Christ as the Greatest Black Swan: Explaining the Unexplainable



The fourth and final part of our Advent look at Jesus as the greatest Black Swan event in human history.  Go here to read part one, here to read part two and here to read part three.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his 2007 book The Black Swan, took a look at the impact of events in history for which our prior experiences give us no inkling.  Taleb states three requirements for a Black Swan Event:

First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

The all important question about Christ is the one He asked.  Who do you say that I am?  In trying to make sense of Christ and his ever present impact upon this world, that is the question that is ever addressed.

A popular answer among some atheists is that Christ never existed.  This has always been a minority position since the evidence for the historicity of Christ is so overwhelming, especially for a figure who lived in obscurity.  Written accounts by His followers were drafted within decades after His death.  Non-Christian accounts, notably Tacitus, mention Christ.  His followers in Rome are persecuted within thirty years after His death.  Attempts to get around all this involve large amounts of conspiracy theories, ignoring inconvenient facts and academic hand-waving.  Regarding Christ as a myth may satisfy a semi-educated atheist, but it simply is not an intellectually honest position.

Much more popular, and not simply among atheists, is that Christ was a simple preacher and healer from Galilee.  His post death reputation bears no relationship to the kernel of a completely unremarkable life.  Tall tales involving miracles are complete inventions of his followers, and, in life, Christ was a common enough type of his time and place.  An interesting little theory if it only fit the facts.  All we know about Christ indicates that Christ was regarded by none of His contemporaries as either common or typical.  Leaving aside His miracles, He spoke with authority, unlike the Sadducees, Scribes and Pharisees.  His parables are masterpieces of thought and story, unforgettable after the first telling.  Much of what He said was mysterious to His followers and recalled by them even though it bore no relationship to Judaism as practiced prior to Christ.  He was viewed by the native rulers of His people as a mortal threat.  No, unless we are willing to cast aside all written evidence about Christ, and completely ignore His passionate and ever-growing following after His crucifixion, the idea of Him being common and typical is simply laughable.

Perhaps then Christ was simply one of those great moral teachers that History casts up now an again, His followers post death transforming him into a supernatural being?  In part, certainly, Christ was a great moral teacher, but He taught that He was so much more than that.  What other great moral teacher has, as the center of his teaching, that he is God, the creator of All, and that his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood?  If Christ is regarded simply as a great moral teacher, he is one who had at the core of his teachings a blasphemous lie.

Christ as lunatic perhaps, a madman who thought he was God?  That category simply doesn’t work either.  Could a madman have responded to the clever trap of asking whether the Jews should pay tribute to Rome, that the Jews should render unto Caesar his coin while giving to God what was His?  The Christ portrayed in the Gospels is sane, humane and exceedingly original and clever.  In spite of his remarkable claims, He gives not the slightest impression of psychosis.

Christ simply does not fit into any of our neat human categories, something that His contemporaries, both followers and adversaries, understood.  He came like thunder and lightning out of a clear dawn and humanity has never been the same.

More to explorer


  1. The attempt to disentangle the “Jesus of history” from the “Christ of faith,” began almost exactly 200 years ago, with t he great revival of theology and, especially, of biblical criticism in the German universities of Tübingen and Halle after the Napoleonic Wars.

    Despite generations of minute and painstaking scholarship, the result has been an abject failure; it is simply not possible, with whatever ingenuity, to separate the Gospel narratives into strata, with an historical (presumably non-miraculous) core. The last and greatest attempt was that of Rudolf Bultmann, who frankly confessed that it was like peeling the layers of an onion; at the end of the process, nothing is left.

    What this research did establish is that we can be absolutely sure that text of the four canonical gospels, as we now have it in Nestle’s, Tischendorf’s and Westcott & Hort’s editions is free of corruptions and interpolations, apart from minor verbal changes or slips of the pen that do not affect the meaning of the narrative n the least. It is, for all practical purposes, Erasmus’s text of 1513.

    The related suggestion that Christianity is the invention of St Paul has fared no better. Patristic scholarship has confirmed a continuous tradition, from St Ignatius of Antioch (c 35 – c 110) and Polycarp (69-155), both of whom had “spoken with John and others who had seen the Lord,” to St Irenaeus (130-220), who well remembered Polycarp. Needless to say, there is no suggestion of two rival traditions, the Pauline and the Johannine in any of them (or anywhere else, for that matter). We can add Justin Martyr, born at Nablus in Palestine around 100 and who died at Rome in 165, who represents the traditions of the Churches of Palestine and Syria.

  2. If Christ is the greatest Black Swan in history I wonder if we can say that Pope Francis is the greatest Black Sheep in history? Why so? Because Pope Francis represents Christ on earth while rejecting his teaching.

  3. Two good comments above 🙂
    But, I don’t know if He can be categorized a “black swan” phenomenon. He doesn’t seem to fit.
    Christ was expected, the extremity of His impact only became more recognizable as time went on, and the efforts of people to explain Him away after about 1800 years are being seriously rolled back today

  4. “Christ was expected”

    Not really. The Jews were expecting a different type of Messiah and the Romans certainly did not expect the Son of God to come as a Jew! Jesus defied expectations or analysis really, now just as much as then.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: