PROVO, Utah — Richard Neitzel Holzapfel was on a plane traveling from Berlin to Paris. Two Americans sat next to him. One was a scientist from the University of California San Diego. \"As soon as he found out that I was a religion professor from BYU, he immediately went to sleep,\" Holzapfel said.The scientist's wife, however, was excited and pulled out a copy of \"The DaVinci Code.\"\"I'm reading this,\" she said.The woman was a secular Jew and had never before entertained an interest in Jesus or Christianity. \"The DaVinci Code,\" with its new and secret information, had piqued her interest.\"I talked to her the whole way to Paris,\" said Holzapfel, publications director of BYU's Religious Studies Center.The people in the row in front of them turned around to listen. The people in the row behind also listened in.Holzapfel realized then that the secular scholars had tapped into something. \"They've caught the world's attention and people are reading,\" Holzapfel said. \"I say the glass is half full because 10 years ago I never would have (been able) to talk to a secular Jewish woman who is married to a UC San Diego scientist. It has allowed us to talk to people about it, but guess what? We need to talk.\"But there are risks for those who have a fundamentalist mindset, according to Holzapfel. Many of the modern secular Bible commentators began as believers. \"They were fundamentalist in their approach. They believed the Bible was inerrant and infallible,\" Holzapfel said. \"And when they went to graduate school they started realizing that that was an untenable position.\"Instead of adjusting their beliefs, they simply rejected not only fundamentalist ideas, but Christianity and traditional teachings about Jesus as well. In its place, they created what Holzapfel called an \"alternative Jesus.\"\"It's not a Jesus who is going to ask you to repent of your sins,\" he said.The alternative Jesus requires working for social justice — such as stopping human trafficking. But you can do what you want in your personal life.\"They feel like the Christ of faith has diluted the Jesus of history,\" Holzapfel said. \"They want to rescue what they think is the powerful message of Jesus.\"Holzapfel said the secular scholars want to peel away, like an onion, the outer layers of traditional religion to get back to the core. They want to find the real Jesus, whom they say wasn't the Son of God, but a noble person with a powerful message.Holzapfel said their zeal comes from losing their fundamentalist faith.\"If you start to have doubts about your tradition, you can have a sense of betrayal. That, somehow, 'I was betrayed by my pastor,' 'by my seminary teacher,' 'I was betrayed, my parents didn't tell me,'\" Holzapfel said. \"And so there is this sense of betrayal, this sense of disillusionment. And then a decision: 'I want to make the world right. I'm going to tell the right story.'\"This \"right story\" is popular with college professors. For many college students, this secular approach is their first intellectual introduction to the New Testament — an articulate, persuasive introduction. They reject the Divine Christ, according to Holzapfel. To them, Jesus is purely, and only, human.When the media look for stories about Christ, they want controversy, according to Holzapfel. The alternative Jesus fits the bill. They seek out the minority of biblical scholars who have this secular approach. \"There's a fairly large conservative New Testament scholarship who have Ph.D.s, who are well-educated, who are thoughtful who never get quoted,\" Holzapfel said.\"In the West, people are tired of the New Testament,\" Holzapfel said. This is why there is so much interest in any new thing that comes along from the \"Gospel of Judas\" to the \"DaVinci Code.\"\"They want a new New Testament,\" Holzapfel said. \"The oldest and best source for the life of Jesus is the New Testament, yet the public wants this new New Testament.\"Holzapfel thinks that Mormon scholars can counter the secular message with their own biblical scholarship. The new BYU documentary, \"Messiah: Behold the Lamb of God,\" which debuts Dec. 6 on BYU Television is one step in this direction. Holzapfel's own books, such as his new \"Jehovah and the World of the Old Testament,\" is another step.Holzapfel said there are many LDS scholars today that are trained in the New Testament, scholars who look at the scriptures intelligently, thoughtfully and think through them carefully without abandoning their faith.\"It's all right to have questions. Don't be fearful of questioning. Questioning is good,\" Holzapfel said. \"But you can have questions without doubting.\"
Questioning the alternative Jesus