Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rare Post about the Busy God: Did Jesus Exist?

Every now and then someone flings a book at me that is kind of out of my regular line of reading. This is how I came to read Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, by Bart D. Ehrman.

Had to ask myself two questions about this tome before I even opened it:

1. Why should I read about the historical existence of Jesus when I already believe it, and

2. Should I waste my time reading about the busy god?

Just goes to show you ... move beyond those pesky, nagging questions sometimes. This title turned out to be very interesting, and one of those rare books written by a scholar for a lay audience that is actually understandable and accessible.

Apparently there's a largish movement underway to cast Jesus of Nazareth as a mythical being, totally made up from the fertile imaginations of ancient people. Well, as we all know, the best way to discredit a deity is to stick the "m" word onto His or Her exploits.

Bart Ehrman takes on these mythicists and discredits them ... actually trounces them soundly, using logical, fact-based arguments. But in doing so, in establishing the existence of a real historical figure named Jesus of Nazareth, Professor Ehrman doesn't do the Christian religion any favors. As the author notes, "Jesus would not recognize himself in the preaching of most of his followers today."

Actually, the historical Jesus wouldn't recognize anything about himself in the actions of his followers today, because (as this book explains in refreshing detail), Jesus didn't anticipate the future lasting longer than his lifetime. He was an "apocalypse now" preacher who saw himself as the head of the table in the aftermath of a Rapture that was scheduled to occur before he died. Then, counter to all expectations, he died.

Like many a stripling before me, I used to sit in church, through long, boring sermons of which I can remember nothing. I used to wonder how much of the Bible was real, and how much was made up. (Most of it is made up.) But I never doubted that Jesus was a historical person, mostly for the same reasons that Professor Ehrman discusses in his book: There are just too many sources of somewhat-overlapping data about Jesus, from too many different individuals.

Turns out I was pretty good at honing in on the human Jesus, even as a kid. It seemed to me that Jesus held a high opinion of himself (in my view to the point of megalomania), and all that humility and suffering to save the world was grafted onto a slender stalk of reality at a later date. Did Jesus Exist? may not arrive at this conclusion out-and-out, but the scholarly parsing of the oldest texts does give us evidence of a charismatic human being who came to believe his own press releases to the point of reckless public behavior.

So, while Did Jesus Exist was out-of-the-box reading for me, it was a worthwhile endeavor. I'm not surprised that this author has drawn the ire of the fundamentalist movement, because he has discovered what's really fundamental in Jesus' ministry ... emmm ... awkward.

As a postscript I'll add that I also believe King Arthur was a historical figure, or at least a series of historical figures from a particular moment in the history of the British Isles. Believing as I do in King Arthur, I'm glad there aren't texts like The Gospel of Lancelot, written within a century of Arthur's passing and then revised by hidden hands here and there as fashion and necessity dictated. A little knowledge is not always a bad thing when it comes to poking holes in your heroes.

10 comments:

Hecate Demetersdatter said...

Interesting. Like you, I wondered why the guy was always going on and on about how great he was, how he was the only connection to God the Father, blah, blah, blah.

Vest said...

Go to Daily Gaggle.Com... read "what the Faith industry do not want you to know" in seven episodes, which you may feel free to copy.

Vest said...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012




WHAT THE FAITH INDUSTRY DOESN'T WANT YOU TO KNOW.



PART ONE. http://www.dailygaggle.com/2007/12/part-1-what-faith-industry-do-not-want.html

Part TWO. http://www.dailygaggle.com/2007/12/part-two-what-faith-industry-doesnt.html


Part THREE. http://www.dailygaggle.com/2007/12/what-faith-industry-doesent-want-you-to.html


Part FOUR. http://www.dailygaggle.com/2007/12/part-four-what-faith-industry-doesnt.html


Part FIVE. http://www.dailygaggle.com/2007/12/part-five-what-faith-industry-doesnt_16.html


Part SIX.http://www.dailygaggle.com/2007/12/part-six-what-faith-industry-doesnt_18.html


Part SEVEN. http://www.dailygaggle.com/2007/12/part-seven-final-what-faith-industry.html

Feel free to copy anytime, Very interesting reading..........Enjoy......... Vest

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

I always figured he was real but not a son of God. Just a good man who wanted to do good things.

Anonymous said...

Rodger C here.

Haven't read the book. Don't need to. My favorite argument: It's obvious that the gospels get more mythical and tendentious as you go through them in composition order (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John--the order in Celtic Gospel books by the way). If Jesus wee totally mythical from the get-go, why would this pattern exist? As the Marxist Ernst Bloch said, read the gospels in reverse order and you get palpably closer and closer to a real person.

There are also these little panda's-thumb weirdnesses, like when he heals the blind man and has to take two licks (literally) at it. Or when the rich young man says "Good master, what must I do to win eternal life?" (probably ready to pay big bucks for a red thread or something) and Jesus turns on him and says, "Why are you calling me good? No one is good but God."

"Uhhhhh ..."

"Tell you what. GO SELL EVERYTHING AND GIVE IT TO THE POOR! How's that?"

"Uhh ... Uhhhhh ... Oh crap." *wanders off*

-Pam said...

I've read several of Bart Ehrman's other books. They are all very good.

-Pam

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I'm glad you decided to give this one a shot - sounds like it turned out to be a fascinating book!

Thanks for being a part of the tour.

Rita said...

You would probably like The Nazarene Gospel by Robert Graves, esp. his explanation of the resurrection. It is hard to find a copy as only 5000 were printed, but it is in some libraries.

Anonymous said...

RC: Graves was a great one for writing allegedly factual books that were crazy as nonfiction but would have made wonderful premises for novels. My favorite is the little book where he interprets the Genesis creation story as a result of some Hebrew fellow looking at pictures of the Sumerian creation story and reading them backwards. Neat if you can find it.

Davoh said...

mm, dunno about you lot - but as far as i understand things - parthenogenesis only produces females. Therefore Jesus was a female ....