~ An Amazing Life ~ 

A book by Rich Van Winkle

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An Amazing Life: Jesus and the Nozerim

Appendix IV - Jesus

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death       before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” Mark 9:1.

Jesus is unquestionably the best known - least understood person in all of human history. He is the subject of more books than any ten other men. His image is deeply imbedded in western minds and his story is told far more than any other. Yet 99.9% of everything said or believed about Jesus is either pure speculation or simple fabrication[1] and the vast majority of our focus upon Jesus has nothing to do with him. Because of this, we have undoubtedly lost track of the truth – a truth that is more compelling and more meaningful than the myths, legends, and theology built around his name and his life.

We hardly need to repeat “what everyone already knows” about Jesus – except to debunk most of it. And, that’s hardly necessary since hundreds of previous authors have done such a good job at it. Consider the amazing range of ideas and beliefs about Jesus – ranging from his being an absolute fabrication created from a mix of former characters, myths, and “gods” to his being the one and only true “Son of God” sitting at the head of the triune “God” consisting of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thus, belief in Jesus ranges from his being the greatest hoax of all time to his being “the way, the truth, and the light”. What is most fascinating to me is there is an incredible amount of support for all these views.

Since others have done a thorough job of either revealing the hoax or affirming the deity, there’s little need to repeat all that. A few have worked diligently in attempting to create a more “historical” picture of Jesus and many have worked to recreate a better understanding of the context for his life – especially in the social and religious contexts. This work has benefited greatly from those efforts. What is obvious, but generally overlooked, is that virtually everything that has been written about Jesus originates from a strong belief about who he was based upon only two sources – the Bible and the works of Josephus[2]. This huge mass of repetitious material has created the illusion of correctness to the extent that people assume all the answers have been worked out by those who are willing to sort through the morass.

After years of discussing Jesus with others, I can say with assurance that the word missing most in our dialog about Jesus is “why”. To some extent the Christian theology attempts to answer questions such as “why would God want Jesus to suffer the most painful and ignoble death imaginable?” Since no one can possibly answer such a question, it becomes fodder for theologians (abstract philosophical approach) and “true believers” (divine revelation approach). This book began as a single question based upon a single presumption: if Jesus knew that his choices were likely to result in his execution, why did he make those choices? Even without divine intervention, I felt confident that I could read the answer in the gospels. But as often happens, one question led to another and before I knew it I had thousands of pages of notes with more questions than answers. The two compelling questions emerged:

                Why did the early Catholic Church and writers of the New Testament screw things up so badly?

                Why is Christianity built upon the life of Jesus when Christians largely ignore his life?

The first question may seem insensitive and biased – and it is. The more I have learned about the early Pauline Church, the more I have felt that they would have tested Jesus’ great compassion and ability to forgive. There may be room for debate about the “historical Jesus”, but there is no disputing that Paul and his followers were liars, murderers, cheats, and fiends. (Ouch!). But then that creates another BIG question:

                Why is Christianity the biggest and most powerful religion on earth?

That answer is worthy of another book - how about “After Jesus”? The short answer has two parts: first, there is something so powerful and compelling about the life of Jesus that it overcomes the greed and corruption that has plagued Christianity and secondly, there is an element of truth in the Jesus “myth“ that stands beyond objectification and historical analysis (which Christianity has sufficiently captured to feed its growth and acceptance).

Finally, before we move on, there was one other question that has driven me (because I don’t believe in miracles, the “supernatural”, or direct divine intervention):

                Why did so many of Jesus’ followers (who were NOT Christians and did NOT believe that he was              the Messiah) believe in his “reincarnation”?

Since the primary goal of this book is to answer these questions, this Appendix is here to answer others. We will start with a summary of “Jesus – the man” and then proceed to a short biographical sketch and specific issues.

Jesus – the man:

It cannot be denied that Jesus was different – he was unlike any man before or since. His uniqueness has contributed to both legend and theology; and it makes him difficult to understand – as a man. Perhaps this is why so many find it easy to accept that he was more than a man. Unfortunately, I think that efforts to portray Jesus as divinity have diminished our respect and admiration for him as a man and I hope to re-establish that Jesus was among the greatest of men whether or not he was “Christ”. As part of that effort and desire, it is necessary to strip away some of the mysticism and divine suppositions that cloud our awareness of Jesus – the man.


This book approaches the problem of understanding Jesus from two directions: putting him a more accurate and complete context and assessing his actions within that context. Because I believe that life is about choices and choosing, I try to understand Jesus by looking at his choices. There is a single choice that separates Jesus from most mortals and defines his life and legacy:

To earnestly seek and honor the Will of God.

Jesus made this choice and lived it. We may not agree with his understanding of God’s Will or understand his method of honoring God’s Will, but we certainly find it compelling and inspirational. While others have done the same, few have had the circumstance where their choice clearly meant an early death – especially such a painful sacrificial death. And even if we don’t follow the Christian idea of “sacrificing for our sins”, we can readily see that Jesus’ family and followers understood that Jesus willingly gave his life for others out of devotion to God. If that kind of love and devotion doesn’t touch you or warm your heart, then you really need to read this book and the NT until it does.

While Jesus’ choices lie at the core of “An Amazing Life”, some of the grounds and backgrounds for his choices are not explained or developed in the story – especially as they relate to the theology of Jesus. Too much attention is paid to the theology ABOUT Jesus and almost none to the theology that Jesus accepted, advocated, and followed. Of course, that is centered upon Judaism and Christians suffer the irony of being taught to hate[3] the religion that their “Savior” accepted and honored[4]. I think it is unquestionable that Jesus would have been appalled and offended by Christian treatment of his religion. But, then again, Jesus was also offended at how his fellow Jews were treating Judaism.

Despite the additions and distractions apparent in the depictions of Jesus’ religious views in the NT gospels, we can discern the gist of his beliefs from his recorded teachings and those of his immediate successors. First and foremost, I would categorize Jesus as a religious purist: he believed that the purpose of religion was to facilitate God’s Will. His perception of God was clear: God is akin to a loving father (“Abba”) who rules His kingdom graciously yet sternly. For Jesus, devotion to God was best shown by devotion to others as stated in the “golden rule” and His greatest commandment. And, finally, Jesus was a purist because he put service to God above all other “rules”, particularly those religious rules created by men to serve the interests of men. (And he had little tolerance for others who thought that religious dogma might supersede service to God or fulfillment of the greatest commandment).

Jesus’ religious views carried over into social beliefs and behavior; he gave little weight to the trivial concerns and niceties of society and directly circumvented or ignored social norms that were based upon prejudice, ignorance, and class. His devotion to God and dedication to completing God’s Will took precedence over any social, political, or economic consideration. He viewed himself with humility and honesty – appreciating that he enjoyed special gifts and believing that he had a special mission. He was delighted whenever he encountered great faith and devotion and disappointed when those around him failed to understand his motives, his methods, or his message. But his own faith in God led him to believe that God would send another advocate or teacher to meet that need[5].

Let us not forget that Jesus–the man was in fact human. Our limited information about him is narrowly focused upon a short period in his life and is mostly about one aspect of his life (presented with a biased viewpoint by those with divergent interests). However, the gospel accounts do not withhold information that might be considered unfavorable about Jesus (even though he is also deemed sinless).

[Jesus] came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. (Mat. 11:19)

The gospel accounts reveal that Jesus varied from being highly emotional (Gethsemane) to strangely unemotional (trial). He seemed to be confused about his relationship with his family and his closest followers. At times he spoke with great clarity and insight and at times he said things nobody understood (or understands now). And, there are some critical things that he simply got wrong:

And he said to them, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power." (Mark 9:1; c.f. Luke 9:27 and Mat. 16:28).

