The Jesus of History is a Christ of Faith

NT Biblical scholarship through the 20th century (and into today) was dominated by the notion of the Jesus of History versus the Christ of Faith.

The Jesus of History is the Jesus of the Historical Jesus Quests (right now we are on the 3rd Historical Jesus Quest). The Christ of Faith is the Christ of Christian belief, either historically (e.g. Cosmic Ruler-King Christ of the Later Roman Empire) or through the Church currently.

Some traditions argued that the Jesus of History could never be discovered and therefore the Christ of Faith is the only forward for Christianity. Rudolf Bultmann and the Existentialist theological school is of this ilk.

The Jesus of History however has often assumed that the historical Jesus is a superior Jesus to the Christ of Faith. The “real” Jesus in other words. (Assuming scholarship can actually reconstruct and decide which historical Jesus is the “right” one).

This dichotomy I believe is a false one. I argue, in contradistinction, that the Jesus of History is actually a form of the Christ of Faith. It is a devotional exercise. Of course there are biographies galore of say Churchill, and one could argue I suppose he has been canonized a public political saint. But with Jesus it is different. The energy behind the quest for his person is still a matter of religion and people’s beliefs.

The reason the Jesus of History is a version of the Christ of Faith is that it arises from a worldspace.

Paula Fredriksen, for example, has correctly taken to task many of the most prominent members of the 3rd Wave of the Historical Jesus for anti-Judaism: Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, and N.T. Wright. All Gentile Christian men. (Though Wright’s Jesus is “conservative” and Borg and Crossan’s “liberal”).

Fredriksen has rightly noted that Crossan and Borg’s Jesus (anti-hierarchical, egalitarian) is more a reflection of our own political and church fights than the history of Jesus. It is a Jesus in their own making, as Schweitzer correctly pointed over hundred years ago about the First Quest, that Jesus being a European bourgeoisie rationalist. [For integral-ites, that is a Jesus through the lens of pluralistic consciousness].

These three men also paint Jesus in contrast to Second Temple Judaism. Jesus was egalitarian–the Temple structure was hierarchical. Jesus was for an “anti-nationalist” campaign (a la Wright), the Temple authorities for Jewish only-nationalism (which seems more to do with the current policies of Israeli occupation of the West Bank than Jesus’ day).

But Fredriksen does not turn the light on herself and her own work. Her Jesus is an apocalyptic one (in the line of Schweitzer and Weiss) who predicted the actual downfall of the Temple—symbolized by “cleansing” it–and was wrong. Her Jesus practiced Jewish law (which I believe is a correct hypothesis) and was heir to an apocalyptic Jewish theology.

Now this Jesus may be right, but it is tough to know. It is interesting to note, as a Jewish woman, her Jesus does not in any way threaten Judaism. And her understanding of apocalyptic movements–and why she believes Jesus was executed–is based on her study of modern day apocalyptic movements: e.g. Millerites and Rapture-ists. Though she consciously professes a very positive view of Jesus, it is interesting to point out that he is thereby mostly neutered into a perhaps lovable, kind, but ultimately incorrect figure I would say. She assumes Jesus is apocalyptic, then studies modern apocalyptic movements and then reads that back into Jesus and the early movement. Again, could be right but could just be mirror-gazing.

To use, as a counter-example, another modern religious phenomena (with ancient roots), consider world religious figures….e.g. Buddha, Eastern Gurus. The common complaint and trope of all such teachers is that their students never understand what they are teaching. What if this would apply to Jesus? It would mean assuming what Jesus taught and was like based on what his later disciples taught and did may be invalid–esp. Fredriksen’s apocalyptic Jesus.

In other words, working with a quadratic hypothesis, the Jesus of these reconstructions is in fact a con-struction of all quadrants.

Historical Jesus scholar (and “moderate”) John Meier described the difference between the Jesus of History and the Historical Jesus. The former being the “actual” man Jesus and the latter the reconstructed (our version of Jesus) image. Meier was smart enough to note that our reconstructions are that reconstructions, not the actual man.

