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In a response, Thompson questioned the polemical nature of this qualification, pointing at his own academic standing and expertise. According to Thompson, Ehrman "has attributed to my book arguments and principles which I had never presented, certainly not that Jesus had never existed". Thompson questions Ehrman's qualifications in regard to Old Testamentical writings and research, as well as his competence to recognize the problems involved in "reiterated narrative" and "the historicity of a literary figure", stating that Ehrman had "thoroughly [ Maurice Casey has criticized the mythicists, pointing out their complete ignorance of how modern critical scholarship actually works.

He also criticizes mythicists for their frequent assumption that all modern scholars of religion are Protestant fundamentalists of the American variety, insisting that this assumption is not only totally inaccurate, but also exemplary of the mythicists' misconceptions about the ideas and attitudes of mainstream scholars. Questioning the mainstream view appears to have consequences for one's job perspectives. These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to Few scholars have bothered to criticise Christ myth theories. Robert Van Voorst has written "Contemporary New Testament scholars have typically viewed Christ myth arguments as so weak or bizarre that they relegate them to footnotes, or often ignore them completely The theory of Jesus' nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question.

Maier , former Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University and current professor emeritus in the Department of History there has stated "Anyone who uses the argument that Jesus never existed is simply flaunting his ignorance. In this book, Bart Ehrman surveys the arguments "mythicists" have made against the existence of Jesus since the idea was first mooted at the end of the 18th century. To the objection that there are no contemporary Roman records of Jesus' existence, Ehrman points out that such records exist for almost no one and there are mentions of Christ in several Roman works of history from only decades after the death of Jesus.

Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? The authors proposing such opinions might be competent, decent, honest individuals, but the views they present are demonstrably wrong Jesus is better documented and recorded than pretty much any non-elite figure of antiquity. If 40 per cent believe in the Jesus myth, this is a sign that the Church has failed to communicate with the general public.

An Evangelical Response to the Cosmic Christ Idea , challenging the key ideas lying at the foundation of Harpur's thesis. Porter and Bedard conclude that there is sufficient evidence for the historicity of Jesus and assert that Harpur is motivated to promote "universalistic spirituality". Since , several English-language documentaries have focused—at least in part—on the Christ myth theory:.

The named notes after this sentence contain named references; to prevent errors, they are stored here before the notes-reflist. Per biblical criticism , studies of the Old and New Testaments are often independent of each other, largely due to the difficulty of any single scholar having a sufficient grasp of the many languages required or of the cultural background for the different periods in which texts had their origins. Cognate disciplines include but are not limited to archaeology, anthropology, folklore, linguistics, Oral Tradition studies, and historical and religious studies.

Arnal , pp. Niehoff , p. They all had stories about them set in human history on earth. Yet none of them ever actually existed. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For discussion of Jesus in a comparative mythological and religious context, see Jesus in comparative mythology.


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For the body of myths associated with Christianity, see Christian mythology. For the scholarly study of the life of Jesus, see Historical Jesus. For analysis of information supporting the historical existence of Jesus, see Historicity of Jesus and Sources for the historicity of Jesus. For the debate over the validity of stories in the New Testament, see Historical reliability of the Gospels. The Resurrection of Christ by Carl Heinrich Bloch —some mythicists see this as a case of a dying-and-rising god.

Life in art Depiction Jesuism. Textual criticism , Historical criticism , Biblical hermeneutics , and Quest for the historical Jesus. Christology , Christian apologetics , Christian fundamentalism , Biblical literalism , and Evangelicalism. Pauline epistles and Authorship of the Pauline epistles. Origins of Christianity and Gnosticism. Diversity in early Christian theology. Religious syncretism and Mytheme. Notes with nested refs. Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne eds. Eerdmans, , pp. Prometheus Books, , pp. The Question of Criteria Louisville.

Previous Discussion and New Proposals Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, Neither God nor Man: Age of Reason Publications, , vii—viii. Christianity in the Making. The Bart Ehrman Blog. Retrieved November 2, Pagels , p. From there it could mean a group, school, or sect differentiated from others Acts 5: By extension, it could speak of a faction 1 Cor. Doctrinal and social aspects were tightly bound. But in 2 Pet. The presence of heresy, therefore, is a contradiction both to apostolic teaching and Christian community.

On the other hand, no theologian seems to be able to bring himself to admit that the question of the historicity of Jesus must be judged to be an open one. It appears to me that the theologians are not living up to their responsibility as scholars when they refuse to discuss the possibility that even the existence of the Jesus of the Gospels can be legitimately called into question.

Historicizing the Figure of Jesus, the Messiah: Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey] the approach taken by the scholars agreeing with the consensus view is uncritically grounded in unjustified presuppositions, and sometimes appears as unprofessional and unscholarly The entire field of Jesus studies has thus been left without any valid method.

