Defining Dissonance Down

Schweitzer: Not a Cryptographer

The recent rash of fringe-group Evangelicals who see the Bible as a decoder ring to the Rapture should not surprise us. Christianity itself is based on the premise that texts have a hidden meaning that is only gradually revealed in history.

We here at The God Project Dot Net don’t think it’s going too far to say the tenets of our own Christian creed can best be explained as: A creative attempt to resolve extreme cognitive dissonance by finding secret codes in inherited Jewish texts.

And we didn’t start this — our Jewish friends were there first. Any bro who can claim the ludicrously X-rated “Song of Solomon” as a chaste call to worship is clearly master of, um, clever interpretation.

First, the cognitive dissonance. This is a term in social psychology, defined by Stanford’s Leon Festinger in the 1950s. It refers to the observation that people who receive new information that contradicts a strong belief will resolve the tension.

Earliest Christians had a massive whack of dissonance when they perceived Jesus was the Jewish Messiah (Christ) — yet knew he was a crucified criminal. Paul raises this point directly in Galatians 3:13, quoting Deuteronomy 27:26: “Cursed is he who hangs upon a tree.”

Another problem was that the Jewish Scriptures nowhere explicitly talk about a Messiah who will suffer and die. To the extent they cared, Jews anticipated a heroic Messiah — one like Daniel, who might lead an army against Rome.

What’s an early Jew-for-Jesus to do?

Luckily, the TNK (Hebrew Bible) is marvelously flexible and welcomes acrobatic reinterpretation. Suddenly, passages in Isaiah 52 about a “suffering servant” (not “Messiah”) turn into Messianic prophecy. Psalms quoted by Jesus in the Gospels are now evidence of their own anticipation.

Problem solved. Albert Schweitzer once famously said people who are looking for the Historical Jesus seem always just to find themselves.

People who want to locate something hidden in the Scriptures inevitably find what they are looking for. But is it there?


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