on ‘apostle’ by Tom Bissell

9780375424663Christian Wiman at The New York Times:

Nietzsche believed that if only a Dostoyevsky had been among the apostles who followed Jesus, someone who understood the environment in which “the scum of society, nervous maladies and ‘childish’ idiocy keep a tryst,” we might have been spared centuries of ovine idiocy. One genius could have given us a work of ennobling art. Instead, we got 12 bleating sheep and one filthy religion.

Nietzsche is hardly alone in his contempt for the disciples. Many a preacher, whether for castigation or consolation, has pointed out their all-too-human foibles. There’s Thomas and his infamous doubt, Peter’s craven denials as Jesus is being tried and crucified. There are all the parables the disciples are too boneheaded to understand, kiddie squabbles about who is going to get the best seat in heaven. Even at Jesus’ most agonizing moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples, like exhausted teenagers, fall sound asleep. It almost seems as if the Gospel writers wanted to emphasize these inadequacies, wanted to root an entire religion in the very human weakness that so appalled Nietzsche.

Given the mediocrity of those to whom Jesus’ message was entrusted, it seems surpassing strange that the message should have taken hold with such force. Somehow those hapless men rose out of their stupor to become paragons of Christian virtues.

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