Christ and History

 

 

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You will find that a good many  Christian political writers think that Christianity began going wrong in  departing from the doctrine of its founder at a very early stage. Now this idea  must be used by us to encourage once again the conception of a “historical  Jesus” to be found by clearing away later “accretions and perversions,” and then  to be contrasted with the whole Christian tradition. In the last generation we  promoted the construction of such a “historical Jesus” on liberal and  humanitarian lines. We are now putting forward a new “historical Jesus” on  Marxian, catastrophic and revolutionary lines. The advantages of these  constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifold.  In the first place they all tend to direct man’s devotion to something which  does not exist. Because each “historical Jesus” is unhistorical, the documents  say what they say and they cannot be added to. Each new “historical Jesus” has  to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another  point. And by that sort of guessing (brilliant is the adjective we teach  humans to apply to it) on which no one would risk ten shillings in ordinary  life, but which is enough to produce a crop of new Napoleons, new Shakespeares,  and new Swifts in every publisher’s autumn list. . . . The “historical Jesus,”  then, however dangerous he may seem to be to us at some particular point, is  always to be encouraged.

CS Lewis, Screwtape Letters

 

 

 

 

Bart Ehrman, the New Testament scholar who transitioned from teenage evangelical, to liberal Christian, to agnostic, desperately wants to remake Christ in his own faithless image and therefore is popular with atheists and agnostics.  He has a very old act, as the argument that he makes, that the Resurrection never happened and that Christ was but a man, has been made by anti-Christians since the Crucifixion.    He puts old wine into a shiny new wineskin.  He isn’t really very good at it,  as Stephen Colbert, of all people, demonstrated several years ago.  Go here to Creative Minority Report to view that.

Christopher Johnson, a non-Catholic who has taken up the cudgels so frequently for the Church that I have named him Defender of the Faith, turns his attention to Ehrman:

 

All sorts and conditions of men turn up at this site from time to time.  Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians regularly comment here, disagree with one another’s theology now and then but do it, for the most part, respectfully.

That’s because of most of you, not me.  You guys set the tone for this joint a long time ago.  But if I do see what I consider to be disrespect in the comments, which happens, I’ll quietly edit the comment or remove it entirely.  And if things get too intense in a comment thread, which sometimes happens, I won’t hesitate to shut that thread down.

I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing atheists comment here a lot more often than they do.  I’m not talking about some douchebag whose default position is, “Christians are brain-dead morons” or who claims to collapse on his or her fainting couch at the mere sight of a Bible verse, a Christian Cross or any other Christian image.

I refer to that rare breed of atheist who doesn’t believe there’s a God but is comfortable with the fact that some people disagree and who doesn’t feel the need to insult or belittle religious believers.  I can respect and even be friends with a person like that.

What I can’t and, indeed, refuse to respect are those atheists who still pretend to be Christians but who think that they’ve finally discovered What Actually Happened Two Thousand Years Ago And What It All Means.  Guys like Bart Ehrman, say:

Jesus was a lower-class preacher from Galilee, who, in good apocalyptic fashion, proclaimed that the end of history as he knew it was going to come to a crashing end, within his own generation. God was soon to intervene in the course of worldly affairs to overthrow the forces of evil and set up a utopian kingdom on earth. And he would be the king.

Insert “but” here.

It didn’t happen. Instead of being involved with the destruction of God’s enemies, Jesus was unceremoniously crushed by them: arrested, tried, humiliated, tortured, and publicly executed.

Which is why Jesus’ influence ended right then and there and is also why absolutely no one anywhere, with the exception of obscure Middle Eastern scholars, has any idea who Jesus of Nazareth was.  But for this bizarre reason, that’s not what actually happened.  Stop Bart if you’ve heard this one.

The followers of Jesus came to think he had been raised because some of them (probably not all of them) had visions of him afterwards. Both Christian and non-Christian historians can agree that it was visions of Jesus that made some of Jesus’ followers convinced that he was no longer dead. Christians would say that the disciples had these visions because Jesus really appeared to them. Non-Christians would say that (several of ) the disciples had hallucinations. Hallucinations happen all the time. Especially of deceased loved ones (your grandmother who turns up in your bedroom) and of significant religious figures (the Blessed Virgin Mary, who appears regularly in extraordinarily well-documented events). Jesus was both a lost loved one and an important religious leader. As bereaved, heartbroken, and guilt-ridden followers, the disciples were prime candidates for such visionary experiences.

