I conceived, founded, and, until 2012 or 2013 (depending upon how you read the history), served as editor-in-chief of Brigham Young University’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, which — until it was very recently handed over to Brill Publishing in the Netherlands — produced bilingual editions of books (mostly Islamic, but also sometimes Eastern Christian and Jewish) from the classical Islamic world. The books were printed at Brigham Young University Press and distributed by the University of Chicago Press.
Anyway, one of the volumes features the best line that the project ever published.
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, was talking about extremely poor students, and, in that context, attributed 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 initial inclination, when I first saw it, was to say that this alleged statement couldn’t possibly be authentic. And that’s still probably correct. But al-Ghazālī was entirely serious, and he plainly regarded 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.
Posted from St. George, Utah