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Jesus - Historical Person Or Midrashic Element?


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Given the infromation in Spong's book, "Liberating the Gospels," how likely was Jesus a person born into an earthly life? Could it be true that Jesus was also a midrashic element? According to Tim Freke, Jesus was the most famous man that never was. What does John Shelby Spong say about the truth of Jesus as a historical person?

 

EMcB

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EMcB, Welcome

 

Bishop Spong thinks that Jesus was a real man as do most scholars of Biblical history such as Bart Ehrman (discussed here recently). However, all true scholars would also agreed that the stories in the Gospels are a mixture of history and mythology.

 

The debate is about which portions of the the NT are authentic to Jesus and which are subsequent additions and elaborations. On this, I don't think there is a consensus. The Jesus Seminar, of which Bishop Spong is a fellow, has identified what they think are passages authentic to Jesus and have published this, along with commentary, in The Five Gospels.

 

George

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Good Morning...

 

I have been reading discussions of the 'historical Jesus' from both the approach of scholars such as Bart Ehrman and Marcus Borg as well as references to Jesus in Gnostic writings. To date, the best work on the person that was Jesus is Borg's earlier work, 'Conflict, Holiness, and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus'. What has evolved over the centuries is a personality cult in the form of a religion that turned Jesus into an idol for worship and did not focus on his thinking and teachings. How different the world would be if this had not been the case! To me, jesus was not just a teacher, but a political activist that put his understanding of God into a clear world view.

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To me, jesus was not just a teacher, but a political activist that put his understanding of God into a clear world view.

Russ,

 

A political activist or a social activist? I think there may be a difference.

 

George

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A political activist or a social activist? I think there may be a difference.

Jesus' arguments against the ruling Pharisee party was clearly political according to Borg. Jesus not only presented the Kingdom of God as being obtainable here on earth and was for the role of the Temple in Jewish life...but not a Temple controlled by the ruling class and its political parties of the time. For example, the interpretation of Jewish purity law by the Pharisees enforced the marginalization of the poor and non-Jewish peoples. Jesus, on the other hand, agitated for a society that embraced all people as being not only Children of God, but worthy of inclusion in the Kingdom. This position was not only opposed to the interpretation of Jewish law, but challenged the very need for the Temple elite and an end to their political power over society. While Jesus was socially aware, he put that awareness into action and that was political action when aimed directly at the ruling class. The result was his arrest and execution in the same way that other dangerous political figures such as Ghandi, Malcom X, Martin Luther King, etc. were murdered in an attempt to stop challenges to the power base of the ruling class of modern societies.

Edited by Quaker Way
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Russ,

 

Good points. I was thinking in a narrower frame.

 

Certainly he advocated a different paradigm and worldview, but I don't think that he advocated a different ruling system or rulers, civil or religious. I was also thinking of the render-to-Caesar passage in the Gospels (which the fellows of the Jesus Seminar think is authentic to Jesus). This seems to implicitly affirm the civil rule of the Romans.

 

George

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George wrote: Certainly he advocated a different paradigm and worldview, but I don't think that he advocated a different ruling system or rulers, civil or religious. I was also thinking of the render-to-Caesar passage in the Gospels (which the fellows of the Jesus Seminar think is authentic to Jesus). This seems to implicitly affirm the civil rule of the Romans.

 

I think a significant difficulty in transporting anything from that particular time and place into our own experience today is that of the dual heirarchal systems of political and social structure Jesus and other Jews lived under at the time has no parallel in our present lives. The Jewish system of priests and laws were not only religious, but judicial as well. Rome had allowed the Jews, and other conquered groups, some autonomy in governing and legislating themselves, their own people within their own ethnic community, yet under the over sight of and subject to the final authority of the Roman political and legal system. We have nothing like that in our experience today.

 

Jenell

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Jenell,

 

I generally agree about trying to transpose a biblical period worldview into today's terms. However, there were clearly political actors at the time. The Essenes, who were contemporaneous with Jesus, were very much opposed to the Temple establishment. They did not accept the ruling priesthood as legitimate. The Jewish Maccabees seized political control from the Seleucids a couple centuries before Jesus. There were several Jewish revolts not long after Jesus' time, in fact, resulting in the destruction of the Second Temple.

 

I have no sense that Jesus was was this kind of actor or advocated this kind of political activity.

 

George

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George wrote: I have no sense that Jesus was was this kind of actor or advocated this kind of political activity.

 

Oh, I agree with you on that entirely.

 

First, as I see represented in His instructions to render unto Ceaser..etc...quite the opposite. I think He promoted the idea of seeking, as a person and as a community, a peaceful acceptance, submission to, the greater political/military powers over a conquered or otherwise subjected population. Throughout Jewish history, whether Egypt, Babylon, Persia, or Rome, each in turn, As you note, it was the persistence of repeated insurrections from within the Jewish community against Rome that eventually led to the destruction of the temple and the final total explusion of the Jewish people from the homeland and diaspora across Asia, Europe, the Medditeranian region, etc. The Jewish people should have known better, out of their Exodus from oppression in Egypt mythos. Deliverance from a vastly superior power came not of their own violent uprising, but through the workings of God.

 

Second, the internal strifes and conflicts arising within the Jewish community over which group was more powerful and which groups beliefs were 'more right', created and fostered continuing strife within the Jewish community, as well as with powers outside that community. I don't think Jesus advocated that, either, though I see suggestion in some NT text that indicates some that followed or would follow Him thought He was or should have been about that. I can't think of anywhere Jesus indicated a preference for one 'ruling group' within the divided Jewish community over another. Even Paul, when placed in a situation involving conflicting beliefs between the Pharisees and Sadducees evaded that issue. Of course, those internaldivisions and conflicts were really less, or not at all, actually about differing beliefs, but rather struggles over power, influence, advantage, control. So neither do I see Jesus as caught up in those political conflicts, either.

 

An addenda to that, relative to what I said about a 'dual' power structure, is that unlike today, in our own system, the people didn't have the vote to make choices about the ruling Jewish faction, nor do our 'rival' parties of today have authority and power of the populace apart from and autonomous from the Federal governing system.

 

However, I do see Him attempting to influence values and social issues within the community of His time and place. It wasn't about Pharisees vs Sadducees vs Essenes, it was about social justice and personal values and morals. In that sense, yes, He was politically active, I think. Just as any today politically active in social issues aren't really concerned with siding with Republicans vs Democrats, but with how and what this nation's government and society do in regards to issues important to them, so I think Jesus was. It just so happened the faction in power at the time was the Pharisees, so naturally that is who He most often came up at odds with. Just as in my world view today, I've more often than not voted a split ticket, and could care less which political party is in power, just that in recent times, I happen to feel more at odds with Republican postions and agendas. And, as always, the battle for social justice issues is between those in power, that benefit from the status quo, and the powerless, those that are most oppressed under the status quo and would most benefit from such a change. So in this sense, yes, I see Jesus as having been a political activist.

 

Jenell

Edited by JenellYB
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