Sunday, December 18, 2005

Jesus skeptics on the run (LA Times)
• Anne Rice's latest novel relies on a biblical scholarship more trusting of the New Testament.

By Charlotte Allen, Charlotte Allen is author of "The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus." She co-edits the InkWell blog for the Independent Women's Forum.

ANNE RICE'S "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," her novel about the boy Jesus whose family has not gotten around to telling him that he is the messiah, is a national bestseller. That's not surprising. Rice is a seasoned storyteller whose 26 previous novels on subjects ranging from vampires to sadomasochistic erotica have sold more than 75 million copies. With "Christ the Lord," she transferred her flair for the supernatural to a new market of Christian believers who share the faith she has re-embraced.

What is interesting — and portentous — is that just as "Christ the Lord" was nearing release in early September, Robert Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar, died. The Jesus Seminar is still going strong. But Funk's death and Rice's novel constitute a kind of symbolic marker of the passing of a brand of dogmatic hyper-skepticism toward the Gospels and the rise of a new and more generous biblical scholarship that holds, contra the seminar, that the Gospels and other New Testament writings constitute virtually our only record of what Jesus said and did. These scholars contend that there is no point in trying to deconstruct the Gospels to find the "real" Jesus. They maintain there is nothing in the historical or archeolological record of the 1st century that makes the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life inherently implausible.


I think that Allen is a little hard on Funk and the Jesus Seminar, but they can't complain that they haven't asked for confrontation. I come down somewhere in the middle of this debate, insofar as I have the right to an opinion at all. I'm skeptical of the historicity of much of the material in the Gospels but I don't think that it's inherently implausible that Jesus thought of himself as a messianic redeemer and/or a divine being. Such ideas were in the air.

UPDATE (19 December): Bad link fixed.

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