One Christian mystery that believers are content is left among the addressable riddles of their unknowable Lord is the Eucharist. That sacrament with consecrated bread and wine transubstantiated into human flesh and blood is merely scorned by skeptics. The obvious inferences of cannibalism is pedestrian. Authors such as Kenneth Humphreys and Joseph Atwill do consider the problem, but they and few others deeply discuss the origin of this terrible miracle.
Someone knows for certain. When I was a curious adolescent, somebody from my Protestant church mentioned the ritual of communion began so that pagans might be lured into the Christian belief. The language of blood and gore was only a metaphor. Savages liked those sorts of things.
“Nobody can know for certain what Jesus said or what he did,” my pastor preached as much in a sermon. He stated the equivalent of…
“The New Testament was a wonderful compilation of second and third-hand testament. Hearsay.”
Every author except Paul was suspect. That apostle was a special case, and even then, he appeared late after the crucifixion. Understand, the congregation in my hometown believed the Good Book was just another book. Faith and Trust in the Lord were the true messages. All the rest was dark and barren.
“Jesus did live and does still,” the faithful there say today. “He was resurrected.”
Essentially they tell us that He lives in our hearts and its all very probable the One-True-God will come back. “Jesus does live,” after all, as vaguely circular and mysterious as that sounds. There is the whole consideration with the Living Word and who might that be. The identity of this spiritual being and the Holy Ghost are yet comfortably unknown. There is probably something relevant about them in the dusty Old Testament – I bet somewhere in Psalms.
The Protestant church in my hometown held up the latter early Epistles of Paul. They contain all that anyone needs to know about the Faith. Followers insist his approach at gathering the flock was the best, the most productive. He surmised himself in a letter to the Church in Corinth, Greece.
“19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NIV)
The subterfuge and Paul’s naked hypocrisy are considered merits where I come from. “Any means to an end,” people there say. “As long as those ends justify their means.”
They mean those means are for the good of local Protestants at service on any particular Sunday in a year. Those same honest, hardworking folks dependably vote Republican, too, regardless their personal interests and living wages. Any suffering done wherever it comes from is in love for the Lord. Principles like this scapegoat in Southern Wisconsin are truly born twisted and deformed.
My contempt grows overt despite my attempt to stay sublime. Forgive me, and please permit me to talk about the Liturgy again. I do appreciate a patient reader. I, too, am inclined to think the morbid sacrament was not merely a metaphor. There are black roots to this aspect of the Last Supper.
Whereas, I fail to find accreditation or an example, I have read Shakespeare created a woman he called Cannibal Mary for use in his plays. The character was a suspicious parody of the Virgin Mary – although, this seems as much gossip as the Canonical Gospels.
My writing itself is about to become positively sanguinary, so I will first express I do understand there is community in communion. Any event in which food is shared generates camaraderie. The symbolism is visually primal; images erupt in which families are brought together, strangers are met at meal times and friends are made. Bonds are renewed.
Yet the message of fellowship is divorced from what makes the Eucharist memorable. Just before, I abruptly mentioned a ghostly Shakespeare’s Cannibal Mary and I will return to that point, for she is my true subject. The New Testament verses which bring me to consider the woman are purportedly born out of the very mouth of our exalted savior. It is written…
26 … Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Matthew 26:26-28 (NIV)
The author of Luke was a little more succinct…
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
Luke 22:19-20 (NIV)
Come on, look at what He said, it’s elementary. Jesus was talking about cannibalism. He said it more plain than when my mom told me, “Take your brothers fingers out of your mouth!”
Why would the messiah even bring up something like that? Where does the idea of eating Him come from? But people remember He said it.
I cannot think of anywhere in the Old Testament that mentions anything pertaining to the stomach-churning presumption. The topic isn’t really discussed or even so much attributed to heathens. We are not suppose to eat each other, I know that. There are criminal laws against it in the United States of America.
I suppose people eat the Passover lamb, but what does that have to do with anything religious? I was taught Jews once made blood sacrifices to God, but I never heard anything special about the flesh of the animal. And the goat was certainly never a human being… well…
I assumed the kosher carcass was discarded as a matter of course. I never cared, it was what the Jews did and don’t anymore. The leftovers would not miraculously return the following year and be the same lamb. An idea like that was pagan, especially if a person was substituted for an animal sacrifice during an equinox or more often a solstice.
