Michael C. Legaspi, who teaches ancient Mediterranean studies and Jewish studies at Penn State, recently wrote this interesting paragraph:
Albert Schweitzer once remarked that the quest for the historical Jesus revealed more about the questers than it did about Jesus. They saw in the historical figure whatever they wanted Christianity to be. If they wanted to make it into mere liberal humanism, they saw Jesus as a gentle reformer. If they wanted revolution, they saw Christ as a troublemaker. Paul serves an opposite role. His critics do not look at Paul and see their own reflections. Instead, they look at him and see whatever they dislike about Christianity.
This is in a review of Patrick Gray’s Paul as a Problem in History and Culture, which Legaspi wrote for First Things magazine.
Schweitzer and Legaspi make some broad generalizations about Jesus and Paul scholars. There are exceptions to this subjectivity. But, I think people who have read a lot of New Testament scholarship will see the truth that scholars often see their own affinities or aversions. I think of Dale Allison, who once concluded that Jesus was an ascetic, but later retracted this idea and admitted that his first view had something to do with what was going on in his own life at the time. So some scholars at least have a measure of self-awareness about this.
I believe that the widespread view that Paul was the counter-Jesus could use some scrutiny in this regard.
I had reason the other day to reflect in public on the meme of W.W.J.D. (what would Jesus do?) That works fine if you keep it general. Jesus, of course, would be unselfish. But I don’t think it works so well when you ask specific questions. Should I get married? Should I plan for retirement? If you don’t recognize that Jesus was a special case, W.W.J.D. can lead you astray.
Also we have so many versions of Jesus today: Jesus the spiritual healer. Jesus the wise teacher. Jesus the social justice warrior. Jesus the feminist. Jesus the manly man. Jesus the non-directive storyteller. Jesus the prophet of judgment. Jesus the action hero.
All of these may contain a measure of truth. But some of them seem contradictory and make it difficult to decide how exactly to follow Jesus.
My specific question was about how to follow Jesus in the post-9/11 world. I suggested that the Jeremiah 29:5-7 directive that the displaced Jews carry on normal, productive lives after a national calamity might be the best advice for us and that Jesus and Jeremiah–in context–would be on the same page about this.
Jeremiah is not the Messiah. Jeremiah did not die as an atoning sacrifice. Jeremiah’s life has no resurrection narrative. Jeremiah was not the unique Son of God. But here is the thing: although both Jeremiah and Jesus foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the temple, Jeremiah lived and spoke to the people after that apocalypse. Perhaps such a post-apocalyptic message is relevant now.