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Jesus – The Theft of An Amazing Life

Two thousand years ago a man we call Jesus lived an amazing life. During his life he started a movement that overwhelmed, amazed, and changed the lives of thousands. Upon his striking death, so many of his followers were stunned that many myths began about him. The vast majority of those closest to him sought to continue his mission and message. A few headed off on some other tangent. What most people think they know about Jesus comes from one of those tangents, the one known as “Christianity”.

Frankly, I care little about Christianity. Its doctrines seem silly and its beliefs irrational, but I leave it to each person to decide what they wish to believe in – so long as they don’t try to force their beliefs upon me or others. And that is exactly what has happened. Growing up in a society dominated by Christians, I was forced to hear and accept many of their beliefs. That’s wasn’t such a bad thing. Most Christians are good people and there’s plenty of goodness within Christianity. As I matured and learned, I found it easy to put aside the stories, myths, legends, and doctrines of Christianity. But then, as I matured and learned even more, I discovered an irritating truth: the church wasn’t just selling its stories and beliefs; it had promulgated a great lie. Over time, I came to realize just how harmful the lie was.

It is time for us to undo the lie. That is not the same as saying that we will find the truth. I have made great effort to discover and uncover whatever historical fact we might know about Jesus and his times.  The reality is that we know very little about Jesus or his life and most of what people think they know about him is obvious fabrication. Paul and his followers worked diligently to limit our knowledge about Jesus. But they were confronted by the memories of others and chose to build their stories around facts and beliefs that could not be undone. They either ignored or recreated the context for those aspects of Jesus’ life that didn’t fit their goals.

We can re-create Jesus’ story using facts winnowed from the canonical gospels, the non-canonical gospels and other ancient works. Our goal should be to tell Jesus’ story in a more complete and accurate context - a monumental task. The facts are obscure, hidden, or covered and the context has been so completely corrupted that even professional historians often simply follow tradition rather than explore the evidence. We must confront well established expectations and the wide-spread notion that people already KNOW the Jesus story. I simply say that frequent and long-term re-telling of an incorrect story doesn’t make it truthful.

I know that some readers will be unable or unwilling to accept an alternative to the story they grew up with and which has been so completely indoctrinated into their thought. I know that some will find the story incompatible with their doctrinal or theological beliefs. Thus, we should begin by compiling, re-structuring, and analyzing the evidence hoping to provide anyone who cares about Jesus a better opportunity to understand his life and mission.

I began my quest because of six key facts that are generally unknown or inadequately considered:

  1. Jesus was part of a powerful and influential family. This is most evident in the historical record regarding his brother James, but is also evident in many verses of the New Testament.
  2. Jesus was a Jew who firmly believed in religious devotion. He had no intention of starting a religion or being the Messiah. His religious message was simple and was not doctrinal.
  3. Jesus chose his life and his death. The key to understanding Jesus is to understand why he made those choices.
  4. Jesus’ family were his most ardent and loyal supporters. His brothers were also apostles and were the designated leaders of Jesus’ mission after his death.
  5. Paul was opposed by Jesus’ family and Jesus’ core followers, but he saw the power in Jesus’ life, death, and mission and he redirected that power towards his own ends.
  6. The Christian (Catholic) church edited, redacted, and re-wrote history with the specific intent of favoring Paul and Paul’s doctrines. This specifically required a diminishment of Jesus’ family and the corruption of Jesus’ teachings.

Thus, what most believe about Jesus is little more than myth. If Jesus was nothing more than a myth, this would be perfectly acceptable. But just the opposite is true. Jesus lived an amazing life and his story deserves to be told honestly and more fully.  With a more complete, more accurate, and more honest context for understanding the circumstances under which Jesus lived (than offered by the myriad of quasi-historical works about Jesus and his times) we may describe reasonably the religious, political, economic, and cultural environment of Palestine around the first century.

If you are a “believer” or a “student” of Jesus, then you have probably discovered that the vast majority of exiting writings regarding him and his life offer little more than a restatement of religious myth, a biased and narrow view of history, or a misleading restatement of “history” relying upon unreliable sources – especially the Jewish/Roman historian Josephus. While it may be impossible to undo the misunderstandings and misrepresentations created by centuries of writing by people more interested in power and profit than accuracy, at least we can now start in a better direction.

Here are a few of the key problems in the existing histories about Jesus:

1.       The vast majority of authors who have written about Jesus who are either defending a church and its dogmatic beliefs (and supporting “history”) or who have deeply ingrained preconceptions regarding either Jesus as a person or Jesus as a divinity.

2.       The vast majority of “historians” give far too much weight to the historical data presented within the New Testament without testing that data against other (better) sources (archeology, independent histories, ancient writings, etc.).

3.       The vast majority of “scholars” who have written about Jesus suffer from the above and have mostly re-written someone else’s work without validation or rational analysis. This has produced a vast weight of “history” which largely repeats the same mistakes.

4.       Far too many “experts” rely blindly upon “majority opinion” regarding Jesus and his times – thereby creating undue confidence in the reliability of their results. Ironically, even experts who begin with a cautionary note regarding the biases and errors of Josephus will then rely exceedingly upon his works.   

5.       All of us are confronted with assumptions about Jesus and his life that we have difficulty putting aside. A lifetime of social/religious indoctrination can creep into our thinking even if we know its there (and wrong).

Here are some differences in the approach we should take in this work:

1.       Our work is largely an “integration” whereby we try to figure out “What was he thinking?” This requires that we identify the events of Jesus’ lifetime which arose from his choices and then figure out as many of the elements in those choices as possible. Thus, we must have a complete context which includes knowing his family, friends, associates, teachers, and opponents (or anyone else who might have influenced his thinking). We must understand his religion – not as we “know” it, but as he understood it. We must understand the issues of his time and how they influenced his thought. And, of course, we need detailed knowledge of his social, political, cultural, and historical perspectives.

