The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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No Jesus

March 28th, 2021 · No Comments · Uncategorized

There was no historical Jesus, without any doubt. Ancient Judea was awash with teachers and Messiahs for whom we have names, yet his is only listed in the Gospels. We actually know quite a lot about the people and the politics in the Holy Land during the time setting of the Gospels, but we don’t know where Jesus really came from or whom (besides the Romans) he represented. We can attribute the words of Jesus to a teacher from a prior century and his itenerary from the campaign of Titus on Jerusalem a generation later.

We can be confident that there was no historical Jesus because the actions attributed to him were “transcendent” — which is another way to say “impossible”. He could heal the unhealable and drive out evil spirits. He returned the dead to life and dictated the weather. When these Gospel stories first appeared around 70 AD, none of the contemporary Roman readership would have imagined for a second that a man who can summon food from thin air and side-step death was a real person. The savvy Romans of the day would have understood it all as a caricature, as a fiction.

The way in which these stories are interpreted today is very different from what the Romans had originally understood these stories to mean. The Gospels were originally presented by the Roman Imperial family as the governing rationale of the Emperor Titus as the reincarnation of the son of God in the East, and thus atop the Eastern pantheons. The stories were meant to discredit and demoralize the Judean people, who had caused such a great expense in men and materials to the Roman Empire. Jesus the Messiah shows himself again and again to be an agent of Caesar, and a Roman apologist in the face of his violent and chaotic followers.

Inasmuch as today he takes so many shapes these days and is assigned with so many motivations, it’s safe to say that Jesus is a living myth, one persistently in flux. He was “the word made flesh” according to the Gospel of John. As recently as the early 1900’s, it was common to see references to the “Gospel myths”, and the notion that Jesus had been a real person was regularly laughed away.

Starting in the 1930’s, a series of books began coming out discussing the possibility of an historical Jesus, and spending a lot of ink speculating on the lacunae of the life of Jesus not covered in the Gospels. Eventually, there were movies seriously playing out the Gospel narratives as if they were historical documents. Now, an depressing percentage of Americans are convinced that there really was an historical Jesus, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The reason that this is important is because of the upsurge in power of the Evangelical brand of Christianity, and their desperate need for there to have been an historical Christ. For the Roman Catholics, centuries of tradition has set the power and boundaries of the Church. For them, it is okay for Christ to have been a literary creation because they’re still literally carrying forth the culture of the ancient Roman Empire — which was the whole point of the Church. But for the Protestants — and especially the American protestants — the existence of an historical Jesus becomes the hook upon which their authority rests.

Protestants claim that the Roman Catholics ruined the original message of Christ in their pagan ways and only the Protestants reflect the “true word of God” through their interpretation of the Bible. The science of Archeology exploded when Protestants began to dig shafts throughout the Levant in search for proof of Christ’s life to back up their Biblical pronouncements, and thus their authority. They came to the Holy Land, it is often said, with a shovel in one hand, and a Bible in the other. Without an historical Jesus, Protestants are just pretenders to an authority they don’t otherwise recognize.

Evangelicals have taken the notion of an historical Jesus and turned it into a sales pitch to convince folks that greed is good and nomal and helping each other is socialism. They claim to know the “real message” of Jesus; the real, historical Jesus. This is the stone upon which their foundation is laid. But without an historical Jesus, their lies are built on smoke and mirrors.

There’s absolutely no reason why anyone who believes in Jesus should care whether he was really an historical figure, because in our culture, he is very much alive. In a lot of ways, he’s much better as a non-historical figure — more perfect. He’s the best possible representative of Ancient Roman culture, and as such is a great role model for us ourselves in a nation that is built in the shadow and by the measure of the ancient Roman world.

But if anybody tells you they know Jesus better than you, hold on to your wallets and make sure you read anything before you sign it. And if anyone tells you Jesus knows how you should vote, back slowly away and find another way to spend your time. Your friends and family will appreciate it more than you’ll ever know.