(Photo: screen grab/MSNBC)
Jay Parini, author of Jesus: The Human Face of God, a book released earlier this month that's part of the biographies known as the ICONS series, told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" hosts that his editor thought he was crazy for wanting to write about the life of Jesus.
"He (my editor) said, 'The series is called ICONS. Pick an icon.' I said, Jesus. I'll do Jesus. And he thought I was crazy," explained Parini, professor of English at Middlebury College in Vermont.
Parini said his objective wasn't to persuade readers that Jesus is part of the Trinity and more than a mortal man, but to show what it was like, on the ground, to be Jesus.
"You wake up and suddenly, all of this religious truth comes to you. God speaks to you. And it's about His discovery that He is, in fact, God, and the spark of God is inside of Him," Parini explained during the morning show's "Faith on Fridays" segment.
As part of the process of writing the 170-page book on the life of Jesus, Parini said that writing such a work is easier now, in the 21st century, because of 20th century discoveries, such as the Dead Sea scrolls and the 20 Gnostic Gospels that were discovered in Egypt in 1945.
"We have all of this amazing archeological stuff. And so, we know a lot more now about the period in which Jesus lived than we ever knew before," he commented. "Obviously, you're trying to peel through 20 centuries of theology, speculations, church doctrine and storytelling. I'm trying to get back to the absolute basic story of who was Jesus, what did he say, what was he teaching, and what did he do."
As he went through the process of conducting research for the book, Parini shared that one of his major tasks was to read the Greek translation of the Bible, specifically the New Testament, to "get at the real story."
"For instance, when Jesus says, 'repent, and you will be saved.' What He's really saying, if you read the Greek, is: open your mind to the light. Go beyond yourself into the larger mind of God, and you will experience enlightenment and reconciliation with God," he explained.
Parini believes that theology largely misses Jesus' teachings in the book of Matthew, specifically chapters 5, 6 and 7, where He gives the Beatitudes, such as "Blessed are the poor in spirit; Blessed are the meek; and Blessed are the peacemakers," (Matthew 5: 3, 5 and 9).
"Then, there are the six antitheses, where Jesus says, 'In the old days they said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say, if somebody strikes you, turn the other cheek. [And] love your enemies,'" Parini said.
"If you think about it, Jesus was this religious genius who grows up on the Silk Road, and so He's getting from the West all these Greek ideas from Plato about body and soul. He's getting from the East ideas from India, China and Persia – ideas about Karma. Blessed are the merciful, for God will be merciful to them. And he has this astonishing way of synthesizing all great truth," he added.
One of the phrases that Parini said he uses, although it might be perceived by some as controversial, is that "Jesus is the greatest story of all time. This is what we've got here with the Jesus story, the greatest story ever told," he emphasized.
"I think that people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. read the Sermon on the Mount and put it into practice. And I think Christianity is, as Jesus is teaching His people over and over again, it's a way of life; it's the way of Jesus; it's the way of practicing of being in the world."
In an interview with The Christian Post, earlier this year¸ Parini explained that he had many reasons for wanting to write about the life of Jesus, one of which is because his father was a Baptist minister.
"I still have deep respect for the evangelical tradition and feel, in many ways, close to the Baptist roots of my childhood, although I've been an Episcopalian throughout my adult life, and a regular churchgoer."
This interest in Jesus included studying modern German theology in college and was originally going to take on a different literary genre.
"I had planned to write a novel about Jesus, but when I was approached by James Atlas at Amazon to write a short biography of an iconic figure, my mind went immediately to Jesus," said Parini.