Hiding the True Jesus

In reshaping American politics and society, the Christian Right has applied a distorted version of Jesus’s teachings, downplaying his pacifism and his contempt for wealth while emphasizing later revisions that didn’t threaten the powerful. That’s why Rev. Howard Bess says the search for the true Jesus is crucial.

By the Rev. Howard Bess

I grew up as a devout, “red letter” Christian who hung on every word from Jesus. My Baptist church had a heavy influence on me and my faith was focused on making certain that I ended up in heaven. I learned that Jesus died for my sins and I was forever indebted to him.

I believed that the stories that Jesus told were earthly stories with heavenly meaning. To me, Jesus was a teacher of spiritual truth and divine wisdom. Then came seminary, where I was exposed to a different kind of study of the Bible.

An angry Jesus driving the money-changers from the Temple in Jerusalem, as depicted by 14th Century painter Giotto di Bondone.

It was while I was in seminary that I learned that the Bible is like every other book in that every word, every sentence, every paragraph was written by a human being and in a context. So, everything that is reported about Jesus had a context.

Early in the modern effort to understand Jesus in context, scholars concluded that Jesus was crucified by Romans soldiers (not by Jews) because he was a social and political rabble-rouser. The Roman rulers could not have cared less about Jesus’s ideas about heaven. They killed him for political reasons.

The idea that Jesus was a universal sacrifice for the sins of the whole world was a theological construction of Paul, who never knew Jesus and had little knowledge of his life. Indeed, in Paul’s many writings, he never indicates any awareness of the life of Jesus or his teachings.

Instead, Paul said he had an experience of the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus, and he developed a theology to fit his experience and his background in Judaism (with its emphasis on sacrifice, not forgiveness).

Despite Paul’s lack of contact with Jesus during his days as a teacher (and Paul’s strained relationship with Jesus’s disciples), Paul became the early church’s theologian, a brilliant thinker with unbounded energy. He was literate and wrote voluminously.

By contrast, Jesus’s disciples were not writers and none of the gospel writings can be traced to them. The gospels that we have in the Bible are collections of oral traditions reduced to writing and enlarged by unknown writers two generations after the death of Jesus.

So who was the historical Jesus, the reputational rabbi who grew up in Galilee in Northern Palestine? We have few verifiable facts of his life and it was not until the early 20th Century that the search began in earnest when Albert Schweitzer wrote The Quest of the Historical Jesus.

Schweitzer acknowledged that his quest was unsuccessful, but it kicked off a search that has never stopped. We are now in the third wave of the quest of the historical Jesus, with new research tools that have allowed a clear picture of Jesus to emerge.

The methodology of the third wave is interdisciplinary. Historians, archaeologists, sociologists and anthropologists — along with Biblical scholars — have been enlisted in the effort to construct a context in which to understand Jesus. The context that has been developed includes politics, economics and social structures.

The First Century historian Josephus has been a bonanza of information that has helped construct this context for understanding Jesus as a person, someone who emerged from the advanced agrarian society in which he lived. Jesus was influenced by the growth of aristocratic empires in the First Century as well as the power and presence of Roman rule.

New attempts also are being made to understand the Judaism of the First Century and the complex relationship between Temple leaders and Roman rulers. The Temple practices of Jews were tolerated by Roman rulers as long as Temple leaders controlled their people. Though Temple leaders did control the Jews of southern Palestine, they were not able to control the Jews of Galilee, where Jesus lived.

Even the Romans could not control Galilee, which has always been a special place in the social, religious and economic life of Palestine. The Romans built Sepphoris and Tiberius to extend their power, but Galileans despised the two cities, which were known for the unjust rulers and greedy aristocrats who lived there.

Galileans avoided contact with the two cities and there is no record that Jesus ever went to either one, even though Nazareth was a mere four miles from Sepphoris.

Rural Galilee also was a hotbed of the Zealots, who made no secret of their contempt for Roman rule and advocated reestablishment of the nation of Israel through violent overthrow. They despised Jews who were cooperators with an evil empire.

The dominant influence of the Zealots among the poor of Galilee is a key part of the context for Jesus’s life. The gospels identify Peter as a Zealot, and a Zealot of Galilee was always armed with a weapon, typically a sharpened knife. By tradition, Jesus told Peter, “Put away your sword.”

Jesus shared the Zealots’ concerns for the poor and the disenfranchised, but the material in the gospels strongly suggests that he parted company with the Zealots over the tools of revolution. He favored peaceful means for challenging the rule of the Romans and the Jewish leaders of the Jerusalem Temple.

Our best evidence is that Jesus was a social and political radical, an advocate for the poor. Jesus had no regard for the rich and made his fateful trip to Jerusalem to rally opposition to the protectors of this aristocratic system.

Those who today want to separate politics, social ethics and issues of wealth and poverty from religion are not following the lead of Jesus from Nazareth.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is [email protected].  

87 comments for “Hiding the True Jesus

  1. hussainmehdi
    May 16, 2012 at 19:23

    GT does not matter. But Jesus has never said something that went in his personal interests and benefits. He even sacrificed his life for the innocent people rather than finding out ‘opportunities’ for own self. But some innocent individuals under the impression of “huge world and little Jesus” raise questions on His selflessness, His sacrifice and His innocence. They are the same who reply “Thank You” at every minute but have no minutes and words for Jesus. The question of validity cannot shake the status. Many people question on obama’s birth certificate but their questions cannot shake the status of obama. They silently watched crucifixion of Jesus then and today they raise questions on Jesus’ validity. You can continue debate on validity but never try to shake the status of great Jesus under the guise of ‘searching validity’.

