I started Ben Witherington III's The Christology of Jesus. In this post, I'll highlight some things that Witherington says on pages 24-25:
B. Malina points out, the way people were presented in antiquity was
almost never by offering a cradle-to-grave picture of personality
development, much less a psychological profile of what made this or that
individual tick. Rather, a portrait was painted by relating certain
things the person said or did, or by focusing on certain relationships
that person had. It was believed that one can judge the tree by the
fruit it bore.
"Malina convincingly argues that moderns in the
West operate with a different model of personality than was the case in
first-century Palestine. In Jesus' day, personal identity was
established and grounded in one's religious, ethnic, social, familial
and economic group. Thus, it was widely believed that a person could be
known chiefly through his or her interpersonal behavior, that is,
through speech, actions, and forms of interrelating. For us this might
seem to be an indirect was of knowing someone, especially if it amounted
to presenting many sayings in which the speaker does not speak directly
about him- or herself. But in some ways the best way to get to know
someone is by listening to his or her indirect testimony that is not
self-conscious. I suspect that one reason for the modern counsel of
despair----that we cannot know anything about how the historical Jesus
viewed himself----is because we too often come to the Gospels with our
modern paradigms of how we may come to know something about a particular
person. These paradigms are overly influenced, however, by modern
psychological theories about human individuality."
passage clarified a lot for me. Whenever I've heard evangelicals get on
their high horse and claim that they "know" Jesus, while criticizing
people who supposedly don't "know" Jesus, questions have arisen in my
mind. How does one "know" Jesus? Do I "know" Jesus? I've
read the Gospels, and I have rarely felt in reading them that I "know"
Jesus. The Gospels present a man (maybe more than a man) who goes
around doing miracles and rebuking the powers-that-be. I feel as if I'm
missing something, as if there is some veil between me and Jesus.
as Witherington states, the Gospels do not present us with a deep
psychological profile about the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of
Jesus. We have Jesus' actions. We have words that Jesus spoke. Even
here, though, I wish that the Gospels gave us more information about
what Jesus was like. How did he interact with his family? Instead, he
largely heals people, and he gives religious lectures. In reading the
Gospels, I feel as if I'm missing something. Granted, Jesus' healings
and teachings tell us stuff about Jesus----about his benevolence, his
desire to reach out to people, his moral standards, his commitment to
social justice, etc. Those are things that I can try to imitate and
follow. But I don't think that being aware of those things alone is the
same as "knowing" Jesus.
And then there's the
fact that many who claim to "know" Jesus do not know much about Jesus'
historical context----to use Witherington's phrase, Jesus' "religious,
ethnic, social, familial and economic group"----when the ancients
thought that knowing this was how we know someone. So how
exactly do people today "know" Jesus? Do they know Jesus, or merely
some version of Jesus that is in their heads? Or can the risen Jesus or
God reach out even to people today, in our contexts, bringing us to
knowledge of him?