A Previously Unknown Saying of Jesus?

I’m the founder and editor-in-chief of Brigham Young University’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, which produces bilingual editions of books (mostly Islamic, but also sometimes Eastern Christian and Jewish) from the classical Islamic world.  (My colleague and former student Dr. D. Morgan Davis does all the work, but I’m still allowed to have a cool title.)  The books are printed at Brigham Young University Press, and distributed by the University of Chicago Press.

Anyway, one of our recent volumes features the best line that we’ve ever published or are ever likely to publish.

Al-Ghazālī (d. AD 1111), who was one of the most significant figures in the history of Islamic thought, a legendarily brilliant philosophical theologian and legal thinker who spent most of his life in Iran and Iraq but also sojourned for a significant period in Jerusalem, is talking about extremely poor students, and, in that context, attributes the following remark to Jesus:

“Even though I managed to raise the dead, I have never been able to cure an idiot!”

(See al-Ghazālī, “O Son!,” trans. David C. Reisman, in Classical Foundations of Islamic Educational Thought, ed. Bradley J. Cook [Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2010], 103.)

Now, I’ll admit that my first inclination was to say that this alleged statement can’t possibly be authentic.  And that’s still probably correct.  But al-Ghazālī is entirely serious, and plainly regards the statement as genuine.  Furthermore, his citation of it takes us back fully a thousand years or more, halfway to the time of Jesus.  So . . .

I have to confess that I rather like the idea that the Savior might have said such a thing.  It humanizes him a bit.  Surely, with all those long walks from Nazareth to Capernaum, and from Capernaum to Jericho, and from Jericho to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem back up to Capernaum or Nazareth, it can’t all have been immortal sermons and solemn earnestness.  (Can it?  Maybe I’m just not fit for heaven.)  There must have been some small talk.  And the image of Jesus, trudging along with the disciples down those dusty paths and confiding at the end of a tough day, “You know, Peter?  I can raise the dead, but I just can’t cure idiots” is oddly appealing to me.

Still, alas, it’s probably bogus.


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