Having just started reflecting on many of the more famous works produced by fellows of the Jesus Seminar, books by Funk, Hoover, Mack, Scott, Sheehan and Crossan, I would like to ask and reflect on a simple question: Is it time for a new perspective on the Historical Jesus?
I don’t wish to deny the truth of their findings. On the contrary, I find their theories about Jesus’ personality agreeable and true. Jesus’ core authentic sayings and parables do form a distinctive discourse that cuts against the social and religious grain of his times. He surprises. He shocks. He calls for a reversal of roles that frustrate ordinary, everyday expectations. He exaggerates using humour and paradox. He is a wise master of metaphorical poetry that points without explicit application to a coming social revolution based on a great leveling of every one into a radical society of altruism coupled with belief in a loving father God. In his song, we can detect a song not unlike William Blake’s songs of innocence.
But what most historical Jesus scholars may be missing is that, like William Blake, I believe Jesus also had a song of experience. A key event in Jesus’ life that points to this song of experience is the arrest and murder of his mentor and friend John the baptizer. Fellows of the Jesus Seminar all seem to agree that when Jesus quotes or reflects on scripture none of the motifs or sayings originated with Jesus. All these motifs and sayings originated only with the first Christians trying to make sense of his horrible death. I wonder. What if reflection on motifs like Isaiah’s suffering servant actually originate with the historical Jesus instead? Surely the historical Jesus identified with the prophets and was aware of the threats against him that would probably lead to his arrest and murder just like John the baptizer? When told that Herod Antipas wants to kill him, Jesus declares that he will continue his objectionable activities (Luke 13:31-33). In this passage, Jesus calls Herod Antipas “a fox“, which is the modern day equivalent of calling him “a skunk.” Is the saying a creation of Luke? Or is it a true memory of something the historical Jesus said? If it is a true memory, than it reflects Jesus’ other song, a song of experience.
Let me give you another example. In John 12:7 (compare Mark 14:7 and Matthew 26:11) Jesus says to the woman who anoints him, “The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” The opinion of the Jesus Seminar led by Funk and Hoover points to this saying perhaps being an evangelistic, later day creation based on Deuteronomy 15:11: “The needy will never disappear from the country.” In any case, Funk and Hoover claim the saying seems to clash with the sage Jesus who said, “Congratulations, you poor.” Anyway, my point is, one of these sayings about the poor reflects a song of experience, the other saying about the poor reflects a song of innocence. And like the poet William Blake who could think both ways without being percieved as schizophrenic or mentally disturbed in some way, I believe the same reflective innocence and experience can be attributed to the historical Jesus too!
And so, please let me begin the quest for a new perspective on the historical Jesus here. With a saying about a “fox” and two sayings about “the poor” A historical Jesus acquainted with sorrow. A man not only capable of a song of innocence, but a song of experience too!
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