Sunday, August 10, 2014

Who was Jesus?

We don't actually know very much factually about Jesus, the Galilean who came out of nowhere to stun the world, puzzle emperors and become the (often misused) emblem of millions. As I have already said, the most widely accepted fact is that he was executed sometime between the years 26 and 36, probably the year 30.

Jesus was a Jew from a small village in Galilee, likely Nazareth. We don't know exactly whether he was born in Nazareth or Bethlehem. His father, Joseph, taught him the woodworking trade, meaning something akin to today's cabinetmaking; he was not a carpenter in the construction trades sense.

He spoke Aramaic as a native language, could probably recite enough biblical Hebrew for his bar-mitzvah, and he likely knew a smattering of pedestrian Greek, used for business.

Very likely he was functionally illiterate. He may have been able to “read” biblical texts from memory but not likely actually read them, nor much less write.

Although he grew up with several siblings, we don’t know whether they were full, half or adopted kin.

He was baptized by John the Baptizer, a somewhat better attested historical figure, who may have been his first cousin. Both may have been associated with a devout Jewish community known as the Essenes. Some time after the encounter, he became known as an itinerant preacher.

The attention he garnered gave rise to some popularity in Galilee and Judea and ultimately his execution.

After his death, his followers said he rose from the dead and remains alive to this day.

These followers, most of whom were also functional illiterates, dictated or recounted accounts of what Jesus did and said, which found their way into a number of written works called gospels, roughly 20 to 40 years after the events.

Rudolf Bultmann was fond of remarking that the only actual word we have something close to complete assurance Jesus uttered was “Abba” (Hebrew for Daddy).

Jesus was until about 1836, when David Strauss’ Life of Jesus was published, the figure depicted by the evangelists, chronologically Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Since then, even his very historical existence has been questioned.

A more modern scholar in the search for the historical Jesus, John Meier, has offered a fair compromise portrait that he believes would satisfy Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and agnostic scholars as to "who Jesus of Nazareth was and what he intended."

At volume 4, his work A Marginal Jew has yet to tackle the crucifixion and resurrection, the trickiest parts for a Catholic theologian laboring under the last two popes. Indeed, it has always been far safer to engage in “Jesusology” than Christology. Ask Leonardo Boff, whose Christological work Jesus the Liberator got him drummed out of religious life as a friar and theologian, which the the wags say made him a real believer.

Yeshua bar Yosif must have been in some way remarkable to have drawn all that attention from such unexceptional beginnings. Jesus called the Christ, or Messiah, is distinctively the central figure of faith in the good news, or gospel, told about him by believers.

1 comment:

Anne Malcolm said...

It is an interesting puzzle for me to figure out in my next 20/30/40 years what is the story of _my_ faith against the backdrop of ever-changing news about the Story of Faith in Jesus of Nazareth. Granted, people of every age have fallen out of faith, but has there ever been an age such as this which has disproven so much of what we took more literally when we were young? Will the institution of church ever teach differently to its young what we know today through scholars? I still believe, but what do I believe any more? & it's not something one can really talk about least to fellow Catholics. Is it the man or the gospel to believe in? But I still automatically fall into my old practice of inner prayer when something negative pops up, and what has proved time and again is I get by the bump in the road. I can tick off the points of the Apostles Creed and say yes, yes, almost yes, yes... Or maybe the faith doesn't change but the religion does... This become a *crux* for me because a few years ago it didn't matter, I was only me. But now with a 14 year old ***eagerly*** anticipating becoming a Christian I have misgivings. Will what he is learning today have holes punched in it too soon?

hmmm. I had know idea I'd be writing all this.