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ss The Greatest Person - The Greatest Person,  The Greatest...Fiction?

The Greatest...Fiction?

None of these aspects of Jesus' life is based on meagre evidence. They are major themes that permeate every piece of information we have about him. They are so interwoven that the only alternative approach is to maintain that the Jesus of the Gospels is substantially a figure of fiction - his teaching, character, deeds and claims having been invented by others.

Such thorough-going scepticism is quite unwarranted. The figure of the Gospels is so well integrated and awe-inspiring as to be quite beyond the bounds of fictional imagination. Who could have invented such goodness without describing a pious prig? What convincing and consistently good person can be found in classical literature? Thomas Keneally, in his prologue to 'Schindler's Ark', identified the difficulty. 'Fatal human malice is the staple of narrators, original sin the mother-fluid of historians. But it is a risky enterprise to write about virtue.'

Who could have thought up Christ's teaching? It is one thing to suppose that Bacon wrote Shakespeare but quite another to suppose that some committee of early Christians invented the Sermon on the Mount, his memorable sayings or the timeless parables. Anyone who is experienced in group work will recognise that great creativity comes from individuals. In this case, as Rousseau observed, the inventor would be even more astonishing than the hero.

We cannot evaluate the medical evidence of individual miracles so long after the events. However, all the evidence implies that the historical Jesus had a reputation for healing people. How did this arise? They say there is no smoke without fire. For sure, if he was merely an ordinary person he could not have performed such extraordinary deeds, but that is not the case in point. We are talking here about a uniquely impressive figure who claimed to be revealing God to men and women, and who attributed his healings to the touch of 'the finger of God'.

The Gospels were penned within living memory of Jesus, and have come down to us in all essentials as they were written. It is difficult to propagate a massive fraud when so many witnesses are still alive. So today there are enough survivors of Hitler's death camps to silence attempts to rewrite their history. Jesus had lived out his ministry before 'multitudes'.

Furthermore, the Gospels were written by Christians who were so impressed by the values of the kingdom of God that they went to great lengths to preserve them for posterity. Had they not taken on board Christ's concern for truthfulness and integrity? Luke formally introduces his account by asserting strongly that he has checked all the details himself and is writing an accurate record.

Suppose you went through the Gospels with a pencil, crossing out all those passages that, for one reason or another, you did not like or believe. If you are left with enough to portray an identifiable being, that person would still be striking in his goodness, arresting in his teaching and mind-boggling in his view of himself.

The only Jesus for whom there is any evidence at all is a fascinating teacher making the most stupendous claims.

These claims are all the more remarkable because they come from the lips of so great a teacher and so fine a character. Can we really believe this teacher was mad? Can we conclude that a man of his character was deliberately deceiving people? If not, there is logically only one other possibility.

'A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on the level of a man who says he's a poached egg, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But don't come up with any patronising nonsense about his being a great moral teacher. He hasn't left that alternative open to us.' C S Lewis

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