The Man They Still
December 2, 1999
world has long since forgiven Julius Caesar. Nobody today finds
Socrates or Cicero irritating. Few of us resent Alexander the Great or his
No, only one man in the ancient world is
still hated after two millennia: Jesus Christ.
This does not in itself prove the divinity
of Christ, but it does show that his words and example havent
dated. They still have an amazing power to provoke hatred as well as
Of course the hatred of Christ usually
pretends to be directed at side targets: St. Paul, the
institutional Church, or, more vaguely, organized
religion (as if religion would be all right if only it were a solitary
activity). The cliché of the Christ-haters, including many
liberal theologians, is that he was a great moral
teacher who never claimed divinity, but that his
simple message of love was corrupted by his
But why would anyone want a man
crucified for preaching an innocuous message of benevolence? Jesus was
accused of blasphemy for equating himself with the Father: I and
the Father are one. No man comes to the Father but by
me. And if his claim were untrue, the charge of blasphemy would be
People not only saw him after the
Resurrection, many of them died under torture to bear witness to him. The
martyrs were the principal human media of Christianity in
its infancy, deeply impressing and finally converting others. Christ was
revealed to the ancient world in the courageous love of his
Other media included the
four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as the epistles of
Paul and other apostles. Each Gospel views Jesus from a slightly different
angle, but all four of them (along with the epistles) portray the same
recognizable man. As Thomas Cahill notes in his book Desire of the
Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus (Nan A.
Talese/Doubleday), this makes Jesus a unique figure in world
literature: never have so many writers managed to convey the same
impression of the same human being over and over again.
Moreover, these writers werent
polished professionals or literary geniuses. Yet they achieved something
beyond the powers of such titans as Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and
Milton: they depicted a character who exudes holiness.
makes the Gospels from a literary point of view works
like no others is that they are about a good human being. As every writer
knows, such a creature is all but impossible to capture on the page, and
there are exceedingly few figures in all of literature who are both good
and memorable. The Gospel writers thus succeeded where
almost all others failed. To a writers eyes, this feat is a miracle
just a little short of raising the dead.
Amen! In the epic poems Paradise
Lost and Paradise Regained, for example, Milton
notoriously made Satan more vivid than God and Christ. This led the poet
William Blake to remark that Milton was of the Devils party
without knowing it. Be that as it may, world literature boasts
many convincing villains but few convincing saints. And no literary saint
has ever spoken words with the lasting impact of Jesus
To a writers eyes, as Cahill might
say, the sheer power of Jesus sayings (which the poet Tennyson
called his greatest miracle) are almost enough to prove his
claim. Physical miracles might be feigned, but not these verbal miracles.
Yet he apparently never wrote them down; he spoke them, often off the
cuff, trusting them to carry by their inherent power.
Most writers are flattered if their words
are remembered at all. But the spiritually demanding words of Jesus
which condemn even looking at a woman with lust are still
carried in the hearts of millions after 2000 years, even though we know
them only in translations from translations. (Jesus spoke Aramaic, but the
Gospels are written in Greek.)
Even conveyed to us so indirectly, those
words have carried like no others in all history, because so
many people have found them true and compelling. The durability of those
words is all the more striking when you consider that they are always out
of fashion, as the secular world goes through its successive fads and
Jesus is Lord!
Archive Table of Contents
|FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.