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Christ Actually

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An exploration of transcendent faith in modern times--from the author of the New York Times -bestselling Constantine's Sword What ... Lire la suite
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An exploration of transcendent faith in modern times--from the author of the New York Times -bestselling Constantine's Sword What can we believe about--and how can we believe in--Jesus Christ in light of the Holocaust and other atrocities of the twentieth century and the drift from religion that followed? In this urgent and provocative work, award-winning author James Carroll traces centuries of religious history and theology to face this core challenge to modern faith and to rescue it for the secular age. Far from another book about the "historical Jesus," Christ Actually takes the challenges of science and contemporary philosophy, of secularism, seriously. Carroll retrieves the power of Jesus both as an answer to humanity's perennial longing for transcendence and as a figure of profound ordinariness--his simple life, and his call to imitate him, all suggest an answer to the question "What is the future of Jesus Christ?" This book points the way.

Praise for Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age

“With well-researched clarity, Carroll explores the question posed by anti-Nazi Lutheran pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer: who actually is Christ for us today?... Because Christ actually is meaningful in some way to a billion Christians around the globe, this heartfelt investigation is of interest to many.”
Publishers Weekly

“Carroll…strives to reconceive Christ for a secular, post-Holocaust, post-Hiroshima era….readers
seeking a faith responsive to the zeitgeist will find it here.”
“An in-depth, thought-provoking challenge to two millennia of Christian interpretation.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Written in the brisk, argumentative style that has won James Carroll a broad popular readership, Christ Actually avoids the interminable maundering of academic prose, even as its extensive footnotes indicate attention to advanced, if radical, scholarship. Conservative Christians may well be shocked and annoyed at Carroll’s configuration of Jesus. Nevertheless, for its pushback against the boundaries of conventional interpretations and, above all, for its passionate presentation of the sinfulness of Christian anti-Semitism, his book deserves serious attention.”
Commonweal magazine


Praise for Constantine’s Sword

“Monumental…An eye-opening journey through twenty centuries of history..This is a book for everyone.”—Christian Science Monitor

“A triumph.”—The Atlantic Monthly

“A deeply felt work, a book that measures the sweep of history against [his] experience as a man of the church.”—Floyd Skloot, San Franciso Chronicle

“Remarkable . . . A book of a deeper sort.”
—Andrew Sullivan, The New York Times Book Review
“A masterly history . . . fascinating, brave.”



James Carroll is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Suffolk University and a columnist for The Boston Globe. He is the author of ten novels and seven works of fiction. He lives in Boston.

Texte du rabat

An exploration of transcendent faith in modern times—from the author of the New York Times-bestselling Constantine's Sword

What can we believe about—and how can we believe in—Jesus Christ in light of the Holocaust and other atrocities of the twentieth century and the drift from religion that followed? In this urgent and provocative work, award-winning author James Carroll traces centuries of religious history and theology to face this core challenge to modern faith and to rescue it for the secular age.

Far from another book about the "historical Jesus,” Christ Actually takes the challenges of science and contemporary philosophy, of secularism, seriously. Carroll retrieves the power of Jesus both as an answer to humanity's perennial longing for transcendence and as a figure of profound ordinariness—his simple life, and his call to imitate him, all suggest an answer to the question "What is the future of Jesus Christ?” This book points the way.

Échantillon de lecture

Christ Actually

Against wild reasons of the state

His words are quiet but not too quiet.

We hear too late or not too late.