2.       First and foremost, our work should follow Jesus’ lead: instead of viewing his life from the outside, we must hope to view his life from his point of view (without “psychological analysis”). We cannot “know” Jesus and we must not presume that he was like us, but we can treat him as a rational purpose-driven human being just as the accounts regarding him suggest.

3.       The context of a life is far less “social” than personal. Choices are based mostly upon our values and beliefs and not necessarily upon extrinsic factors. What the accounts about Jesus seem to indicate is that he was a man with deeply held personal values and beliefs which transcended his culture and times. Thus, we must look at how Jesus’ values and beliefs arose within a cultural and historical context rather than assume that cultural and historical circumstances drove his decisions.

4.        More than anything, all accounts would suggest that Jesus’ life was a reflection of his religion. There is nothing we know about Jesus more significant and revealing than his religion – “Judaism”. There is also nothing more significant or revealing about how misunderstood Jesus is than how misunderstood his religion is. (I am frequently surprised about the extent to which Christians try to tell Jews about THEIR religion while totally ignoring what Jews can tell them about the person their religion is based upon). I am astounded that even those willing to view Jesus as a fundamentalist Jew assume that today’s Judaism is the same religion that Jesus knew.

5.       Jesus was a “family man”. But most Christians would say that he was an only child. Few know that he was related to several of the Apostles and that the gospels clearly state that he had siblings (brothers and sisters), including one (James) who was more famous in non-Christian ancient history than Jesus was. The New Testament gospels would have us think that Jesus and his family were mostly estranged, but present proof that they were not – including the obvious fact that his brothers James led Jesus’ followers after his death instead of Peter or Paul.

6.       Jesus was a “Nazōraios” or Nazorean. The Christian church has repeatedly avoided the simple fact that this does not refer to Jesus being from “Nazareth”. Few know that the term "of Nazareth" is not used of ANYONE else and ancient reference to a place named “Nazareth” is not found ANYWHERE outside the New Testament. However, Luke clearly understands the term Nazōraiōn (Ναζωραίων) as meaning a sect (Acts 24:5); Pliny the Elder mentions a Jewish sect called the "Nazerini" in his Historia Naturalis (Book V, 23) – written within two decades after Jesus’ death; and,  Early church authors (i.e. Tertullian in “Against Marcion” (4:8) and Epiphanius[1]) understood the term “Nazoraioi “as referring to a sect or group. If his contemporaries identified Jesus primarily (20 times) by his belonging to this sect, why do we not know more about it?

7.       The New Testament explains many of Jesus’ most profound and confusing actions as arising from willing (or unwilling) responses to guidance from God.  This includes the most astounding choice by Jesus – the decision to die (a crime under Jewish law)[2].  Any serious discussion about Jesus which does not seek to explain his key decisions without resorting to dogma is unlikely to be anything but trivial. We are largely defined by our choices and we should wonder: Did Jesus choose to be the Mashiach (Messiah)?

8.       Christians chose to make Jesus into “the Christ” – one part of a “Holy Trinity” who sacrificed his human life to offer salvation to humans. Would this have made sense to Jesus – or any Jew of his time? Clearly not. Could Jesus claim to be the Jewish Messiah? Clearly not. Except in some “possible” future and abstract way, Jesus simply did NOT accomplish the key results expected of the Mashiach 2,000 years ago.  Instead of focusing upon vague and subjective interpretations of biblical prophecies, we should focus upon the very clear and objective criteria accepted by Jews during the time of Jesus. That criterion is what mattered to Jesus and his immediate family and followers (who denied his divinity). If Jesus was the Messiah, his actions are profoundly confusing.

9.       The gospels of the New Testament designate the key followers of Jesus as his “Twelve Apostles”, but indicate strongly that they were poorly chosen (except Peter, who only denied Jesus three times). Within those gospels, those chosen by Jesus as his closest disciples (from a multitude) are self-serving, disinterested, dolts who lacked both righteousness and loyalty. We must accept that this either reflects very poorly upon Jesus or upon the writers of the New Testament. I choose the later – in an effort to diminish the REAL Apostles to favor the unchosen Saul/Paul, the early church ignored and disparaged those closest to Jesus – his family, friends (perhaps wife), and chosen disciples. Our approach should be to restore them to a proper status.

10.   Finally (at least for this list), our approach should differ greatly from that of the Christians in focusing upon the reality of what happened after Jesus was crucified. The confusing and contradictory accounts of Jesus’ reincarnation should not diminish our acceptance that a large number of people believed that Jesus appeared alive after the crucifixion. We do not have to resort to supernatural causes to explain these beliefs. Neither should we follow the New Testament accounts and simply skip over the key events which followed – especially in regard to Jesus’ family and disciples. It is time that all who claim to know Jesus discover what those who knew him best thought of him, his teachings, and his mission.

The story of Jesus is one of the greatest in human history – without religious embellishment or church dishonesty and misrepresentation. It is a story worth an honest re-telling by someone without any purpose other than accuracy and completeness. I hope that we are ready to take a BIG step in that direction.

Rich VW



[1] Epiphanius unmistakably distinguishes Nazarenes (nasaraioi / Νασαραίοι) as a separate pre-Christian" Jewish sect. (Adversus Haereses 29.6).

[2] “Euthanasia, suicide and assisted suicide are strictly forbidden by Jewish law.” However, the nature of the suicide is considered. See  http://www.jewfaq.org/death.htm and http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/suicide1.html.


 

 

 

Please let me know if you have comments about or corrections for this web site.

rich1vanwinkle@yahoo.com


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