I’ve picked up another book about Jesus, the umpteenth one I’ve read in the past forty years. This one’s called Jesus, A Biography from a Believer. It’s written by the historian Paul Johnson.
Johnson knows he’s entering a crowded field. He notes that “Jesus of Nazareth was, in terms of influence, the most important human being in history. He is also the most written about and discussed.”
There are over 100,000 biographies of Jesus in English alone. Now multiply that by the number of books in other languages and the volumes written in earlier centuries that are no longer available. Add monographs, dissertations, pamphlets, articles and, most recently, blogs and wiki pieces, and you have a worldwide tsunami of words.
All this volume from such a small spring of source documents:
- A few letters about him written within 20-30 years of his life and death.
- Four biographies written in Greek and circulating within 50 years.
- Forty-five authentic documents in circulation by AD 100.
Such prodigious writings are indicative of the impact of Jesus upon humanity. Johnson puts the number of Christ-followers of all stripes at 1.25 billion today. They are stratified into more than 38,000 denominations and sects, yet all centered around the same individual.
I believe one reason for his unprecedented popularity is the malleability of the man. By that I mean the ability of people to shape the historical Jesus like Play Dough into a Christ of their choosing.
But who is the real Jesus? How do we separate historical fact from subsequent interpretation? Can we peel this onion all the way to its core? No. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. It can help us avoid the subjective error of casting Jesus in our own image.