Thursday, January 14, 2016

What can we know of Jesus?

Most of what we know about Jesus comes from Christian writings. The Christian authors being not historians carry no authenticity. Scholars have been  investigating historical Jesus since the late 1700s. At the turn of the 19th century some of them  took the extreme position that Jesus did not live.  It is now usually discredited and although  the historicity of Jesus is not well-established the probability is that such a person lived around 2000 years back.

Renowned scholars of recent times feel it is impossible to construct the historical Jesus as the preachers who wrote about him  distorted and blurred  even the sharp outlines. Robert Henry Lightfoot (1883 –1953), an Anglican priest and theologian says: “For all the inestimable value of the gospels, they yield us little more than the whisper of his ways.” According to Rudolf Karl Bultmann, (1884-1976) the German Lutheran theologian, we can, strictly speaking, know nothing of the personality of Jesus from the gospels. The effect of the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 and the contact with the mystery cults, all deposited layer after layer in what was orally transferred regarding Christ. Many stories and miracles were added to his life. The gospel writers tried to set events to suite  some of the prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah too. 

Retionalist Thinker India

The Jewish and pagan historians of the first century are almost silent regarding Jesus. Flavius  Josephus who died abut 100AD published "The Jewish war" in 77/78  and "The antiquities of the Jews" in 94/95. In the earlier Greek versions there is no mention of Jesus as such. But in some other editions there are references to Jesus (which must have had been added later.) All leading scholars agree that the phrase “if it is lawful to call him a man’ found twice in later editions is simply a later addition. Cornelius Tacitus in about 116 AD mentioned in his manual: “ Nero was fiercely persecuting Christians on account of their crimes. Almost scornfully he adds: the founder of this sect named Christ was executed by the procurator, Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius. Although the pernicious superstition was momentarily subdued, it again broke out not only in Judea but also in the city of Rome.” Tranquilus Suetonius who lived in the 2nd century alludes to Christians who adhere to a new and pernicious superstition in two passages in “The Live of the Caesars.”
Around 112 CE, Pliny the Younger wrote to Emperor Trojan, detailing how he was conducting the trials of those accused of being Christians.  A few years later, another historian, Suetonius, wrote that Emperor Claudius had expelled Jews from Rome because of the disturbances instigated by Chrestus (probably Christ).
If Jesus were the guy described in the Bible--calming the seas, walking over water, curing lepers, making the blind see, the deaf hear, raising the dead, he would have been quite famous and the historians of the period  would have written extensively on him. But there is hardly any reference about him. Was the infinite Lord, the Son of the Almighty, known only to handful of ignorant fishermen and a few ignorant followers? 
No early Christian knew when Christ was born. The Encyclopedia Britannica says: "Christians count one hundred and thirty-three contrary opinions of different authorities concerning the year the Messiah appeared on earth." Nobody knew when the Almighty god was born here! As Antonmaria Lupi, a learned Jesuit, has mentioned, the nativity of Christ has been assigned to every month in the year, at one time or another.
Matthew says he was born in Bethlehem (to fulfill a prophecy in the Book of Micah). But Micah had prophesied the coming of a military leader, not a divine teacher. Luke too says his birth occurred at Bethlehem, where his mother had gone with her husband, to make the enrollment called for by Augustus Caesar. Of the general census mentioned by Luke, nothing is known in Roman history. In any census, the Roman custom wanted every man to report at his place of residence. The head of the family alone made a report. Wife or any dependent was not required to do so. Still Luke says that Joseph left his home in Nazareth and crossed two provinces and went to Bethlehem with his pregnant wife, Mary on the very eve of her becoming a mother. Can this be true? The Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. And hence, as Ernest Renan, famous for Bible critic, says his birth was made to take place there.
The stories of the shepherds and wise men that recognized the child as the son of god are preserved in Mathew and Luke. Remember David himself was a shepherd in the fields of Bethlehem. The said narration could have been inserted to show the coming of the Messianic Shepherd from  David’s line. Mathew describes the attempt of Herod to destroy the child and hence Joseph and Mary took flight to Egypt and returned back to Nazareth where they settled down. If Jesus was recognized as the promised King by the shepherds and if Herod accepted this fact and took measures to kill the babe, why did he emerge as a stranger from Nazareth to begin his ministry? Why were the gospel writers totally silent on the thirty years of his life? Why didn’t any one recognize him during his public life? An attempt is made in the 4th gospel (A much later production) where Jesus is accepted by John the Baptist and the first disciples. The other three gospel writers make him Christ only by making Peter confess at Caesarea Philippi.
The story of the Immaculate Conception and connected legends and the miracles were invented to picture him as a god. Remember many of the mythological (Greek/Egyptian) and pagan gods of those times had Immaculate Conception and did many miracles. Present day scholars find the genealogy given in the gospels totally wrong , obviously added to show that Jesus is the heir of the promise made to Abraham. But if he was born of a virgin and what is the use of giving the genealogy extending to Joseph?    
Mary and Joseph were poor people. The family grew up to be a large one (4 brothers and some sisters are mentioned in Mark 6:3) Joseph was a carpenter and Jesus evidently got apprenticed tot his trade. He grew up as a Jewish boy among the Jews. He studied the Jewish scriptures first at home and then in the school attached to the synagogue. This enabled him to quote extensively form the religious books in his public life.
Gospels try to show that Nazareth of Galilee was his home town. Was there a city of Nazareth in the first century? The Encyclopedia Biblica, a work written by theologians, the greatest biblical reference work in the English language, says: "We cannot perhaps venture to assert positively that there was a city of Nazareth in Jesus' time." If there was no city of Nazareth in the first century, whatever the gospels writers say must be fictitious and imaginary. 
After his birth, nothing is known of the life of the Almighty God until he reached the age of thirty years. Yes, Luke mentions Jesus discussing with the doctors in the Temple in Jerusalem when he was twelve. The description of this incident is mythical; there were stories of other gods who had scholarly discussions with the learned at a very young age.  The other Gospels do not even mention it. Otherwise, the four gospels are simply silent with regard to the thirty years of his life.  If the writers of the Gospels knew about the life of Christ, why are they silent? Even his birth was witnessed by the appearance of a divine star and learned men came to visit him. A ruler had tried to kill the child. But then there is darkness for thirty years and the whole gospels are about his ministry which lasted just one year according to the synoptic gospels and more than two according to John.

