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Mark 2:18, 21-22


“Truth will become fractured.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 97a)


Here is a strange paradox, oft repeated in the history of religion. People know major change is impending. They feel their certainties threatened: "truth will be fractured," i.e., misunderstood. Truth, they think, will be counterfeited and apostatized from. The Christ will be countered by the Antichrist, truth by error. And this, oddly enough, will herald the advent of the Messiah, the Parousia of Truth. The fracture of truth, they see as the (temporary) ruination of it.

The farthest their religious imaginations can reach is the impending subversion of old truth, by a new contender--and then the reaffirmation of the old, defeating the challenge of the new. Thus they engage in a kind of harmonization of what would otherwise seem to presage the coming to birth of something new and good.

The new, the ostensible Antichrist, has its disciples as well, and these people recognize the supposed antichrist as the new Christ, not the false Christ. Indeed, the old Christ/truth loses his claim as soon as its appointed time is up. Then it is time for it to make the retiring gesture of John the Baptist (John 3). These disciples fully embrace the imagery of the birth pangs of a new age. They are not temporary storm clouds before the old is gloriously restored. And for them the image of the fracturing of the truth denoted something like the shattering of an egg shell so that something new can be born.

The conflict comes because the new challenges the old on its own ground, challenges it for the same turf. It wants to capture the prerogatives of the old, and the allegiance of its followers. So it must reinterpret the old as pointing to itself.

It is generally known that allegorical interpretations arise spontaneously whenever a conflict between new ideas and those expressed in a sacred book necessitates some form of compromise. What is true of allegorical interpretation is still more applicable to the specifically mystical interpretation of such texts. (Gershom Scholem, “The Meaning of the Torah in Jewish Mysticism,”in On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, p. 33)

Actually the thought processes of mystics are largely unconscious, and they may be quite unaware of the clash between old and new which is of such passionate interest to the historian. They are thoroughly steeped in the religious tradition in which they have grown up, and many notions which strike a modern reader as fantastic distortions of a text spring from a conception of Scripture which to the mystic seems perfectly natural. (Ibid.)

But the establishment just cannot see its way across such a yawning gulf (we need not charge them with protecting vested interests, though that may be true as well). Thus the controversy. The founder of the Baha’i Faith faced the same challenge. See Kitab-I-Iqan:

As most of the divines have failed to apprehend the meaning of these verses, and have not grasped the significance of the Day of Resurrection [cf. John 5:25], they therefore have foolishly interpreted these verses according to their idle and faulty conception” (p. 78). [See John 5:39-40.]

As the adherents of Jesus have never understood the hidden meaning of these words, and as the signs which they and the leaders of their Faith have expected have failed to appear [cf. Thomas, saying 3], they therefore refuse to acknowledge, even until now, the truth of those Manifestations of Holiness that have since the days of Jesus been made manifest... They have even failed to perceive that, were the signs of the Manifestation of God in every age to appear in the visible realm in accordance with the text of established traditions, none could possibly deny or turn away, nor would the blessed be distinguished from the miserable, and the transgressor from the God-fearing. [That is, there would be no room for the venture of faith, if the evidence were overwhelming.] Judge fairly: Were the prophecies recorded in the Gospel to be literally fulfilled; were Jesus, Son of Mary, accompanied by angels, to descend from the visible heaven upon the clouds, who would dare to disbelieve, who would dare to reject the truth, and wax disdainful? … It was owing to a misunderstanding of these truths that many a Christian divine hath objected to Muhammad… Such objections and differences have persisted in every age and century. The people have always busied themselves with such specious discourses, vainly protesting: “Wherefore hath not this or that sign appeared?” … As they have literally interpreted the Word of God…, and expounded… according to their own deficient understanding, they have therefore deprived themselves and all their people of the bountiful showers of the grace and mercies of God (p. 80-82).

When we translate this onto an individual level, we can understand the alarm and reluctance of people, presented with new evidence or the challenge of a new revelation. They will be challenged only by something they feel they must take seriously, though they deny it. (But they would hardly bother to deny it if it hadn't hit a nerve.)

They are in transit to a new form of faith. They must first pass through the death of their previous form of faith, like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. In so doing, they undergo something like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's 4 stages of accepting death: denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance. This is a way of heeding Paul's advice about the weaker brethren: keep in mind where someone is on the path before you decide how to address their questions.




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