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For instance, Jesus does not fit into the category of literary fiction. If He did, then what we have in the Gospels is inexplicable. It would have required exceptional genius to have invented the character of Jesus and put into His mouth parables that are in themselves literary masterpieces. It is just not credible that all four gospel writers with little formal education between them just happened simultaneously to be literary geniuses of world rank.
Furthermore, there are relatively few characters in literature who strike us as real people, whom we can know and recognize. One of them is my intellectual hero, Socrates. He has struck generation after generation of readers as a real person. Why? Because Plato did not invent him. So it is with Jesus Christ. Indeed, the more we know about the leading cultures of the time, the more we see that, if the character of Jesus had not been a historical reality, no one could have invented it. Why? Because He did not fit in to any of those cultures. The Jesus of the Gospels didn’t fit anyone’s concept of a hero. Greek, Roman, and Jew—all found Him the very opposite of their ideal.
The Jewish ideal was that of a strong military general, fired with messianic ideals and prepared to fight the Roman occupation. So when Jesus eventually offered no resistance to arrest, it was not surprising that His followers temporarily left Him. He was far from the Jewish ideal leader.
As for the Greeks, some favored the Epicurean avoidance of extremes of pain and pleasure that could disturb tranquility. Others preferred the rationality of Stoicism, which suppressed emotion and met suffering and death with equanimity, as Socrates had done.
Jesus was utterly different. In the Garden of Gethsemane, facing such intense agony that He sweat drops of blood, He asked God to let Him skirt the torturous cross. No Greek would have invented such a figure as a hero.
And the Roman governor Pilate found Christ unworldly and impractical when Jesus told him: “My kingdom is not of this world . . . For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I came into the world—to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:36–37).
So Jesus ran counter to everyone’s concept of an ideal hero. Indeed, Matthew Parris, an atheist, suggested in the Spectator recently that if Jesus hadn’t existed not even the church could have invented Him! Jesus just did not fit in.
Nor did His message. St. Paul tells us that the preaching of the cross of Christ was regarded by the Jews as scandalous, and by the Greeks as foolish. The early Christians certainly could not have invented such a story. Where, then, did it come from? From Jesus Himself, who said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Jesus did not fit into the world. So they crucified Him and tried to fit Him in a tomb. But that did not work either. He arose from the dead on the third day.
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