Trying to understand Jesus! The Enigma: Who is Jesus?

 

VARGHESE PAMPLANIL

 

Jesus has been the most controversial person in history! Is that what makes him undying or “Everlasting Man”(Chesterton), Eternal Galilean (Fulton J.Sheen)?

 

There is the Jesus of Faith, of fancy, of millions of Churches who worship him as God or Son of God. Research scholars present him as they find him in written documents. Our columnist is presenting him as portrayed by some 20 noted authors.

 

Shorn of Halo!

In them you may not find a lot of heavenly halo but only a raw human  being with certain exceptional qualities and weaknesses. In fact the followers and believers knew only about his three years of public life. For the rest they may know of his a public appearance or disappearance at the age of 12 and an 18 years of total silence till he reached the age of 30.

 

All else is written backwards to support his public life of miracles, his crucifixion, resurrection and reign in the hearts of his believers as God almighty. Once it is assumed that he is the Son of God or God himself, nothing he does can be seen as wrong. That applies to his parents as well.

 

His birth, Miraculous or Mischievous?

His birth is said to be the result of one the 3 persons in the triune God making a young engaged girl pregnant before actual marriage and putting the burden on her would be husband. How many today want to have anything to do with such a God? How can you blame anyone who does not want anything to do with such Gods in this age of reason?

 

Jesus family is called the holy family, model for every Christian home. In the holy family there was only one child. Were they practising the Chinese type of birth control? Only one child in the family? Then why the Churches ask followers to produce like rabbits? So that there would be many hands to put offerings taken during Mass?

 

Young Rebel!

Was Jesus the most exemplary boy in the holy family? Didn’t he rebel with his parents and run away to stay hidden for three days? When he was found he just retorted saying he was doing his father’s business instead of apologizing like an obedient son. Other times think of him calling his mother just “Woman!” Does it speak of an exemplary son?

 

Did he disappear because some were calling him a bastard, as people knew Joseph was not his father. Then he disappears for 18 years until he became 30. Did he run away with some girls or winebibbers and drunkards and such ruffians? Can such things happen in an exemplary family?

 

Mercy personified?

Jesus is presented as love incarnate and mercy personified. Read Mat. 23 from beginning to end, a litany of curses on high priests and Pharisees of his time calling them hypocrites, white washed sepulchres, brood of vipers etc. If he said those things now won’t he be locked up in prison today?

 

He chased out highly placed persons in the temple calling them thieves who made the house of God into a den of thieves. Yet he is presented as example par excellence of non-violence. That title I can’t give him but to Gandhiji only. Jesus was most violent in speech against high priests and Pharisees of his time. We have also such or worse criminals in political and religious circles. But are we allowed to treat them that way in our civil or religious society?

 

There are ever so many things on which one can be very critical of Jesus. I say all this in spite of my great admiration and attachment to Jesus as my GURU for various other reasons, I don’t go into details here and now.

 

All humans have their human limitations. Any doubt that Jesus was just a human being? Of course you are free to believe and worship him or anything or anyone as God. That won’t make the object of worship God almighty.

 

I too believe in so many stupid things as a child, absorbed together with my mother’s milk. Those I won’t and should not believe in now as knowledgeable persons. In that spirit enjoy reading Pamplanil and try to exhibit your new beliefs in your actions.  james kottoor, editor ccv.

 

 

Please read Pamplanil on Enigmatic Jesus!

 

Certain persons seem to be invoking Jesus of Nazareth for everything and anything. The Jesus presented by the Christian Churches appears to be an artificial one: might have been fashioned for propaganda purposes.

 

Since the 4th century, Jesus has been elevated to the status of the Son God as well as God Himself in the like of an Olympian god. The end result: the real human Jesus is buried deep in the kitsch and verbiage dumped around.

 

We do not know for sure when Jesus was born and when he died. In CE 274, Emperor Aurelian ordered the celebration of the birth of the Sun God, Sol Invictus, on December 25.

 

In the beginning, Christmas was celebrated on January 6 (Epiphany). Once Christianity became Constantianity, and meshed with pagan gods and pagan religions, Mithraism, Isis cult etc. December 25 was re-baptised as the date of birth of Jesus to conform with the dates of birth of Greco-Roman gods. The result: half-clad rustic Galilean became Christ the King and Zeus.

 

Pope Libererius (352-66) officially made December 25 as Christmas Day. However, some Eastern Churches continue to celebrate Christmas on 6 January.

 

Thumbnail sketches of Jesus?

