An Unexpected Mystery

As some of you know, I’ve been engaged in quite a bit of private “research” lately. I’ve had a fascination with the Bible since I was a young boy. Yes, my parents brought me to church every Sunday, but I never felt that I was dogmatized in any dramatic fashion, and the pastor and other figures were always open to my questions, of which I had many. For example, Exodus 20: 3-5 lets it be known that Israel’s God (Yahweh) is a jealous god. Isn’t that contradictory to God’s perfect nature? Of course, my mind had already filled in the answer for another obvious question that passage exposes: Jealous of whom? Paper mache deities which exist only in the minds of the woefully oblivious pagans? Questions like these often filled my young mind as I was exposed and re-exposed to all the staple episodes in the good book – Creation (Adam and Eve), Noah’s Ark, The Exodus, David and Goliath, Daniel in the lion’s den, Jonah and the Whale, and the climax of it all (for my Lutheran faith, at least), Jesus. Ah yes, that’s what it was really all about. After all, I presumably had to go through all this shit, because Jesus instructed us to. And while things like Jonah being somehow able to survive in the belly of an obese tuna for 3 days, Giapetto style, did cause me to wonder, there could be no doubt concerning the facts of Jesus’ life. Sure, the Gospels claim he worked quite a few miraculous feats, like walk on water, but they also say he did a lot of down to earth type stuff, like teach us how to pray, and get his ass handed to him by the Romans. And besides, if you take for granted that he was the Son of the Living God, even the small miracles he worked during his short residence in our sphere don’t seem all that out of the question.

As I reached my college years, however, my rational mind began to take a different approach to the events related in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I granted that some of the “reports” located within could have been somewhat exaggerated. After all, human hands did write the Bible, and none of those in my church community held to inerrancy (that is that the Bible was divinely inspired and should be taken as absolute fact). With the help of a couple New Testament courses (one focused exclusively on the “historical Jesus”) and some popular literature my father had acquired for himself earlier, I dove in to the quest: So if the gospels aren’t perfect accounts of Jesus life and death, what actually did happen? I found a variety of opinions. On one end, there were people who broke Jesus down to a few core sayings, in effect making him into a wandering mystagogue, a Buddha-like figure who preached enlightenment by recognizing the Kingdom of God all around us in the present. On the other end were people who saw The Son of Man as an almost self-deluded radical, thinking he would trigger the end of days by leading a doomed revolutionary movement against the twin evils of Rome and a corrupt Temple authority. And whether or not the Easter event was a complete physical resurrection, an intense visionary experience, or something else (like he wasn’t really dead, but merely anesthetized and then later revived when nobody was looking), everyone agreed that SOMETHING happened to transform the seemingly incompetent disciples into the brave missionaries and martyrs they became.

My faith did not waver. These reconstructions still seemed like a Jesus I could get behind. As a man in my early 20s, the fact that Jesus supposedly fought the man and triggered ecstatic experiences in his followers sounded pretty damn cool. Alas, this portrait of the historical Jesus was bound to not last in my perpetually unsatisfied mind. And the deeper I dug, the less neat everything became. After peeling through the front of “research” one finds on the shelves of your local mega chain bookstore, I was made aware of the works of some who claimed the unthinkable: There wasn’t a historical Jesus at all! The man never lived, never died, and never rose again. To say my world was shattered wouldn’t be inaccurate, and I immediately approached this view with hostility. All the experts agree that there was a first century character named Jesus of Nazareth and that he was crucified by Rome. Not one to take others’ word for it, I committed to checking out the facts for myself, and what I found was not at all what I imagined and somewhat disconcerting, but as I continued to unearth more of the uncommon knowledge suppressed by the early church, the more my hostility was replaced with endless fascination. I never had any beef with Jesus, but as detail after detail concerning his life proved either derived from stories of other heroes of the past or blatantly invented to settle sectarian disputes, I came to this conclusion: While it’s certainly not impossible that a first century man named Jesus was crucified by the Romans (heck, it’s even likely given the commonality of the name and the amount of people they crucified), we know absolutely nothing about him from the gospels. Even if someone like that did exist, what could he possibly have done to spur a religion which worshipped him as a god so soon after his death? The barebones Jesus is so completely ordinary that it seems nearly impossible.

So what is the alternative? As others before me have proposed, Jesus Christ was actually a god who became a man, and not the other way around. He was worshipped as a divine being and spoke to those in his cult through visions. The belief of his followers was that one day he would come to earth and free Israel from its oppressors. Then one day (for reasons to be discussed at another time), they began to believe that he had come, in the not so distant past.

Perhaps this is a good place to end for now. In this blog, my intentions are to relate my journey to the reader and share the thoughts, questions, and theories I come across along the way. I do this with a respect for people’s faith and what religion provides to our culture, but I do not intend to pull any punches and also will not hesitate to have a little fun with the texts. As I will attempt to exhibit, the lack of any reliable historical evidence for a person named Jesus of Nazareth coupled with the traces we have of the older Jesus and Christ cults indicate an evolution of thought which many of us are not used to hearing. I know I wasn’t. At the same time, after the initial shock wears off, perhaps others, like myself, will see through the need for a superhuman who lived a miraculous and ideal life and into the essence behind all of the stories and sayings. In the process, while we may end up losing one Jesus, we may find that we gain many more.

Published in: on May 24, 2011 at 2:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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