I just came across an interesting article written by Lloyd Dewitt on the Huffington Post (07.25.2011) about the art of Rembrandt van Rijn. It is titled “Rembrandt and the Jewish Jesus”. The gist of the article is that Rembrandt showed great innovation in painting a Jesus that he thought was more like the Jewish Jesus of history than the “the Christ with the high forehead, shallow feminine features, long nose and narrow mouth familiar from early Christian and Byzantine icons”. It is worth reading if you are interested in art and/or historical Jesus studies?
Why historical Jesus studies?
Well, Dr. Craig A. Evans wrote his first guest post for this blog earlier today (see here) and one of the more prominent points that he made was that the great contribution of the Third Quest was “a recovery of the Jewishness of Jesus and his world.”
What is it about the Jewishness of Jesus that we find so important? Obviously, we regret that the Quest for the Historical Jesus and the New Quest both yanked Jesus away from first century Palestine into a variety of other contexts. I think this is problematic for Christians whose views of Jesus have been shaped as much if not more by places like Alexandria, Rome, Nicaea, Constantinople, Paris, or Moscow than Nazareth, Bethany, or Jerusalem. We are beginning to notice that while the continual evolution of our understanding of Jesus may not be bad, it is incomplete unless we recognize, as the Apostle Paul wrote, that “when the fullness of time had came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law”. (Gal 4.4) Even as we develop a Christology we must remember like the great Apostle that it is based on Jesus of Nazareth who came to us in real humanity, through a real birth, into a real world, at a real point in history. Even if we meditate deeply on Jesus being the Logos of God who has always been with God, and one with God, he is still made known to us first through a kenosis so real that to ignore the historical Jesus seems to be the first misstep in forming any Christology.
As I think about the various gospels that are read today one thing that greatly differentiates Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John from “gospels” like Peter, James, Judas, and even Thomas is the Jewishness of the narrative, the interaction with the Jewish Scriptures, and the Jewish earth on which it all takes place.
So whether one is describing Jesus through paint like Rembrandt, or historical research like Evans, one should never make a Jesus who is not a child of Abraham, a child of David, born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, preaching in Galilee and Jerusalem, and crucified in the land before his people. This is the Jesus of history and faith. It is the Jesus who was the “word made flesh” who “tabernacles in our midst” who “existed in the form of God” yet who did not “regard equality with God a thing to be grasped”.