UFO Sightings and Resurrection Sightings: How Templates Function to Structure What We See, and Why the Suffering and Resurrecting Messiah Tablet Discovery Matters

This week’s New York Times bombshell article (which you can read here: https://santitafarella.wordpress.com/2008/07/06/a-suffering-and-resurrected-messiah-before-jesus-bombshell-archeological-find-causes-stir-in-academic-bible-community/ ) on an ancient tablet discovery at the Dead Sea in Jordan that PREDATES Jesus, but that may refer to a suffering messiah who raises from the dead after three days, has the potential to revolutionize scholarly, and eventually popular, understandings of Christian origins. 

If confirmed, what it means is that the earliest followers of Jesus may have used an already pre-existing and circulating messianic idea as a template for the structuring of their own narratives of Jesus’s suffering and resurrection.

Why would a previously existing template matter so much?

Because the writers of the gospels, having a template from a previous generation to work with, casts very large doubt upon the historicity of their own accounts. It makes more problematic the question of where the gospels are being strictly literary and theological and where they may be attempting to be historical.

It also raises the question of self-fulfilling prophecy.

All four gospels seem to suggest that the original disciples were clueless as to what would happen to Jesus after he died. This tablet raises the specter that there may have been no cognitive dissonance to overcome—but rather, an expectation that the followers of Jesus were watching for certain things to happen.

It’s long been known in psychology that expectations effect what individuals see, and understand to have happened, and so, if it is found that previous templates are coloring your experience, your testimony about events must be regarded with greater suspicion.

For example, for many years social psychologists have noted that UFO citings and abduction claims tend to follow templates derived from post-WW II science fiction magazines and films (saucers, aliens with big heads, and so on).

The telling of such stories also often has a multiplier effect. Once one person tells such a story, it increases the likelihood that another, and then another, will claim a similar experience, or tell an ever more exaggerated version of the story. And once a template is established, the structure of future tellings will tend to conform to the expectations generated by the template.

In other words, one often sees what one expects to see, and popular stories and eye-witness accounts of strange happenings often conform to templates already present in a culture.

In some cases, the template may not even have wide currency except within a small sectarian group. The discovery of a pre-existing suffering and resurrecting messiah template among Jesus’s earliest followers is important news, if confirmed. It tells us, as well, what the gospel writers may have been relying upon to tell their stories. 

In short, this latest tablet discovery raises the question of whether the stories around which Christianity evolved came from already existing templates, and thus functioned as self-fulfilling prophecies, meeting expectations that were already present and desired.

This is not unimportant to know in evaluating the truth-claims of conservative brands of Christianity, especially if the claim being made about the gospels is that the stories in them must be read primarily as objective and dispassionate recountings of eye-witness accounts of historical events.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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