  2. bradley
    May 16, 2012 at 00:22

    It is my opinion, and just my opinion, that some of you have been drinking the koolaide. The point is to prove the historical validity of Jesus by text other than the bible. There is no abjectivity that comes from a book that comes from authors that say its the word of God because he told us it was. Yeah, God told me he wanted me to have an Audi R8 GT but that aint happening. These arguments have existed since before Xtianity. The bottom line is this: if you believe, then there is enough evidence in the bible to bolster your faith. If you dont believe, then the evidence is not there. I stopped drinking the koolaide in the seventh grade when my private school teacher used the old testament to justify slavery. Mom was a xtian, but also encouraged free thinking. She was a college professor and told me to not follow her path but to find my own path and come to my own conclusions. As an adult I just cant find the evidence any longer. I still believe the philosophy of Jesus, but those are good concepts for anyone. Share what you have, help the least of us, turn the other cheek, dont judge, and love thy neighbor. The Xtian right is neither. They have become a pandering tool of big business; and anyone who cant see that has their head shoved so far up their ass they could lick the backside of their own uvula. ohh, and those that get all offended about my use of Xtian look it up.

  3. Chris
    May 15, 2012 at 00:54

    Why do you interpret Balaam as Jesus? Read the Torah. Balaam is Balaam.

  4. Chris
    May 15, 2012 at 00:52

    Where does the sun set? Lol!

    Qur’an 18:83-86
    And they ask you about Dhul-Qarnain. Say: “I shall recite to you something of his story.” Verily, We established him in the earth, and We gave him the means of everything. So he followed a way. Until, when he reached the setting place of the sun, he found it setting in a spring of black muddy (or hot) water. And he found near it a people.

    Sunan Abu Dawud 3991
    Abu Dharr said: I was sitting behind the Apostle of Allah who was riding a donkey while the sun was setting. He asked: Do you know where this sets? I replied: Allah and his Apostle know best. He said: It sets in a spring of warm water

  5. hussainmehdi
    May 14, 2012 at 19:53

    Never believe what your heart insists and denies and refuses to believe. When dam reaches at its full storage capacity and water level still continues to rise and the situation turns alarming, what ‘experts’ do then? They work on a ‘limited and controlled release’ of water from the dam. The ‘world experts’ ignore and do not follow Jesus, this is a fact not fiction, but when His message reaches at alarming level among people then ‘world experts’ always run towards dustbin of history and search for the ‘old biblical experts’ and then come with their foolish old books and announce: “Look! This and that biblical book says Jesus never existed”. While when people were converting towards Jesus centuries ago such books were there lying in the dustbin. No one even considered such books important or acceptable then. Why now? God! please save people from these experts of world level.

  6. Michelle
    May 14, 2012 at 10:57

    Believe what you will, but there are no biblical scholars who deny that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed.

  7. hussainmehdi
    May 13, 2012 at 19:16

    Oh? The Jesus is fiction, then what is ‘Christ’? where the word ‘Christ’ came from? Many people were punished through crucifixion as a traditional form of punishment in the era of roman empire. None of the punished ever named ‘Christ’ except the Jesus, why? In days when printing and publications were not available for all, people used to transfer their experiences to next generation through telling those facts what they saw and witnessed in their lives. That practice can neither be denied nor proved. What was written later cannot be rejected out rightly. Jesus is not a fiction but a reality. Do you still possess any devise that can explore people’s memories and confirm and verify it as a ‘true fact’? fact is fact until proved otherwise.

  8. Gregory L Kruse
    May 11, 2012 at 10:33

    When I studied philosophy in my youth, the class read “The Teachings of Don Juan” by Carlos Casteneda. At the time it was assumed that Don Juan was a real person. It turned out that he was fictional. Many years later my old professor informed me of this and asked what I thought. I said it didn’t make any difference, the ideas were the same. Some people, after reading the book adopted a way of life based upon the Teachings, and even made Don Juan into a holy man. Everybody’s different, as can easily be seen by reading the comments attached to this very sensible and cogent article.

  9. Justin Chistopher
    May 11, 2012 at 01:45

    Its called Belief for a reason, if it were proven it would be called fact. On that note no one knows sht.

  10. IonOtter
    May 10, 2012 at 11:48

    In a five part series he wrote a few years ago, blogger J. Brad Hicks breaks down how, in the mid-1960s, the Republican party made a conscious decision to re-brand themselves as the party of Christians, and in doing so, how they had to shift the ideology of the churches to what he calls a “false gospel”.

    Part 1: The False Gospel – http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/118585.html
    Part 2: The Republicans and fear of the Communists – http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/118805.html
    Part 3: Homosexuality versus the “Holiness Code” – http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/119283.html
    Part 4: Abortion and Contraception – http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/119661.html
    Part 5: Public prayer and Conclusion. – http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/119950.html

  11. David Hoeltzle
    May 9, 2012 at 23:29

    There is some evidence that Paul instead of being a follower of Jesus was actually a spy of the Romans and the Jewish puppet government who was sent to infiltrate the Jesus movement and divert it away from it’s Messianic message of rebellion against the Empire. I believe that Jesus intended to be arrested and expected his followers to demand his release and install him as the leader of the resistance.

  12. May 9, 2012 at 23:23

    Frankly I’m not convinced it is the Christian Right that have reinterpreted Biblical teaching …. I think most Christians miss the mark. Look at the disciples …. Christ had to teach them, then when he left many of the letters the Disciples and Apostles wrote were to tell all Christians to come before The Holy Spirit to learn more as they were all getting it wrong.