Once the disciples claimed Jesus was alive again but was (obviously) no longer here with them, they came to think that he had been taken up to heaven (where else could he be?). In ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish thinking, a person exalted to the heavenly realm was divinized – himself made divine. That’s what the earliest Christians thought about Jesus. After that a set of evolutionary forces took over, in which the followers of Jesus began saying more and more exalted things about him – that he had been made the son of God at his resurrection; no, it was at his baptism; no, it was at his birth; no, it was before he came into the world; no – he had never been made the son of God, he had always been the Son of God; in fact, he had always been God; more than that, he had created the world; and yet more, he was an eternal being equal with God Almighty.

That Kierkegaard quote’s on the top of this page for a reason.  That an alleged “scholar” can seriously advance a view so fundamentally unscholarly, so absolutely unsupported by anything remotely resembling actual evidence, convinces me that a great deal of “Christian scholarship” is, as the Great Dane observed, as monumental an intellectual scam as the world has ever known.

Where to begin?  Say what you want about him but Mohammed’s followers thought he was a prophet of God.  No doubt, the Buddha’s disciples intensely revered him.  Yet none of the followers of these two men, or any other great religious leader in world history, for that matter, ever invented a resurrection from the dead for their particular “prophet” and made that “resurrection” the basis of their religion.

Only the Christians did.

It seems to me that if you and all your associates somehow convince yourselves that you’ve seen the risen Jesus when you haven’t, you are, at some point, going to come down from your mass hallucinations.  At which point, you can either admit to yourself that you were wrong or continue with the charade and maybe get yourselves executed at an early age for something that you know deep down is a lie.

And did any of you happen to notice who Ehrman leaves out here?  I’ll give you a few hints.  A devout Jew, he was not only not connected to the Apostles and Christ’s early believers in any way, he was, by his own admission, actively hostile to the new movement, imprisoning many of Christ’s followers and having others killed.

He received authorization to travel to Damascus in order to do more of this sort of thing.  On the way there, he claimed that he saw a vision of the risen Christ, a claim from which he refused to back down to the end of his days, and began to preach Christ and Him crucified almost immediately.  When they heard of it, the Apostles and most of the disciples initially and quite understandably didn’t trust him.

The man’s claim compelled him to plant Christian churches all over the eastern Mediterranean and to write letters to many of these churches, encouraging and/or upbraiding their members as the need arose.  And this man’s claim about what he saw on that road to Damascus ended up prematurely costing him his Earthly life.

I’m pretty sure that the guy had a short name.  Don’t hold me to this but I think that it began with a P.  It’s right on the tip of my tongue.

I don’t know about you, Ehrman, but I can’t make myself die for an illusion.

Go here to read the comments.  Ehrman of course, an evangelical who lost his faith and found a new one in materialism, desperately wants the historical record about Christ to support his new found faith.  It does not.  Christ and the rise of Christianity are events that cannot be explained by the dry text of History, no matter how much it is twisted to attempt to support Christ as just a charismatic preacher narratives.  Napoleon, a man who knew something about making history, got to the heart of the matter when it came to Christ:

Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man’s creative powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range. This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

The rest of us pass through History as we have our entrances and our exits in the Human Comedy.  Christ is the Lord of History and can only be understood as such.

13 Responses to Christ and History

  • It has frequently struck me that those engaged in the quest of the historical Jesus lack an elementary sense of chronology.

    In the cathedral at Lyons, one can see a list of the bishops of that see. The third is St Irenaeus. He was born in Izmir in Turkey in 130 and died in 202. In 200, in point of time, he stood to the Crucifixion, as we today stand to Keble’s famous Assize Sermon that marked the beginning of the Oxford Movement. Bl John Henry Newman was present when that sermon was preached and I, who am not yet seventy, spoke in the 1950s to two old people in Birmingham, who remembered Newman.

    There is a close parallel in the case of St Irenaeus. As a boy in Izmir (then known as Smyrna) he had seen and heard the local bishop, St Polycarp (69-155) Now, both Irenaeus and Polycarp himself have left an account of how Polycarp was present, when Polycarp’s bishop, St Ignatius of Antioch “talked with John and with others, who had seen the Lord.”

    Impressive as this is, it cannot have been unique; there must have been any number of people in the first half of the 2nd century who remembered the apostles. Justin Martyr (100-165) would have grown up among such people in Syria and Palestine. Again, many at the end of the century would have remembered those first hearers of the apostolic teaching, witnesses scattered all around the Mediterranean sea. Now, this was the age that received and accounted as canonical the four gospels and no others; yes, there was early doubt in the West about John, just as there was early doubt about Revelation in the East, but it was settled in this period.

