11 January 2010

Reinventing Jesus (Pt. 4)

If we take away all the miraculous events surrounding the story of Jesus to reveal a human, we would certainly find no one who could have garnered huge crowds around him because of his preaching. And the fact is that this crowd-drawing preacher finds his place in "history" only in the New Testament, completely overlooked by the dozens of historians of his day, an era considered one of the best documented in history.
- Acharya S,
The Christ Conspiracy, 100
Continuing on in section four of the book Reinventing Jesus that we have been discussing, they look at the evidence for Jesus in history, from sources outside of the New Testament writings.

Comments like those of Archarya S that imply that Jesus never existed because he is not mentioned outside the New Testament are remarkable for their bluster. This would be an interesting topic to pursue fully, but our goals are more focused. (pg 195-196)

It is a remarkable thing that we have any statements about Jesus by non-Christian writers. After all, he was a Jewish carpenter who spent most of his time on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, occasionally journeying to Jerusalem with his disciples. What's more, writers in the Roman Empire were typically upper-class men who looked down on Eastern religions and gazed back on Rome's celebrated past. So why would they ever pay attention to a Nazarene who founded a religion embraced by the lowest rungs of society? Simply put, be couldn't be ignored. (pg. 196)
The book looks at a couple quotes from history to show that Christ was a historically known figure, and not just some person that was later defined as deity by the Council in Nicea. In 170 (way before Nicea), secular writer Lucia belittled the Christians for honoring Jesus "whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world." His comments show that Jesus was considered a historically known figure, but also confirms that he was worshiped as deity was before the supposed deification of Nicea.

Another writer, Celsus, who wrote around 177, also reveals much about the devotion of Christians toward Jesus as being truly God:

Now, if Christians worshiped only one God they might have reason on their side. But as a matter of fact they worship a man who appeared only recently. They do not consider what they are doing a breach of monotheism; rather, they think it perfectly consistent to worship the great God and to worship his servant as God. And their worship of this Jesus is the more outrageous because they refuse to listen to any talk about God, the father of all, unless it includes some reference to Jesus: Tell them that Jesus, the author of the Christian insurrection, was not his son, and they will not listen to you. And when they call him Son of God, they are not really paying homage to God, rather, they are attempting to exalt Jesus to the heights.
There is more along this line that is covered, to show Jesus was not declared divine at Nicea as many try to claim, but that he was already for the centuries before that, worshiped as God in the flesh.
By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, and entity whose power was unchallengeable.
Dan Brown,
The Da Vinci Code, 233
I enjoyed this section because it got into a little of the issues at Nicea, the reasons they were brought up, the controversy of the time, and some of the inner discussions/battles even after the council's decision. The issue of the deity of Jesus was not so much an issue, it was already assumed. "Current popularity of the claim that Jesus' divinity was invented at Nicea is a sign of our historically illiterate times" (p. 207). The issue of Nicea was mostly about defining "how" Jesus could be both God and man in one person. It sprung from a debated position brought up by the bishop Arius, who "believed that Jesus was divine inasmuch as he was like the Father. Jesus was like the Father in that he existed before creation, played a role in the origin of creation, and was exalted over all creation. Yet the Son himself was a creature...So while Jesus was like the Father in his divinity, their divine natures were not identical" (p. 208). The issue was not whether Jesus was truly divine, but exactly how Jesus was divine in relation to God the Father. The debate continued over how to properly word it, and that is what came out of this council.

The history of the issues around Nicea are truly a needed study for modern Christians, especially in light of today's attacks from such fiction writers like Dan Brown and the others who just throw stuff out there knowing people are lazy, and will believe without doing any additional research. Don't be a Christian who just believes what he hears without being a good student of history in these matters.

Continue to PART FIVE