Presented below are the thumbnail sketches of Jesus as perceived by some learned pundits:

 

  1. Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768), Prof. of Oriental languages, University of Hamburg: “Jesus, an unsuccessful political activist who thought it was his duty to restore God the King to the people of Israel. (His works were not published till his death, out of fear; manuscripts printed between 1774 and 1778).
  1. Heinrich Eberhard Gottlob Paulus (1761-1851) — Prof. of Theology, University of Heidelberg, offered naturalistic explanation for miracle stories in the gospels.
  1. David Friedrich Strauss (1808-74): Prof. University of Zurich, regarded most of the stories in the Gospels as myths developed on the patterns of Old Testament prototypes.
  1. Earnest Renan (1823-92) — He was fired from professorship of College de France for his divergent views on Jesus. His book: “Life of Jesus” published in 1863 projects Jesus as an amiable carpenter who rode his gentle mule from town to town sharing his “sweet theology of love” and that the opposition from the rabbis made him a revolutionary with harsher tones; invited persecution leading to his martyrdom.
  1. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) — Studied the gospels through “form criticism” to determine which parts of its written material had been preserved in a form most similar to that used in oral transmission. He came to the conclusion that Jesus was a prophet who announced the end of world and declared that the Kingdom of God was about to arrive. Jesus was wrong in believing that God was about to send a supernatural figure, the Son of Man to establish his Kingdom. As the Son of Man did not come, Jesus decided to be himself to be the Son of Man. Schweitzer portrayed Jesus as a misguided eschato- logical prophet: “stripped him off relevance for the contemporary age”.
  1. Rudolf Bultman (1884-1976) German Lutheran theologian and Professor of New Testament at the University of Marburg believed Jesus of faith alone is significant for theology.

7. Earnest L. Kasemann (1915-2004) German Lutheran theologian and Professor of New Testament in Mainz. In his lecture on 23rdOctober 1953, he argued that theology about Jesus must be thoroughly examined in the context of historical realty or else Jesus can be used to support anything.

  1. Georg Friedrich Eduard William Wrede (1859-1906)— German —Professor of Theology, Breslau, in his book–“The Messianic Secret” (1901) says: Mark’s gospel is believed to be the earliest. Mark had invented the scheme of “messianic secret” to facilitate a presentation of Jesus that was not historically accurate.
     
  2. Burton L. Mack P. D. (b.1931) —Professor of New Testament at the School of Theology at Claremont, California. His book “Myth of Innocence” describes the process of how the historical Jesus was transformed by early Christians as an “object of faith”. For the first Jesus movement, keeping his memory alive, was the sine-qua-non for their sheer survival.
  1. Morton Smith (1915-1991) Prof. of Ancient History, Columbia University is credited with the discovery of the Mar Saba letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria containing excerpts of a Secret Gospel of Mark in 1858. In  his book “Jesus the Magician”(1978) he  says that Jesus was presented as the Son of God which eventually resulted in smothering the real Jesus and twisting his words and actions to contrary interpretations.
  1. Ben Witherington (b. 30 December 1951) in North Carolina, holds a Masters degree from Gordon-Connell Theological Seminary and a Ph. D. from Durham University, U.K. He is a New Testament Scholar and Amos  Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. He has written over 40 books. He says that “sage” is a more precise description of Jesus than “prophet”.
     
  2. Francis Gerald Downing (1938-2014), American theologian says that Jesus had mingled with lower classes and taught them as a cynic.
     
  3. Robert W. Funk (1926-2005) — studied at Vanderbilt University (1963), Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary. An American biblical scholar and founder of Jesus Seminar, he observes:  Jesus is one of the greatest sages of history and his insight should be taken seriously counter-balanced by references to other seers, ancient and modern, who have glimpses of the eternal. And also to be aware of everything, we  learn from  scientists , poets and the artistic.
  1. John  Dominic Crossan (b. 1934) — Professor Emirutus De Paul University in Chicago, ex-priest, married, an avowed Christian of Irish origin. Author — “Historical Jesus” (1976), “Jesus Una Biographia” (1994), “Jesus” (1994) , “The Birth of Christianity” (1998), “How to Read the Bible”(2005). According to Crossan, Jesus was a Jewish revolutionary, a cynical peasant with an alternate social vision. For Crossan, the Jesus of history was a Galilean Camelot during those halcyon days,  when he and his band would roam around the countryside disregarding social structures, defying hierarchical patterns, irritating elites, and confounding the powerful and creating a grass-root movement with nobodies.
  1. Marcus Joel Borg (1942-2015) — Education: Mansfield University, Concordia College, University of  Oxford, Union Theological Seminary —books : “Jesus A New Vision”(1987), “Meeting Jesus Again”(1991), “The Meaning of  Jesus”(1999) etc. To Borg, Jesus was Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus who ate with outcasts and led a raggedly band of first century hippies from village to village, preaching the message of radical egalitarianism to the oppressed denizens.
  1. Elisabeth Schussler  Fiorenza (b.1938)— Professor: Kreisler Stendahal Professor of Divinity and feminist theologian, alleges that the egalitarian aspect of Jesus’ message and ministry did not converge with the political agenda of the emerging church; his idea that men and women should have equal status and roles was particularly troublesome as the church tried to establish a patriarchal society.
  1. John P. Meir (b. 1942) American Roman Catholic priest —Prelate of the Papal Household of Pope John Paul II (1994) —Professor of New Testament, University of Notre Dame— His books include “Jesus the Marginal Jew” – Does not believe in Virgin birth, holds the view that Mary had other children; does not believe in   miracles and Resurrection.
     
