In my view, he was a kind of religious genius born in a fertile place and time: on the Silk Road, when Hellenistic ideas about body and soul had begun to take root in the Middle East, and when the winds of eastern mysticism—with the idea of karma, for instance—blew in from Persia and farther afield. Jesus grasped these concepts, and weaved them into his teaching, overturning traditional Jewish assumptions though building on some of them as well. The Sermon on the Mount offers a unique blend of western and eastern thought, summarizing his ideas. Here he puts forward his radical notions about nonviolent resistance to evil. In the gospels, he spoke in challenging aphorisms and parables. As he walked and taught in Galilee, he modeled behavior that shocked those in who met him.
By his death and crucifixion, he modeled suffering and death as well as life. He understood that his life was symbolic, even mythical. And by his resurrection—which was not the Great Resuscitation but a kind of magical transformation into a new form of life, eternal life, he offered humanity hope.
In an excerpt from his book, Parini elaborates on the significance of the resurrection, noting that when Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene, she didn’t recognize him:
Nobody recognized Jesus at first — a point of huge significance, as it underscores the difficult and mysterious nature of the Resurrection, which defies all norms and defeats rationalization.