June 14th, 2004

The Real Jesus?

Was there ever a real Jesus of Nazareth?

I've wondered this for years. You look at the gospels and the historical context seems fluffy and the central character oddly blank.

Albert Schweitzer's classic The Search For the Historical Jesus- which I read in theological college- makes the point that every would-be biographer of Jesus ends up creating an idealized self-portrait. "Strauss looked into the dark well of history and saw the reflection of a liberal Protestant face" (I quote from memory.) It's a very funny book.

But Schweitzer chickens out at the end. Instead of concluding that there was no historical Jesus he goes into preacherly raptures about the unknown "true historical Jesus"- who turns out to be an imperious theocrat not wholly unlike Schweitzer himself.

But just suppose...

Last night my attention was drawn to this site- http://human.st/jesuspuzzle -which argues that Christianity began as a mystery religion (along the lines of Mithraism or the Attis cult) with Jesus as a wholly mythological central figure. It was only in the second century, a hundred years after the birth of the cult, that the the Logos, the Divine Son of God, acquired a human biography.

The arguments are persuasive: the gospels are not really biography, but a midrash on Old Testament texts; the earliest Christian documents, the Pauline letters, betray no knowledge of Jesus the man; the deification of a real man is almost inconceivable in a Jewish context- and so on.

The received account of Christian origins never quite made sense- historically or humanly. This one does.

Elderflower

Elderflower is supposed to smell like cat's pee, but it's less pungent than that. It's acidic and dusty with a hint of sweetness. If it was really horrible it wouldn't make such good lemonade.