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April 15, 2004 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Jesus Christ: Choose your own savior.
Everyone claims their Jesus is the "real" one, the only authentic Christ unperverted by secular society or religious institutions... Nowadays, even nonbelievers assert a superior understanding of who the actual Jesus really was and what he stood for.
posted by moonbird (13 comments total)
It's a good article and raises a valid point about some posts/debates we've seen in the blue lately. I'm not a Christian in the mainstrem sense of the word, but as research continues regarding what he did or didn't say, we've going to see increased debate over who Jeebus was and what the intention of the movement spurred by his followers was .

IMHO, we're so far from the original context that Xtianity as it is today isn't remotely close to hw it all started.
posted by moonbird at 7:48 AM on April 15, 2004

I want the plastic one for my dashboard.
posted by nofundy at 8:05 AM on April 15, 2004

Here you go...
posted by moonbird at 8:15 AM on April 15, 2004

All successful religions have to balance the need to give their followers lots of leeway to adapt the teachings to their own circumstances and prejudices against the need to use dogma to clearly define who is part of the group. All successful religions go throughs periods of reform movements and periods of "back to basics" fundamentalism.

The strength of Cristianity is the way that people can project their own desires onto the figure of Jesus.
posted by fuzz at 8:20 AM on April 15, 2004

The only way any ideology can last for as long as this one has is if it can breathe. Really. Can we name anything that hasn't been done in Jesus' name, including breaking all the commandments & committing every sin, as well as the greatest acts of good humanity can conceive?

Manly Jesus, Rocky Jesus, Blue-State Jesus, John-Turturro-in-The-Big-Lebowski Jesus, they are now all equally meaningless. He's become a tabula rasa. Everyone uses His memory and words for their own needs, good or not.

You know, the only thing all the Jesii in that article have in common is the goatee, which is wrong. My Jesus -- the true Jesus -- has mutton chops and a Mohawk, and dammit, he's just alright with me.
posted by chicobangs at 8:36 AM on April 15, 2004

That last paragraph leaves me completely frustrated. It seems like the whole article is leading up to this "Living Jesus," of whom "most Christians seek to know and to understand," but of which we are only told that he was "risen" and that he "inspired Paul."

Way to leave me hanging, just like...errr...

...never mind.
posted by malocchio at 9:10 AM on April 15, 2004

Jesus H. Christ !
posted by y2karl at 9:21 AM on April 15, 2004

I can arrange an introduction.
posted by konolia at 10:39 AM on April 15, 2004

The article has raised some eyebrows, but it would be shrugged at by just about any mainstream seminarian. The search for the historical Jesus v. the Jesus of faith is one that began in earnest in the 19th century, was revived in the early 20th, and now has staged something of a comeback in the so-called "third wave" of historical Christology. Believers and non-believers alike have added plenty of pages to the study of the historical Jesus in recent years, but nearly all of them acknowledge that the practice is perhaps one level removed from sheer speculation, at best.

The primary difficulty here is twofold: first, the historical Jesus is almost impossible to apprehend; though he is one of the most written-of historical figures, there is very little objective (i.e., non Christian) information extant about him. Second, history teaches us that our ideas about who Jesus "really" was and what he "really" meant are as varied as the ages and personalities that make statements about him.

The truth is that nobody knows exactly what the historical Jesus was really all about. The Gospels paint an extremely complex portait of a very intelligent, witty, charismatic, and disturbing person. They make clear that nobody, including the disciples, completely understood Jesus's mission, and close readings of the Gospels and other New Testament sources show that Jesus was repeatedly misconstrued in his own lifetime. Within thirty years of Jesus's death, there were already at least two versions of Christianity vying for priority in the Middle East and Asia Minor: the Pauline church, which is the one that eventually settled into Orthodoxy, and the Jerusalem church, headed by Jesus's brother James, who remained practicing Jews and were not interested in creating a new religion. There were probably others as well, (such as the "Johannine" church that composed the fourth gospel, etc.).

