I was there
The gospels have an extraordinary ring of truth. Mark in particular is a first-rate newspaper reporter. I know that the texts we have were extensively worked over by the early Christian community. But that makes their I was there quality all the more remarkable. I’m trying to think of a comparison in literature that matches the vivid immediacy of Jesus’s compassion and indeed anger. Vladimir and Estragon? Too bitter. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza? Too quirky. Charles Ryder and Sebastian? Too laced with sexual love in Sebastian’s early life and too happy gardening in his monastery to need Charles in his later. Lear’s fury? Too ineffective and pathetic, though Cordelia’s compassion for the ridiculous and noble old man is a towering literary achievement. Yes, accounts of the Buddha’s compassion are equally moving. Yet not quite that inescapable I was there quality. But in the end the gospels are about the incursion of another dimension of reality into this one and since we don’t live in another dimension of reality we can only imagine it and it can only be suggested to us by fictions. We should pay equal attention to the fictional side of the gospels (most of the miracle stories, the infancy narratives even the resurrection accounts according to some biblical scholars) just as the fictions of Shakespeare’s late romances are as persuasive as the facts of the history plays, indeed far more so. We need myths as much as facts and what myths can compare with these? How can we ever forget them? But, of course, we do. Still, if there’s no God at least there’s Shakespeare to tell us we are inescapably enriched by Pericles and The Winter’s Tale. Are we quite sure that there isn’t another dimension of reality?