The truth may not rest in the middle. The truth may not rest with the majority. Every theory and individual argument must be evaluated on its own. But it should be examined anew a task I'll undertake in the next volume [i. On the Historicity of Jesus ].

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Ehrman , pp. Robertson does not exclude the possibility of an historical Jesus. Robertson [], Christianity and Mythology , revised edition, p. The Jesus ben-Pandera of the Talmud may have led a movement round which the survivals of an ancient solar or other cult gradually clustered. He is not the founder of anything that we can recognize as Christianity. He is a mere postulate of historical criticism—a dead leader of a lost cause, to whom sayings could be credited and round whom a legend could be written. Legend has coloured the historic data too much, and outside corroborative testimony is too slender They feel that the question of historicity has little importance [ Price , p.

The Traditional Christ-Myth Theory: Wells and Alvar Ellegard thought that the first Christians had in mind Jesus who had lived as a historical figure, just not of the recent past, much as the average Greek believed Hercules and Achilles really lived somewhere back there in the past. Bart Ehrman on G. There never was a Jesus of Nazareth.

Lecture given at the University of Arizona. Some now agree historicity agnosticism is warranted, including Arthur Droge professor of early Christianity at UCSD , Kurt Noll associate professor of religion at Brandon University , and Thomas Thompson renowned professor of theology, emeritus, at the University of Copenhagen. Still others, like Philip Davies professor of biblical studies, emeritus, at the University of Sheffield , disagree with the hypothesis but admit it is respectable enough to deserve consideration.

Ehrman , p. That is what this book will set out to demonstrate. I work further on this issue in my Messiah Myth of Here I argue that the synoptic gospels can hardly be used to establish the historicity of the figure of Jesus; for both the episodes and sayings with which the figure of Jesus is presented are stereotypical and have a history that reaches centuries earlier.

I have hardly shown that Jesus did not exist and did not claim to. As for the question of whether Jesus existed, the best answer is that any attempt to find a historical Jesus is a waste of time. The Bible and Interpretation. Retrieved January 29, Neither do the few mentions of Jesus by Roman writers in the early second century establish his existence. How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. He is even willing to entertain the possibility that there never was a historical Jesus. Jesus at the Vanishing Point — Son of Scripture: Was There No Historical Jesus? Traditional midrash often did this through entirely fictional creations, whose story elements served symbolic purposes, like morality tales.

The Gospels Not History: Surely if a miracle-working prophet like the Jesus of the Gospels actually existed, it is argued, Paul and pagan contemporaries would have mentioned his feats and his teachings. Instead, they argue, we find a virtual silence. Lataster a , p. Separating History from Myth , ed. Joseph Hoffmann Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, , p. Quite likely because the earliest Christians, perhaps Jewish, Samaritan, and Galilean sectarians like the Nasoreans or Essenes, did not understand their savior to have been a figure of mundane history at all, any more than the devotees of the cults of Attis, Hercules, Mithras, and Osiris did.

Their gods, too, had died and risen in antiquity. Indeed, the Pauline Christ was actually quite close to the sorts of divinities we find in ancient mystery religions. They never refer to a place of birth [ They do not refer to his trial before a Roman official, nor to Jerusalem as the place of execution. Prometheus, , The most extreme legendary-Jesus theorists, however—particularly the Christ myth theorists—deny this. According to the theory, Paul believed that Christ entered the world at some point in the distant past—or that he existed only in a transcendent mythical realm—and died to defeat evil powers and redeem humanity.

Only later was Jesus remythologized [i. The Origins and Development of Christology Wells b. The Traditional Christ-Myth Theory. Retrieved May 2, Dickson, John 24 December The irreligious assault on the historicity of Jesus". ABC Religion and Ethics. Retrieved 2 May The evidence just doesn't add up". Sources — Spotlight on the Evangelists ; Price , p. Journal of Higher Criticism. Retrieved September 2, The Amazing Colossal Apostle.

The four Gospels and the one Gospel of Jesus Christ: Finding the Historical Christ. Christianity in the Making by James D. Christianity in the Making , Volume 1 by James D. Jesus being a preexisting archangel: The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. Prometheus , first published The End of Biblical Studies. Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science. University of Chicago Press, Bader, Christopher, et al.

American Piety in the 21st Century. Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus: Seeing through the eyes of Jesus: Retrieved January 24, Jesus and the Logic of History. Messiah Jesus — the evidence of history. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Hahn; Dave Scott, eds. Richard Bauckham , Jesus and the Eyewitnesses ". The Hermeneutic of Continuity: Christ, Kingdom, and Creation. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy eds. In Search of Jesus: Insider and Outsider Images.

The Real Jesus Christ (Biblical Documentary) - Timeline

Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. De Evangelische Jozua , Fortress, , first published Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma. The Messiah Formerly Known as Jesus. Baylor University Press, Harrison, William Sanford LaSor. Lutterworth, , first published Harvard University Press, Jesus Now and Then. The Eclipse of the Historical Jesus.

Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity". Retrieved April 25, Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Retrieved April 6, On the Historicity of Jesus: Retrieved October 6, Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists. Centre for Public Christianity.

Easter Survey , February , Retrieved August 3, Mercure de France in French. Couchoud, Paul Louis The Creation of Christ: The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church 3 ed. Crossan, John Dominic An Examination of the Evidence. Book Tree, , first published Who was Christ Jesus? The Evolution of Jesus of Nazareth". Apollos of Alexandria and the Early Christian Apostolate".

Archived from the original on November 27, Pieces in a Puzzle of Christian Origins". Institute for Higher Critical Studies. The monthly newsletter of the Internet Infidels. Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Retrieved October 5, Age of Reason Publications. His reputation as preacher and miracle-worker went before him, and he was acclaimed by the people as the Messiah.

A few days later, Jesus gathered his disciples to partake in the Last Supper. At this meal, he instituted the Eucharist. Before dawn the next day, Jesus was arrested by agents of the Hebrew authorities accompanied by Judas Iscariot , a disaffected disciple, and summarily tried for sedition by the Sanhedrin , who handed him over to the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. Roman soldiers crucified Jesus at Golgotha.

After his death, his body was buried in a sealed rock tomb. Two days later, according to the gospel, he rose from the dead. Forty days after his resurrection, he is said to have ascended into heaven. Christ the title, also treated as a name, given to Jesus of Nazareth; the Messiah as prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures. Christ's cross me speed a formula said before repeating the alphabet; the figure of a cross preceded the alphabet in horn-books See also criss-cross. Christ's thorn a thorny shrub popularly supposed to have formed Christ's crown of thorns, in particular either of two shrubs related to the buckthorn.

Christ the Lord's Anointed, title of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus the central figure of the Christian religion. He conducted a mission of preaching and healing with reported miracles in Palestine in about ad 28—30, which is described in the Gospels, as are his arrest, death by crucifixion, and Resurrection from the dead. His followers considered him to be the Christ or Messiah and the Son of God , and belief in his Resurrection became a central tenet of Christianity.

Jesus, Jesu the Founder of Christianity. Not used in OE. Applied to Jesus it was originally a title John 7. Later applied to Jesus Christ , in recognition that he was the expected Messiah. Jesus, in the Bible. Title of Jesus of Nazareth. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible , tr. The body of Christ was central to late medieval and early modern European culture, not merely as a symbol or an idea but as a physical presence. It hung from crosses in churches and homes and along roadsides, shone from stained-glass windows, and gestured from scaffold and wagon stages.

In the form of the Eucharist, Christ's body was not only consumed daily at mass, but also paraded through city streets once per year and reverently displayed in countless chapels for perpetual adoration. It was the object of spiritual meditation and devotion that many now find startlingly physical in focus, and often unexpectedly gendered, or overtly erotic. The fourth Lateran Council defined the long-held doctrine of transubstantiation in , and devotion to the sacrament soon increased.

The doctrine holds that the Eucharistic host or wafer actually becomes the body of Christ upon consecration by the priest at the words of institution, "hoc est corpus meum" this is my body , while retaining the natural appearance and taste of bread. In York, England, a processional cycle of biblical plays produced by trade guilds displaced the ecclesiastical procession of Corpus Christi to the following day; seeing Christ in the flesh, as represented by actors, apparently won out in the popular imagination over seeing Christ in a wafer.

Like the procession, however, in which the consecrated host was held high and paraded through the city streets, the plays emphasized the need and desire to see Christ: Characters repeatedly drew attention to his physical presence. The ability to see, touch, or consume the true body of Christ at virtually any time, in the form of the consecrated host, continued to foster devotion, ritual, and superstition.

Demand grew to see the moment of transformation, itself associated with the miraculous power to preserve the observer from danger or death, while accounts and representations of miraculous bleeding hosts proliferated, often in relation to anti-semitic legends of host desecration. Many theologians unsurprisingly emphasized faith and good works over visual representation or sensory perception. The treatise advocates a life of cheerful, humble devotion and virtue, filled with quiet contemplation and free of passion.

Others took a more visceral approach. The influential Pseudo-Bonaventurean Meditationes vitae Christi Meditations on the life of Christ , composed in the fourteenth century, promoted affective piety through detailed, emotionally stirring meditation on the life of Jesus. Each moment was to be visualized in an imaginative reconstruction of events that might depart significantly from the Gospel accounts.

What mattered far more than historical accuracy was a sense of immediacy, of one's personal presence at the event, and an empathetic identification with Christ or with witnesses such as his mother. Horrifying invented details of the Passion narrative such as the scourging of Jesus with knotted or metal-studded whips that repeatedly tore his naked flesh were elaborated in the visions of fourteenth-century mystics such as St.

The stretching of Jesus's arms on the cross to fit prebored holes for the nails, featured by all the above-mentioned authors, was also represented in the York Crucifixion pageant. Some two dozen actors would have played Jesus in a full production of the York plays, all on different wagon stages, effectively promoting the image of Jesus as Everyman more than as a particular individual. This, too, may have encouraged men and women to imagine Christ's body in a wide variety of highly personal ways. While an emphasis on his emotional and physical suffering was common, many women in particular also dwelt at length upon more pleasurable ideas, such as the Nativity, or the physical perfection of Christ's body.

In the Revelations of Bridget of Sweden, immediately after recounting the horrors of the Crucifixion, Jesus's mother describes the physical perfections of her son at the age of twenty, remarking on his hair dark blond [ crocea brunea ] in the Latin version, auburn in a Middle English translation , pale skin, and red lips, and noting that even his enemies liked to look at him 4: Often such visions and meditations coincided with particular events in the church calendar.

They were also closely associated with the physical host itself. As Caroline Walker Bynum states:. The humanity of Christ with which women joined in the eucharist was the physical Jesus of the manger and of Calvary. Women from all walks of life saw in the host and the chalice Christ the baby, Christ the Bridegroom, Christ the tortured body on the cross … Most prominent, however, was the Christ of the cross. No religious woman failed to experience Christ as wounded, bleeding, and dying.

Women in particular participated in this suffering, through physical illness and often severe self-mortification. Margery Kempe , who like some of her contemporaries suffered frequent uncontrollable fits of weeping at thoughts of Christ, envisioned herself not only as a witness to the Passion, having walked in his steps in Jerusalem on pilgrimage, but also as a servant first to St. Anne, at the birth of Mary, and then to Mary herself, witnessing the births of both John the Baptist and of Jesus.

A married woman who bore fourteen children before demanding chastity from her husband, Margery also had visions of a relationship with the adult Jesus that strike the modern reader as remarkably intimate. In one vision she weds Jesus in the presence of his mother and a multitude of saints and angels, after which he tells her:. And therfor thu mayst boldly take me in the armys of thi sowle and kyssen my mowth, myn hed, and my fete as swetly as thow wylt. And therefore you may boldly take me in the arms of your soul and kiss my mouth, my head, and my feet as sweetly as you will.

Margery takes a literal approach to the sponsa Christi motif that was common in poetic and theological writing alike: Standard allegorical interpretation of the biblical Song of Songs , attributed to Solomon, made Christ the mystical bridegroom of the church and of all Christians. In the third of his eighty-six sermons on this highly erotic and poetic text, Bernard of Clairvaux, a twelfth-century Cistercian abbot, expounds upon the opening verse: In his eighth sermon on this text, alluding to Genesis 2: Various accounts of spiritual union, by men as well as by women, nonetheless explicitly cite physical sensations and sensual pleasures, many of which seem overtly erotic.

When Rupert of Deutz, a twelfth-century Benedictine monk, passionately embraced a crucifix high above an altar, the kissing, according to his account, involved not only lips but also tongues. Richard Rambuss has demonstrated evidence of "male devotional desire amorously attuned to a male Christ" p.

Artists and critics alike have in this regard more often taken note of the religious experiences of women. In the ecstatic vision of St. Catherine of Siena — not only drank blood directly from the wound in Jesus's side, his gift in recompense for her drinking pus from a woman's infected breast, but was also, like Margery and others, betrothed to Jesus in a vision. As reported by her biographer, Raymond of Capua, the ceremony was presided over by the Virgin Mary and involved a gold ring encrusted with jewels; her own description involves the circumcised foreskin of Jesus. A cult had grown up around the holy prepuce, a potent symbol of Christ's humanity and physical suffering, and a part of his body thought singularly to have been left on earth after his ascension—a relic claimed by several institutions in the Middle Ages , including abbeys in Charroux and Coulombs in France as well as St.

John Lateran in Rome, and by a church in Calcata, Italy, as late as when it was reported stolen. In The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion , Leo Steinberg has argued that devotion to the foreskin and the Feast of the Circumcision January 1 , like the many fifteenth- and sixteenth-century paintings of Jesus either as an infant or after the Crucifixion that focus the viewer's attention on his penis the ostentatio genitalium , point not merely to Christ's humanity but also to his sexuality.

Some sixteenth-century illustrations, most notably a series of paintings of the "Man of Sorrows" by Maerten van Heemskerck, even indicate an erection under the cloth that drapes the loins of the resurrected Christ, his flesh rising not because of lust or any external stimulus but at his will, as Adam's own penis was said by some medieval commentators to have done before the Fall in Eden.

Such pictures thus symbolize Christ as the second Adam, reversing the Fall through his resurrection 1 Cor. In his eighth sermon on the Song of Songs , Bernard discusses the verse "Your breasts are better than wine" 4: Other writers described Christ in explicitly feminine terms as a nurturing mother. They had biblical precedent: In her book of Shewings , an account of revelations she received in , the anchorite and mystic Julian of Norwich writes, "our Lady is our Moder in whome we are all beclosid and of hir borne in Christe, for she that is moder of our Savior, is moder of all that shall be savid in our Savior.

And our Savior is our very moder in whom we be endlesly borne and never shall come out of Him" chap. In the chapters that follow this passage, Julian develops the maternal image at length, noting for instance that "The Moder may geven hir child soken her mylke, but our pretious Moder Jesus, He may fedyn us with Himselfe, and doith full curtesly and full tenderly with the blissid sacrament that is pretious fode of very lif" chap.

As Bynum states, "Such an identification of Christ's saving role with giving birth as well as feeding is found in a number of fourteenth-century texts" p. Discussion of ideas such as the femininity of God, the sexuality of Jesus, and the relationship between eroticism and religious devotion by twenty-first-century feminist and queer writers and artists, as well as by theologians, have met with controversy and sometimes outrage. Accusations that such ideas are somehow unchristian indicate a lack of awareness of Christian history.

For many, religious devotion remains a matter not just of the soul, but also of the body, and centred on the desirable body of Christ. On the Song of Songs , trans. Kilian Walsh and Irene Edmonds. The Liber Celestis of St. Bridget of Sweden , ed. Glenn Burger and Steven F. University of Minnesota Press.

What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died?

The Shewings of Julian of Norwich , ed. The Book of Margery Kempe , ed. The Voice of My Beloved: University of Pennsylvania Press. The Passion of the Christ. Directed by Mel Gibson. Equinoxe Films and Newmarket Films.


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University of Chicago Press. Jesus Christ 7 — 5 bce — 30 — 33 ce is the founder of the Christian religion. From early times, Christians worshiped Jesus. John's gospel already speaks of him as divine 1: So just as human beings always make gods in their own image, so too have Christians done with Jesus.

In popular piety, sophisticated theology, and modern historiography, he has been viewed through a half-silvered mirror: Often, the links between the historical Jesus of Nazareth and representations of him have been tenuous. At the same time, to the extent that the New Testament preserves memories of this individual, the potential influence of a real historical figure live on. Although Christians have always considered Jesus their savior, no creed or church council has ever defined the nature of his redemptive work.

The tradition in 1 Corinthians Similarly, the accounts of the last supper, which have Jesus instituting the central rite of most churches, have him saying that his body is "for you" 1 Cor. Yet again there is no theory of the atonement. Later theologians made up the lack. A popular myth, growing out of Colossians 2: In the East, Jesus' descent to hell, allegedly exegetically rooted in Matthew After expiring, Jesus descended to the realm of the dead, to which the devil, who did not realize what he was doing, gave him entrance.

Once there, Jesus revealed his true nature and destroyed the chains that held all in Hades. Having ruined Satan's realm, Jesus then ascended, taking with him Adam and Eve and the saints of old and in a few versions of this story, everybody. Orthodox celebrations of the resurrection replay this act every Easter service when the priest knocks on the doors of the church, which then open and allow him and the congregation to enter and celebrate the feast.

Western thought has focused on the language of atonement. For Anselm — , offence against the infinite dignity of God, who is owed perfect obedience, creates an infinite debt. Since human beings are finite, they cannot pay the debt. So God in the person of the Son deigned to make satisfaction; that is, the Son paid a ransom to the Father. Being divine, he had the ability to do this; being human, he had the right to pay for humanity. This basic scheme was retained by the Reformers and remains alive in much popular Protestant thought, where the spotlight has been on God's justice and the punishment it demands.

Yet such thinking has always had its detractors. Abelard — urged an exemplarist theory of the atonement, according to which Jesus' death is primarily a display of his love; its value lies in our imitation of such love. Jesus, who in the Gospels says "Follow me," has often served as a moral model. Origen was more expansive: Christian monasticism shared the same outlook, taking Jesus' poverty, celibacy, and obedience to be imperatives. With the exception of the Bible, it is perhaps Christianity's most widely read work.

The first chapter sets forth its theme: These are the words of Christ, by which we are admonished how we should imitate his life and manners, if we will be truly enlightened, and be delivered from all blindness of heart. So let our chief endeavor be to meditate upon the life of Jesus Christ.

Many Protestants have found this sort of devotion theologically problematic. Since Martin Luther — , there has been a reaction against an unimaginative and literalistic imitatio Christi such as that exhibited by Francis of Assisi. Some have condemned the notion of imitating the canonical Jesus as a purely human effort that, in the event, cannot be achieved. Others have argued that the idea fails to preserve Jesus' unique status as a savior whose accomplishments cannot be emulated: Despite such criticism, Jesus has remained a moral model for many, including many Protestants.

