From the days of John...

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. Pondering this passage from the Gospels (here, Matthew 11:12). Jesus is eulogizing John.

"From the days of John until now..." I understand this as making a distinction between two different time-periods, one being under the spiritual "authority" of John & all the prophets (since "John is Elijah who is to come"), and the other under the authority of the Son of Man (Jesus). Two distinct eras of the spirit of God. Now = where the person of Jesus is manifest.

"... & men of violence take it by force." This is a deep & resonant saying. Interpreted & misinterpreted again & again....

How do I read it today? Well, have been reading a fascinating old book (1940s) by Julian Morgenstern, The ark, the ephod and the "tent of meeting". Studying & speculating on the affinities between the ark, the Temple, and very ancient tribal war-gods and their symbols - their temples, their cult objects. The god of the clan & the tribe was above all a divine defender of the tribe : through prayer & supplication & magic & divination, the tribal priest-leader would call upon the god in the ark (or tent, or temple) to come to their aid in battle.

In other words, men projected their sense of actuality, of truth, of fate, onto their own symbol of divine authority & sanction. And these religious projections would in turn be ratified and codified by force, by shamanistic magic. Man's own alienated powers were projected onto their shared symbolic totems.

I don't see this as pure false consciousness & mystification : I see it as archaic humanity's efforts to grasp and control a bewildering and violent & chaotic & dangerous world. At the same time, I think it must be recognized as also a reflection of that violence - it is suffused with force. & I identify this dimension in part with what Jesus is pointing toward in this passage.

We are talking about very basic background or foundations of human civilization, I guess. And there are no hard & fast distinctions or divides - it's more like a moral/ethical continuum. What I mean is there is a gradual change from conceiving the divine solely in terms of power, force & violent control, and conceiving the divine in terms of mercy, mutual understanding, reason, compassion, kindness... peacemaking. & we can see this change emerging in the Decalogue (the 10 Commandments). Necessity is the mother of invention.... & when the Hebrews emerged from servitude in Egypt, it was the legal-political wisdom of Moses which adapted ancient forms of tribal worship, cult & divination toward the beginnings of a notion of the divine as universal moral law.

So when Jesus speaks of "from the days of John", and the "kingdom of God" formerly coming with violence, he is pointing, it seems to me, toward a basic, fundamental re-orientation : a recognition that in God there is no sanction for force & violence : that force & violence and arbitrary rule actually have nothing to do with those ethical strata & dimensions of life which are part of the "kingdom" (love, mercy, kindness, compassion, justice, peace, happiness, hope, joy...). "Unless you become as little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God."

This dimension I see as the "underside" of authoritative religion... the Mary-Magdalen-at-the-Sepulchre side... the "poetry" side... & there are a lot of these themes running through my scribblings...

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