—Geoffrey Hill1

Operation Spark

In Germany, early in 1943, things got serious with “Operation Spark,” the anti-Nazi conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. In March, two bomb attempts were made on Hitler’s life. They failed, but in early April a number of the conspirators were arrested by the Gestapo. One of these was a young Lutheran theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For two years, he was imprisoned—first at Tegel military prison, in Berlin, and ultimately at Buchenwald and Flossenbürg concentration camps. A committed pacifist entangled in a plot to kill a tyrant, he wrote, “The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.”2

Bonhoeffer was executed three weeks before the war ended, before the horrors of 1945 were fully laid bare. Yet there is a hint in his statement that, in the thick of the evil, he had grasped what was now at stake: nothing less than the moral self-destruction, and perhaps the physical self-extinction, of the human species; its “continuing to live.” He did not survive to articulate the meaning of what he’d come to, but in subsequent years the fragments of thought he left flashed through Christian theology like crystal shards through a darkened conscience. That was especially so once Auschwitz was paired with Hiroshima—absolute evil absolutely armed: the death camp and the genocidal weapon all at once bracketing the human future. The mad nuclear competition that followed then made the problem of human survival literal.

Initiating a project for belief that has yet to be accomplished, Bonhoeffer declared himself in a letter to his student and friend Eberhard Bethge: “What keeps gnawing at me is the question, . . . who is Christ actually for us today?” That line, written in a Nazi cell, is a shorthand proclamation of Bonhoeffer’s penetration to the deepest question about the human condition, which raised, for a serious Christian, an equally grave question about Jesus Christ and the tradition that takes its name from him.

I, too, have found something “gnawing at me,” if in far shallower ways than the martyred German. As it happens, I was born precisely as Operation Spark was launched. The son of committed Irish Catholics, I fully embraced that legacy and came of age with Jesus Christ at the center of my identity. But as I grew older, tectonic shifts in culture, religion, politics, and structures of thought cracked the foundation of Christ’s meaning—even for me. Among the many factors that have contributed to that dislocation, none looms larger, I see now, than the still unreckoned-with moral catastrophe faced by Bonhoeffer. He was a first witness to the apocalyptic fervor of the Third Reich, the millennial character of the crisis—and the fact that “Christendom,” a culture in place since Charlemagne and nearly the sole context within which Jesus Christ had been understood, was mortally undermined by racist Nazi imperialism. And Bonhoeffer was one of the first to grasp how the ethical shattering of Christendom extended to the keystone of Christian faith—to Jesus himself.

I begin this grappling with the new actuality of Jesus Christ by recalling Bonhoeffer not just because I associate with his hinted-at intuition that we need a radically reimagined Jesus, but because his undeveloped and rudimentary inquiry was sparked—“Operation Spark” indeed—by that brutal confrontation with what has shown itself to be the double-barreled moral problem of our age. The bottomless pit that opened in southern Poland, and into which Bonhoeffer was already staring, was only one chamber of an abyss into which humanity had been plunged also by the devastation of a city in Japan. It was not the scale of bloodshed in these two manifestations that made Auschwitz and Hiroshima historic—other genocides and mass bombings compare, from Stalin and Pol Pot on one side to Curtis LeMay and Bomber Harris on another. Rather, it was the character of Auschwitz and Hiroshima as related revelations about the past and future: the anti-Jewish heart of Western civilization, and the vulnerability of the human species to suicide.

I grew up during the Cold War on bases of the United States Air Force, where my father, an Air Force general, served as a member of America’s nuclear priesthood. My otherwise mundane Oedipal reckoning unfolded in the shadow of nuclear Armageddon.3 It was eventually impossible for me to avoid the harsh reality that, taken together, Auschwitz and Hiroshima had changed everything—except human ways of thinking and believing.4 A transcendent shift in moral meaning had occurred. Christians regard what the tradition calls the Incarnation as an interruption in history. But so was 1945. Looking back across the decades, it has finally become clear to me how the actualities of that year forced the question: Who is Christ actually?


