God-Man Issues: Jesus & Rama

From my Ramayana Series!

Christian theology has a long history of debate over Jesus’ divinity. In my diagram above I playfully experimented with locating some of the common “Christologies” in relationship to each other.

More human-ish: Marks’ Gospel, Ebionism, Mormonism, Arianism

More god-ish: John’s Gospel, Doceticism, Apollinarianism

Please feel free to correct my placements but please remember that the point of this post is to illustrate that a similar debate exists about a Hindu god-man — Rama.

Hindus consider Rama to be an incarnation of the God Vishnu but it may not have always been so.  Exactly how god-ish Rama is considered nowadays is also debated similar to the same debate among Christians. Hindus, like Christians, have a wide variety of opinions on the issue.  In the diagram you can see two types of Rama – one much more human than the other.  Both of these Ramas can be found in the different versions of the Ramayana.

The Ramayana’s earliest versions were written in Sanskrit — between 700s and 100s BC (see my diagram).  The author is reported to be the poet/saint Valmiki whose text claims that he was a contemporary of Rama.   But Valmiki’s Ramayana, like the Bible, has gone through many oral tellings and redactions since Valmiki’s composition.  Most extant Sanskrit versions are composed of seven books/cantos but modern literary criticism (similar to that applied critically to the Bible) has shown that the first and last book are most probably later additions. And without those two books and their influence on later redactions, Valmiki’s tale shows a much more human Rama.   “Rama’s character is that not of a god but of a god-man who has to live within the limits of a human form with all its vicissitudes.” Rama is an inspirational filial son and valiant warrior but very human.  It was only later additions to Valmiki’s tale that pulled Rama far closer to being 100% god — sort of like John’s Gospel did to Jesus.

Valmiki’s version of the Ramayana is popular in North India whereas the most popular version of the Ramayana in South India is written in Tamil by the famous 12th century poet Kampan where he tells us that Rama was clearly god — 100% god. In Kampan’s version, Rama’s “mission [is] to root out evil, sustain the good, and bring release to all living beings…. Rama is a savior of all beings, from the lowly grass to the great gods.”  The South Indians possessively love Kampan’s version of the Ramayana, for as I wrote here, the tension between North and South India is long-standing.

I think it is helpful for Christians to realize that they are not the only ones who wrestled with god-man issues — several cultures wrestle with this theme.

Notes:

  • The quotes above are from an essay by A.K. Ramanujan entitled  Three_Hundred_Ramayanas which is presently causing a large controversy in India — more on that in the future.
  • See my post on “My Favorite Type of Christian” to see the variety of theologies Christians have to chose from
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14 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

14 responses to “God-Man Issues: Jesus & Rama

  1. That’s pretty interesting, indeed! In my paltry studies of Hindu, I kept running into incarnations of this or that god, but I was never really sure how to take that. What did they mean by “incarnation” with regard to powers, influence, etc.? I guess the simple answer is “it’s complicated, like Jesus.”

  2. @ The Wise Fool,
    Yes, it is complicated, but I doubt it is as complicated as Jesus since “Right Belief” is a large part of the Christian salvation magic. I will be doing future posts on Hindu Incarnations and Rama. I am not highly knowledgable and so will need to keep studying and questioning. This is a fun series for me.

  3. Ben

    “Christian salvation magic” …smile!

  4. rautakyy

    @Sabio Lanz, thank you for these interresting insights to Indian culture. It seems there has been a lot of this god-man thing around. Even closer to the Jewish culture than India. I mean how likely is it, that the Jesus story was never influenced by concepts widely known in the Roman empire like Heracles/Hercules myth, or the Egyptian pharaos who were basicly all sons of this, or that god? In Rome the Triumvirs, emperors and generals who held their vitory celebrations, were ritually constantly reminded that they are not gods…

    To the masses of antiquity it was obvious that there were sons of gods, because several had walked among them, like Alexander the Great for example who visited as far as India. I wonder if he heard of the Rama there, well he was acclaimed son of Zeus long before that anyway…

    Oh by the way, did you know that these two myths you compare are evolving further in the storytelling of our own time? The comic book superhero Hellboy is sometimes referred to as Rama. Kal-El better known as Superman is sent by his heavenly father Jor-El to fight against evil and protect the “American way” across galaxies. I do not know if this was intentional connection, but “El” is the earliest name of the Biblical god meaning “Lord”. And Superman even has his second coming.

    Seriously, most ancient cultures seem to have some form of god-man. In ancient Finnish mythology one of the main heroes “Väinämöinen”, the wise is a son of goddes Ilmatar, but a man among men in action.

