Can Pope Francis help us in our understanding of the Historical Jesus?

St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220)
St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is going to be a relatively short post, as all I really want to do is to start a conversation…and avoid doing work on my dissertation.

We know that the name genesis behind the Pope’s selection is St. Francis of Assisi. While the Pope was, by all accounts, a humble person before his elevation, he is still very much destroying the culture of entrenched power, following Francis’ example. We expect more, I think, from this pope.

Often times, we hear the argument — and by argument, I am quite generous — that Jesus is a mythical person because of his name. This is just one of the many arguments. I mean, Joshua was the savior of Israel, the leader, the vindicator. We see the collusion of these names in the Epistle to the Hebrews, something that messed up the KJV translators. So, if one was creating a literary character, why not choose a name that would be noticeable and come not only with emotional attachements but so too literary expectations.

When the newly-elected Pope chose the name of Francis, he did so knowing full well the expectations of the name from the faithful. Likewise, he is working to fulfill those expectations. But, and this is where it gets a bit grounded. Names do matter. In several recent studies, the names we are given are shown to influence our personality, even our jobs. Simply, it is nominative determinism. It is not a new theory, nor one likely to go away. We saw this somewhat in the African-American community the naming of children after Martin Luther King, or people in the Reconstruction South naming their children after General Robert E. Lee. Or why I name my youngest after Sophia. When I look my son, named after my grandfather, I want him to be that Landon. We desire them to grow into their names, don’t we?

I cannot help but to watch Pope Francis as he moves further into acting the part of a pontiff from Assisi and think about the psychology of naming your child Yeshua/Joshua/Jesus when the people of Israel were enslaved. The cognitive development would be something to watch, especially if from an early age, Jesus heard about himself in these stories of Scripture, of a Joshua who saved his people — of a Yeshua (re)conquered Israel and removed from the land the pagan malefactors.

Okay, back to work.

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8 Replies to “Can Pope Francis help us in our understanding of the Historical Jesus?”

  1. “(Photo credit: Wikipedia)” Really? New Wikipedia technology allows the company to take photos of people dead nearly 800 years? In fact you don’t need to credit anyone for this image, which is in the public domain. But if you do give credit it should be for a work of art, not a photo, and it should be to José de Ribera (1591-1652).

  2. Just to throw a fly in the ointment. Even a real person can consciously adopt a new name to suit his purpose. A historical Jesus need not have been known by that name from birth. I seem to recall other messianic pretenders presented themselves as Joshua redivivus – or have I mindlessly bought mythicist propaganda on this one?

    1. No – if you believe in a historical Jesus (name not withstanding) then you aren’t a mythicist!

      That is interesting. I mean, we see names changing even in the New Testament. Peter, Paul…

      1. Technically, we only have Luke’s word for Paul’s change of name.

        I consider myself increasingly agnostic on the question of historicity. I tend to agree with Carrier, that there simply aren’t data enough to make a definite decision one way or another (your dismissal of the use of probabilty theory in history not withstanding).

        Started reading your book last night. I guess I musta misread MacDonald, because I didn’t recognise your criticism of him. Good to see you agreeing with Goodacre on Q – I hope to get to your mimetic analysis tonight.

        I have to say, though, that the amount of typos is frustrating.

        1. I’m not sure we can be agnostic, and without trying to cause offense, I think that side of the argument is only a means to an end. Carrier is a mythicist, just politely covering himself with other titles.

  3. Having read the conclusion, I was starting to subject that.

    Sadly, I’m not clever enough to tell them apart. Much like MacDonald claims Matthew missed Homer as a hypotext, so I miss your choice.

    I still haven’t read the middle bit, so I don’t yet know how much I might disagree with you about MacDonald. But I must temper my ego and accept that I do not have the tools to judge, myself.

    I’m sorry if you’ve already answered this, but when do you date Matthew and Luke? I thought I saw you quote 75 and 90 approvingly, but then a little later put Mt. post Vespasian.

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