As soon as Christianity is set alongside other religions, the historical Jesus of Nazareth will be aligned with the founders of other religions.
Among the religions, of course, there are those without a founder (tribal and natural religions, illiterate, so called"primitive" religions). This applies in India to most of the Hindu-religions, in Japan to Shinto and in Korea to the original religion, especially to most of the classical religions in Africa, the South Sea and other countries with religions of aboriginals. These religions are not our main concern because from their origin they do not teach a path for all humans beyond their national and tribal borders. This remains valid even if in a period of growing social and cultural interconnections some of them try to overcome their initial self-limitations. It could be illustrated with the example of Hindu-movements which try to rid themselves from the Indian caste-system and to win over and incorporate members even from abroad.5 Natural religions are by no means dead, as it was impressively demonstrated by an exhibition "Altars - the Art to kneel down" in Düsseldorf/Germany in 2001/2. The exhibition did not only display 67 altars, mainly chosen from cultural contexts with popular devotions, but it put them to action by shamans and priests of various religious communities who celebrated religious rites in which spectators could even participate in some way or the other. Actually it might be meaningful to inquire how these kinds of religion respond to the needs ordinary people are facing in our days, especially poverty and oppression.
Here we are focusing on religions which are fully aware of their importance for all humankind. These are mainly religions with a certain historical origin connected with a founder. Close to Christianity there are
5 See R. Hummel, Indische Mission und neue Frömmigkeit im Westen. Kohlhammer: Stuttgart 1980.
Judaism and Islam with Moses and Muhammad, in Asia Buddhism with Buddha Shakyamuni, Confucianism and Daoism with Confucius, Master K'ung, and his contemporary, the "old teacher," Lao-tse. All of these men had their disciples so that in the course of time an abiding religious practice, doctrines and organizations developed. For our days it is highly important to note which role the founder continues to play inside the community.
There were different types of leaders. Frequently founders were messengers of the divine word - prophets - or teachers whose teaching consisted in a conflux of divinely inspired words and wise sayings gained by practical experiences of wisdom throughout the ages. Others were healers in physical, psychological or psycho-somatic terms. Often they were mediators or mediums in which God or the Divine took their dwelling among humans. It is interesting to note that religious figures like these appear again in our days where humans look for access to salvation and help outside of modern sciences and technologies and find it in new religious movements, and that all the more as many modern ways of life cause new anxieties and fears.
Here we have to pay attention to the classifications of Christ. At the beginning of his public life he placed himself in line with other people who wished to be baptized by John the Baptist (see Mt 3:13ff par). He is man among men, even though being without sin (see John 8:46; 2 Cor 5: 21; Heb 4:15; 7:26f. et al.), he stands in line with sinners. What he actively accepts, is done to him by fellow men: They hang him on the cross, and he dies the death of a criminal. The way he himself chooses his place inside the human race legitimizes the various attempts which have been undertaken in order to determine Jesus' position in comparison with other persons. This has to be admitted although at the same time there is the danger that the uniqueness of Jesus is relativized in view of his divinity. No doubt, we have to acknowledge by all means that Jesus was true man among men. Only if we do so, a correction of our image of God becomes possible.
At all times inside and outside of religions people have tried to see Jesus in a classified way.6 We mentioned Karl Jaspers. For him together with Socrates, Buddha and Confucius Jesus is counted among the
6 See in more detail H. Waldenfels, Kontextuelle Fundamentaltheologie. Schoningh: Paderborn 4.ed. 2005, pp. 223-247.
great authorities of human history. The most common typologies of religious founders have been also transferred to Jesus. Evidently he can be called prophet, teacher, healer, and from the Buddhist side also an enlightened one. Hindus placed him in view of the Indian god Vishnu among the avatara, the mediators of salvation. That the title "Christ" implies the messianic claim apparently has lost its bearing even in Jewish-Christian encounters. Jews do not meet in Christ the expected messiah any longer, and Christians are seldom aware of the fact that Christ is the Greek word for messiah = the anointed one. That means: Christ is mostly classified as prophet, teacher and healer.
As in other prophetic religions such as Islam Jesus is a prophet. Although in the early church the prophetic function of Jesus lost its former attention, all gospels clearly talk about him in this way. Contemporaries confess, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world" (John 6:14; cf. 1:45; 4:19). And the disciples on the way to Emmaus maintain that he was "a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people" (Lk 24:19). Later on other titles like Son of man, Son of God, and especially Christ become more prominent.7 However, in the Koran Jesus, again, is part of the prophetic history, being a member in the chain of prophets leading to the seal of the prophets, Muhammad.
A special way of classification we realize in India, where - as mentioned before - Jesus is considered an "incarnation" (Sanskrit: avatara) of Vishnu, a god granting salvation. However, evidently Jesus is neither the unique nor the only "incarnation" of God, but only one "incarnation" among others. We might well ask whether avatara which is also used by Christians for the Incarnation of Christ, is a well chosen term. For apparently so far Christians in their minority status did not succeed in explaining the uniqueness of Jesus sufficiently and clearly to their countrymen by using the Indian concept.
And yet, wherever religion focuses on the mediation of healing and salvation, Jesus is a very impressive healer and savior, who did not only know how to heal people in their bodily and psycho-somatic illnesses, but how to renew them totally by opening their eyes to the reality and the forgiveness of sin. However, this alone does not take into account
7 In discussing the titles of Jesus we have to distinguish between those describing functions exercised by him in his life, and those which indicate the beginning of theological reflection and interpretation. Actually modern critical exegesis made us more aware of this distinction.
that the curing deeds of Christ were also "sacraments," that is to say, indicative signs which point to an even more comprehensive act of healing which brings about the God, man and world uniting salvation at the end of these days. As said before, healing and salvation refer also to man in his guilt and sin by which he removes himself from God. Thus also forgiveness of guilt and reconciliation are acts of healing. In a comprehensive view Eugen Biser likes to call Christianity a fundamentally "therapeutic religion."8 And yet, the question is whether in many of these attempts the uniqueness of Christ is not perceived in a way that at the end it is denied. In fact there are also authors, who argue this way and, insist, therefore, on the fact that ultimately Christ can, at least should not be classified at all.
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