Parables And Matters of Fact


My wife and I are readers. We have a lot of books around the house, in my offices, in the book store we own: There are books everywhere. Now that all our children are grown and gone making lives of their own, our evenings are once more given to the pleasure of long hours reading.

In the past month, I've been reading books about the historical Jesus. Why? I suppose part of the reason is reckoning with old struggles from young adulthood. I might not have been God-intoxicated, but I wanted to believe. It struck me as possible to know God, at least judging by what I heard from members of the church-going class. The Lord was always telling them one thing or another. I came to envy Jacob's broken hip -- imagine wrestling with the divine and getting something other than sorrow in response.

But a good education got in the way of my faith. We now have walls of books written by folks whose briefcases I am not suited to carry. I am wiser now; I think. But I still wonder about the divine. I wonder how an obscure Jewish preacher came to have such influence.

John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg are two writers I have just met. They have written lots about Jesus. One book in particular was a good and worthy read: The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus' Final Week in Jerusalem (Harper Collins: New York, 2006). This is not historial scholarship, strictly speaking; it is an interpretive reading of Mark's gospel, the earliest of the four gospels, written, scholars believe, about 20 years after the Jesus was crucified.

I am a trial lawyer, so skepticism comes easily. Can an account written 20 years after the events be reliable? Perhaps not as a guide to what actually took place in Jerusalem that week. But the events relayed by a man twenty years removed tells us what early Christians thought.

The biggest surprise in Crossan and Borg's book? Mark is silent on the notion that Jesus' death was some form of substitutionary atonement, a staple of Protestant Christians. The authors assert this doctrine did not take shape until 1097, when St. Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, created it.

The Bible has long been a suspect work in my home. I am often kept from reading it by recalling Clarence Darrow's cross-examination of William Jennings Bryant. The great commoner was skewered on a cross of nonsense in that case.

But did Darrow and Bryant make a mistake? Do facts matter when interpreting the truth of Jesus's parables? As Crossan and Borg argue: "the truth of a parable -- or a parabolic narrative -- is not dependent on its factuality."

Crossan's book on Jesus parables arrived in the mail tonight. I am looking forward to the morning's small hours: I cheat most nights and read for several hours while the world around me sleeps. I don't expect any longer to hear the voice of God, but I am open to truths larger than what can proven or disproven.

Also listed under: Parable Project

Comments: (2)

  • Query: Who can name the four letters above Jesus' ...
    Query: Who can name the four letters above Jesus' name on his crucifix?Bonus Query: What do the 4 letters stand for?
    Posted on January 8, 2009 at 3:46 am by Anonymous
  • The doctrines of religion, Freud wrote, "bear the ...
    The doctrines of religion, Freud wrote, "bear the imprint of the times in which they arose, the ignorant times of the childhood of humanity." He asserted that "the religions of mankind must be classed among the mass delusions," and that "when a man has once brought himself to accept uncritically all the absurdities that religious doctrines put before him ... we need not be greatly surprised at the weakness of his intellect."
    Lewis ardently embraced the same brand of militant atheism to which Freud subscribed...only after arriving at Oxford and coming under the influence of a group of Christian intellectuals including J.R.R. Tolkien that Lewis began to question his own unbelief...
    Now the spirited discussion that
    Nicholi has presided over for the past 35 years has been opened to a wider group of participants. Nicholi has written a book based on his course: "The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life" (The Free Press, 2002).
    Nicholi has taught the seminar without interruption for the past 35 years and still hasn't tired of it. Nor have the students. The course regularly receives accolades in the CUE Guide and attracts far more applicants than can be accommodated during a given semester.
    For the past 11 years, Nicholi has also offered the seminar to students at the Medical School. He believes that for them, the issues raised are not only of vital personal interest but are professionally important as well.
    Armand N. Nicholi, M.D., Jr. is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital. ...
    Posted on May 1, 2009 at 7:55 pm by Anonymous

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