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Will The Real Jesus Stand Up

The popular TV show “To Tell the Truth” premiered on 18 December 1956 (USA) and was highly watched to see who the “real” person was and how good the other two were at faking it. Think about Jesus. The Jesus of his time, the Jesus today, and the Jesus of the Middle Ages are all contestants on the show. Will the real Jesus stand up?


To get to know the real Jesus this Easter Season, you might want to read or re-read Albert Nolan's book Jesus Before Christianity with a New Foreword by Sr. Helen Prejean. This influential work approaches Jesus from a historical and social perspective. Nolan argues that to understand Jesus truly, we must separate the historical figure from the later developments of Christian theology and dogma.


By placing Jesus within the context of 1st-century Judea, the Roman Empire, and the mantra of "Pax Romana," Nolan sheds light on his radical message and challenge to the social and religious status quo. He emphasizes Jesus' compassion for the marginalized, his critique of wealth and power, and his call for social justice.


Nolan delves into the historical Jesus, seeking to uncover the person of Jesus of Nazareth before the institutionalization of Christianity. He examines the socio-political context of first-century Palestine, the Jewish tradition, and the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and other writings, including oral traditions.


Nolan's exploration is a bold attempt to peel back layers of theological interpretation and doctrinal overlay, revealing a more authentic depiction of Jesus. He underscores Jesus' revolutionary teachings of love, justice, and compassion, often in stark contrast to his era's religious and political authorities. By focusing on Jesus' life and teachings, Nolan invites readers to encounter Jesus in his historical context and ponder his message's profound implications for contemporary society.


Overall, "Jesus Before Christianity" offers a fresh perspective on the figure of Jesus, emphasizing his humanity, social consciousness, and prophetic challenge to the status quo.


My friend Kyle Haden, OFM, Ph.D. at St Bonaventure University, sums it up nicely.

"If you tell me that what we see today in the Church is what a first-century Palestinian Jewish reformer, who spoke out against excessive phylacteries, expected his vision of the kingdom of God was to look like…

I got some prime real estate in Florida swampland for you."

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