Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef, also known as Jesus
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
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