gospel of Mary, and others which shed a whole new light on the well known Bible stories. An excellent book about the importance of interpretation from the old languages to English is "Don't Know Much About the Bible," by Kenneth Davis.

The effect of all these new stories has been liberating for many people. There are those who have adapted a much different interpretation of Christianity and spirituality that they live with, enjoy, and relate to as a guide to understanding themselves and the world. The readers who take these books to heart do not concern themselves with the fact that many churches consider these heretical writings and teachings, and they are a rapidly growing segment of the American population who chooses to approach spirituality differently.

Consider also the popularity of "A Course in Miracles" which is another, more metaphysical interpretation of Christianity. It is a channeled book of writing, rather than an archeological find, but it would be impossible to ignore the impact its millions of copies have had on contemporary spirituality.

This embracing of alternative views of the story of Christ, who he was and what he did, is one of the underlying reasons for the popularity of "The DaVinci Code" a few years ago. It was not popular simply because it was a mystery/suspense thriller. It has sold millions of copies and been translated into several languages. Why? Because at the heart of the book, there is an alternative view of the history of Christianity. People have always suspected that there was more to the story than the official version sanctioned by their church, but there was not much to back up that intuition until recent years.

Ultimately, we all have to live our own spiritual lives, and these new books open up pertinent questions for a reader, such as the role of women in the clergy, the concept of heaven, the concept of divinity, the ways we evolve as individuals, our true potential and our true power as humans, and how we relate to others. These new texts also delight many people who choose not to make their spirituality a political issue, but rather value it as a personal issue.

Has any of this affected you?

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