More than one hundred years ago, C. Sheldon's In His Steps , in which Jesus appears more like a modern American than an ancient Jew, was a best-seller. The title indicates the main theme. Today, socially concerned Christians continue to appeal to Jesus' ministry to unfortunates as precedent for their charitable causes. Liberation theologians argue that Jesus fought social and political injustice and that his followers should do likewise. Others have supported women's causes by calling upon Jesus' supposed liberation of them.

So the imitation of Christ continues to take various forms. Popular Christian jewelry worn in the West is inscribed with the question, "What would Jesus do? Jesus' status as divine makes his attributes those of God. This has meant, among other things, that Christians have conceived of God as compassionate. In the Gospels, Jesus is the "friend of tax collectors and sinners"; he heals the sick and infirm; he refuses to cast the first stone. In line with all this, the traditional images of the Pantokrator ruler of the universe have the exalted Jesus, as lord of the universe, lifting his right hand in the posture of blessing and holding a book with the words, "Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Similarly, much popular Protestant art has depicted Jesus as welcoming children. This is the same compassionate Jesus to whom the so-called Jesus Prayer of Orthodox spirituality — "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner" — is directed. If Jesus has often been the face of divine compassion, no less often has he been the face of divine judgment. Already the Gospels depict him as warning repeatedly of hell, and Matthew How such visions of judgment harmonize with the compassionate Christ is problematic. One thinks of Peter Paul Rubens 's — astounding painting of Saint Francis crouched around and protecting the world from a Jesus Christ who wants to attack it with thunderbolts.

Here Francis must become the compassionate savior because Jesus is the threatening judge. The tension between the compassionate Jesus and the damning Jesus is such that many have thought the gospel portrait, which features both, cannot in this regard be historical. Can it be that a mind that was profoundly enamored of the love of God and that counseled charity toward enemies concurrently accepted and even promoted the dismal idea of a divinely-imposed, unending agony?

Anticipating some modern scholarship, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley — argued in his "Essay on Christianity" that the evangelists "impute sentiments to Jesus Christ which flatly contradict each other. Perhaps the most distinctive image of Jesus and of Christian art, and certainly the most popular in the West, is that of Jesus being crucified. One of the earliest artistic evidences for Christianity is a crude graffito with inscription "Alexamenos worships his god" on the wall of a house in Rome on the Palatine Hill. Reflecting the ancient world's abhorrence of crucifixion, it mocks the crucified Christ by giving him the head of a donkey.

But, in accordance with Paul's paradoxical theology and his boasting in the crucified Christ, Christians transformed the ancient instrument of torture into the salvific instrument par excellence. The traditional icons of the crucifixion, which typically depict a serene and majestic Christ, even seeming to sleep, are on some level a response to the problem of evil. While this has no satisfactory intellectual solution, Christians have found solace in the notion that God the Son has also suffered. Blaise Pascal — famously wrote that Christ is on the cross until the end of time.

In our own day, the Holocaust haunts all reflection about Jesus' suffering. So the crucified Son reveals the reality of divine suffering. The Son is abandoned, the Father grieves, and God paradoxically forsakes God. In this way the reality of human suffering is taken up into the Godhead, and Christians do not feel alone in their suffering.

Jesus belongs not just to Christians but also, in one way or another, to other religions and even to those with no religion. Most traditional Jewish thought, reacting against Christian polemic and persecution, turned Jesus into a deceiver, a false prophet who practiced illicit magic see below. Not all Jewish opinion, however, has been negative. Anticipating many modern Jewish thinkers, the Kairites, a non-Talmudic sect of the Middle Ages , claimed that Jesus was an authentic Jewish martyr whose identity Christianity distorted. More recently, some, downplaying Jesus' originality, have tried to reclaim him for Judaism by turning him into a Pharisee or Essene.

Martin Buber — spoke of Jesus as his "great brother," who has "a great place … in Israel's history of faith. Denying that Jesus was the Messiah, Lapide nonetheless expressed belief in Jesus' resurrection and acknowledged him as God's prophet to the Gentiles. Jesus was born of a virgin and lived without sin. He was a wise teacher and worked miracles.

He was sentenced to be crucified but never was, instead ascending to heaven, from whence many Muslims expect him to return. Jesus is not, however, divine, and Islamic teaching has it that the Gospels are corrupt: Mahatma Gandhi — further found Jesus' teaching in the sermon on the mount, or rather that teaching as Lev Tolstoi — interpreted it, to be profoundly true; it is reported that Gandhi was fond of several Christian hymns about Jesus.

Martin Luther King Jr. Another twentieth-century Hindu, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan — , philosopher and president of India in the s, offered a sophisticated, philosophical interpretation of Jesus. Radhakrishnan maintained the superiority of his native Hinduism over Christianity by accepting the authenticity of Jesus' religious experience but distinguishing that experience from its interpretations, which were suggested to Jesus and his followers by their human traditions.

One should differentiate Jesus' discovery of the universal self from his culturally determined conception of that discovery as a revelation from without. Of the negative evaluations of Jesus, three are especially characteristic of modern times. The Grand Inquisitor in Fedor Dostoevskii's novel The Brothers Karamazov — speaks for many when he asserts that Jesus "judged humanity too highly," for "it was created weaker and lower than Christ thought.

One cannot love one's enemies, or do away with anger, or turn the other cheek. His utopian ethic is just that — utopian: Friedrich Nietzsche — offered a different criticism. For him, certain teachings in the Gospels reflect a slave mentality that should be rejected. If the unfortunate and oppressed turn the other cheek, this is only because, being without power, they can do nothing else; they are resigned in the face of their own oppression. So Jesus' nonviolence simply baptizes the status quo. The classical Marxist critique is related: Jesus' eschatological vision acquiesces to the evils of the present instead of demanding historical change.

The promises of future reward and warnings of future punishment devalue this world and discourage critical engagement with it. For seventeen hundred years the canonical Gospels were approached in two different ways.

Jesus of Nazareth

The dominant approach was that of the Christian church, which accepted the texts at face value. The Gospels were thought historically accurate because divinely inspired and written by eyewitnesses or their friends. Occasionally there was recognition of inconcinnities. Augustine of Hippo — admitted that sometimes the evangelists pass on the same saying with different wording and that the frailty of memory could put the same events in different orders.

John Calvin — went so far as to assert that the sermon on the mount is not the record of what Jesus said on one occasion but an artificial collection of things he said on various occasions. For the most part, however, the Gospels were identified with history. The second approach before the modern period was that of Jewish polemic. This saw Jesus and his followers as deliberate deceivers note Mt. The medieval Toledoth Jesus attributes Jesus' miracles, which it does not deny, to magic.

The Toledoth tends not to assert that this or that event never happened, but rather to dispute its Christian interpretation. Matters began to change in the middle of the eighteenth century. Modern historical methods emerged out of the rebirth of learning in the Renaissance; the Protestant Reformation introduced critical analysis of traditional religious stories e.

All of this encouraged the critical examination of the Gospels. The most important of the early critics was Hermann Samuel Reimarus — , a one-time German pastor much influenced by the English deists. Unable to believe in miracles, he compiled objections to the Bible, including the Gospels. Reimarus may have been the first in the modern period — the third-century Greek philosopher Porphyry anticipated him in this — to distinguish between what Jesus himself said and what his disciples said he said. To the latter alone he attributed belief in the second coming and Jesus' atoning death.

Reimarus also argued that Jesus' kingdom was basically political and that his tomb was empty because the disciples stole the body. Reimarus's goal was to take Christianity, subtract the bad and unbelievable things from it, and hand the world a new and improved religion. Shying from controversy, Reimarus did not publish his own work, which did not appear until after his death, when the playwright and critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing — edited and published it.

As Reimarus was rhetorically powerful, and as his rationalistic arguments had substance, his work generated support, as well as the predictable opposition. The next phase in research saw the proliferation of the so-called liberal lives of Jesus in Germany. Agreeing with Reimarus that miracles do not happen, but dissenting from much of his skepticism regarding the historicity of the Gospels, these liberal lives, like the old Jewish polemic, tended not to dispute the events in the Gospels but rather their supernatural explanations. Instead, however, of invoking deliberate deception, as did the polemic, these critics thought in terms of misperception.

Jesus did not walk on the water; he only appeared to do so when disciples on a boat saw him afar off on the shore. Jesus did not raise anyone from the dead; rather, some he prayed over recovered from comas, leading to that belief. Jesus' own resurrection was also simple misinterpretation. He did not die on the cross; he revived in the cool of the tomb.

But his disciples, who were simple and superstitious, thought he had in fact died and come back to life. This school of thought began to lose its popularity in middle of nineteenth century for several reasons. Most important was the critical work of the German historian and theologian, David Friedrich Strauss — , who disparaged the liberal lives, as well as the conservative harmonists.

Like the liberals, Strauss disbelieved in miracles. Unlike the liberals, he believed the gospel narratives to be thoroughly unreliable and he dismissed John entirely. He considered them, although not Jesus himself, to be mythological, mostly the product of reflection upon the Old Testament narratives.

Illustrative for Strauss is the transfiguration, which is based upon the similar transfiguration of Moses in Exodus 24 and 34, as appears from the several motifs both share. In addition, the feeding of the five thousand is modeled upon 2 Kings 4: Strauss was able to pile up parallel after parallel and establish on a critical footing the intertextual nature of the Gospels.

