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Exploring Different Views of Jesus.

Marcus J. Borg and N.T. Wright are co-authors of the new book "The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions." The two scholars offer dramatically different views on Jesus and his teachings. Marcus. J. Borg provides liberal interpretation of Jesus. He is the author of "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time." N.T. Wright takes a more traditional view of Jesus. He is author or Jesus and the Victory of God."


Other segments from the episode on May 20, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 20, 1999: Interview with Martin Dillon; Interview with Marcus J. Borg and N.T. Wright; Review of Pat Barker's novel "Another World."


Date: MAY 20, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 052001np.217
Head: Martin Dillon
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Writing about Ireland is never easy, says Martin Dillon. He's a journalist from Northern Ireland who's written a trilogy of books on the conflict. They were each number one bestsellers there.

Now those books have been published in paperback in the U.S. "God and the Gun" is about the church and Irish terrorism. "The Shankhill Butchers" profiles a gang of murderers. "The Dirty War" uncovers the strategies and self-justifications of terrorists and informers on both sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Conner Cruz O'Brien (ph), who wrote the introductions for two of the books, has described Dillon as the greatest living authority on Irish terrorism.

I asked Martin Dillon how successful he thinks former terrorists have been in adjusting to the peace process in Northern Ireland.

MARTIN DILLON, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: I think it's very difficult to know. And I think it's going to take a long time to make a firm judgment about that. There have been a lot of prison releases, which is part of the - I suppose the process of trying to normalize the society.

Some of those people worry me because some of them in many ways were very dysfunctional individuals. In a situation conflict, I think society is temporarily abnormal. And you find that people who in a normal society would be ostracized, in a society in conflict they're regarded possibly as heroes within their own community because of that cult of the gunman.

And in a time when conflict has ended, those people still of that - tired of being, you know, one of the community's heroes. And a lot of them are not going to know how to behave.

And I think one of the things that probably is forgotten is that there's been a very high level of criminality which has been obscured by coverage of bombings and shootings. And I think that's going to continue as well.

I think it's going to take a long time for this society to really I suppose find its way, and particularly for guys who've been involved in some of the grizzly, some of the gruesome stuff.

GROSS: I've been reading that punishment beatings are on the rise. Punishment beatings are when leaders of a paramilitary discipline their own people by beating them. Tell us more about the punishment beatings and why you think they're on the rise now.

DILLON: I think part of the reason for that, there's always been a level of violence of that kind, where the paramilitaries regarded themselves as the policing, the policemen in their own community. And the cause, particularly within let's say the Catholic nationalist community, there is no acceptance really of the royalist or constabulary.

The IRA, even in a peace process, will still regard itself as the policing function in its own community. So guys are involved in drug dealing, they'll be taken out, beaten with baseball bats or shot through the back of the kneecaps or through the front of the kneecaps. And the same also within Protestant working class areas as well.

And I don't think this is going to stop. But it does highlight one very important thing. How do you move the society towards an acceptance of proper policing?

I don't know how they're going to do that. Decommissioning or no decommissioning. I think in the future, policing is going to be one of the most difficult things to resolve.

GROSS: And you're saying that the police were distrusted in Catholic neighborhoods because the police force was a predominantly Protestant force.

DILLON: And remains so. I mean, some of the policemen have said to me in the past, "Look, we are really worried because if there are radical changes to the police force as constituted, we're going to find paramilitaries running community police forces."

I don't know it's going to happen. I mean, I really feel for Chris Patton (ph). Here's a man that goes to Hong Kong to take on that issue. And God help him, someone gives him the job in Northern Ireland of looking at the whole issue of policing.

Policing has been central to a lot of things because throughout the history of the Northern Ireland state, the police force in one stage's paramilitary wing, the B Specials (ph), really were the driving force to maintain as it was Protestant ascendancy within and Protestant domination within the state.

The police have been involved also in a lot of very dubious episodes over the years. There have been collusion between the police and Protestant paramilitaries. And things are only beginning to surface now about the kind of dirty war that has been fought.

And, I mean, the chief constable at the moment in Northern Ireland and for some time has refused from a Catholic point of view to accept that it isn't such a glorious history. But again, to change it fundamentally, I don't know how they're going to achieve it. I really, personally, as someone who's written a lot about it, I don't know.

GROSS: One of your three books that has been published in the United States is called "God and Gun: The Church and Irish Terrorism." And you write in the introduction to that book that you discovered it was easier to get terrorists to talk than to get priests and ministers to talk. Why was it so...

DILLON: Amazing, isn't it?

GROSS: ... Why was it so difficult to get priests and ministers to talk with you?

