What Is Jesus's True Place?
Jesus in the Bible
About the HistoricalJesus
Myth, Man or God
Conversations about Jesus rarely go well.
Just trying to visualize him as an historical figure, a child born in Nazareth and raised an observant Jew, becomes so fraught with emotion that reason and common sense go out the window.
You have to expect it. Real faith demands passion. Faith without passion is like a bird without wings or air.
But since Jesus is generally conceded to be the most influential figure in all of Western history, it seems worth trying to sort out some of that which is myth and that which is known.
A major complication is that very little is actually known about Jesus and his times and much of it runs contrary to what believers accept. Myth detached from fact is a curious phenomenon, but facts may not matter, being outweighed by faith.
Jesus In His Place
- Except in the Gospel of John, which departs from the other gospels, Jesus makes no claim to be God.
- The Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John contradict each other in many places, even to the day on which Jesus was executed. Here, again, John departs from the others in apparent effort to connect Jesus with the sacrificial lambs of Passover.
- Jesus may or may not have been a carpenter, but he was certainly a Jew and an observent one. His tossing out of the coin changers in the temple was a call for a more strict observation.
- Like his peers, Jesus was almost certainly illiterate, although knowledgeable in the teachings and stories of the Jewish Bible and traditions.
- Consistent with Jewish understanding of the time, Jesus considered non-Jews as inferior and unwelcome. He referred to Gentiles as "dogs."
- As an observant Jew, Jesus adhered to traditions that knew women as inferior, even dirty, but much more striking, he was about to honor Passover as he always did, just before he died. Passover is celebrated for the slaughter of innocents – women, children, even animals – by God's angels because they happened to be part of a group that Jews knew as persecutors. How's that that for turning the other cheek?
- Stories of his mother's virginity are included in only two of the four gospels, a significant omission. In John, of course, it would be irrelevant since his gospel names Jesus as a God who was present at all times. Mark mentions her only in passing as being in the company of Jesus' brothers and sisters with no reference to her virginity or any other special qualities. As all the gospels were written independently and collated later, the omissions are glaring. Why would a writer skip something as important as that, if it was information shared by Jesus?
- The story of Jesus life, from virgin birth through miracles and death, mimic early myths that were around hundreds of years before his birth. Moreover, according to biblical scholar L. Michael White, so far as is known, Jesus did not write anything, nor did anyone who had personal knowledge of him. There is no archeological evidence of his existence. There are no contemporaneous written accounts of his life or death: no eyewitness accounts, or any other kind of first-hand record. All the written stories of Jesus come from decades or centuries later. The gospels all come from later times.
- Finally, the Bible used as a resource for information about Jesus and his teachings did not achieve its final version until the fourth century after his death, and even then, it was put together in chapters acceptable to religious leaders. Other important gospels, most notably those of Thomas and Mary, were rejected and even ordered destroyed. The New Testament is clearly not the full story of Jesus or the religion's founding.
Jesus In His Place
Where does this (and other inconsistencies too numerous for this space) leave us and, for that matter, Jesus? It leaves us in a place where facts don't matter because there simply aren't enough of them that are reliable.
White mentions the fact that Jesus left no written record of his sayings or teachings, he does not emphasize the extremely critical point that such an absence is practically the only one of its kind among religions' founders. Even Lao Tzu, writing six hundred years earlier, inscribed the Tao. The only reasonable conclusion from this is that Jesus either did not exist or was illiterate. Illiteracy was the standard of his time, but it would seem an odd attribute for one known as the son of or actually God himself.
While it's no better than guessing to suggest that Jesus did not exist, it's reasonable to assume that he did and that his legend was greatly expanded by his followers. Efforts to link Jesus to Old Testament prophecy may well have been useful tools.
The Old Testament declared that the Messiah would be a direct descendant of King David. Detailed lineages in the New Testament trace a line from David to Joseph, but why would this matter if, as claimed, Joseph was not father to Jesus?
What we are always left with is faith. Born into an admittedly weak Christian tradition, I still felt the power of Jesus. Jesus stood for something rich, internal and, in the end, ineffable.
All the contractions, not to mention the grave historical abuses of Christian hierarchies, finally pushed that aside, and I was easily able to assign the role Jesus played to another, more accessible, less conflicted source.
But for many others, this isn't so. Christianity plays an important role in bringing the faithful together in communities where fellow feeling matters. Jesus, whatever his genesis, is a powerful symbol with all the passion of God behind it.
So, we finally, all of us, put Jesus in a personal place. Mine is as an historical curiosity as it is for much of the rest of the world. Still, the ineffable thing he once represented for me can't be discarded.
The sources that prompted religion to emerge out of primitive societies still burn in each of us, regardless of persuasion.
Jesus, in the hearts of Christians, not under the knife of research, is for now in his place.
The rest of the story
The consolidation of the modern Bible excluded gospels considered crucial and important to many Christians of the time. The decisions were arbitrary.
Here's the story of what got left out.
The Possible Jesuses
Jesus Christ: Man or MythSee results without voting
Of other interest...
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