    I have some hesitations with suggesting that any one group in modern society has it wrong and suggest that any of us have it right

  13. your momma
    May 9, 2012 at 16:58

    The author of this article is full of shit.

    • lokywoky
      May 9, 2012 at 17:41

      And you know this how?

  14. Andre
    May 9, 2012 at 15:36

    “By contrast, Jesus’s disciples were not writers and none of the gospel writings can be traced to them. The gospels that we have in the Bible are collections of oral traditions reduced to writing and enlarged by unknown writers two generations after the death of Jesus.”

    Two generations? The Gospel of Mark was written c. 70 AD (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Mark#Composition_and_setting) and Jesus died c. 30 AD. Speaking of twisting fact to support your views…..

    • lokywoky
      May 9, 2012 at 17:40

      Given the average lifespan at that time was around 42 years – yes, two generations.

      Context is everything…

      • John
        May 12, 2012 at 23:34

        Let’s not confuse “generation” with “lifespan”. The term generation is generally taken to mean the average age of parents when their children are born.

        A couple thousand years ago the average lifespan is thought to be about forty years (disregarding unverifiable claims in the hundreds) and reproduction occurred rather early.

        Thus, even if “Mark” (whoever that may have been) did actually write forty years after the supposed crucifixion, that would be two generations separation.

  15. May 9, 2012 at 14:58

    The Talmud and the “Holy” Qur’an are hardly pieces of historical proof. Frosty the Snowman mentions Santa Claus, does that mean he’s real?

    Please do your best to avoid showing up, saying incorrect things, and then attempting to proselytize us. It’s in poor taste.

  16. Jimmy Cracks Capricorns
    May 9, 2012 at 14:27

    Judaism + Christianity + Islam = Axis of Evil Against the Soul of Mankind

  17. Chris
    May 9, 2012 at 13:57

    Hiding the True Thor.

    In public media Thor is depicted as this epic hero with character and honor. In truth, he was never real. Get where I’m going with this? -_-

    • theSiberian
      May 10, 2012 at 19:26

      Chris, it was a bad decision to take a sip as I read your post. Thank you for the bellylaugh! and yes, I see where you’re going.

      This is an enlightening and challenging thread–thank you all who took the time to so thoughtfully (well, almost all of you) express your ideas here.


  18. May 9, 2012 at 13:33

    This is a very interesting read. I’ve never thought about it this way. Thanks for opening my eyes.

  19. Josh
    May 9, 2012 at 13:27

    Having read through the comments:

    1) using the Bible as historical evidence is fallacious- it was written and edited many, many times, so (for example) the argument that the Jews crucified Jesus cannot be made using the Bible because then you would also have to accept the rest of the Gospel as historical fact, which cannot be done (and that explanation would take a long time, but it seems fairly obvious)

    2) using the Talmud or Koran to verify Jesus’s existence is also fallacious, as the writers of those documents had no direct interaction with him.

    3) I am confused as to why everyone is up in arms about whether Jesus said or did whatever was reported in the Gospels. I have taken Christ’s teachings for whatever value seemed most appropriate to me- much as I have the alleged words of the Buddha or Lao-Tse. The only people I know who actually believe that the New Testament can tell us anything factual are fundamentalist, but then again, they are interested only in faith-based enterprises and, therefore, should have no interest in this article.

    • Revo
      May 13, 2012 at 00:23

      Catholic theologian Hans Kung considers virgin birth as a “collection of largely uncertain, mutually contradictory, strongly legendary” narratives, “an echo of virgin birth myths that were wide spread in many parts of the ancient world.”

    • Michelle
      May 14, 2012 at 11:15

      Nevertheless, the New Testament remains one of the few records of first century Palestine that we have, and is therefore necessarily needed (along with say, Josephus and Philo) to piece together a historical picture of that time and place.

  20. whit
    May 9, 2012 at 13:22

    This is all irrelevant. The true meaning here is the last sentence. Which can be applied to all religions in that all religions are creations of man. And “The Word” (of whatever religion) has been repeatedly corrupted for the purposes of those in power. (Control over the ignorant, weak minded or those that just don’t care enough to decide for themselves.)

  21. Bob Loblaw
    May 9, 2012 at 13:17

    This is a fine argument that if there were a Historical Jesus, he would have been a radical.

    The fact that there is just no archaeological evidence of the man-god from the scriptures does not mean that he did not exist, it just requires faith that Jesus was God incarnate. To believe in a Jesus that lived in Palestine one must accept the context Rev Bess offers.

    Otherwise the hippie dude in the sandals with blonde hair and beard, maybe a rifle at his side is THE LORD to a delusional believer who thinks queers need bashing and wimmen cannot enjoy a sex life.

  22. Jeremy
    May 9, 2012 at 13:13

    I for one thought it was a pretty good read. It’s just a man who is not afraid to take a few steps back and directly examine what few facts we actually have. Clearly, many of you completely failed to understand that.

  23. Morton Kurzweil
    May 9, 2012 at 12:18

    Whether no not Rev. Bess accepts Jesus a relative of his God, good and evil exist only in the eyes of the beholder. We are now leaving an age of superstition for an age of reason which accepts true and false as the basis for values.
    I can assure you that God is everything. God cannot be less, and certainly not more than what He is. God cannot be understood through the perceptions and emotions of primate on a minor planet in a lesser galaxy in a universe beyond comprehension.
    Charity is universal. It exists in all populations. It is identified by individual and private acts of heroism. Heroism is the unconscious act of recognizing a need in another and responding to that need without desire for adulation or indulgences, without asking about race, creed, sex, age or nationality at a time of crisis of a child, or a puppy, or the victim of hunger, ignorance, or thirst. When a religion decides what is good and what is evil it is a political organization using fear and ignorance to control its followers. It must reject other religions to achieve political supremacy. That is not the significance of any Prophet, not Moses, or Socrates, or Jesus.

