Social and Religious Transformations of an Image, 1890–1940
1. Jesus, History and Religion in New Zealand 11
11 1. Jesus, History and Religion in New Zealand The central claim of Christian revelation is that God became incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Orthodox Christian belief emphasises that Jesus was God, but also that he lived a fully human existence. Yet the ways in which his life have been understood and interpreted have varied substantially over time. This book addresses pervasive ways in which New Zealanders thought about Jesus, and what they made of him, during the years from approximately 1890 to 1940. It considers ways that Jesus was spoken of, contexts in which he was especially invoked and ends for which he was employed. The analysis that follows interprets Jesus historically as an ideal and religious justification. It hinges on three key premises: that Jesus has a history; that religious transformations are invariably bound up in social and cultural change; and finally, that Jesus talk can be highly reflexive, especially when focused on the dimensions of his humanity. That principle of reflexivity was a basic insight propounded in Albert Schweitzer’s devastating critique of the so-called ‘Quest of the Historical Jesus’, published in 1906. Having surveyed the efforts of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writers to interpret Jesus in historical rather than doctrinal terms, Schweitzer concluded that reconstructions of Jesus’ life typically revealed as much about authors and their times as their subject.1 People always view others out of the dimensions of their own personality and experience. Methodologically, Schweitzer’s observation suggests that interpretations of Jesus can also...
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