A Jesuit priest has used the “infant Jesus went down to Egypt” myth to argue a moral criticism of a policy relating to immigrants or children of immigrants into the U.S.
I have no problem with that. That’s what myths are for and how they have always functioned in societies. In the late 60s when students were demonstrating over the Vietnam war a friend of mine was inspired by the myth of Jesus the pacifist and spoke proudly of his non-violent response to being roughly dragged off by police to a paddy wagon.
“Social memory” is the buzz word today and these examples are forms of our social or cultural “memories”. They are framed and deployed to meet current needs and values.
So yes, technically and academically Dr Jim West has the right to say that historically Jesus was never in Egypt. He’s applying sound historical (and myth-busting) method when he does so.
Yes, it is good sound method to first understand the nature of the source we are using. In this case, our theologian has understood that the story of Jesus being taken into Egypt was created to make use of a particular passage in Hosea. He does his position as a public intellectual no favours when he insults those he sees as less well informed outsiders. Nor does he impress with his own ability to do basic research when he faults the author of the article for writing as a “journalist” when in fact the author is a Jesuit priest with a Master of Divinity from a School of Theology. So one might expect that the author, Thomas Reese, is not so ignorant after all and knows exactly what he is doing in his use of the myth to make a political argument.
Or maybe he does believe Jesus was historically in Egypt. It really doesn’t matter. The question of historicity of events behind myths is quite irrelevant to the place and purpose of myths in society. Their “historicity” is only of interest to historians and anyone who is personally interested in historical research and myth-busting.
Or perhaps Dr West wants to undermine the myth because he disapproves of the moral argument it is being used to buttress.
So no doubt our academic critic will be consistent and cast all details in the epistles of Paul and the gospels that are constructed in order to make use of “Old Testament” passages and tropes to the outer darkness of ahistoricity, including ….. the John the Baptist Elijah / voice in the wilderness role, the baptism and wilderness experience of Jesus, the healings and other miracles of Jesus, the confrontations of Jesus with the authorities of his day, the Passion and resurrection of Jesus, early persecutions and the apostles going out from Judea to the world to preach …… 🙂
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