Jesus in History and Myth

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


Jesus and Qumran: The Dead Sea Scrolls

INTRODUCTION

The very category under which this paper is included, "Historical Problems," assumes the self-evidential thesis that there are elements in the Gospel narratives that do not ring true to social and religious conditions as we otherwise know them to have existed in Palestine at the turn of the era. Much of what we have heard and shall hear during the course of this symposium supports this point of view. But any constructive analysis of the New Testament records cannot rest content with a simple arithmetical equation: "Fact" = "the possible" minus "the less likely and downright impossible." That is, if we go on peeling away the skins of improbability from the onion we shall end eventually with a small kernel of historical fact on which to build some new theory about the historical Jesus: who he was, who his parents were, where he was really born and lived, how he spent his formative years, whether he was a well-meaning if somewhat ineffective political subversive, or just a religious reformer who annoyed the Roman and Jewish authorities and paid the price of nonconformity. It has all been done before, and there never seems to be a year that passes without the publication of some fresh, fanciful reconstruction of Jesus' life and death. That kind of speculative exercise may be commercially profitable, but is of no real consequence. For the impact made by Christianity and the church in two thousand years of Western culture owes little to the comparatively trivial circumstances of its supposed founder's birth, life, and death, but much to the strangely compulsive nature of a faith that can turn sinners into saints, and charming old men into "born-again" politicians not entirely averse to blasting the rest of the world into a philosophic

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John Allegro taught at the University of Manchester and was the first British representative on the international scroll-editing team.

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