James Carroll (right) led a luncheon discussion on “Jesus: Jew<br /> or Gentile?” at the Miller-Ward Alumni House Aug. 30.“The most fundamental and reliable historical fact we know about Jesus is that he was a Jew, and this can be forgotten to great consequence,” said James Carroll, award-winning author and journalist, during a luncheon conversation at the Miller-Ward Alumni House Aug. 30.

Alluding to Christian support of Nazi Germany, Carroll was continuing a conversation he started the previous evening during his opening address, “Jesus: Jew or Gentile?,” at Glenn Memorial Auditorium. Carroll, Candler School of Theology’s 2011 Alonzo L. McDonald Family Chair on the Life and Teachings of Jesus and their Impact on Culture, is delivering a series of four lectures and luncheon conversations this fall on the theme “Jesus Against Himself: From Itinerant Galilean to Christ of God and Back Again.”

Carroll opened the luncheon event, which was designed to allow for in-depth discussion, by inviting the guests to introduce themselves. “It’s wonderful to deliver a lecture, but it’s so much better to converse face-to-face. I want to know who you are,” he said.

The attendees represented a broad range of personal and professional stations. Among them were an interfaith (Jewish-Christian) married couple, a registered nurse, Emory faculty and staff, local retirees, businesswomen, church staff members, lay leaders, and self-described “seekers.”

Their reasons for attending were as varied as their ages and backgrounds. Oxford College chaplain Lyn Pace said, “This conversation is important to me because it informs what I do on the Oxford campus, which is work with students from a range of religious traditions.”

John Tyler, a lay leader at Atlanta’s Central Presbyterian Church, said he had come out of his belief that “scholarship is religiously relevant, and is not something to be hidden in the background of church life.”

The dialogue, while distinctly engaging and personal, was indeed scholarly, ranging from theology to history to biblical criticism. A critic of St. Anselm’s atonement theory, Carroll said that the idea of “God saving the world by killing someone” leads to a lethal ideology and feeds very easily into religious division.

One attendee raised another theme when she asked how, historically, Jesus became the Christ. Carroll said this occurred “through a move of interpretive genius. Jesus, once understood as Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, restored the hope of the early Christians, who were Jews. That hope had nearly collapsed not only with the death of Jesus but with the fall of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70.”

Other notes were sounded, but the most fundamental was Carroll’s insistence that Jesus be understood in terms of his Jewishness first, and that to reject that most salient feature of Jesus’ humanity is tantamount to rejecting his humanity altogether. It is precisely this rejection that made it possible for Christians to support the Third Reich, he said.

But he remains hopeful: “We human beings are those creatures who alone can learn from history.”

Upcoming James Carroll Luncheon Conversations

Remaining luncheon events: September 27, October 25, and November 15. 

Luncheon conversation events take place the day following each lecture. They are from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Miller-Ward Alumni House on Emory’s campus. The cost is $30. Advance registration is required and seating is limited. To register, go to: http://tinyurl.com/JamesCarrollconversations

Upcoming James Carroll Lectures

  • September 26: “Jesus: Solitude or Solidarity?”
  • October 24: “Jesus: Magician or Healer?”
  • November 14:  “Jesus: An Undiscovered Faith”

Lectures start at 7 p.m. at Glenn Memorial Auditorium on Emory’s campus. They are free and open to the public, but registration is requested. Go to www.candler.emory.edu/calendar. Navigate to the date of the event and click “Sign Up.”