Who/What is Jesus?
The Author’s Forward from the novel published 1956:
“It is a serious fact,” wrote Professor Archibald Duff some years ago, “that virtually all men are wondering just what Jesus was.” It is a curious fact that they should wonder, for the truth of it was given by a great Jew nineteen hundred years ago. “Yea,” cried Paul, “though I had known Christ after the flesh, yet now would I know such a Christ no more!” There it is, all of it, and the truth of it still endures.
“It is an unpardonable historical blunder,” said Weiss, “to suppose that the faith of primitive Christendom was based on the impression of the earthly image of Christ.” The same thought, Paul’s thought, has been stated by many other scholars. “We must not confound the Nazarene,” said Professor Guignebert, “with the ideal which he has come to represent since the birth of Christian dogma.” “The religion of Jesus,” said Professor Bacon, “must be accepted, if at all, on authority. The religion about Jesus is eternally self-verifying because it is a religion of the Spirit.” “He is beautiful, strong, and good,” said Couchoud, “because of the multitudes of men who have given him the best of themselves.”
What did O. Müller tell us? “If one who invents the myth is only obeying the impulse which acts also upon the minds of his hearers, he is but the mouth through which all speak.” . . . .
G. Stanley Hall defined many of these matters with superb clarity. “He is at bottom what we most profoundly feel him to be. Nor in invoking art to reinstate him need we imply that he is only the consummate artistic creation of the folk-soul in the past, although even if one held this, he might today be most radically a Christian. . . . If he be conceived as the greatest projection that the folk-soul ever made, his figure and story are the most precious of all things, perhaps more potent as an ideal than as antique reality. . . . If unconscious man-soul evolved him in the travail of the ages, he becomes thus in a new sense the “son of man!” . . . If I hold him a better and purer psychological being than any other, although, made warp and woof of human wishes, and needs, and ideals, I insist that on this basis I ought to be called an orthodox Christian.”
But it remained for Albert Schweitzer, himself so like the ideal, to give us Paul’s deep truth in poetry: “He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow me,’ and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and, as in ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who he is.”
That each of us must learn in our own way who he is, this surely is all we need to know.
Then a little over halfway through the novel we encounter this tidbit:
“How long,” asked Joshua, “has this man been teaching here?”
“Quite a while, I think.”
“Does he have a mother?” asked Sirena.
“You foolish woman, of course he has a mother.”
“What is her name?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maira,” said Sirena, “is the star of Isis. Maya was the virgin mother of Buddha. Myrrha was the virgin mother of Adonis. Maia was the virgin mother of Hermes. All these,” she said, looking at the man and then at Joshua, “are the same name as Mary in your language.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” said Joshua, frowning. “You seem to be saying something that I don’t understand.”
“I’m only saying that if your messiah were like the saviors other people have he would be born of a virgin and his mother’s name would be Mary.”
The novel concludes:
“You mean that the messiah will come?”
“No, Zillah, not that. Don’t you see that he has come? — again? Can’t you understand it now? He has come in the only way he will ever come — as he came a hundred or a thousand years ago; as he will come again next year, or a hundred years from now, or a thousand years hence. Don’t you see? He has come, he will come again, he will keep coming, until in this world there are no more Lucias hunting for their lost children, no more soldiers with their lances by dead men in the night. . . .”
I wonder about the choice of “hunting” (as opposed to “searching” et al.) in that last sentence. Vardis Fisher later created his acronym/synonym alter ego, Vridar Hunter, for his autobiographical conclusion to the Testament of Man series, Orphans in Gethsemane.
See also Earl Doherty’s review
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