I am fascinated by scholarly accounts of the life of Jesus.
Yesterday, a new one arrived in the post, ‘Jesus, Justice and the Reign of God’ by William Herzog. I have just completed the first chapter, and I’m hooked.
For the last 300 years, biblical scholars have pursued what is known as ‘the quest for the historical Jesus.’ Its results have been as divergent as the many opinions of the scholars who have engaged in it.
And therein lies a problem
In 1906, Albert Schweizer, theologian, missionary, doctor, and scholar, published ‘The Quest of the Historical Jesus’ in which he discerned that most presentations of Jesus, while conflicting, still reflected the liberal, Victorian values of the age in which they were written.
In other words, people uncovered a Jesus who reflected back to them their own views, their own context.
Schweitzer’s conclusions were devastating. His scholarship brought the first quest for the historical Jesus to a rapid close.
We are now in a period known as the ‘Third Quest for the Historical Jesus.’
It takes Schweitzer’s criticism seriously, paying much more attention to the social, political and historical context of Jesus, notably that Jesus was a practising Jew, embedded in a Jewish world.
A careful and thorough appreciation of historical context helps minimize the projection of one’s own views onto a vastly different world.
Schweitzer’s critique reminds me of a verse in Genesis that we studied recently in Thursday night Bible study, ‘God created humankind in his image.’ (Gen. 1:27)
This verse affirms humanity as gifted with extraordinary potential to be creators too, to co-create with God.
Unfortunately, our human creativity knows no limits. It is so irresistible that we create God (& Jesus) in our own image, albeit unwittingly.
Ask yourself how much your picture of Jesus fits comfortably with your worldview. A close fit may indicate the need for further thought.
I am concerned about the tendency to portray Jesus as a divine being whose task is to meet our personal needs. Such a Jesus conforms too well to our consumer-oriented, individually-focused culture.
In 1967, S.G.F. Brandon proposed that Jesus was a Zealot whose actions in the Temple were part of a failed attempt to overthrow the government. (in his view, the gospels, played down Jesus’ zeal to make him more palatable in the Gentile, Roman world to which the gospel was spreading.)
Brandon’s conclusions were provocative; not only was Jesus political, but he was also a violent revolutionary.
Brandon, a gentle priest and scholar, could not be accused of recreating Jesus in his own image.
It takes a rich imagination, an informed and humble intellect, and a generous heart to welcome presentations of Jesus that are unsettling.
I’m hoping to have these qualities tested, and reinforced, as I read Herzog’s presentation of Jesus.
What about you?
Where do you turn to encounter a Jesus who will disconcert you while also inspiring you?