Demystifying the Deification of Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ, which means Jesus the anointed one, is one of the most intriguing figure of history. He has come to be understood in a variety of ways by different peoples and religions. To some (Christians) he is God, to others (Muslims) he is a prophet. He was rejected by the Jewish people as the expected Messiah, yet even today some 2000 years after his time, he has inspired a Jewish sect known as Messianic Jews who have accepted him as Messiah in the Jewish religion. Some have even claimed that there is no historical evidence for Jesus. After researching this subject to some extent, I am presenting the following analysis as a demystification of the legend and personage of Jesus Christ.
The Historicity of Jesus
It is sometimes said that there are no references to Jesus in history except for what is contained in the Gospels. This is, in fact, not true. Whereas the following references may be considered bleak, they are given below:
Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus in his renowned record “The Annals” published in AD 108 makes a specific reference to the sect of Christians who followed a certain “Christus” reported to have been executed at the time of Emperor Tiberius under the governor Pilate.
Another Roman historian named Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus made notes drawn on state records of notable events and reported that a group of Jews had been expelled from Rome by order of Emperor Claudius (AD 41-54) who were under the influence of a certain “Chrestos”.
Even the famous Jewish historian Flavius Josephus makes mention of it when recounting the stoning of St. James, the text reads “who was the brother of Jesus, who they call “Christus”—this is regarded as authentic by scholars. There is, however, a longer reference to Jesus in the copy of Antiquities known as Testimonium Flavianum but this reference is sometimes disputed by scholars as probably being far shorter in it’s original form, nevertheless the reference is there.
A point of note here is that there are several sources which should be considered as a factor in validation. Further, an item considered by many as a source of evidence is the Shroud of Turin. This burial shroud has been the subject of controversy despite being intensely studied by scientists for over a hundred years. It remains a mystery how such an elaborate image was imprinted on to the shroud revealed in all its splendor on a photo-negative when first photographed in 1898. The Shroud features a man having undergone crucifixion and some details match the accounts of Jesus's crucifixion in The Gospels as illustrated in the brief video below.
The Shroud of Turin was presumed a medieval fake when scientific Carbon-14 testing in 1988 showed it to have originated in the 14th century. However, the results were challenged by others in the scientific community based on forensic evidence from 12th century art and writing that has identical characteristics to the shroud. The burial facial cloth that is also believed to be have been used at the time Jesus was taken down from the cross known as Sautarium of Oviedo has identical features to the Shroud and this cloth has well documented history taking it back to the 5th century. Also there are further historical textile-analysis which show that the shroud is consistent with Jewish burial customs from Jesus’s time. Some have also put forth the possibility that the shroud fragment used in the C14 testing may have been interwoven into the cloth following a fire that damaged the shroud in the 14th century.
Given these questions, currency has been building in the scientific community questioning the 1988 Carbon 14 testing and for conducting more comprehensive and elaborate carbon-testing of the shroud. The scientists who conducted the 1988 carbon-dating test have been since interviewed in a BBC documentary and have expressed to be open to challenge and re-testing. Certainly, one test based on one portion of the cloth should not be taken as scientifically conclusive.
The Greek Diaspora and its influence on Christian Development
One of the key aspects to examine in the development of the contemporary Christian doctrine is that Jerusalem at the time was ruled by Romans and a considerable portion of its surroundings and influences were Hellenistic (Greek). The Gospels we know today were originally written in the Greek language. Some Jews also lived among the Greek diaspora and subsequently Greek mythological influences are known to have crept into Jewish thinking. Reza Aslan, scholar of religion, writes in his best-selling book “Zealot: The Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth”:
As small minorities in these living in large cosmopolitan centers like Antioch and Alexandria, these Diaspora Jews had become deeply acculturated to both Roman society and Greek ideas. Surrounded by a host of different races and religions, they tended to be more open to questioning Jewish beliefs and practices, even when it came to such basic matters as circumcision and dietary restrictions. Unlike their brethren in the Holy Land, Diaspora Jews spoke Greek, not Aramaic: Greek was the language of their thought process, the language of their worship. They experienced the scriptures not in their original Hebrew but in Greek translations, which offered new and originative ways of expressing their faith, allowing to more easily harmonize traditional biblical cosmology with Greek philosophy. Consider the Jewish scriptures that came out of the Diaspora. Books such as Wisdom of Solomon and The Book of Ecclesiasticus read more like Greek philosophical tracts than like Semitic scriptures. It is not surprising, therefore, that Diaspora Jews were more receptive to the innovative interpretation of the scriptures being offered by Jesus’s followers. In fact, it did not take long for these Greek-speaking Jews to outnumber the original Aramaic-speaking followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. According to the Book of Acts, the community was divided into two separate and distinct camps: the “Hebrews”, the term used by Acts to refer to the Jerusalem-based believers under the leadership of James and the apostles, and the “Hellenists”, those Jews who came from the Diaspora and who spoke Greek and their primary language (Acts 6:1).
St. Paul (Saul of Tarsus) vs. The Disciples of Jesus
St. Paul, as he came to be known, was a man named Saul from the Roman city of Tarsus in the Mediterranean. Even though Saul was a diaspora Jew, the reports about him before his conversion reveal him to be a zealous Pharisee and a cruel persecutor of early Christians. Saul is reported to have been audience to the stoning of St. Stephen who was accused and killed for the blasphemy of pronouncing Jesus as God. Saul had pursued Christians on the road to Damascus where his supposedly miraculous conversion had taken place. Saul claims to have seen a vision with Jesus appearing to him and becomes St. Paul adopting a radically different doctrine of Jesus being God than his previous Jewish beliefs. St. Paul then proclaims himself to be an apostle who never studied and lived under Jesus and works tirelessly to propagate his views and doctrine of Jesus mostly with the Greek population. This makes St. Paul to be a very complicated character.
Many observers have noted that some of St. Paul’s injunctions are in direct contradiction with those of Jesus, absent any viable reconciliation. For example, Paul says that Christ is the end of the Torah (Romans 10:4) whereas Jesus says that he hasn’t come to abolish the law, rather reaffirm it (Matthew 5:17). Paul says that anyone who takes the name of the Lord will enter the kingdom of Heaven (Romans 10:13) but Jesus says that not everyone who says Lord Lord to me will enter Heaven (Matthew 7:21). St. Paul’s writings are almost totally lacking in reflections or considerations on what Jesus actually said and did, this not surprising as he had never met Jesus.
Given this dynamic, historian and scholar Holger Kirsten writes in his book, “Jesus in India”:
What is called Christianity today is largely a teaching of precepts artificially created by Paul, and should more correctly be called Paulinism. The religious historian William Nestle makes the point by saying, “Christianity is the religion founded by Paul; it replaced Christ’s Gospel with a Gospel about Christ”. In this sense, Paulinism corresponds to the misinterpretation and falsification of Christ’s actual teachings in a manner initiated and organized by Paul. “All the beautiful aspects of Christianity can be traced to Jesus, and all the not-so-beautiful to Paul”, said the theologian Overbeck. As long as the early eighteenth century, the English statesman and philosopher Lord Bolingbroke could distinguish two religious faiths in the New Testament: that of Jesus and that of Paul. So too Kant, Lessing, Fichte and Schelling also sharply differentiate between the teachings of Jesus and what the ‘apostles’ made out of it. The theologian Grimm put it in a nutshell: “However deeply these teachings may have become ingrained in Christian thought, they still have nothing to do with the real Jesus”.
Paul’s influence on how Christian doctrine developed is so profound that author Michael Hart in his book, “The 100 Most Influential Persons in History”, was compelled to give Paul the sixth-most-influential-person-in-history spot.
Paul’s deviation on the teachings of Jesus Christ is apparent in several accounts in the New Testament where he clashes with the apostles who had actually studied and lived under Jesus himself i.e. James, Peter etc.
- Galatians Chapter 2: Paul journeys to Jerusalem to communicate privately to the Apostles the Gospel he has been preaching to the Gentiles. He calls them "false brethren" who had been spying on his ministry and were regulating (verse 4). In verse 5, he says he did not submit to them, not even for a minute. Verse 6: Whoever they were made no difference to him, those who were in conference added nothing to him.
- Corinthians Chapter 11: Paul relates those who are preaching a different Christ as "Satan", like the serpent who beguiled Eve, These are the chiefest apostles (verse 5). Verse 8: He robbed other Churches so that he could serve the Gentiles. Verse 13-14: He calls the Apostles "false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ", and then calls them Satan!
- Acts 21: Here James admonishes Paul on preaching Gentiles to forsake the Mosaic law, Paul takes part in a ritual to get his admission to submit to the law he has been violating, and a mob recognizes him and beats him up for trashing the law of Moses. Paul doesn't respond but he has been teaching exactly this per Galatians 5: 2-4.
- There is a Christian compilation dated to 300 CE called the Psuedo-Clemenitines, this has two sets of traditions called Homilies and Recognitions. The 2nd set called Recognitions has a story of a violent shouting-match and then an altercation between James and someone called "The Enemy". Later in the book, this enemy is identified as Saul of Tarsus (Recognitions 1:70-71). The Ebonites, an early monotheistic Christian movement are also believed to refer to Paul as "The Enemy".
These passages establish a reasonable scenario that a severe conflict existed between Paul and the apostles in Jerusalem and that there were two fundamentally opposed doctrines in existence during early Christianity: one adhering to the Mosaic law with Jesus as the Messiah, the other more inclined to Greco-Roman mythologies of the Man-God.
Now, in the Gospel of Luke a very different picture is painted of Paul’s meeting with the Apostolic Council. Here, St. Peter stands up for Paul and agrees with him that the gentiles don’t have to follow the Law of Moses and shall be welcomed into the community. This is somewhat bizarre as how two radically different doctrines could exist in the same religious community and be authorized by its leadership. However, there are contradictions in the Bible that are just as difficult to reconcile. With some probing of the events in Jerusalem and the diaspora at the time we can get a reasonable idea of how such contradictions came about. I will tackle this issue in the next section.
Demystifying the Contradictions in the New Testament
The gospels we have today were originally written in the Greek language, not Aramaic which was commonly spoken in Jerusalem and also known to be the original tongue of Jesus. Nor were they written in Hebrew, a language known to Jewish Rabbis, scholars and scribes. This in itself tells us something about the evolution of The New Testament as we know it today.
In the previous section I had built up the scenario that there was a serious conflict between The Apostolic Council of Jerusalem and St. Paul. There is another piece of evidence that can be considered that the apostles and their followers in Jerusalem did not adopt a doctrine of divinity of Christ. Hegesippus was an early Christian historian whose records are found in the third century text known as Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius of Caesarea. An excerpt from these texts has the Jewish authorities imploring St. James to restrain his people who have gone astray with regards to Jesus and have taken him to have been the Christ or Messiah. Now, if the early Christians of Jerusalem held such beliefs about Jesus being a deity then certainly this complaint would have been about condemning such an extreme position in the sight of the Jewish authorities, not about him being the Messiah.
We all know from undisputed records of history that Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD following the revolution in Jerusalem. This event would have taken its toll on Church of Jerusalem that subsequently would have lost its influence. Another point of note here is that the Church in Jerusalem would also kept true to Jesus’s assertion that he is a prophet strictly to the Israelites (Matthew 15:24). This also explains why they themselves would not have proselytized to the Greek gentiles. Hence, this would explain why Paul’s Greek version fused with the mythology of the man-God became the dominant version of Christianity.
However, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD would not have wiped out all of the Christians of that city and groups like the Ebonites are believed to have survived adhering to the doctrine of the Church of Jerusalem. It was not until three centuries later when the Romans would adopt Paul’s version of Christianity and the cannon leading up to the New Testament we see today was established.
These gospels written in Greek also reveal geographical and other errors exposing that they were written at some distance from Jerusalem. Also, the following is an example of a fundamental contradiction that can probably be only explained as the work of someone who was deliberately re-writing a verse to make it reconcile to a certain doctrine. The esoteric historian and author, Holger Kersten, writes about the following verses in his book “Jesus in India”:
He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. (John 19:39-40, New International Version)
"The theologian Paul Billerbeck describes the event as if an embalming was to take place . . . but Rabbanic texts refer only to the external oiling of the bodies of the departed. The addition of spices is nowhere mentioned, let alone in these quantities: it was never part of Jewish customs, and nor was embalming . . . One commentator, Haenchen, can only conclude, 'The writer of this verse had no idea of Jewish burial rites, and knew nothing about embalming either' . . . . . Whatever Joseph and Nicodemus were doing it had nothing to do with Jewish burial rites. John says that they buried Jesus in a way customary to the Jews-- and then goes on to describe a burial that directly contravenes the custom! Did he really not know the burial rites? Of course he knew them, because he described a standard burial in the story of Lazarus. So what happened in that rock-hewn tomb if it was not a burial?
Now, it is possible that someone from the Greek church who believed in the doctrine of Jesus dying and resurrecting into a deity added the text that these herbs must have been for embalming revealing the rationale behind the contradiction. However, the original narrative from someone in Jerusalem may not have included this addition. The herbs gathered may well have been to tend to Jesus's wounds who may have survived the attempted crucifixion. This thesis is covered in a separate hub:
- Did Jesus (peace be on him) survive the crucifixion? And continue his mission with the lost tribes o
Theory, record and research on a growing conviction and rational dogma that Jesus survived the crucifixion, escaped his oppressors, and sought out the lost tribes of the Israelites in South East Asia.
Did Jesus Ever Proclaim "The Great Commission"?
Another reason why the Greek version became the popular one is that, as Jesus himself proclaimed his message was only to the lost sheep of Israel per Matthew 15:24. The Quran also confirms him as Messenger to the Children of Israel (3:49). Jesus’s his true followers in Jerusalem would have stayed true to that restriction and proselytized to Jews only, they would not have seen the Greeks or anyone else as part of their mission.
Christian apologists refer to a passage in Gospel of Mark (16:15) for justification of proselyting beyond the Israelites which commissions the disciples to preach the gospel to the whole world— in Christian lingo this is known as 'The Great Commission'. However, the earlies known manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end at 16:8. Below is the text from the section called “The Ending of The Gospel of Mark” on Wikipedia's Gospel of Mark page (link is provided below). This verse was possibly added later by Greek church and may not have been a part of Jesus's (pbuh) sayings. This would then resolve the contradiction that at one hand Jesus says he has come only to the House of Israel and on the other hand commands universal preaching.
The earliest manuscripts of Mark – Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and, Alexandrinus, these end at Mark 16:8, the majority of recent scholars believe this to be the original ending, and this is supported by statements from the early Church Fathers Eusebius and Jerome. The majority of manuscripts have the "longer ending", Mark 16:9–20, with accounts of the resurrected Jesus, the commissioning of the disciples to proclaim the gospel. This ending was possibly written in the early 2nd century.
The Gospel of Mark on Wikipedia
The Council of Nicea
Around the year 325 AD, the Kingdom of Rome would adopt Christianity as the state religion. This was a drawn out process whereby Emperor Constantine had assembled bishops and representatives of the competing doctrines. By this time, most doctrines prescribed to the divinity of Jesus in some shape or form but debate-wars still raged among Christians such as the controversy ignited by St. Arius who believed the Son had a lesser divinity than the Father since the son was begotten at a certain point in time.
The Council of Nicea promulgated the concept of divinity of Christ that led to a purge of alternative doctrines and ultimately the canon of the New Testament as we know it today reflected the Nicene Creed. And then Constantine passed some harsh edicts against those found following or propagating a different doctrine than the trinity and divinity of Christ as is evident from the following statement of Constantine:
"In addition, if any writing composed by Arius should be found, it should be handed over to the flames, so that not only will the wickedness of his teaching be obliterated, but nothing will be left even to remind anyone of him. And I hereby make a public order, that if someone should be discovered to have hidden a writing composed by Arius, and not to have immediately brought it forward and destroyed it by fire, his penalty shall be death. As soon as he is discovered in this offense, he shall be submitted for capital punishment....."
Following the harsh enforcement of its religious doctrine, many Christian populations sought to exit the Roman Empire and came to be known as heterodox Christian communities around the Arabian Peninsula. With the rise of Islam and its reaffirmation that Jesus was a prophet and the foretold Messiah to the Israelites with a doctrine consistent with the Old Testament, most of these heterodox communities converted to Islam, some by force of argument and some probably for political reasons.
However, the aftermath of the Council of Nicea was instrumental in suppressing Gospels and doctrines that fell outside the Nicene creed. This is one reason why we ubiquitously see the version of the New Testament that exists today.
However, recent developments in the past 100 years are now changing this status quo that began roughly 1,600 years ago.
The Nag Hammadi Scriptures
A recent discovery of Christian documentation from the 4th century is now shedding new light on early development of the Christian movement. The Nag Hammadi scriptures were discovered near the town of Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. These are also known as the secret teachings of Jesus Christ to the disciples. These include the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.
The texts are intriguing in the sense that certain passages contradict the contemporary official Christian doctrine. In one of the sections of a conversation with Peter and James, Jesus says: “"I tell you the truth, no one will enter Heaven's kingdom because I ordered it, but rather because you yourselves are filled"— meaning he is not God. In Gospel of Thomas he also says "the light is within you", not that he is the light.
In these texts, Jesus says that few will find Heaven’s Kingdom which appears to contradict that one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven simply by proclaiming Jesus as savior: "I tell you the truth, He (God) certainly will not forgive the sin of the soul or the guilt of the flesh . . .".
The Nag Hammadi texts were sealed and hidden as Athanasius, archbishop of Alexandria, in 367 AD had sent letters to churches to scrub all texts except for 27 books which are exactly what came to be known as the New Testament we know today. This letter is the earlies historical reference on the canon we know today. Thus, it is inferred that some monks had sealed and hidden away the Nag Hammad texts to save them from destruction. And here they have been now discovered 1,600 years later, amazingly having survived this long period.
One of the most authoritarian scholarly books called the “The Nag Hammadi Scriptures” has the following introductory text: “Currently, in discussion with scholars throughout the world, the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library is transforming what we know about Christianity—and its mysterious founder. For more than fifteen hundred years most Christians had assumed that the only tradition about Jesus and his disciples are those contained in the New Testament. Suddenly, however, the discovery of over 50 mostly Christian writings at Nag Hammadi has confirmed what the church fathers had long indicated: that these familiar gospels are only a small selection from many more gospels from the early generations of the Christian movement”.
Orthodox vs. Gnostic on The Gospel of Thomas
I have done my best to build the analysis in this Hub on academia, historical reference and rational interpretations of the events that would have led up to the contemporary view of Jesus Christ (peace be on him) as God-- I believe this view is untenable and there is a history that explains how it came about. This should also explain how the popular Christian doctrine took such a deviation from the norm of the other two Abrahamic religions that adhere to the doctrine that prophets, although supported by God's power and decree, do not share in His divinity.
However, I would like to open the Hub to challenge and criticism. If I find material here to be lacking, I am certainly willing to modify, delete or add the correct narrative.
Peace and Blessings of the Almighty be upon you!