Search for the Historical Jesus
Submitted by Ernest Kayorie
The search for the Historical Jesus course has been a delightful review/romp through the various theories surrounding this controversial subject. The instructor takes you through the various theories surrounding the search beginning with Reimarus and his school of thought and ending with current theories which have recently found fresh food for thought on the subject. The instructor’s expansion of ideas about Jesus’ kingdom theories and his approach to his role as a way shower and messenger is carefully explained to show how each could be a viable explanation of Jesus’ role on the world scene.
The search for a better representation of this important figure is a worthy journey and the only one that makes any sense. If we can determine who this individual was and how he viewed himself and his role, we might better appreciate his message of simplicity. His strong sense of mission and his insistence on establishing the kingdom of God was a message of timely import. He stated over and over again that the kingdom was within and not an earthly one that was hoped for by many.
The otherworldly persona placed on him and his role has been the product of other’s thoughts and philosophies under the guise of divine interpretation and is not wholly associated with his message. When historians and theologians create their own divine messenger, it is easy to attribute and manipulate what they thought was stated. The Jesus/God that was created was the product of Jewish thought intermingled with Greek metaphysics. There is no scarcity of documentation attesting to the existence of the God/man Jesus. The solidification of those theories eventually became a reality as a result of the decrees issued by the various Church councils. On the political side, all of this to insure that the emerging administrative church could take its place as an heir to the Roman Empire. On the spiritual side, the Fathers (theologians, philosophers et al.) of this organization were sincerely earnest in their quests to understand the divine nature of Jesus/God’s message and messenger. They endeavored to interpret doctrine and dogma in the best possible way for the Church and its followers.
The major challenge begins when one realizes that the subjects are on two different levels. The Fathers of the Church were dealing with their own conception of their deity or at least the one that came to be accepted as the “true” god. The search for the historical Jesus is a search for a “real” human being who had hopes, aspirations, ideals and a sense of mission or not. The human Jesus is the one that people can identify with as opposed to some “created” superhuman giant.
The value of the search is important because the closer we get to valid possibilities, the better we can appreciate those possibilities. This seems to be the only way to proceed because of the scarcity of first hand documentation. Jesus apparently did not write his teachings down but relied on oral transmission of his message to others and seemingly left it to their discretion to relate what was said and meant.
Historical research has a tendency to rely too heavily on its own definition of historical fact. Much of what we know of our own historical past is based on tradition and also fictionalized versions of those individuals we deem as great personages. The same situation applies to the individual we know as Jesus. The translation of apocryphal writings, some very fictionalized, present a very human Jesus. They present stories of his mother’s life and his childhood. They relate stories of his family life and how he was viewed by his peers and neighbors. Again no one person has played on the imagination of the world as has this person. The more we have a chance to know and experience Jesus, the easier it will be to make an informed decision about his mission and how it can influence our lives. Millions of individuals look to the New Testament as their leader and guide without questioning the authenticity of the writings. Many do not question anything relating to “accepted” scriptures not realizing that the canon of those scriptures was the result of a decision made by men and sanctioned by an organization. They were the result oftentimes of decisions motivated by bitterness and jealousies and petty rivalries.
This writer finds that the search for the historical Jesus is a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself and finds that delving into that search is both exciting and informative.
The role of the academic community devoted to finding the historical Jesus beginning with Hermann Reimarus’ investigations (1778/old quest), and continuing today with the Jesus seminar groups has brought to the forefront the necessity of finding out who the human Jesus was. The recently formed Jesus Project continues the search with promised results that will be as varied as previous attempts no doubt.
Prior to these endeavors, it seems that the existence of a historical/human Jesus had become irrelevant. Who needs to be concerned with humanness when we have a divine being to emulate? As was pointed out in the course, quite simply human and divine…they were the same or at least they were explained as how that could be. The years of establishing that fact was the result of the first seven Church councils and since that time, little alteration has been necessary. As time progressed and the farther we got from that fact, the need to reacquaint ourselves with the source became evident. There is ample evidence that suggests that each culture who claim to be Christian see their founder in their own light. In this case, people are not interested in the Jesus of history but prefer to “worship” their own conception of Jesus even if that conception is exaggerated or totally distorted. As an example, some Christians find the fact that Jesus was Jewish to be an affront to their beliefs. They prefer their “god” to be like them.
The value of the search for the Jesus of history forces us to confront falsehood and study this popular figure for what he was, namely a Jewish man from the Middle East who was responsible for relating a message that could change lives for the better. The simplicity of that message is astonishing and will remain so despite the efforts of so many to destroy it, albeit in good faith. The value of the various quests definitely lies in the fact of seeing this person as everything from a social revolutionary to a wandering peasant sage to a disillusioned teacher who was ushering in a new age. The search will go on under the guise of different theories with different names but the importance lies in the fact that the search continues. Seen in this vein, it seems that the search for a valid explanation of who the historical Jesus was is a separate study from what has been the search for our own cosmic significance.
The quest for the historical Jesus has transitioned to a quest for the Cosmic Christ. The search for the Cosmic Christ has become the quest of modern man in search for his own destiny. It is the time for our return to our beginnings and the realization of who we truly are and if Jesus can bring that about in our lives then it’s good to have someone or something to rely on until we find enough confidence to realize that we have to learn to stand on our own. Was it not said by Jesus through the gospels that “whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works.” Was this an allusion to the fact that we have inherited the right to become like the “Christed” one that he represented? Paul, in his letter to the Galatians refers to this progression when he says that “I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20) and again “I must go through the pain of giving birth to you all over again, until Christ is formed in you.” (Gal. 4:19)
As studies progress towards that inevitable conclusion with the pioneering works of Teihard De Chardin and Matthew Fox and many notable members of the scientific/religious community (the list goes on and on), we can conclude that the journey continues.