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Jesus, the Unprecedented Human Being

Giosuè Ghisalberti

Does Jesus remain concealed by the very traditions intended to portray him? History and theology define Jesus to be a 1st-century Galilean or the son of God, a man limited by his time and place or exalted as the Messiah and Christ. He has been recognized as a Jewish rabbi or the prophet of a coming apocalypse. The quest for the historical Jesus and theology’s Christ of faith may both be essential and undeniable in the history of scholarship. Secular historians and the Christian church have made their claims. Jesus’ self-conception, however, has been neglected, his consciousness largely ignored. A new interpretation of the gospels presents Jesus as a unprecedented human being who will "utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 13:35) and make their meanings significant for the here and now. Jesus’ life from the virgin birth to the resurrection can neither be reduced to history’s scepticism nor theology’s affirmation. Is it possible to re-imagine the life and words of Jesus? He reveals himself to be a "first-born" who makes possible the second act of creation for every individual no less than for the social world.

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Immediately after his parents’ visit to the temple to fulfill their obligations according to Torah law – including Jesus’ circumcision eight days after his birth, Mary’s purification after delivering a child, and the offer of animal sacrifice – Jesus is described as growing up “strong in spirit” and “filled with wisdom” (Luke 2:40). Though by no means easy to understand or reducible to their traditional meanings of spirit (Heb. ruah, Gr. pneuma) and wisdom (Heb. chokmah, Gr. sophia), Jesus’s childhood – unfortunately lost to us except for this one unique moment in Luke – is characterized by being spirited and wise. By being filled with wisdom and animated by the spirit, Jesus has developed a unique character in terms of his self-understanding as well as in intelligence. To call him simply precocious as a twelve-year-old is inadequate, for the dynamics of a spirited wisdom remain without a definitive sense as to its origin and foundation; they may in fact be simply heuristic descriptions, accurate only to a degree. Although it may be tempting to allow these initial definitions to apply to Jesus, Luke reminds us to avoid relying on any prior conceptions to understand their meaning; even a double-tradition of the spirit and wisdom cannot fully make him accessible. Other events are necessary; the father to the man is only glimpsed in part – though one incident known to us from his childhood will be revealing.

It is essential to emphasize that “Jesus’ wisdom is not a function of his...

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