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July 12, 2004

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Dan

Difficult to know what Jesus actually said, and what words were put in His mouth later on.

Rob

Accept the Gospels as truth, don’t accept the Gospels as truth. You must admit that the person in them whose name is Jesus is quite a fascinating fellow, is he not?

Isaac Butler

And Rob, you're not even opening the whole the four gospels don't agree on what Jesus said, when he said it or what he meant can of worms.

So I guess my question to you, Rob is... which Jesus do you mean? The Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John?

Rob

Yes, that can of worms was waiting in the wings, desperate to jump onstage, and I kept shushing him, telling him to wait until his time came. I guess his time has come.

We all know about the contradictions, no need to get into too many specifics. In Matthew he curses the fig tree the day after he turns over the tables of the money-changers and it withers immediately; in Mark he curses it before the money-changers and it’s not until after he turns over the tables and leaves the temple that they notice it has withered, and so on and so forth . . .

Each Christian will struggle with rationalizing or ignoring these contradictions. Each non-Christian will find it quite easy to develop a theory about why they exist.

Each Gospel, if taken individually, still contains moral ambiguity, so even if you assume we have four different Jesus-es, as you seem to do, each one is still very sly and adept at throwing us curveballs and keeping us guessing.

But if you take all four Gospels together, if you combine these four men into one man, he becomes even more elusive and interesting. It’s the ultimate sly move of all sly moves. To not have one story of your life. But to have four. To have them tell contradictory information. And to have millions of people consider all four to be true. This ultimate Jesus, this man who can live four alternate realities simultaneously, whether you believe he’s fictional or non-fictional, or some combination of the two, he’s pretty fascinating, isn’t he?

Isaac Butler

I was also referring to the fact that Jesus not only says contradictory things but doesn't do the same thing in each book. The events of Mark (for example) are incredibly different from those of John. In Mark, Jesus is very mysterious indeed, he calls his apostles fools, he refuses to reveal his wisdom etc. In Matthew (where we're pretty sure the author was using the Q text and some private documents) Jesus is quite the vivacious explicator, even if his discussions make little sence.

A good example of Jesus' "slyness" as Rob puts it is Jesus' explanation to the apostles of why he speaks in parables. It makes no sense if you closely read it. His reasons and his actions are basically contradictory.

To quibble breifly with you, Rob, I think there must be a way to be a devout Christian (I am not) and still reckon with the overwhelming historical evidence that the four books of the Gospels were written by people who never knew Jesus, based on different sources about him, and were people who had agendas in writing the books. I think to approach it any other way is intellectually lazy Christmas-dinner Christianity. You don't want to figure out or do the investigation to find the Jesus beneath the agenda, find what Q statements he might have said etc.

I find it interesting that this conversation is happening between two atheists (or at least agnostics). Is there no way to approach these texts as historical documents, with academic curiosity and come away a believer?

Rob

How do you define devout Christian, Isaac? When I was confirmed into the Protestant church, I seem to recall vowing to accept The Bible and The Bible alone as the Word of God. It seems you have a different definition of “Christian” than any already-established sect of Christianity that I know of.

Dan

To take Rob's argument even further, one could include other Jesuses, not only in Gnostic gospels, but in later retellings of the Jesus story. Everything from Quem Quertis to The Passion of the Christ to Corpus Christi becomes material for the slyness of Christ.

It's like the legend of King Arthur: it was said that he was sleeping, only to be reawakened when the world needed him. And every time the world, or a Hollywood studio, does need him, they wake him up and reinvent him.

I still think that we have to credit a lot of Jesus' contradictions to our human need to make God in our own image. As the story is retold, parts are ommitted, reframed or emphasized according to the desires of the teller and audience.

To answer Rob's question with a question, Aren't the creatures who tell of Jesus fascinating? The complexity of Jesus is a portrait of the complexity of humanity. One could speak of the slyness of the human spirit. Is it not written, ye are gods?

Rob

The fog keeps getting thicker! You’ve certainly brought us to the next level! I commend you, Dan, for going the distance! Who invented whom? Who made who in who’s image? What does man gain from retelling old myths with a contemporary spin? Shakespeare did it. And now people do it with Shakespeare! People have always done it, in somewhat more subtle ways with the story of Jesus, which, as they say, is the greatest story ever told.

Why do the stories evolve as we evolve? Is there some genetically-determined quality that creates the need in man to not only invent a god, but to invent one in his own image? How can we so easily take a god created by our ancestors and tweak it for our own purposes? These are just some of the questions you’ve provoked! . . .

But overall, you’ve exposed what I’ve believed for years – Though there are many different kinds of Christianity, many different sects, and many different sects within those sects, each man has his own understanding of God, his own understanding of The Bible, his own understanding of Jesus. Therefore, there are actually as many sects of Christianity as there are Christians. For this reason, I’m surprised there isn’t more disparity between the different Jesuses we’ve seen over the years. But I suppose I must agree with you, that his ultimate slyness is actually our slyness. His ultimate slyness is to trick us into believing that he is the one who is sly, when in actuality it is us.

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