The Shadow of the Galilean: Gerd Theissen
BOOK “NET OUT”
The Shadow of the Galilean
By John K. Baw
26 April 2015
German Theologian and New Testament Scholar Gerd Theissen has written this very unusual but interesting work of historical fiction. As the subtitle suggests, The Quest of the Historical Jesus in Narrative Form, it is the humanity of Jesus that shines through in this work, with only hints of his deity, and that in passing.
Theissen grounds the work in history front and centre, and then develops the plots, characters and narrative around it. The ample footnotes provide much of the historical and scholarly evidence for the historicity of his book. It is a very readable introduction to Jesus Studies for the average reader.
The book is the account of a fictional character, Andreas, a Jewish merchant living in 1st century Palestine. When he attends a demonstration against Pilate, he is imprisoned and offered the choice of being prosecuted for his ties to ‘terrorists’ (Bannus and Barabbas) or becoming a Roman intelligence “asset,” a special adviser on religious affairs, gathering information on certain movements that Rome might consider to be subversive to their interests.
This then launches Andreas on his own quest and journey, full of questions and search for meaning.
His first commission is to investigate the Essenes, and proto-monastic community. As they travel through the Dead Sea wilderness, they stumble upon Baruch, an Essene that has been banished from the community. As they journey together, they manage to obtain information on the Essenes, who come across as a strict religious community who follow a different calendar, who do pay their taxes to the temple and who hate Rome, riches and are framed by the expectation of an end-time religious war. Andreas thus prepares his report for Metilius, his Roman handler, omitting the incriminating details of their anti-Roman and belligerent intentions.
When John the Baptist is executed, this prompts Metilius to ask Andreas to look into the movement of one Jesus of Nazareth, who is depicted, interestingly, as a disciple of John. The Roman authorities are interested to learn whether this Jesus movement represents any threat to their rule. Andreas’ experiences in Nazareth show the reader how many of the “Zealots” had formed these revolutionary groups on economic rather than ideological or religious grounds - many of these adherents were desperately poor and heavily in debt - the community thus offered them a chance to escape slavery. Much of the historical backdrop to the Gospels is explained through story, plot and narrative in an easy to understand but at times dry script.
Increasingly impressed by this Jesus, Andreas starts to write his report. He never actually meets Jesus, but evidence of Jesus is all around him - in the stories, the anecdotes that people share, the reports and testimonies, the people who need healing, deliverance and hope. Thus what Andreas finds is not the Galilean, so much, as the shadow of the Galilean. The allure of Jesus grows on Andreas, who downplays all of Jesus’ Messianic, subversive, and Kingdom teachings and instead portrays him, to the Romans, as an itinerant philosopher poet akin to the Greek philosophers and totally innocuous to Roman rule. The tensions of a society about to burst into a revolutionary rebellion is all too evident and Andreas thus counsels Rome- not least to try and spare an imprisoned Jesus, together with his friend Barabbas the Zealot - to implement a full remission of debts, a pardoning of crimes against the state and a settling of landless people in the frontier areas. This totally backfires on him when he is summoned before Pilate, who decides to condemn all of the accused to crucifixion and then give the people the choice to free one of them - all as a tool to gauge public sentiment and mood.
The story thus concludes with a crucified Jesus. A depressed and dejected Andreas, interacts with Barrabas the Zealot, who says that he now owes a debt to this Jesus, Baruch the Zealot has joined this messianic community, and Metilius who is now portrayed as a God-fearing gentile.
A dream of Jesus as the victor over the beast of Roman power, and over the grave, provides the concluding lines to this story, with Andreas and Baruch celebrating together.
Online sources consulted