Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Who was Jesus?

Who was Jesus? is a short book by NT Wright responding to three popular books on Jesus that were written around 1992. He puts on his historian hat and points out how these popular books are way off track in what the current academic consensus of who Jesus is thought to be. After giving a brief overview of prominent scholars since the enlightenment and their thoughts on Jesus and the development of some ideas, Wright then spends a chapter responding to each book before giving a summary on what he thinks most historical academics know about who Jesus was.

The first book he responded to was Jesus the Man by Barbara Thiering, an Australian scholar. Thiering has an interesting view on how to read the gospels. Her view is taken from some Dead Sea Scrolls in that they would quote an Old Testament verse and then say "Pesher" to interpret that verse for their current times. Despite the Gospels been written in a completely different genre as these documents and not even citing "pesher" in their own text, Theiring was still able to interpret the Gospels using this method to come up with Jesus, not moving around Israel, but around Qumran. Some other examples are that when Jesus went to heaven, it really was just an upper room; when Lazarus or Jairus' daughter was raised from the dead, they were really just accepted back into the community. Also major players in the story come again in the form of other characters, such as Mary also Dorcas, Mary Magdalene is both Jarius daughter and Rhoda and crowds mean the Jewish king Agrippa (and this goes on). On Jesus he married Mary Magdalene because of what the Gospel of Philip 63 and 64 says (200 years after the event) and He had two boys because Acts 6:7 and Acts 12:24 says that "the Word of God increased." Jesus also had a daughter but there is no citation to back this up. On the crucifixion Jesus was really crucified (this for some reason is not "pesher" to suggest he was removed from the community) at Qumran and Pilate came across on a boat to witness it. Jesus didn't die from it but was druged. The two thieves next to Jesus were Judas Iscariot and Simon Magus and both really had their legs broken, but they were still able to survive crucifixion. In the tomb Simon was able to mix some spices to help Jesus come back to strength (really it is the swoon theory). With all this N.T. Wright continually points out that main stream scholarship holds to none of this. Twice he even wonders if this isn't some elaborate hoax. On the resurrection he sums up most of this theory "Thiering's great edifice is based on thin air, built on imaginary bricks, and topped off with a non-existent roof. It is not even a house of cards. It is not a house at all."

The next book Wright responds to is A.N. Wilson's Jesus: A Life. In this chapter Wright looks at how Wilson argues that the gospels are obviously biased and filled with religious allusions and that he is getting through all that and looking at the real Jesus. Wright is quick to point out that all writing is biased, even Wilson. It is hard to imagine someone who's last book titled Against Religion: Why we should live without it and the one before that was on C.S Lewis which tore him to shreds for being a Christian apologist, would be clearly objective on Jesus. Again Wright stressed that all writings are biased and make allusions to things, sometimes unconsciously, to which he points out in Wilson's book makes reference to Hamlet, William Blake and Andre Gide to show that most writings contain allusions to other writings, but the main point is to work out if evidence supports what they say. On the resurrection Wilson says that after Jesus's death James, his brother, filled his spot as they must of looked a bit the same (even though Paul lists James as an eyewitness to Jesus's resurrection). Wright does say that sometimes, like in a dual carriage road, Wilson gets close to the truth, but there is a small hedge in between. Wright agrees with some of the Jewish background Wilson argues for, but overall Wright would have liked Wilson to have read some more mainstream historical scholars and taken Jesus further as he comes across not very impressive or even controversial, when really Jesus was saying some controversial things, especially since he was Jewish talking to Jews. It also seems that Wilson heeded some of Wrights words when he hoped that Wilson would reconsider Jesus, as after all Wilson has changed his mind once, he could do it again, and in 2009 he changed his mind again on Jesus and joined a church.

The last book that Wright looks at is Bishop John Shelby Spong's Born of a Woman. Wright thinks that of all three authors Spong seems to have some understanding of the historical debates going on in academic circles. In Spong's book he is arguing against fundamentalist literal reading of the Gospels, that Mary wasn't a virgin when Jesus was born, instead he may have been produced from rape. Jesus also was married, probably the Mary Magdalene, because when he turned water to wine at the wedding, it must have been his as his parents were there, who were concerned about the wine supply. Also who goes to a wedding where your parents are there, unless it is a family occasion (despite not taking into account we are very western individuals, where as back then they did more things, like town weddings, in community with not just your family but with all your neighbors as well). Wright agrees with Spong on the fundamentalist misreading scripture and not picking it up in the context, but disagrees how far Spong swings form this position. Spong sees the Gospels in the genre of Midrash (stories with hidden meaning), even though Wright thinks he even mis-defined what Midrash is, but sill disagrees with the Gospels being put in this category. Wright kinda of skits the issue of inerrancy but does hold that Mary was a virgin, not because it can be scientifically proven, but because the resurrection opens up a different world view that allows us to be sceptical of scepticism.

Throughout this book Wright seems to give a fair hearing of the other's arguments, although is not neutral on his position. He argues for the resurrection, the virgin birth, what Jesus thought about the Kingdom of God, that Jesus was a Jew and in general Wright argues for more popular books to do some historical research. I think he has the same feeling I have when I watch a movie and they completely misrepresent networks and computers. I think since 1992 most authors must of headed Wrights advice, as since then there clearly has been no other popular books arguing that Jesus never existed; or was homosexual; or that he was married and had children and there is a Church wide conspiracy to cover this up.


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