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How did my image of Jesus develop?

  1. It is important to me to rediscover the person Jesus
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who lived 2,000 years ago. To do this I need as many varied sources as possible. That’s why I evaluated Josephus and searched the Old Testament for reports that have equivalents in the gospels, for example, stories of the Prophet Elijah’s miracles.

 

  1. In my opinion, Jesus’s genius does not consist of the fact that he invented everything himself. So I search for parallels to Jesus’ message in the heathen world around him and for evidence of how that environment influenced his thinking.

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(Continued) 3. Theologians always seek the ideal Jesus. They take great pains to ensure

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that the image of Jesus in every age can serve as an ideal. Therefore it must be correct from the point of view of both politics and church dogma. When anti-Semitism was widespread in the 19th century, critical statements about Judaism were often attributed to Jesus. That would be unthinkable today; today political correctness and Jesus’s function as an ideal demand that the church present Jesus as a pious Jew.

 

  1. Theologians dispute that the gospels owe any literary influence to heathen classical literature in order to ensure the historicity of the tales (this is how the new theological concept of the “remembered Jesus” arose).

 

5. The theologians’ image of Jesus is not plausible without relating it to God.

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Why is my image of Jesus different from that of theologians?

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I inquire about the person Jesus who lived 2,000 years ago. Theologians ask how the church can preach Jesus’ message today, and claim that what they preach today is identical with the message of the historical Jesus. I would like to present the difference in four points:

 

How did the theological image of Jesus develop?

  1. Theologians interpret the Biblical legends about Jesus as historical reports that they need to adapt carefully to modern understanding. They aim to overcome the “broad and ugly ditch” (Lessing) that separates our time from the time of Jesus.

 

2. In the 19th century, Jesus was no longer perceived as God but as a religious genius, and this entailed the fact that he did not take the core statements of his message from others; instead he invented them himself. Therefore even today, theologians refuse to admit that the heathen classical world had any spiritual influence on Jesus. The “copyright” for the Christian message must be held by Jesus himself.

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(Continued) In general, however, theological works are ideologically suspect;

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in other words, they cannot be objective in the sense of historical studies, because they present – and want to present – Jesus’ life as the church sees and preaches it (hermeneutic circle!).

 

So I had to start my investigations from scratch. That relates to the sources in particular, but also to the history of events, impact, literary history and the immediate environment that relates to the history of events.

 

I have already published a range of findings in earlier works. Of course I have benefited from the current state of theological Jesus and Bible research and have used it gratefully, but critically. In addition, I have also drawn in particular on recent work on classical philology and the history of the early imperial era.

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My problem: I had to start from scratch, because theological Jesus research

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is ideologically suspect due to its close links with the church. Beyond the theological genius cult around the religion’s founder, Jesus, and beyond the outdated thesis that people make history, the questions to be answered are the usual historical issues: sources, environment, story of events, impact, literary history of source texts.

 

The next point is usually the question of the actual status of research. The topics of Jesus and early Christianity are usually only examined academically from the theological point of view, however; non-theological work invariably depends on the theologians’ preparation of the sources.

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My special approach

I have the advantage of being independent of the church. Theologians

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interpret the Bible in the light of Christian dogma and the needs of the contemporary church. No one can deny their right to do so. Historical Bible research, however, must have different priorities and different standards.

 

Historically, the very diversity that has been overpainted by dogma in favour of Christian unity is interesting. Historically, the heretical statements in and outside the Bible are interesting. Investigating and appreciating them is not likely to advance a theologian’s career, unfortunately. Who could blame them for not touching these subjects?

 

This is my advantage: I am financially and emotionally independent of the church, so I can examine and describe many things impartially.

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Early Christianity is a necessary phenomenon

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of the 1st century AD. The emergence of imperial power in Rome and the new social rules it entailed demanded a religion that could give a religious blessing to the new social norms. The coexistence of many peoples and cultures in the Roman Empire encouraged religions that all cultures found acceptable.

 

If early Christianity hadn’t existed, another religion would have taken its place. The emperor’s cult was an attempt along these lines in Asia Minor. Because early Christianity was a necessary phenomenon of the early Roman Empire, it can, and must, be investigated as a historical phenomenon, beyond theological assumptions.