Although it is clear that Jesus believed this (literally) and that his followers believed him, he was simply incorrect. Christian apologists (plainly misreading Jesus’ words and context) suggest that Jesus was speaking metaphorically about some future time (those who die will not “taste” their death because they will be resurrected in some unknown “second-coming” where all of Jesus’ predictions will finally come true before the “Son of Man” brings forth God’s Kingdom). Indeed, this single mistaken belief and teaching gave the Pauline “Christology” its primary impetus: as those who had actually heard Jesus and accepted this prophetic statement began to die, there was a compelling need for an answer other than “Jesus was wrong”.

Once we can get away from the theological assumptions of Pauline Christianity and the indoctrination of the Christian community, we have some hope of actually understanding Jesus as a man, a leader, and a Jew who devoted himself to God and fulfilling God’s Will.

To exemplify the problems in discussing the historical Jesus, we should begin with his beginning:  the contentious questions surrounding his birth:

Who were his parents?

When was he born?

Where was he born?


Ask Christians about Jesus’ parents and the first answer is almost always “Joseph and Mary”. Upon reflection or inquiry, they will interject that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father – God was his father, biology aside. If asked to explain this, the answer is usually something supernatural. However, there are those Christians who refuse to accept the supernatural and still accept the scriptural tale as historical and “scientific”. They will offer a remarkable extrapolation of science (biology) to suggest that the “immaculate conception” is scientifically possible. It’s OK to believe whatever you believe – just don’t fabricate “facts” in order to support your beliefs[6].

Oddly, this is not a factual issue anyway: under Jewish law[7], reasonable doubt about a person’s parentage has automatic repercussions and implications. The NT makes it clear that there was doubt about Jesus’ parentage (John 8:41: “porneia”) and the concept of mamzerut was applied to the offspring of a woman whose partner was not identifiable under normal circumstances (and therefore was not necessarily legally permitted)[8]. The Catholic Church made Jesus a “mamzer” by its own myth.  This is especially odd since just about any Jew could tell us that a mamzer COULD NOT be the Messiah (“Christ”).

So, we start with a great paradox – the whole idea of “Christianity” is that Jesus was the Christ[9] and yet their scripture specifically makes it impossible for him to be so. (If Christians want to create their own concept of the Messiah, that’s their choice, but instead they seem to claim that they know more about Judaism than the Jews). But that’s only a beginning of the issues regarding Jesus’ parents.

Although the gospels of the NT do not specifically say that Jesus’ parents were poor, it is inferred and that has become the legend. More so, Joseph and Mary are basically insignificant in the gospels other than their parentage of Jesus. But then, it is made very clear that Jesus was not only in the lineage of King David (the gospel genealogies), but that he was the legitimate heir to David’s throne[10]. Of course, this also implies that Joseph was Jesus’ biological father since the biological heir wouldn’t be someone else’s son. But that’s another issue. Just to simply things, I’m going to ignore the Christian myth of “virgin birth” (and the 10,000 pages of discussion regarding such) and assume that Joseph accepted Jesus as his biological son and “heir”.

But then the genealogies that propose to show that Jesus was the legitimate Davidic King of the Jews inherently imply that Joseph was the legitimate King of the Jews – quite a difference from a lowly “carpenter” (see below). Of course, there were others who made a claim to the Davidic throne – and were killed for doing so. Indeed, the gospels and the historical record show clearly that King Herod actively sought out and executed Davidic rivals. Joseph might have worked as a “carpenter” in Galilee, but if the gospels are true, he was a king in hiding. Why isn’t that made clear and discussed? Doesn’t that change the storyline substantially? (This issue is discussed in several of these Appendices).

The matter of Jesus’ parents leads to the next issue relating to his birth – the time. Others have spent so much time and energy on this topic that I won’t. We don’t know when Jesus was born and we never will. What we can say with some certainty is that it wasn’t in year 1 of the “common era”. (There was no year zero). We can also point out that the date of “Christmas” was chosen centuries later without much regard for either the gospel accounts or history. The whole issue would be trivial except for the rigidity so many have exhibited in debating it and the ignorance so many Christians have about it. Just enter “birth of Jesus myths” in Google and sort through the four million or so hits. Give it a decade of dedicated study and you can be an unknowing expert on this one issue. (I think that’s why most Christians won’t even ask questions about their “Lord”). Because it fits better than others, I’m using the year 7 BCE for the year Jesus was born.

Let’s move on to the place of Jesus’ birth. Like the date of his birth, the place of Jesus’ birth is subject to a massive debate. Because of the gospels, the tradition has Jesus born in Bethlehem. If those authors had merely left it at that (as an unexplained assertion), there would be little basis for debate. But the gospel writers were more interested in why Jesus was supposedly born in Bethlehem than the fact of it. Indeed, the reason is what lies at the heart of the debate.

Micah (5:2) prophesized that the Jewish Messiah would come from Bethlehem (as “the city of David”). So Matthew and Luke give us some details to help convince us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. One of those details is a big problem - that Jesus was born during a census or registration of the populace ordered by Emperor Augustus at the time that Quirinius (Cyrenius) was Roman governor of Syria (Luke 2:1-3). Who would have thought that the Romans would endure and that their history would be well recorded – right down to the actual counts of their various censi. Sure enough, there was such a census, but it was taken of Roman citizens in the year 6 CE. And, since the gospels are clear (as in the “massacre of the innocents”) that Jesus was born before Herod I (“the Great”) died  in 4 BCE, one of the gospels is wrong. Well, actually, two are wrong. 

Mark (the first of the gospels to be written as presented in the NT) ignores the birth of Jesus and begins its story with Jesus’ later life. But John is pretty clear that it was common knowledge that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem (John 7:41-42). Christians can argue that the lack of historical evidence to support such a census doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. But I haven’t heard or seen any rational argument to support a census where hundreds of thousands of people are required to travel for weeks or months to some ancestral hometown merely to be registered or counted. The cost and disruption would have been huge and recorded historically. What the well established history shows is that the Palestinian and Egyptian Jews simply wouldn’t have put up with such a requirement (much smaller incidents led to major revolts during this time period).  Christians, however, have no choice but to re-write history in order to make this (and other errors) work because the alternative would be to accept that their “scripture” is a myth written by people trying to make a point instead of telling an honest story. (That is not the same as saying it lacks historical merit).

Oddly, some have accepted that Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem while continuing to assert that he lived in Nazareth. Indeed, Jesus was a “Nazorean”, but that has been incorrectly construed as a place instead of a group (except where the NT makes it clear that it was a group). See Appendix I for detailed discussion of this key issue.

So, if you’ve gotten this far, you’re undoubtedly willing to accept some other possibility. Let’s try to establish what we do know, might know, or can reasonably surmise about Jesus…

Most critical biblical scholars accept that some parts of the New Testament are useful for reconstructing Jesus' life – meaning that they also accept that there really was a person thusly described. Of course, there are some who hold that the ENTIRE Jesus legend is mythical – a fabrication. They not only don’t accept Jesus as “the Christ”, they don’t even believe he existed. On first thought, it might seem wholly irrational to argue such a thing: Jesus is so deeply ingrained in our social and religious thought that it doesn’t seem possible that there is NO physical evidence whatsoever that he existed. There is NOT ONE reliable historical reference that tells us anything about Jesus.