Here is Bonhoeffer’s full statement to Bethge:

What might surprise or perhaps even worry you would be my theological thoughts and where they are leading, and here is where I really miss you very much . . . What keeps gnawing at me is the question, What is Christianity, or who is Christ actually for us today? The age when we could tell people that with words—whether with theological or pious words—is past, as is the age of inwardness and conscience, and that means the age of religion altogether. We are approaching a completely religionless age; people as they are now simply can’t be religious anymore. . . . If eventually we must judge even the Western form of Christianity to be only a preliminary stage of a complete absence of religion, what kind of situation emerges for us, for the Church? How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless as well? . . . The question to be answered would be, What does a Church, a congregation, a liturgy, a sermon, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we talk about God without religion? . . . Christ would then no longer be the object of religion, but something else entirely, truly the Lord of the world. But what does that mean? . . . I hope you understand more or less what I mean, and that it’s not boring you. . . . Goodbye for now. Yours, as ever. I think about you very much. Dietrich.5

Existentialist philosophy, psychoanalysis, modernist literature, political engagement for the sake of justice—such movements coming to a head after World War II salted the religious self-understanding of Christians, especially in nations bracketing the North Atlantic. Fully developed theologies flourished with figures like Protestants Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Paul Tillich; Orthodox figures like Alexander Schmemann, dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, in New York; and Catholics of the Second Vatican Council6 like Karl Rahner, Hans Küng, and John Courtney Murray. Compared with the decades-long contributions of such thinkers, all of whom were implicitly responding to crises engendered by the genocidal violence of the century’s wars, Bonhoeffer’s sketchy intuitions, offered most significantly in his Letters and Papers from Prison, read like picture captions. But the picture he holds up shows the deep truth of an unprecedented circumstance. It is clear from the passage cited above that the traumatized German was groping for words to express what remained an unspeakable experience. The groping itself is his legacy and challenge.

Paul Tillich, a German Lutheran twenty years Bonhoeffer’s senior, lived to carry on the postwar inquiry—mainly because, unlike Bonhoeffer, Tillich responded to Hitler’s coming to power by taking up a life in exile in New York. Tillich had been dismissed from his Frankfurt professorship by the Nazis, and he, too, found the crisis of Nazism at the center of his reflections. Like Bonhoeffer, he saw a consequent religionlessness as somehow necessary—but also as revelatory. Indeed, it formed the basis of his existentialist theology, which came to fruition in his postwar reflections, especially in the books The Courage to Be (1952) and Dynamics of Faith (1957). Here, in slightly more abstract language, is Tillich’s echo of what Bonhoeffer wrote in the letter to Bethge:

The relation of man to the ultimate undergoes changes. Contents of ultimate concern vanish or are replaced by others . . . Symbols which for a certain period, or in a certain place, expressed the truth of faith for a certain group now only remind of the faith of the past. They have lost their truth, and it is an open question whether dead symbols can be revived. Probably not for those to whom they have died.7

The most important symbol that had lost its truth for Tillich was the symbol of God Himself, which, after Hitler, had been irrevocably undermined. In The Courage to Be, he wrote,

God appears as the invincible tyrant, the being in contrast with whom all other beings are without freedom and subjectivity. He is equated with the recent tyrants who with the help of terror try to transform everything into a mere object, a thing among things, a cog in a machine they control. He becomes the model of everything against which Existentialism revolted. This is the God Nietzsche said had to be killed because nobody can tolerate being made into a mere object of absolute knowledge and absolute control. This is the deepest root of atheism. It is an atheism which is justified as the reaction against theological theism and its disturbing implications.8

In the 1960s, Bonhoeffer was posthumously conscripted into the briefly voguish Death of God movement in Britain and America, which made watchwords of his nascent notions of “religionless Christianity” and “man come fully of age.”9 Whether obsequies for “theological theism” are a function of maturity is debatable, to say the least, yet Bonhoeffer’s seemed an uncanny anticipation of Europe’s postwar exodus from religion, with the resulting mass redundancy of church buildings and the muting of the voices of clergy. Today, apart from the hollow formalism of royalty-ruled churches in Britain and Scandinavia, institutional religion has entirely vacated the public realm of Europe—and, in some places, the private conscience, too.10 In America, the decline of mainstream religion was slower in coming, but the Death of God presented itself as a theological problem more in the United States than anywhere.

