I've finished The Last Christmas by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. This book not only lived up to my expectations, it surpassed them. That being said, I must admit that I didn't read it all. It was set up in a way that I could read the sections that applied and leave the rest. I did skim some of the other sections but when they proved to be exactly what I'd thought they would be I moved on.
The day after I decided I'd finished the book the next book I'd ordered came in the mail. The Last Week by the same authors focuses on Holy Week; the week from Palm Sunday when Jesus was welcomed and adored upon entering Jerusalem through his trial, execution, and stories of his resurrection. I haven't finished it yet but am already gleaning insights surrounding the source of many of the gospel stories- the prophecies of a coming Messiah in the old testement. Where did these stories come from? What was their relevance within the context of the time they were first told? What does that mean for me today?
During the time of King David the tribes of Israel were united and powerful. They didn't need to fear their neighbors because no one would dare challenge such a great nation. Half a century later things began to unravel. The tribes were split and the Jewish people began to face oppression they had never before imagined. When people are oppressed and can't see a way out they need hope. The hope of the children of Israel came in the form of stories of rekindling the time of David. A 'son of David' would rise in the future and overthrow these oppressors. When this savior came the Jewish people would be vindicated and resume their rightful place of power. I am saddened and inspired by the image of a downtrodden people refusing to give up hope. It brings to mind stories of the spiritual voices rising up in the cotton fields as some of the most oppressed people in our nation's short history also clung to the hope that one day they would overcome.
In this context I have a new, richer understanding of the prophets. They weren't men with supernatural visions as fundamentalists would have us believe but I also don't think they were con artists or crazy as some opponents of organized religion would have us believe. Instead I think they were people with hope. I doubt they ever had delusions of grandeur that their spiritual insights were more important than anyone else's, much less would be studied and debated for thousands of years. Instead they were people trying to make sense of what was happening in the world around them and their thoughts and musings happened to be written down in a time when not much else was. I too am writing out my spiritual truths but because it is so very easy for anyone and everyone to do this during my lifetime it doesn't hold as much importantance. Not so in the time of Isaiah; when someone wrote something down their thoughts would have the unique advantage of being studied by future generations. With so few writings they seemed to impart a found truth instead of what they actually were- a search for truth.