Monday, September 01, 2008

Jesus of Nazareth Part 5 - Spiritual/Eclectic View

Now that we've looked at all three of the characterizations of Jesus introduced by Adele Reinhartz, we can make some closing comments. As many of you have mentioned, these three versions all seem to bring out certain elements of Jesus' life and leave others out. I believe that we do the same sorts of things when we attempt to understand Jesus. Thus, I hope that examining these three scholarly viewpoints of Jesus has shaken up our individual notions of Jesus' earthly life a bit. These scholarly visions are just a means of getting the conversation started. By sharing each others' conceptualizations of who Jesus is and was, we can each gain a better glimpse of him.

The Jewish Jesus can remind us that Jesus did not live in a cultural vacuum. He did not live and die only for us. Instead, he lived in a specific time and place. He was Jewish, through and through. He observed the festivals and he prayed to the Jewish God. He was steeped in the knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures (our Old Testament along with other books).

At the same time, Cynic Jesus can remind us that there was a Greek culture into which Jesus was also born. Judaism was not itself a vacuum, separated from the Greek/Roman culture that dominated at the time. Instead, Jesus was exposed to various schools of philosophy. He probably spoke Greek in addition to the Aramaic spoken by Jews. He probably experienced many of the same things that citizens of third-world nations feel, since his home "nation" was ruled by a foreign, European power (Rome).

Social Critic Jesus reminds us that Jesus was able to rise above all of the cultures present in his time in order to offer a better way to live. It also reminds us that he wasn't simply a teacher, droning on about insignificant stuff. He practiced what he preached. When he criticized the way the rich treated of the poor, he also showed them a better way through a practice of open table fellowship.

Even if we take a conglomeration of these three views, though, we will still find our view of Jesus limited. He also healed and restored people--clearly another example of him putting his teaching in action. In the ultimate example of practicing what he preached, he allowed his oppressors to put him to death in order to stay true to his message of peace--he did not resist or start an uprising, as other so-called "messiahs" had done. And maybe that's a big part of why Jesus' teaching caught on--he actually lived it out perfectly.

That's not to mention the spiritual component that we haven't even touched upon. Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple forty years before it happened. He raised people from the dead and walked on water--clearly something not seen in other faith healers. He prophesied that the Holy Spirit would appear after he ascended, and it did. Early believers saw his prophecy coming true, and they took this as proof of his message. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, and again at every baptism, the early Christian missionary named Paul saw that as proof of God's message. And when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD, the author of the Gospel of Luke (who is actually anonymous) saw that as proof that Jesus was a prophet like those of old (and even more than a prophet). All of these things have contributed to Jesus' success and the popularity of his message. And I'm sure there are more things still--we didn't even get into the crucifixion!

Thanks for reading all this time, and I hope you'll be willing to share any revelations that came to you as a result of this conversation. What have you learned? How do you feel about "Historical Jesus" scholarship? Has your conceptualization of Jesus been altered, and if so, how?

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