His Public Life
According to the gospels Jesus came forth Nazareth, received baptism from John in the river Jordan Then he withdrew into the wilderness where he was tempted of Satan and was with wild beasts and angels brought him food-much as the Old Testament had related of Elijah the prophet. Luke and Mathew even say he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights as Moses did on  Mount Sinai(Mathew 4:1-12, Mark 1:12 , Luke 4:1-14). As the gospels were written during different periods of time, we find different narrations in the different gospels.  The events associated with the lives of the great Jewish prophets got incorporated into the life of Jesus too.
Upon the imprisonment of John he set out to preach.  Much of his teachings were based on the rabbinical writings both ancient and contemporary. He introduced a new form of homely metaphor and parable to his teachings. He always tried to explain and clarify the Biblical teachings. Some scholars feel his words:  ‘you are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its savor wherewith shall one salt? You are the light of the world, your light shall shine forth before men,’ are certainly addressed to the Jews and not to the disciples as is later interpreted.
The gospels of Mathew and Luke contain a great condemnation of the Pharisees and the scribes and they are generally perceived to be against Judaism. It is addressed to the pagans who are already converted and who wish to get converted.  The destruction of the temple of Jerusalem (AD 70) gave a valid argument for the rejection of the Jews. The temple was the dwelling place of Yahweh. If it was destroyed, God had passed judgment over the Jewish people who refused to believe. This rejection must have come from Jesus, the new messiah. He spoke against the Jews; he turned his back on them. How can Yahweh turn against his own people for whom He massacred millions and even beheaded the first born of Egyptians? 
 Dr. Paul W. Schmiedel, Professor of New Testament Exegesis at Zurich, Switzerland, one of the foremost theologians of Europe, tells us in the Encyclopedia Biblica, that there are only nine passages in the Gospels that we can depend upon as being the sayings of Jesus but there are other scholars like Professor Arthur Drews, Germany's greatest exponent of the doctrine that Christ is a myth who believe that even these passages are as unhistorical as the rest.
The story of Jesus was certainly fashioned after the mythological gods like Osiris, Dionysus, Attis, and Mithras, Asclepius, Apollonius of Tyana and others like Buddha and Krishna. Some of the narratives of some of these gods existed hundreds of years before Jesus’ story emerged and some others were almost contemporaries of Jesus. The preachers who wrote about Jesus were familiar with them and they drew from them extensively or rather they created a Jesus in their model. The stories of the virgin birth, the shepherds and wise men, the miracle of turning water into wine in the marriage party, walking on waters, making the blind see, deaf hear, curing the paraplegics, raising Lazarus, having twelve disciples and last supper, the Eucharistic ceremony, raising the dead, getting crucified and resurrecting on the third day have all been adopted from earlier gods and projected into the life of Jesus. Further, Matthew puts a special effort to see that the messianic prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus. He studied the Jewish scriptures and models his account of Jesus to suite the so-called prophesies. He was more a preacher who wanted to establish Jesus was the Messiah, although the Jews, the chosen tribe of Yahweh, rejected him and is still waiting for the coming of the Messiah.

Jesus was a healer, preacher and reformer of the Jewish religion. As he was well versed in the scriptures he had debates and discourses with the Jewish scholars. He was annoyed at the strict observance of the Jewish laws. The Pharisees and the scribes were publicly criticized by him. He called the former ‘white washed tombs’ and the latter ‘sons of serpents.’ The offended Jewish elite plotted to kill him and forced Pontius Pilate to crucify the fiery man as a public nuisance. 

Jesus was probably a preacher and a faith healer with a winning personality. His eloquence and noble character attracted a few to him, and he was hailed as a prophet after his death. The picture of a good man carrying a heavy cross to a hill to be crucified perhaps made Paul think that he died for the sins of others.  Paul felt the innocent guy suffered not for himself but for others. This was the foundation for the doctrine of redemption, the basis of Christianity.  

1 comment:

  1. How can you go about Jesus when it has never been established that he even existed. One cannot infer the probability who Jesus was, without concrete evidence. You are ether contradicting yourself or you don't know when to end the discussion.