  24. belinda
    May 9, 2012 at 12:16

    i love reading all of the interested replys….however, everyone is attempting their own salespitch and theory. i beleve that if you really want to know the truth, you should ask the One who knows. HE is very real, and will reveal himself if you humble youslf and ask. then open your mind. the truth canot be found with a closed mind.

    • Aaron
      May 9, 2012 at 13:54

      Yes HE is very real. And His name is the Most High Flying Spaghetti Monster.


      • Revo
        May 13, 2012 at 00:08

        Yes HE is very real. And His name is the Most High Flying Spaghetti Monster.


        I love that; the most logical comment of all (smile)

    • Asmit17
      May 9, 2012 at 14:53

      Saw this and HAD to reply. No worries, no hate I promise. I hope by the end of my post, you’ll see my point.

      I just finished a conference on symbolism and this post caught my eye. Symbols are necessary to bridge the abstract world and the real world, in that when I show you symbols of a cross, a star if david, a yin-yang, a dharmachakra; they all point to images and language about the faiths. They are convenient for our minds because we rest complex ideas upon them and use them when we want to get across an idea to complicated for words.

      So, when I see someone like yourself writing about needing to be humble in the pursuit of a symbol of the absolute, I would imagine that being humble does not mean suspending logic. When we go looking for God, we cannot be satisfied with the symbol alone. Just because God has been defined and refined over the thousands of years we’ve been playing with Him, does not mean the characteristics of one groups idea of God mean anymore “symbolically” than those ideas about the divine in other religions.

      This idea about being humble and experiencing the Christian God helps if you want to join a team dedicated to literally “possessing” the “right” answers, but to those of us who want to be open and logical to all information, I do not believe that the humble suspension of your convictions leads to a better understanding of a symbol.

      God is a sign post of the divine, in that we ascribe so many characteristics to the sign post, but it points elsewhere to a destination that can ONLY be found in one’s own mind, not a group of people who agree on what the sign should look like.

      God may be “real” in the sense that things make sense when we put faith that someone else has everything under control, that’s an entirely humanistic thing to do, look at government. When God and his “realness” take the form of judging others for not believing your way is best, or that your God doesn’t look the same or speak the same language as the other God, then suddenly, being humble doesn’t seem so easy. Suddenly, it’s a fight of egos and meaningless salespitches, when all the while, we are arguing about symbols, which inherently mean everything else left unsaid.

  25. Frances in California
    May 9, 2012 at 12:11

    How many angels did you say could dance on the head of a pin? It matters not at all if Jesus ever lived; if he lived, he probably died, but his teachings are what mattered then and the only thing that matters now. Can we please grow up?

    • Joshua
      May 9, 2012 at 16:11

      This is the most true statement I’ve read so far on this thread.

      Why is the belief in Jesus more important than abiding by his teachings? If you abide by his teachings, then wouldn’t you abide in him by default?

      Let’s take Socrates. No quotes, methods, or writings have ever been recognized as having been written by Socrates. In fact, no one who ever wrote about him is confirmed to even have met him. Plato, Xenophon, and Aristophanes are the three main sources of Socratic teachings. Yet no one cares, we only know that his teachings are wise, useful, and intelligent and that’s all that matters.

      If people put more emphasis on Jesus’ teachings, and less on the belief in him we’d be far better off.

      I’m an atheist, I do not believe Jesus ever existed so my opinion is pretty biased. I do not understand the importance of a belief in something that holds no bearing over your actions.

  26. bobzz
    May 9, 2012 at 12:00

    What seminary did Bess attend? In this and previous articles, Bess’s reconstruction of Jesus looks like Bess. The portrait that emerges from all searches for the historical Jesus end up looking like the searchers. Consider Bess’s conclusions: 1) “Jesus had no regard for the rich and made his fateful trip to Jerusalem to rally opposition to the protectors of this aristocratic system.” 2) “Those who today want to separate politics, social ethics and issues of wealth and poverty from religion are not following the lead of Jesus from Nazareth.” Jesus was apolitical. He lived to establish the kingdom of God not to rally opposition. His followers were non-combatants and non participants in earthly power, which reduced the strength of those coercive powers. Celsus (ca. 180) criticized Christians for not holding office or enlisting in Caesar’s legions. It horrified him to think Christians would lead the government because it would leave Rome defenseless. The early church was apolitical until Constantine when the church went off the rails and has yet to recover (the exceptions being too few). As for the idea that Paul knew nothing of the earthly Jesus, his own letters show he knew him through the traditions (I Cor. 11:23ff, 15:3ff). He met him on the Damascus Road, and surely the church in Damascus taught him more about the teaching of Jesus’s words and deeds. He spent two weeks with Peter in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18). I doubt they talked about the weather. My only response to the unbelievers would be that, if you are right, Christianity would never have gotten off the ground. I am not even sure Bess’s reconstruction would have gotten Christianity off the ground as no political messianic movement survived the death of the leader. Again I wonder what seminary Bess attended.

    • David
      May 9, 2012 at 13:35

      Spurious logic. “Christianity would never have gotten off the ground” if the non-believers are right? Poppycock. There are sever religions around today that have wildly different “truths” associated with them, yet they are all existing. Were your logic accurate there would be only one.

      And if Bess is creating a religious figure based on his own reflection, he’s not the first and is by no means the last to do so. Pretty much all religious people do this, which is why Jesus is usually portrayed as a white guy.

