Misquoting Jesus: A Blessing in Disguise?

Question: Which were the most surprising historical truths you uncovered about various religious figures and stories?

Robert Wright: Let’s see. I guess, I had never really taken a look at the question of what the historical Jesus may have been like. And there’s a tendency to think – I mean, people who are trying to – believers who are trying to reconcile their belief with growing reason to doubt that the gospels are all that reliable. The attempt to make a reconciliation has tended to move us in the direction that Jesus kind of said all the good stuff that’s attributed to him and there’s a tendency not to emphasize some of the bad stuff. Like, for example, when he seems to refer to a woman as a dog because she’s not Jewish. My conclusion, and I didn’t go into this having a bias, my conclusion was that actually it’s probably being closer to the reverse. That the emphasis on a love that crosses ethnic bounds, which you do see start showing up in the gospels, probably didn’t come from Jesus, but was more a product of the way early Christianity evolved in the Roman Empire.

To me this is actually kind of heartening. I mean, I guess if I were a believing Christian, which I have not been since childhood, I might have another view of this. I might be kind of dispiriting to think that Jesus didn’t say all this stuff. But the reason I find it kind of good news is what I see happening in the Roman Empire is that just natural forces that emanate from the expansion of social organization, which social organization tends to do naturally. These forces nourished a doctrine of brotherly love that crosses ethnic and national bounds. In other words, I think this is a likely product of the natural direction of history that people would reach this conclusion. And for me, that’s heartening in itself. In a way, more heartening than the idea that, had it not been for this one man from Galilee, we would have never figured this out. I’d rather think that human history naturally gives rise to this sort of enlightenment.

As Christianity progressed, Christ’s moral teachings became sanitized and polished. Robert Wright thinks that’s probably a good thing.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

The world's watersheds, mapped in gorgeous detail

Hungarian cartographer travels the world while mapping its treasures.

Strange Maps
  • Simple idea, stunning result: the world's watersheds in glorious colors.
  • The maps are the work of Hungarian cartographer Robert Szucs.
  • His job: to travel and map the world, one good cause at a time.
Keep reading Show less

This is the best (and simplest) world map of religions

Both panoramic and detailed, this infographic manages to show both the size and distribution of world religions.

(c) CLO / Carrie Osgood
Strange Maps
  • At a glance, this map shows both the size and distribution of world religions.
  • See how religions mix at both national and regional level.
  • There's one country in the Americas without a Christian majority – which?
Keep reading Show less