As figures of wide influence, there were no successors on either side of the Atlantic to Tillich, Niebuhr, Schmemann, Küng, or Murray. Eventually, with salvos from pop culture, screen technologies, and hyperlinks of the Internet, with “all talk, all the time” draining words of weight and impact—universally at the expense of contemplative reading—the devastation of inwardness itself could also seem a fulfillment of Bonhoeffer’s prophecy. “The history of faith,” as Tillich put it, “is a permanent fight with the corruption of faith.” The fight, all at once, seemed lost. The claim of faith was “exposed to the continuous test of history.”11 And for many, it seemed to fail. The late-twentieth-century arrival of a broadly unchurched culture in the North Atlantic nations, with an apparent legion readily dispensing with theism, especially among educated elites and younger people, seemed to suggest that the Death of God theologians had been grappling with something real. “God has hidden his face from the world,” as one Jewish Holocaust writer put it, “and delivered mankind over to his own savage urges and instincts.”12

Bonhoeffer’s focus was on the delivering humans had done, not God, but the “absence of religion” he predicted turned out not to be “complete.”13 The “Secular Age” might have dawned in most of Europe and parts of North America—regions of the Enlightenment legacy—but even there, assumptions of an earlier age held fast among many. The twenty-first century’s so-called new atheism had its answer in a new fundamentalism, whose leaders, notably in the United States, enlisted on the reactionary side of the culture war being fought over flash points like abortion and gay rights.14 On questions ranging from “family values” to the “war on terror” to the corporate ethos of retail giants, overt appeals to religion, in fact, defined large segments of American society more than ever.15 “Today, one of the most glaring refutations of the case that religion has vanished from public life,” as the critic Terry Eagleton puts it, “is known as the United States.”16 And not just the U.S. Across the globe, religious true belief has solidified identity in a sea of uncertainty.

Negatively, religion spawned world-historic acts of violence—from the 1995 murder in Israel of Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish zealot to the perversion of Allahu Akbar over Manhattan, the Pennsylvania countryside, and the Pentagon in September of 2001 to the God-ordained orgy of killing in Norway in 2011 by a Christian supremacist. One wants to separate such killer-nihilism from “true religion,” yet jihadist and crusader impulses do have underpinnings in authentic faith. We will investigate that connection in this book.

But the power of contemporary religion has been showing itself positively, too. Essential to the civil rights, human rights, and peace movements in the West, faith was also key to the nonviolent grass-roots revolution that brought down the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Religion was a pillar of the inchoate Muslim awakening to democracy, so hopefully begun in the Arab Spring of 2011.17 Indeed, independent of politics, religion remains a source of consolation and strength—of inwardness and conscience—for global multitudes, decisively including impoverished masses to whom material structures of meaning are simply unavailable.

So was Bonhoeffer wrong? Did religion in fact survive intact, if altered? Did he misconstrue the nature of religionlessness? For that matter, what is religionlessness? I locate this question, first, not in poll numbers or philosophical debates but in a deeply personal problem: having myself absorbed—and learned to take for granted—basic assumptions of the so-called Secular Age, what of my own religious inheritance can I believe without being dishonest? I am no fundamentalist, and the limits of religion, even its perversity, are fully apparent to me. If the faith continues to impose itself as a primal option, it does so in my case despite—or is it because of?—the crises of 1945. What happens when traditional belief slams into the wall of the Holocaust? When it plunges into the abyss of Hiroshima? Those questions are what draw me to Bonhoeffer and his crucial intuition that religion and Jesus Christ are not identical. Because Hiroshima had not happened when he was writing, the potential suicide of the human species was not an actual prospect for Bonhoeffer. Yet the “continuation” of human life had surfaced as an overriding moral problem, and I, a nuclear warrior’s son, live to be haunted by it to this day. In Buchenwald, Bonhoeffer may well have had a foretaste of the full horror of Auschwitz, but that particular death camp’s meaning as an epiphany of radical evil remained implicit. For me, though, its meaning as an obliteration of inherited religious absolutes could not be more explicit. The point is that Bonhoeffer, in all of this, sensed that some pin had been removed from the ordered mechanism of civilization, and I know with personal certainty that he was not wrong. How had the jailed German pastor come to such knowledge? Decisively, the answer involved what he saw befalling the Jews.

