"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, April 2, 2012

Jesus and Nationalism

As I have noted previously, the problems of ethno-phyletism and nationalism are besetting sins among many Eastern Christians. My dear friend, the late Fr. Bob Anderson, used to say to me that every group has its operative soteriology and it's always heretical. Some of the droll examples he gave included the Lebanese (Maronites especially), for whom salvation comes, he said, from the French; the Greeks, for whom salvation comes from Hellenism; the East-Slavs, for whom salvation comes from language; and Roman Catholics, for whom salvation comes from the pope!

A new book looks, in a different way, at nationalism: Halvor Moxnes, Jesus and the Rise of Nationalism: A New Quest for the Nineteenth Century Historical Jesus (I.B. Tauris, 2011), 272pp. 

About this book, the publisher tells us:
The great German theologian Albert Schweitzer famously drew a line under 19th century historical Jesus research by showing that at the bottom of the well lay not the face of Joseph's son, but rather the features of all the New Testament scholars who had tried to reveal his elusive essence. In his thoughtful and provocative new book, Halvor Moxnes takes Schweitzer's observation much further: the doomed 'quest for the historical Jesus' was determined not only by the different personalities of the seekers who undertook it, but also by the social, cultural and political agendas of the countries from which their presentations emerged. Thus, Friedrich Schleiermacher's Jesus was a teacher, corresponding with the role German teachers played in Germany's movement for democratic socialism. Ernst Renan's Jesus was by contrast an attempt to represent the 'positive Orient' as a precursor to the civilized self of his own French society. Scottish theologian G A Smith demonstrated in his manly portrayal of Jesus a distinctively British liberalism and Victorian moralism.Moxnes argues that one cannot understand any 'life of Jesus' apart from nationalism and national identity: and that what is needed in modern biblical studies is an awareness of all the presuppositions that underlie presentations of Jesus, whether in terms of power, gender, sex and class. Only then, he says, can we start to look at Jesus in a way that does him justice.

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