Archive for September, 2009

The Power of Fiction

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Oct 03, 2009

If the Jesus story is mostly a fabrication, it could yet let me outdo Dan Brown.

Paul single-handedly elevated a man, if he did exist at all, to Divine status

I had written last week about a 100-year-old book I discovered by chance, by a German philosophy professor who propounds the theory that Jesus may not have existed. He backs his hypothesis with evidence from ancient religions, pointing out remarkable similarities between their mythologies and Jesus’ life story, as it has come down to us, including the virgin birth. So, what, according to Professor Arthur Drews, is the genesis of the Jesus legend?

Paul was the one apostle to whom the spirit of Jesus revealed itself as Paul was travelling to Damascus after the crucifixion. Paul said Jesus did not reveal himself to his mortal eyes; it was a sort of inner revelation. But, ‘when three years after his conversion, he returns to Jerusalem, he visits only Peter and makes the acquaintance of only James during the 14 days of his stay there, troubling himself about none of the other apostles. But when, 14 years after, he meets with the ‘First Apostles’ in the so-called Council of the Apostles in Jerusalem, he does not go about learning from them, but teaching them and procuring from them recognition of his own missionary  activity.’ From studying Paul’s life, no information is gained about the historical Jesus. Though he does invoke the Lord a few times, the exact words are not known.

According to Drews, Paul did not try to bring the Saviour as a man nearer to his readers. He seems to know nothing of any miraculous power in Jesus, or his sympathy for the poor and oppressed. None of Jesus’ moral-religious precepts were used by Paul to proselytise. He preached of Jesus not as a human being, but as the Son of God, the Lord as manifested through Paul. Post-Paul Christianity has little in common with what Jesus is supposed to have preached during his lifetime. It’s an entirely new religion. Paul spread the religion mostly in Asia, where nearly every major faith had the concept of a Son of God or a God incarnate. This is perhaps one of the reasons Paul was so successful in getting converts.

So what about the Gospels? There are, according to Drews, too many contradictions in Mark’s account for it to be a credible historical source. Luke’s Gospel must have been written in the early part of the second century, by an unknown Gentile Christian. And Matthew’s is not the work of one hand; it was produced—and unmistakably in the interests of the Church—in the first half of the second century. And each Gospel has its own version of what really happened, and they wildly differ. Even the speeches of Jesus, as they have come down to us, including the famous Sermon on the Mount, are actually compilations of individual statements supposedly made by him, put together much after his death. ‘This much is certain,’ writes Drews, ‘a ‘Life of Jesus’ cannot be written on the basis of the testimony before us.’

So what do we have here? That if a man called Jesus existed, we actually know little about him. Even the faith that we practice in his name bears little resemblance to what he actually preached. The religion we know today is what Paul thought would be right for mankind, and he single-handedly elevated a human being, if he did exist at all, to Divine status. Many of the events of Jesus’ life can be traced back to stories that already existed. Even Jesus’ temptation bears uncanny resemblance to Ahriman’s attempted seduction of Zarathustra, and even Moses’ temptation by the Devil in the Old Testament. Some of the other stories are similar to Hindu, Buddhist, Phoenician, Egyptian and Persian mythologies (these were recounted in some detail last week). West Asia, during Jesus’ time, was a massive melting pot of languages, religions and cultures. And international trade made sure people knew about the faiths of other places.Then, of course, there’s the theory that Dan Brown has made his millions out of, that Mary Magdalene had a daughter by Jesus called Sara, and she escaped by sea, and finally settled in France. But this one may be bigger. Now all I need is a plot to hang this theory on.

Running Rings of Smoke

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

Sep 12, 2009

Where there’s a ban, there’s a way around it

Kolkata has responded to the ban on smoking in public places in its own way

Life changed for a lot of Indians on 2 October last year. All Indians who smoke—for that was the day when former Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss imposed the total ban on smoking in nearly all indoor public spaces. Why he focused all his energies during his entire tenure on smokers, given the number and seriousness of other health issues the country faces, still remains unclear to me, but anyway, the deed had been done. Smoking had been banned on flights many years ago, and after 9/11, India post-haste forbade the carrying of lighters and matchboxes on planes. Again, the logic beats me, since the airport authorities have no equipment that can sense a matchbox in cabin baggage, so most smart smokers carry their matchboxes with impunity. Also, I have racked my brain over this, and would really like to know how one can hijack a plane with a matchbox. If one can, then Kandahar would look like a picnic.

I often visit a lounge bar in the National Capital Region, where smoking continues unabated. In mid-October, I went there and was surprised to find everyone calmly puffing away. This was the manager’s story: 2 October was a Friday. Friday and Saturday nights, about 250 people land up at this 80-seater restaurant, of whom, the manager claimed, nearly 220 smoke. So on the day of the ban, there was mayhem. Guests threatened never to come back if they were not allowed to smoke. The management said it was helpless, and the guests could always go out and smoke. To which the deprived lot replied that they smoke when they drink, so would the restaurant then allow them to carry their drinks outside on the road? And anyway, drinking on the road was illegal. And the ladies said that it was hardly safe for a woman to be smoking on the road at night. They would be sexually harassed, maybe even molested. So the management allowed the guests to smoke in the toilets.

But even this proved to be ineffective. The toilets are small, and not more than three can stand there without bumping into one another. And soon the toilets were filled with smoke, and it became difficult to breathe. So after prolonged negotiations, it was decided that the area to the left of the bar would be the smoking area, and the space to the right would be non-smoking. To which guests sitting on stools on the right of the bar came up with an ingenious objection. The bar is circular, so why should half the circumference be discriminated against? This, they said, went against geometric logic. The management gave up; it was decided that weekends would be smoking days throughout the restaurant. But the usual gang returned on Monday and fought fiercely about some days being considered less equal than others. This social and calendarial justice issue was finally resolved once the management abjectly surrendered.

Kolkata, of course, has responded to the ban in its own way. Though the vast majority of restaurants are non-smoking, in central Kolkata, there is a famous old one where I found guests smoking. How come, I asked. Apparently, the eatery was allowing people to smoke ‘at their own risk’. If there was a police raid, it was their problem. Meanwhile, a novel scam has become popular. Young men go into a bar, have a few pegs, order one more. When the drinks arrive, they say: “We’ll just go out and have a smoke and come back. Why don’t you get our bill ready?” Then they leave, never to be seen again. The smarter ones, in fact, go out once for a smoke, and come back, to build trust. The second time, they vamoose. Some restaurants in Kolkata have now started posting a waiter outside the exit. Whoever comes out, the waiter checks his bill.

A few weeks ago, when I was at the free-smoke-zone lounge bar I was talking about earlier, a couple came and sat at a table close to us. They weren’t smoking. So my solicitous friend called the waiter and requested him to ask the couple whether they were bothered by our smoking. The waiter simply shifted the couple to a dark corner at the back.

I like the service in this place.