The quest for the historical Jesus goes on.
A recent contribution to this search, published in 2008, comes from former BBC journalist, of Quaker background, David Boulton. He continues the tradition going back to David Strauss and brought to public attention by Albert Schweitzer. They sought to discover the historical person behind the layer upon layer of devotional ardour which has in later centuries turned the itinerant Jewish sage of Galilee of the early first century into the divine King of Kings, Redemptive Saviour and supernatural monitor of everything we do or say.
With this one person having so much influence on the course of human history it is not surprising that there should be intense interest in finding out, “What was Jesus really like?”
It is a difficult and potentially frustrating task. Despite all that has been written about Jesus of Nazareth there is remarkably little of substance that can be regarded as truly historical. Indeed there are some who would argue that this man never existed at all.
My own inclination is to think that if Jesus never existed it is remarkable that so many apparent recollections of him were passed on and maintained for so long and so widely. There were nothing like the communication and recording media that we have today. The general consensus of scholars does seem to be that he did exist.
David Boulton however, makes the point, as did Albert Schweitzer, that the Jesus which does emerge from the scholarly studies has a strong tendency to match the personality or the ideals of the particularly scholar doing the research.
An important segment of Who on Earth Was Jesus? describes the various portraits of Jesus that the various investigators have come up with. There is even one from the current Pope.
The Jesus Seminar, working as a group, gets a substantial mention in the book as having sought to get away from individual interpretations. They take a consensus approach, to establishing the nature of the real Jesus, by consolidating the views of gatherings of academics ranging in number from 80 and more.
Although Boulton has his own views he does not allow them to unduly influence his attempts to give an objective picture of what historians have been able to establish about the life of the Galilean or the conclusions that others have come to.
The reading of analytical works such as Who on Earth Was Jesus? is essential for those who would claim in their preaching and their leadership of Bible studies, to be literate in the scriptures and to be presenting a credible message.
For example, when preachers give the Gospel of John authority in their arguments for the Christian view of the world, how many of them, let alone the people listening in the pews, are aware that the book of John was written 70 or more years after Jesus died? And, that objective biblical scholars are virtually unanimous in declaring that it is highly unlikely that any of the words (all the …”I am…sayings for example) attributed to Jesus in that book were really spoken by Him.
As would be expected from a professional journalist Boulton maintains a readable style in dealing with complex issues. I would certainly recommend this book to all those who seek to present Jesus as a man with a message for the 21st century.
Reference to volumes such as Who on Earth Was Jesus? can greatly assist in ensuring that we know what we are talking about.
Published by O Books and available in Australia from Brumby Books at a RRP of $45. Some copies may be available from this reviewer, E-mail email@example.com
Reviewed by Rodney Eivers, member of the Uniting Church Lay Forum