In April 1933, a newly empowered Hitler tipped his hand when he ordered the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses, prompting a Germany-wide display of anti-Semitism. For several days, Jewish businesses, synagogues, institutions, and individuals were subject to insult and even attack—a dress rehearsal for the violent assaults against Jews that would escalate across the decade. Right at the outset of the Nazi campaign, raising a rare voice of protest in that first year, Bonhoeffer published the essay “The Church and the Jewish Question.” He called on his fellow Christians to stand with Jews against their persecution by the Third Reich. The Church should be prepared, he wrote, “not only to help the victims who have fallen under the wheel, but,” if necessary to stop the murderous careening, the Church should be prepared “to fall into the spokes of the wheel itself.”18

Bonhoeffer might not have been aware of it, but such a grasp of an absolute moral mandate to oppose assaults on innocent Jews had to undermine, however gradually, the sanctified religious anti-Judaism on which such an anti-Semitic campaign depended—a religious anti-Judaism to which Bonhoeffer himself still subscribed. In 1933, Bonhoeffer opposed Hitler-friendly Church leaders who, in line with Nazi racism, wanted to bar all non-Aryans from ordination in the ministry, but, at least in that early period, he still saw conversion to Christ as the Jewish destiny. Jewish religion had no reason to continue. That Bonhoeffer was a Christian supersessionist is probably what accounts for the fact that he has never been named a “Righteous Gentile” by Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem Holocaust museum.

The main point, though, is that an authentic rejection of racial anti-Semitism had to lead, however indirectly, to a rejection of religious anti-Judaism. Here Bonhoeffer was putting his ethical insight ahead of his theological conviction. This elevation of ethics over theology is what made him a religious revolutionary. Few Christians saw it yet, but wicked hatred of Jewish persons and doctrinal denigration of Jewish religion were joined as a grenade is to its pin. Bonhoeffer, simply by taking in what was in fact happening all around him, even as most Germans averted their eyes, found himself set on a course of personal and religious change.19

By 1938, when the Nazi onslaught climaxed in the blatant violence ofassaults on Jews everywhere in Germany and Austria, Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the relationship between Church and Synagogue had evolved—an at least implicit abandonment of supersessionism—to the point that he saw them as equal “children of the covenant.” In the margin of his Bible, next to Psalm 74, Bonhoeffer wrote, “November 10, 1938”—the date of what came to be known as Kristallnacht.20The adjacent verses read, “They set thy sanctuary on fire, to the ground they desecrated the dwelling place of thy name . . . How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? . . . Why dost thou hold back thy hand?” The attacks on Jews had become a matter of religious revelation. “Crystal Night” took its name from glass being shattered all over Germany—Jewish businesses, homes, and places of worship being ransacked and torched. All at once, the Lutheran pastor’s own Martin Luther had to look different: “To save our souls from the Jews, that is, from the devil and from eternal death,” Luther had written long before, “my advice is, first, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire. Second, that all their books—their prayer books, their talmudic writings, also the entire Bible—be taken from them, not leaving them one leaf.”21 This was a Luther with whom Bonhoeffer could have nothing further to do.

