At the end of the gypsy episode of Stuff You Should Know, the hosts reads a listener email asking them if you could go back in time, where and when would you go, and what would you bring?
One of the hosts said he would go back to the time and location of Jesus, and bring a video recorder. Both hosts seems to think that Christians today would be delighted by the footage.
I am not so sure, and the reasons seem obvious.
We don’t know if Jesus was a historical person. It’s quite possible he wasn’t, and it’s also possible he was. We just don’t know. We don’t have sufficient historical information. (The information we have is all from the Christian tradition, which isn’t an independent source.)
Even if he was a historical person, what he said and did may not be represented accurately in the New Testament. The NT stories were written down decades and centuries after he lived, and they were written by people with their own understandings and agendas. The “real” Jesus may have been quite different from how he was represented there.
What we do know is that all or nearly all of the vital elements of the Jesus story are found in a wide range of earlier religions and spiritual traditions around the Mediterranean. (See, for instance, The Jesus Mysteries by Peter Gandi and Tim Freke.)
It may be that Jesus is an invented figure, used to convey (valid and important) spiritual principles and pointers.
It’s also possible that he was a historical figure, and later followers added familiar stories from existing regional traditions, either to make the Jesus story more familiar and attractive, or to convey spiritual messages and pointers.
It’s even possible that Jesus was a historical figure, and his life just happened to fit into all these existing stories. This seems quite unlikely, although theoretically possible.
Even if the footage did show Jesus as (a) not an historical figure, or (b) quite different from how the NT portrays him, some Christians would still be delighted. And that’s the Christians who genuinely are OK with Jesus (a) not being a historical figure, and (b) not being accurately represented in the NT.
It’s fully possible to have a deep relationship with Jesus/Christ, and still be OK with these two things. The Jesus story is still full of important and helpful metaphors for our own spiritual path. Christ is still a powerful and transformative presence. In short, it’s fully possible to have a deep and alive relationship with Christ, and still be intellectually honest.
It’s also simpler because it is more honest, and it reveals the essence of Jesus/Christ more clearly. It reveals the important pointers and metaphors in the Jesus story. It reveals the importance of the alive presence of Christ. It strips away the peripheral things.
– end of the gypsy episode of stuff you should know
– go back in time + bring one thing –> time of Jesus + videorecorder
– would delight Christians today?
– perhaps some, although not others (I imagine, not conservatives/literalists)
– may not have been an historical person
– may not be represented accurately in the NT