In the year 2000 the birthday of Jesus of Nazareth two millennia ago is celebrated. If Jesus was seen as merely a historical figure, the significance of his life would be no different from that of people like Socrates or Alexander the Great. In Greco-Roman culture Alexander the Great, among other heroic figures and emperors, was regarded as son of God. However, since the first century followers of Jesus have worshipped Jesus as God’s son. This study asks questions as to the importance of Jesus within Hellenistic-Semitic and Greco-Roman contexts and his continued importance today. The first aspect is studied from a social-cultural perspective and the second from the angle of both the (Christian) believing community and the (secularized) university. Chapter one deals methodologically with the fact that, as in the case of Socrates, Jesus did not himself put to pen either the message of his words and deeds or the interpretation of his birth and death. Jesus’ vision should therefore be deciphered from what others said about him. Identifying a research gap with regard to existing Jesus research, chapter two will specifically aim at showing that today a new interdisciplinary frame of reference has come into being in the social sciences within which historical Jesus research is carried out. In chapter three it is argued that the starting point of the quest for the historical Jesus could be the nativity stories, despite all their mythological elements. Yet, in taking such a step, one should be aware of historiographical pitfalls when one studies the process of the “historization” of myth. In chapter four, entitled the “Joseph trajectory”, it is demonstrated that Joseph, the father of Jesus, should probably be seen as a legendary figure. With the help of cross-cultural anthropology and cultural psychology chapter five explains an ideal-typical situation of someone in first-century Herodian Palestine who bore the stigma of being fatherless, but who trusted God as Father. In chapter six the tradition about Jesus’ relationship towards “fatherless” children and “patriarchless” women is studied. Chapter seven shows that the “myth of the absent father” was very well known in antiquity. Ovid’s story of Perseus (who was conceived virginally) is retold. The intention is to show why the second-century philosopher Celsus thought that the Christians unjustifiably mirrored this Greek hero, son of Zeus, in their depiction of Jesus. Other examples within Greek-Roman literature are the myths surrounding among others Hercules and Asclepios. In explaining Hercules’ adoption as son of Zeus (which implies his deification), the Greek writer Diodorus Siculus tells the story of an empty tomb and an ascension to heaven. The Roman writer Seneca also tells the story of Hercules’ divine conception and his adoption as child of Zeus. In the New Testament Paul (Seneca’s contemporary) is particularly known for the notion “adoption to become God’s child”. This notion is explained in the light of the parallels found in Seneca’s tragedies about Hercules, his satire on the emperor Claudius and the references by Diodorus Siculus and in the Carmina Priapea to the notion of “adoption” and miraculous conceptions of god-like human figures. Chapter eight focuses on the origins of the church and the development of the dogma of the “two natures” of Jesus as both human and divine. In the last chapter the continued importance of the historical Jesus today is discussed. One of the most urgent social problems of our time is that millions of children are growing up fatherless. This study is about the historical Jesus who filled the emptiness caused by his fatherlessness with his trust in God as his Father.
Draper, Jonathan A.(OpenJournals Publishing, 2009-08)
This paper examines the attempt by Richard Burridge in his recent book, Imitating Jesus: An
inclusive approach to New Testament ethics (2007), to build an engaged Christian ethics starting with
the historical Jesus but ...
Sim, David C.(OpenJournals Publishing, 2011-06-07)
The Gospel of Matthew presents two starkly different depictions of Jesus. The earthly Jesus
of the past is a pacifist who teaches non-violence, compassion, non-retaliation, forgiveness
and love of enemies, and he lives ...
Van Aarde, A.G. (Andries G.)(Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, 1995)
The article focuses on the birth of the church. The point at which the church began its existence is located within the boundaries of formative Judaism. The parting of the ways is explained as a movement from faction to ...