  2. Richard A. Horsely (b.1939) Retired Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and the Study of Religion at  the   University of Massachusetts, Boston — books: “Christian Origins”, “Bandits, Prophets & Messiahs”, “Jesus and the Empire” etc. According to him in the Palestine of Jesus’ time, the colonial class struggled to contain rural peasants, the urban minority elite dominated and oppressed the peasants by multiple layers of taxation and the poor got poorer. The preaching of Jesus was a social and political phenomenon. Jesus of the peasant class person, was executed as a rebel against the oppressive Roman Empire.
     
  3. A. N. Wilson (b. 1950) — Education: Rugby School, St. Stephens House, New College. Winner of E. M. Foster Award. In his book “Jesus” he portrays Nazarene as “man with sudden outbursts of anger and strange flashes of mysticism, an exorcist and a spiritual healer; but also one who sits with sinners and accused of being a wine bibber and glutton…..Few of the Christian Churches have ever viewed the teaching of Jesus with anything but contempt…And while churches might think that they are returning to the teaching Jesus, it will invariably be found that they are pursuing a distorted version of one or two  of his ideas, while contradicting others.
  1. Geza Vermes — Born in Hungary in 1924 read Oriental History and Languages in Budapest. Obtained doctorate in Theology on Dead Sea Scrolls. Professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford and later its Professor Emeritus. Since 1991, Director Forum for Qumran Research at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Holder of Oxford D. Litt., Honorary doctorates from several British universities. His more notable  books — “Jesus the Marginal Jew”, “Changing Faces of Jesus”, “Authentic Gospel of Jesus”, “The Passion”, “The Resurrection”:

 

“The Relgion of Jesus the Jew" — Vermes — referred to ante:

“The person of the historical Jesus is clearly expounded by two New Testament scholars of the day viz., Martin Hengel and E. P. Sanders. To them Jesus was a charismatic teacher prophet. The only point commonly agreed aspect: the gospels contain much that “did not originate with Jesus.”

 

“The Changing Faces of Jesus” — Vermes —referred to ante:

“How this Palestinian charismatic (Jesus) was transformed by later generations into the heavenly saviour elaborated by the Church? Did Jesus’ own teaching of the Kingdom of Heaven lead directly to his subsequent divine character? Or is it the Church-centred leaders needed a  Gentile Christianity that hides the real face of Jesus, clouding his teachings and his ideas?…The language of Jesus and his Galilean disciples was Aramaic, a Semitic language that he taught and argued with friends and foes….as a consequence, the success of the primitive Jesus movement. What we have today is couched in Greek language which might not have conveyed the original and genuine message of Jesus.”

 

Findings of Jesus Seminar:

The Jesus Seminar, conducted in 1985, was sponsored by the Wester Institute, Sonoma, California, founded by Robert Funk. Dominic Crossan was a notable presence.

 

The Seminar’s reconstruction of the historical Jesus portrayed him as an itinerant Jewish sage and faith-healer who preached a message of liberation from injustice. An iconoclast, Jesus broke with established Jewish theological dogmas and social conventions in both his words and behaviour, often by turning common-sense ideas upside down, confounding the expectations of his audience: he preached of “Heaven’s imperial rule” (traditionally translated as “Kingdom of God”) as being already present but unseen; he depicts God as a “loving father”; he fraternises with the “outsiders” and criticises the ‘insiders”.

 

According to the Seminar, Jesus was a mortal man born of two human parents. He did not perform miracles or die as a substitute for sinners or rise bodily from the dead. Sightings of a risen Jesus represented the “visionary experience” of some of his disciples rather than physical encounters.

 

These claims, not accepted by rational people, and asserted in various forums since 18th century, crystallised in the Seminar as coherent consensual view points.

