Throughout my life, attitudes towards the Jesus phenomenon have been evolving constantly.
As a child, I was led to believe that Jesus was an utterly magical guy in the sky who could perform miracles, answer our prayers, and channel us off (later on, after our death) to Heaven or Hell. As a normally-indoctrinated child, I absorbed all that shit and believed it (more or less). You don’t fuck around with such a powerful personage. Today, retrospectively, I would be inclined to say that I probably never really believed an iota of all this nonsense… but I was neither smart nor courageous enough to admit so, at the time. So, like everybody else in town, I carried on playing stupidly and superficially the Jesus game.
My first shock, at the age of 15, was an English translation of a book by the Breton author Ernest Renan [1823-1892], Life of Jesus, first published in French in 1863. Renan dared to consider Jesus as a human male, albeit an extraordinary personage, and his book was immensely popular throughout the western world.
I remember being greatly impressed by the revelations and tone of the Renan book. The English translation of 1897 by William Hutchison can be downloaded freely from the web. I decided to reread it, for the first time in well over half a century, to find out to what extent the document might still interest and impress me today. Alas, as often happens in such situations, the respective ways of Renan and me have parted to such an extent that I found the book boring and irritating, particularly when the author was trying to convince his readers that Christianity was a fresh and pleasant alternative to Judaism, “which first affirmed the theory of absolutism in religion, and laid down the principle that every reformer turning men away from the true faith, even if he bring miracles to support his doctrine, must be stoned without trial”. Not surprisingly, at the other end of the monotheistic spectrum, Renan detested “the evil spirit of Islamism”, and evoked “something sordid and repulsive which Islamism bears everywhere with it”.
— cartoon by Leunig
Many pious Christians were shocked by Renan’s cavalier attitude towards the cherished phenomena of supernatural healing operations and miracles of all kinds. I was amused by Renan’s allusion to the pharmaceutical power of a “gentle and beautiful woman”.
Many years ago, I recall vividly that I was cured miraculously of a painful infection of the ear by the unexpected visit of one of my wife’s girlfriends. On the subject of Christian miracles, I like to think that Ernest Renan would have appreciated this sermon by the Reverend Rowan Atkinson.
More seriously, in the late 1990s, my attitude towards the Jesus phenomenon was determined largely by my contacts with Israel, Jewish history and the Hebrew language. My novel All the Earth is Mine remains a personal memento of those brief but fascinating encounters.
More recently, I was intrigued by findings associated with the Talpiot tomb on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and the convictions of the Canadian film-maker Simcha Jacobovici, seen here alongside the tombstone of the Roman soldier Pantera, alleged to be the biological father of Jesus.
Then, in 2012, there was the fascinating affair of a papyrus fragment that seems to refer to the alleged wife of Jesus.
All in all, I had ended up believing that an incredible fellow named Jesus had indeed made a name for himself, even though we know next to nothing about his authentic achievements. He may indeed have been crucified in Jerusalem, and the disappearance of his corpse would have been a major factor in his posthumous rise to religious stardom.
Recently, my attitude towards the Jesus phenomenon has made another giant leap forward. In a nutshell, I’m starting to wonder whether this celebrated personage ever existed at all. In other words, he may well have been a character of fiction, composed over a long period of time by a vast but vague community of tale-tellers, authors and editors. Without going into details, I might say that I’ve been greatly impressed by explanations provided by a young US scholar named Richard Carrier, who is a leading proponent of the Christ myth theory.
When all is said and done, there is no great difference, in fact, between the case of a real historical individual named Jesus about whom we know almost nothing, and an equivalent personage of a totally fictional nature. In both cases, it is quite ridiculous to imagine the individual in question as having supernatural powers enabling him to be thought of as the son of a mysterious god.