Derby Unitarians

3 Books About Jesus

3 books about Jesus, reviewed by George Cope.

From the 18th century there have been many thinkers and philosophers who have questioned the Biblical account of the life of Jesus.

Prof. Fida M. Hassnain, MA, LL.B, D. Arch., D.Indol., a former director of the Kashmir State Archives in his book "A Search for the Historical Jesus" assembles much evidence to show that Jesus lived for some time in India, of which six. years were spent with Buddhists. This would account for the 18 years of Jesus' life missing from the Gospels. The Christian Church has always sought to present Jesus as a unique figure in his own right, uninfluenced by other religions, and have therefore been ready to destroy any evidence which would present a contrary view. (The philosopher Schopenhauer (1788-1869) stated that 'Christianity has had Indian blood in its veins'). We are told of a Russian journalist and author, Nicolas Notovitch (born in 1858 in the Crimea) who discovered Jesus scrolls in Hemas Monastery in Ladakh, and the book includes a colour illustration of the tomb of St. Issa (Jesus). Quite an interesting book and nicely written.

Another book on the same lines, "The Original Jesus" by Elmar R. Gruber and Holger Kersten has a similar theme - in fact, one chapter is entitled 'Jesus -the Buddhist'. That Buddhist ideas of reincarnation were around in the time of Jesus seems attested to in John 9:2 where Jesus heals the man born blind from birth. Jesus is asked by-one of his disciples if the man's blindness could have been caused by the man having sinned, or his parents having sinned. If the former, then this sin must have occurred in a previous life. The early followers of Jesus, the Jesus people, did not see themselves as Christians, nor did they see Jesus as the Messiah, nor as having risen from the dead; all these ideas were added later. The Jesus people circulated a 'sayings' of Jesus text (Q) which has been brought to light by Bible scholars and received some confirmation by the discovery in the 1940s, at Nag Hammadi, of a similar script - the Gospel according to Thomas. These Jesus people were more interested in the sayings of Jesus than in elevating him to some iconic figure. The book shows many parallels between the teaching and lives of Buddha and of Jesus.

While the two books reviewed above are of some considerable interest, does it matter all that much if Jesus did incorporate Buddhist ideas into his teachings? Documentary evidence is sparse, and the growing Christian movement would have an interest in destroying or suppressing any evidence that there was. A different route is followed in "Honest to Jesus" by Robert Funk (who last year gave a lecture at Derby University). Robert Funk founded the Jesus Seminar which gathered together many scholars to seriously investigate the life and teachings of Jesus in order to try to find the authentic person. An early part of the book deals with the methods of production of documents in those far-off days, and with the problems of translation. The author is interested in finding out just exactly what Jesus said, and in separating this from later accretions. The Jesus Seminar concluded that Jesus spoke less than 200 of the words attributed to him in the Gospels. They relied heavily on the Q document (mentioned above) and on the Gospel according to Thomas, neither of which have anything to say about the arrest, trial or crucifixion of Jesus. In the author's opinion, had Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection (as in Mark), then his death would have been no sacrifice. Neither can he see Jesus saying such things as "I am the light of the world", nor "I am the way, the truth . . .". Since miracle-workers were commonplace in Jesus' time, there was no point in depicting Jesus as one - this only risked turning attention away from the vision which Jesus was trying to communicate. The author contends that Jesus was "irreligious, irreverent and impious - a social deviant", since he did all the wrong things, mixed with the 'wrong' people, ate anything offered to him instead of abiding by kosher rules, contravened accepted customs regarding the Sabbath, and went into the wrong part of the Temple. Jesus used aphorisms - sayings that questioned the established wisdom, sayings which made people think. Rather than laying down 'in concrete' rules to be followed, his was a more fluid approach. The kingdom he had in mind was present now, just  below the surface of everyday life, and it included all, however lowly and despised they may have been by the society of his time. He did not ask his disciples to establish any church; he saw temples and priests as an irrelevance. The author goes into a lot of detail over some of the parables, such as the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan, and also looks at various saying of Jesus which have been altered from what seems to have been the original version. For instance, Jesus had such trust in the Father that he only asked for bread sufficient for that day, whereas in Luke this has been weakened to ask for bread we need day by day. It is contended that Jesus would not have predicted some future divine intervention to establish 'heaven' on earth. Jesus had a vision of God's kingdom which was here and now - we often miss this important message, and only see the figure of Jesus. Yet I suppose this vision is true, for if only we had the faith to act on this vision, then greed and enmity would be rolled back - the potential is there all the time, waiting for us to act - and Love would shine through. God's kingdom would have been established!
The Jesus that emerges from this book is a most remarkable human being, a great sage, and altogether a much more wonderful figure than that portrayed in the Gospels, in my view.
Robert Funk was the main speaker at the "Sea of Faith" conference at Colchester last April. There is an interesting report on the work of the Jesus Seminar in "The Inquirer" of 10 March 2001. It does not mention Robert Funk's "Honest to Jesus", but covers much the same ground. I hope my short review will have encapsulated in a fair manner the general tone of the book.

- G. Cope.