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Classics

Fake Biologist, Theological Genius

Author: Alexander Men Title: Der Menschensohn (The Son of Man) Publisher: Herder,Freiburg i. Br. 2006, 459 pp.

Although written almost half a century ago, it is still more than valuable to remind readers of The Son of Man, the principal and most famous work of the Russian Orthodox Archpriest, Aleksandr V. Men. In recent years this text been translated into a number of Western languages and an edition has now appeared in German.

 

 

Although Men's parents were Jewish, his mother had her son (and herself) baptised when he was seven months old. While still a child, Men decided to become a priest. As the Soviet authorities did not permit him to study theology, he officially studied biology at an Institute for Furs while privately training himself in theology and the philosophy of religion.

 

 

In 1960 he was ordained a priest and he soon became the pastor of a parish close to Moscow. As he knew much more about Christian theology than most other Orthodox priests and he was unusually ecumenical, he became an important pastor for intellectuals and even founded a Theological University that still exists today. As a result of his influence, a considerable number of (usually secularised) Jewish intellectuals became Christians. On 9 September 1990, while walking to a church where he was going to celebrate Holy Mass, he was brutally assassinated: it has never been clear by whom or why. Although the Orthodox Russian authorities were, and in part still are, concerned about his Western way of thinking, today he is venerated by many Russian Christians as a saint.

 

 

His book about Jesus Christ is unusual in several respects. Firstly, although Men, who was conversant with several European languages, was familiar with modern exegesis, he never used it to question the traditional interpretation of the Gospel. In several places in the volume he demonstrates how unconvincing such a questioning is.

 

 

Therefore, and secondly, he carefully reads the Gospel as a reader of the first century AD would have read it, and he supplements this with historical information about the history of that time.

 

 

Thirdly, he writes his book for readers who had learned at their schools that Christ may never have existed and that anyway the four Gospels were nothing but a myth. After all, this was what Marxism-Leninism, following the teaching of Bruno Bauer and Friedrich Engels, maintained. Fourthly, because he was familiar with Jewish traditions he constantly reflects on how contemporaries understood what Jesus Christ did and said. It is above all his reading of the Gospel within the context of Jesus' Jewish background that offers a series of fascinating new insights.

 

 

In some respects this book reminds one of Romano Guardini's The Lord (which Men knew); on the other hand, by writing as a historian would, he convincingly shows that only one interpretation is plausible, namely, that the man Jesus was not only the Messiah for whom the Jews had hoped, but, in addition, the incarnation of the Divine Logos, that is to say God Himself.

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