The principal sources of information regarding Jesus' life and teachings are the four canonical gospels, especially the Synoptic Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke. All were written well after Jesus’ death by people who never met Jesus. More so, they were edited by people who clearly weren’t trying to be historical – they were trying to support a new religion framed and built by Saul/Paul of Tarsus – another man who never met Jesus. Their concerted effort to remove whatever historical record they could that might conflict with their theological work has left us short on other evidence about Jesus. And, their efforts to falsify the historical record has fueled their opponents to this day[11].

Luckily, in the last century, our collection of historical documentation from the first century has grown immensely. We still lack a document written as a “history” that tells us anything concrete about Jesus. What we do have is a wealth of documents written soon after Jesus’ death which are not Christian and which show conclusively that Jesus was more than a myth. Apocryphal texts such as the “Gospel of Thomas” and the “Gospel according to the Hebrews” agree that Jesus was a respected Jewish teacher and healer, was baptized by John the Baptist, and who was crucified in Jerusalem on the orders of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate. There remains plenty to debate, but those who argue that Jesus was entirely mythical are as far from right as those who believe everything written in the gospels.

Our best evidence supports the following conclusions: Jesus was related to the charismatic John the Baptist and followed his model as an itinerant sage, healer, and baptizer mainly in the surrounds of Galilee and the River Jordan during the years 20-35 CE. His message focused on religious devotion, anticipation of an imminent apocalypse, and the “golden rule”. He belonged to a group known as the Nazoreans (see Appendix I) that favored a Jewish restoration movement. It appears that at some point he accepted a leadership role in an apocalyptic movement, fell into disfavor with ruling Judean authorities, and was executed by them.

What happened after his execution remains one of the great mysteries of human history. Many believed that he survived the execution by resurrection from death under divine intervention. As that belief spread, Jesus’ stature was elevated and people began to record and repeat what he had taught. However, since one of those teachings was the imminence of the apocalypse (as above), many of his early followers became disillusioned and confused when it became clear that Jesus had been wrong (or had been misunderstood) about the timing of the apocalypse. Some of them founded a new non-Jewish mythical/theological conception of his life and started the Catholic Church based upon Jesus being “the Christ”.

Part of the Christian tradition advocates faith-based acceptance that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, performed miracles including the raising of the dead, and rose from the dead himself and ascended into heaven - from which he will return in “glory” during the “end-of-times”. Christians hold that Jesus fulfilled many Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament and that he was the awaited Jewish Messiah. Upon resurrection and return Jesus is to emerge as God (or a God) in the form of the incarnation of God the Son, of the divine Trinity. Unfortunately, these Christian beliefs compel scholars to doubt many of the gospel traditions associated with Jesus under the likelihood that they were fabricated in order to support the claim of Messianic fulfillment.

In recent years there has been a new scholarly approach to discern the more authentic historical life of Jesus and to put that life in a proper context. Use of better tools (such as computerized textual analysis) and having more sources (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls) have allowed scholars to present a new and more complete view of Jesus – and the family of Jesus. Much of this research has been focused upon James, the brother of Jesus. (See Appendices IX and XII). A more complete understanding of the life of James (about who we have better historical evidence) has led to a better understanding of Jesus.

Among the new lines of thought is one affirming that Jesus was a family man. His four brothers were all “Apostles” (Appendix IX) and what we learn about the family of James (Jesus’ oldest brother - Appendix XII) has clear application to Jesus. The family of Jesus (known as the “Desposyni”) takes on much greater significance if we accept one basic fact – that Joseph (the patriarch) had some legitimate claim as an heir to the throne of David (Appendix VIII).  While it is a central tenant of Christianity that Jesus was a descendant of David, the implications of this possibility are many:

  • It is meaningless unless Jesus had genealogical proximity to David’s royal lineage[12].
  • It is meaningless to Jesus if his parentage was in question[13].
  • It is the best explanation for many biblical passages.

As one example of how this presumption changes our view, I would point to the “massacre of the innocents” (Mat. 2:16-18). The gospel account of this event is not supported in the historical record, but the essence of it is: King Herod was paranoid about the Davidic heirs and he hunted them down. Some were killed, a few exiled, and even fewer were brought into his close control. If Joseph was a possible Davidic heir (and there were many), then he and his male offspring were in peril at least until the death of Herod I in 4 BCE. Egypt would have been a good place to go for such a family, especially the family of Joseph (Appendices III and XVIII). So, a gospel passage that isn’t exactly historical may reveal historical truth: the family of Jesus went to Egypt in order to escape Herod’s pogrom.

Jesus’ particular status as a Davidic “prince” would have been quite complex (the “mamzer” issue), but that of his brothers would have been clearer: their claim as Davidic heirs would have been much more certain. If we re-frame the gospel accounts with the pretext of Jesus and troop being led by Davidic “princes”, an entirely different picture emerges. Among the issues immediately addressed are: the timing of Jesus’ mission, its non-Judean focus, the “triumphant entry” into Jerusalem[14], and the Roman charge against Jesus: “IESVS·NAZARENVS·REX·IVDÆORVM” (“Jesus the Nazorean – King of the Jews”)[15]. A family of Davidic heirs would have logically had contacts and connections throughout the region and in high places (such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea). Instead of being stoned to death for “blasphemy” as any commoner would have been, a royal heir would have had to be tried by the Romans.

A condensed (encyclopedic) biography of Jesus-the man might read:

A prominent Palestinian Jew of the 1st century (circa 4 BCE-36 CE) who many believed was a prophet, healer, and possible “Messiah”. He was born under suspicious circumstances to Mary, the daughter of a Temple priest of Jerusalem and sister of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. His father was Joseph the Nazorean, a prominent Galilean of Davidic descent who accepted Jesus as his son despite rumors of scandal involving Jesus’ conception. Little is known of Jesus’ early years although accounts suggest that he spent time in Egypt and Jerusalem. Given his later acceptance as a “Rabboni”, it is likely that he was formally trained.

Jesus had four brothers (James “the Just”, Joses, Simon, and Jude) and at least two sisters (names uncertain). After spending some time as a follower of his famous cousin John, Jesus began his own mission which resembled John’s and focused upon the same key message: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Some of John’s followers joined Jesus in his mission and eventually they and a few others joined Jesus’ brothers to become “the Twelve” (“Apostles”) – leaders and primary missionaries of the movement. In pairs and as a group, they travelled around Palestine and surrounds (including Galilee, Samaria and the Decapolis) where Jesus taught, healed, and baptized.

The mission drew its critics as its popularity grew and eventually Jesus found himself at odds with the priestly aristocracy of Judea/Jerusalem. While his message of love for others as the means to show love of God was widely acclaimed, his message of intent over letter of the law created a rift with the conservative establishment. After his involvement with disturbances in the Jerusalem Temple centered on defilement of the sacred grounds (through commercialization) and as his followers began claiming that he was the expected Messiah (or the King of the Jews), Jesus found himself precariously positioned. Instead of leaving for safer regions, he chose to remain true to his mission and was captured (possibly through betrayal) by local authorities for trial.

In a confusing, contradictory, and very unlikely legend, Jesus was tried by an ad hoc “Sanhedrin” (Jewish Court) assembled by the High Priest Annus (or Caiaphas), then the Tetrarch Herod Antipas, and then the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate – who declared him innocent. Nevertheless, Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem and taken to a nearby tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea where he was to be entombed until he could be prepared for burial (a delay necessitated by the Jewish Passover holiday). However, when one or more others (the names vary according to the account) went to the tomb, the body was gone. Subsequently, a number of others reported seeing a living Jesus and the story of his “resurrection” became well known. A number of conflicting tales exist as to what happened to Jesus thereafter, but his followers continued his mission in Palestine.

