Katharine Jefferts Schori - New Primate of the Episcopal Church

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 5 July 2006 0 Comments
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I have just read your column entitled, "Jesus for the

Non-Religious." I guess I am left wondering why if one can strip

away most if not all the gospel details of his life, he can

continue to exist in history. Why not take the view that

Canadian humanist historian Early Doherty takes that Christianity

grew in part out of the Greco-Roman world being impressed by the

Hebrew scriptures and later the movement demanded a leader and

midrash provided by the Hebrew cultish groups in Palestine

provided this. (I hope I am doing justice to Professor Doherty).


What you read was one column that arose out of a

two-year study that sought to penetrate the years between the

death of Jesus (about 30 C.E.) and the writing of the gospels

that occurred 40-70 years later (between 70 and 100 C.E.) In

those years the Jesus of history was wrapped inside the Hebrew

Scriptures, interpreted through the liturgy of the synagogue,

shaped by the messianic expectations of the Jewish people,

translated into the Greek language and finally transformed into

being the founder of a religion. Though these things make it

difficult to determine exactly who Jesus was, what he said and

what he did, they do not destroy the human being who inspired

this creedal and mythological development. I think it is clear

that Jesus of Nazareth was a person of history and your letter

gives me the opportunity to spell out my reasons for coming to

this conclusion.

Paul says in Galatians (written 51-52 C.E.) that he

has in fact spoken and had dealings with Cephas (Peter) and

James, the Lord's brother, early in his career as a Christian,

somewhere between four and nine years after the crucifixion. I

get to that range of years by taking the generally accepted dates

of Paul's conversion worked out in the 19th century by historian

Adolf Harnack of 1 to 6 years after the crucifixion. I then

couple that with Paul's autobiographical note in Galatians that

three years later he went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas,

or Peter. That gives us four to nine years as the date of this

consultation. Certainly Paul, who never claims that he saw or

knew the Jesus of history, believed that he knew those who did.

Unfortunately, the Christian Church has for most of

its history literalized its scriptures, claiming for them a

historicity they never possessed. Contemporary biblical

scholarship has helped us dismantle that literalism and that is

what causes people to think that by dismantling the myth, we have

destroyed the man. I think the opposite is true. By dismantling

the myth, we are recovering the man.

When the book I am now writing is published in the

spring of 2007, under the title, "Jesus for the Non-Religious," I

hope to make this clear.

John Shelby Spong




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