Géza Vermès was a prolific Hungarian Jewish “historical Jesus” scholar and translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls who died on May 8th (see this 1994 interview, Escape and Rescue—An Interview with Géza Vermès, and this eulogy by Hershel Shanks). Vermès’ 1973 Jesus the Jew: A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels was powerfully influential in reintroducing us to Jesus as the greatest in a tradition of charismatic Galilean holy men. The following is quoted from the epilogue of Vermès’ 2000 book, The Changing Faces of Jesus (New York, NY: Penguin Compass, 2002 paperback edition, pp. 287-88).
In this dream the real Jesus staged a return shortly after the onset of the third millennium. He appeared as a middle-sized, middle-aged, dark-haired Jewish man, with strong arms, and the deep suntan of a Galilean from Ginossar or Kfar Nahum….
“Shalom,” he saluted the Jews.
“Forget the lies about me. I’m one of yours. Look, my religion is that of Moses and the prophets. I only lay extra emphasis on seeking the Lord our God who is one in and through all that we do to our fellow men in every single humble and love-filled deed of all our todays.”
He seemed surprised when he saw the many assembled Christians….
“I’m amazed to see so many of you calling yourselves my followers despite some of the unkind words I let out about non-Jews. I’m all the same delighted and grateful….
“But I feel I must exhort you to rely more on yourselves, on your own insights—you may call it the voice of the Holy Spirit—on your strength and goodness. You’ve been told to expect everything from me. I say, you must save yourselves. Don’t forget that the Kingdom of God is always at hand. Get on with it at once. You can do it, on your own, as you are children of our heavenly Father who alone is God, blessed forever. You may carry on with your rites, customs, and prayers, but be careful not to take the symbol for the reality….”
He then turned to the company of those who no longer practiced their religion, but who were seekers filled with remorse.
“I know you well and love you. You remind me of the publicans who were longing for a kind word from me…. I recognize you, too, ostracized sinners…. Recognize your weakness and do the right thing. Repent and be confident. You are close to the Kingdom of God. Now as in my lifetime the father welcomes with greater joy the returning prodigal son than the son who has been conventionally (and boringly) good all the time.”
And so it is.
This post has also been published on Quaker Universalist Conversations.