An eminent scholar investigates the recent, intriguing attempts to find the “real” Jesus.

The local oxford radio station phoned me last summer. What did I, as a theologian, make of the proposed relaxing of British blasphemy laws?

Yes, I said, we need to safeguard the sensibilities of religious groups. To scrawl rude words on a wall about Jesus—or Moses or Muhammad—would offend some. If having a statute against “blasphemy” would prevent that, so be it.

On the other hand, I said, we don’t need to defend the true God against mocking, insults, or shame. He has already suffered all that on the way to the cross, and he did so voluntarily. In the New Testament, in fact, the people shouting “blasphemy” were those bent on defending their own social, cultural, and political turf—by getting rid of the real Jesus. But Easter gives the answer to that. God can look after himself. He does not need our petty defense.

The next time the radio station rang, it was, ironically, to ask about a spate of new books on Jesus, some none too friendly toward traditional portraits. These new books are raising a host of questions. What is new about Jesus? All sorts of things, apparently:

• He was a good, Jewish lad with a brilliant flair for shrewd moral teaching, and he would have been horrified to think of a “church,” let alone people worshiping him as if he were “divine.” He certainly did not rise from the dead: that was all a mistake. Thus writes A. N. Wilson, best-selling British novelist and biographer, himself newly relapsed from Christianity to agnosticism. His book is called, simply, Jesus.

• He was part of the sect living at Qumran in Palestine; he was married and had three children; then he divorced and remarried. He did not die on the cross, but ...

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