My Favorite Cannibal Story In The Bible



In John 6, Jesus told a group of folks:

I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. I live because of the living Father who sent me;
in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me.
(John 6:53-57, New Living Translation)

I suspect many church folks are accustomed to hearing this verse. Unfortunately, growing so comfortable with passages from the Bible often means we really don't hear them anymore. What if you read the Bible like you'd never read it before? What if you listened to teachings about the Bible like it was all brand new? How would this passage sound to you? Let me paraphrase, and see if that makes my point:

"Then Jesus said, 'If you want to live forever, eat my flesh. Oh and one more thing....Drink my blood. My flesh is real food. My blood is true drink. If you eat me and drink me, you'll be part of me and I'll be part of you. Feed on me, and live.'"

I never saw this show, but clever title, HBO, clever title.

Folks generally connect these words to the last supper, when Jesus took bread and told his followers, "Take. Eat. This is my body," and to drink from the cup he gave them, saying, "This is my blood." Of course, that happens way after John 6. In fact, it doesn't happen in John at all. You have to go to Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and 1 Corinthians 11 to find this story. Because we find it so easy to connect these words to the last supper, it's easy for us to miss just how misunderstood and perhaps offensive his words might be to his audience at the time.

John 6:52 even tells us this was the case. The Jews who were listening to Jesus fought with one another about what he meant, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Is it really hard to imagine that they took the repeated interplay of eating flesh and drinking blood to have cannibalistic overtones? Wouldn't you? In writings dating to around 250 AD, an early leader in the church by the name of Origen even alludes to Jewish charges that Christians ate human flesh.

Shortly before the time of Jesus, the cult of Dionysus was a pagan cult that had gained popularity throughout the Roman world. The cult had some interesting rituals, like drinking wine to the point of physical intoxication and calling it worship. They also took part in a feast. Well that's a little more normal. I like a feast. Unfortunately, this was a feast of raw flesh that originally involved tearing apart a living human being to eat his still quivering flesh. Only later did they switch from humans to animals.  When the worshipers took part in this ritual, they believed they were in direct communion with the god Dionysus because the god was temporarily in the victim. He was the flesh and the blood, and they were united with him while partaking. So you can see why people might be a little hesitant when Jesus started talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.

Sometimes even today I think the Church can be a bit presumptuous about its rituals. It can take for granted that everyone knows what's going on and understands the "lingo." I suspect that's a big reason why most churches don't take communion much anymore. It's just too hard to explain.

NOTE: The stuff about the cult of Dionysus came from a book by David Fiensy called New Testament Introduction. See pages 184-185.

Comments

  1. Excellent. The more one uncovers such gems the more one begins to realise how manufactured Christianity is, designed to appeal to gentiles while casting the Jews in the worst possible light.
    And everyone knows how maligned Pilate was, he being the humanitarian and all that, right?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading, Arkenaten. Personally, I'm not convinced Christianity overwhelmingly appealed more to gentiles than Jews. I suspect both groups had things they liked or disliked about this budding new Jewish sect in the 1st century AD.

      I do think select authors of the New Testament were writing for gentile (or gentile Christian) audiences, while others were writing for Jews (or Jewish Christian) audiences. Because of the chosen audience and the author's own perspective, Jews and Gentiles end up depicted differently in different books in the New Testament.

      Remember that in their early years Christians are portrayed in Acts as speaking in Jewish synagogues, and many of them felt it was important to maintain ritual laws like circumcision, even for adult Gentile converts to Christianity (that's what Galatians is all about). In fact, the first big moment in the Church's history in Acts 2 states that some 3000 Jews who were in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost were converted to Christianity. These things all strike me as an unusual thing to share if your primary interest was casting the Jews in the worst possible light.

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    3. As we now know Acts is pretty much worthless as an historical source you would have to agree it is pointless to reference it for this purpose, surely, especially as historians recognize that the Christian movement - the Way - did not start in Jerusalem?
      Thus , the claimed conversion of 3000 Jews is quite obviously fiction.



      After the gospel of Mark was composed, whoever wrote it, the others that followed, including those that never made the ''cut'', simply built on his somewhat shaky foundation, and one can clearly see an Antisemitic undertone. You even made mention that it was the gentile centurion who ''recognized'' that Jesus was the Son of God.
      Odd that even his disciples never caught on.
      In case you misunderstood - it was not my ''primary interest'' to cast the Jews in the worst possible light, but rather to show how the New Testament writers do a sterling job in this regard. A rallying call taken up by many, including Luther, as I am sure you know?
      Anyway, as I mentioned, excellent post.

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