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The Historical Anybody (Religious)

Updated on September 30, 2016

Palestine During the Time of Jesus

Only the names have changed.
Only the names have changed. | Source

The Historical Jesus

More than anybody, it is Jesus Christ who has inspired the title of this exploration. Why, one might ask, should there be a difference between the historical Jesus and the scriptural? It is just that many of us from time to time are riveted by His life's story. There is, for instance, a Morman-based study of the "miraculous healing of the centurion's servant." It is written (Luke 7:9, Matthew 8:10) that He "marveled at the faith shown by the centurion." Since Christ was considered "omniscient" during His lifetime, the author remarks, why should He have "marveled at anything"? Either there is a problem with language and translation or we are not quite able to perfectly grasp the event. Personally, without being too anthropocentric, I think it has to do with the unpredictability of human relations. In fact, the unscientific might even be an integral part of how the entire universe operates, not just human circumstances. There are surprises. There is such a thing as Chaos Theory. Still, given the fact, not infrequently overlooked, that Jesus was a Jew, as well as thrust, somehow, into human form, a Roman Centurion, supplicating the help of an ancient Judean, could not have been anything other than a marvel.

The Nazis claimed He was Aryan. But such a distinction has long since gone out of style. One must also add that the author, who phrased the question, answers it quite differently. Instead, he opposes the event to Mark 6:6, where Jesus also marveled, this time at the people's disbelief. The plain fact is, however, according to portions of the New Testament, that some Jews did in fact believe in Christ, not counting His apostles. It is little wonder Jews and Gentiles continue to disagree, for a variety of reasons. Even if Gentiles are right, most Jews (a term basically restricted to unbelievers in Jesus Christ) would still not yield. To them, the change would not make practical sense. Consequently, Jesus, who triumphed over hell and death, while a Jew, remains, in the Jewish majority opinion, a pretender. Actually, He is depicted in many ways, all across the board. Whatever the case, the Godhead is unchangeable, and, more importantly, unknowable. Jesus, in addition, never became a Mormon, or a member of any other congregation. He remained, or remains, what He was, or is, in a prolonged state of both acceptance and rejection. My opinion, nonetheless, is that, all the same, Jews figure into the overall plan of salvation. Later, in his notes, the author indicates how "[T]he keys, the kingdom, the power, the glory had departed from the Jews. . . ." From whence does the assertion arise? It is, nevertheless, a popular assessment. My source was published in 1915. It is a monumental work. All the same, it will not ultimately prove entirely satisfactory. But then, how could it?

Luther's Birth House

Eisleben, Saxony 1483.  Now a home to the poor.
Eisleben, Saxony 1483. Now a home to the poor. | Source

Martin Luther

I suppose one could just google the man as well as the myth, but perusing two admittedly lightweight bios was not so much bother. Before Luther defied the Church, it was entering its 16th century. But by the end of Luther's life, it would no longer enjoy the same, exact grandeur. Although the most successful independent, one could realistically take issue with Luther's originality. Jan Hus was burned at the stake in 1415 for translating the bible into Bohemian, in addition to other "offences". During Luther's own lifetime, Huldrych Zwingli, in Switzerland, advocated notions against those that had long since become standardized. Certainly, the critique of indulgences wins the most approval, from a universal standpoint. These were payments for the sake of penitence. Protestantism, however, only became a reality during Luther's 62-year lifetime. It would serve no purpose to compare Jesus to Luther. But the avid search for biographical truth sheds light on why the historical Jesus has in some ways overtaken the scriptural version, according to diverse church theologies. Christianity is hopelessly fractured. The inquiring mind would like to get back to the basics, if only it could.

Approximately three hundred years before Joseph Smith sought to apply his own remedy to the fragmented situation, Luther tried to redress a perceived and conspicuous wrong to the ordinary Christian, dominated by a ruling elite. Both religious leaders were different from each other, if formidable and prolific writers, and against an over-authoritarian Church. In the above text, the author simply remarks upon the succession of the age of the Gentiles following the Jews. It is unfortunate how the Reformation brought with it a new wave of anti-Semitism. Both Luther, and an influential, more secular contemporary, Erasmus, eventually turned, verbally, against the "stubborn" unconverted. To be sure, the Western World is defined in great part by its nearly unanimous belief in Jesus Christ. With the exception of Russia, an assortment of other Euro-Asian nations, and captive populations, the further one travels eastward, the more the role of Christ in religion is attenuated. Did Luther assist in the Western resolve favoring Christendom? Beyond doubt. So, who was the man? Well, he was a brilliant scholar, a humble Christian servant, a monk, who later married, fathered children, and suffered kidney stones. One is tempted to go much further, since the complexities of the historical era into which he was born are interesting, however much brevity is preferred.

