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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Reza Aslan on the Historical Jesus

Britain in 1914 and Jesus in history | Podcast | History Extra

"The problem with the study of the historical Jesus is that when you remove the New Testament from the picture we know almost nothing about the man.

I would say that scholars would probably agree about three things when it comes to the historical Jesus. Number one that he was a Jew, which seems obvious but I think it's an important thing to bring up and indeed it is the key to separating the Christ of faith from the Jesus of history is the recognition of his Jewishness. Number two that sometime in the first half of the first century he started a Jewish movement for Jews and that number three as a result of that movement he was executed by the state for the crime of sedition. That's pretty much it. That's not a lot and I think it's partly why so many scholars have abandoned the quest for the historical Jesus...

We know so much about the world in which he lived - first century Palestine thanks in no small part to the Romans who were quite adept at documentation, that if we take what little we know about Jesus and place it firmly in his world, in his time and place then the biography sort of rises on its own. And then we can use the Gospels to take the claims of the Gospels and analyze them according to what we know about the history of the time to sort of fill in the picture if you will.

The issue however is that when you do it this way the Jesus that arises from this kind of historical experiment that I just described is not very much like the sort of mainstream depiction of Jesus as a pacifistic preacher of good works with no interest in the cares of this world. The Jesus that arises from this historical experiment ends up being far more radical, more revolutionary than I think a lot of people expect...

Crucifixion under Roman law was a penalty that was reserved almost exclusively for crimes against the state: sedition, insurrection, rebellion, treason. These were the only crimes for which you could be crucified under Roman law. Now people always bring up the thieves that were crucified alongside Jesus. Of course they were not thieves. The Greek word lestai that the Gospels use doesn't mean thieves, it means bandits. And bandit was the most common term in Jesus's time for an insurrectionist, for a rebel...

The triumphal entry into Jerusalem in which he declares himself to be the King of the Jews. The cleansing of the Temple which would have been seen by everyone as a treasonable offense - after all the temple was not just the chief religious institution, it was also a political institution. It was also the seat of the Roman occupation of the Holy Land so any attack on the temple would have been seen as an attack a direct attack on the Roman Occupation...

Just the very statement I am the Messiah is a treasonable offense in first century Palestine. The Messiah means the Anointed One. The principal task of the Messiah as the descendant of King David is to re-establish the Kingdom of David on Earth to usher in the rule of God. Well if you areG claiming to be ushering in the Rule of God you are claiming to be ushering out the Rule of Caesar. And in fact every single individual in Jesus's time who claimed to be the Messiah and I write about a dozen or so of them - every single one of them was killed for it...

Probably the thing that comes as most as a surprise to the general reader is just how many other people in Jesus's time were walking around claiming to be the Messiah, curing the sick, casting out demons, gathering ,followers challenging the priestly authorities and the Roman occupation and then ultimately being killed for it very much like Jesus did...

Two thousand years later we have forgotten about all those other Messiahs, many of whom were far more successful, far more popular, had many more followers than Jesus did in their lifetimes and only one of them is still called Messiah. And I think that there's a couple of reasons for it one of which of course is that Jesus was extraordinary in that his social teachings were unprecedented. This message of Jesus is about the reversal of the social order that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, the poor made rich and the rich made poor...

The reason that Jesus is today still called the Messiah and the rest are not had far more to do with what happened after Jesus's death and the claims made about him by his disciples than it did with anything Jesus himself said or did. You must understand that according to the Jewish definition of Messiah a dead Messiah is no longer the Messiah...

Jesus was a Jew preaching Judaism to other Jews... Jesus's preaching even in his own lifetime were understood in a multiplicity of ways. In the first three hundred years of Christianity there were dozens and dozens of different kinds of Christianities but it's a fact that the Christianity that one can say was most obviously championed by Paul, the sort of self described apostle, the man who didn't, never knew Jesus, never met Jesus, never quotes anything Jesus says or did and yet creates this deeply theological understanding of Jesus's words and actions, that that version of Christianity does ultimately become paramount. And that version of Christianity I think can probably be more easily traced to the letters of Paul than it can be to the words and teachings of the historical Jesus...

If Jesus were alive today he would be utterly confused by Christianity because Jesus was not a Christian, Jesus was a Jew... The concept of a divine man is anathema to everything Judaism has ever said, thought, written or believed about either god or man and I think it would probably confuse Jesus as well...

Jesus's politics was not about equality. Jesus was about the reversal of the social order... Jesus says woe to the rich for they shall receive their consolation. Woe to those who are fed for they shall go hungry. Woe to those who rejoice for they shall mourn. The first shall be last, the last shall be first. This isn't some utopian fantasy. This is quite a frightening reality that Jesus is describing. One in which those on the top and those on the bottom are going to switch places"
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