The Real Jesus
by Vernon Miles Kerr
Whether Jesus existed, or not, one must admit that the basic concept of a Jesus was, at least, an idea that captured — and continues to capture — the imagination of the world. That idea — of a religious rebel breaking the legalistic shackles of the predominant religion, freeing thousands of his contemporaries from the parsimonious rule-keeping imposed by that oligarchic religious establishment, then submitting meekly when it convinces the government to execute him — is compelling.
But, beyond a simple idea, we actually do know that a guy named Jesus did exist in the land now called Israel, in the first century of our so-called Christian Era.
From the writings of that century’s Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, and minor, passing mention of him in Roman administrative texts, the historical existence of Jesus is an accepted concept.
Wikipedia has this:
“In a 2011 review of the state of modern scholarship, Bart Ehrman (a secular agnostic) wrote: ‘He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees’.”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_Jesus#cite_note-Ehrman285-5
Barring a reputedly spurious passage, called the Testimonium, later added to Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, one accepted passage remains. Again, from Wikipedia:
Modern scholarship has largely acknowledged the authenticity of the second reference to Jesus in the Antiquities, found in Book 20, Chapter 9, which mentions “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.” This reference is considered to be more authentic than the Testimonium.
In this chapter of Antiquities, James, the brother of Jesus, and some associates are hauled before the Sanhedrin, a religious court, sentenced and stoned. No mention is made of the charges. The inclusion of this incident by Josephus seems to be made merely to illustrate many acts of mismanagement by the religious authorities in league with the Roman government. One of these illustrations, interestingly tells of one Roman soldier who exposed his genitals to Passover celebrants in front of the Temple, resulting in a riot by the Jews, a rout by the soldiers and several hundred Jews being crushed to death as they tried to flee the city through narrow portals. In other places in the Christian tradition, Jesus refers to these gateways as, the eye of a needle — as in,
“I’ll say it again-it is easier for a camelto go through the eye of A needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
Josephus goes on to say that the crass and “blasphemous” soldier had to be arrested and decapitated by the Romans in order to avoid an extensive Jewish revolt.
Now we get to the nexus of this discussion.
Given that Jesus existed, historically, how much detail about his life and ministry can we accept from the vast number of codices, books and concatenations that make up The New Testament, the bible of Christian religious tradition? I think our answer has to be another question:
How much “truth” is there in any of the myriad myths and sagas we’ve been gifted by our forebears? Certainly some, or they wouldn’t have maintained the cherished and respected place they hold in the world’s cultures.
The very designation of Jesus as “Christ” comes from that — mythology, if you will.
The Greek name Χρίστος [Christos] is derived from the earlier word χριστός (note the difference in accentuation), meaning “anointed” and which became the Christian theological term for the Messiah.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christos_(given_name)
The word “Christ” not only became “the Christian theological term” but it is directly derived from the Hebrew word for Messiah. This from the Government of Israel:
The Hebrew word “Mashiach,” meaning Messiah, means “the one anointed with oil.” The custom of anointing with oil is a ritual act designed to elevate those designated for priestly, royal or sometimes even prophetic roles (such as the prophet Elisha) https://mfa.gov.il/MFA/IsraelExperience/Religion/Pages/Image_of_Messiah_in_Judaism_and_Christianity.aspx
Since Jesus was a real person, and Josephus, and other sources indicate that he had a following, that group of followers are logically the source of the modern Christian movement. Hypothetically speaking, any movement, once founded begins to fragment and metamorphose, simply from human nature. In the religious cult with which I was associated for more than 20 years — repeated in so many instances — those alpha-types who could not work their way to the top, left to form a new cult, so that they could be top-dog elsewhere.
Given that splits and apostasies are inevitable in any organization, is it beyond reason to assume that one or more of those fragmentary early-Christian groups found it necessary to “juice-up” the oral tradition in order to sell their version of the Jesus story? Arguably, many of the so-called “miracles” attributed to Jesus — e.g. wine from water, walking on water, healings, raising Lazarus from the dead — might be examples of this kind of hyping. For the purposes of this discussion, let us (at least temporarily) agree not to accept any of what we now call “The Holy Bible” as being, prima facie, the pure word of God, unadulterated by human hands.
The very appellation “Messiah” seems to be early evidence of an attempt to lend to Jesus, the gravitas of the Torah. The first chapter of the gospel of Matthew has 316 words tracing Jesus’s family genealogy back to the Kings of Israel and ultimately to father Abraham. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%201&version=NIV
I am definitely not proposing we dismiss the New Testament out of hand, as being spurious. At worst, it is an oral tradition, a myth, a saga, put to writing within a short century of the subject events, and widely circulated by Christian adherents. As such, it should have elements of truth, truisms — both metaphorical/symbolic and literal. The irony and the shame is that the modern world sees this legacy through the filter of ecclesiastical “authorities,” who have ignored the work of the young founder of their faith, and have re-imposed parsimonious rule-keeping upon Christians. Wear this, eat that, support this cause, reject this other cause.
I suspect the real Jesus really did say, “You [Pharisees] tithe of every little mint leaf, dill and anise seed but you ignore the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith.” And, to those same legalists who roamed about Palestine on Shabbos, exposing every minuscule breaking of their conception of the 4th Commandment, he really did say, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The beatitudes, “blessed are the meek,” etc and the concept of a new kind of love: agape, unconditional out-going concern for others, if not new were vaguely contrary to Jewish doctrine. For this, the Pharisees murdered the real Jesus — by proxy.
Today, modern Christianity is murdering him by adopting the Pharisaical outlook, its methods, and forming corporate bodies with top-down management. Actually emulating the Roman form of government, their conquerors, in other words.
If nothing else, I hope this essay encourages the reader to ignore and discredit the harm modern Christianity has done to this ancient story by making people mistakenly revile it — because they associate it with the bad behavior of it’s claimed adherents — especially in America, during the political tumult we are now experiencing.
Somewhere along the line, during college, a professor said, “Western literature is full of [oblique and direct] references to the Bible — one cannot be a good writer without intimate knowledge of it.” At the time I had zero knowledge of it, and frankly, guffawed, inwardly. Thanks to my brief, 20 year dip into so-called “Christianity” at least I came away with a passing knowledge of it. Enough to know that the professor was right. For not only writers, but for normal people, trying to deal with an ever-increasingly chaotic and confusing world, I say get familiar with that small part of “the myriad myths and sagas we’ve been gifted by our forebears”
2 thoughts on “Theology | The Real Jesus”
Just read this article and while I may disagree with some of it, I found it to be interesting. My favourite story in the Bible is in John 9. Being a person whose sight was so bad I’d have difficulty finding my glasses, this story intrigued me. First, and there still is, a strong belief that sin brings about punishments even on to the next generation. Jesus disputes this and uses an unsuspecting blind person to prove this point. (the blind person may have heard Christ’s proclomation about being the Light of the world). Christ spits on the ground, a no no, mixes the spit with dirt (considered working on the sabbath} and tells the man to go and wash off the mud in a pool a considerable walk away. Here we have a blind person walking past many humiliating himself but he does it. He does what he has been told and receives his sight. The group around him is split on this miracle and he is taken back to the temple. Through his interrogations, he increases his standing of his healer, is dissed by his parents, chastised by priests and learned men and angers them so much they proclaimed, “We are of Moses.” He had asked them if they wanted to follow this obvious man of God. At the beginning of chapter 10 we have the face to face between the two. Jesus tells him he is the Son of man and the blind man accepts Christ.
In the face of questioning from the elite and powerful, the former blind man can only speak to his truth in spite of being threatened. Today evangelicals, when faced with mounting facts, are likewise chastised for not following the proper political views that fly in the face of Christ’s teachings: love God and love your neighbour which is contrary to the non biblical phrase, “the Lord helps those who help themselves.”
Thanks again, Vernon
I’ve read all those scriptures as well, but I must say you wrote a nice commentary of them. If an agnostic were to read those verses, just some of the detail you mentioned, the persecution the formerly blind man suffered, etc. would lend some credibility to the original source material from whence it came. If not absolutely convicting, I think it would be provocative of more thought…maybe more reading. 🙂 VMK