The Return Project:
Recently, Judith and I visited about the subject of “Who Is Jesus?” over breakfast , and she said,”When I met you in 1973, you were already talking excitedly about Jesus and Buddha as shamans. You claimed that the church and its scholars had missed perhaps the essential point of Jesus’ life and times, namely, that he was a basically a man of nature. That trumps everything else, you said over and over.”
While Judith’s memory is accurate, for the next four decades I diverted my interest to psychology and the practice of psychotherapy, to an indigenous apprenticeship, and, eventually, to the science of fields. I had little time to pursue my intuition about Jesus. I returned to the intuition briefly with two of my books, but, once again, I did not pursue the question in any systematic way.
Recently, I suggested to Lillie Rowden that she add a chapter to her new book, one that concentrates on Jesus, the Shaman, as a link to other indigenous shamans. That conversation lead me to the axial work, THE LIFE OF A GALILIEAN SHAMAN: Jesus of Nazareth in Anthropological-Historical Perspective by Pieter F. Craffert. As I study this paradigm-shifting book, I am deeply gratified that a scholar of Craffert’s stature can explore this domain in such thoroughly researched detail, especially since my life trajectory took me in other directions. His research turns our notion of the man Jesus in an entirely different direction, beyond both conservative and liberal pursuits.
After forty years I am more and more certain that the historical figure of Jesus is best understood as a shaman, especially since Craffert and others have come to a similar conclusion from lifetimes of research. (I am not so sure about Buddha, but that can wait.) I did take my church history professor’s advice to explore the canonical gospels by studying koine Greek along the way, the street language of the oldest narratives. It helped in my quest to discover the man Jesus, but I sensed that even these ancient Greek texts missed much since Jesus spoke Aramaic while the gospels writers recorded their impressions of him in Greek, a language he didn’t choose to speak. It is likely that Jesus knew Greek, religious Hebrew, and perhaps even Roman Latin, but it is certain that he chose to communicate almost exclusively in a distinctively Galilean dialect of Aramaic, an earthy language rich in local idioms.
This point is important because Aramaic, like many tribal languages, is much more connected to Nature than Greek. Take the first line of the so-called “Lord’s Prayer.”
Jesus speaks, addressing the Sacred in his native language, offering one of his most significant teachings:
What does the phrase mean? The King James Version translators did not know Aramaic, or even that Jesus spoke this beautiful language. They labored as best they could from koine Greek sources and gave us this poetic translation:
Our Father, who art in heaven…
A recent Aramaic translation of this same phrase is startlingly different:
O Birther, Source, Mother-Father of the Universe.
The entire history of Christianity, perhaps even Western Civilization, turns on that one erroneous report of Jesus’ teachings. Even modern translations such as the RSV don’t seem to be aware of Jesus’ Aramaic tongue and its connection to the Mother Tongue. One Aramaic scholar I consulted stated that abwoon is a word that also describes the source of spring waters in landscapes where local Aramaic is spoken even today. When Jesus chose to instruct his apprentices in his model of praying, he uttered this word, abwoon, closely connected to source and water.It is a word that implies both the masculine and feminine.
Is it possible that Jesus knew to integrate earth and sky, masculine and feminine, immanence and transcendence? Is it possible that Jesus was a speaker of the Mother Tongue? Perhaps, I read too much of my own perspective back into the man, Jesus. It is easy to do. But my curiosity pushes me to look into the Jesus’ narratives to explore how they relate to cross-cultural shamans in my next post. See you there.