DILLON: I tell you, one of the things I discovered was that the churches had more control over their members than the paramilitary groupings.

GROSS: You mean the church hierarchy?

DILLON: Yeah. Priests and ministers were frightened. They would talk to you about dogma.

And also, there's this sense that they were religious, therefore they couldn't in any way apply religion to the conflict itself. It was easy to get up and express indignation, but they never really got down there and said to people, "Stop this."

I remember one priest telling me he arrived in West Belfast in the falls area, which was the heart of sort of the IRA. And he said it was like walking on the moon. No one had told him - he'd just come out of the seminary. He'd just gone into the priesthood. He didn't understand what was going on, how we was going to cope with is.

What would he do if someone walked into the confessional and said, "By the way, tomorrow we're going to kill a politician." And he faced this sort of problem.

And his fellow priests, their attitude was, you know, "Close the curtains." And they used a sort of sexual term, what he should do with himself. "Have a brandy and forget about what's out there."

In other words, be a priest in the pulpit. Serve communion. Say mass. But whatever you do, don't bring that in here.

And that was a view within the church itself. Also, I think the churches felt that because of the tribal situation that they had to almost support their own community, even though that community at time was exhibiting a prejudice towards other Protestants or Catholics or whatever.

In other words, in a divided society, the churches felt that they had to defend the status quo in their own communities. And that was very, I think very negative.

GROSS: Some of the priests you spoke to were up against really difficult ethical dilemmas.


GROSS: You know, for example, maybe you could tell the story, the story of one priest who was called in to give somebody their final confession before this person was murdered by the IRA, as (unintelligible)...

DILLON: It was frightening. It was, you know, when I met these priests, they were - one is older than the other. They were traumatized by it, because I think they felt in a way that here they'd been asked to go along to give the last rites. They were dealing with men who were about to be...

GROSS: Executed.

DILLON: ... executed. About to be murdered. And the police couldn't help them.

I remember another priest saying to me, "Had it been me, they'd have had to kill me." But he could say that at a distance. The priest who faced it really I suppose said to themselves, "Well, if we didn't - you know, if we didn't do it, that person would not have been able to have a last confession."

But it's the harrowing nature of what they looked at. These were men who'd been badly beaten before they were about to be shot. And the priests - the priests couldn't change their fate.

I mean, one of them said he felt that in a way that God was almost in the room with them. And the attitude of the terrorists who were about to kill these men was, "You do your business, father. And we'll do ours. Now, get lost." And they were quite prepared really to kill the priests.

GROSS: One of the things that the priests were up against was if they were called to give last rites to somebody before the person was executed, then the priest would probably know who some of the executors were.


GROSS: And that's another ethical dilemma. Do they inform or not?

DILLON: What you do if you're a priest, I think, talking to priests who find themselves in that kind of predicament, their attitude was, you know, "We are not there to be policemen. We're not there to be detectives. If we on just one occasion go out and identify the people who are committing this murder, then anyone who is ever held in the future and who is about to be executed, will never have a last confession. And it will put all other priests at risk."

Now some people might say that is not a position which is morally justifiable. But in a situation in conflict, very strange decisions are taken.

And one of the things that shocked me was that the Irish Catholic hierarchy never sat down, they refused to talk to me about this. They refused to talk to me about it. They didn't even talk to their own priests about it.

One of the priests I spoke to, an IRA man walked into the confessional and said to him, "I've just been at a meeting. And we are planning the assassination of a politician."

And this particular priest argued with the guy for several hours until the penitent agreed to let the priest phone the authorities. And the assassination was aborted. But how many others didn't do that?

The IRA at one stage, interestingly enough, told its members that if they went to confession they didn't have to confess to killing British soldiers. So therefore, they never found themselves in confrontation with the church so that a priest would not have to be in a position to say, "I'm denying you absolution," or move towards the excommunication thesis.

So IRA went in. And they would say, "Father, OK, you know, I've been sleeping with someone else's wife," or whatever. But killing was not mentioned.

GROSS: You've interviewed many of the terrorists, paramilitary people, over the years. How did you make contact with them?

DILLON: I suppose really because I'd never supported any of their combatants or protagonists, it was easier for me to make approaches sometimes through third parties. And they knew my writing. They knew programs that I'd made both in radio and television.

And I think they felt that there was - that I had a degree of trust in me, that I wouldn't misrepresent what they were about. I think that was very helpful in many ways.

GROSS: Did any of them make deals with you before you spoke with them about what their ground rules were?

DILLON: Yeah, they told me - and I remember being hooded and put in a butt of a car. It was a very strange experience it made me think what was it like for people who were about to killed who were hooded.

