Made in the Image of God



In 1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer made the silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc.” The film was shown once and censored. It was thought lost in a fire, and a second version, made of second takes, was created. Then, another version (not by the original director) was compiled by cutting and torturing the second original. The film Joan, thus, was subjected to a path paralleling that of the historical Joan.

“The Passion of Joan of Arc” uses excerpts from Joan’s heresy trial transcript. At one point, Joan says she is a daughter of God as Jesus was a son of God. Though she fears death by being burned alive at the stake, she will not deny this fundamental relationship to God.

Such a statement from a woman, that she might be a part of God as Jesus was a part of God, is still radical today. For many Christians, it is still radical to believe that we are endowed with divinity, that God lives in us and through us. Mormons, who embrace this call from and to divinity are slurred as heretics, as “not real Christians” in some circles. Yet the Mormon belief of the call from and to divinity is the call to behave as Christ. It is embodiment, not simply belief. As such, to me, it is a recognition that throughout history there have been many Christs, in many ages. How many of them, do you suppose, were women whose divinity, like St. Joan’s, was denied?

The tide of time is an uncanny thing. In 1947 the Dead Sea Scrolls, or Qumran library, were discovered and the first scrolls were published in 1950. According to “The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls” by James Vanderkam and Peter Flint, “The compositions compose a heterogeneous corpus penned in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek consisting of various literary genres including not only the sectarian literature of the Qumran community, but also writing composed elsewhere in ancient Israel, including the much older biblical writings.” The finds reveal “that first-century Judaism was quite pluralistic” (James M. Robinson). Likewise, the discovery in 1945 of the Nag Hammadi library helped to extend our knowledge of primitive Christianity and its connections to Gnosticism. It wasn't until the 1970’s that the texts reached lay audiences.

One of the texts, the “Gospel of Thomas,” was found in the Nag Hammadi library. It is a sayings gospel rather than an elongated narrative. It contains some of Jesus’ sayings and parables. In “Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas,” Elaine Pagels notes “Thomas’s gospel encourages the hearer not so much to believe in Jesus, as John requires, as to seek to know God through one’s own divinely given capacity, since all are created in the image of God.”

Alongside the major textual finds, at Qumran and Nag Hammadi, stand archaeological finds which shed light on the historical context and cultures of the Near East and Middle East. The archaeological evidence shows the prominent role that goddesses held. One Goddess, Asherah, may even have been “seen as the wife of Yahweh” though that interpretation is still controversial.

From all these sources, we are gaining new perspectives on Christianity and Judaism. The finds challenge us to adapt our faiths as we learn more about the world and contexts from which the religions emerged. The discoveries are, perhaps, how some new revelations happen without supernatural intervention. Science teaches us how to learn and the archaeological discoveries provide the content of the adaptations.

In 1981, in the closet of a mental hospital, a copy of the original print of the film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” was found. Film critic Pauline Kael asserted Maria Falconetti's portrayal of Joan "may be the finest performance ever recorded on film." The portrayal of Joan is not as a mentally ill woman, incoherent in thought and reason, but as a woman committed to her experience of ecstasy. Her relationship with God, and her understanding of God, was central to her actions in life, and ultimately led to her death. Do we yet have eyes to see and ears to hear her message?