Later, the self-proclaimed “Apostle” Paul (Saul of Tarsus – a former enemy of Jesus’ mission) separated from the Jesus movement to start a new religion based upon legends of Jesus and a Christ-based theology (proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah only the Jews didn’t recognize him). For most, awareness of Jesus originates from Christian works (gospels/scripture/stories) and the legends and theology transcend the facts about Jesus. Thus, while some believe that Jesus was divine (as part of a triune divinity), others believe that Jesus was completely a fabrication (myth) created by Catholics to found their religion. The historical record is so incomplete and distorted as to make either belief viable.

Jesus remains one of the best known personages of history and his “birthday” is one of the most popular holidays in much of the world. “Easter” is a holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus. Two thousand years after his death there is still new speculation regarding the traditions relating to Jesus. One popular theory holds that Jesus married his longtime companion Mary (Magdalene) and that she bore him children. Another places his tomb in India. And several “secret” societies supposedly protect information about his life, bloodline, and the like. A search for relics and archeological remains that might offer new facts about Jesus continues.

Other Issues:

We can say with certainty that Jesus was more than a man. We cannot prove or disprove any metaphysical legends or beliefs about Jesus. As the Christians say, such matters are left to “faith”. What we can do is question and correct some major fallacies that have been promulgated about Jesus while broadening the scope of common inquiry regarding his life. Much of that process should originate from careful evaluation and consideration of the limited sources within a proper historical context. And, as should be obvious, the most relevant historical context would focus upon Judaism as it existed during the time of Jesus. I have attempted to compile and condense the most relevant aspects of that history within the other appendices associated with this work.

There are many questions regarding Jesus which will probably never be answered and about which we have no reliable information (such as details of his appearance). Meanwhile there are some important questions that need further consideration where important clues are available or some historical data is available. We will take a quick look at a few of these.



Where did Jesus get his ideas and how well educated was he?

Because of the emphasis and legend in the NT gospels regarding Jesus being poor, itinerant, and from “the boonies”, it is generally assumed that he was basically illiterate and uneducated. And yet he was considered a master instructor (“Rabboni”), taught in the Temple precincts of Jerusalem[16], was treated with academic respect by opposing religious leaders, and was multi-lingual. The legend is self contradictory.

First of all, all Jewish boys of his time were by necessity multi-lingual: they were expected to learn basic Hebrew, the common spoken languages in Palestine were Aramaic and Koine Greek, and the official language was Latin. According to the tradition, Jesus grew up in Egypt, lived in a suburb of Sepphoris (a governmental and business center on a major trade route), and taught in areas of Palestine that were fully Hellenized (the Decapolis). When he quoted scripture, it is apparent that his primary source was the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. According to the gospel accounts, Jesus spent time in the Jerusalem Temple listening to religious instruction and discussion. Some, if not all, of that would have been in Hebrew. He is mentioned as reading from scripture which was likely hand-written Hebrew. And he uses phrases in Aramaic and Greek. Jesus was either fluent in several languages or was fluent in Greek and passably fluent in Hebrew and Aramaic[17].

Being multi-lingual and able to read does not imply that Jesus was able to write. Of course, we have nothing that was written by Jesus and no mention of anything ever having been recorded in writing by Jesus[18]. If Jesus could write we must wonder why he didn’t write something that was saved, for there is little doubt that if he had written down anything it would either have been saved (or at least mentioned as in John 8:6). Part of our difficulty in understanding why Jesus didn’t write is cultural: we learn to read and write together as both are considered equally essential in our world. At the time of Jesus, the oral tradition was dominant and the skill of writing was highly specialized (as with the “scribes”). The need to write was quite rare and was almost exclusive to legal and religious requirements. It was similar to the situation in much of the western world until the 17th century[19].

We also forget that there was a time when written works were extremely rare and valuable. Even if Jesus was able to read, it is highly unlikely that he would have encountered more than a spattering of written words in his everyday life. His access to written scripture would have been very limited. Conversely, the gift of oration was widespread and often practiced. As Jesus did, so did many others – travelling around and giving speeches. This was the primary form of education, entertainment, and news transmission and the protocol for establishing one’s credentials was more formalized. We should remember the numerous NT accounts where someone goes to a town (even their home town), says the wrong thing, and is stoned, imprisoned, or pushed off a cliff.

While we may not know just how “literate” Jesus was, we can be assured that he was a gifted orator. Even allowing for exaggeration, it is clear from the NT accounts that large crowds gathered to hear him speak and that what he said had great impact on many. We have every indication that Jesus was formally educated in Judaism and that his views were respected enough to create controversy and discussion among other Jewish religious leaders. Although some have suggested that Jesus was a follower of Beit Hillel (the “School of Hillel”- one of the great Rabbis of that time and all time[20]), the legend strongly suggests otherwise.

Both Hillel and Jesus believed that love of others was the key to Jewish life[21] and both attempted to humanize the Halakha (law of Judaism[22]). While they shared many basic beliefs and attitudes, Jesus was clearly one who took his own path and derived his ideas from diverse sources. It should not be surprising that Jesus would recognize the teachings of Hillel that would later dominate Rabbinical thought as righteous. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus was Hillel’s student - Jesus advocated several positions that were different than Hillel’s[23] and they had a key fundamental difference. Jesus held strong eschatological (end-of-times) beliefs whereas Hillel didn’t (or he didn’t include them in his teachings). So, although both Hillel and Jesus were leaders of popular Jewish renewal movements (unlike the strong isolationism of the Qumranians[24]), the legend more clearly indicates that Jesus was a “free thinker” who synthesized his beliefs from a variety of sources including John the Baptist[25], the Essenes[26], the various  zealot movements and even the stricter Beit Shammai. Other than a coincidence in a few reasonable ideas, there is nothing indicating that Jesus learned from Buddha, Confucius, or any other non-contemporary (although he may well have heard some oration regarding them).

It is rather strange and ironic that so much attention has been given to the Essene influence on Jesus and so little is given to the better established Zealot influence (although the Essenes are as misunderstood as the Zealots). Both sectarian groups had clear influence upon Jesus and his followers, but so did other “sects”. We know that even after concerted efforts by the Pauline church to remove Gnosticism from the Jesus legend, it surfaces often – particularly among the followers of John the Baptist and the non-canonical gospels. And, although it is clear that Jesus belonged to a well-known sect called the Nazoreans (see Appendix I), we typically ignore what that group was all about. If we hope to understand the origin of Jesus’ beliefs and teachings, we need to study all of these groups.

Aside from teaching and preaching, Jesus was known for his baptisms and healings. His baptisms were quite different in purpose and function than Pauline/Catholic baptism, so we should attempt to understand what Jesus learned from John about baptism and what differences arose between them (See Appendix XI). And while many have seen a relationship between Jesus and the Therapeutae[27], it is likely he was as diverse in his learning of the healing arts as he was in his learning of religious philosophy (however, I think it is likely that Jesus had significant contact with the Therapeutae community at Mt. Carmel). We’ll begin with a look at the baptisms of Jesus.

First, we should remind ourselves of the obvious – “baptism” didn’t originate with Christians. According to the gospel of John, Jesus was baptized by John long before the first “Christians”. Less obvious is the fact that baptism didn’t originate with John. Our notion of baptism comes from the Christian use of the Greek word describing ritual immersion by the Jews (used to restore one to a condition of "ritual purity" in specific circumstances. Note Ex. 19:10; Lev. 16:4; Num. 31:21-24.) In Hebrew, the ritual is called “mikveh[28]“, which is derived from the early Prophets who formulated rules for spiritual cleansing. Their belief was that the mikveh cleanses the unclean[29] as God cleanses Israel.