    The surviving testimony of the faith of the Nicene Church is abundant and beyond serious question; the evidence from the previous century, which was one of persecution is sparse in comparison, but the testimony of St. Irenaeus, St. Hippolytus, St. Cyprian, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, St. Dionysius of Alexandria, and St. Methodius is all one way, in confirming a tradition from Ignatius to Nicea. Heretics, like Sabellius and Arius are individuals, representing no tradition (and contradicting each other) There is but one continuous tradition and it has no rivals.

    No less important, at this moment, Cardinal Barbarin sits in the chair of Irenaeus In Lyons, the last of an unbroken line of witnesses to the apostolic tradition “by saints proclaimed, by saints believed,” in that ancient and august see.

  • “It has frequently struck me that those engaged in the quest of the historical Jesus lack an elementary sense of chronology.”

    Exactly.

  • Ages ago in Analog I read a mock lecture by a future historian about a newly discovered cache of records of WW2. The story is obviously an apocryphal morality tale; the crimes describes are too horrendous to be believed; the very names show the power of religion (Church-hill), beauty (Rose-field) and industry (Man of steel) over a monster with a meaningless name.

    I only learnt about text criticism and its application to Scripture later and much of it strikes me as about the same level as the spoof in a SciFi pulp.

  • “Post-moderns” recognize that history is malleable and that truth is whatever people will believe.

  • “I only learnt about text criticism and its application to Scripture later and much of it strikes me as about the same level as the spoof in a SciFi pulp.”

    Indeed.

  • The Hypostatic Union, that Jesus is true God and true man is denied by the “historical Jesus”. Heresy is a half truth, the other half of which is used as a cudgel to oppress the Catholic church. If the “historical Jesus” is not God, none of us is saved.

  • “In ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish thinking, a person exalted to the heavenly realm was divinized – himself made divine.”

    Jewish? JEWISH? Enoch was considered divine? Elijah? The Messiah wasn’t even considered divine by the Jews. The idea that a person could be divinized was blasphemy. (Actually, it was blasphemy to the Greeks too. Go around claiming it and you’ll find a bird pecking out your liver for eternity.) (For that matter, the Romans would consider it blasphemy. The emperors typically claimed divine ancestry, as did the Pharaohs and the Emperors of Japan. No one claims to become a god who doesn’t claim to already be partly divine.) (But that’s off the point. A Jew would never, ever claim that his rabbi became divine.)

  • “The idea that a person could be divinized was blasphemy”

    Which is why the Jews sought to stone Jesus when He said before Abraham was, I AM. To the Jews the idea that a Man could be God would have been considered the very essence of blasphemy. To the Greeks the idea that a dead Jewish carpenter was a God would have been an absurdity. To the Romans the idea that a man crucified by a Roman Procurator as a rebel against Rome could be divine would have seemed utter treason. All of these reactions are quite common in anti-Christian tracts during the rise of Christianity in the ancient world.

  • Thomas Collins

    As Mgr Ronald Knox said, “I do not so much mind the Germans applying the same critical methods to St. Mark which they apply to Homer; but I do object to their applying the same uncritical methods to St. Mark which they apply to Homer. And here steps in a very pestilent psychological influence. The lecturer who combats Kirchhoff, or exposes Ferrero, can do so without any imputation of narrow- mindedness. He has, in this instance, clearly no axe to grind. But if he be a Christian, and a fortiori if he be a clergyman, he is afraid of the imputation of narrow- mindedness if he takes up the same attitude towards Harnack or Spitta. When Mr. Cornford writes about Thucydides, Oxford historians cheerfully dispose of him in half a lecture, but when he writes about Christianity, Oxford theologians see cause for much searching of hearts and wagging of heads. But is there any reason for this difference, except that we are all in such craven fear of being thought illiberal?”

  • “The idea that a person could be divinized was blasphemy”
    .
    To be “divinized” according to Zeus or Jupiter, made-up gods as the Caesars were is not the same as to be called into sonship with the true God. The Jews carried the prophecies about the Son of God, the coming Messiah.

  • In ancient… Jewish thinking, a person exalted to the heavenly realm was divinized – himself made divine.
    –Bart Ehrman

    I entirely missed the divinization of Enoch and Elijah in the Hebrew Scriptures. Where did Bart Ehrman find that–is he also a Muslim who claims the Jews and Christians altered the Scriptures?

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