      • bobzz
        May 9, 2012 at 20:58

        Limit the discussion to Christianity. The fact that some wild religions may exist has little to do with Christianity. Perhaps you can tell us how Christianity would have begun apart from the resurrection. It becomes a bit more difficult when one is not merely dismissive.

    • Josh
      May 9, 2012 at 13:48

      You’re confusing two different concepts of Jesus. Yours is built on faith, believing the Biblical construction to be true. The historical construction is interested in what the actual personage was up to, not what later people said he was up to. Essentially, you are talking about two different people.

      • Chet Fields
        May 9, 2012 at 17:26

        Short of having some sort of wormhole based time machine camera device how else can you find out what the actual personage was up to if not through what later and contemporary people said he was up to?

    • Asmit17
      May 9, 2012 at 14:26

      “Jesus was apolitical. He lived to establish the kingdom of God not to rally opposition.”

      I don’t think someone who was systematically killed for their influence on the political environment can be called apolitical. Calling people “unbelievers” only separates you from the rest of us, in that if you go into the story of Jesus with the preconceived notions about his roles as a political and spiritual figure, you’re bound to miss the point of someone approaching Jesus from a different perspective. We all “believe” different traits of the character of Jesus, and what Bess is doing is being logical about what happens in a society when ideas that organize the masses become powerful enough to shape history.

      I believe in a time where political discourse means establishing your views in the face of violent opposition (Roman polytheistic rule) I would imagine that Jesus would be opposed to having early followers of his join the Roman legions, or for that matter have anything to do with the army that has crucified and conquered many people beforehand. I doubt the early Christian Church, if we can even call it that, was (by definition) apolitical until Constantine, since followers of a monotheistic God were persecuted in Rome well before Jesus. Not to say that some may have wanted to be apolitical in the early church, but I just can’t imagine a group of dissenters of the Roman Empire not being considered a political force.

      I love the story of Jesus for its symbolism, and all the talk of the divine, or the kingdom of God, to me, just adds to the symbolism of political ideas. The doctrines of Christianity have gotten too far today by being self-evident and “holy,” when if you take a step back and recognize that believers and non-believers are really just different people with differing ideas about the nature of all things. I’m sure non-believers believe in something right? Christians have a doctrine of knowing the right answer in the face of everyone telling them no, and that of course comes with some anger from the Christian when their whole mindset and worldview is based on the infallibility of the doctrine.

      I’m not saying throw out the Bible, but let’s recognize it for what it is, a symbolic retelling of one man’s convictions in the face of violent political forces. Jesus was a man because everyone in history is a man, and I have no reason or logic to believe otherwise, so I find it necessary to see the humanistic aspects of Jesus before the divine ones, for those are more applicable to our situation today.

      • bobzz
        May 9, 2012 at 21:23

        Wow, I don’t have the time to respond to all comers, but do want to clarify the apolitical stance of Jesus. Neither he nor the vast majority of his followers took direct political action (until Constantine); however, if Christians lived as Christ taught, they would have an INDIRECT impact on politics. Example: one of the questions I always get is, “What would have happened if Christians did not fight in WW II? A ‘what if’ question deserves a ‘what if’ answer. There would have been no war because the heavily ‘Christian’ populations of both the allies and the axis would have left the generals without enough soldiers to wage war—if we had followed Christ. But we did not; allied Protestants and Catholics ended up killing axis Protestants and Catholics—a mockery of Christianity. I understand why unbelievers are unbelievers, but our failures do not invalidate the reality.

        • Chet Fields
          May 11, 2012 at 15:36

          However, there were some Christians who because of wanting to follow the ‘real’ Jesus’ example refused to fight on either side of the war and were persecuted and horded up in the concentration camps right along side the Jews and Gypsies, etc. They were given a purple triangle patch on their clothing.

        • Michelle
          May 14, 2012 at 11:00

          Consider Walter Wink’s interpretation of “Turn the Other Cheek,” and see if you still think Jesus is apolitical:

    • Steve
      May 9, 2012 at 16:07

      “My only response to the unbelievers would be that, if you are right, Christianity would never have gotten off the ground.”

      Wouldn’t the same be true of Islam, etc?

  27. Morton Kurzweil
    May 9, 2012 at 11:50

    Don’t play word games with belief.
    The Talmud is not a historical document. Its two versions of interpretation began centuries after the Pentateuch was accepted by Israelites. It was developed to sustain a religion in a diaspora, a religion without a national home. The influence of the Talmud upon Christianity and Islam and their prophets is not the result of military conquest, but of a philosophical relationship of Man with Humanity.

  28. Dave
    May 9, 2012 at 11:50

    “Those who today want to separate politics, social ethics and issues of wealth and poverty from religion are not following the lead of Jesus from Nazareth.”

    While I partially agree with this, I would suggest that those who wish to separate politics from the religion are, if American, simply defending the Constitution. Certainly if a political leader wishes to base his/her actions while in office on their own personal spiritual beliefs, by all means, do so!

    However, laws of the land and judicial issues should be and must be kept separate from any mythology, Christian or otherwise. Merely reading the news of happenings in the Middle East, or the history of Europe, or the pilgrims in the US, should be abundant warning enough to explain why the First Amendment must be defended and upheld.

  29. Chet Fields
    May 9, 2012 at 11:12

    The author deserves credit for his efforts in the research presented here, but for those sincere in their quest for the true Jesus it could be argued that an in depth study of the Bible itself would be more beneficial than that of external writings, historical or otherwise. It can be agreed that study of these can be quite helpful to establish ‘context’ and broaden our understanding of the biblical version. However, they should not be allowed to overshadow what the Bible clearly says about the real Jesus or his disciples.

