Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Ernest Renan names five main sources for his biography: the Gospels, the Old Testament Apocrypha, the works of Philo Judaeus, the works of Flavius Josephus, and the Talmud. Josephus barely mentions Jesus. Philo knew nothing of him but lived in a contemporary intellectual center, Alexandria, and this afforded a perspective on the dominant religious and philosophical ideas of the time.
In Renan’s account, Jesus is born at Nazareth, a small, obscure and nondescript town in the region of Galilee, within a few years of what is now called the beginning of the Christian Era. His given name, Jesus, is a variation of Joshua. His parents, Joseph and Mary, are artisans and laborers. Renan reports that Jesus’ family includes brothers and sisters.
Jesus learns to read and write as a boy, but because the Gospels show him speaking “Aramean” (Aramaic), Renan expresses doubt that he understood Hebrew or Greek texts. Renan gives thanks that Jesus did not learn the “scholasticism” of the type demonstrated in the Talmud. Renan believes that the scholars of the time tended to overinterpret the Pentateuch and the Prophets, hoping to justify the popular Messianic dream. Jesus undoubtedly shared that dream, but with his “grand genius,” he sees the true meaning of the Old Testament, especially its truly poetic portions such as the lyrical Psalms. He is perhaps inspired by the apocryphal testaments as well, with their tales of the Messiah arriving to...
(The entire section is 864 words.)
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