Nietzsche’s Johannine Christ

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Yes, the Christ Nietzsche described is the beloved Christ of many. However, I’m unsure of whether this Christ is the Historical Jesus. For one, Nietzsche (according to Deleuze, but also upheld by a reading of the Anti-Christ) equated the Kingdom of God to a state of the heart, an internal understanding. I don’t think is what the Kingdom of God symbolized in first century apocalyptic Judaism. John the Baptizer and Jesus of Nazareth (in my opinion) understood the Kingdom of God as a social community that was preparing itself for God’s irruption onto earth. It was an eschatological Kingdom, which was also ‘here’ insofar as they practiced an ethics of the Kingdom. This included open-table fellowship and a radical faith in God that made trust in material things a sign of bad faith. Likewise, social structures were challenged. Marriage and family were unimportant. This new family did not concern itself with blood, but rather obedience to the will of God (recall, who is my mother? who is my brother?). This paradoxical community included the excluded: prostitutes, cripples, and lepers will enter the Kingdom before the self-righteous. This apocalyptic fervor is all but absent in John’s gospel. Instead, the Kingdom of God is now ‘not of this world’. It is even transformed into eternal life. Even when Luke’s Jesus says the Kingdom is ‘within’ you, that within can also but translated as among. Jesus was intending to form a new community of the righteous. The members of the Kingdom would be the oppressed of society.

One last thing. Nietzsche talks about glad tidings. I think the tidings that Jesus brings are tidings that should be met with fear and trembling. Jesus’ apocalyptic predictions did not speak of times of happiness and peace, but rather violence and war. I can understand how Nietzsche thinks of Jesus as Jewish Buddhist, but I think this radically divorces him from his Jewish context.

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3 Responses to “Nietzsche’s Johannine Christ”

  1. Dave Mesing Says:

    Some quick thoughts(I have to wake up at 6AM, so I’ll be brief):

    1. I need to re-read John.
    2. Nietzsche’s reading of Jesus as a Jewish Buddhist might also be because of Schopenhauer, who definitely influenced Nietzsche’s thoughts about Christianity. Nietzsche’s understanding of the Kingdom of God as an attitude of the heart is because of his German Pietist upbringing. An excellent book on this is Bruce Ellis Benson’s Pious Nietzsche. More broadly, you might be interested in checking out Stephen Williams The Shadow of the Antichrist. It’s been quite some time since I’ve read the latter, but it should be helpful if you want to pursue this further.

    The implicit point that the Christ Nietzsche sees is still the Christ of many is an important one, I think, but I’m not sure what else to say.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    That’s some interesting autobiographical details. Williams’ book is on my reading list. Yes, Nietzsche’s Christ looks like 19th century Liberal Protestantism’s Christ. But, that’s before historical Jesus research took off with Schweitzer. There’s something to be said for Nietzsche recognizing Jesus did not come to preach of another life or world. But, again he lacked the historical knowledge to understand the Jewish context within which Jesus was preaching.

  3. Dave Mesing Says:

    I’m tempting insomnia by remaining awake (at the very least I’m going to be mad at myself in five hours), but I’ve just re-read parts of the introduction to the Williams book, and now I want to re-read the entire thing. My break list will find no limit!

    I can’t recommend Benson’s book highly enough. It’s definitely worth looking at, especially in relation to some of these questions.

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