 

The Seminar arrived at the following views points:

  • Jesus taught his disciples orally: he wrote nothing. Jesus’ spoke in his mother tongue Aramaic; while the gospels were written in Greek.
  • Mark was written before Matthew and Luke. Luke and Mathew shared a similar source of Jesus’ teaching – Q and Mark.
  • Jesus was itinerant: he moved around and adapted his sayings and parables to suit the occasions. While some of the words recorded in the Gospels could have been actually said by Jesus; others were invented by the early church or by Gospel writers.
  • At least forty years elapsed after the death of Jesus before the first canonical gospel of Mark was composed about CE 70. The Gospel of Thomas (discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1947), represents an earlier stage of tradition.
  • The historical Jesus is not to be equated with the Christ of Faith.
  • The Synoptic Gospels are more historical than the Gospel of John. In other words, the Gospel of John is not a source for authentic information about the historical Jesus. Q and Thomas were composed during CE 50-60; Mark was written about CE 70, Matthew composed around CE 85, Luke/Acts was created around CE 90.
  • The authentic Jesus sayings and parables are not to be equated with his non-authentic sayings such as the coming of the kingdom and his return.
  • Jesus did not have twelve apostles. He did not predict his suffering. Jesus did not perform any miracle to draw attention. He did not judge. Jesus did not make messianic or personal claims as written in the gospels.

 

A summation:

Jesus could have proclaimed the “broker-less Kingdom of God” i.e., access to god without intermediation of priesthood   or other agents like saints, nor even his earthly mother. He was an ordinary person belonging to the marginal class; not an educated scribe. He was probably illiterate; his message was one that would have been meaningful primarily to the bottom rung of his society. Typical of a cynic, he was concrete, not theoretical. He acted in ways that involved shattering of conventions and dealt with matters that touched the stuff of everyday life, dress, meals, family and all that. He was opposed to hierarchy including traditional family system.

 

Christianity from its very inception had split into a ‘’Judaic wing’’ which remained, in some sense, aimed at being part of Judaism and proselytised among fellow Jews: a ‘‘Catholic wing’’ which aimed to build a church without distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Apostle Peter, the Galilean fisher-man, who knew Jesus personally, led  the “Judaic group”,  while Paul, a Hellenised Jewish business man and a Roman citizen from a Diaspora city headed the “Catholic group”. Paul entered the scene at least 15 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. The underpinning of the religion of Paul hinged on the resurrected Christ, the “anointed.”

 

The people attracted to Jesus were peasants, fishermen, artisans and petty traders. They included even beggars, prostitutes, lepers and other social outcasts. Essences, Zealots and other freedom fighters gravitated to the Jesus movement. Jesus himself would have been a rebel and a freedom fighter against Rome. Probably other radicals were also among the followers of Jesus. He railed against the backsliding hypocrisy and empty formalism of the Pharisees and Sadducees; more generally against the rich and powerful and the corrupt .

 

Numerous studies on Jesus in the 1950s and 1960s arrived at the conclusion that the gospels were written when the Christian doctrine was already in place. The Jesus depicted in the Bible seems to have been made to serve the purposes of various interests — some spiritual; others political.

 

Assessment:

Will Durand (author of 11 volumes “Story of Civilisation”) says the birth of Jesus the West, the date of birth of Jesus is that “divides history in the West, gives us our greatest hero and model, provides us that the body of myth and legend which is now passing from theological to the literary stage, and marks the beginning of that Christian age which seems today to be approaching to close”.

 

The influence of Jesus and the Christian religion rode on the powerful shoulders of the Imperial Rome and the autocratic Christian monarchs of the West from the 4th to the 17th century. The colonisation of South America, Africa and to a certain extent Asia facilitated the spread of the Christianity and influence of Jesus Christ. Now this religion is on the wane in the West. The dawn of the Age of Reason and Enlightenment and the emergence of new thoughts and ideas, have overwhelmed Christianity. The religion still has a hold in the superstitious, disease-ridden, socially and economically backward regions of the world.

 

In another time and place and environment, far away from Nazareth in Galilee and the West, whether Jesus and his ideas and mission have any relevance is the moot point.

 

Shorn of his divine aura, Jesus the man walked and talked as another messiah, one among many such personalities of his time. The gloss put on him by the Christian Church, hides the real Jesus, a paradoxical twist of history. Elevating him to the status of God, enabled the Church’s earthly ambitions. Jesus is not in same league of Homer, Pythagoras, Euclid, Hypocrites, Socrates, Plato or Aristotle.

 

The early Christian Church Fathers invested in Jesus the profound philosophy and theology of Plato and moulded the Christian religion to another shape never ever thought  of by Jesus. From the fourth century Constantinianism became an imperial religion. Then there was no business more lucrative than the business of marketing God with Sin, Purgatory, Hell and Indulgences as  the major items of trade. 

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