    The idea of Jesus being the sacrifice for the sins of the world was not an original idea of the apostle Paul. It was clearly foreshadowed in the pre-christian hebrew writings, especially the mosaic law, levitical sacrifices, Psalms and Prophets. Paul himself explains this in his writings to the Hebrews making numerous quotations and allusions to them.

    In regards to not being aware of Jesus teachings Paul is the only one of the bible writers to quote Jesus as having said ‘There is more happiness in giving than in receiving’. Obviously he was quite familiar with Jesus teachings, more than likely being instructed by some of his actual disciples in addition to divine revelation (if it is acceptable to believe in that).

    Matthew, Mark and John were Jesus’ direct disciples (2 being apostles) and their writing has been established by accepted canon as within their own lifetimes, obviously during the first century.

    Most of what the author states about the relationship between the Romans and the Jews of the first century is accurate as is his summary of the political climate in Judea and Galilea.

    However, Jesus teachings and actions were not formulated by this environment. Like he himself said, ‘What I teach is not of my own origination, but has been given to me by he who sent me’. And, ‘I have come not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me’.

    These teachings and the purpose of his ministry was foretold in what was at that time the accepted Hebrew bible, including the Pentateuch, Psalms and Prophets (particularly Isaiah). The timing of his arrival was written about by Daniel. And he fulfilled literally hundreds of profecies from these writings with a great many of them impossible for him to have done by his own efforts. He was the promised Messiah, the promised future King and High Priest of God’s Kingdom which was the core of his teaching. But as he said to Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’. And he said in prayer to his Father referring to his disciples, ‘They are no part of the world’, clearly showing that true Christians would not be involved in politics but waiting patiently the time when he would fulfill his role as King.

    Although there is much more that could be said about this article, it behooves all who wish to be true Christians or at least to understand what true Christianity is to really study the real source, the Bible. Not somebody elses false interpretation of it, but what it really actually says, not out of context, but taking it all into account including the ‘Old’ testament.

    • Anon
      May 9, 2012 at 11:47

      You can’t cite the very source you’re trying to prove as evidence for its validity. Doesn’t work that way, sorry.

      • Chet Fields
        May 9, 2012 at 12:08

        My attempt was not necessarily to prove the validity of the Bible itself (although that is my personal belief and might have come through, Sorry!) just that what was presented in the article was not a true reflection of what is actually in the Bible. I find it frustrating when people who should know better misrepresent and make false claims to what it actually says.

        • Geoffrey Law
          May 9, 2012 at 12:52

          Misrepresent? If you think the gospels which were anonymously written in the latter 1st and early 2nd century are stories of the real Jesus and should be cited first and foremost as genuine and accurate, then you need to begin researching textual origins from antiquity. That’s like saying Green Eggs and Ham is accurate because you read it in a Dr. Seuss book.

          • Chet Fields
            May 9, 2012 at 13:36

            Again, I am not saying that Green Eggs and Ham is accurate, I am trying to say that if someone claims that Sam I am was not attempting to expand the character’s culinary horizons that would be a misrepresentation of Green Eggs and Ham regardless of who the author was.

        • May 9, 2012 at 13:14

          One of the unintended consequences of canonization is that we now treat the various books of the Bible as one book. The four gospels, for example, are 4 distinct writings by four different authors that bear witness to the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Just because they were gathered together in one official book that is seen as one book, the Bible, today doesn’t mean they are all from the same source. The same would be true of all the various writings included in the Bible. I get the circular argument – the Bible is God’s word because the Bible says it’s God’s word – yes that is out of bounds. But using 4 different sources, along with other gospels that were not included in the canon, to reconstruct a core of Jesus’ teaching is not out-of-bounds as I see it. At the same time, the words and prophecies of Isaiah, for example, are distinct from the gospel accounts. Even though they are both in the Bible now doesn’t mean much. They were written by different authors in different eras. Using a gospel account, then, to show the fulfillment of an Isaiah prophecy isn’t circular. They weren’t written by the same author, they were just included in a collection of writings called the Bible by the church in the 4th century.

      • Ryan
        May 9, 2012 at 12:52

        Another thing to consider is that the Bible is actually 66 individual documents pooled together to create one book. So there are actually many authors claiming to be eyewitnesses of Him.

        • Jimmy Cracks Capricorns
          May 9, 2012 at 14:25

          Christ was not a name, and Jesus never called himself that because Jesus never existed. The Dead Sea Scrolls never mention Jesus or a single decipel. Jesus is the Sun, Mary Magdalene is the Moon, and the 12 gay men Jesus spent ALL his time with are the 12 modern constellations. The New Testament is a rip-off of pagan holidays using fictional people in lieu of celestial patterns and events.

          Judaism _+ Christianity + Islam = Axis of Evil Against the Soul of Mankind

          • JayBone
            May 9, 2012 at 15:47

            Could you point to any sources about this? I’m genuinely interested…

          • Chris
            May 15, 2012 at 00:33

            I really did not want to respond to any comments on this webpage, but when I see something COMPLETELY inaccurate, I have to speak up. You are correct that the Dead Sea Scrolls do NOT mention the name of Jesus or of any of the disciples. That is because the Dead Sea Scrolls were written YEARS before Jesus was even born. They were written during the 2nd century BCE. Obviously you have not done ANY research on ANYTHING and you are simply regurgitating information. You can’t even spell “disciple” right. I have established my views and enjoy the debate from both sides, but, please, leave the discussion to the more intelligent.

