One of the common themes in the construction of the Radical Bible is to have Jesus (or sometimes Old Testament/Hebrew Bible prophets) as the founder of socialism, or at least a key figure in its development (questions about when socialism actually emerged are largely irrelevant here—I’m only talking about a modern construction of Jesus). Marx is typically another figure in the chain of tradition which, in constructions of Englishness and Christianity, is deemed to have gone astray on the continent (e.g. in the direction of Stalin) whereas the ‘authentic’ tradition of English Radical Bible, incorporating Marx’s non-totalitarian legacy, was preserved through Winstanley, Diggers, Levellers, Blake, Chartists, Methodism and Nonconformity more generally, various figures on the Labour Left, and so on.
What is notable about this Radical Jesus (and a related Liberal Jesus) is that he attracts people who self-identify as atheist (more recently we might think of Douglas Adams or Richard Dawkins, or even Monty Python) and/or politically radical (and/or politically liberal). The logic here is that Jesus was a political radical (or a nice liberal type) ahead of his time and his message was then distorted by ecclesiastical interpretations. And before you start feeling smug and superior, is not the academic quest for the historical Jesus, or NT/Biblical Studies more generally, part of a similar tendency?
One person who thought in such terms was George Orwell, though he did have a curious period in the early 1930s when he attended his local Anglican church. Here he is comparing Jesus and Marx which, in the grand scheme of Orwell’s thinking on religion and the Bible, is ultimately most representative of an English way of thinking. This is from his ‘As I Please’ column in the Tribune, Feb. 25, 1944:
Looking through Chesterton's Introduction to Hard Times in the Everyman Edition (incidentally, Chesterton's Introductions to Dickens are about the best thing he ever wrote) , I note the typically sweeping statement: ‘There are no new ideas.’ Chesterton is here claiming that the ideas which animated the French Revolution were not new ones but simply a revival of doctrines which had flourished earlier and then had been abandoned. But the claim that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ is one of the stock arguments of intelligent reactionaries…In fact, there are new ideas. The idea that an advanced civilization need not rest on slavery is a relatively new idea, for instance; it is a good deal younger than the Christian religion. But even if Chesterton's dictum were true, it would only be true in the sense that a statue is contained in every block of stone. Ideas may not change, but emphasis shifts constantly. It could be claimed, for example, that the most important part of Marx's theory is contained in the saying: ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ But before Marx developed it, what force had that saying had? Who had paid any attention to it? Who had inferred from it — what it certainly implies — that laws, religions and moral codes are all a superstructure built over existing property relations? It was Christ, according to the Gospel, who uttered the text, but it was Marx who brought it to life. And ever since he did so the motives of politicians, priests, judges, moralists and millionaires have been under the deepest suspicion — which, of course, is why they hate him so much.