By the time of his Ethics, written in Berlin between 1940 and 1943, Bonhoeffer began to see the theological meaning of the political horror unfolding in Germany, and his simple insight amounted by then to a personal revolution: “An expulsion of the Jews from the West,” he wrote, “must necessarily bring with it the expulsion of Christ. For Jesus Christ was a Jew.”22 We will see how this assertion is not as obvious as it seems in the twenty-first century; in the first half of the twentieth century in Europe, home of the Aryan Christ, it was revolutionary.23 The expulsion of Jews meant the expulsion of Jesus—full stop. Only a realization of such magnitude could have then prompted the pacifist pastor’s enlistment in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler: “For Jesus Christ was a Jew.”

Note that Bonhoeffer does not say, as Martin Luther did in the title of the first of his two tracts about Jews, “That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew.” Luther’s emphasis belongs on “was born,” since the whole point of the Gospel narrative, once “the Jews” rejected Christ’s teaching and sponsored his crucifixion, is that Jesus became something else—“the firstborn of the new Creation,” the first Christian.24Bonhoeffer’s life-changing insight, in envisioning Jesus as one of those expelled—“Juden raus!”—is surely what gave rise to the great question he then asked from prison: Who actually is Christ for us today? He had already provided the beginning of the answer. Jesus Christ was a Jew.

• • •

Bonhoeffer’s personal reckoning sparks mine. I have outgrown a childish faith in Jesus, but he remains the one to whom my heart first opened when I became aware. What I grasped of him on my small knees before the crucifix in St. Mary’s Church, stripped by now of the dross of dogmatism, remains the pulse of my faith. This book is my attempt to say why Jesus has this hold on me, but the attempt requires a certain historical sweep, a theological scope. I will return to the New Testament, but, fully attuned to our contemporary struggles, I will read those texts through the lens of centuries of total war and corrupted power, trying to see how violence, contempt for women, and, above all, hatred of Jews distorted the faith of the Church I still love.

Yet Jesus is elusive. If he were not, he would be useless to us. An ultimate paradox lies at the heart of Christian belief: Jesus is fully human; Jesus is fully divine. Best to say frankly right here at the outset: Jesus as God and Jesus as man are the brackets within which this inquiry will unfold. It will look at Jesus, the Scriptures, and tradition in the contexts of both history and theology. It will ask how the texts about Jesus were written at the start, how they were interpreted early on, and how they can be understood today. That means keeping in mind at least three distinct time frames—the lifetime of Jesus, the era some decades later in which the Gospels were composed, and the present Secular Age, when faith in Jesus and in the Gospels has become a problem unto itself.

Jesus is fully divine? What can that mean now? Before dismissing such a claim, or diluting it with literary-critical revision to the point of meaninglessness, I post a kind of cautionary declaration against which every assertion in this book must be measured: if Jesus were not regarded as God almost from the start of his movement, he would be of no interest to us. We would never have heard of him. Nothing but his divinity accounts for his place in Western culture—or in my heart: not his ethic, which was admirable but hardly uncommon; not his preaching, which was firmly in line with Jewish proclamation; not his heroic suffering, which was typical of many anti-Roman Jewish resisters; not his wonder working, which was attributed to all kinds of charismatic figures in the ancient world. Nothing but a two-thousand-year-old divinity claim puts Jesus before us today.

And more: if a faith in Jesus as Son of God—a present self-disclosure of God’s fatherly and forgiving disposition, an “incarnation”—does not survive the critically minded, scientifically responsible, properly “secular” inquiry of the kind I aim to undertake, however imperfectly, then Jesus will surely drop back into the crowd of history’s heroes, ultimately to be forgotten.

The God/man affirmation, in other words, need not condemn this pursuit to irrationality or absurdity—or to a separate “non-overlapping magisterium” where normal rules of logic do not apply.25 It can, instead, sponsor a retrieval of the light, depth, and beauty of Christian tradition at its best, even while offering a new way—appropriate to a less credulous time—to say that Jesus is Christ; that Jesus Christ is God. Speaking quite personally, nothing matters more to me than that. For no other reason would I take up this work.

