Will the Real Jesus Christ Please Rise Up?
Also sponsored by Peace Pins
The Spring Equinox falls on March 20 this year. In checking that fact I came across the Egyptian holiday of Sham, which has been celebrated the Monday after Easter since some time during the brief Christian era of Egypt (roughly 325 A.D. to 650 A.D.) Before that it was the Spring Equinox celebration. Of course the legendary rising up of Jesus after his death on the cross had to happen if he was killed by the Jews like an innocent Egyptian child murdered on the Passover. This reminded me I had wanted to see what the Wikipedia consensus on the Ebionites is.
Recently the idea that Jesus is totally mythological has been put forward by a number of celebrity atheists. I don't think this idea holds up to analysis, though it is more plausible than the standard Christian Jesus was God's Only Son idea that implies that God has a low sperm count.
The case against a historical Jesus has two main points. One is that there is no record contemporary record of Jesus, and certainly not of the central points of his followers' creed. He does not appear to have been noted at all by the Romans, the Greeks, or the Jews. Even the writings (or dictations) of Saint Paul (Acts of the Apostles and Letters) don't say much about Jesus the person, as opposed to Christ the deity. The Gospels, of course, fill in many details of Jesus's life, but they were provably written down much later, they frequently contradict each other (they don't even give consistent lists of the Apostles), and they are filled with borrowed myths, notably the Resurrection.
The probability that Jesus was obscure in life, and that his real biography did not match the inventions of the Gospels, should not lead us to the conclusion that he was made up whole fabric. There are several points against this. Which leads us back to those Ebionites.
The Ebionites were Jews who were followers of Jesus. They did not believe he was resurrected from the dead; they did not believe he was a miracle worker. They seemingly believed he was a holy man, rabbi, or messiah of some sort. Non-Jewish Christians who drank the he was God's Son, give all your possessions to the Church (or die: See Ananias and Sapphira) kool-aid did not like the Ebionites. The mainstream Jews did not like them either. The Christians accused them of being a novelty: a group of Jews, descendents of Jews who saw the Resurrected Jesus, who had lost the true faith. That makes no sense whatsoever, but then neither does Christian doctrine.
However, it seems to be an accepted fact that one James, a "brother" of Jesus, and other members of Jesus' family were in charge of the Christian community in Jerusalem until the Jews were expelled by the Romans in 135 A.D. So there you go: Jesus had a family. Being Jesus followers became the family business. But being Jews, they were not willing to graft non-Jewish fantasies onto the religion of their ancestor. Those fantasies were borrowed by Saint Paul and others from both the Greeks and the Phoenicians. In particular, the Jesus of the Gospels, despite being made to fit into Hebrew Old Testament prophesies, is pretty much a dead ringer for the Son of Baal and Astarte.
A particularly funny cultural development was the emergence of Islam as the world's main religion after about 650 A.D. Mohammed had his faults, but he did not claim to be God or the Son of God. He specifically rejected the idea that God was anything but a Unity. And we know that he had many conversations with various religious leaders before he decided to make up his own religion. People who have not read the Koran, or the Old Testament, don't realize that the Koran is mostly recycled Old Testament stories, or apocryphal stories that were widely circulated about Old Testament figures long before Mohammed arrived on the scene. Mohammed appears to have been influenced by Ebionites, who were still to be found in the region. Like them he accepted Jesus as a prophet, but not a God. [See any good history of Islam. I like Washington Irving's Mahomet and His Successors for its narrative style.]
What was the real Jesus like? Perhaps he was a revolutionary, Zealot type. Maybe he was an Essene. Or an ordinary rabbi of the school of Hillel. Possibly he was influenced by Egyptian, Greek, or Phoenician religious men. I would not be surprised if, after his death, he appeared in his follower's dreams. Which would have been the seed of the Resurrection myth, when planted in the soil of a man as obviously dishonest as Saint Paul [See, for instance, The Mythmaker, Paul and the Invention of Christianity by Hyam Maccoby].
Unfortunately most evidence that might help us solve this historic enigma was not only lost with time, it was destroyed. The Christians of the 2nd century A.D. onward believed that any historical record that contradicted them was falsified and needed to be destroyed. While we do have the various "Gnostic" gospels, we don't have a record of the Ebionites' beliefs. Which are probably as close to the truth as we might get. Unless someone finds an early, provably accurate life of Jesus buried in a cave somewhere.
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