And I was taken to a house and I was there for two days. It was an IRA intelligence chief who said to me at one stage, "We are saying things to you to help you understand what we're about. But if you ever publish them, we'll kill you." He said, "Are you listening to me?"

And I said, "I understand perfectly what you're saying to me."

Other terrorists I met were of a different kind of character. A man called John Bingham (ph) abducted me once and put a gun in my mouth. And cold steel, that's a strange way of erasing any capacity for thought.

And this is so bizarre you're not going to believe this. A couple of days later, he phoned me. And he said, "Martin, I'm really sorry about that. I was just very angry about what you'd written in relation to some of my friends." He said, "I'd like to make it up to you. Would you come up to my house and have a drink?"

I don't know whether writing gets to you when you're writing about conflict after a while. But I thought it was a weird request that I went to his house. And it was a house just with a wooden front door.

But I noticed as I went in, it was a - there was a steel door behind it. He was afraid of being assassinated by the IRA. And he took out a bottle of whisky and said, "I only drink Scotch. I don't drink Irish." You know, typical of a sort of a loitist (ph) who hated everything Irish.

We sat down. At one stage, he reached under a cushion on the couch. And he took out a plastic bag. And from it, he withdrew a gun. And there was still oil residue in the barrel.

I remember looking down that barrel and thinking, you know, "I wonder whose eyes found that barrel before mine." And I kept trying to excuse myself to get out. I was very frightened.

And he said to me, "I just want to tell you I couldn't hurt a pigeon." I knew this man was a murderer. But I didn't want to express any indignation. I was vulnerable enough in his presence.

And he said, "You know, I've got racing pigeons in the back of my house. Would you like to see them?" And I said, "Look, John, I really have to go. I have to go."

And I remember him when I was walking out of the house, he put his hand on my shoulder. His voice was very low and menacing. And he said, "I just want to tell you something, Martin. If you ever write anything about me again, I'm going to "f"-ing kill you, because one thing is you're not a pigeon."

You know, and I remember thinking later, what is it about some of these people? And he was - he was assassinated about a month later. He forgot to close the steel door on the back of his front wooden door. It's that kind of thing, sometimes, it stays in your memory and gives you bad nightmares.

GROSS: My guest is journalist Martin Dillon. His trilogy of books about Northern Ireland has just been published in the U.S.

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Martin Dillon. He's a journalist from Northern Ireland who has been living in New York for the past few years. Three of his books, which have been best sellers in Ireland, have just been published in the United States.

One of the big issues now in the peace process in Northern Ireland is the issue of decommissioning. In other words, how soon should the IRA hand over its weapons? And I think it's officially not - it officially doesn't have to happen until May of the year 2000. But there's a lot of pressure on the IRA to do it now as a kind of indication of their goodwill with the peace process.

What's your reading of the decommissioning? It, sometimes it seems like the whole process is going to fall apart on this one issue.

DILLON: I think the British government should never really have hung itself on this issue, because in by doing so, the consequence was the Unionists also did the same thing. And I think in conflict resolution, decommissioning comes at the end.

It's about changing people's perspectives, about changing the way in which they would like to address the future, about finding common ground, about saying, "We want to develop a structure, a framework, a different kind of tapestry, where guns will not be required." Therefore, decommissioning happens almost inevitably.

But to say to the IRA - let's say I'm a member of the IRA. The British government says to me, "All right, OK, we want you to hand over your weapons." You're going to say, "I'm going to trust you after hundreds of years of conflict, after the past 30 years? I'm actually going to trust you?" This will come at the end.

The British government then says to me as a member of the IRA, let's say, "Well, why don't you give us some weapons?" The IRA position very simply is, "If we hand over 200 AKs and 300 automatic pistols, people are going to say, "Is that all they're handing over?" Or, "If they've got that, what must they have lying in the ground?" And then, decommissioning becomes an even more protracted issue.

Personally, I think it's very worrying because the IRA position, and Gerry Adams has been told this time and time again, and he knows it very well, that the IRA will not decommission until there is a solution in place, because the IRA is worried about its own ranks. It's worried about a split within its ranks. It's worried about people saying, "By the way, after all of this, you've sold us out."

And the history of Irish Republicanism is one where Irish Republicans don't mind killing their own leaders if they think that there's been a sellout, that they've betrayed the cause. So the IRA itself, with Adams, McGinnis (ph) up front for Sinn Fein and the army, are walking a very thin line as well because they've got people in the wings watching them.

Tremble (ph), as head of the Unionists, has got Paisley (ph) and others in the wings saying, "You've got to get decommissioning or else you're betraying the Unionist position. You're betraying the orthodoxy."

