A growing number of scholars seem to have reached the conclusion that Jesus never existed.
As many of them attest, whole chunks of Jesus’ life are missing. Even the canonized accounts of his life – the ones that made it into the New Testament, in other words – jump from age 12 to 30, with a huge space missing. These scholars also have concluded that the accounts of his life, with at least one written as long as a century after the events allegedly occurred, simply can’t be accepted as fact.
Moreover, the inability to verify the authenticity of those who chronicled Jesus’ life casts his existence even further into doubt, these scholars contend.
At this stage in life, I’m untroubled by these views. I am one of those rarest of animals: a conservative Tory from the Deep South who possesses rather eclectic and unconventional views of God, faith and so forth.
I believe that our understanding of God is a product of emergence. What we understand of him essentially could be compared to piling up layer after layer of wrapping paper of only a few molecules in thickness. It would take a very long time before anything of substance even was discernible.
Simply put, God emerged over time – across eons of human interaction and striving – slowly, painstakingly, and perhaps with a few painful fits and starts, the accounts of which were lost somewhere in time.
At this stage in my life and at my present state of understanding, God represents a deep yearning among humans for an understanding of the transcendent. Over the course of eons, we humans have cultivated a deep desire to understand how we fit into the wider scheme of things – how we are supposed to behave vis-a-vis others, what happens to us and our kinsmen when our biological systems fail and we pass out of consciousness – a host of questions that arose in the course of our grappling with the two great blessings and cursesof human existence: sentience and what emerged later as our capacity for reasoning.
Over eons, we began to project many of our deepest yearnings onto great spiritual figures, even a high god, in some cases. And in those cases where the concept of a high god emerged, a deep unbridgeable chasm persisted between him – the personification of our deep human yearning for transcendence – and humanity. And for a very long time our distant forebears bridged this deep chasm with all sorts of lesser gods and deities.
Over time, though, our consciousness expanded and our understanding grew more refined. We owe part of this achievement to the Greeks. But the presence of the Jews, who became an uncompromising monotheistic people over time and who were living among other humans throughout the Mediterranean Basin also aided this refinement.
And the legacy of Jesus, which emerged from an internal dialogue within Judaism, helped humans bridge this transcendence in a way that had previously never been achieved. To put it another way, Jesus’ legacy enabled humans to incorporate the attributes of God into their very nature and to an extent that had never before been achieved in history.
For me, the facts about Jesus are less important than what the legacy of Jesus achieved. And as I see it, Jesus’ legacy – our understanding of him – is as much a product of emergence as that of God. And we are still reflecting on and expanding our understanding of him.
And, of course, the fact that the Mediterranean world was primed at that time in history to embrace this legacy and to undertake such a remarkable conceptual leap as a result truly is extraordinary.
I don’t really spend a lot of time fretting about the nature of God and Jesus. I just try instead to reflect on what was achieved by all of it. I have become a much happier and well-integrated person as a result.