Ever see the film Multiplicity starring Michael Keaton as Doug, a man who clones multiple copies of himself? There’s a perfectionist Doug, a slob Doug, a macho Doug, a gay Doug, a romantic Doug… you get the picture. If you haven’t seen the film, you should. Or you could read the Bible for much the same experience.
It’s the original Mulitiplicity, with Jesus as the Michael Keaton character. There’s a Jewish Messiah Jesus, a demanding zealot Jesus, a Greek god-man Jesus, an intangible spirit Jesus and, just like in the movie, having so many clones about leads only to trouble and hilarious consequences. Well, maybe not so much the hilarious consequences, but certainly trouble.
Christians really have time for only one these Biblical Jesuses, the superhero creation of ‘Saint’ Paul’s who goes by the name – the title, no less – of ‘the Christ.’ This Greek god-man makes few demands of his adherents – he does everything for them – and provides them with a free-pass to Heaven (though Paul neglects to mention this particular super-power – you’ll search in vain for promises of Heaven in Paul’s writing.) Supernatural Christ Jesus always proves a better option than the earthy Jesus of the synoptic gospels because ‘gaining a right standing with God’ is a far easier game to play than serving others.
Synoptic Gospel Jesus preaches the coming of the God’s kingdom on Earth in the first century; tells his followers they should sell all they have to give to the poor; commands them to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. He insists they should lend without expectation of any return, cut off body parts that offend them and attend to the log in their own eye rather the speck in their neighbours’. No wonder Christians have no time for Gospel Jesus! He’s far too demanding, far too radical, like the super-perfectionist Doug in the film. Oh, they’ll protest they really do believe in Gospel Jesus, but if they did, we would see them doing all the things he tells them they should. And we don’t.
The demanding, Gospel Jesus loses out too to Ephemeral Mystic Jesus, the Jesus found in John’s gospel, the one who just can’t stop talking about himself. Then there’s Avenging King Jesus of the psychedelic nightmare that is Revelation. He’s the one who’s going to come back to Earth at some point (allegedly) to massacre his enemies.
It’s impossible to tell which of the multiple Jesuses is the ‘real’ one. Maybe it’s none of those in the Bible – move over Christ Jesus, Gospel Jesus, Mystic Jesus, Avenging King Jesus; the only Jesus Christians are really interested in is the one of their own making. The one they say lives in their hearts and who once, apparently, lived in mine. This is the best Jesus of all because he can be whatever you want him to be.
Maybe, in the end though, none of the Jesuses, not even the one Christians imagine lives inside them, is real. They’re all just imaginative interpretations of a long-dead, charismatic zealot whose mission went badly awry. And if the Bible hasn’t got a grip on what its central figure is really all about – Jewish Messiah, Greek Christ, intangible spirit – then what else is it confused and wrong about?
Maybe it is all of them. What you seem to prefer is a cardboard cutout Jesus. No real person is such. God certainly is not. And Jesus is not. So, I find the multiple characteristics of Jesus in the Gospels and in Paul and Revelation to be expected if Jesus was a real person. If he was not, he would look more like, well, the Jesus of myth.
That’s exactly what he looks like: a mythical character so pliable he can be whatever you want.