The emphasis that you see on the "risen Christ of faith" versus the "historical Jesus" is a theological distinction. In the early 20th century, theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl Barth made the distinction between the two in order to point out that it was the risen Christ that Christians worship and proclaim, and not the historical personage who is, in many ways, unknowable. They believed that these two visions of Jesus constituted entirely different modes of understanding reality and that the historical view was not relevant to faith.

Currently, there are scholars who believe that you can have both: N. T. Wright, for instance believes that the historical Jesus has intrinsic meaning for Christians, but this conclusion involves something of a revision of what Christianity is all about.

All of those distinctions, however, are separate from the main thrust of the Slate article, which is really about contemporary images of Jesus. Throwing the historical Jesus into the mix really muddies the water. The fractured Jesus imagery pointed out by the Gibson film et al are all representative of the ways in which the Christ of faith has been interpreted by culture, and have little to do with any historical scholarship regarding Jesus or who he really was. The thing about Jesus--the Jesus of faith, at least--is that he refuses to define himself in human terms. When asked who he is by his disciples, he responds, "Who do you say that I am?" and that question has been echoing down the imagination of Christendom ever since. Because the gospel narratives are almost utterly devoid of biographical information about Jesus (there is no recorded physical description of him, for instance), there has been much leeway in the intervening 2,000 years to color him according to fashionable hues.

Regardless, whether we imagine Christ as a rough-and-tumble bad boy Savior come to wage war against the forces of Satan, or as a meek lamb of God or anywhere in-between, these images don't say much about Christ or about Christianity. They say a lot about the people who dream them up, but they are, for the most part, irrelevant in matters of faith. What his true motives were, whether he believed himself to be the Son of God and God himself, whether he considered himself the Messiah, these questions lose some urgency when viewed through the lens of Christianity, because Christianity has attributed these aspects to him whether he would have agreed or not.

In other words, the Christ of faith is a mythologized version of the historical Jesus, and our contemporary images of Jesus--religious or not--are merely our modern takes on that myth. The underlying spirituality, sense of community, and sense of connectedness with God that characterize Christianity are informed by those images, but are ultimately separate from them. And that, I think, is what has allowed Christianity to blossom from an obscure Jewish cult into one of the most significant religious movements in the history of mankind. Jesus is in there somewhere; not knowing exactly where isn't the stumbling block that it might seem.
posted by vraxoin at 10:40 AM on April 15, 2004

there is very little objective (i.e., non Christian) information extant about him.

Eh? Haha, I'm guessing you're more interested in theology than in history per se, right? "Somebody says something; they must have a motive; therefore they must have made it up." If the discipline of history worked like that, we'd have to conclude that the past was entirely unknowable.

N. T. Wright, for instance believes that the historical Jesus has intrinsic meaning for Christians, but this conclusion involves something of a revision of what Christianity is all about.

Hmm, I admit I've just started "Jesus and the Victory of God", but as of yet I haven't seen any fundamental revision of what Christianity is about? What are you referring to?
posted by gd779 at 11:09 AM on April 15, 2004

If the discipline of history worked like that, we'd have to conclude that the past was entirely unknowable.

I understand what you're saying here--there is no de facto reason to assume that everything in the gospels is false, by any means. What I was getting at, though, is that there are almost no corrobborating non-Christian sources to back them up. You don't get the other side of the story with Jesus, as you do with many other historical figures.

I haven't seen any fundamental revision of what Christianity is about? What are you referring to?

Nothing fundamental; as I said, just "something of a revision." Wright's Jesus is a radical social reformer who is distinctly anti-authoritarian while at the same time distinctly Jewish. Neither of these qualities could be said to be particularly emphasized in the orthodox view of Jesus.
posted by vraxoin at 7:06 PM on April 15, 2004

I think most Christians make a fundamental error: they mistake Paul's words for Christ's words.

It's such a humongous error that I'm continually flabbergasted. How can these people call themselves "Christians" when they are, in fact, Paulists?

Christ had some really great ideas.

Paul? Well, he was at best a tool, and at worst a tool of the devil.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:47 PM on April 15, 2004

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