In doing this he was, from one point of view, just following Tertullian and Eusebius, church fathers who had also observed the parallels between the Testaments. These earlier theologians were pursuing apologetical ends: Strauss used the very same parallels to show the mythological character of most of the tradition. Some who came after Strauss argued that he had not gone far enough, that Jesus was not a historical figure who attracted myths but was rather a myth himself, no more real than Zeus.

The future was not, however, with such radicalism, which could never really explain Paul or Josephus's two references to Jesus. Far more lasting in their influence were Johannes Weiss — and Albert Schweitzer — , two German scholars who, more trusting of the synoptics than Strauss, argued that the historical Jesus was all about eschatology. When Jesus said that the kingdom was at hand, he was announcing the imminence of the new world or utopian order compare Mk.

His expectations were not fulfilled in Easter or Pentecost or the destruction of the temple in 70 ce. Jesus was rather a mistaken apocalyptic visionary, which is why his ethics are so unrealistic. They are not for everyday life, but are instead an ethic of perfection designed for a world about to go out of existence. Most scholars since Schweitzer would concede that he and Weiss largely set the agenda. Most have thought that they were right to the extent that the traditions about Jesus are indeed full of eschatological themes.

The debate has been to what extent those traditions go back to Jesus and whether Schweitzer's more or less literal interpretation of them is correct. Schweitzer himself tried to force a choice between eschatology and historicity. That is, he urged that, if the synoptics are reliable, then we must accept that Jesus was an eschatological prophet. If, to the contrary, Jesus was not an eschatological prophet, then the synoptics are unreliable guides and we should resign ourselves to skepticism.

Jeremias thought that, with the exception of the miracle stories, the synoptics are relatively reliable, and he agreed with Schweitzer that Jesus believed in a near consummation, expected his death to inaugurate the great tribulation, and hoped for his own resurrection as part of the general resurrection of the dead.

Not all accepted Schweitzer's dichotomy. While Rudolf Bultmann — , for instance, believed that Jesus was indeed an eschatological prophet, he was far more skeptical about the historicity of the synoptics than Schweitzer. Bultmann's views lie somewhere between Strauss's skepticism and Schweitzer's confidence. A form critic, Bultmann sought to isolate, classify, and evaluate the components of the Jesus tradition. Given that the order of events varies from gospel to gospel and that there is usually no logical connection between adjacent episodes, we cannot, Bultmann concluded, know the true order of events.

When one adds that the church, in Bultmann's view, contributed as much to the sayings attributed to Jesus as did Jesus himself, it was no longer possible to write a biography of Jesus, only to sketch an outline of his teachings within a rather bare narrative. Bultmann envisaged an oral stage during which various types of materials circulated.

He attempted to reconstruct the setting in life for these types, to determine whether they were used in polemic, apologetics, moral teaching, or proclamation.

How confident can we be that Jesus Christ actually lived?

Bultmann's tendency was to suppose that if a unit was used in Christian polemic, then Christian polemic created it. Yet despite his skepticism, he remained convinced that Schweitzer was basically correct about Jesus' eschatology, which Bultmann interpreted in existential terms. Assuming moderns could no longer share ancient eschatological expectations, Bultmann asked how the language functioned and, in response, stressed that it brought people to decision in the face of the future. Another scholar who rejected Schweitzer's dichotomy was C.

Dodd — Although he accepted the basic synoptic portrait with the exception of Mark 13 and its parallels , he disagreed with Schweitzer regarding eschatology. Dodd famously urged that Jesus had a "realized eschatology. Further, Jesus expected vindication after death, which he variously spoke of as resurrection, the coming of the Son of man, and the rebuilding of the temple.

But the church came to long for the future coming of the Son of man, now conceived of as Jesus' return. In this way eschatology ceased to be realized. The change of outlook was such that the church eventually, and according to Dodd regrettably, made Revelation its canonical finale. Probably the most prominent of recent scholars to reject Schweitzer's dichotomy is John Dominic Crossan —. In his several books on Jesus he has argued that while most of the material Schweitzer used in his reconstruction of Jesus came from the church, we can still know a great deal about Jesus, who is very different from Schweitzer's vision of an eschatological visionary.

For Crossan, Jesus was indeed utopian, but what he envisaged was not a traditional eschatological scenario. Jesus was a Jewish peasant whose revolutionary social program is best preserved in aphorisms and parables. These depict a Cynic-like sage who welcomes outcasts as equals. Traditional eschatology — resurrection, last judgment, heaven, hell — and their attendant violence do not make an appearance. Crossan was one of the founding members of the Jesus Seminar, the other cofounder being Robert Funk —.

The Seminar is a loosely affiliated group of fewer than one hundred scholars who began, in the s, meeting twice a year to discuss and vote upon questions concerning the historical Jesus. The upshot of their work is the conclusion that approximately 18 percent of the sayings attributed to Jesus in the synoptics go back to him or represent something that he said.

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