Sunday, April 12, 2009

Yeshua bar Yosesf

Jesus and Children

It is Easter and I thought I would write a little about Yeshua, better known as Jesus. It is amazing how influential an historical figure he has been and will undoubtedly continue to be and yet how little we know about him.

All the material that can be known about him that has any historical value is from four very short accounts of the last few years of his life. These documents are of course the four Gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. Of those Four only the first three contain much information about the “real” Jesus. John, however important for the development of the image of Jesus and the theology concerning him, is not a good source about the life and doings of the “real” Jesus. Only the first three Gospels tell us much of anything about Jesus.

In this particular essay I shall not be sorting out / or explaining the search for the “real” Jesus but instead examine my personal ideas of Jesus in terms of the resurrection event.

The central focus of Christianity is of course the Resurrection event. The belief that three days after Jesus died he rose from the dead. The idea is of course rationally absurd. However the idea’s appeal does not depend on its “rationality”, but on emotional appeal.

In the Pagan religions Gods were anthropomorphized, given human qualities. Jesus’ deification represented not simply another version of this idea but the idea of God not simply resembling a man but being a man. This ideas appeal is not based on rational criteria but on the profoundly emotional appeal of the idea of God being one of us. To quote a popular song:

What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home1

Gods / God are by mere conception profoundly alien to mankind. No matter how anthropomorphized God / Gods are alien how could they / he / she possibly understand what it is like to be human, to be fragile, too know real fear? Certainly the High God or all powerful, inconceivable deity of Christianity, Judaism or Islam is profoundly “other”. The impersonal deity of Deism or Hinduism is also profoundly other. There is something human and appealing about God being “one of us”.

In traditional Christian theology Jesus came to earth to live a human life in order to redeem man and the world from sin through his suffering. Again this idea does relate to notions of the dying God often related to fertility myths about the death and rebirth of a God or Goddess related to the end of winter and the coming of spring with its new growth. Certainly Easter occurring in spring does not lack for a fertility element. The risen Jesus is quite obviously a symbol of the new growth of spring and the end of winter. Jesus like spring conquers winter / death.

In traditional Christian terms man is burdened both by original sin and by man’s capacity to do evil. Jesus came to earth to become a sacrifice in order to cleanse man of sin and to redeem the world.

This idea, while on a rational level rather illogical,2 has great indeed enormous appeal on an emotional level. It partakes of the idea common in many religions of the suffering God whose sacrifice helps to sustain the world. Most commonly this motif exists in fertility cults about the dying and resurrected God whose death and rebirth represent the advent of winter and then the coming of spring. Its appeal is based on the fact that it appeals to us as evidence that God loves us, that God cares for us. So much so that God is willing to die for us.

Faced with the seeming disinterest of the universe the idea that God cares that much appeals and to those who feel abandoned, betrayed or otherwise put upon a possible source of great comfort. For those at the bottom end of the scale such a notion that in fact they do matter to GOD, if not to their fellowman is enormously appealing. The comfort such an idea gives should not in anyway be underestimated.

I myself find the idea of Jesus dying for our sins to be personally not very appealing instead I find the idea of God made man in order for God to find out what it is like to be human an appealing idea.

In Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, there is the story of Solzhenitsyn’s encounter with a man who believed that God became man in the form of Jesus of Nazareth in order to find out what it was like to human. This idea would be considered by practically all Christians to be a heresy because it goes against the idea of Jesus coming to earth to redeem humanity. But this idea is implicit in certain Christian ideas of the nature of Christ.

Most modern day Christian sects accept the idea that Jesus was both all human and all divine, i.e., both fully God and fully human. The full implications of accepting the full humanity of Jesus are not in my opinion fully appreciated by most people, including most Christians.

If for Jesus was fully human, then he must have felt fear, terror, anger and other emotions and in a fully human way not merely has some sort of window dressing over his essential Godhood. There are various reasons for this aside from stories and comments in the Gospels which indicate Jesus could indeed be angry and / or afraid. In order for Jesus’ death and resurrection to be meaningful in terms of redeeming the world, Jesus’ death had to be real. It could not be God playing at being human otherwise it would be meaningless.

The full humanity of Jesus means of course that Jesus would feel human joy, and despair and of course human anger and, although this aspect as been ignored or shied away from, human sexual desire.

