Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?” So they answered, “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
—Mark 8:27-29a (NKJV, emphasis added)
This latter question is one of the most piercing and resonant questions in all of Scripture, and one that still begs an answer today. Some, like the apostle Peter, respond to the question with immediate affirmation of Jesus’s supremacy and Godhood. Others respond with respect or intrigue. And others still, with skepticism or indifference. Nonetheless, what makes the question such a compelling one is its multiple layers, the bottom layer being the implicit plea, “Know me. Find out for yourself who I really am.”
Of all the names and faces in history, Jesus of Nazareth is perhaps the most well recognized of them all. And more than that, he has become one of the most popular, as people of all times, places, cultures (and faiths) have found a way to identify with him. The problem is, we all see Jesus through the lens of our own understanding; we tend to remake him in our own image, projecting our own ideologies and desires onto him, despite the fact that he was an actual person, with ideologies and desires of his own. (No scholar denies the historical existence of a man named Jesus, who lived, preached, and was crucified in first-century Palestine; it is his claims and those of his disciples that are under question.) Throughout history, Jesus has been made a sissy and a macho man, an ascetic and a pleasure-lover, a Republican and a Democrat, a capitalist and a socialist, a warrior and a pacifist, a Ku Klux Klansman and a civil rights agitator. He’s been made white, black, Chinese, Hispanic, American Indian, and every other race and ethnicity under the sun. Outside of Christianity, he’s been seen as a rabbi, an elder brother, a yogi, a guru, and a bodhisattva. Is he all of these things? Is he none of them? What is his true character, his true identity, and how can we know? And is his adaptability a good thing or a bad thing?
In this blog I will seek to answer Jesus’s first question by examining depictions of him in the visual, literary, and musical arts of various countries, from ancient times through today, as well as in popular culture and in Christian subcultures. I also plan to consider what the historical record has to say about Jesus, including its interpretation by scholars.
As for the second question, my conception of Jesus is an orthodox one, but one that is constantly being refined. I promise that despite my personal convictions and preconceived notions of who Jesus is, I will be open-minded in my search, ready for surprise.
Reader, I invite you to join me on this journey of discovery, one that I hope will take us to the core of who this man from Nazareth really was/is so that we can acknowledge him truthfully. Please, please, please pepper each post with questions and comments. I want this journey to be an interactive one, as I believe that we can all learn from each other. Like the mosaic at the top of this page, maybe our individual understandings of Jesus add up to create a clearer, more beautiful picture of what he looks like.