      • OneofTwo
        May 9, 2012 at 14:34

        After reading many of these arguments and statements, it seems that only a few of you actually know what you’re talking about and the rest are merely getting off on their own attempted display of intellect. I encourage you all to live your life and be happy with your own decisions and stop trying to put people down for what they believe in. Jesus tried to spread love and understanding. If people didn’t want it, he moved on. That is all a Christian should be doing, sharing information. If you don’t want it, okay. Why must others feel the need to poke, jab and tell others that they aren’t thinking correctly, they are stupid, ignorant and unwelcome on the only place any of us have to call home, Earth. We’re all here and in it for the long haul, when are we going to start accepting that and let people believe what they want to believe. After all, that is all we will ever have.

        • ned
          May 9, 2012 at 17:37

          christ, finally someone with some sense. there’s no use in nitpicking at sacred texts because the words on the page are completely dependent on who wrote them. i, personally, am an atheist, but i recognize the spiritual validity of mystical texts because spirituality is inherently subjective; there’s no reason to malign others’ faith just because it doesn’t align with your personal ideology. if there is anything of which we can be certain, it’s that each and every one of our personal philosophies is utterly WRONG in one way or another. perfect objective validity is an impossible aspiration because the nature of man’s connection to his existence is subjective

        • joe f.
          May 9, 2012 at 21:49

          I think the reason people are trying so hard to convince or put down each other goes back to the original article’s point that people are using their version of Jesus and Christianity to bludgeon others into conformity with their views. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, which is one reason I think we see the left and right in the U.S. getting seemingly further apart. Science and progressive politics are challenging the world views of some Christians, and they are reacting by becoming more fundamentalist. That, in turn, causes a reaction, and pretty soon you’re in a downward spiral.

          Personally, I think the Republican party jumped on this to get religious people to vote for them to support their stance on moral issues. They also pushed the idea that you had to support them in everything so they could capture the whole government and finally stop the godless leftists. Now, however, the religious right has become the beast that is eating its former master. The question is, will the party right itself or implode before it takes the country down with it?

          • John
            May 12, 2012 at 23:09

            I agree with “. . people are using their version of Jesus and Christianity to bludgeon others into conformity with their views.”

            And add: Religious sects tend to promote the idea that they are special or “chosen” and that others are ignorant, misinformed or misled — thus promoting divisiveness — pitting “us against them” and often (usually?) refusing to acknowledge that other beliefs have equal claim and equal “evidence” to support their views.

  30. Mark14
    May 9, 2012 at 10:44

    “The greatness of Christianity did not lie in attempted negotiations for compromise with any similar philosophical opinions in the ancient world, but in its inexorable fanaticism in preaching and fighting for its own doctrine”


    but not the greatness of Jesus, who is of course a composite figure, I would think.

  31. Hillary
    May 8, 2012 at 22:00

    “The First Century historian Josephus has been a bonanza of information that has helped construct this context for understanding Jesus as a person.”

    yeah haleugia twisting & spinning words to fit a pitch to the gullible.

    “And yet a ranker forgery was never penned.”


  32. Jim Faubel
    May 8, 2012 at 12:51

    The Bible says that God created Man in His Own Image and Humans have been returning the favor ever since. The “Christian Reich” is doing it on steroids.

  33. Hammersmith
    May 8, 2012 at 09:50

    The biblical account of the life of Christ is mostly fictional, I think most of us know. The individual probably existed. Beyond that we know little about his life or death. But let us not make a fiction of the fiction. The biblical, qua biblical, account is pretty plain that the Jews demanded the Roman authorities execute him, for whatever reason the writer chose. You had a nice article otherwise, but you cheapen it with you politcally correct agenda. I am not a believer, so spare me your name calling and insults.

    • James
      May 8, 2012 at 15:10

      Actually, there is no historical Jesus. No contemporary writer mentions him, no contemporary records corroborate anything about his life or story

      • hammersmith46
        May 8, 2012 at 21:30


      • Mark
        May 9, 2012 at 10:20

        This is untrue. The Romano-Jewish historian Josephus writes of a “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” (paraphrased) living in the first half of the first century.


        Make of it what you will.

        • hammersmith46
          May 9, 2012 at 11:05

          I have read that is a forgery.

          • May 9, 2012 at 11:50

            Jesus wasn’t a pacifist: http://goo.gl/obiC

          • Okwhere
            May 9, 2012 at 12:20

            Where have you read that? The manuscript tradition for Josephus is pretty solid and I have never (in the course of my Classics degree) come across a scholar who doubts the historiography of him.

          • adiciglenean
            May 9, 2012 at 13:34

            Oh, so when you say “I have read somewhere that is a forgery” it becomes a scientifically fact. As a believer, may I smirk at this one? :)

          • Wolverine890
            May 9, 2012 at 16:24

            What are your sources for this claim?

          • Ric Joans
            May 13, 2012 at 18:43

            There are so many hits on the search engines for Forgery and Josephus that it seems you are uninformed if you say there is no disputing the idea of it not being debated as a forgery — this was something taught in my High School in the 70s (it was a Christian school)

        • Simon
          May 9, 2012 at 12:26

          “Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, written around 93–94 AD, includes two references to Jesus”.

          So even this oft quoted “historical evidence for Jesus” was written 62 years after his supposed death. And Josephus does not quote any Jewish or Roman documents. He is probvably quoting stories that were passed down to the grandchildren of those around at the time. This can only be dismissed as here-say.

          • BCSWowbagger
            May 9, 2012 at 13:57

            Umm… Jesus was executed at the age of 32. Josephus would have been writing contemporaneously with the deaths of the last few Apostles (John appears to have died in the early second century, for example). That’s not first-hand testimony, to be sure, but it’s a lot closer to the origin than “stories passed down to grandchildren.”

