384: A BLUEPRINT FOR A SCHOOL OF THE HISTORICAL JESUS

“More Jesus, Less Christ, No God!”

“A warm welcome to Zingcreed, the only ‘Christian/atheist’ blog to be on the student reading list at New York University. I hope you find this Post interesting.”
Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.

Tony Benn (i)  said in a talk at my old uni (Oxford) in 1978 that he was “a student of the historical Jesus“. The phrase stuck in my head, and I find myself using it to describe myself when I talk with believers, e.g. at a Quaker Quest (ii) meeting. I’m pleased that the phrase is now more widespread. This is because there have been 3 “Quests for the Historical Jesus” over the last 2 centuries. The most recent coincided with the rise of Robert Funk‘s Jesus Seminar in California in the 1990s. So, “Historical Jesus” is a technical term used by critical scholars who apply the same criteria to the scriptures as they would to any historical document. (iii) (iv) Many of my posts have described this Historical Jesus, but he won’t sound much like the Jesus Christ spoken of in churches.

This Post is mining into the rich ore of Dr David Galston’s book  “Embracing the Human Jesus. A Wisdom Path for Contemporary Christianity”. (v)
(Note: ‘human Jesus’ seems to be a euphemism for ‘historical Jesus’ – more cuddly, less skeletal?)

Galston says:
The historical Jesus was an entirely different premise from Jesus Christ
:
(a) He was not God incarnate.
(b) He was not revelation.
(c) He was not a saviour.
(d) Human like us, he was just an exceptional wisdom teacher.
(e) Sometimes he was wrong.
(f) He created a vision for his times.

What makes the historical Jesus attractive is not the holiness but the realism. It is the very humanity we share with Jesus that makes it possible to imagine, without guilt or shame, ways of extending his ancient wisdom teaching into our time and our form of default reality. (Term defined in ‘The 5 gospels of the historical Jesus‘).

If Jesus were alive today, like back then, he would do the same thing everyone else does, depending on where he was born, what he learned, what economic status he held, what religious tradition, if any, he inherited, and what he might judge important or insignificant at a given moment. The aim is to be someone who is in the presence of wisdom in our own way.

Wisdom is about presence in life and about a vision of an alternative way of being in the world. Wisdom expresses itself through riddles like parables that are never entirely solved. Wisdom is instruction about the path of life, not the end of life. It is about coming into being, not about ending or concluding being. Wisdom is about the presence of the eternal in the now.

Jesus’s wisdom is just as valid whether God exists or not. God does not need to exist to  be metaphorically available for parables. The historical Jesus presumably thought that God ( i.e. the God of Israel) existed, but the God Jesus talks of is always ‘like’ something, like a situation in life. A metaphor. (vi)
To the historical Jesus, God’s existence seems not to matter all that much because, in the end, the question is about how one practices life.

The authentic core of the Jesus sayings consists of wisdom material (i.e.parables and aphorisms or sayings) found in
(a) the Q gospel with its 3 strata, Q1, Q2, Q3; (vii)
(b) the Gospel of Thomas
(c) the Gospel of Mark
(d) material unique to Matthew, ‘M’,
(e) material unique to Luke, ‘L’.

In the wisdom material, several of the main building blocks for orthodox Christianity are noticeably absent:
(a) Titles for Jesus; e.g. no ‘Christ’, ‘Son of God’, ‘Son of Man’. The material is about the teaching, not the teacher.
(b) The crucifixion.
(c) Jesus says nothing about his impending death or its meaning.
(d) In the wisdom material, no-one is saved because Jesus died.

To be a follower of the historical Jesus does not require beliefs about him; it requires ears to hear him.

Jesus’s favourite rhetorical forms, found in his parables and aphorisms:
(a) paradox, e.g.’Love your enemies’, ‘Leave the dead to bury the dead’, ‘Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’.
(b) hyperbole, e.g. mote and beam (Lk 6:41), dinner party (Mt22:1-14)
(c) irony, e.g.prodigal son.
(d) admonitions
(e) parodies
(f) global injunctions
(g) proverbs
(h) caricatures
(i) antithetical couplets

So, we end up with a strictly human Jesus who taught enigmatic wisdom that requires thoughtful reflection and personal engagement.

(a) No  mystery.
(b) No miracles.
(c) No authority.
(d) No apocalypse.
(e) No quick fixes.
(f) No instant salvation.
(g) No panacea of spirituality.
(h) No hidden mysteries.

Just a bloke like you or me.

Footnotes:
(i) Red Christian documents #6: ‘Revolutionary Christianity’ Tony Benn
(
ii) A Quaker and God
(
iii) The doubts of Robert Funk of the Jesus Seminar
(iv) Funk’s 21 theses, the coming radical reformation
(
v) The 5 gospels of the historical Jesus
(vi) Compare this with Lloyd Geering, “Shakespeare was no doctrinaire atheist and yet he was almost exclusively concerned with the human condition rather than with God. So were the Jewish sages, and so was Jesus. Indeed, Jesus did not say much about God; rather, he talked about the kingdom of God. When we read the parables of the kingdom, we find they are pointing to, and sometimes describing, human attitudes to life, the nature of human relationships, and the kind of society which we should be striving to build. Jesus never encouraged people to let God take over their lives and make all their decisions for them, as do some evangelicals today.” (Christianity without God, p.126)
And Don Cupitt, “Jesus himself, in the most recent reconstructions of his historical teachings, was an almost purely secular  moral teacher. He uses the phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ to describe in his parables a purely human life-world, but he has almost no teaching about God as such.” (‘The meaning of the West’ [2008] p.8)
(
vii) The hypothetical gospel of Q.

Source:
Galston, David “Embracing the historical Jesus. A wisdom path for contemporary Christianity” Polebridge Press (2012) pp. 103,117-8,144, 172,177,194,199.

Other Related Zingcreed Posts:
Terminology
Nuggets gleaned from Jesusite websites
Jesus’s 5200 authentic words
Naked Jesus – a cock and bull story
Ballad of Boogie Christ
Nazareth, a.k.a.”Nowheresville”
Small dark ugly and illiterate – the real Jesus?
Jesus’s dark side
Jesus was a lower class power-broker
On imitating Jesus

[383,i& l, t&c]

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