Reading 2nd vol. now of John Meier's magnum opus on the historical Jesus, A Marginal Jew. It seems to me he shows great acumen, care, discernment & humility in his way of research and interpretation. He carefully separates out the evidence for what we can know about Jesus in the strictly factual, historical sense, from any speculations about what it might mean in a religious or theological dimension.
This work seems so valuable in a number of ways. For one thing, it sends a very clear and powerful message to "Gentile" Christians - which they need to hear again and again - that the roots of their faith lie in Judaism. The first Christians were Jews : the religious and political controversies between various sects and groups in Palestine, in the time of John the Baptist and Jesus, became gradually re-shaped, over decades and centuries, into a religious divide separating Christianity and Judaism, Gentiles and Jews. Some of the original polemics, which find their traces in the New Testament, were transformed by some streams of Christianity into a condemnation of Jews and Judaism in toto.
Obviously a huge, profound historical subject, and a very ancient stumbling-block for relations between the two faiths. I can't do it justice here, today : merely wish to emphasize the value of Meier's study, which might be (probably has been) very useful and stimulating for inter-faith dialogue.
Another basic strength of A Marginal Jew, it seems to me, is that it presents a challenge to fundamentalist thinking on all sides. Every culture re-shapes and interprets its defining texts to suit its own values and priorities : no human society is exempt from the limited vision which results from ignorance, chauvinism, parochialism, nationalism, etc. etc. But historical work like Meier's has its analogue in scientific objectivity : the aim is disinterested pursuit of truth, wherever it may lead. This is a kind of light which needs to be shed into the dark corners of Biblical literalism and narrow fundamentalism, which cut and tailor the Biblical texts to suit their own mythologies of value.
But alongside all this, what is my reading of Meier doing for me? How is my own thinking affected? I transport Meier's evidence & historical interpretation into my own "theological" thought-world : that is, what seems to be my constant contemplation of this mystery of Father, Son, & Holy Ghost - "one substance in three Persons" (in the Orthodox, and Catholic, formula). This riddle feels like an infinitely-rich & generative matrix... a conceptual "mandala", or an overarching framework for the vast & particular dimensions of reality.
I envision this pre-existent Logos - that is, some ineffable order of divine Being & consciousness somehow preceding the physical reality of time, space & matter- which flowers in our planetary time (history) as a revelation of Personhood : the divine become human. I see this (Incarnation) as a manifestation, a presentation of a kind of sacred theater : the drama of the loving self-sacrifice of Jesus, in a spiritual victory over death. I see this strange work fulfilled in the "procession of the Holy Spirit" - the Holy Ghost as God in 3rd Person, suffusing the church as a whole and each of its members - the "body of Christ" - with the same spirit, the spirit of Jesus, in surprising, charismatic, distinctive, revelatory signs, and "personal" ways.
I see this work of divine love going on both secretly and openly through the unfolding of earthly history, in order to save the world through a shared recognition of God's own nature : for when we finally realize we are "at home" in a universe created and maintained by supernatural Love, we will go home, like the Prodigal Son of the parable, to the great, the real, the profound, the planetary Thanksgiving....