So decommissioning, I think the British government should get off this hope if they can. But perhaps it's too late. I really don't know. It's a worrying factor.

GROSS: Now, you've been living in New York. Is it dangerous for you to be in Northern Ireland?

DILLON: Yes. And I think my - you know, my parents still live there. And my father has never really, over the past couple of years, wanted me to stay with them. And I can understand that. He doesn't want to be put at risk if something is going to happen to me.

And I came to New York in January a year ago. I didn't say anything to anyone. But after "God and the Gun" was published, Billy Wright (ph), who is one of the more extreme Protestant paramilitary leaders, was assassinated in prison. And some of his henchmen felt that I had I suppose savaged him in "God and the Gun." And they were prepared to kill me. And so I was warned.

And one of the warning strangely enough came from a Protestant paramilitary leader who phoned me up and said, "Look, Martin, I just want to tell you that there are certain people in our community," he said, "I don't approve of it. But I can't stop them either. And they're interested in killing you." And one or two people in the security business said to me, "This is not a very healthy place for you."

And I said, "Well, I'm going to New York to promote a book."

And they said, "Well, perhaps you should stay there."

So you know, it is - it's not a place where I feel safe. Some journalists from home, who have spoken to me recently, said to me, you know, "Don't come back."

GROSS: Do people always want to know whether you are Protestant or Catholic?

DILLON: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I grew up under the shadow of St. Peter of Spires (ph) in West Belfast. I'd even forgotten, I didn't know, Gerry Adams reminded me about two years ago, that I was in his class at school.

GROSS: You were in his class?

DILLON: Yeah. We were taught by the Christian brothers, I mean, the storm troopers of the Irish Catholic church, and brutalized by them I think at the same time. And Gerry took me into this school, I was interviewing him for a book. And he took me into this school, the primary school where we were between the ages of 5 and 11, and he showed me photographs.

And suddenly, it was the time for the Angelis (ph). It was 12:00. I'd forgotten my prayers. And Gerry was like, "Flesh dwelt amongst us." The kids, their eyes opened wide. Here, they had a real hero. When I was growing up, we always had dead heroes, whereas here is a live one.

And it struck me in a strange kind of way that Adams went one way and I went the other. I was writing about it, and he was involved in it.

Then I left to go to school in England, which probably wasn't a bad thing in many ways. It detached me somewhat from the kind of conditioning, which is a part of everyone's life in Ireland.

I think we all have our fingerprints on it, even if it's through an expression of indignation about our own community rather than the other one, but also that a lot of very peculiar things about people's lives. I discovered later in my life that my great grandfather was called William Carson (ph). He was a Protestant, (unintelligible). The name Carson is a very prominent Protestant name.

But no one ever told me. So when I was growing up, I had these elderly aunts called Bridget (ph) and Sarah Carson (ph). Nobody told me, you know, their dad had been, you know, a Protestant from Temple Patrick (ph). You know, it's a kind of layered thing, interwoven tapestry which is there.

GROSS: Well, Martin Dillon, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

DILLON: It's my pleasure. Thank you.

GROSS: Martin Dillon's trilogy about Northern Ireland has just been published in the U.S. The books are "God and the Gun," "The Shankhill Butchers," and "The Dirty War."

I'm Terry Gross. And this is FRESH AIR.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Martin Dillon
High: Journalist and author Martin Dillon is considered an expert on the conflict in Northern Ireland. His three books: "God and the Gun," "The Shankill Butchers," and "The Dirty War" are all bestsellers in his native Ireland. They have just been published for the first time in the U.S. Martin Dillon has worked for the BBC in Northern Ireland for 18 years. He has also produced news segments for CNN, ABC, CBC, and NPR.
Spec: Violence; War; Northern Ireland; Lifestyle; Culture; Martin Dillon

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Martin Dillon

Date: MAY 20, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 052002NP.217
Head: Different Views on Jesus
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:30

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guests are two religion scholars who are friends and colleagues yet disagree on some pretty fundamental interpretations of Jesus.

Marcus J. Borg is a liberal Episcopalian who is a member of the Jesus Seminar, which studies the historical Jesus. Borg sees the Bible as a combination of metaphor and historical stories that were passed on an reinterpreted. N.T. Wright is an Anglican and traditionalist who is a critic of the Jesus Seminar and interprets the Bible as a more literal history.

Borg and Wright have collaborated on the new book "The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions."

Borg is a distinguished professor of religion at Oregon State University. Wright formerly taught at Oxford and is now dean of Litchfield (ph) Cathedral in England.

Some of the points on which they differ include, was Mary really a virgin? Did Jesus walk on water? And did Jesus intentionally die to redeem humankind?

