So Many Jesuses, So Little Time | John Buescher | Catholic World Report
Countless attempts to rewrite and revise the life of Christ aim at destroying belief in objective truth
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
This scripture passage, I think, contains a hint: What you need to know about Jesus is in the Gospels. If you find them or what the Church says about them unsatisfying or in need of much supplement in order to sufficiently understand or appreciate Him, it is a probably sign that you are chafing under His yoke, and that you are itching to throw it off altogether. Your newly-found “background” and “context” for Jesus will color Him, until He will fade away and disappear.
Lew Wallace once commented on writing his 1880 novel, Ben-Hur:
I first determined to withhold the reappearance of the Savior until the last hour. I would have him always on the point of coming, that His appearance might be looked for, to-day just over the hills, to-morrow at the summit, with the hosts looking for him, tearfully yearning for his presence. My next resolve was that He should not actually figure in any scene, and my only violation of this was when the cup of water was given to Ben Hur at Nazareth. A third purpose was to have every word which he supposedly uttered, the exact words of sainted biographers.
Why was he so wary about portraying Jesus? Because, as he explained, “The Christian world would not tolerate a novel with Christ as its hero.” Such a world would not tolerate endangering the sacred by shading it with profane colors. So he wrote a novel about the world around Jesus, but left Jesus himself as the mysterious untouched center.
The Many Lost Lives of Jesus
But whether Wallace was right about the Christian world of the time is more difficult to say. In a sense, this had already been done to wide acclaim by Ernest Renan in his 1863 sentimentalized Life of Jesus, although Renan and most of his readers would not have recognized it as fiction but simply as a colorful retelling of the Savior’s life.
As Albert Schweitzer wrote about Renan in The Quest for the Historical Jesus: