Keep in mind I’m not and have never been a Christian so I was never raised on Bible stories. However, according to Christians & ex-Christians I’ve spoken to and my old RE lessons Jesus was:
- born by parthenogenesis (virgin birth) in a manger in Bethlehem,
- an only child,
- a miracle worker,
- the literal son of God and/ or God incarnate,
- saviour of all humanity,
- an unwavering pacifist, ever ready to forgive his enemies and stand up for the downtrodden,
- hated and reviled by the Jewish authorities,
- single and celibate his whole life,
- betrayed by Judas,
- crucified then returned to life three days later,
- is still alive in heaven awaiting his heavenly father’s command to return to Earth and establish God’s kingdom.
With references galore and many other historians corroborating him, Cresswell shows that pretty much every single one of these descriptions is wrong. However, some of the contemporary account is true:
- He was a Jew: This is a point Christians misunderstand or try to not dwell on; he was a Jew by “ethnicity” (usually thinking of modern European Jews like Ashkenazim) but had nothing in common with other Jews. This is false. The term Jew didn’t exist back then; there were Judeans (citizens of Judah/ Judea), Israelites (citizens of Israel and/ or descendants of the man Israel who used to be called Jacob) and Hebrews (more or less synonymous with Judean & Israelite but its true meaning is debated). Nevertheless, there was the law of Judaism which Judeans/ Hebrews/ Israelites adhered to – zealously, in Jesus’s case. In this article I’ll treat them all as synonymous with Jew.
- He lived in the “Middle East”: Christians also like to gloss over this, but Jesus lived his whole life in what is now called Israel/ Palestine/ the West Bank (the yellow sliver in the pic below). In case anyone is confused, this is in southwest Asia, only on the opposite side of the Dead Sea from Jordan & Saudi Arabia. His native language was Aramaic so he probably would’ve called it something similar to the Hebrew word Yehuda (Judea/ Judah).
- He was recognised as a saviour: but not for all humanity, and certainly not to save them from sin & death. In accordance with an Old Testament prophecy, as the messiah he was expected to free his people – FELLOW JUDEANS – from foreign occupation!
When Jesus was born just over 2000 years ago (year 0001 by our calendar, but by the Jewish calendar it would’ve been approximately 3761! Definitely not on 25th December) the kingdoms of Israel & Judea were being ravaged, ransacked and raided by Romans.
Everywhere Romans went they committed mass subjugation, persecution and carnage – England, Wales, France, Egypt, Germany, Carthage (Tunisia), Spain, Syria, Turkey, Judea, and more! This post is about the history of the Bible, however, so I’ll stick to Judea.
Not unlike the slave revolts of TAST-era America, Jews were fighting and dying for freedom from this disgusting state of affairs. Unfortunately the Romans were too well-trained, well-armed and experienced so they kept thrashing Jewish revolts left, right and centre. So the Jews became more hardline and split into different groups: Pharisees, Essenes, Sicarii (assassins!), Zealots (not much different to Sicarii, and Jesus might have been one), a “No Lord but God” movement, and others. However, there was a sellout group who helped the Romans – the aristocratic priest class Sadducees. The gospels mention one of them, king Caiaphas, who was scared the messiah might overthrow the Romans and said “it’s better for one man to die for the people than the whole nation to die” (John 11:50).
However, it wasn’t just the Romans the Judeans were concerned about. They also raised huge debates over what to do with other non-Jews who were coming into their fold. James* was an observant Jew so he said they should follow the whole of Moses’s law just like them. Saul, aka. Saint Paul, reckoned the Torah and its laws should be reformed, going so far as to claim even Jews didn’t need to circumcise their children anymore! This caused a massive uproar among the Jewish elders & High Priests, so much so he was called before them twice to explain himself, and on the second time a riot broke out!
* possible leader of the Jerusalem-based Ebionites, based on the Hebrew word evyonim meaning poor people. In Acts & Corinthians Saul/ Paul was asked to remember the poor – meaning collect funds for the Jerusalem community!
Paul gained many congregations in Turkey, Greece & Syria. Eventually his followers broke away to form a new sect, dubbed Christianity by some of his followers from Antioch, Turkey. This new religion took in many different aspects of Mithraism and other followers’ previous pagan faiths. These included the demi-god/ godman/ literal son of God* concept and veneration of 25th December (claimed as Jesus’s birthday since the 4th century).
* note: Jews originally coined the term son of God but they used it as a title referring to themselves as a whole, not to any one particular person! This was based on the OT in which God promises to treat King David and his descendants as his own sons (2 Samuel 7: 12-14) and to reward David like a firstborn son and establish his descendants as the perpetual rulers of Israel (Psalms). In other words, son of God = blood descendant of King David! To them it was fucking obvious they didn’t have godly DNA! But many pagan mythologies were addicted to the self-sacrificing & resurrected godman archetype, hence Jesus being crucified and resurrected for the salvation of the world.
The modern Bible is also wrong to say Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible makes it clear calling someone by their birthplace was not the norm; they’d be known by their job or relatives, eg. John the Baptist (job), Mary mother of Jesus (relative). Also, though there was a town in the region called Nazareth there’s no evidence Jesus was born or ever went there. Blame the gospel of Matthew for that lie. All the NT action is in Capernaum, where Jesus and his family spent most of their time. Older Greek texts also show he was never known as Jesus of Nazareth, but Jesus the Nazarene/ Nazorean.
What’s the difference?
Nazarenes/ Nazoreans were not demonyms of Nazareth, as we may think from looking at the words. They were another hardline Jewish group, branches of David’s bloodline charged with bringing back the old kingdoms of Israel & Judea and guarding/ keeping to God’s covenant. It was literally in the name; natzar means to keep/ guard/ watch in Hebrew & Aramaic, and netzer means branch in Hebrew. Saul/ Paul used to be seen as a member of this group, and his new followers used to be known by this name (also briefly called Iessaeians/ Essenes). On a related note, Jesus’s disciple Simon was a cana (Aramaic for Zealot, one of the radical Jewish groups mentioned above) but modern Bibles call him Simon of the town Cana!
Ironically Epiphanius, 4th century Cypriot bishop and author of Against Heresies (original title: Panarion), considered Paul’s lot heretical to Christianity because they still followed some old Jewish laws!
As Christianity took off in the 2nd century, both Nazarenes and Ebionites were marginalised. Nazarenes were seen by Jews as heretics for failing to participate in another uprising (again foiled by Romans) in 132 AD, and it didn’t help that Paul was associated with them too. Ebionites were persecuted out of existence altogether.
A knowledgeable eye will notice, though, a contradiction. The gospel of Matthew invented the ‘Nazarene-means-native-of-Nazareth’ line but makes no reference to Nazareth! The 1st 15 verses of Mark do, and remember above I said Matthew was a copy of Mark. Why’s this reference not in Matthew, who would’ve needed it much more than Mark? Cresswell argues that Mark (at least the version Matthew copied from) didn’t have anything on Nazareth at first so that was added in later. Keep in mind when Matthew was written: Jewish rebels got their asses kicked yet again and were dispersed all over the land. They’d have used the word Nazarean/ Nazorean liberally in their conversations, and if any knowledgeable gentile overheard they could undermine Paul’s new faith. Hence Matthew reinterpreted Nazarene as meaning ‘of Nazareth’. Nevertheless, Jews knew what it really meant:
Nazorean/ Nazarene = militant Jew, keeper of God’s covenant, descendant of king David, potential fulfiller of prophecy to emancipate Jews & end foreign (ie. Roman) rule of their lands
In other words, Christianity is an anti-orthodox sect of Judaism created by Paul to appease pagans who were eager to convert to Judaism but still loyal to Rome. But though Paul founded Christianity he couldn’t control or predict how it would evolve throughout the centuries; in fact after his pagan followers brought in the godman archetype, he struggled with the question of why Jesus was God’s son. This is evinced by various epistles (letters) he wrote, recorded in the NT. He eventually settled on the resurrection, but Christianity of today claims it was by birth! See how things change?
(to be continued)