This cleansing ritual had two relevant uses during the time of Jesus: to prepare those who were seeking to enter the coming Kingdom of God and as part of the conversion (proselytizing) of Gentiles to Judaism[30]. John's mission was consistent with the Prophets and the expectations of his time: he preached God's impending judgment and warned his fellow Jews that they must repent and be cleansed (spiritually renewed through mikveh) in preparation for the coming of the Messiah (which he believed was at hand).

While subject to debate, there were three commonly accepted requirements for converting a Gentile proselyte to Judaism:  circumcision, cleansing, and sacrifice (not necessarily in that order although the order was considered essential by some). Thus, John probably “baptized” both Jews and Gentiles who wanted to convert to Judaism and Jesus probably followed this practice. Thus, Jesus used the Jewish cleansing ritual “mikveh” to help spiritually prepare those who sought to enter God’s Kingdom, including Gentiles who wished to convert to Judaism. He too believed that this Kingdom was “at hand” (more below). It may well have been that Jesus also used this as part of his healing ministry.

We learn little about Jesus’ healing methods in the NT, but there are two things that are clear: he healed both by “faith” and by practice. Faith healing pre-dates Jesus by thousands of years and continues to this day. There is no need to argue whether such is miraculous or not – it’s a matter of faith. What is most revealing in the gospels is that faith healing wasn’t the only method used by Jesus[31]. First and most obvious was Jesus’ healing of the blind beggar as told in John (9:8, et seq.) where Jesus used spit, soil, and the Pools of Siloam to cure the man[32]. Similarly, we have Jesus healing a deaf man (Mark 7:33) and a blind man (Mark 8:23) with spit[33] . This forces the apologists to explain the need for something more than faith and the power of God to heal these ailments.

In this same train of thought, we might consider Matthew 17:11-21 (and Mark 9:17) where Jesus specifically tells his disciples that some demons (ailments) cannot be removed by faith alone (but only through prayer and fasting). Thus, although the Paulines would have us believe that Jesus healed by faith alone and that with sufficient faith all ailments may be cured (see Mat. 17:20), such contradicts Jesus’ own words[34] and reported actions (however, we might note that the disciples apparently relied upon “faith healing” alone). We will probably never know whether Jesus was a miracle-worker, Jesus was a master healer, or the stories of Jesus’ healings were pure legend or great exaggeration.  Perhaps it was some of each.

The Teachings of Jesus and the Teaching by Jesus:

It may seem unnecessary to discuss the teachings of Jesus since there are already several million authors who have discussed it. But then, 95% or more of them were actually dealing with the “teachings of Jesus” as interpreted by Paul and his church. We cannot hope to know the real Jesus until we decide what he believed and said. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what people said about him and it certainly doesn’t help for others to put words in his mouth that he didn’t speak. And why do we give so much attention to the interpretations others give about what he said? We should note that all of the “teachings” attributed to Jesus were, at best, actually “sayings” remembered and re-transmitted by his followers until somebody wrote them down decades later. Some of them were misunderstood and others were pure fabrication.

While less than perfect, I much prefer the approach chosen by “The Jesus Seminar” where the sayings of Jesus are given a ranking by scholars which indicates the likelihood that they were actually said by Jesus (or were a later fabrication) and recorded accurately. And then those sayings are analyzed in reference to the context of their time and to each other. Here is a list of the teachings considered most authentic to Jesus (top 25 – Jesus Seminar rating in parenthesis):

  1.  (92%) You have heard it said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”, but I tell you, if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn also to him the other. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you (Mat. 5:39[35]).
  2. (91%) Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20).
  3. (90%) If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles (Mat. 5:41).
  4. (84%) Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27).
  5. (83%) To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?, It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened (Luke 13:20–21; Mat. 13:33)
  6. (82%) Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's (Luke 20:25; Mat. 22:21;  Mark 12:17).
  7. (81%) Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back (Luke 6:30, Mat. 5:42)
  8. (81%) The Good Samaritan parable of Luke 10:30–35.
  9. (77-79%) The Blessings (“Beatitudes”) of Luke 6:21
  10. (77%) The Shrewd manager parable of Luke 16:1–8.
  11. (77%) The Vineyard laborer parable of Mat. 20:1–15.
  12. (77%) The Lord’s Prayer (Mat. 6:9; Luke 11:2).
  13. (74-76%) The Mustard Seed parable (Mark 4:30–32).
  14.  (75%) I tell you not to worry about everyday life--whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear (Luke 12:22–23; Mat. 6:25).
  15. (75%) The Lost Coin parable at Luke 15:8–9.
  16.  (74%) The “Foxes have dens” parable at Luke 9:58 and Mat. 8:20.
  17.  (74%) No prophet is accepted in his own hometown (Luke 4:24).
  18.  (72%) Friend at midnight (Luke 11:5–8).
  19.  (72%) No servant can serve two masters (Luke 16:13)
  20.  (71%) The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field (Mat. 13:44).
  21.  (70%) The Lost sheep parable of Luke 15:4–6; Mat. 18:12–13.
  22. (70%) Nothing outside a man can make him “unclean” by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him “unclean” Mark 7:14–15.
  23.  (70%) The feared judge parable at Luke 18:2–5.
  24.  (70%) The Prodigal son parable at Luke 15:11–32.
  25.  (70%) Let the dead bury their own dead (Mat. 8:22).

Frankly, I think these ratings are highly optimistic – at best, distant recollection of such sayings may capture their essence, but rarely gets the details right. While this analysis might give us an indication of the kinds of things Jesus was most likely to have said, we should not read them to say that we can be 92% certain that Jesus spoke these actual words (especially given the inherent translation issues).

We are confronted by two anomalies regarding Jesus’ actual teaching: we are told that he only taught in parables[36] or figurative discourse (Mark 4:33-35) and that Jesus intended his teaching to be difficult for most of his listeners. When asked why he taught using parables, Jesus told his disciples:

"To you have been given the mystery of the Kingdom of God; but to those on the outside everything is said in parables."

You have been given the opportunity to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, but not them. Whoever has this understanding will be given more and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have this understanding, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables, that, "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand" (see Isa 6:9) (Mark 4:11).

Thus, Jesus accepted the ancient tradition that the mystery[37] of the Kingdom of God is reserved for those who properly pursue understanding and are deserving according to God’s judgment. Jesus' contemporaries would have had a clear understanding of the phrase "Kingdom of God" as referring to the specific eschatological salvation foretold by the Prophets[38]. This was not only a (or the) “hot topic” of the time, it was part of the Messianic expectation that he would be a great teacher and that the esoteric secrets of God’s Kingdom and its coming would be revealed to him. (See Psalms 17:37,43 noting Isaiah 17:43 - "his words will be as the words of the holy ones, among the sanctified people"; the Similitudes of Enoch 46.2-8 and 1 Enoch 81-82; 93:2; 103:2; 104:10-12; 106:19). 

However, we also are offered sermons by Jesus that include clear didactic teachings, such as the “Beatitudes”, and stories he told that are both simplistic and direct:

A Judean going on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes and money, and beat him up and left him lying half dead beside the road. By chance a Jewish priest came along and when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Jewish Temple-assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but then went on. But then a (despised) Samaritan came along, and when he saw him, he felt deep pity. Kneeling beside him the Samaritan soothed his wounds with medicine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his donkey and walked along beside him till they came to an inn, where he nursed him through the night. The next day he handed the innkeeper a generous sum and told him to take care of the man. “If his bill runs higher than that,” he said, “I'll pay the difference the next time I am here.” Now which of these three would you say was a good neighbor to the bandits' victim?"

A man in the audience replied, "The one who showed him some pity." Then Jesus said, "Yes, now go and do the same." (Luke 10:25-37).

