Ernest Renan, a French writer and philosopher, died on this day in 1892. He is known for his massive (eight-volume) history of early Christianity, and especially for his Life of Jesus, published in 1863. Renan said he wrote the book in tribute to his sister, who died suddenly while the two were traveling in the Holy Land.
Life of Jesus was considered blasphemous in its day, because it depicted Jesus as a man, not a god—or God. It infuriated both Christians and Jews, the latter because it suggested that Jesus converted from Judaism to Christianity. It’s a biography that reads like a novel, and even while divesting his protagonist of miraculous powers, a direct pipeline to Heaven and other such hocus-pocus, Renan gives us a Jesus more splendid and mysterious than even the hero of the Gospels.
Renan made Jesus a product of his environment. He grew up in idyllic surroundings, hemmed in between mountains and the sea. He knew nothing of the world, but his little corner of it spawned his poetic imagination. The mountains inspired him (hence the Sermon on the Mount), the sea soothed his spirit. He was subject to the superstitions of the time: He believed in the Devil, and in possession by evil spirits. He said that Satan ruled the world, but that God would awaken one day and exact His revenge. He believed that day to be near—within his lifetime.
The coming of the Kingdom of God would reverse the order of things, Jesus warned (the last would be first, etc.) If that seemed unjust, well, too bad. God’s purposes could be inscrutable, but God Himself could be apprehended. Man had the power to form a familiar, and familial, relationship with God.
Jesus’s own family didn’t like him, and he didn’t like them. The bonds of like minds and souls were stronger than those of family. He couldn’t get any traction at home—his friends wondered why he was putting on airs, and strangers wanted to stone him—so he took to the road. From that point on, Renan says, his ministry was a moveable feast, celebrating “the liberty of the soul.”
See a quote from Renan at http://www.farewells.blogspot.com