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“As Gandhi, among others, has said, because of Jesusâ€™ significance and transcendence, he truly â€˜belongs not only to Christianity but to the entire world.â€™
“Was Jesus a Christian?
“No, he was a Jew. Interesting question, easy answer â€” as most people would agree.
“Was Jesus human, divine, or both?…”
Author: Michael True, emeritus professor at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts
Published in: Telegram & Gazette out of Worcester, Massachusetts (at http://www.telegram.com/)
Date: November 30, 2010
For the full article:
AS I SEE IT: Exploring the Historical Jesus
by Michael True
As Gandhi, among others, has said, because of Jesusâ€™ significance and transcendence, he truly â€˜belongs not only to Christianity but to the entire world.â€™
Was Jesus a Christian?
No, he was a Jew. Interesting question, easy answer â€” as most people would agree.
Was Jesus human, divine, or both? Thatâ€™s a harder question to answer, since many scholars acknowledge that the Gospels are anything but clear about the â€œrightâ€ answer.
For the first five centuries, factions of Christians burned cities and killed thousands of people who gave the â€œwrongâ€ answer to the latter question. Over the next 2,000 years, millions more were imprisoned, tortured, and burned at the stake for similar â€œheresies.â€
What most Christians regard as orthodox teaching became the rule only after considerable political maneuvering among factions loyal to Rome, Antioch, or Constantinople.
â€œIt is only an accident of history that one group of Roman emperors and militia-wielding bishops defeated the other factions,â€ according to Philip Jenkinsâ€™ Jesus Wars.
Any biography of â€œthe Mediterranean Jewish peasantâ€ is obviously an interpretation, depending upon what a commentator regards as essential sayings and events and their relationship to Jesusâ€™ life. For that reason, discussions about the true nature of Jesus are inevitably controversial, particularly if a person has a vested interest in promoting one version over another. Yet thereâ€™s much to be gained from them and from scholars offering new perspectives and insights regarding his true nature.
Records and gospels recently unearthed provide new information, also, on the linguistic, sociological, anthropological and religious context of Jesusâ€™ time. That is particularly useful to theologians interested in recovering the full humanity of Jesus or liberating him from the dogma that made him a God-Man.
Refusing to choose between constructs of the human Jesus or the divine Christ, scholars agree that historical criticism may not settle the matter, but it â€œcan help us recover an understanding of a past time that holds present meaning,â€ according to Walter Wink of Union Theological Seminary. Only then â€œcan we hope to offer an alternative to the perfect, almost inhuman Christ of dogma that has dominatedâ€ 2,000 years of Christian orthodoxy, Professor Wink says, in â€œThe Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man,â€ 2002.
For religious or nonreligious people, attempts to know the past offer a deeper understanding of the human Jesus. In some cases, that inquiry renders him even more remarkable than he appears in the synoptic Gospels. As Gandhi, among others, has said, because of Jesusâ€™ significance and transcendence, he truly â€œbelongs not only to Christianity but to the entire world.â€
For Professor Wink, Jesusâ€™ major contribution was his showing us (a) how to live as full human beings, and (b) why the God that he affirmed offered clues about how to achieve it. His mission was not about how to escape to another world, but how to live in the one we already inhabit.
Jesus taught that a human being lives a full life by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, loving our enemies, and treating other people as we wish to be treated. It is not an ethic that everyone abides by or even wants to remember.
And what was the initial reward for all his hard work? Harassment by state officials, conflict with church authorities, and wandering the countryside without a place to call home. For espousing and practicing nonviolence, in order to break the spiral of violence, Jesus was crucified among thieves.
The consequences of his death, as his disciples discovered afterward, were life-giving, nonetheless. His ongoing presence, in fact, transformed them, enabling them to fulfill his mission. Emerging more fully human than they imagined, they carried his message to the known world.
Emphasizing his divinity distances Jesus from ourselves. As a result, human beings and even the church have cooperated with a domination system of unjust economic relations, patriarchal and hierarchical power relationships that relies on authoritarian rulers and â€œjustâ€ wars to maintain them.
So although something can be said for the supernatural nature of Jesus, it weakens his connection to his struggle to become human. He becomes a cult figure in a religion focusing on him rather than on the nonviolent, all-inclusive God that he pointed us toward.
Recovering the historical Jesus, through recent scholarship and research, dramatizes similarities between his struggle and our own. One does so not to deny other interpretations of the record, but to evoke the full resonance of a remarkable human being who walked this Earth.
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Michael True of Worcester. Massachusetts, is an emeritus professor at Assumption College in Worcester.
This column originially appeared in the Nov. 30, 2010 edition of the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, Worcester, MA, and is reprinted by permission