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This article is taken from PN Review 62, Volume 14 Number 6, July - August 1988.

Moelwyn Merchant's Poetry and Fiction Ralph Wood

One would have thought that the writing of lives of Jesus had ended with the 19th century. Albert Schweitzer put paid to the so-called 'quest for the historical Jesus' by proposing that the Enlightenment and Victorian biographies of the Nazarene were in fact covert lives of the biographers. Professor Jaroslav Pelikan, the most eminent doctrinal historian of our century, has confirmed Schweitzer's verdict. Not only the 18th and 19th centuries, Pelikan demonstrates, but every age tends to envision Jesus according to its own deepest assumptions: he is the Cosmic Christ to the Hellenized world, the Ideal Monk to the Middle Ages, the Universal Man to the Renaissance, the Teacher of Common Sense to the Age of Reason, the Poet of the Spirit to Romantics, and the Supreme Liberator to 20th century advocates of revolutionary change (v. Pelikan's Jesus Through the Centuries, Yale University Press, 1985).

This is not to make the reductionist argument that all versions of Christ are but versions of ourselves, but to say that the projectionist urge remains an exceeding great temptation. If modern historical research on the Gospels has revealed one indispensable truth, it is that Jesus would not seem a fit subject for fiction or biography. His real significance lies not in his actual goings and comings, not even in his literal sayings and doings. Their historical veracity and meaning remain vigorously disputed. The New Testament narratives about Jesus are transcendently important because they point to his office as the crucified and ...


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