Thanks to a Danforth Fellowship which allowed one to study a year of theology in addition to one’s formal Ph.D. field, I was able to squeak in a three year Bachelor of Divinity degree awarded by Union Theological Seminary with a middle transfer year at Mansfield College, Oxford. Although I did not continue on in theology but shifted my interests to social/political/legal philosophy, I continue to review books in theology and also found that my training there added immensely to my understanding both of Western history and many items taken for granted in my primary fields which had been shaped by theological presuppositions.

Of particular interest, needless to say was who was the real Jesus. One of my grandfathers, Charles Foster Kent, had done one of the many ‘Life of Jesus’ studies in his era when biblical studies were breaking beyond literalism into the historical roots of the biblical texts and intellectual and historical currents that had shaped them.

Our introduction to biblical studies at UTS followed the logically reasonable pattern of Hebrew texts first followed by the Christian ones. Our teacher of the first, James Muhlenberg, was inspiring in that he practically read them aloud and my knowledge of Hebrew follows from his frequent use of a key word. When we came to the Christian texts the next spring, however, an Episcopalian followed the pattern of his denomination by teaching ‘about’ the texts, but not exposing us directly to them. We protested and he changed a bit awkwardly to letting us study the texts, themselves. We discovered that the four Gospels had a number of discrepancies and obviously had been written from vastly different perspectives. Matthew had a Hebrew tilt. Mark was the most bare and possibly the earliest composed. Luke was obviously patterned on the life of Moses (and the only one to offer the birth of Jesus that we are now celebrating as Christmas — which was not dated on the annual calendar as it is today until about 3 centuries after the death of Jesus when it was most likely stolen from the Roman sun god who was reborn with the lengthening of the days each year.

If you sense a note of skepticism in that last comment, it becomes obvious with in depth studies that all our major religions as well as our present day cults borrowed heavily from other religious and mythic sources. We get the devil from the Zoroastrians. The death penalty was a direct steal from a Babylonian commercial code. Much of Genesis had roots in Babylonian religion as well.

The bottom line is that we have no certainty about the real details of the life of Jesus apart from one contemporary Roman reference to him as a suspected revolutionary executed as a zealot (terrorist in modern language).

However, the grave uncertainties being noted, such reports as that of the Sermon on the Mount and others offer one a sense at least of an incredibly wise and caring person who forgave sinners as well as his enemies — who nowhere attacked gays or abortion among other things! His only reported moment of anger was against the money changers who made out when changing monies for Temple donations — possibly a comment on modern capitalism?

The reports on Jesus first came from Saint Paul, who never met him, perhaps a generation after his death. The Gospels were apparently dated even another generation later. My conclusion about Paul was that he got it all wrong, was obsessed with death and obedience to the powers that be and so set Christians off on a destructive diversion from its get go. Paul also unleashed Christian anti-Semitism. However, even if the lives of Jesus were embroidered with abundant mythical elements, an incredibly decent and caring person — for me at least — is embedded at the core. I do not call myself a Christian, but certainly Jesus along with Socrates, has been one of the truly inspiring figures in our collective memory — if one gets him right!

……………………………

The following is one of the many websites reporting the difficulties involved in dating the Christian writings — and the difference that such dating makes: http://www.carm.org/questions/gospels_written.htm

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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