An important distinction between a myth and a real person is how the figure impacts history. For example, books have been written and movies produced about King Arthur of Camelot and his Knights of the Roundtable. These characters have become so notorious that many believe they were real people. But historians who have searched for clues to their existence have been unable to discover any impact they have had on laws, ethics, or religion. A kingdom with the grandeur of Camelot should certainly have left its footprints on contemporary history. This lack of historical impact indicates King Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable are simply mythical.
The historian Thomas Carlyle said, “No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men.”11 As Carlyle notes, it is real people, not myths, who impact history.
As a real person, Alexander impacted history by his military conquests, altering nations, governments, and laws. But what of Jesus Christ and his impact on our world?
The first-century governments of Judea and Rome were largely untouched by Jesus’ life. The average Roman citizen didn’t know he existed until many years after his death, Roman culture remained largely aloof from his teaching for decades, and it would be several centuries before killing Christians in the coliseum became a national pastime. The rest of the world had little if any knowledge of him. Jesus marshaled no army. He didn’t write a book or change any laws. The Jewish leaders hoped to wipe out his memory, and it appeared they would succeed.
Today, however, ancient Rome lies in ruins. Caesar’s mighty legions and the pomp of Roman imperial power have faded into oblivion. Yet how is Jesus remembered today? What is his enduring influence?
- More books have been written about Jesus than about any other person in history.
- Nations have used his words as the bedrock of their governments. According to Durant, “The triumph of Christ was the beginning of democracy.”12
- His Sermon on the Mount established a new paradigm in ethics and morals.
- Schools, hospitals, and humanitarian works have been founded in his name. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Oxford are but a few universities that have Christians to thank for their beginning.
- The elevated role of women in Western culture traces its roots back to Jesus. (Women in Jesus’ day were considered inferior and virtual nonpersons until his teaching was followed.)
- Slavery was abolished in Britain and America due to Jesus’ teaching that each human life is valuable.
- Former drug and alcohol dependents, prostitutes, and others seeking purpose in life claim him as the explanation for their changed lives.
- Two billion people call themselves Christians. While some are Christian in name only, others continue to impact our culture by teaching Jesus’ principles that all life is valuable and we are to love one another.