I asked them to elaborate on one of their major disagreements. Was Jesus bodily resurrected from the dead? Here's what Marcus Borg of the Jesus Seminar had to say.

MARCUS BORG, CO-AUTHOR, "THE MEANING OF JESUS: TWO VISIONS": As both a Christian and a historian, I affirm the resurrection of Jesus. But I'm very skeptical that it involved anything happening to his corpse or that it needed to involve an empty tomb.

My basis for saying that - and this is another disagreement between Tom and me - is that the first reference to an empty tomb in the New Testament is in the Gospel of Mark, written around the year 70, the earliest of our existing gospels, and that Paul - though Paul clearly believes in the resurrection - never mentions an empty tomb.

Now, that may or may not be significant. But Paul does not say, for example, "And on the third day, they found the tomb empty."

Instead, what Paul and in general the New Testament writers speak about is early Christians having experiences of Jesus as a living reality after his death, but in a radically new way, no longer as a figure of flesh and blood but as a reality who has all the qualities of God.

And for me, though this experience says means that the question of what happened to the corpse of Jesus becomes irrelevant. I don't think the truth of Christian experience of Jesus as a living reality is dependent upon something having happened to the corpse of Jesus.

In my own understanding of the limits of the spectacular, I simply don't think resurrections of dead, dead, dead people in the sense of the transformation of a corpse ever happened. I think resurrection is quite different from resuscitation. Resurrection means entry into a different kind of existence, not resumption of previous existence.

GROSS: What about the empty tomb, though, the description of the empty tomb?

BORG: Well, this isn't a ditch I'm willing to die in.


BORG: OK? OK? But again, my point is that the empty tomb is irrelevant to the truth of Easter. And if I had to bet one way or the other as to whether or not the tomb was empty, I would bet against it.

And I would see the story of the empty tomb as more like a parable of Easter, rather than it being the content of the Easter event. They went to the land of the dead expecting to find Jesus. The angel at the tomb says to them, "Why do you look for the living amongst the dead?" I think that's the meaning of the empty tomb story. Jesus is not simply a figure of the past, but a figure of the present.

N.T. WRIGHT, CO-AUTHOR, "THE MEANING OF JESUS: TWO VISIONS": For me, the critical question is what would a first century Jew mean by the word and the idea of resurrection? Paul was emphatically a first century Jew.

And when Paul said that Jesus died and was buried and was raised, it seems to me obvious that as a first century Jew - a Pharisee, no less - and we know that the Pharisees were the big sticklers for bodily resurrection among the Jews - that it would be absurd for him to add, "Oh, by the way, he left an empty tomb behind him," just as it would be absurd for us to say, "I walked down the street. Oh, by the way, I did it on my feet rather than my hands," because everybody in our culture walks on their feet so we don't add that.

The empty tomb stories are - yes, they come into the written tradition later after Paul, perhaps precisely at the time when the Christians are going out into the wider world and need to tell more fully the story of what happened.

If those empty tomb stories were, as Marcus says, symbols or metaphors for the fact that Jesus is alive in some new way, it seems to me that they're highly misleading metaphors because they naturally mislead the reader. And certainly, they misled all their earliest readers into thinking that the Christian claim was that there really was an empty tomb, in other words that if we chased through in the next century or two, we find people like Turtalian (ph) and talking about the resurrection of the flesh of Jesus and insisting on the embodiedness of Jesus' resurrection body. So that it seems to me as Jews what they were meaning by resurrection was something which actually did involve, as Marcus says, not the resuscitation merely, but the transformation of the corpse of Jesus.

And the stories that we have in the New Testament, along with the theology of resurrection that you find in Paul and elsewhere, is a theology of transformation, which is a very specific thing. And as a historian, I do not see how that could have come about unless something really had happened to Jesus' corpse.

GROSS: Well, if you're just joining us, my guests are two religion scholars, Marcus Borg and Tom Wright. And they're the co-authors of the new book "The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions," in which they share their contrasting interpretations of the New Testament.

One of the questions that you pose in the book and both discuss is: Did Jesus think of himself as the Messiah? Why is that an important question?

WRIGHT: It's an important question to know whether Jesus thought himself as the Messiah because Messiahship was a major category in first century Judaism. There were quite a few people who either thought of themselves, or whose followers thought of them, as Messiah.

But if we knew that Jesus either was seen as Messiah by his followers during his lifetime, or saw himself that way, then we can put him with a measure of security, only a measure, on the map of first century movements. And let's also be clear, these are not just really what we could call religious movements. They are socio-political movements. The Messiah is the one through whom God is going to liberate Israel.

