Almost a year since I bought it I finally spent some time with Geza Vermes' The Authentic Gospel of Jesus yesterday afternoon.
Although from a Jewish tradition Vermes is a historian who has '...discarded denominational biases' (his words). I don't believe he would have earned the respect he has in the academic community if he had not. To read an aticle from the Times summarising what Vermes believes to be true about Jesus click here.
I wanted to read him because I guess I had swept under the carpet some of the demythologising work of theologians I studied at university twenty years ago. I never quite managed that schizophrenia which some of my colleagues manage, of preaching without upsetting whilst keeping one's intellectual faculties realistic and sharp. Some of the average congregation will blow up at you if you doubt the actuality of Job or Jonah, suggest that Genesis 1-11 are creation myths and legends and then move on to talk about what truth they teach us. So imagine suggesting that Jesus didn't actually say what the Bible says he said?
I remember a colleague saying in a sermon once on Adam and Eve 'It doesn't matter if there was an actual snake.' I wanted to shout out but there was too much to shout:
If there wasn't was there an actual Adam?
If there was a snake how come it could hear, snakes have no ears?
It does matter. If you are a creationist you are an idiot.
Vermes has gone through every saying of Jesus and using literary, historical and comparative criticism has either attributed it to Jesus directly or to the work of an editor (Matthew, Mark and Luke or later scribes recording the words set out by those three). In the synoptic (Matthew, Mark and Luke) gospels we have in front of us today we have an English translation of a Greek written form of Aramaic sayings which were amplified, clarified or simply 'doctored' by the early church to reflect their concerns.
I still have a desire to do two things in my ministry:
1. Introduce people to the authentic Jesus who is far more interesting than the church's one, just as we found that the human David was more interesting than the messiaotype one.
2. Remove the sense of 'controlling' that the church exerts and try to allow the church to be an authentic community of mixed strengths of faith, who talk to each other.
3. Demonstrate that the term 'Christian' can be far broader than we think and it might include people who still call themselves followers of Jesus but don't believe in his God.
4. Learn to count.
Breakfast I think.