Food for Thought (ii)

Rather than being dismissive because of disbelief in ‘miracles’, my previous post suggested understanding gospel accounts, like the feeding of the 5000, as ‘story-parables’ rather than historical facts. But if this is a story, where might the idea originally have come from? The early followers of Jesus, being Jews, were well versed in the Hebrew Bible. It was, of course, their only bible, until ‘approved’ gospels and letters were finally (in the 4th century) formally acknowledged as what we now call the ‘New Testament’. 

As believers, the gospel writers were anxious to ‘prove’ that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah. To help persuade their readers about this, they searched their bible for material which suggested suitable ‘parallels’ that could be drawn. The result is stories about Jesus which recall (or re-imagine) ‘miracles’ wrought by God, or by leading prophets regarded as forerunners of the promised messiah.

Let’s do our own digging …

In Exodus 16, following their escape from Egypt, the host of fleeing Israelites complained of growing hunger, but “Yahweh said to Moses, I will rain down bread from heaven for you”. And, lo and behold, “Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough. Each family had just what it needed.”

In1 Kings 17, the prophet Elijah encounters a starving widow and her family, with a near empty jar of flour and bottle of oil. Elijah, however, sought a promise of help from Yahweh and “there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry.”

In 2 Kings 4, the prophet Elisha wants 20 loaves of bread to be given to the people. He’s told that’s not enough, but says, “Just give it to them. Yahweh has promised there will be more than enough. So the servant served the bread to the people and they ate, and still had some left over”.

It also seems possible that one of the Psalms might have supplied additional inspiration. Here is Mark’s account of the feeding compared with Psalm 23 …..

In secular literature, there are Innumerable tales which showcase cornucopias (horns of plenty), as well as a wide variety of other vessels providing constantly replenished food and drink. The “holy grail” in some versions of the Arthurian romances is a notable example. Since the gospels are likewise, in large part, works of creative literature, similar images and symbols, ideas and motifs, will inevitably appear. 

This need not detract from their moral and spiritual impact, which is in no way dependent on a purely literal, factual or historical approach. So to repeat, as with all the world’s greatest literature, don’t write off the Gospels because of disbelief in their contents. Feel free to ‘disbelieve’ what’s on the colourful, dramatic, inventive, even amusing surface, while exploring, appreciating and learning from, the age-old yet timelessly relevant lessons found within ! 

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