Sunday, 17 March 2013

The footnote who would be king

Excerpts from Gospel Truth: On the Trail of the Historical Jesus by Russell Shorto, an account of the findings of the scholars' conclave set up to dispassionately examine the evidence for the historical Jesus, known as the Jesus Seminar.

As far as Funk [and many scholars at the Jesus Seminar] are concerned, scholars have known the truth—that Jesus was nothing more than a man with a vision—for decades; they have taught it to generations of priests and ministers, who do not pass it along to their flocks because they fear a backlash of anger...

According to E.P. Sanders [for example] ... Jesus comes across quite clearly as an eschatological prophet, one in the mould of [John] the Baptist and the priests at Qumran. He believed the world was coming to an end, and soon. According to Sanders, “The hard evidence is this: he talked about a kingdom; his disciples expected to have a role in it; they considered him their leader; he was crucified for claiming to be a king."

...[A] hard look at the gospel evidence, coupled with an understanding of Jewish history, indicates that the kingdom Jesus expected was of-this-world. His symbolic destruction of the Temple, his choosing of twelve disciples, his apparent discussions with disciples about what place each would occupy in the new kingdom all lead to the conclusion that Jesus saw the Old Testament prophecies about to be fulfilled by him, on earth. And the Dead Sea Scrolls [from Qumran] support this: the scrolls speak of the apocalypse coming on the heels of an army that would be divided into twelve units, one for each of the twelve tribes. The scrolls were also explicit about how the Temple would be rebuilt in the new age. Here was a community of mystics living in Jesus’ time who also clearly believed that this new age would take place in the world... Jesus expected God to perform some miracle that would inaugurate a new holy rule in Israel [a miracle that, of course, never happened]...

[In summary then,] Jesus was a Jewish apocalyptic who expected a cataclysmic intervention of God into history … and was devastatingly wrong. Christianity, then, amounts to a series of attempts to deal with this staggering error...

[In shifting the focus from Jesus' teachings, of which Paul especially said virtually nothing, to the drama of his crucifixion and resurrection, about which history is completely silent, apologists] for the whole Christian myth are attempting to cover up the fact that Christianity has based itself on that most tawdry of religious figures, an un-prophetic prophet...

[A]n utterly dispassionate examination of the evidence [by scholars] result[s] in a Jesus who was just one more first-century fist-shaker who uttered a few profound sentiments, made an elaborate (and incorrect) apocalyptic prediction, and died anonymously, would we accept that? Would most scholars even allow their work to proceed along such lines? Are we ready to follow the advice of [scholars like Sanders and Burton] Mack and ... make the historical Jesus a footnote, a marginal personality who, through whatever series of accidents [and self-interested acts of intellectual sleight-of-hand] was turned into a god?


  1. Very good post.

    Exactly the same can be said of Mohammad too.
    He too was an absolute charlatan (but a cunning one, able to convince the ignorant and naive that he was a "prophet").

  2. Spoken by a man made from common clay.

  3. ingdegrSo Jesus disciples were prepared to die for something they knew to be a lie? That makes no sense - surely they would have walked right on back to their old lives?


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