How Jesus has been re-imaged through the ages to fit different historical needs

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

The Book of Kells is one of the most famous ar...
Image via Wikipedia

There’s a comment by humanist Dwight Jones in response to Hoffmann’s post titled Did Jesus Exist? Yes and No that begins

As a Humanist I view Christ as one too, a philosopher who was instructing our species

Jones’ and Hoffmann’s concept of humanism is too effete, elitist, esoteric and impractical for my taste, but that aside, Jones’ comment sums up what Jesus means as a cultural icon. Biblical scholars can see how the gospel authors put words into Jesus’ mouth so that He could serve as the spokesman for their own theological agendas. Schweitzer famously said that historical Jesus scholars each tend to recreate a Jesus in their own image. Existentialist John Carroll even finds an existentialist Jesus in Mark’s gospel. Jesus is not just for the religious. He is the focal icon of the western culture through whom religious and nonreligious alike have sought to advance their own philosophies, political programs, ethics, values.

Dieter Georgi had an article titled “The Interest in Life of Jesus Theology as a Paradigm for the Social History of Biblical Criticism” in the Harvard Theological Review in 1992 (85:1, 51-83) that surveys how evolving and changing societies simultaneously changed their views of Jesus to reflect their own needs and interests.

I summarize here a few examples to illustrate how Jesus has changed with the times. I conclude with a note on the context of current historical Jesus studies, and their fragile foundation in a certain defensive dogmatism.

Late antiquity and early Middle Ages Continue reading “How Jesus has been re-imaged through the ages to fit different historical needs”