| Who is Jesus 7|
You know the score – look at the image first. Spend some time really looking at the image, the face, and the background. How does the image make you feel? What questions does it raise? Do you think it’s a good representation of Jesus, and if so what attributes do you feel the artist is trying to portray? You may wish to write some of your thoughts down.
Here’s the first link: https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2015/12/jesus1.jpg
Today we’re back with Bird and Hirsch:
‘N. T. Wright noted that after the novelist and amateur New Testament scholar, A. N. Wilson, had finished with Jesus, all we were left with was “a moderately pale Galilean.”10 In fact, Wilson epitomizes that approach to Christology that seeks to strip away all the historical dogma only to find a simple Galilean holy man who had no idea he was launching a major new faith movement by his folksy parables and general good nature. In his surprisingly popular book, Jesus: A Life, Wilson concludes rather dramatically that if Jesus “had foreseen the whole of Christian history, his despair would have been even greater than it was when he cried out, ‘My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’”
According to Wilson, Jesus didn’t think he was the Messiah, far less the second person of the Trinity. He was born in an ordinary fashion in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. He taught an inner morality, and his kingdom was more a kind of indestructible inner kingdom than any external reality. He tried to raise the status of women, and he opposed extreme Jewish nationalism. However, when some people tried to foist certain messianic pretensions upon him, he was arrested by the Romans and summarily executed. He stayed dead and was buried in Galilee. Ultimately, he failed. His message was not taken up. When his brother James set about rehabilitating his damaged reputation by reassuring his followers that all had happened according to the Scripture, some people mistook him for his dead brother and a rumour began circulating that Jesus had been resurrected. But the resurrected Jesus was no more than James, who bore a striking family resemblance to his now-deceased brother the hasid, or holy man.
For Wilson, Paul is the great inventor of Christianity. He took the sayings of Jesus and the passion of the earliest Christians and constructed the complex theology of the New Testament, moving it far away from the simple teaching of Jesus. And the rest is history!
Wilson’s speculation gives us a Jesus who is an ordinary itinerant storyteller and religious guru. He probably married. (Some writers believe he married Mary Magdalene and fathered children or a child with her.) Jesus is damned with faint praise. He was a “great teacher,” “a good man,” “a holy man.” What this means is he was an ordinary man, and the only way to explain the incredible movement of Jesus followers that combusted soon after his death is to give the credit to someone else. That someone is the villain of the piece, the dastardly apostle Paul. He took Jesus’ uncomplicated folk Judaism and perverted it into the complex system known today as Christianity.
In 2001, forensic anthropologist Richard Neave created a model of a Galilean man for a BBC documentary, Son of God, using an actual skull found in the region. To clarify, Neave didn’t claim this was Jesus’ face. He just wanted us to know what a typical first-century Galilean man looked like. Neave’s “Jesus” had a heavy brow, a broad nose, swarthy skin, and curly hair. Jesus probably would have kept his hair shortish because long-haired men were immediately identifiable as those who had taken a Nazirite vow not to drink wine or cut their hair. Neave’s Galilean man is thick-necked and bullish. BBC audiences were shocked. They couldn’t imagine Jesus looking like that!
Suffice to say, this is an image of Jesus that’s not too popular in churches. Try this: conduct an exercise with church folk or even seminarians. Display a number of images of Jesus, including the ones we’ve referred to here, and ask them to rank the images from favorite to least favorite. It has been our experience that in almost every case, the BBC Jesus ranks last. Church folk seem to prefer their Jesus to look more impressive than this guy. However, we strongly suspect that outside the church, more and more people are being taken by the ordinary secular liberal of Wilson. For instance, Robert Funk from the Jesus Seminar paints Jesus as a radical, gadfly, and social deviant who serves up some alternate construction of reality through his esoteric parables. Funk’s colleague, John Dominic Crossan, offers a Jesus who was setting up an egalitarian community in Galilee by free healing and meals open to all comers. For them, Jesus is more easily dealt with as a great poet or a teacher of love. Of course, this only begs the question, how does the poet-cum-social-worker Jesus heal the sick? The silence is deafening.
Such attempts to domesticate and secularize Jesus are flawed from the start. U2 frontman Bono was once challenged that Jesus could be ranked among the world’s great thinkers, but that to consider him the son of God was far-fetched. Bono’s response is interesting:
“No, it’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this. So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was—the Messiah—or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we’ve been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched.”
And he’s right! The secular Jesus doesn’t make any sense when you read the Gospels and hear his personal claims of messiahship. Wilson could only pull off his theory by turning Paul into the architect of the faith, scripting the false claims and putting them in the mouth of the unsuspecting Galilean. Theologian Barbara Thiering and Episcopalian bishop John Shelby Spong each developed a whole approach to biblical hermeneutics that required a sophisticated understanding of the encoding of midrash,13 explaining away Jesus’ more embarrassing claims to be the Son of God. Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, blames the Emperor Constantine and his cadre of fake gospel writers. But if we take the Gospels’ claims about Jesus seriously, we are left with exactly the dilemma Bono outlines—either Jesus is the Christ, or he was a “complete nutcase.”
We confess we do like Bono, but to give credit where it’s due, it was C. S. Lewis who first posed this formulation for dismissing those who prefer the “good teacher” Jesus:
“I am here trying to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your own choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. … But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
This is the old “liar, lunatic, or Lord” approach and it makes a good argument: you cannot dismiss Jesus as a good teacher or an ordinary Galilean holy man. Neither can you be satisfied with the serene, bearded-lady Jesus or the more alien-like spooky Jesus. The Gospels don’t allow you that.’
Frost, Michael; Hirsch, Alan. ReJesus: Remaking the Church in Our Founder’s Image [Revised & Updated Edition] (pp. 63-67). 100 Movements Publishing. Kindle Edition.
That’s your lot – See you tomorrow!