Since Mark had to be aware of teachings by Jesus that were not in parables, we must assume that his assertion that Jesus only taught in parables specifically referred to teachings about the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. This may be reflected in this saying of Jesus:

"Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces" (Matt 7:6)

 As an expression of Jesus' pedagogical philosophy, it indicates that Jesus adapted his teaching method according to its content and audience: he taught about the Kingdom of God (the “pearl” of holy knowledge) only to those who were spiritually worthy.

Finally, we should take a quick look at one other type of teaching offered by Jesus: legal instruction. There are three key beliefs about the law that Jesus accepted and taught:

"For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7; cf. Deut. 5:29). God had promised to put the law in their minds and write it on their hearts." (Jer. 31:33). Jesus believed in obedience from the heart.

Failure to obey the intent of the law matters just as much as failing to obey the law. Inward disobedience inevitably leads to outward disobedience. (See Mat. 5:21-26; 23:25-28).

The law can only be properly applied with love, tolerance, and justice (e.g. healing on the Sabbath as in Mark 3:1-6; Luke 13:10-17).

Jesus repeatedly demonstrated his expertise on the law in discussions or disputes with other “experts[39]”. Not only was he aware of the legal issues of the day, he knew their subtleties and background. His opinions were founded in scripture, but carried a definite pragmatism and flexibility. In a couple of cases he demonstrated the ability to see behind the superficial issue and directly addressed the more fundamental concern (“It’s not what goes in…”; “"The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath"). At least one of his legal teachings shows his logic: When asked if the law requires one to marry, he answered that some men are born eunuchs, some are celibate because they were castrated, and others have chosen to be celibate for the Kingdom of Heaven. He concludes from this that if one can be celibate then they should be (for Heaven’s sake) (Mat. 19:12)[40].

Jesus’ Theology:

Jesus had no intention of starting a new religion, made no claim of being the Messiah, and generally followed Orthodox Judaism as his theology. There are two key areas where his theology was unusual: his view regarding his relationship with God and his view on the coming Kingdom of God. We will focus on these.

Aside from Jesus’ use of a personal endearment (“Abba” = “Papa”) when addressing God (recorded in several passages in the gospels), it is hard to mistake the highly personal and intimate relationship that Jesus felt with God. His prayers were more than generic pleadings for divine intervention; Jesus spoke to God with the clear expectation that his prayer would be heard and considered. Jesus’ firm belief in God’s loving nature almost certainly stemmed from personal experience that we are not told about in the gospels. We are left to wonder if Jesus spoke of such with his chosen Apostles and brothers.

Since Jesus viewed God as his divine father, his view of God’s promise to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth was certainly not figurative or abstract: Jesus believed that God was going to act in a very real and direct manner SOON. More so, Jesus believed that he had some direct and significant role to play in bringing about the fulfillment of God’s promise. This belief led others to assume that Jesus thought he was the Messiah or that Jesus actually was the Messiah. (For a full discussion of Jesus’ messianic beliefs, see Appendix VI).

Thus, the key phrase in Jesus’ ministry and life was: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near (γγίζω[41])" (Mat. 4:17; cf. Mat. 3:1-2). This is much the same as the later exposition: "The time promised by God has come at last!" Jesus announced. "The Kingdom of God is near (γγίζω)! Repent and believe God’s good news (εαγγελίῳ)!" (Mark 1:15). Of course, this was exactly the same “mission statement” offered by John the Baptist (Mat. 3:2) and is the clearest link between their ministries. I propose that it is impossible to understand Jesus’ mission or theology without understanding the role of John. So let us take a short detour and summarize the connection between Jesus and John (developed more fully in Appendix XI).

Although he was less than a year older than Jesus, John (Jesus’ cousin) was more than a step ahead of Jesus. Despite the efforts of the NT authors to portray Jesus as the superior missionary (John 4:2 - and as the Messiah), it would seem that John’s followers thought that he was the Messiah.  Efforts to limit John’s stature and role (as the “voice in the wilderness”) whose function was to prepare the way and announce the arrival of the Messiah are countered by the clear superiority of John evident in several passages in the gospels:

  • John had a well established and popular mission which Jesus joined[42],
  • John baptized Jesus (Mark 1:4),
  • John taught Jesus the core theology that both espoused[43],
  • John sent a trusted follower (Andrew) to help Jesus with his mission, and
  • Jesus acknowledged John’s superiority[44].

If we accept these things as being true, then we should not doubt Jesus’ position – John was the greater and Jesus viewed his religious teaching as prophetic. John was preparing the Way for the coming of God’s Kingdom which he thought was “at hand”. There was no longer a need to look for “signs”, the time was now.

"The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the Kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is seeking his way into it.” (Luke 16:16).

How this fits into their Messianic beliefs is less clear and the few hints in the NT are purely Pauline. If we were to take them seriously, then the following passage is profound:

Not everyone who calls me “Lord” shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless they do the will of My Father. Many will claim to have prophesied, cast out demons, and done many wonders in God’s name, but I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Thus, Jesus was direct and certain – the path to Heaven is the one of righteousness (obeying God’s laws) and devotion (doing God’s work). Miracles, preaching, and rituals have nothing to do with honoring God. “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mat. 7:16) is equally clear: talking about doing God’s Will is only meaningful if it yields the fruit of righteousness. For Jesus, such righteousness was based upon loving goodwill offered to his fellow humans: acceptance, insight, healing, forgiveness, and being a role model.

 But then, we cannot explain Jesus’ decision to die based upon that theological view alone…

Choosing to Die:

It is difficult to think of Jesus choosing to die, especially if he had reason to believe that it would be from one of the most miserable of deaths – crucifixion. But we’ll be coming back to that matter after we affirm that it was Jesus’ choice to die.

There really aren’t very many possibilities given what we are told in the gospels – Jesus had some type of premonition that he was to be killed (and how)…

Jesus explained to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, that they would deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked, and scourged, and crucified, and the third day he would rise again[45] (according to prophecy). (Matthew 16:21;20:18-19; Luke 18:32; John 18:32).

Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, "I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me." "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. (John 13:21; Mat. 26:21).

If true, these passages tells us unequivocally that Jesus went to Jerusalem knowing he would be killed after being betrayed by one of his closest friends. He could have stayed away from Jerusalem or he could have left the region (and hid) once “Judas” left the last supper (although Jesus directed him to proceed with the plan[46] – John 13:27). But then something went amiss…

(With his followers at Gethsemane) - “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: wait here, and watch. And he went forward a little, fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me… And again he went away, and prayed, and spoke the same words. (Mark 14:32-40).

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?[47]            That is to say, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

The Christian “take” on this is that Jesus realized that he was about to take on the sins of all humanity (and being sinless) such was too much (temporarily) for his humanness to bear. Frankly, I see that as worse than mere conjecture or silly theology, but that’s not the point. Something profound had happened and it marked a turning point for Jesus and the whole of humanity. It is worthy of our deepest consideration out of historical merit alone.

Let us take a minute and review the circumstances alleged in the gospels. Jesus had been engaged in his ministry for a few years (at least three according to John) and it had become popular and successful. Officials would visit him every now and then and query him on his views, but found nothing they could accuse him of. Jesus was in Jerusalem frequently (teaching daily in the precincts), so the authorities would have known him and his views. Jesus believed that the Kingdom of God was “at hand” and that he had some special role to play in its coming. He held Davidic ancestry that may have given him some royal claim. But nothing was happening – there was no apparent Messiah, there were no compelling “signs” of the Coming, and people were being to wonder about Jesus’ claim that the Coming was coming any minute. Perhaps Jesus was also beginning to have second thoughts.

