The Irish Crimean: As a literary character, the Biblical Christ is more Greek than Jewish
July 30, 2017 – Fort Russ News –
Op-ed by Padraig Joseph McGrath – “The Irish Crimean”
I remember a guy with a PhD in critical theory from Oxford once arguing the following:
“The Bible isn’t simply written using some of the conventions of classical literature – IT IS IN ITSELF CLASSICAL LITERATURE. Where do you think the authors of the New Testament learned to use hyperbole like that? The New Testament was written in Koine Greek, mainly, because that was the lingua franca of the time, but that’s not the only reason why the New Testament was written in Greek. In the Greek world, the gods were first and foremost products of poetry and sculpture – they were fabricated by artists long before anybody ever constructed philosophical or metaphysical theories about them. And the Greeks themselves recognized this….”
With that in mind,….
“Zero-focalization” is a style of fiction-writing wherein the only things which the narrator ever tells the reader are about purely physical stuff. The narrator tells you what the characters do, what they say, what they see and what they hear…..
With “zero-focalization,” the narrator NEVER, EVER tells you what any of the characters are thinking. That’s the reader’s job to decide. The narrator never puts you inside any of the characters’ heads. It tends to work best with minimalism. Back in the day, Americans used to do it brilliantly in fiction, I’ve always admired American minimalism.
Could we think of the New Testament as a “zero-focalization” narrative?
It seems to me that this is the most natural question which the reader asks themselves recurringly, especially in all of the really resonant or most emotionally charged parts of the New Testament: The Biblical Christ speaks, so we hear his voice. We know what he does, we know what he says. But we’re always asking ourselves “What is he thinking?”
And the fact that none of the Evangelists’ narratives ever put us directly inside the central character’s head means that we are always using our own imagination and our own human impulses to fill in the blanks. And the “humanization” of the deity couldn’t be much more complete than that, wherein we ascribe emotionally charged human impulses to him.
That’s the whole point of zero-focalization as a narrative-style. It forces the reader to use their imagination, so that their realization of what is really happening in the story is all the more powerful. As Hemingway put it, “a story isn’t about what you write – it’s about what you leave out.”
The symbols of Mesopotamian, Persian and Egyptian religion combined anthropomorphism with zoolatry, but Greek religious art is more straightforwardly anthropomorphic. Greek deities were often depicted, through classical sculpture, as physically beautiful young men or women.
The Biblical Christ, in many ways, is an upgrade of a Greek deity – he is not represented through a medium of marble, but through the medium of the written Greek word. We hear his voice, and we thereby see his human subjectivity. This makes him more beautiful than the divine objects of classical sculpture, insofar as he is rendered more human.
It’s anthropomorphism 2.0
I’ll stick my neck out here – when analyzing the conceptual genealogy of the Biblical Christ, we could think of him as an upgraded version of a Greek deity MORE THAN an upgraded version of a Israelite deity. As a literary character, he’s more Greek than Jewish.
Padraig McGrath was born in the Republic of Ireland in 1973. He has lived in Britain, Germany and the Czech Republic, and has published journalism and commentary on social and philosophical issues for a number of media for 15 years. He moved to Simferopol, Crimea in December 2013, 3 months before Crimea’s re-unification with Russia, and still lives there.