I believe that Jesus did see himself in that light because he did certain things which point that way more than because he said certain things which point that way. Though, he did that as well.

GROSS: Marcus Borg, you don't think that Jesus saw himself as the Messiah.

BORG: As a historian, I'm skeptical that Jesus thought of himself as the Messiah simply because the term does not appear in the earliest layers of the developing gospel tradition. I find it much more persuasive to see the calling of Jesus as Messiah to be a post-Easter designation within the early Christian community, to use language that Tom has sometimes used.

Clearly for the New Testament, Jesus is the climax of Israel's history. But I'm very skeptical that Jesus saw himself as the climax of Israel's history. And I actually find it more impressive that a community says this about a person than if a person were to think this or say this about himself.

So for me, as both a historian and a Christian, to say that calling Jesus Messiah emerges in the community after Easter is not a diminishment of that claim at all, but in many ways an enhancement of it. If a community says about somebody, "We have found in this person the Messiah" - and let me continue with some of the other exalted language - "the light of the world, the bread of life," and so forth, that's much more impressive than if we think of language like that being part of the self-statement or self-declaration of a person.

GROSS: So you're basically saying Jesus would have had to be quite the egotist if he went around saying, "I am the light."

BORG: Yeah, I would say that. I think - and in fairness to Tom, Tom does not think, I don't think, that Jesus said "I am the light of the world." But I would have big difficulty with somebody who was saying those kinds of things about himself.

WRIGHT: Can I respond to that? I think our contemporary category of what egotists might do and say is actually quite irrelevant to the study of first century history when all sorts of things looked and felt quite different on the ground.

I think Jesus - I believe and have argued historically that Jesus had avocation to do certain things, which would in themselves bring Israel's history to its climax. And it's very significant for me that the claim that Jesus thought he was Messiah is not made by arguing, "Look, here's five sayings in the earliest tradition which show that he thought this, da-da-da-da-da-dum," but rather, "Here are some things that Jesus did, particularly his entry into Jerusalem and all that went with it."

And those do belong very early in the tradition. And they're scattered through the different traditions in the gospels.

And it's the symbolic things that Jesus did that stake a symbolic Messianic claim. And he backed those up, according to the narratives, not with kind of one-liners, "Yes, folks, I'm the Messiah," but rather with cryptic riddles and things that made people guess at what his meaning was in doing these actions. And these seem to me to have the ring of history about them.

See, the earliest material we've got in the New Testament is Paul, by a long way the earliest. And already by the time of Paul, the fact that Jesus was Messiah is so firmly in the tradition that Cristos (ph), meaning Messiah, is almost on its way to being a proper name. And as a historian, you have to say why did that happen?

And if you say why would first century Jews call someone Messiah? Simply saying, "Well, even - he'd been raised from the dead," isn't good enough. They might have called him other things, but not Messiah. The only explanation I think that will work is that this must go back to something that had been true of Jesus during his own lifetime, as indeed the title on the cross bears witness: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. Why was that there unless he was believed to have made some kind of claim that way?

GROSS: My guests are religion scholars Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright, authors of the new book "The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are two religion scholars, Marcus Borg and Tom Wright, who debate the Bible and what part is history, what part is parable or metaphor, in the new book "The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions."

Now you've given us some sense of some of your different interpretations of the New Testament. I'm wondering if your different interpretations imply that the place of Jesus in your religion is different or that the place of religion in your lives is different because of your different interpretations of the New Testament.

BORG: One of the interesting things to me in writing this book was to discover how similar our understandings of the vision of the Christian life that flows out of our understandings of Jesus. We each treat this in a concluding chapter in the book.

And our differences in that chapter, and again this is within the framework of a lot of agreement, our differences in that chapter have to do primarily with theology, with how much the happenedness (ph) of past events means for Christian life today.

I actually find that belief is much over-emphasized and over-exaggerated in the modern world. I think the person can believe all the right things and still be a jerk or still be miserable or still be in bondage. So for me, believing in the factuality of past events is relatively unimportant.

Now, I don't want to divorce Christianity from history completely because I think Christianity is intrinsically an incarnational religion, meaning that it takes our life in this world very, very seriously. But I don't think that much is at stake in the question of whether the tomb was really empty, whether Jesus really thought he was the Messiah, whether he saw his own death as having saving significance.

GROSS: Tom Wright, do you agree?

WRIGHT: I think it's perfectly true that people can believe a lot of the apparently right things and still, as Marcus says, not appear to have got to first base as human beings. However, it seems to me absolutely central to Christianity that certain things did happen, and to be blunt, if they could discover and prove that they discovered that the bones of Jesus were still lying around Palestine somewhere, then my life would change quite drastically and I would give up being an Anglican priest and would go and do something else...