Jesus being Human and God is in fact a basic requirement of the salvation belief because if Jesus is always God than his suffering on the cross etc, can not be taken seriously. After all just how can God be harmed? How can God die? But humans can be both harmed and of course die. Humans can also die pathetic and / or terrible deaths. Deaths that reek of humiliation and anguish.

Jesus on the Cross

Certainly Jesus’ death in a roman context reeked of horror and humiliation. Death by Crucifixion was at the time reserved for the lowest sort of criminal, slaves and traitors, rebels against Rome, highwaymen etc. It was designed to be humiliating, prolonged and very painful. Afterwards the body was generally thrown away as carrion or left on the cross to be picked apart by scavengers. Although sometimes through bribery or pleading a body was allowed to be taken down and buried, as apparently happened in the case of Jesus.

The resurrection event is both inexplicable and understandable. Inexplicable in that purely rationally speaking it is impossible. But on a faith level it is perfectly logical. Men fear death and the fact is being offered hope that death is not the end, that death can be conquered, that God does not want us to really die is an obvious source of comfort. Of course its similarity to ideas of the resurrecting God / Goddess whose rebirth signals the advent of spring is also obvious.

I do not know what he resurrection event was, however I can not accuse Jesus’ disciples of bad faith. Jesus had died a terrible death and that seemed like the end yet something convinced his disciples that Jesus had conquered death. Somehow it was decided that death was not the end but a beginning that Yeshua / Jesus had defeated death. Could it have simply been originally simply the idea that Jesus’ death did not mean the end of his mission and that was shortly to bloom full blown into the idea that Jesus had defeated death and been bodily reborn? Who knows! Was the power and personality of Jesus such that even Jesus’ death did not convince his disciples that the end of Jesus’ mission had come? The scattered fragments of what Jesus said and did in the four Gospels are a weak guide but perhaps they preserve something of the quality and charisma of Yeshua / Jesus. If so maybe, just maybe, that is what happened.

What ever it was the idea that Jesus conquered death is an attractive one for people, so too the idea that God would die, really die, for us out of love for us.

I myself think somehow, I know not how, Jesus conquered death. That this belief is completely and utterly irrational and illogical does not bother me. It sooths and comforts me and that is enough for me.

It is said that Jesus now belongs to the world. What the actual Jesus would have thought about all this is unfathomable. Both as a first century C.E. devout Jew and God incarnate. Although I suspect that Jesus has both fully God and fully man would likely have thought himself as possibly going insane much of the time.

Perhaps a popular song from the 70s gives some idea of the continuing appeal of Yeshua bar Yosesf, the carpenter from Nazareth:

Just another poor boy, just another poor boy,
And the tears were falling from her face like rain,
Just another poor boy, just another poor boy,
And they hung him on a hillside far away,
And on the ground she lay ... poor boy ... oh my Lord...
Oh my Lord ... oh my Lord...

Just another poor boy, just another poor boy,
And the tears were falling from her face like rain,
Just another poor boy, just another poor boy,
And they hung him on a hillside far away, just another poor boy,
Just another poor boy, just another poor boy,
And she never dreamed she'd see his face again...3

Jesus resurrected

1. Osbourne, Joan, from the song What if God was One of Us?, Here

2. This is not the place for arguments about predestination or the power of God, but an analysis of those ideas reveals the logical contradictions and difficulties of these ideas and how they reflect on the idea of Jesus as an offering to save the world from sin.

3. De Burgh, Chris, from the song Just Another Poor Boy, Here. I strongly recommend the album this song came from Spanish Train it is in many way profoundly insightful and surprisingly religious, if not in a conventional sense.


Vermes, Geza, Jesus the Jew, Fontana/Collins, London, 1973.

Pelikan, Jaroslav, Jesus Through the Centuries, Harper & Row Pub., New York, 1985.

Boulton, David, Who on Earth was Jesus?, 0 Books, Washington, 2008.

Crossan, John Dominic, Who Killed Jesus?, HarperCollins Pub., San Francisco, 1995.

Crossan, John Dominic, The Historical Jesus, HarperCollins Pub., San Francisco, 1991.

Pierre Cloutier

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