Monday, 28 March 2011

Jesus, Explained?

We are the storytelling ape, weaving narratives as explanations. Growing up in a society that has historical roots in Christianity, how is it that people explain the narrative of Jesus? When I was younger I used to think that Jesus was like any other mythical figure, a fictional entity made up in much the same way as Hercules or King Arthur. My younger self would make analogies to fiction, and even now I'm still sympathetic to such analogies. After all, the existence of Kings Cross Station doesn't mean from there a train departs to Hogwarts.

That was my attempt to explain the unknown in terms of what was known. I knew of legends, I knew of fiction, I knew of the capacity for storytelling, and I knew of different beliefs - in that context it's hard to find the "Jesus as lord" story convincing. I remember in scripture class as school questioning the propensity of evidence as well as the problems of passing on information orally. It was what I knew.

I remember other such accounts. Jesus described as a con artist, or a great magician. I've read accounts like Jesus being a noble man and the miracles added later, or that claims become more exaggerated as time has gone on. There are also those who claim that Jesus was God and it all really happened as the accounts suggest, though I find that view really stretching credulity.

Looking back on it now, I wonder how any such accounts are justified? Apart from the Jesus-as-God, they're all plausible scenarios, but is coming up with a plausible scenario enough? If we take the reasonable assumption that there was one chain of events, then those differing scenarios can't all be right. The scenarios themselves are possible explanations, reasons to doubt, but not themselves explanations.

In actuality, the reason such possible narratives all work is because there's very little in the way of what is known. Any number of narratives fit, and that is more problematic than a lack of apparent narrative. In light of how little is actually known, how can anyone form strong beliefs about what Jesus was - if Jesus was anything at all. We just don't know.

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