Jesus believed. His faith was greater than that of a mustard seed. His devotion to God was superhuman. His righteousness was as perfect as he could make it. Messiah or not, Jesus believed that he could induce God’s coming through his actions (and perhaps creating a “critical mass” of righteousness among others).  And yet, God hadn’t come. So, as we would say, Jesus took it to the next level: he initiated a plan (based upon prophecy) that might prompt God’s action. The clearest evidence of this plan was his riding into Jerusalem on the “colt/donkey” (Mark 11:1-11; Mat. 21:1-10). The story raises a number of questions; the most compelling of which is a need to explain why Jesus wasn’t promptly arrested by the Romans – especially with the crowd shouting “Praise God for the Son of David [the KING]!" (Mat. 21:9).

Whereas the gospel writers would have us think that Jesus could avoid an accusation of treason by being careful to avoid actually saying such himself (as Jesus supposedly did during his trial), the Romans and their Herodian puppets had no such qualms – anyone who was a potential royal claimant or who was identified as such was in trouble and was generally killed (see Appendices VIII and IX). So the reasonable answers here are few:

                The stories are only legends,

                Jesus’ troupe and following was so small that it was deemed insignificant, or

                Jesus had sufficient “connections” and enough influence to get away with this.

I would suppose that all three answers apply. We can be certain that the NT authors were willing to exaggerate and fabricate in order to make a point. Since this would be among several stories created merely to ensure that an expected prophecy was fulfilled (see Appendix VI), we could conclude that the whole story is legendary. But I think not; the general idea seems consistent with a coherent plan which included the disturbance regarding the money changers. The Romans probably wouldn’t have understood the significance of riding in on a donkey or the Hebrew chants. To them, it probably seemed like another odd, but harmless, Jewish religious event.

 As explained in detail within Appendix IX, the family of Jesus was far from the image offered in the NT. This scene itself is yet another indication of such – the crowd is acknowledging their belief that Jesus is the legitimate claimant to the throne of David. (Note that they’re not calling him the Messiah – the claim the NT authors would have preferred). Even if this was a staged event and the crowd was prompted, it wouldn’t make sense to create this amount of risk unless there was a factual basis behind it. As one of many possible Davidic heirs, Jesus was Jewish royalty and could not be treated like an ordinary Jew. Besides, his brother James was a prominent priest and his cousin John was considered a Prophet by many. Suggestions of powerful connections appear throughout the NT: Joseph of Arimathea, Lazarus, Nicodemus, and Chouza, for example. Jesus “got away” with something few others could have – at least for a while.

Although the synoptic gospels differ on this[48], Matthew tells us that the people of Jerusalem wondered who it was creating the stir and they were answered “This is the prophet Jesus”. Jesus then proceeded to the Temple area where he drove out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice and knocked over the tables of the money changers along with the chairs of those selling doves (Mat. 21:12). If the Romans had ignored his presence before, they certainly wouldn’t have ignored this kind of disruption. And yet, according to the accounts, Jesus wasn’t arrested by either the Romans or the Temple police. (And we can be sure that the money changing area was well guarded – see Appendix XIII).

It is here where we have to choose: either the rest of the story makes no sense and was created as a transitional legend to enable Christianity or something else happened. In order to accept the gospel accounts, we have to explain the following:

  • The delay in arresting Jesus (based upon betrayal instead of openly illegal actions),
  • The manner and contradictions in the arrest stories,
  • The ridiculous and contradictory trial sequences,
  • The confusion within the gospel accounts regarding timing and sequence of the trial,
  • The numerous legal errors, procedural issues, and improbabilities of the trial events,
  • The abject weirdness of the crucifixion tale,
  • The most unusual nature of the crucifixion,
  • The release of Jesus’ body to Joseph and Nicodemus,
  • The empty tomb story and contradictory tales,
  • The different resurrection accounts,
  • The resurrection motif generally, including the miraculous element,
  • The collection of unanswered questions that reasonable people should ask.

While the Christian apologists have been offering explanations for 2,000 years, their answers still divide us into those willing to believe based upon faith and those who give reasoning a higher priority. With apologies to the apologists, their explanations are generally irrational and I chose to believe that the legends in this regard are simply erroneous. A more reasonable, historically supportable, and consistent story would follow along these lines…

Jesus grew impatient with the coming of God’s Kingdom and decided that he needed to do something more to prepare the way. Despite the great personal risk for him, Jesus and his closest followers developed a “secret plan” that involved three key elements: tricking the authorities into revealing their corruption, triggering the messianic fever that was pent up, and divine intervention. All three parts of the plan failed and succeeded: the expected outcomes didn’t happen, but all parts succeeded in unexpected ways.

First, the authorities acted with more caution and reserve than expected. Instead of provoking a possible riot or uprising, they waited to arrest Jesus when and where it wouldn’t create much of a stir. They didn’t need Judas to “betray” Jesus, they knew where to find him. I suspect that the Judas story was created because he was the “Apostle” who did most of the planning and was the one who played the most positive roles (instead of Peter (who denied Jesus three times) or the Boanerges boys (James and John)). Given the contradictory stories of his death, he may have died (heroically) in the cause. Eventually, the Jewish authorities circumvented the law in order to hand Jesus over to the Romans, merely proving again that they were corrupt but adept.

The arrest and attempted execution of Jesus didn’t trigger the messianic revolt that was expected. The authorities acted with characteristic violence and intimidation to thwart the plan – most of Jesus’ followers fled in fear (or possibly as instructed – note Mat. 28:7-10; Mark 14:28). However, subsequent events would lead to a messianic inspired disaster as the zealots used the people’s “fever” to fuel the Jewish revolt (with several followers and relations of Jesus playing key roles). The revolt set the stage for the later Pauline anti-Judaic success.

God works in ways we can’t grasp (note Isaiah 55:8-9) and so it is unwise to impute our motives onto God or to presume that God’s methods should make sense to us. If there is such a thing as divine intervention, then we should never expect it or claim it. That seemed to be the most fundamental mistake made by Jesus and his followers – perhaps even thinking they could provoke God’s intervention, first by righteousness and then by prophetic manipulation. If God intervened anywhere in this story, it is not apparent. Besides, if we give credit to God, we must also give blame. As an alternative, we might analyze “luck” and its role in this story – although I find this unavailing. I have enough difficulty trying to make sense of the story without trying to analyze where God (or luck) was involved.

Anyway, we now come to the crux of the whole matter – the legendary death of Jesus.

The Execution of Jesus:

While we may have to discount much of the legend, we can be fairly certain that at some point, Jesus was arrested. After that, we have to wonder about the sources used by the gospel writers – it’s not as if the alleged proceedings would have been public. Who would have witnessed the details described? Who recorded the words spoken by Jesus, Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas? Who doesn’t question the absurd and virtually impossible series of events depicted in the gospels where a Jewish “court” (certainly not the “whole Sanhedrin” as stated in Mark 14:55) convenes on the night of first day of the feast of unleavened bread (“Pesach”/Passover) – one of the most significant Jewish holy days (Mat. 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7; cf. John 13:1 where it is the day before).

At the palace of Caiaphas[49] (Annas in John) where some scribes and elders are gathered, an inquiry is held where men who are blatantly violating sacred Jewish law[50] are supposed to offer Jesus a “trial[51]” on the charge of blasphemy. Of course, Jesus is so guilty that Caiaphas has to rip his garment open and everyone agrees that Jesus has committed the greatest sin: “Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him.” Lev. 24:16.