But the words “Jesus” and “Christ” bring us back to Bonhoeffer, for whom, under the pressure of history, the key was Jewishness. For while “Jesus” can be routinely understood as a Jew, “Christ” is taken to be the claim that cuts him off from Jewishness. In fact, on the hinge of this contradiction, as Bonhoeffer saw, turns every question—both those that close off inquiry and those that open into new understanding.

Jesus a Jew26

That “Jesus” was Jewish can seem an obvious statement today, but in fact, the idea has barely penetrated the shallow surface of Christian theology.27 And we are not just talking here about grossly anachronistic distortions of Jesus into something alien—like the blue-eyed, flowing-haired Northern European who appeared in the picture Bibles, holy cards, and altar murals of modernity.28 No, the anti-Jewish distorting goes deeper than race, ethnicity, or cultural milieu. Lessons of the Holocaust notwithstanding, it perverts the religious imagination of the West to this day.

Christian anti-Judaism springs from the Gospel construct, dating to the late first century, that pits Jesus against “the Jews” during his Passion and death, which occurred early in that century. That construct led to the “Christ killer” slander, which many Christians have declined to repeat since World War II.29 A transformation of mainstream Christian theology, centered in the Roman Catholic reforms of the Second Vatican Council, has mostly transformed the age-old “teaching of contempt” for Jews into a “teaching of respect.” Most Christians routinely, and authentically, renounce anti-Semitism. Christian scholars and religious leaders find in Jews creative and open-minded partners in the momentous project of interfaith dialogue; Jewish scholars and leaders reciprocate.30 Nevertheless, a chasm separates Jewish and Christian perspectives, and the slow plumbing of this chasm will be a main project of this book. The separating gulf begins not at the beginning, but not long after the beginning, with the portrait first drawn of Jesus and then, across time, reified by the Church.

Among Christians, and therefore among everyone else, thinking about Jesus has not really changed much, because, even beyond the most troubling verses (“His blood be on us and on our children,” for example31), the entire structure of the Gospel imagination assumes a cosmic conflict between Jesus and his own people such that, despite the narrative’s taking pains to place Jesus in the line of David, he was hardly portrayed as authentically Jewish at all. This is more than, say, Mark’s pitting him against Pharisees in Galilee and against high priests in Jerusalem; more than the libels of the Passion. As the Christian memory overwhelmingly shapes the story, Jesus is opposed not just to particular antagonists but to the whole culture into which he was born.

In the Prologue to John’s Gospel, we find the theme struck with power: “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.”32 It’s a basic rule of narrative, older than Aristotle: every story needs a conflict. In history—in about the year 30, the first of our three time frames—the mortal conflict faced by Jesus, like every Jew in occupied Palestine, was with Rome. But the Gospels—dating to that second time frame, between 70 and 100—do not tell it that way. As various historians and theologians point out today,33the virtues of Jesus (openness, compassion, egalitarianism) are constantly displayed in the Gospels precisely by contrast with his corrupt Jewish milieu, which is rendered as exclusivist, unloving, legalistic, and mercilessly hierarchical. “Jesus” is the name of the manual laborer from Nazareth. Once he began to see himself, or be seen by others, as the exalted “Christ” (from the Greek for “anointed” and meaning “Messiah”), Jesus began to be understood as other than Jewish, even if his declared identity was as a fulfillment of Jewishmessianic expectation. His being “Christ,” that is, worked against his being “Jesus,” because his elevation up the pyramid of what scholars call “high Christology̶...

Informations sur le produit

Titre: Christ Actually
Sous-titre: Reimagining Faith in the Modern Age
Code EAN: 9780143127840
ISBN: 978-0-14-312784-0
Format: Couverture cartonnée
Editeur: Random House N.Y.
Genre: Religion et théologie
nombre de pages: 368
Poids: 295g
Taille: H17mm x B210mm x T139mm
Année: 2015