Luther's Collected Works

Try this at home for those who do not think certain kinds of writing is hard work.
Try this at home for those who do not think certain kinds of writing is hard work. | Source

The Authorial Syndrome

Whether autobiographical of biographical, authorized or not, if the subject is, or was, a big wheel, it is more than likely that the amount of pages devoted to the personage will exceed by far the average. Inevitably, the reader gets to know the author at the same time he or she becomes more knowledgeable of the subject in question. With religious topics, the situation gets messy very fast and can never be cleared up enough to gain widespread approval. The abstract matter alone can quickly cause irreparable breaches. But the more human elements are much easier to digest. Speaking of which, it is impossible not to note how liberal Luther was with meals, eating and drinking what he liked, as much in defiance of doctor's orders as those of the Pope. One can also make an educated guess that the Mormon scholar, in line with Joseph Smith's admonitions, refrained from coffee, tobacco, and alcohol -- or realized that he should have were he to indulge. Dietary restrictions have a lengthy history, leading back to the furthest reaches of the Judeo-Christian culture. One must include the Islamic, too.

Generally, writers have a good feel for their audiences, even if, today, they are losing them. Some biographical facts are just too hard to believe. Did Luther really decide to become a monk because of fearful lightning on the way home one evening? In the case of Christ, we are expected to maintain a certain distance, so that it is easier to be content without a perfect understanding of His earthly existence. Luther's ailments, on the other hand, are way too intimate. What biographer can resist telling of the great man's bout with constipation? Human characteristics can be regarded as contemptible, until, of course, those who scorn most grow older, sicker, and uglier. Despite Luther's rebellion, pleasing to many princes within a lingering feudal era, to the chagrin of Henry the Eighth, Luther never condoned multiple marriages or encouraged divorce. To the Holy Roman Empire, which, as they say, was never holy, Roman, nor an empire, he was not the saving grace grumblers on high had hoped for.

Joseph Smith Shot Dead in Illinois Along the Mississippi

The Nauvoo House during the flood of 2008.
The Nauvoo House during the flood of 2008. | Source

The Protestant Reformation and Mormon Restoration

Ordinarily, I do not seek to go over my own head, for I am neither a theologian nor a churchgoer. But like many others, I am caught up in the current fervor concerning the End Times. Naturally, one can point out that Luther, in the 1500s, also thought that they were in motion. Well, he had his notions. I strongly believe he would have had an even greater impact today. Armed with a thorough knowledge of scripture in Hebrew, Latin, Greek, and German, he would probably have outdone all the bestsellers combined of this still rather young, pestiferous century. Let it be said, the upheavals that began with those 95 theses, nailed to the Wittenburg Castle Church door, did not change everything. Catholic churches did not empty out, Lutherans quickly lost their monopoly, and, to the consternation of the more ambitious proselytizers, it is doubtful that there came about a noticeable bump in the entire Christian population. But credit is due to Luther, regardless of his detractors, for having faith not only in Christ, but in humanity, able to read and think, using the scriptures themselves as the ultimate authority and arbiter.

But by the time the excitement had reached upstate New York in the early 1800s, at least one young man, filled with the Holy Spirit, asked himself a very astute question: namely, which church or denomination, including Roman Catholicism, hardly dead or dying, was right? For those who know the story, the answer received, whether by prayer or visitation, was none. Thus began a new, distinctly American religion. The controversial Mormon Testament is the only one I know that deals with the Americas -- a whole hemisphere. It begs credulity, but so do other articles of faith. It was while perusing yet another book, on the possibility of Christian unity, written by a much lesser known author, that it occurred to me that unification is not necessary for Christianity, though the idea helped create the YMCA and YWCA. Almost every reform, moreover, is regarded as a restoration. Therefore, a single roof, it seems, is not really what the devout unanimously desire. For years I used to hear about the "crisis" in religion. True enough, less and less people take the proverbial high road seriously. At the very least, let people do the best they can, however they can, since this is still a free country. After November, our nation might very well set its course on the low road. Some say it is already well on the way downhill. The literary-minded try to think it through, with or without divine aid. Why, in so doing, strive to re-familiarize ourselves with the greats of yesteryear? Well, it cannot be other than the fact that such men and women no longer exist.


By Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911).
By Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911). | Source

Lee Strobel Video


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