Sunday, 30 June 2013

Jesus In a Box

"History is overflowing with different portraits depicting the way that Jesus is the answer - Jesus the Marxist, Jesus the capitalist, Jesus the meek, Jesus the mercenary, Jesus the social reformer and Jesus the social conserver, to name but a few. This enigmatic figure who died naked on a cross over two thousand years ago has been clothed in various colourful ideological garments over the millennia.

"With so many conflicting ideas, where is one to start? Did Jesus come to abolish religion or set up a new one? Did he seek to show us a way of escaping the world or a way of embracing it? Did he die to save us from our evil or did he die because our evil could not bear his presence? Did he even exist, and what is known about him beyond the doctrinal claims of the Church?"

(Peter Rollins, The Idolatry of God)

You buy your Jesus in a box. It's a package deal, and the various brands slug it out. Most of us inherited a model from our parents, some of us traded it in as we got older for something that seemed more satisfying. A few of us, following the rule "once bitten twice shy", have put Jesus back in the box and moved it to a corner of the garage or attic, out of sight out of mind.

I grew up with the long-haired calendar Jesus, a devotional Christ often pictured with small children clustered around. Later I moved to the macho-preacher Jesus, a kind of newscaster foretelling a bleak future preceding his future millennial reign. This guy definitely had short hair and a no-nonsense approach.

But the evidence is both slim and capable of multiple readings. Even with a minimal understanding of how the gospels were formed it's pretty clear that, whatever historical bedrock there might be, the details are the product of creative storytelling.

Which makes the Jesus of Progressive Christianity just as subject to critique as any other. There's a feeling that this Jesus is the Jesus we now need, and therefore simply must be the real Jesus. I sympathize, I really do. But the trouble is I've encountered explanations of "the real Jesus" before - as I'm sure you have too - and they were no such thing.

Jesus - or Yeshua - was a man of his time, living within a culture very different from any found in our own age. To imagine we can repackage him in a sanitized, organically certified version for liberal Western consumption is simply arrogant.

Even worse is to emasculate him into warm and fuzzy green ether, as Bruce Sanguin does.

"[I]f we imagine Jesus to be an emergent form of Earth - an occasion of miraculous cosmic and planetary creativity - we ground the Jesus story within the universe as we know it to be. Salt waters coursed through his blood, ancient bacteria were alive in his gut, and the neurons that fired in his grey matter were gifts of an ancient exploding supernova. He was, in short, a child of Earth and Cosmos. Before the various and necessary doctrines and dogmas developed to address the mystery of Jesus, he represented, inside and out, soul and body, an occasion of cosmic coalescence and creativity. The evolutionary pressure coursing through the whole universe also gave birth to Jesus. In short, I believe that it's important to present him as a child of Earth and Cosmos and not only a child of Heaven."(Bruce Sanguin, "When Christ is Cosmic," in Why Weren't We Told, edited by Hunt & Smith.)

Very poetic, in a vacuous sort of way. Salt waters, though, course through my neighbour's dog also, and I've no doubt that there's a full complement of ancient bacteria in its gut (you can sometimes see the evidence on the lawn). Does Rover also represent an occasion of cosmic coalescence?

When you strip the mythology away from the Jesus of the gospels, do you really end up with anything usefully biographical? My best guess, and it's somewhere along the continuum from possibility to probability, is that the historical figure was an apocalyptic prophet and an exorcist. Not a very helpful  portrait for a progressive reinterpretation of Christianity. Of course you could, like Sanguin, "imagine" him otherwise. But what would be the point?

No wonder this version of Jesus in a Box isn't selling well.


  1. You know, this is the image that works best for me, especially considering that he was a carpenter (or maybe stone mason, which would leave him even more ripped).

    Of course, it would be better if he had been to the barber before he had the picture taken.

  2. Of course, we could imagine all sorts of things - the gospel writers did. They took the symbolic "suffering servant" of Isaiah and made a real man out of 'im. And, since the suffering servant was nameless and "the son of man" in Daniel was also nameless, a name for him had to be in "scripture" - after all, he is the high priest of the faith. So, Zechariah 3 supplies the name: Jahoshua = Iesous = "Jesus" when all the translating is done and we finally see it in a Latinized 'English' version.

    How could a death, resurrection and ascension into to heaven be imagined by people who know that Jesus never really walked the earth, you ask? Heh heh, the answer is; how else could a son of man be brought before the ancient of days and given a kingdom that would rule the world without having him die and ascending (Dan. 7:13) "in the clouds" yet. So, of course Jesus ascended in a cloud (Acts 1:9) - the scripture in Daniel said so.

  3. I know your point of discussion goes way beyond what Christ looked like. But it does challenge biases to think about this. Archaeologists have researched the physical anthropology of the Jews of Palestine at the time of Christ. The average Jew was 5'1" tall and weighed 110 pounds. No doubt Jesus was olive-skinned and had dark hair and dark eyes and an aquiline nose - typical Haplogroup J. In short, he could have never gotten into a Ambassador College based on is appearance alone. Too small, too dark, too gracile, too much like a Gentile in appearance, might be mistaken for a Hispanic.

    -- Neo


    1. "No doubt Jesus was..."

      No doubt?

      I have doubt.

      Most of the world doubts.

  4. Thanks Neo -- we were always pretty sure that the WCG would never allow Jesus to even attend services if he came in his original form.

    Not that he was allowed into the WCG in their doctrine....

  5. you guys are so funny...