Jesus, What Manner of Man, Delivered by David Hammond on March 16, 1975

“I wish it were possible for us to set up a magic moving picture screen here at the front of the Chapel Hall this morning, and to do two things with it. First, I wish that each one of us could concentrate on our own image of Jesus, and project it onto the screen in front of us for everyone to see. What a fascinating set of pictures I expect we would see! Some, I feel sure, would be quite sharp and detailed. Others, I must suppose, would be rather blurred and indefinite — maybe somewhat ghost-like in appearance. Since none of us have ever seen Jesus, our pictures would inevitably be uncertain and mixed copies of paintings and sculptures, or photographs of these, which we have seen. At any rate, I have no doubt that most of us would be able to project something unto that magic screen. For who among us has not gained somewhere, somehow, some image, some notion, of what Jesus may have been like?

Then, at the second part of the magic show, I wish there could be projected on that same screen, by some sort of time machine, a motion picture of the actual historic Jesus, just as he truly was in his life so long ago. I have a very limited impression of what we would see in this second part of this experiment; but I am persuaded beyond a shadow of a doubt that the discrepancy between our images and those of a true history would astonish most of us.

Albert Schweitzer seemed to hold such an opinion. Most of us remember Schweitzer as a picturesque and dedicated jungle doctor in Africa. Do we remember, too, that Schweitzer actually had three or four careers, and that one of them was that of a biblical-historical scholar? In 1906 Schweitzer published a study called The Quest of the Historical Jesus. In connection with that study he wrote these words: “We must be prepared to find that the historical knowledge of the personality and life of Jesus will not be a help, but perhaps even an offense, to religion.” He meant that he had discovered enough in his researches to realize that the Jesus that comes out of careful, objective, historical, biblical research bears surprisingly little resemblance to the one on which the christian faith has nurtured itself for almost two thousand years.”

David Hammond, Jesus, What Manner of Man, March 16, 1975, Box 2 Folder 3, Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville Collection, Ramsey Library, University of North Carolina Asheville Special Collections, Asheville, NC.