Is conservatism compatible with Christianity? What does following Jesus mean? What Jesus are you talking about? Most of these alumni, here and elsewhere, seem to have a particular Jesus in mind. But what if their Jesus is not the real Jesus?

I have studied the bible and bible scholars all my academic life and even taught a couple of classes in a sort of history of Christianity. At that time I did not yet find myself ready to discuss the real Jesus, whom I did not know, only the Jesus of the New Testament. Now retired I have no class to teach about the real Jesus; that’s why I am here.

The gospels portray Jesus in a number of ways but were written about 40 years after his death and by people who had never met him, resulting in an imaginary Jesus useful for various conversion purposes and controversies. The epistles of Paul present a Jesus Paul met only in his imagination and it was a figure hardly really human and only partially Jewish.

Scholars tell us many things about Jesus but mostly they rely on the New Testament, which is misleading. The real Jesus can only be approached from Jewish writers who can fully understand this strange Jewish man with strange Jewish ideas about God intervening in the world to save Israel primarily from its decadence and sufferings.

So here goes: Jesus preached the kingdom of God, which meant God intervening in the world, as the prophets of the Old Testament predicted, to save Israel, not the gentiles but Israel. Israel suffered under pagan rule and also the rule of Jewish renegades serving the oppressive gentile rulers wherever the Jews lived. What really motivated Jesus was how to encourage God to intervene. Everything he probably taught, as the more accurate parts of the New Testament indicated, was designed to prepare people for God’s intervention. Finally, Jesus allowed himself to get into trouble with both the Jewish temple priesthood and the Roman authorities and his predictable death would, he hoped, cause God to do his part. But God did not and Jesus died in vain: “My, God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

How does one follow Jesus now? A Jew would not know, a gentile would not know. No one would know. That time of knowing has passed. Thus you cannot make out of Jesus a moral teacher, all his teaching was directed at a particular purpose and was all from the Old Testament. You cannot make him a savior since God was to be the savior. What can you make of him? In my view, not much.

Norman Ravitch *62
Savannah, Ga.