The life of Jesus

by Ernest Renan, a review.

I will start by saying here that I believe that Jesus of Nazareth whose story is given in the gospels did not live. By this I mean, a man whose mother was a virgin, father unknown and performer of miracles, who was killed on a cross and resurrected. This Jesus I have no belief existed. I would end this post here. There are those who have another Jesus, a preacher man. This Jesus is strange and I don’t know how many believers worship this Jesus.

The Jesus of Renan is the second type of Jesus, a man of his age. His Jesus does not perform any miracles, his Jesus was a moral teacher of his time. He bases his history of his hero on the gospel of John which in his view is the most authentic biography of Jesus. Further than that, he sanitizes his hero. To him the story of miracles are the imaginings of the biographer.

His Jesus is a real son of man of low birth but filled with a revolutionary mind. He makes his Jesus a victim of religious intolerance or rather that Jesus meets his death for opposing the old Mosaic or Jewish law. I almost liked his Jesus.

His Jesus, in calling himself a son of god does not imply that he is divine, on the contrary that in the imagination of this hero, he is one with god. He sees no distinction between himself and the god he worships. He, Renan, tells us, Jesus was aware that anyone who believed in god is a son of god. There is no special requirement. To be a son of god is to believe in god.

His Jesus doesn’t see himself as a god. In fact, he doesn’t see himself as a fulfillment of OT prophecy. He is aware of this prophecies and only uses them to his advantage when pushed by his disciples.

He has his Jesus inferior to John and only gets to rise to prominence with the arrest and eventual death of John. To Renan had John not died, Jesus would have remained an obscure rubble-rouser as many a man have been.

The Jesus of Renan is ignorant of Greek philosophy, is limited to a nondescript village where his congregation is composed almost entirely of the credulous of the nation. No learned men of science, of philosophy grace his meetings. Philo does not hear of him. Josephus born in 37 doesn’t mention any Christians.

He believes however that Jesus was the greatest moral teacher. That all of humanity has participated in forming Christianity. That Jesus’ greatest lesson was to teach a spiritual kingdom separate from the secular. A worship of the spirit.

In his view, the bloodshed we have had in the name of Jesus, is but an error of the enthusiasts and the priestly class. He believes a day will come when the true worship as started by Jesus will be resumed.

After reading this book, it is understandable why Renan couldn’t have been popular with the people of the church of his time. He paints a human Jesus on filled with great imagination of his power, who goes to his suicide willingly with a grandiose sense of his power and his mission.

This book is in my estimation a nice read. I enjoyed it.

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