  5. @ Ben
    You know, the “right-belief-wins-a-ticket-to-heaven” version of Christianity has long driven me crazy. It is so obviously wrong on so many levels that with only a little explaining most Christians intuitively get that it is “silly magic”. But though they may intuitively get it, they still go on casually believing because their religion is working for them at all sorts of other levels.

    @ rautakyy
    Thanx for all that. The reason I chose the Ramayana myth (or Hindu stuff in general) is that actual living people — and that means 100s of millions, still hold this stuff to be ‘true’ in some sense, much like Jews and Christians feel their myths are divine revelation is some manner. So I am comparing living-tradition to living-tradition unlike the Roman, Finnish and Superman myths (though those are fascinating). I think a Christian would take more seriously a living-faith than a dead or fictitious-faith. It worked for me (see my post “Hinduism was my Undoing”) :-)

  6. I profusely apologise if this comment doesn’t flow with the intellectualness of your blog theme, but after reading and laughing oh-so-passionately at this post (haha!, still chuckling!), I felt compelled to comment: “I agree with your ‘I think.’ Furthermore, I think it would be rather helpful if the oh-so great Charlton Heston were to publicly recognise his on-silver-screen-god-man issues as being that of a script because I firmly believe that Charlton’s on-screen abrupt expression of devoutness toward ‘God’ in ‘The Ten Commandments’ has been major influence to persons throughout the last 54 years thus creating a society of persons who place their beliefs in nothing more than something comparable to belief in Mr. Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

    Charlton’s grand portrayal as Moses in the adaptation of ‘The Ten Commandments’ will certainly religiously grace the televisions of Christians during the next week before Easter; and I shall absolutely pay homage to Elizabeth Taylor as Nefertiti (with my gorgeous Chanel and Christian Dior eye makeup); but I shall 100% question the reality of the things which are portrayed by Charlton Heston. To me, Mosses did not exist in the manner that has become commonplace to our televisions at Easter Time. But Charlton Heston is Moses. IS HE NOT? And what becomes of us who refuse to believe in Charlton Heston? Is that like telling your kids that the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist?

    This is why I believe in Ayn Rand. I believe in Objectivism. Fairy tales, Charlton Heston, and God are nothing but fairy tales.

    This is an excellent blog post. x

  7. @ Nicole Marie Story
    Wow, that was a trippy comment — full of fun allusions and playful images. I never thought about Heston before. I imagine I saw that movie as a child, but not since. I did not know it was an Easter tradition for that movie to show.
    Was Ayn Rand in the movie too? (just kidding)
    Per chance, have you read the Ramayana? (for I know you are widely read)

  8. I considered reading the Ramayana before I was dismissed from the Himalayan Institute’s yoga teacher training on grounds of rebellion (LOL). So I scratched that idea after becoming bitter about the yoga world, and I rather chose to read Atlas Shrugged for an additional couple of glorious experiences. I believe that I will not read the Ramayana, but I absolutely appreciate it! Other big books? Not so much. —> I re-read my comment, and now I wish to prepare my eyes, Nefertiti style, for my morning trek to the coffee shop.

  9. @ Nicole,
    It would be fun to hear about your ‘rebellion’ at the Himalayan Institute” — perhaps you could post on it. But maybe it is not in keeping with your blog’s eating-disorders theme. Nonetheless, your analysis would be fun to hear.

    As you know, I once studied with them too. Here is a grateful post I did on my Yoga teacher. I have yet to get around to doing a critical post.

    Like the Bible and Christianity, there is much to be critical of the Ramayana and Hinduism — I just have not got there yet in any of these posts.

    Hope you enjoyed the morning trek.

  10. Dear Sabio, thanks for your comments on my research “Mixed Doubles – You, I and our religions”. If you wish to share your story about your past relationship in this research, you will be very welcome.

    About your idea on the impact of this kind of study on Christian views about Hinduism, if the study helps in improving relations between religions, that will be an added benefit. For me, the motivation of research is very personal learning and understanding! :)

  11. @ Sunil,
    I also want improved relations. To me, if people realize that their religious thinking or even their non-religious thinking shares much more than they imagine with those outside their favorite group, the world will become a better place.

  12. Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly helpful & it helped me out a lot. I’m hoping to offer something again and help others like you helped me.

  13. Cristian Loera

    hey brothers and sisters, i came accross this page when i was researching Hindu views on Jesus Christ…I was raised a Christian. I recently had a spiritual epiphany which releases all of my doubts about the existance of God, and since then have started connecting dots from religions accross the world, and have been studying sacred geometry. I was wondering if I could get connected with anynody on this

  14. @ Cristian Loera,
    I suggest you set up a simple blog (they are free) and write out your epiphany there. Then come back and put a link to your post and people may come if they are interested. For me, nothing is sacred — geometry included.

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