Christianity’s beginnings were, in the very least, inauspicious. Its founder was executed as a criminal under Roman authority. And the gap between these inauspicious beginnings and the remarkable success of Christianity in gaining adherents throughout the centuries, and even today, is one of history’s most interesting stories.
Now Jesus of Nazareth both is and is not the founder of Christianity. He is not the founder in the sense that Muhammed is the founder of Islam or that Prince Siddhartha is the founder of Buddhism. In the case of Muhammed, we have someone who, over the course of his adult life, received revelations from Allah, had them written in the Quran, and in effect created a system of life for an entire people-a theocracy that could be codified into law.
Jesus’ ministry, on the other hand, lasted just one to three years, he delivered odd and parabolic discourse rather than a system of law, and he was executed shortly thereafter.
With Siddhartha, we have someone who achieved “nirvana,” and was able to communicate and engender that same experience among others through the teachings of the four noble truths.
Christians, however, do not think that they have the very same experience that Jesus did. Rather, they experience Jesus in a different way.
So Jesus is not the founder of Christianity the way those other two great founders are of their respective traditions.
Yet Jesus is certainly more than just a symbolic figure. He is the founder in the sense that his resurrection of the dead gives birth to this religious movement. In a further sense, Jesus’ human story–his words, his actions, his manner of death–remain central to Christian identity.
Now for a really long sentence:
The historical activity of Jesus of Nazareth is difficult to reconstruct with precision, but it is best understood as a form of prophetic activity within Judaism that is marked by a particular urgency and authority, and whose proclamation of God’s rule issues in a nascent community.
On Monday, we will begin unpacking each part of this behemoth sentence.
Have a great weekend!
If you’re like me, and need to look up the definition of “nascent,” I’ll save you a few clicks: It means something coming into existence showing future potential. It usually has to do with a process or organization.