Jesus Through Pagan Eyes by Mark Townsend

Reviewed by James Nichol

There are some who go into the water, and when they emerge, they recognise the Presence in everything. That is why there is nothing to be depised: a king in rags is still as king.

This quotation from the second century Gospel of Philip sums up the feeling-tone of Mark Townsend's Jesus Through Pagan Eyes. It is cleansing and transfiguring to read.

Why did I read this book? Like Mark, I am a OBOD Druid. I'm also a mentor in that tradition, aware that people enter the Order from all sorts of points of view. So there's an element of home-work. But beyond that, though I don't personally identify as either Pagan or Christian, I have an abiding interest in both traditions. I recognise that there are many Christianities and Paganism loose in the world, some of which are able to interweave and so add to the creative possibilities of 21st Century spirituality.

Jesus Through Pagan Eyes is a friendly and accessible book on a hot topic in the field of spiritual change and development. Mark Townsend is well-placed to develop it and has done so with authority and elegance. It is not too long - and yet covers a lot of ground. The book is structurally creative. It is written in three parts. The first, by Mark, looks at theological developments in the Christian Tradition, engaging in particular with the work of theologians like Matthew Fox (who has contributed a substantial foreword) and Richard Rohr. In particular, Mark looks at ways in which the firgures of 'Jesus' and 'Christ' (both separately and together) can be understood.

The second part comprises chapters by respected writers from Pagan traditions, talking about their understandings of Jesus and what, if anything, he means to them now. Here we begin to get the full diversity of voices which is such a feature of the book. Chapters that stood out for me included The Lily Cross and the Green Man, reflections arising from an image in a country church, by Maria Ede-Weaving; Jesus, Horse of God, drawn on insights from the Afro diasporic and other traditions, by Diana L. Paxson; and I Have No Temple: A Consideration of Jesus as a Pagan Teacher of Gnosis, reflecting on G.R.S.Mead's trans. of The Hymn of Jesus, by Marcus Katz. For Druids, there are also significant chapters by Emma Restall-Orr, John Michael Greer and Philip Carr-Gomm.

The third part comprises interviews from respected pagan elders: Maxine Sanders, Selena Fox, Raven Digitalis, Sorita D'este, Caitlin Matthews, Janet Farrar, Gavin Bone, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, Cassandra Eason, Raven Grimassi, Scott Blunt, Kerr Cuhulain, and Gill Edwards - a wealth of information and opinion, though they did not hold me as much as the chapters in part two. But good value all the same. 

Mark's book can be purchased here