This is philosophically a Kantian move. There is the “real” Jesus (the noumena) and the historical Jesus (the phenomena). Our minds can never know the noumena, only our constructed phenomena. The problem with this theory of course is that as Kant rightly noted, knowledge must be grounded in experience. We don’t experience not knowing the noumena. Hence the distinction fails and should be thrown out.

This was the move of the Idealists. There is only One Self traveling through the forms (in part constructed as Kant knew) of the world. Phenomena whose ground and essence is the Divine.

This One Self is the Christ, for the Christian.

Hence then the debate is shifted to all Christs of Faith (including Historical Jesus-es). Otherwise the Historical Jesus Quest is rife with an unexamined, objectivist, historical materialist metaphysics (philosophical outlook). Namely that historical is the real and therefore should be the basis of faith.

But again, our historical Jesus-es all too often look like our own projections. Not that there is not some better historical Jesus-es than others. But the Third Quest is failing from the same basic flaw as the First. Without any writings of Jesus, against what do you ground these theories?

Second Temple Judaism (as we understand it?)—but that is a multi and variegated series of beliefs. Which one does he fit?

The Gospels? The Gospels are specifically non-historical documents. They are theological tracts formed through the use of metaphor and mythos. To read them for historical “facts” is a highly dubious proposition to say the least.

Current religious studies “patterns”: (Borg’s work is strongly found here)–“prophets” “healers”.

I think all are interesting but not when we assume they actually get us to the “Historical Jesus.” j

By moving to see all as Christs of Faith, then the next question is: Are there better Christs of Faith (and worse ones)? And if yes, how do we know?

What this would require is a “religious criticism” (much like Northrop Frye’s writings on literary criticism). It could not be handled by a historical enterprise. History, as Frye said, is always loaded with myth, with a story that shapes the history. With interpretation in other words. Frye’s example: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon.

The work involves history no doubt, but is read in light of the Decline and Fall. Hence the pessimistic outlook. But Peter Brown, for example, read the History of Rome as continuing through Constantinople and the Byzantines and then into the Arab Baghdad-based Empires of the 800s. Same “facts” (though not entirely), but massively different story.

The question then is which are the better “myths”? And here I will argue that the methods of development psychology, evolutionary philosophy, and the articulation of worldviews is the way to determine (in part) the better Christs of Faith. What I think should be called “religious criticism” (though I’m using not exactly the same as Frye and Harold Bloom, but with many continuities).

There is a Christ of Faith for every worldspace and variation within that worldspace. And it is not simply a case of determining the position and secondarily constructing the Jesus to fit the worldspace (that would be the ideological critique). But rather the Jesus view shapes the worldview as well as the worldview constructing the Jesus (or Christ symbol). Descent and Ascent simultaneous.

An Imperial Roman Christ. A feminized, quiet 19th c. American Christ. A 60s Marxist, a 70s heroine-chic rockstar, a Medieval Cosmic Lord, a Jewish Rabbi, an Evangelical Preacher only concerned with saving souls for heaven, An Enlightened Sage, on and on. All Christs.

The name of Jesus is God Saves. Or God’s Salvation. Already a hint that the Gospels are texts of myth (in the positive sense). The name of Jesus post-resurrection is Christ and the use of Jesus after the resurrection is therefore a synonym for Christ. [Hence the failure of the Jesus of History, Christ of Faith distinction].

The Jesus of History is a version of the religious quest of the Christ of the Faith. It will require religious criticism (not religious pre-determined dogmatic views), but criticism, study from within. Its own parameters, methodology, and canons. It will not be accepted by both Historical Jesus scholars and Christ of Faith theologians.

But I believe it is essential. I will be experimenting with the beginnings of this discipline throughout this blog.

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Published in: on December 9, 2007 at 5:49 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] possesses no “religious criticism”, which is why I think he is forced to return to his self-described critical realist (more realist […]

  2. […] on earth to replace it–a view I’m not totally sold on.¬† [I’m pretty agnostic on the entire Historical Jesus Quest to begin with it should be noted]. So for whatever it’s worth, even within Historical Jesus […]


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