Jesus in History and Myth

By R. Joseph Hoffmann; Gerald A. Larue | Go to book overview

Robert S. Alley


Render to Jesus the Things That Are Jesus' 1

At the close of the nineteenth century Shailer Mathews offered an appropriate introduction to our current inquiry. He wrote:

No one will be apt to expect from Jesus an historical study of the conception of the state. He was a student neither of history nor of politics. But there is no lack of facts that go to prove that men since his day have looked to him as furnishing an ideal of statecraft almost as much as of morals and religion. 2

In a fit of wit Mathews added that the song "'God's in his heaven, Alls right with the world,' would come far nearer expressing the attitude of Jesus [to the state] than the sermons of Bishop Berkeley." 3 In 1985 the United States is confronted with highly organized efforts to establish Jesus as a source supporting a theory of the Christian state. The Bible is being used as a text for frontal attacks upon the secular state. Because this newest wave of prooftexting is not only a serious challenge to the democratic republic, but also a successor to a long tradition of biblical abuse, we will examine historical evidence that demonstrates Mathews' observation to be thoroughly accurate. Indeed, not only have men looked to Jesus for an "ideal of statecraft," they have found that ideal to be strikingly flexible, depending upon the prevailing political climate.

In 1925, commenting upon the words attributed to Jesus in Luke 14:31-32, 4 the eminent scholar C. J. Cadoux wrote in his classic volume The Early Church and the World, "We are not likely to be troubled by such a non-committal reference." 5 Obviously Professor Cadoux had not

____________________
Robert Alley is Professor of Humanities at the University of Richmond, Virginia.

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