Did the Church’s developing doctrines about Jesus simply make explicit what had been implicit in the truth about Jesus? Could one still credibly maintain that Jesus believed himself to be Almighty God as the Nicaean Creed suggests? Would Jesus himself be content with what the Church had done with his memory and teaching?
In answer to these questions I turn to the Jewish scholar Geza Vermes, who spent over 50 years of scholarly activity studying Judaism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament and Jesus.
‘By the end of the first century Christianity had lost sight of the real Jesus and of the original meaning of his message. Paul, John and their churches replaced him by the otherworldly Christ of faith, and his insistence on personal effort, concentration and trust in God by a reliance on the saving merits of an eternal, divine Redeemer. The swiftness of the obliteration was due to a premature change in cultural perspective.
Within decades of his death, the message of the real Jesus was transferred from its Semitic (Aramaic/ Hebrew) linguistic context, its Galilean/Palestinian geographical setting, and its Jewish religious framework, to alien surroundings…Jesus, the religious man with an irresistible charismatic charm, was metamorphosed into Jesus the Christ, the transcendent object of the Christian religion. The distant fiery prophet from Nazareth proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom of God did not mean much to the average new recruit from Alexandria, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth or Rome. Their gaze was directed towards a universal saviour and even towards the eternal yet incarnate Word of God who was God’.
Geza Vermes, The Changing Faces of Jesus, Penguin, 2000, p. 263
Géza Vermes, FBA (died 2013) was a British academic, Bible scholar, and Judaist of Hungarian Jewish origin—one who also served as a Catholic priest in his youth—and writer on history of religion, particularly Judaism and early Christianity. He wrote about the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient works in Aramaic such as the Targumim, and on the life and religion of Jesus. He was one of the most important voices in contemporary Jesus research, and he has been described as the greatest Jesus scholar of his time. Vermes’ written work on Jesus focuses principally on Jesus the Jew, as seen in the broader context of the narrative scope of Jewish history and theology, while questioning and challenging the basis of the Christian doctrine on Jesus.