The Gospels are traditionally alien to a Jew. The story is told as a god-man, an incomprehensible figure, who espouses a series of statements, some of which are recognizable and some which are absurd. They each profess to be about the savior of the world. Can there be anything more alien, more other, than these writings?
If the Bible had Moses go up to the top of the mountain, post biblical work had the prophets’ figure go to the top of the mountain and go further.
First, we must think of “exaggeration” as a purely negative term. Surely we dismiss someone’s appraisal of a situation or event by saying they are exaggerated. Just as surely, however we enjoy telling inflated tales, humorous remarks, dramatic rhetoric, and so on.
Non-revelatory religious sensibilities subscribe believers in and all or nothing epistemological. Angels, for example, may not be found detracting God. Yet angels may be nothing less than a man of God (or, as we know today, an omen of God). Angels’ angelic behavior, in other words, may be nothing less than he lessoned from other, even human, beings.
If we Jews investigate the gospels not as a form of religious propaganda or the cravings of over-religious enthusiasm of a community of believers, but rather as an object worthy of a Midrashic reading, we will not fear the Christian quest for spirituality.
The result may be surprising. They may be judged and condemned as unchristian. But would the Christian not be practicing the same behavior of the Jews who determined the followers of Jesus to be un-Jewish, and therefore worthy of contempt?
The exaggeration of the Gospels is naturally answered by exaggeration. Just as one-upmanship (or one-downmanship) is a progressive ‘game’ played out to absurdity, so the progressive element within any philosophy, or theology may be viewed as an existing phenomena. It need not be regarded as debilitating or offensive. Just as we had a series of “ends of philosophy,” each proceeded on the basis of the previous summation and development, so we might truly say – the fact that we do not know the end result of a particular component of thought. We do not know, cannot possibly know, what future thinkers or artists will pick up what strand of any pool of absurdity and lift it to eminence.
Jesus said to the Jews, “Many will come complaining to be the messiah. Do not believe them. And inasmuch as Jesus came to proclaim himself the messiah, the Jews were obedient to his word.
A similar study may be – has always been – undertaken on the torah. Torah says, for example, you shall be holy. Indeed, we shall; but this serves only to show that we have not yet become holy.
What is parody to one person is simply a different direction for another. That which is written as a parody may be read as (and therefore acts as) commentary. That which is written as a scholarly account may be read as (and therefore function as) parody. We do not know how a particular writing will affect a person (this does not mean there is a sense for the writing only in the reader.
There is a formal and informal sense in the work. The reader only has a subjective sense which must be gotten around if the reader is to be understood. The formal and informal and levels of the word and, perhaps beyond these, levels of the author. Until then, all that is understood is the misunderstandings of the reader.
Typically, the good – like the true and the beautiful, which belong to different realms – as satisfied to be buried in the noisy hustle-bustle. It needs to be exaggerated to be seen.
What we, looking up, call exaggerated, is from another perspective, the inner – twinning of sense and meaning, the inner – twinning of the divine and (again, from our perspective) nonsense. The only place such inner – twinning occurs is in literature. Literature which is strong enough to hold antinomies in sacred literary terms is exaggerated.
As Kafka said, “…everything is an exaggeration, only the longing is true, this cannot be exaggerated. But even the truth of longing is not so much its truth; rather it is an expression of the lie of everything else.” (Letters to Melina, Franz Kafka).