Today, the more liberal observers of Judaism cannot possibly believe their individual quests to discover God have anything to do with killing people – that goes against the Sixth commandment. The act is desperate and mad.
And a Mary of Bethezuba is one who smashed that binary commandment one day she lost her mind. People across the civilized world heard about the incident and remembered it for a long time. Indeed, I told you I have read Shakespeare referred to the woman involved as late as the 16th century. This was Cannibal Mary. Her story maybe inspired the ritual of consuming loathsome symbols. She perhaps contributed an apparent message to the Last Supper.
The Romano-Jewish scholar Josephus documented Mary in his history “Jewish War,” 75 CE. Josephus was born in a Roman-dominated Jerusalem and emigrated to Greece, so the ‘Romano’ part of the preface describes the scholar as a citizen of the ancient Roman Empire. Indeed, the Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus made the man his historian.
Josephus documented the Flavian campaign to destroy the temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Actually, I believe trouble started four years earlier in 66 CE when statues of Caesar were to be erected in temples of every order and denomination. The Emperor was to be worshiped as the supreme god. Fundamentalist Jews could not stand that, nor would any devote Christian or Muslim in this age.
The scholar Josephus wrote about a siege Titus waged against those who denied his divinity. The Emperor surrounded the three walls of Jerusalem with his Roman army. The whole population was punished. The Roman army stopped food and water from entering the city. And to exasperate the deprivation, Titus let pilgrims enter the starving chaos Jerusalem had become so that they could celebrate Passover then never leave. No one was let outside the walls.
Josephus wrote the captured population turned against itself. Hungry gangs roamed inside their prison looking for food and treasure. They are written to have found a wealthy widow with her newborn child. Her name was Mary of Bethezuba. She became perpetually robbed. Thieves took her food until Passover came. The beleaguered woman then snapped. Mary went crazy.
The woman slaughtered her son, baked his corpse and started eating him after the ritual fast ended and the day was done. Thieves smelled the roasted meat, followed a sickly-sweet aroma through the dark and found the source.
Discovered, Mary presented to her habitual robbers the uneaten portions of her child. “He is a myth to the world,” Josephus stated she claimed. He said the woman’s revolted oppressors fled. People for centuries have remembered for themselves what happened at the siege. Nobody needed to read what a Roman scholar wrote.
I feel inclined to believe the tale is repeated today. Here is the origin of Transubstantiation, its symbols carry vague and needling and unshakable meaning. And it is the muddled story of Mary and the sacrifice of her son at Passover that makes the Last Supper unforgettable. We remember vicariously the bread is the flesh of her infant child. The blood is his. The woman’s convoluted damnation possibly made the Liturgy memorable.
The constant controversy involves dates. The tedious piece of this research in summary testifies Rome sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple a second time in 70 CE. The Gospel of Mark, in which whose author first records the events of the Last Supper, was also written about 70 CE. Scholars think 70 CE is more precise because the author of Mark mentions the destruction of the Temple Jerusalem. The dates of both these events incriminate themselves in conspiracy because their proximity.
The authors of the Gospels had certainly overheard something about the infamous Mary of Bethezuba. If they were Jewish, Gnostic or freshly Christian, I imagine news from Jerusalem would have been the priority of his day. Atrocities in the Promised Land would have most certainly overshadowed reports from a besieged of Masada. I think much of the struggle was incorporated into their books. Scholars have even stated the conflicts with Rome are what the Book of Revelation is about.
Christian apologists argue the Gospels have been preached by word-of-mouth since about 40 CE. The possibility may have merit, but there is no proof. The Apostle Paul never talked about the Last Supper, nor the birth of Jesus nor His life on Earth. Before the Gospels, we sinners only heard about what He had done for us and what we needed to do to show Him our appreciation. The First Apostle Paul wrote down as much. We can’t know what people said then to each other in conversation. Technically, we can’t even really know what Paul said was not made-up.
And you, reader, have no reason to believe me until you see for yourself. Read, just go ahead and read. Even then, people believe what they want to believe.
– Matthew Sawyer