Rather randomly, I came across Dutch scholar G.A. van den Bergh van Eysinga, and his 1930 work "Does Jesus Live, or Has He Only Lived? A Study of the Doctrine of Historicity." Immediately thought of two or three friends who might be interested.
"The most human Jesus," he writes, "is unanimously that of the Synoptics, especially Matthew and Luke. It's only in a doctrinal sense that Paul appears interested in the humanity of Jesus. But one doesn't get any biographical hints out of the epistles of Paul. Paul presents a myth and divine drama."
Falsification and mythmaking of characters, and the role their struggling literalism versus nonliteralism plays in the manufacture of ideology, are fascinating topics for anyone, but especially for those interested in fighting fundamentalism and promoting a more metaphorical reading of scriptures. I've blogged, and written more seriously, about the need to de-literalize scripture as a political tool to fight extremism. Someone asked me to clarify what I meant by the "instability of text." In awkwardly trying to articulate an answer, I talked about how power and ideology interact with interpretation, yada yada. I should have just advised the reader to read van den Bergh van Eysinga.
The metaphysical Christ of the Gnostics predates the biological Christ of the churches. As Huikstra showed around 1870, Gnostic topics prevail in Mark's gospel, where the human character of Jesus is minimal. And even if, as Hilgenfeld showed first, Matthew's gospel preceeded Mark's, Mark's gospel demonstrates the most original core. Van Manen showed the Gnostic character of the supposable common ancestor of all canonical gospels.
The whole struggle between Catholic and Gnostic Christians was thus about a realistic Jesus of the Catholics versus a metaphysical-idealistic Christ of the Gnostics, not a dispute about "historicity" in the modern sense.
The Gnostic says that the Christ's essence is a perennial, spiritual one, whereas this world is woven of phantasm and error. The Catholic says that this world is divinely created; consequently, the Gnostic Christ is wholly separated from the world, the Catholic Christ is interwoven with it and participates with it in the flesh, and Catholic doctrine identifies the creator with the father of the Christ.
There are dozens of books about Jesus as a "revolutionary" and this makes him attractive to progressives. But the more important question may be the manner in which the orthodoxy crushed the gnostics.
The interesting thing is that I did all this after reading Robert Jensen's call for a new progressive theology in today's Alternet. Thought the new religion Jensen was calling for seemed amazingly like Unitarian Universalism, except that a rejection of fundamentalism is an intrinsic part of UU theology.
Lots of cloudy stuff to thing about, I suppose, before a day devoted to bare-bones logistical planning at work. So thank you, Jesus, whoever the heck you are. Cheers.
And here are links to the RadikalKritik home page and their articles in english.