[First Last Name]
[Date Month Year]
On the 29 March 1999 issue of Newsweek, bearing the cover title “2000 Years of Jesus”, Kenneth Woodward wrote an editorial piece that generated heated debates over his opinions of Jesus as a Jewish rabbi whose known preaching texts or sayings had been considered among scholarly circles as nothing more than a rehash of specific themes from the Hebrew Bible. At the close of the second millennium, Newsweek again published a landmark issue on 27 March 2000, bearing the cover title “Visions of Jesus.” In this issue, he wrote the feature article (“The Other Jesus”) wherein he claimed that the Jesus of the Gospels is a “Christian fiction” that the early church created on the basis of the absence of extra-biblical evidence to support the claim of his existence (Woodward 53).
In the same article, Woodward attempted to describe Jesus through the lens of the larger non-Christian world religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. These “visions” of Jesus from outside the Christian religion is the central subject of this essay, which will attempt to analyze these outsider perspectives. However, since great mountains are known better the nearer the climber is to these majestic structures than from afar, it is expected that these distant visions of Jesus will be superficial at best compared to how closely Christians see Jesus whether as a human being, a God, or both simultaneously as God-man. The analysis, however, will be conducted in an objective manner in order to bring forth the best of what these visions can give.
Jesus from Judaist Eyes: For the Jews, Jesus was a dissident or reformist rabbi whose wisdom amazed many Jews at that time. He was an ancient rabbi who borrowed largely from the Hebrew scripture (e.g. Psalms, Isaiah, etc.), which made scholars conclude that “little” in his teachings cannot be found in that Hebrew collection (54). However, it is not acceptable to Judaism that Jesus is the Son of God as Christians claim He is. Neither, can a sacrificial Messiah be acceptable into a religion that has no precedence for him despite the prophecy about him (50). Its idea of a Messiah is that of a Warrior King, stronger and more powerful than Moses and David. That preconception of the Messiah was the same hardline belief that Jesus failed to convert during his ministry; that same hardline belief led to his death on the cross. The only similarities that Christianity share with Judaism are its Abrahamic roots and essentials of the Abrahamic faith. Even in their understanding of God differs. Judaism’s is a distant and vengeful God they can only call Lord; that of Christianity, a gentle and benevolent Abba. Judaism does not have a clear concept of a Trinitarian God, other than the monotheistic God, one and alone in Himself, which distinguished their faith from polytheists.
Jesus from Islamic Eyes: Jesus may be a great prophet and a miracle worker. However, Islam views Jesus as never a God. He is nothing more than a messenger of Allah. And killing a messenger of Allah is an affront to Allah (50). Islam shares an uncomplicated monotheistic God with Judaism. Its God is a distant God, too, whose presence and intervention in the history of the Muslim people apparently did not occur unlike that in Judaism. Islam’s familiar chant of Allah as All-Mighty reflects its awesome respect for power. Thus, Islam cannot accept a God who dies in an extremely shameful death on the cross, set aside only for criminals. That is simply not a condition fitting for God. Neither can a religion whose main motive of dying voluntarily is the experience of pleasure in the after world. The distance of Islam to the depth of Christianity cannot provide Islam an understanding of Jesus beyond the perception of him as a prophet and a miracle worker.
Jesus from the Hinduist Eyes: Hindus perceives Jesus as a practitioner of yogic meditation, which he learned while still a teenager. This line of mythology originates the claim that Jesus went to India to practice magic in order to become adept in magic, which authors tend to use when trying to explain in human terms his miracles and healings. The concept of magic as the agent of miracles reflects a Hinduist conception of supernatural events as magical with human power as its origin or perhaps even spirits. This is only as far as the Hinduist conception of reality can bring them in understanding Christianity. Contemporary Hindus came to accept him as a revered and self-realized saint who sought and had reached the highest level of the Hindu state called the God-consciousness, the perfect Samadhi; or a rabbi who escaped the degradation brought by death (50). However, the Hinduist cannot accept Jesus as the Samadhi himself, the God-consciousness, which is the nearest concept of the Christian God that Hindus can relate or understand.
Jesus from the Buddhist Eyes: Followers of Buddhism tried to compare Jesus to Buddha in the category of holy men. Like Jesus, Buddha too has a collection of teachings and precepts useful in life. However, unlike Buddha, the Christian followers cannot attain what Jesus attained as narrated in the Christian scripture. Buddhists are expected to follow Buddha into the Partinirvana, the final deathless state equivalent to immortality in ancient mythologies. However, this deathless state is only equivalent to the spiritual state in Christianity. It cannot adequately compare to the resurrected body of Jesus, which consists of both body and spirit. Neither can Buddhism endure the extremely painful image of Jesus’ death on the cross as it unsettles them, robbing them of peace or joy (50).
Agreement is due with Woodward’s observation that the uniqueness of Jesus among other great and holy men in human history is the cross and all that it represents: suffering, loving devotion to the will of the Father, and death. Buddha, Krishna, and Muhammad may have suffered physically in their quest for holiness.
But no one suffered like Jesus in the enormity of his wounds, the injustice his execution represented, and the devotional object of which is following the will of his Father in a single act of redeeming mankind from their sins. Even the Jewish God did not come before the Jews to offer his life for the expiation of their sins.
Another difference is the selflessness of the suffering and death of Jesus. Buddha endured years of sitting and limited food in his search for personal enlightenment or ‘salvation’. But, he did not do that for others but for himself.
Above all, the idea of God becoming man himself, entering in person into human history, suffer for humanity’s sake, and dying at the hands of humanity; that will not be found in any other religion around the world but in Christianity. This is the foundational belief of Christianity, which determines its identity and makes it inarguably distinct from other religions. Woodward noted with emphasis that there is “no room” for a Messiah who experiences the full burden of corporeal existence in the other religions of the world. Neither is there a room in the other religions for a God who voluntarily takes on the full burden of human failures, errors, and aggressions in order to save them.
Despite the gentile image of Jesus, there is no universal appeal for his passion a death in a world where death and suffering is synonymous to failure, weakness, folly, and vulnerability. The world wants a figure that sits on an extremely awesome throne where people can look up to, not a figure who was hang on the cross to die. Salvation indeed may be hard to come by.
Woodward, Kenneth. “The Other Jesus,” Newsweek 27 Mar. 2000: 50-60. Print.