Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Jesus The Magician (Post 2: Chapter 1 Summary)
Here the author argues that our knowledge of Jesus stems primarily from the four canonical gospels, other New Testament texts, as well as other early Christian texts (especially writings from among the Church Fathers).* As a foundation for an understanding of Jesus these sources are problematic. Firstly, a vast amount of those who have concerned themselves with these texts have not been historians but rather theologians who have been concerned with making the documents justify their own theological positions. Secondly, the gospels themselves are problematic in that they often contradict themselves. Also, the gospels were not written as history, but were instead composed with the intent to confirm and produce faith in Jesus as “Christ.” Thus, these texts render not a historical Jesus but the Christ of faith.
It is pointed out by Smith that the noted disparity between the idea of a historical Jesus and a Jesus of faith was taken up by liberal scholars who began to search for the “real” Jesus that lay underneath the blanket of a mythological Jesus. Such an endeavor is criticized by the author. Firstly, such studies proved to be virtually useless in that most everything found in the gospels turned out to be mythological. Virtually nothing of a historical Jesus was found. Secondly, the presupposition that there exists a disparity between a Christ of faith as a mythological figure and a Jesus of history that is free from mythological presuppositions is erroneous in itself. It is emphasized that Jesus and his contemporaries were deeply steeped in a mythological world. Thus the thoughts and teachings of Jesus would surely reflect the mythological underpinnings of his age. As a consequence, mythological material in the gospels may indeed reflect historical accounts.
While the author does not dismiss the view of Jesus (Jesus the Son of God) that has emerged from the principle texts (see above), he does draw attention to the fact that they all stem from those who were in some fashion believers in Jesus (however they understood Jesus and the events of his life). It is the author’s position that a well rounded picture of Jesus can only emerge by taking into consideration what the non-believers in Jesus had to say about him as well. However, any account of what these non-believers had to say will be fraught with difficulty and will need to be reconstructed from the fragments of those texts that have survived the Church’s campaign to expunge all traces of “heretical” works beginning in the fourth century with the rule of Emperor Constantine.
*It does not appear that Morton Smith had access to the Nag Hammadi library at the time of the printing of Jesus the Magician.