Letter to David Merrick regarding the historical claims for Christ • 10-8-2017
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy talking to you. I look forward to our next “first Saturday” already.
Regarding Christ’s claims to being divine Savior, you ask, as many have, “He was a madman, a consummate liar, or in fact the One Savior: So which is it?”
The far more obvious assumption, which better satisfies Ockham’s razor, is that there were many Christs. First century Judea was teeming with spiritual adventurers eager to cash in on the prophecy of an imminent savior of the Jewish nation, which faced an existential crisis in the first century. The common name “Christ” alone opens up the field for any John Smith, to say nothing of Eesa, Eashoa, Joshua, Yahshua, Yehoshua, Yeshu, Hoshea and Eesho M’sheeka, which are all plausible cognates. But more decisively, how else to explain the many contradictions in the utterances and life of the Christs? Was he born in Bethlehem or Nazareth? Was his father’s name Jacob, or was it Heli? Did he go to Egypt as a child, or not? Was his first sermon on a mount, or was it on a plain? Did he raise the daughter of Jairus from the dead, or merely heal her? Did he cast out a demon from a Canaanite woman, or was she a Syrophoenician? Consider: He was in favor of the sword, and he was not; he told men to love their enemies, and advised them to hate their friends; he preached the doctrine of forgiveness, and called men a generation of vipers; he announced himself as the judge of the world, and declared that he would judge no man; he taught that he was possessed of all power, but was unable to work miracles where the people did not believe; he was represented as God and did not shrink from avowing, “I and my Father are one,” but in the pain and gloom of the cross, he is made to cry out in his anguish: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” And how singular it is that these words, reputed as the dying utterance of the disillusioned Christ, should be not only contradicted by two Evangelists, but should be a quotation from the twenty-second Psalm! The answer to all these either/or questions regarding historical statements of Jesus is “yes, both” only if there were many Christs. Every third-party claim for a historical Jesus is inconclusive, not just because of the many cases of interpolation, but because the proliferation of numerous Jesuses did not seem remarkable even in Jerusalem, much less to contemporary historians.
So the question then becomes, “Were they madmen, consummate liars, or in fact the Multiple Saviors?" And the answer is: None of the above. They were products of the historical crisis facing the Jews in the first century, who all knew of a prophetic Savior who would deliver them from annihilation. In spite of the cherry-picking by Church Fathers from the assortment of available Jesuses to get a barely theologically cogent Christ, the contradictions in the historical record remain.
My primary inspiration for this idea is Did Jesus Really Live? by Marshall J. Gauvin. However, Gauvin only suggests this alternative, and I find no other scholar explicitly advancing this idea, as plausible and forceful as it seems to me.
One day we’ll make it to my ultimate response to these questions, which to state briefly is: Even if Christianity is historically false, it may yet hold an architectonic truth that makes it indispensable.