Return of the Jesus Wars

By:  Ross Douthat (August 3, 2013)

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.

Comment on above by Bob Brinsmead

I believe the answer to this guy’s observation is St. Paul.  The original, dull Jewish believers didn’t have a clue how to turn the story into a global faith – but Paul brilliantly did it.  He forged the most compelling myth in human history. According to Paul it fulfilled Jewish Scripture. But not only that, it fulfilled all the ancient myths of Osiris, Tammuz, the dying and rising divinities aplenty, the mystery religions of Dionysus and Mithra, the apocalyptic tradition going right back to Zoroaster – Paul brought it all together as a faith to break down all the old religious walls between Judaism and the rest.

As Luther looked at the religious expression of Jewish Christianity which he found in the book of James, no wonder he called it “a strawy epistle.”  Nothing to see here, move on folks!  Peter, John and James (the brother of Jesus) did not have a narrative to capture the imagination of the world – they were a pretty dull bunch who had no idea how to turn their Jesus story into a narrative to conquer the Greco-Roman world. Paul left them all in his dust and they did not know how they should deal with his cosmic Christ-figure.  It was all completely beyond the ken of any Jewish messiah-ism.  Of course Paul never got this new world-faith from those dull apostles of the first Jerusalem Church. He got it from his own visions and cogitations.  He did not even get it from the historical Jesus.

I too understand the criticism raised against the Jesus Seminar and their fellow travellers – the presentation of the Historical Jesus as a Jewish Cynic (Funk, Mack), a social revolutionary (Crossan), a religious mystic (Borg) – and more…..none of which can capture the imagination of a wide human audience.  Better to retreat to the old myth of St. Paul than end up with an impoverished looking historical Jesus that neither works great miracles nor has an exciting apocalyptic vision about what is about to happen to this world.

Of course the apocalyptic worldview of Paul is two thousand years out of date now – his reworking of the Zoroastrian drama of a great contest between God and Satan in the arena of this world – well John Milton and EGW reworked that too – but in this Universe of space/time that is beyond the capacity of our imagination, billions of galaxies with the possibilities of billions of world’s with intelligent life, the image of God playing the game of chess with the devil concentrating on this little world that becomes the centre of the universe drama, of a God in the sky who pulls all the strings to control what we human do (in answer to the prayers of his special few) – and perhaps above all, of a God who makes everything right by having the Romans carry out a gruesome execution of an innocent man all of which magically gets rid of sin and makes us right in the eyes of God – well, none of that is going to make sense to the mind that has to deal with the realities of the Hubble telescope .