The Disciple

 Posted by on 19 April 2012 at 8:00 am  Christianity, Poetry, Religion
Apr 192012

Lately, I’ve been re-reading the Greek Bible (a.k.a. “The New Testament”) while listening to Prof. Luke Timothy Johnson’s lecture course, Jesus and the Gospels. Johnson is a believer, unlike Bart Ehrman. But he’s a scholarly, thinking Roman Catholic — not a knee-jerk Biblical literalist. So I’m enjoying the course far more than expected.

When William Stoddard recommended the poem “The Disciple” by Rudyard Kipling on another comment thread, I was intrigued! Better yet, I was not disappointed on reading the poem.

The Disciple Rudyard Kipling

He that hath a Gospel To loose upon Mankind, Though he serve it utterly– Body, soul and mind– Though he go to Calvary Daily for its gain– It is His Disciple Shall make his labour vain.

He that hath a Gospel For all earth to own– Though he etch it on the steel, Or carve it on the stone– Not to be misdoubted Through the after-days– It is His Disciple Shall read it many ways.

It is His Disciple (Ere Those Bones are dust ) Who shall change the Charter, Who shall split the Trust– Amplify distinctions, Rationalize the Claim; Preaching that the Master Would have done the same.

It is His Disciple Who shall tell us how Much the Master would have scrapped Had he lived till now– What he would have modified Of what he said before. It is His Disciple Shall do this and more….

He that hath a Gospel Whereby Heaven is won ( Carpenter, or cameleer, Or Maya’s dreaming son ), Many swords shell pierce Him, Mingling blood with gall; But His Own Disciple Shall wound Him worst of all!

In the years that I’ve been studying the history and texts of early Christianity, I’ve grown to love and appreciate the Gospels as literature. They’re rich, complex, and philosophical. I’ve also developed some sympathy for Jesus — as much as I disagree with every bit of his preaching — because his message was so quickly and wildly distorted by his followers. To use Bart Ehrman’s language, there’s a gap between the religion proclaimed by Jesus and the religion about Jesus. And it’s huge.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Jesus interests me as a cultural figure, partly because on one hand he’s opposed to the virtue of prudence in its ordinary forms, but on the other he repeatedly draws metaphors from commerce and investment to make his spiritual points. The parable of the talents and the parable of the pearl of great price are examples. In an odd way he’s far more accepting of commercial ways of thinking than most of the Greeks and Romans were.

    There’s also the strange matter of Judas. One of the Gospels has Jesus say, “The one of you I hand this sop to is going to turn me in to the authorities,” and then he gives it to Judas, who says, “You mean me?” and Jesus says, “What you have to do, do it quickly.” Not only does that read to me as if Judas was doing what he was ordered to do, but it reads like some sort of covert ops assignment. It makes me wonder what Jesus was really thinking at the time. Might he have been expecting that his arrest and trial would lead to a massive uprising against the Temple authorities? I’d really like to see an account of the whole affair by someone like Kipling or Heinlein who had a deep understanding of political intrigue and undercover operations.

    Kipling’s story “The Church That Was at Antioch” is a really wonderful fictional account of the early church and its conflicts, told with a focus on a young Roman officer who gets caught up in them; Kipling brings out all the political and economic disputes of the time a few years after the Crucifixion.

  • Steve D

    The gospels are probably not to be considered historical documents since they were not written during his lifetime. I am willing to, perhaps, accept the existence of a man named Jesus but take with a grain of salt anything written about him. I’ve read many accounts about early Christiantity and it is illuminating to consider how the New Testiment was written, what gospels were chosen, what was left out etc. 

    I also do not necessarily agree that the bible is great literature – some parts were well written but other parts are simply painful to read.  

  • J Bravo

    There is a very good play about how the gospels were written, by four philosophy students.

    The_Evangelists (En).pdf

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