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Jesus, the Greek form of the Hebrew name Yeshua ("He will save"), called the "Christ" or "Messiah" (from the Hebrew moshiach anointed one). Born in Bethlehem c. 6 BC/E, crucified by Roman soldiers c. 30 AD.

There is a mention of Christ's execution in a Roman historical document (By Tacitus) which while not written in the same decade of his execusion was also not written by a supporter thus proving he did exist. As for those who desire earlier records Rome burned multiple times between the rough date of Christs crucifiction and Tacitus's writing.

Jesus was a carpenter turned wandering preacher and teacher, and is often depicted in those terms in the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), declarations of "good news" brought about by his ministry and presence.

Christians claim that Jesus was indeed the messiah promised to the Jewish people, and that he did indeed rise from the grave three days after his death.

Care should be taken to separate Jesus, the earthly teacher from the resurrected Christ. Christians worship the risen Christ, according to Karl Barth, but do not have available to them the historical person of Jesus, about whom we know little, even from the works of the New Testament. Barth issued a sharp critique of the liberal Christianity of the early 20th century, charging that the church had filled in the blanks in its knowledge of the historical Jesus with a distorted and culture-bound reflection of its own aspirations. Against this self-worship, Barth posed the unknowable and culture-transcending nature of Christ, which stood in judgment of all human pretension and error.

Though Barth's wrath was directed at the Christian establishment that led Europe into the First World War, his critique stands as a constant reminder to believers of all varieties. The ways of God are not our ways, and it is never safe to claim to have God on our side.

The chapter titles of Jaroslav Pelikan's Jesus through the Centuries demonstrates the diversity of images of Jesus present in the Christian church:

  • The Rabbi
  • The Turning Point of History
  • The Light of the Gentiles
  • The King of Kings
  • The Cosmic Christ
  • The Son of Man
  • The True Image
  • Christ Crucified
  • The Monk Who Rules the World
  • The Bridegroom of the Soul
  • The Divine and Human Model
  • The Universal Man
  • The Mirror of the Eternal
  • The Prince of Peace
  • The Teacher of Common Sense
  • The Poet of the Spirit
  • The Liberator
  • The Man Who Belongs to the World

It is particularly important to remember this diversity when confronted with the seemingly vast popularity of the depiction of Jesus in Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ. Attempts to reduce the life and work of Jesus to the suffering of his last hours often serves as cover for other agendas:

"Every era gets the Jesus it wants," claims Susannah Heschel. Commenting on The Passion of the Christ, the Dartmouth religion professor says that Mel Gibson's Jesus, "is not simply the product of his religious imagination; it is an effort to shape the American cultural moment," as it attempts to sanctify "the right-wing memory of the horrific events of September 11--the Passion of America." Gibson's Jesus resembles the fascist myth of the "Aryan Jesus," a Jesus marked by three myths: he was no lamb of God but rather a macho man; he was racially Aryan, not Jewish; and he liberated himself from the constraints of the Jewish religion. Like the Aryan Jesus, Gibson's Jesus "withstands a barrage of physical abuse," and the film challenges viewers: "Are you macho enough to watch this film, man enough to be a Christian?" Ultimately, the question The Passion poses for Heschel is whether we will see in it an expression of our own suffering as Americans, or regard Jesus' suffering as representative of the suffering of those who are casualties of American bombs. Christian Century, June 15, 2004

Quotes about Jesus

  • Thomas Jefferson: "According to the ordinary fate of those who attempt to enlighten and reform mankind, he fell an early victim to the jealousy and combination of the altar and the throne...the doctrines he really delivered were...disfigured by the corruptions of schismatizing followers, who have found an interest in sophisticating and perverting the simple doctrines he taught, by engrafting on them the mysticisms of a Grecian sophist, frittering them into subtleties, and obscuring them with jargon, until they have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust, and to view Jesus himself as an impostor...His moral doctrines, relating to kindred and friends were more pure and perfect than those of the most correct of the inculcating universal philanthropy, not only to kindred and friends, to neighbors and countrymen, but to all mankind, gathering all into one family under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and common aids."

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