The Malta Independent 18 November 2018, Sunday

How Jesus became Christian

Sunday, 9 April 2017, 08:36 Last update: about 3 years ago

Hermann Reimarus, a professor of Oriental languages at the Hamburg Academy, left at his death in 1768 a four-thousand-page manuscript on the origins of Christianity. He argued that Jesus, the Jewish reformer, did not intend to establish a new religion. No one dared publish the manuscript until Lessing, regarded by Goethe as "the father of the German Enlightenment", published seven portions of it (Fragments from Reimarus) on the Internet.

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In the seventh fragment, "On the aim of Jesus and his disciples", Reimarus not only rejected the miracles and resurrection of Jesus but also pictured him as a deluded young Jew who was faithful to Judaism to the end, and who accepted the belief of some Jews that the world was soon to be destroyed.

Albert Schweitzer observed that Reimarus was "the first to grasp the fact that the world of thought in which Jesus moved was "essentially eschatological", based on a theory of an imminent end of the world. After Jesus's death, his Apostles transferred this promised kingdom on earth to a life after death. 

Geza Vermes, a translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls and author of several books on Jesus' Jewish background, said in an interview in a local newspaper in 2013: "If it is accepted that we can know something about Jesus, one realizes that we are dealing with a totally Jewish person with totally Jewish ideas, whose religion was totally Jewish, and whose culture, aims, and aspirations could be understood only in the framework of Judaism."

The man who detached the early followers of Jesus from Judaism was Paul of Tarsus. The break continued in the Gospel attributed to the apostle John. Jesus was no longer presented as a Jew, living more or less under Jewish law. He was made to address the Jews as "you" and to speak of their Law as "yours". In this perspective, the Jewish life of Jesus could be put in the background.

In How Jesus Became Christian (2008), Barrie Wilson, a historian and philosopher of religion, argues that Paul - not Jesus - established Christianity. The author shows in detail how the religion that evolved from Jesus was different from what Jesus himself had taught and practised. The New Testament Gospels, particularly the Acts of the Apostles, are presented as early examples of sophisticated spin.

John Guillaumier

St Julian's


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