Im just nearing the end of my last full day in Britain for a while. I’m in my hometown of Burnley, babysitting for my niece & nephew, with my bag all packed for India. The day began up on the moors, stocking up on psilocybyn for when I return, the glorious Pennines rolling on every side under a sweet sunshine. There followed a walk along the canal with my best mate Nick, his son Lei-Bau & their dog, Shin-Chan, after which I went to meet mi dad for a pint. The football results then came in, the roars of nearby Turf Moor telling us that Burnley had won 3-0, cementing their 2nd place in the Championship in the process.
It was an apt place to be, for it was as a boy in Burnley that I first noticed the trappings of the Christian faith, singing sacred hymns in school assembleys,’ while every December I would gaze on the nativity scene set up in a wooden hut in the town centre. Excepting my Grandmother who said a prayer to ‘Jimmy God’ every bedtime, my family, were not exactly your staunchest believers, & apart from family weddings & funerals, I never really stepped inside a church. As I grew older, I felt free to make my own mind up about God & Jesus & soon decided that the ‘absolute truth’ I was being told about divinity was extremely hard to believe. Around me, of course, my young British peers were largely feeling the same, drinking copious amounts of alcohol in churches that had been converted into bars. Our lack of faith was rooted in the scientific discoveries of recent centuries, where erudite souls such as James Hutton (Geology) & Charles Darwin (Evolution) had challenged quite successfully the Biblical account of Creation.
If the Story of Adam & Eve was a poetic creation of antiquity, then the Bible just cannot be seen as the infallible word of god, raising the possibility that the divinity of Jesus had also been made-up. To get to the bottom of things, I felt I had to examine just how, & why, a mere mortal had been elevated to such a grandiose godhead. It was with this in mind that I visited Saint Peter’s Church, the oldest in Burnley, which stands on the site of the town’s original settlement. As I entered the church, I picked up a stray Bible & sat myself down in one of the pews, laptop primed, the Jesus mystery all dark clouds & obscurity before me.
The prime sources for the Biblical Jesus are found in the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament, all of which agree that despite his dead body being taken to a tomb on a Friday, by the Monday he had risen from the dead. Throughout the Gospels & other books of the New Testament, the risen Jesus was witnessed by many of his followers, sharing food with them & even showing them his wounds to prove his identity;
When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had said this, he showed unto them his hands and his side. John 20-20
Away from the gospels, the Roman author Tacitus confirms that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, as in; Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.’ Tacitus wrote this c.100AD, & whether he based his account on the Gospels or not, it shows that knowledge of Christ’s crucifixion was current at that time. This, & his subsequent resurrection, would become one of the two main pillars of Christianity.
The other is firmly planted into the crucial moment when Jesus rises to Heaven – an event known as the Ascension. Surprisingly, this seminal moment is only briefly recorded in just two of the Gospels, as in;
He was received up into Heaven, & sat down at the right hand of the Lord,’ (Mark 16-19)
He was parted from them & carried up to Heaven (Luke 24-51)
…and that’s it! Just twenty-six words to describe one of the most important happenings in world history. Yet, it is on these meagre scraps of information that the religion of Christianity, as we know it, is built. The other two gospels make no mention of the Ascension whatsoever, ending their accounts of Jesus’ ministry in Palestine in a rather more mundane fashion. One would imagine that if the physical body of Jesus was raised to Heaven, both Matthew & John would have mentioned it. It should also observed that the earliest complete texts of the Gospel of Mark – the Sinaiticus & Vaticanus Codexes (3rd-4th century) – do not contain the last eleven verses in which the Ascension is contained & ends with the discovery of an empty tomb.
In light of all this, I grew confident that the Ascension had never occurred at all, & that following his revival after the crucifixion, Jesus must have gone somewhere. This, of course, keeps Iarchus in the game, & I became fully resolved to find him. To do this, I would have to follow in the two millenia-old footsteps of Appollonius… thus, with a copy of Philostratus tucked away in my inside pocket, in the morning I shall set off out for India.
Extra bit - On the walk from town to my sisters, I passed through the Stoneyholme part of Burnley, which is something of a ‘Little Pakistan.’ En route I came across an impromptu cricket game, which reminded me of how cricket is played on almost every street-corner of the subcontinent – bring it on!