At the Gate: Jesus Enlarged and Enriched

Sitting at the gate as an elder is a posture that creates the time and space to explore new things, and grow. I have previously noted that the most significant expression of this opportunity has been an enlarged Christology. I began an Oboedire series about this (“Christ”) using E. Stanley Jones’ excarnate/incarnate categories to describe Christ’s universality. I do not know when (or if) I will resume the series. The existing ones are archived on the Oboedire home page.

In this post, I want to record a related Christological discovery: the Aramaic Jesus, or as others refer to him, the Middle-Eastern Jesus. This discovery is resulting in an enlarged and enriched view of him. I am in the early stages of my exploration, but already there is too much to write about. In this post I will only hit a few high spots, and provide some ways for you to discover the Aramaic Jesus if you have not already done so.

I begin with the obvious: Jesus was a Middle-Eastern person who commonly spoke Aramaic. [1]

But I (we) were taught Greek, not Aramaic. I had 14 hours of Greek in college and 9 in seminary. Why was I not taught Aramaic? Because the New Testament was written in Greek. And that, in and of itself, is telling.

It says that before the close of the New Testament era, a “Western” Jesus was already the interpretive picture. The New Testament is more of a Greco-Roman book than a Middle-Eastern one. The Christian missionary movement is defined by Paul’s “western” journeys, even though we know that other Christians took the message eastward. [2] Early Christian history locates Christianity in the Roman empire, but we know it had a primary center in Persia. [3]

And the point is? Well, simply put…we are given a view of Christ that makes him seem more like a Greco-Roman philosopher than a Semitic Wisdom teacher. Missing the Aramaic Jesus leaves us with a good, but incomplete picture of him. Recovering the Aramaic Jesus brings aspects of his life and ministry to the fore which can serve us well in the New Awakening and in the renewal of Christianity occurring as part of it.

I leave you to discover the Aramaic Jesus for yourself if you have not already done so, using these resources….

George Lamsa, ‘Holy Bible: From the Ancient Text’

George Lamsa, ‘Idioms of the Bible Explained’

Kenneth Bailey, ‘Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes’

Neil Douglas-Klotz, ‘Revelations of the Aramaic Jesus’

Cynthia Bourgeault, ‘The Wisdom Jesus’

[1] He knew Hebrew too, of course–a related Semitic language.

[2] The list in Acts of those who heard Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost includes people from all directions, not just the west.

[3] The Persian center was largely ignored (even persecuted) after the Nicene Creed was produced, further “westernizing” the faith. We are taught very little about the Persian (and African and Asian) manifestations of Christianity, even further “westernizing” our view of it. European Protestantism only magnifies the neglect of the Aramaic Jesus.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 43 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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