Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Enigmas Or Just A Total Lack Of Information? (Part 1)

AP: Whenever it's Christmas time scholars approach the subject of so-called Christmas mysteries, treating them as if they are puzzles to solve. You can find discussions on programs via television, radio, and now blogs and podcasts, as well as magazine articles––anywhere really that covers religious subjects. I have asked myself many times: Why do we raise so many enigmas and then seek to solve them? The answer itself is simple, but the background to that answer not so much, as we shall see shortly. Here's the answer: Because we absolutely lack any reliable information.

And why do not we have any reliable information about the hidden life of Jesus? I would answer: Because of the character of the most primitive Christianity and its ideas about the nature of the messiah. Let me explain. The most primitive theology of nascent Christianity had three major centers of development:
1. Jerusalem, where, according to Acts, the closest disciples of Jesus had gathered after his death when they already had a firm belief in his resurrection.
2. Galilee. Even though we do not know much about this group, what is spoken of Galilee in the stories of the canonical Gospel appearances and the "Q" source (if it actually exists, in which case, it probably originated in Galilee as well), it makes plausible the existence there of a very primitive Christian group of followers of Jesus.
3. Antioch. This is where most of the people went who were expelled after the anti-Judeo-Christian persecution (Acts 8), and where Paul was welcomed for about fourteen years. Now both Jerusalemite theology and that of the Antiochians and Paul's defended the view that the Messiah was only a man, a normal man, of a totally natural birth. And only his life of absolute obedience to God, his death according to a divine design, and his exaltation to the heavens along with his placement at the right of the Father made him a divine entity, but whose nature was not altogether clear. But its purely human origin was very clear.
To prove that this was the case, it is enough to reflect on the theology underlying Peter's discourse after Pentecost, at least as reflected in Acts (2:22–24):
"Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus, the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God  with miracles and wonders and signs, which God performed through him in your midst, just as you yourselves know––this man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put him to death. But God raised him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for him to be held in its power."
Note the expression "a man attested" and "God raised him" . . . and the point that it was not he who raised himself. To these ideas we can add what Stephen said before being put to death, calling Jesus "a prophet equal to Moses" (Acts 7:37). And now the conclusion: it seems clear that if Jesus was considered a mere man and a prophet, and that his theological importance began only after his resurrection, when God confirmed him in his functions as "lord and messiah" (Acts 2:36), then the whole world would not think about his hidden life. The first thirty years would have had no importance at all . . . like that of other prophets. Who was interested in learning about "the hidden life" of Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezequiel? In fact, the first Christian theology indicated that the real life of the Messiah Jesus began immediately after receiving the baptism of John the Baptist, not before (that was the time when most Christians thought that God chose him and gave him his mission).

That is why when thirty, forty or fifty later someone inquired about data from Jesus' childhood in Nazareth, it was very difficult to find anything. They were all probably dead. There were no people to ask reliable data about the hidden life of the character that was already vital to Christians and wanted to know everything possible. We'll pick up here in my next post but I'll go ahead and tell you the conclusion to which we shall arrive: There was no reliable information. And the lack of reliable information was almost inevitable.

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