Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Uniquely Liberated Man

Continuing with The Wild Reed’s special 2011 Holy Week series, I share today a second excerpt from Albert Nolan’s groundbreaking 1976 book Jesus Before Christianity. It is accompanied by images of Robert Powell as Jesus from the 1977 mini-series Jesus of Nazareth.

(To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)


Jesus was unique among the people of his time in his ability to overcome all forms of authority-thinking. The only authority which Jesus might be said to have appealed to was the authority of the truth itself. He did not make authority his truth, he made truth his authority. And in so far as the authority of God can be thought of as the authority of truth, Jesus might be said to have appealed to, and to have possessed, the authority of God. But when e speak of the authority of truth (and therefore the authority of God) we are once again using the word “authority” as a metaphor. Jesus did not expect others to obey him; he expected them to “obey” the truth, to live truthfully. . . . [I]t would be better to speak about power here rather than authority. The power of Jesus’ words was the power of truth itself. Jesus made a lasting impact upon people because by avoiding all authority-thinking he released the power of truth itself – which is the power of God and indeed the power of faith.

The only thing which Jesus can said to have claimed is that he spoke the truth. This is a substantial claim, far more substantial than any claim to exalted titles or superhuman authority. What is the basis of this claim? What made Jesus so sure that his convictions were infallibly true? One might answer: the convictions themselves. Jesus clearly felt that his insight into reality did not need to be proved or authenticated by anything outside of itself. His insight was an intuitive and self-authenticating experience.

This brings us to the very delicate matter of Jesus’ personal experience. Any attempt to reconstruct Jesus psychology or consciousness would be purely conjectural. Most scholars are satisfied with the assertion that somewhere at the heart of Jesus’ mysterious personality there was a unique experience of intimate closeness to God – the Abba-experience. This is surely true, all the evidence points in this direction, but is it so impossible to give any account at all of what such an experience might mean?

It is not necessary to speculate about Jesus’ psychology. We know that he was moved to act and speak by a profound experience of compassion. And we know that the Abba-experience was an experience of God as a compassionate Father. This would mean that Jesus experienced the mysterious creative power behind all phenomena (God) as compassion or love. “Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences God; anyone who does not love has never had any experience of God, because God is love” (1 Jn 4:7-8).

According to Von Rad prophets did not only share God’s knowledge, they were also filled to the point of bursting with God’s own feelings and emotions. In the case of Jesus it was God’s feeling of compassion that possessed him and filled him. All his convictions, his faith and his hope were expressions of this fundamental experience. If God is compassionate, then goodness will triumph over evil, the impossible will happen and there is hope for humankind. Faith and hope are the experience of compassion as a divine emotion.

Compassion is the basis of truth. The experience of compassion is the experience of suffering or feeling with someone. To suffer or feel with humanity, nature and God is to be in tune with the rhythms and impulses of life. This is also the experience of solidarity, solidarity with humanity, nature and God. It excludes every form of alienation and falsehood. It makes a person at one with reality and therefore true and authentic in him[/her]self.

The secret of Jesus’ infallible insight and unshakable convictions was his unfailing experience of solidarity with God, which revealed itself as an experience of solidarity with humanity and nature. This made of him a uniquely liberated man, uniquely courageous, fearless, independent, hopeful and truthful.

What would make anyone want to destroy such a man? What would make anyone want to arrest him and try him?

– Albert Nolan
Jesus Before Christianity
pp. 151–152

Images: Robert Powell as Jesus, Anne Bancroft as Mary Magdalene, Anthony Quinn as Caiaphas, and Ian McShane as Judas Iscariot in Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth.

Robert Powell spoke about his role as Jesus in an interview during the production of Jesus of Nazareth in 1975.

So many people have created Christ in their image for the last 2,000 years that finding the original one is complicated. There are so many barriers in the way, quite apart from the conception of a man who is a God which is very difficult.

I’m reading the Gospels at the moment and I can find no evidence of the kind of Christ people seem to have invented and created. There is no evidence of Christ, meek and mild. I can find Christ the compassionate, the gentle, but I also find a very temperamental, aggressive, passionate and often angry man a lot of the time.

We will go for a man with that sort of breadth who is an enormous figure. I do believe Christ lived as a person. I don’t think there is any disputing that.

For The Wild Reed’s 2010 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Andrew Harvey’s book Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ), see:
Jesus: Path-Blazer of Radical Transformation
The Essential Christ
One Symbolic Iconoclastic Act
One Overwhelming Fire of Love
The Most Dangerous Kind of Rebel
Resurrection: Beyond Words, Dogmas and All Possible Theological Formulations
The Cosmic Christ: Brother, Lover, Friend, Divine and Tender Guide

For The Wild Reed’s 2009 Holy Week series (featuring the artwork of Doug Blanchard and the writings of Marcus Borg, James and Evelyn Whitehead, John Dominic Crossan, Andrew Harvey, Francis Webb, Dianna Ortiz, Uta Ranke-Heinemann and Paula Fredriksen), see:
The Passion of Christ (Part 1) – Jesus Enters the City
The Passion of Christ (Part 2) – Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers
The Passion of Christ (Part 3) – Last Supper
The Passion of Christ (Part 4) – Jesus Prays Alone
The Passion of Christ (Part 5) – Jesus Before the People
The Passion of Christ (Part 6) – Jesus Before the Soldiers
The Passion of Christ (Part 7) – Jesus Goes to His Execution
The Passion of Christ (Part 8) – Jesus is Nailed the Cross
The Passion of Christ (Part 9) – Jesus Dies
The Passion of Christ (Part 10) – Jesus Among the Dead
The Passion of Christ (Part 11) – Jesus Appears to Mary
The Passion of Christ (Part 12) – Jesus Appears to His Friends

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Why Jesus is My Man
Jesus Was a Sissy
The "Wild Gaiety" of Jesus' Moral Teaching
Jesus, Sex and Power
Jesus and Homosexuality
Jesus and the Centurion (Part 1)
Jesus and the Centurion (Part 2)
When Expulsion is the Cost of Discipleship
Christ and Krishna

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