The Uniqueness of Jesus I maintain that the Jesus depicted in the Synoptic gospels is a sharply etched personality, and is unlikely to be some imagined amalgam of existing deities or myths, tho there are certainly mythic elements in the accounts. One reason I am a (sometimes) fan of the Jesus Seminar is that the JS also sees Jesus this way, and tries to separate the wheat from the chaff in examining the gospels. I do not always agree with their findings, but then probably no individual member agrees with every consensus decision either. But the JS, for all its fanfare, is doing necessary work. Some of the criteria used to find the truth, not only by the JS but by many scholars, are the criteria of embarrassment and discontinuity (there are other criteria as well, such as multiple attestation, which seem to me weaker). "Embarrassment" means that the incident or saying in question is at variance from what might be expected from a pious writer trying to push a faith agenda. "Discontinuity" means that an incident stands out from the surrounding narrative, and seems to have nothing leading up to it nor following from it. It seems to be gratuitous, and no apparent reason can be assigned to its inclusion in the narrative. The "Sermon on the Mount" (on the plateau in Luke) is full of sayings which present an ethic so radical that they seem impossible to put into practice, and indeed have not been by the vast majority (99%?)of Christians over the centuries. I am not saying that there are no precedents for some of these ideas. Foreshadowings of them can indeed be found in both Jewish and Cynic antecedents. But nothing as concentrated and thoroughgoing as the ethic preached by Jesus. Here, for example, is a comment by Michael Grant in JESUS: A HISTORIAN LOOKS AT THE GOSPELS— "Certainly the idea of forgiving one's fellow men their wrongdoings and not repaying evil with evil had become widespread in Jewish thought during the centuries immediately preceding the Christian era. Yet the Jews, with their concern that the law should be practicable, found that the prospect of actually loving one's enemy and turning the other cheek was out of the question, since such a hypothetical practice was contrary to human nature and could not therefore be fulfilled." Of course, Jesus may have meant this as an "interim ethic" because he thot the end of the age was imminent. (Which doesn't necessarily invalidate it, because for each of us, the end is never really that far away) The fundamental burden of Jesus' teaching is "the Kingdom of God is at hand," a pronouncement he had taken over from John the Baptist—a transaction which itself is a criterion of embarrassment; that is, that Jesus' basic idea was a borrowed one. But what does it mean to say that the Kingdom is "at hand," or "closing in" (Greek eggiken.) It seems apparent that Jesus thought that the Kingdom, or the appearance of the "Son of Man", was imminent. For example, in Matt 10:23, as Jesus sends the disciples out on a mission to Israel, he tells them "When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes." This is put into the form of a solemn pronouncement by Jesus ("truly I tell you").. This satisfies the criteria of both embarrassment and discontinuity, for it appears to be an unfulfilled prediction, and at the same time, there is no attempt to depict a fulfillment. In fact, ALL the mission episodes (Mark 6:6-13; Matt 10:1-15; Luke 9:1-6 & 10:1-20) fit the criterion of discontinuity, since nothing leads up to them or comes of them. It is upon these passages that Crossan bases much of his argument in THE BIRTH OF CHRISTIANITY: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus. In Chapter 24, Matthew has Jesus present a powerful apocalyptic, depicting the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven as an unmistakable, earth-shattering event. Then he adds "TRULY I TELL YOU, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place."(Matt appears to have taken this from Mark; it is also found in Luke) But then Matt, as if conscious of the difficulty, has Jesus add "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." In doing this, Matt presents a Jesus who is hardly omniscient; that is, he presents a human Jesus. And later Matt adds, as if to reinforce the idea: "Truly I tell you there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" (Matt 16:28). In considering these passages, Albert Schweitzer came to the conclusion, as it seems one must, that Jesus was simply mistaken about the imminence of the Kingdom and its sensational manifestation. Nevertheless, Schweitzer devoted his life to Jesus in the jungles of Africa. His faith did not rest upon the shaky foundations of an inerrant bible. A Sharply Etched Jesus Thesis: It does not seem likely that the figure of Jesus as presented in the Synoptics could be merely an amalgam of myths or of previous demi-god figures. We have seen that Jesus made daring but unfulfilled predictions. Perhaps this may be one of the reasons his family, as depicted in Mark, thought he was crazy and wanted to put him away before he could cause them further embarrassment. And in John 7 we read that Jesus' brothers did not believe in him. That is, John would have us believe that they lived with God for thirty years and never noticed. And didn't Mary say anything about the angel, etc? Bur Jesus does say the damnedest things. For example, when one guy asks to follow him but says he has to bury his father first, Jesus replies, "Let the dead bury the dead." Talk about family values! It is difficult for us to imagine how this would shock Jewish ears, since the Jews were strict observers of family proprieties. Then a rich guy wants to follow him, and Jesus says, "First, sell all you have and give it to the poor." But the guy goes away sad, because .he is sad. So here again we have a radical ethic—perhaps an interim ethic—and also a failed conversion. As for failures, Mark records a couple. For example, in Nazareth, "he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief" (Mark 6:5). The implication is that he is a faith healer, who requires a response in the subject. And in Mark 8: 22ff, Jesus doesn't get it right the first time, and has to do it over. In general, Mark seems to believe that Jesus' mission starts with his baptism by John. Indeed, he seems to thing that he became the Messiah, or Son of God, at this time. This is reinforced by the scene in the synagogue in Ch 6, where the people are amazed at the local boy who made good: "'Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Simon, and not his sisters here with us?' And they took offense at him." This is the origin of Jesus' saying that a prophet is w/o honor only in his own home town. The people seem to resent the kid next door coming back and lording it over them, posing as a prophet. Such a story has the ring of truth. Then there's the incident of Jesus lying to his brothers (or changing his mind?) in John 7 when he tells them he's not going to the festival of Booths in Jerusalem, and then goes anyway. John tells us, "But after his brothers had gone to the festival, then he also went, but not publicly, but as it were in secret. But how secret can it be when Jesus creates a commotion on the last day of the festival? "On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, 'Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believers heart shall flow rivers of living water.' [and then John strangely adds] He said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive, for as yet there was no Spirit because Jesus was not glorified." Bring in the Gentile Clowns After Paul had done his work, and before the gospels were written, the church seems to have become largely gentile. Yet we read in the synoptic gospels of Jesus' hostility to Gentiles. For example, he calls them dogs in his confrontation with the Syro-Phoenician woman. Not only tactless on his part, but this reveals him as partaking of the usual Jewish prejudice. (Mark 7, etc.) Again, in Matt 6 he says "Do not worry, saying 'What will we eat? or What will we drink? or What will we wear? For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." And in Mark 10, when James and John pettily ask to sit on his right and left hand in the kingdom, he upbraids them, saying , "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them." _______ We are told that Jesus spoke with authority, not like the scribes and Pharisees. That is, what he was saying, he was saying on his own. Tho he did cite scripture repeatedly, he often gives it his own twist, and this twist is frequently something uncomfortable for Jew and Gentile alike. Basically, the principle involved here is Occam's razor: the MOST LIKELY explanation of the Jesus phenomenon recorded in the gospels it that there actually was such a person. Granted, people can create works of fiction with remarkable characters and lots of detail. But what we have here is a large number of accounts—not just the four gospels—which takes different and often discrepant routes from the same originating phenomenon.