Thursday, January 9, 2014

Book Review: 'Jesus: The Human Face of God,' by Jay Parini.

The Human Face of God Jay PariniBook Review: 'Jesus,' by Jay Parini.


One of the wonderful qualities of the New Testament's four Gospels is that they force you either to embrace or reject them. You can study the Gospels as "literature" if you like, but their logic subverts any attempt to treat them as you would treat other literary texts. "Hamlet" may reach dizzying heights of sublimity and repay a lifetime of study, but it doesn't ask for radical changes in your thought and behavior and has no power to compel them.

Three centuries of critical New Testament scholarship haven't changed this. The Quest for the Historical Jesus, an attempt to interpret the canonical Gospel texts without reference to supernatural explanations, began with German scholarship in the 18th century, gradually took hold of universities and divinity schools elsewhere in Europe and America during the 19th century, and exploded in popularity during the latter half of the 20th century. Hundreds, probably thousands, of books purporting to explain the identity and intentions of Jesus of Nazareth have been published since the "quest" began in the 1770s; and yet, despite scholars' confident pronouncements about how Jesus went from political revolutionary or peaceable philosopher to Eternal Son of God, the Gospels' claims about him are neither more nor less plausible than they were before [also see]

Skeptical or "critical" New Testament scholarship begins with the assumption that the Gospels' claims about Jesus' miracles and divinity must be false. The denial of the supernatural isn't a conclusion but a prior commitment. Fair enough, but it's not obvious how these accounts came about if they were fictions. Their authors certainly didn't believe they were fictions: Again and again they offer precise details, almost as if to encourage their original readers to verify the stories. In Mark 10, for example, Jesus didn't simply restore sight to a blind man. He restored the sight of " Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, " and it happened in Jericho.

Or take the matter of "Markan priority." If the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) are collections of widely circulated myths about Jesus rather than first- or second-hand accounts, Matthew and Luke must have used the far shorter Mark as the principal source for parallel stories found in all three Synoptic Gospels. But if that's true—and virtually all critical New Testament scholars hold that view—why do Luke and Matthew frequently use identical phrasing that Mark doesn't use?

The point here isn't that the Gospels must be true. It is that the Gospels offer no easy way to explain away their content. They therefore demand one of two choices. Either they relay things that Jesus actually said and did, in which case he really is who the New Testament claims he is, or they are haphazard collections of deliberately fabricated stories about a man who may have said some extraordinary things in first-century Judea but who has no more claim on your attention than Socrates.

C.S. Lewis, among others, made a similar argument about Jesus' self-descriptions: "Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse." And while that argument has often been dismissed on the grounds that it assumes all the Gospels' quotations of Jesus to be authentic, its logic applies with equal or greater force to the four Gospel texts themselves. Either they are true or they are collections of precious fables. There is no third option. They cannot be somehow factually false but metaphorically true—the human mind rightly rejects that kind of reasoning as highfalutin cant.

This point is powerfully made by Jay Parini's "Jesus," although Mr. Parini didn't intend to make that point at all.

Instead of "demythologizing" Jesus, to use the German scholar Rudolf Bultmann's term, Mr. Parini sets out to "remythologize" him by reviving the sense of sacredness and "mythos" stripped from the Gospel narratives by prior scholarship. "The work of reading here . . . ," explains Mr. Parini—a well-regarded critic and biographer—"is one of . . . finding its symbolic contours while not discounting the genuine heft of the literal tale." Perhaps sensing a lack of clarity, he continues the explanation in an endnote: "I'm not so much contradicting Bultmann's idea of demythologization as putting the emphasis more firmly on the balance between literal and figurative readings, while stressing the fictive aspect: the shaping spirit of the gospel narratives." ... read full post HERE
Don't miss my book that defends the truth about Jesus from the Gospels - Killing Christ: Contesting Trendy Critics Regarding the Death & Resurrection of Jesus HERE

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