GROSS: Well, I'm going to stop you right there, because I'm interested in the fact that, Tom Wright, you would feel like you lost your faith whereas Marcus Borg would feel that, you know, nothing fundamental had changed.

BORG: Yeah.

WRIGHT: That's absolutely correct. And I think that this is one of the major divides in contemporary western Christianity. And I see this as having all sorts of causes and all sorts of consequences.

But I, in company with a great many others, would say what I just said, that the bodilyness (ph) of the resurrection is absolutely central and that - this is partly because I'm a Pauline specialist as well as a gospel specialist, and that I see in Paul that his vision of the renewal of the whole creation in the letter to the Romans is organically linked to his belief in the bodily resurrection. And I see a continuous movement beginning with the resurrection of Jesus going out in Paul's thought to the transformation of God's whole world.

And I see that as being the basis for all, for instance, ecological work, for all justice work in the contemporary world. Now, I know that you can do ecology and you can do justice without believing in the bodily resurrection. But it seems to me that the New Testament way of getting to those conclusions, which I think are very important for Christians in our world today, do actually go back to the belief that something actually happened.

Let me sum it up like this. In the New Testament, the message of Jesus is not good advice. It's good news. It's about something that's happened. And that is absolutely the rock bottom. It isn't just that there's lots and lots of good advice, and oh yes, a few things did happen. It's basically that something happened as a result of which the world is a different place.

BORG: And I would say that a passion for ecology and the future of the earth can be grounded in the doctrine of creation. We don't need to ground that in an empty tomb. I would say a passion for justice, by which I mean the well-being of us as embodied people who need food and so forth, that that can be grounded in the social prophets of the Hebrew Bible as well as in Jesus' own passion for justice, and that we don't need a physical, bodily resurrection to ground a passionate concern for the well-being of life in this world.

GROSS: And I have another question I'm going to throw in here. I'm wondering if you each think that Christianity is the one true way or if you see it as one path to a meaningful life and to meaningful spirituality.

WRIGHT: There are many paths to meaningful life because there are many different ways of construing meaning in one's life. And there are many who find different ways, whether they call them religions or not. There are many for whom music is the way of bringing meaning into their life. So I think the word meaningful is probably too broad and floppy.

But I take not only the New Testament but also the Jewish scriptures witness and I make it my own that the creator of the whole world has acted decisively within Israel and then within Jesus for the benefit of the whole world. And I see that as coming to its decisive moment in Jesus' death and resurrection.

And though I want to say that there may be great insight and great meaningfulness in many, many other ways, whether it's Buddhism or whatever, Buddha didn't die for me. Mohammed didn't die for me. Only Jesus died for me. And that is absolutely central to what seems to me the heart of the Christian faith.

GROSS: Martin Borg, what about you. Do you see...

BORG: Yeah.

GROSS: ... Christianity as the one true faith?

BORG: Let me build directly on what Tom has just said. I don't think Jesus died for me. I think Jesus was killed because of his passion for social justice. And I think the language of Jesus as a sacrifice for sin is a very powerful, post-Easter metaphor, one of at least five in the New Testament for speaking about the significance of Jesus.

So I don't see a statement like "Jesus died for me" as a way of differentiating Christianity in some kind of superior way from the other religious traditions of the world.


GROSS: Well, this leads me to a related question, which is how do each of you see followers of other faiths? I mean, in an era like many other eras where people are having a great deal of difficulty living together, how do you think Christians should regard people of other faiths, as people who should convert, as people who aren't as enlightened, or as people who have just - you know, found a different, equally legitimate path?

BORG: Let me underline again that I think all of the major religious traditions are utterly valid and legitimate ways of being in relationship to God. And then I would add that it seems to me that the really important religious differences are within each tradition and not so much between the traditions.

What I have in mind here is that I as a moderate-to-liberal Christian have more in mind with moderate-to-liberal Jewish people than I do with the very conservative and fundamentalist people of my own tradition. I think that whenever a tradition absolutizes itself, meaning seeing itself as utterly correct and exclusively true, then I think we get the phenomenon of what might be called excessive certitude. And excessive certitude has a tendency to divide the world into good and evil, saved and unsaved and so forth.

And so I want to say that the more mystical and spiritual sides of each religious tradition have more in common with each other than they do with the more dogmatic and literal parts of their own tradition.

WRIGHT: It seems to me that there are fundamental things going on within the different religious traditions, which when you go back to their roots and go on their fruits do take you into quite different worlds. And I do not think all religions are the same. But nor do I think that all adherence of non-Christian religions are automatically as it were ruled out from genuine experiences of God.

