Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef, also known as Jesus Christ

Friends have asked me (an atheist) what I think of Jesus Christ. This is my answer, which is no more than my humble opinion. It may surprise some to see how much I accept about Jesus, but of course it will disappoint others to see what I do not. Here goes:

Jesus was a Jewish teacher in Roman Judea. The birth narrative is likely a retelling of fables common to the area at that time. However, his parents were probably a young woman named Mary and Joseph, an older widower and carpenter. Matches such as this were common, and Mary's parents probably made the arrangement. If she were actually pregnant by another man, it would have been viewed as a life-saving act of kindness on the part of Joseph. Jesus was probably born and raised in Nazareth, and as was the norm was trained as a carpenter. He spoke Aramaic and could probably read the Hebrew of the scriptures. He would not have spoken Latin but had perhaps a smattering of Greek.

At first, he was probably a follower of his cousin John the Baptist.  As a rabbi, he was likely married and may have had children, and was probably older than the gospels suggest.  The respect he was accorded by some would have been unlikely if he had been younger than, say, 40. It seems likely that he had a number of disciples - possibly 12 (an "auspicious" number) - some no doubt inherited from John. He had many other followers, including a number of women, which was rather unusual in the very patriarchal Jewish culture of his time. He probably practiced faith-healing. He may well have believed that he was the messiah, at least by the end of his life, and he certainly believed that the Roman reign over Judea would soon end.  

It is probable that he was crucified as a rabble-rouser and enemy of the state, perhaps upon the recommendation of Jewish authorities anxious not to arouse the ire of the Romans. That he rose again is likely a tale added later, but may have been a reflection of a hysteria experienced by some of his followers after his death. That he may have been rescued from the cross prior to death is possible but unlikely.

He was a devout Jew and rather conservative, but his form of Judaism was rather mystical, similar in some ways to that of Sufiism, in that directly experiencing God's presence within oneself was central to his beliefs. Although many of the recorded sermons and stories were probably his, some were not. The Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain (actually referring to the same speech on a "high, level place") are likely the best summaries of his teachings. There is little doubt that he identified with the masses, including the poor and outcast, rather than with the rich and powerful.

His disciples and early followers remained Jewish in their religious identification. They no doubt added a great deal to the record that was not actually true, albeit devoutly believed. The stories would not be collected and written down for many years, giving plenty of time to accumulate inaccuracies. Mark, Matthew, and Luke (the synoptic gospels) probably contain a significant amount of truth as well as some fantasy.

One should keep in mind that, at that time, certain ideas were commonplace among the people: the idea of rebirth or rising from the dead were associated with the rites of spring; purification by ablution (baptism) was a simple extension of cleansing with water;  faith healing was commonly practiced and believed in. On the other hand, virgin birth was not really a common story: the examples of other mythologies often presented as evidence of borrowing are significantly different from the nativity story. However, the virgin birth story may well have developed out of the mistaken reading of the word for young woman as "virgin".

John's gospel is partly a collection of stories like the other gospels, but also partly a gnostic reinterpretation. Gnosticism adopted many themes from the first Christians and, in turn, provided the Christians with many of its ideas, including those derived from neoPlatonism, with which the Jews of Egypt were well aquainted.

Paul was a hellenized Jew who had never actually met Jesus (and never calls him Jesus), and who, IMHO, took advantage of some of the Jesus followers and strongly promoted the idea that Jesus was very literally the Son of God. His greatest innovation was the idea that you didn't need to be Jewish to follow Christ. On the other hand, Acts and Paul's various letters, predating even the recording of the synoptic gospels, give us a clear sense of the very early church, even including conflicts.

Revelations seems to be an extended presentation of the Olivet Discourse. It is a commentary on the Jewish situation as part of the Roman Empire as well as an expression of  the hopes for a separate Jewish nation, disguised as allegorical prophesy. "The beast" clearly refers to Rome and more specifically to Nero, who came to represent Roman oppression to the Jewish people.

And so, although I do not in any sense worship the man, I do respect him. It is unfortunate that the most important parts of his teachings (IMHO) have been ignored!
© C. George Boeree 2015