The Silence of Jesus: The Authentic Voice of the Historical Man
Richard C. Smith is a professor in the Classics Department of the
University of Alberta.
Dr. James Breech, Associate Professor of New Testament and Humanities at York University, has written a very clear exposition of what he feels Jesus really said in eight “sayings” and twelve parables after the various interpretations of the early church have been scraped away through the techniques of theological, literary, and philosophical criticism. The resultant picture of the “historical Jesus” is most unusual, since he proclaims nothing, instructs no one, and affirms no absolutes. Dr. Breech’s interpretation of Jesus thus depends on what is not said — hence the title of the book.
In spite of its theological content, the book is not directed at professional theologians and is not filled with a typical scholarly apparatus. Footnotes are few and are mainly citations of modern authors and philosophers such as J.D. Salinger, Margaret Atwood, Nietzsche, and Dostoyevsky, who best illustrate Breech’s understanding of the reality found in the parables. Jesus is defended from the criticisms of both the “Grand Inquisitor” and Nietzsche and shown to have neither pity nor humanitarianism, altruism nor sentimentalism but a love defined as “a passion for the actual” (p. 20).
The first part of Dr. Breech’s analysis deals with eight “core” sayings (which include the Lord’s Prayer) in which Jesus is contrasted with John the Baptist as a man who came eating and drinking with friends. Jesus’s teaching in these eight sayings is to be open to the power which makes one a free person and able to overcome one’s own negative impulses. The second section deals with seven parables which Professor Breech calls “photo-dramatic” in that they depict interesting individuals whom Jesus enjoyed telling about, such as “The Man Who Found Treasure,” “The Shepherd Who Had a Hundred Sheep,” or “The Man Who Went to Sow.” Breech concludes that Jesus told these stories in order that the hearer might see the reality of real people and thus become real as well, not to illustrate theological or moral truths.
The third section analyzes five parables which are called “phono-dramatic” and include the famous parables of the “Good Samaritan” and the “Prodigal Son,” which Dr. Breech has respectively renamed “The man going down the road who fell among robbers” and “The man who had two sons.” The emphasis in all of these parables is to tell stories of how particular individuals related to others, not to tell others how to hive. In these stories Jesus was silent regarding himself on questions of religion but wished only to communicate what the stories of individuals being truly human would be like (including the difficulties and misunderstandings involved). It is interesting that in order to conform to the pattern of “core” parables which Dr. Breech has set out, the parable of the “Good Samaritan” must hose not only the Samaritan but also the priest, the Levite, Jerusalem, and Jericho to the realm of secondary Christian additions.
This book is well written and has a most provocative and stimulating thesis: that Jesus’s parables are essentially stimuli to self-realization, in the best sense of that term. The basic picture one gets of Jesus, however, is that of a silent Socrates.