GROSS: I want to thank you both very much for talking with us. Thank you.

BORG: Thank you, Terry. Nice talking to you.

WRIGHT: Thank you. This has been Good. It's just frustrating to have to stop.

GROSS: Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright are religion scholars and authors of the new book "The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions."

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews Pat Barker's new novel about World War I. This is FRESH AIR.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright
High: Marcus J. Borg and N.T. Wright are co-authors of the new book "The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions." The two scholars offer dramatically different views on Jesus and his teachings. Borg provides liberal interpretations of Jesus. He is the author of "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time." Wright takes a more traditional view of Jesus. He is author of "Jesus and the Victory of God."
Spec: Religion; Lifestyle; Culture; Marcus Borg; N.T. Wright

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Different Views on Jesus

Date: MAY 20, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 052003NP.217
Head: Maureen Corrigan
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

GROSS: "Another World" is a new book by British novelist Pat Barker, best known for her trilogy set during World War I. Book critic Maureen Corrigan says with "Another World," Barker has achieved another literary triumph.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: Some writers are born into their themes. Edith Wharton and the high society world of turn-of-the-century New York, James Joyce in dear old dirty Dublin.

Other writers find their themes through a more obscure process. William Blake claimed he had visions. Agatha Christie learned about poisons and thus stumbled upon her lifelong theme of murder most foul when she was volunteering in a hospital.

I don't know how Pat Barker, a middle-aged English woman who once taught history and politics, came to be attracted to the subject of World War I, or how more remarkably, she came to inhabit the trenches and hospitals full of shell-shocked victims and write about those places with such passion and precision.

I only know that through the mysterious grace of the imagination, Barker has become one of the great literary chroniclers of World War I. To me, she is rank ordered right alongside Sigfried Sassoon (ph) and Wilford Owen (ph), the British battleground poets whom she brought to life in her astonishing regeneration trilogy.

Barker's new novel, "Another World," at first appears to leave the fighting behind. The story opens in the present in Newcastle, England, with images of everyday ugliness and the occasional depravity: road rage, decaying factory districts, recent child killings.

A man named Nick (ph) is driving to the railroad station to pick up his 13-year-old daughter Miranda (ph) from his first marriage. At home, dreading their arrival, is Nick's second wife Fran (ph), whose vastly pregnant belly feels like a bag of drowning kittens.

Also at home is her juvenile delinquent son Gareth (ph) from her first marriage and Fran and Nick's toddler son Jasper (ph). Got that straight?

It's your typical blended family of the 1990s, or make that the 1890s, because when Nick, Fran and their assorted kids begin scraping the wallpaper off the living room walls of the late Victorian monstrosity of a house they've recently bought, they find what could be their own family portrait underneath. It's a likeness of the Fanshaws (ph), the original owners of the house who were another blended family.

In this nasty portrait, apparently done by Mr. Fanshaw's oldest boy, the pater familius (ph) wields a big, exposed stick. And the boy's stepmother is depicted as a brood cow with swollen jugs.

Mesmerized by this domestic abomination, Nick has the impression that the portrait had risen to the surface of its own volition, rather as a mass of rotting vegetation long submerged will rise suddenly to the surface of the pond.

"Another World" is an elegant, psychological ghost story in the style of Henry James' classic "The Turn of the Screw." Miranda and Gareth are haunted by apparitions of their spirit doubles in the Fanshaw family, apparitions who may be egging them on to murder Jasper, just as the Fanshaw's infant son was murdered.

The angry dead of World War I begin to gather at the edges of this tail when we learn that Fanshaw made his fortune as a munitions manufacturer. And even closer to home, Nick's 101-year-old grandfather Jordie (ph) lies in a hospital dying of stomach cancer, except that Jordie believes it's the bayonet gutting he received in France during World War I that's finally doing him in. By story's end, Nick learns better than to dismiss Jordie's belief in the power of old wounds to leak into the present.

In this relatively short novel, Barker deeply reflects on poisonous family relations and the malleability of memory and the eternal present of wartime terror without once neglecting the spooky thread of her narrative.

It's a known fact that during World War I when weather conditions were right, shoppers in London could hear the big guns going off in France. Barker's characters in "Another World" conduct their everyday lives at an even further remove from the war. And yet, all it takes is a change in the atmosphere here for the air to grow thick with horrors that won't stay buried.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed "Another World" by Pat Barker.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Maureen Corrigan
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews the new novel, "Another World" by British author Pat Barker.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Pat Barker; Maureen Corrigan

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Maureen Corrigan
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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