That's why I was so particularly intrigued by the article "What Did Jesus Do?" published in the May 2010 edition of The New Yorker (and recently shared by a friend on Facebook). It focuses a lot on Mark's gospel, long held the oldest original source material for the New Testament. In Mark's narrative, whoever the author, a very human Jesus emerges. But his story, told in retrospect some 30-odd years after Jesus' death, was told in light of the Pauline teachings that had spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. And let's not forget that the canon itself wasn't formalized until sometime in the fourth century. That is, there was no Bible being shared or read amongst the earliest Christ followers. It is also imperative to remember the times in which those earliest Christians were living. Their world had just fallen apart. The Roman war had decimated the Jewish Temple, causing the first great diaspora. Jesus warnings about the end being near and the Temple being destroyed were fully realized for them.
Adam Gopnik, who penned The New Yorker article, reminds us:
So the long history of the early Church councils that tried to make the tales into a theology is, in a way, a history of coming out of the movie confused, and turning to someone else to ask what just happened. This is the subject of Philip Jenkins’s “Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years” (HarperOne; $26.99). Jenkins explains what was at stake in the seemingly wacky wars over the Arian heresy—the question of whether Jesus the Son shared an essence with God the Father or merely a substance—which consumed the Western world through the second and third centuries...People argued that way because they were part of social institutions—cities, schools, clans, networks—in which words are banners and pennants: who pledged to whom was inseparable from who said what in what words.He argues that it was more about who would run the Church than it was about setting the historical record straight. Gopnik goes on to remind us further:
If one thing seems clear from all the scholarship, though, it’s that Paul’s divine Christ came first, and Jesus the wise rabbi came later.That's a point that seems to be lost on many literalist Christians who take every word of the Bible as, well, gospel. Even the early church's understanding of what Mark wrote about Jesus was colored by the radical teachings of Paul already becoming well-known in the Greco-Roman world. And it was the Roman Empire that eventually codified Christian theology and spread it across the known world.
The point is, what do we really know about Jesus, the actual first century mystic who lived like a homeless person amongst his small band of followers? Funny to me the backlash over a movie producer who wants to portray a very Middle Eastern-looking Jesus in an upcoming film. Why? Because we want a very Anglo Jesus, even a laid back, surfer looking dude like my mom had proudly displayed on our living room wall. Because that's easier for us to digest. Easier to relate to as mere mortals. Let's paint this Messiah in OUR image, so we can take ownership of Him.
I believe that's what the earliest Christians did. I believe that's what the Roman Church did. And we still do it today. Call it human nature, I guess. But the REAL Jesus is somewhere in between the pages of the Gospels. He's hidden in the mystery that is God, behind a shroud of darkness that cannot be unveiled by mere scholarship, intuition or finite understanding. Why can't we just embrace the mystery of his being and choose to all get along? If we cling to His reported message, "Love others as yourself," we can't go wrong.
I encourage you to read the entire article (here) with an open mind.