Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Jesus in Japan?

From BBC.com:
A Japanese legend claims that Jesus escaped Jerusalem and made his way to Aomori in Japan where he became a rice farmer. Christians say the story is nonsense. However, a monument there known as the Grave of Christ attracts curious visitors from all over the world.

To reach the Grave of Christ or Kristo no Hakka as it is known locally, you need to head deep into the northern countryside of Japan, a place of paddy fields and apple orchards.

Halfway up a remote mountain surrounded by a thicket of bamboo lies a mound of bare earth marked with a large wooden cross.

Most visitors peer at the grave curiously and pose in front of the cross for a photograph before heading off for apple ice cream at the nearby cafe.

But some pilgrims leave coins in front of the grave in thanks for answered prayers.

The cross is a confusing symbol because according to the local legend, Jesus did not die at Calvary.

His place was taken by one of his brothers, who for some reason is now buried by his side in Japan.

The story goes that after escaping Jerusalem, Jesus made his way across Russia and Siberia to Aomori in the far north of Japan where he became a rice farmer, married, had a family and died peacefully at the age of 114.

[…] the legend of Jesus the rice farmer does not stretch back very far. It only began in the 1930s with the discovery of what were claimed to be ancient Hebrew documents detailing Jesus' life and death in Japan.

Those documents have now mysteriously disappeared and the grave has never been excavated.

There is also a tomb of Jesus in India, and legends of Jesus passing through Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet, and you-name-it. I’m surprised some apostate Mormon hasn’t set up a “tomb of Jesus” in Sioux Falls. According to the Moslem legend, Jesus was swapped out for Judas by an act of God, and it was Judas who got hung on the cross. And, of course, there are all those variations on the Da Vinci Code theme, with Jesus running off with Mary Magdalene.

The lust for arcane knowledge, for “I know something you don’t know,” seems to be one of mankind’s most irresistible temptations. The Gnostics were the first great competitors for Christianity, with all their Hidden Secrets of the Universe. They have never disappeared - The Paulicians, the Bogomils, the Albigenses – heck, you can probably find a Gnostic or two at most Episcopal seminaries. The New Agers and most of those wacko cults that flourish around the edges of Christianity are cut from the same cloth.

From personal experience, however, I can’t help but think a lot of what passes for modern “Biblical scholarship” is driven by the same motivation, the desire to find some secret reality that the great unwashed aren’t privy to. I remember sitting in a Sunday School class one time at a “mainline Protestant” church which was being led by the seminarian assigned to the parish that year. The rector was sitting in. The whole purpose of the class seemed to be the deconstruction of Isaiah into an intellectual construct devoid of any significance other than “being in on the secret.” Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against historical research. I read up on that sort of thing when I have the chance. There are magnificent libraries for that purpose; it is not, however, what I come to church for.

Both the priest and the seminarian seemed unable to grasp that most of us didn’t give the hind end of a naked-tailed rodent (that is, a rat’s a~s) about the historical deconstruction of Isaiah. I remember a visitor at one session making a deep and lengthy comment relating a passage of text to the whole idea of the communion of saints. The response from the seminarian was, “That’s very profound, but let’s get back to our historical analysis.”

Whether there was one Isaiah, two Isaiahs, three Isaiahs, or whole tribe of guys named Isaiah, what people wanted to know is, “What is it saying to us?” A little history can help interpret that, but I’m really more interested in knowing what the great Rabbis, the Apostles, and the Fathers of the Church thought about it than I am in what Johann Doederlein or Bernard Duhm theorized about the book's authorship. After all, canonicity got settled a long time ago. The whole thing was sad, and I quit going after the first week. Perhaps I should have stuck around, but by that time I had one foot out the door of the church anyway.