What would Jesus’s New York Times Obituary Look Like?
I was among a group of scholars who participated in a very interesting project on how Jesus of Nazareth’s obituary may have read in the New York Times (published in Vanity Fair, not an academic publication!).
But first ….
The Johnston triplets (Ryder, Abel, and Jaxson), along with their classmates at Fort Bend Christian Academy, proclaiming the eternal truth: HE IS NOT HERE, HERE IS RISEN! (video is 9 second)
Jesus of Nazareth, Whose Messianic Message Captivated Thousands, Dies at About 33
Sam Roberts, an obituary writer for The New York Times, imagines how, given the facts available then, his predecessors might have reported the aftermath of an execution in the Middle East one Friday two millennia ago.
By Sam Roberts
Jesus of Nazareth, a Galilean carpenter turned itinerant minister whose appeals to piety and whose repute as a healer had galvanized a growing contingent of believers, died on Friday after being crucified that morning just outside Jerusalem, only days after his followers had welcomed him triumphantly to the city as “the anointed one” and “the Son of David.” He was about 33.
For a man who had lived the first three decades of his life in virtual obscurity, he attracted a remarkable following in only a few years.
His reputation reflected a persuasive coupling of message, personal magnetism, and avowed miracles. But it also resonated in the current moment of spiritual and economic discontent and popular resentment of authority and privilege, whether wielded by foreigners from Rome or by the Jewish priests in Jerusalem and their confederates.
Still, Jesus had been preceded in recent years by a litany of false messiahs. He followed a roster of self-styled prophets who promised salvation and, with their ragtag followers from separatist sects, cults, and fractious rebel groups, were branded as bandits by the governing Romans, ostracized by the ruling priests as heretics in a period of pessimistic apocalyptic expectation, and already lost to history.
Despite the throngs that greeted him in Jerusalem and applauded his daring assault on the Temple and his attack on the money changers who operate within its precincts with impunity, it is arguable whether the legacy of this man—whom some contemporaries dismissed, if guardedly, as “the one they call Messiah”—will be any more enduring or his followers any more committed than the prophets and their devotees who preceded him.
(Moreover, what he might have accomplished further had he lived is also debatable, since the average life span today is not much more than 40.)
Jesus seems to have been universally respected as a wise man whose appeal for mercy, humility, and compassion reverberated powerfully. But he left no written record, and, according to those who heard him, he sometimes preached mixed messages. He would bless the peacemakers, but also suggest that his followers buy swords. He would insist that his mission was solely to minister to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” but would also direct his devotees to proselytize to other nations.
He is Risen Indeed!
– Jeremiah J. Johnston, Ph.D.
Did you read our previous three Holy Week emails? For your convenience, here they are: