Many People from fundamentalist Christian backgrounds will find the following offensive and even shocking. Their traditional view of Jesus as the redeemer who died to save humankind from eternal damnation is what holds their whole world together.
I have no quarrel with religious beliefs, especially beliefs that help make people kinder human beings. My advice for people who think they may be offended is to leave this blog immediately. Others may find what I have to say eye-opening or maybe even refreshing. In either case, the choice to read is yours. However, the choice to think critically is yours — and mine.
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Who was Jesus and What Did He Say
Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus wasn’t a Red State Republican.
Jesus was born and raised a Jew. He lived and thought of himself as a Jewish teacher. All of his direct disciples were Jews. He felt that his job was to teach Jews about God and about the right way to live (though his teachings are truly for all people).
He did not intend to begin a new religion. He wouldn’t even have known what the word Christian means. In fact, Christian is a word that appeared after he died to describe people who believed some things that he himself never believed.
He wouldn’t have recognized the name Jesus Christ. His name was Yeshua or Yeshu (rhymes with day shoe), which is Joshua in English and Jesus in Greek. He didn’t have a last name. No one did in those days. Men were called So-and-so son of So-and-so, or So-and-so from Such-and-such a place. Whatever the case, Christ isn’t a name, it’s a title. It’s the Greek word for mashiakh, which is a Hebrew word that means “The Anointed One.”
Jesus once or twice referred to himself as a prophet. But he never thought of himself as the Messiah. The Messiah is a figure in Jewish legend that will supposedly appear one day to make the world perfect. Jesus never thought of himself as the son of God. True, he called God father, but that was (and still is) common in Jewish prayer. He didn’t mean that he was literally a son of God. He knew that he had a human father. He didn’t think that a male God had come down to earth and impregnated a human female, who had given birth to a hero, as in Greek and Roman mythology. What he meant by son of God was someone who takes after God, just as a son takes after his father. What he meant to teach was that if you truly love God, and treat your fellow human beings with respect and compassion, then you are a son of God.
Jesus knew he wasn’t the only son of God. On the contrary, he wanted everyone to become a son or daughter of God. His message was that no matter how poor, stupid, or confused we think we are, all of us are capable of becoming sons or daughters of God. He explicitly stated that anyone that acts with unselfish love is God’s beloved child. The second part of the message is that it is equally true that everyone is God’s beloved child and that God’s love is always present for us, no matter how selfishly we act.
The composition of the Gospels is an extremely complex subject, but what follows are some brief discoveries.
Jesus never wrote anything himself. The earliest account we have of him is the Gospel According to Mark, which dates about 70 years after Jesus’ death. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke probably date 20-30 years after, and the Gospel of John probably a little over a 100 years from Jesus’ death. None of these books were written by a direct disciple of Jesus. Jesus did have disciples named Matthew and Mark, but they weren’t’ the authors of the Gospels attributed to them. The Gospels were written in Greek, a language Jesus may, or may not, have known. His language was Aramaic, which is related to Hebrew. His original words, in original Aramaic, may never have been written down; if they were, they have been lost.
Seventy years is a long time; ninety or a hundred years is even longer. During those years, many stories were told about Jesus, and there were many reports of what he said. Some of these were handed down r=orally from Jesus’ own disciples, who lived with and knew him, even if they always didn’t understand his teachings. Disciples of disciples, who never knew the actual Jesus, made other stories and reports up much later.
Some people faithfully attempted to repeat the words he taught, and others added very different teachings, according to their own interpretation of what was true.
When the Gospels finally came to be written, their authors inherited a mix collection of teachings and stories, only part of which originated in the life and teachings of Jesus himself. Thomas Jefferson, a deeply religious man and author of the Declaration of Independence, once said, “There is internal evidence that parts of the Gospels have proceeded from an extraordinary man, and that other parts come from very inferior minds. It is easy to pick out the diamonds from the dunghills.” Imagine a president saying something like that today! Eventually he would spend a winter excising what he thought was contradictory and created what is now called the Jeffersonian Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.
And there are passages in the Gospels that seem to contradict the authentic teaching about God’s love, as in the end of Mark’s Gospel, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever doesn’t believe will be damned.” Sayings such as this make Jesus sound ignorant and small-hearted. I think Jesus would have been amused to hear such words out in his mouth.
Another example, Jesus teaches us not judge (in the sense of not to condemn) but to keep our hearts open to all people. Later scriptures have Jesus as the final “judge,” who will float down on clouds for the world’s final rewards and condemnations. Jesus cautions against anger, teaches love the love of enemies, but the later “Jesus” calls his enemies “children of the devil,” and attacks them with savageness and contempt.
Which Jesus are we too follow? I think the spiritual task for any earnest spiritual seeker of any faith, is to separate the diamonds from the shit. Like Jefferson, I don’t think it’s that hard to see through the political motivations of later interpretations.
I am not a Christian, but I believe the real Jesus was one of the most beautiful men who ever lived. He himself would [probably have not considered himself beautiful or even special. He would have said that we are all beautiful, we are all special because – he definitely said this:
We are all children of God.