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Monday, August 5, 2013

The Real Jesus

Ross Douthat weighs in on the latest shot in the "Jesus Wars", that of author Reza Aslan. Mr Douthat argues that the traditional Christian view of Jesus is more compelling than any of the more modern "real/historical" Jesus narratives:
The fact that Aslan’s take on Jesus is not original doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong. But it has the same problem that bedevils most of his competitors in the “real Jesus” industry. In the quest to make Jesus more comprehensible, it makes Christianity’s origins more mysterious.
Part of the lure of the New Testament is the complexity of its central character — the mix of gentleness and zeal, strident moralism and extraordinary compassion, the down-to-earth and the supernatural.
Most “real Jesus” efforts, though, assume that these complexities are accretions, to be whittled away to reach the historical core. Thus instead of a Jesus who contains multitudes, we get Jesus the nationalist or Jesus the apocalyptic prophet or Jesus the sage or Jesus the philosopher and so on down the list.
There’s enough gospel material to make any of these portraits credible. But they also tend to be rather, well, boring, and to raise the question of how a pedestrian figure — one zealot among many, one mystic in a Mediterranean full of them — inspired a global faith. 

Indeed.It seems to me that the common problem with these "historical Jesus" sketches is that they ignore the Bible as a legitimate (and contemporary) historical source. They look to secondary sources and later historical accounts, which may be valuable for telling us that He did exist, and maybe a few other corroborating facts (e.g. that historically He lived during the first few decades AD, or that He did have a band of followers, etc), but which don't really paint the whole picture.

Actually, I would go a step further and say that the Bible itself doesn't paint a full picture, because no book (even a divinely inspired one) can do this for us. When correctly understood, it may contain all of public revelation, but this "correctly understood" is already more than we can get out of this book. Hence the variety of heresies (to say nothing of the East-West Schism and a few smaller schisms) which are formed and reformed, often claiming to be getting at "the real revelation" of Jesus. The various heresies could in one way or another find ways to interpret Scripture to mean something other than what it says--whether that twisting has to do with Christ's human nature of His divine nature, or human nature before and after the Fall.
So much more so with the various secular sources which don't benefit from Scripture's divine inspiration. The "historical Jesuses" are almost always whittled down from the actual Jesus of history, and so much so that the real Jesus is for more than the sum of these various "historical" Jesuses. His story is central to history, and parts of it might be found in history; but His Story is not only historical, and cannot be entirely contained within history alone, any more than it can be contained whole and unabridged in the Bible alone. This is why Saint John's Gospel concludes by saying that "There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25.

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