          • James
            May 10, 2012 at 01:26

            NO contemporary writer wrote about Plato or Socrates either. So, you don’t believe they existed, either, I presume.

        • Albee
          May 9, 2012 at 12:34

          Jesus wasn’t the only guy in the world named Jesus…it was a popular name, like John, James, and Joseph – people have been using a Josephus account as outside proof, when he himself was not writing from personally met these people…he was only writing second-hand information he himself had heard

          • Humble Follower
            May 9, 2012 at 13:35

            It is true that the name “Jesus” was a popular name, so then identifying Jesus in Josephus’ account as the Jesus of the Gospels conclusively would be difficult – if it were not for one clause. Josephus describes Jesus as one “who was called Christ” (Ant. 20.9.1). This greatly narrows the number of people in antiquity, for not many people where called “Jesus” and “Christ.” Therefore, the account in Josephus adds to the evidence of the existence of a historical figure called Jesus Christ (found in the Gospels).

            And moreover, second-hand information is not necessarily grounds to dismiss the validity of a historical record.

          • Chet Fields
            May 9, 2012 at 14:13

            If we add in the above quoted it narrows it down even further. Incidentally, this ‘James’ was also the one who wrote the letter that bears his name. As his younger brother he grew up with Jesus and although at first was not a believer later was one of the ‘older men’ in the christian congregation in Jerusalem.

        • lymn
          May 9, 2012 at 16:47

          The guy who ended up replacing Ananus, the priest who arranged James death was named Jesus. There’s at least decent reason to believe that the James referred to in the passage was the brother of THAT Jesus, and that “who was called the Christ” was a later interpolation. Some scholars see the line as a reference to another passage in Josephus’s 18th book. The passage from the 18th book is seen as a forgery by most, and so a reference to a forgery also has to be a forgery.

          I think the idea that the “who was called the Christ” line was interpolated (it’s out of character for Josephus) is particularly parsimonious, but the issue is far from settled

          • Humble Follower
            May 9, 2012 at 23:02

            There is no textual evidence that the phrase, “who was called Christ,” is an interpolation. It is speculative, but not conclusive. All extant manuscripts (containing Ant. 20) have the phrase “who was called Christ” included.

            There are good reasons to believe the “Testimonium Flavianum” (Ant. 18.3.3) is a Christian interpolation (another discussion). Regardless of that, this section of Josephus (Ant. 20.9.1) does not have to be a reference to the earlier section considered to be a forgery. The reason being that Josephus does not elaborately describe minor characters. He simply gives a name, and enough information for the reader to associate the name with the proper identity. He does not necessarily have to be referring to an earlier mentioned person.

            There are non-Christian sources from the early 2nd century A.D. which speak of a person called “Christ.” For example Pliny the Younger (Epistulae 10.96) and Seutonius (Nero 16; Claudius 25) both mention the title “Christ,” and both make no association with this person, or affirm the importance of the name.

            So then, despite Josephus’ non-Christian disposition, he can be making a historically accurate record of a person called Christ, and still not claim to adhere to the religious implications.

            The successor of Ananus the high priest, as recorded by Josephus, is Jesus. However, this Jesus is clearly identified as “the son of Damneus” (Ant. 20.9.1; 20.9.4). This would be in consistent on the part of Josephus to change his description of Jesus from “Christ” to “son of Damneus.” Which leads one to understand there to be more than one Jesus in the account, and that the “son of Damneus” is different than the person “who is called Christ.”

            All this to say, there was a historical figure called Jesus Christ, and the passage of Josephus (Ant. 20.9.1) is authentic.

            I would be interested in your sources.

          • jb3
            May 13, 2012 at 18:11

            Jesus? You mean Yoshe, or Yoshua, or Joshua, or Joshe? And James!!!??? Paul!!!??? Oh, I forgot…..these are the European interpretations. Like the rest of the “Bible”. “Paul” linked the “Christ” to “Jesus”. Acts (in the Bible) also served this function as well as cleaning up the whole story. The Gospels were written by groups of people with vested interests. Please God, help us! :)

      • James
        May 10, 2012 at 01:24

        Unless you count Josephus and that other guy who wrote about Jesus being done in.

    • Roger Mathews
      May 9, 2012 at 20:48

      He had a “nice” article because he focused on the context of the time, rather than the mythology surrounding Jesus. He also pointed to the lack of a monolithic Jewish infrastructure, and indeed the Jesus persona would have been considered a Jew. To say in effect the Jews killed Jesus is antisemitic in today’s context because the Jewish race and religion are little more monolithic today than in the historical perspective, and frequently question or reject the teachings of their leaders.

      • hammersmith46
        May 10, 2012 at 18:54

        “To say in effect the Jews killed Jesus is antisemitic in today’s context…”


    • Rik Elswit
      May 9, 2012 at 22:56

      I have a quarrel with your phrasing. “The Jews” did not kill Jesus, although some of the religious establishment in Jerusalem probably did complain about the rabble rouser who came in and messed with their business. Most of “the Jews” never heard of the guy.

      And yes, the New Testament clearly blames his death on “the Jews”. This was almost certainly a political move to get the Romans off the hook for killing him. That’s what the council of Nicea was all about. There were so many differences between the various Christian sects by the time that he was over 300 years dead, that the emperor ordered them to pull it together and come up with a document that they could all agree on. And since they were being offered the chance to be the state religion, they had to come up with dogma that blamed somebody besides the Romans.

      The contents of the New Testament were conferenced, arranged, and voted on, and much of what many Christians of the era believed was thrown out.

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