According to the Christian apologists, even Jews who clearly cared little about the law wouldn’t dare execute someone without Roman permission. But they ignore their own scripture:

And when [the Council] had driven him out of the city, they began stoning [Stephen], and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul [later, Paul]. And they went on stoning Stephen … And Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. (Acts 7:58-8:1).

Stephen was the first of the “Christian martyrs” and was killed shortly after the death of Jesus. Clearly, the Sanhedrin had the power to execute certain offenders[52]. Ultimately, there’s no reason to believe that the Jews had anything to do with Jesus’ execution – unless they simply turned him over to the Romans after arresting him in the Temple for rebellious actions. Clearly, no Christian scholar would assert that the Jewish authority actually crucified Jesus.

We can readily imagine a circumstance where Jesus got arrested during a festival in Jerusalem (possibly for sedition) and Pilate held off his execution until the day after. But, in truth, there’s little reason to accept the timeline suggested in the gospel accounts. The Paulines wanted a “sacrificial lamb” and it was easy to create the gospel scenario around Passover events. It’s what happened during and after the execution that matters.

I find it quite unfortunate that we spend so much of our time focused upon the death and after-death of Jesus and so little on his life. (We have the Catholic Church to thank for that). Conversely, I have to acknowledge that it is only because of the extraordinary events surround the execution of Jesus that we know him as more than an obscure Jewish Rabbi. While riddled with doubtful theological insertions, the story has three apparent “facts”:

                Jesus was crucified,

                His tomb was empty, and

                More than a few people believed they saw him alive afterwards.

If we accept these as facts, then there is a clear bifurcation in where we go next: if we believe in miracles or divine intervention, then we should be true “Christians” and give their theology the benefit of the doubt; or, if we reject supernatural resurrection then we must accept that Jesus did not die on the cross. I propose the later.

It is not a new idea: people have doubted the supernatural explanation since it was first offered. Indeed, it is apparent that some of the details in the NT were invented simply to address the critics and doubters (as below). Two possibilities stand out: Jesus survived his crucifixion or someone else was substituted for Jesus.

 In the jargon of this field, the first possibility is known as the “swoon theory” or the "Apparent Death Theory". It’s not new to me or this era. Of course, with the power of the Catholic Church in the west through the last 2,000 years, it has been risky for people to propose this idea. And yet, some 1,400 years ago, Islam shared this tradition:

“…yet they did not slay him [Jesus], neither crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them.” (Qur'an 4:155)[53].

Moslems rationally reject the idea that a loving God would allow His only son to be hung on a cross – a most painful and disgraceful death[54]. Yet, they do not believe or suggest that a figurative Jesus was not crucified; instead the “person” on the cross was some type of illusion or doppelgänger.

Christians counter with arguments suggesting that survival on the cross was virtually impossible[55]. They are certainly correct in cases where a full crucifixion took place, but most of the medical evidence[56] they offer simply doesn’t fit the circumstances: Jesus was only hung from the cross for a few hours and his legs were never broken (the normal means of expediting death since the victim who was unable to support their weight soon suffocated). Besides, there is clear reason to doubt much of the crucifixion tale since the sources are divergent.

First of all, the crucifixion aspects common to all four gospels are few: Jesus was brought to the "Place of a Skull" (Golgotha/”Calvary”) under the charge of claiming to be "King of the Jews" and was there crucified with two others (“robbers” in most, common criminals in Luke). Three gospels (the synoptic) describe Simon of Cyrene bearing the cross, darkness from the 6th to the 9th hour (noon to 3 PM), and the temple veil being rent from top to bottom. The synoptic gospels also mention several witnesses, including a centurion and “several women” who watched from a distance (two of whom were present during the burial).

Luke omits the story about a drink that was offered to Jesus on a reed (a sour wine mix) but adds that on the way to Calvary Jesus spoke to a number of women within the group of mourners following him, (addressing them as "Daughters of Jerusalem"). Only Mark and John describe Joseph actually taking the body down off the cross. Only Matthew mentions an earthquake, resurrected saints who went to the city, and that Roman soldiers were assigned to guard the tomb. Only Mark gives us the actual time of the Crucifixion (the third hour, or 9 am), the presence of Roman soldiers, and the centurion's report of Jesus' death.

Luke’s unique contributions to the narrative include Jesus' words to the women who were mourning, one criminal's rebuke of the other, the reaction of the multitudes who left "beating their breasts", and the women preparing spices and ointments before resting on the Sabbath.  John is the only gospel which mentions the request that Jesus’ legs be broken ("crucifragium”) and the soldier’s subsequent piercing of Jesus' side (as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy).

Luke has one of the criminals defending Jesus, who in turn promises that he and Jesus will be together in paradise. In Mark, Jesus calls out to God, then gives a shout and dies. Luke doesn’t mention that Jesus' mother was present during Crucifixion whereas John places her at the Crucifixion and states that while on the Cross Jesus saw both her and the disciple standing near her whom he loved. John records that Jesus said to his mother, "Woman, behold your son".

John also places other women (three Marys) at the Cross. He lists those present as Mary, Jesus’ mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Matthew and Mark mention the women with Mark offering the name Salome (presumed by some to be Mary’s sister, others as Jesus’ sister).

The gospels contradict each other about who carried the cross to the place of execution (the synoptics all have Simon, John has Jesus carrying his own cross) and about what the sign on the cross above Jesus' head said: Mark says: "THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Latin),  Matthew has: "THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Latin),  Luke: "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Latin), and John:  "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS" (in Aramaic, Latin and Greek). The gospels disagree about what the “robbers” said to Jesus: Mark and Matthew have them both insulting Jesus, Luke has one hurling insults while the other claims that Jesus' execution was unjust because he was not guilty of any crime, and John recorded nothing said by them.

There were seven statements reportedly uttered by Jesus while he was on the cross:

  • "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34 – omitted in many early versions).
  • "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43).
  • "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" (Luke 23:46).
  • "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" (Mt. 27:46; slightly different in Mark 15:34).
  • "Woman, behold, your son!"  (John 19:25-27)[57].
  • "I thirst." (John 19:28).
  • "It is finished." (John 19:30).

Finally, there are striking differences in what were reported to be Jesus' last words.  Mark and Matthew say that Jesus "cried out", but don’t say if any words were spoken. Luke gives us "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" and John merely quotes Jesus as saying "It is finished." 

These differences and discrepancies alone should raise serious doubts about the authenticity of the stories. And, since none of the writers tell us how these events were recorded[58], we have to think they were largely fabrications. Besides, there are other problems with the accounts. For example, Luke (a physician) suggests and John specifically states that nails were driven through Jesus' hands[59] during the crucifixion (Luke 24:39; John 20:27), but we know that the weight of the victim's body would tear through the hand, so when the Romans used nails[60] they passed them through the wrist (between the two bones of the forearm).

The very purpose of crucifixion was to execute the criminal by the most painful and prolonged means. The victim was generally hung naked to maximize the indignity and was rarely allowed any normal type of burial[61]. The best historical evidence indicates that, on average, it took three days for victims of crucifixion to die[62]. Pontius Pilate (who we might classify as an “expert”) was very surprised when he heard that Jesus was already dead (Mark 15:44). It requires little imagination to see that the gospel writers added numerous elements to the crucifixion story merely to address problems with the early accounts.

Because we can’t even be certain how Jesus was crucified it is problematic to argue medical details. Nevertheless, the Christian apologists have flooded us with their “medical evidence” and arguments that Jesus must have died on the cross[63]. I have yet to find one that isn’t based upon invalid information or the avoidance of information. For example, most argue that Jesus had to die because of dislocated shoulders and the inability to support their weight causing asphyxiation. Then they turn around a say that the reason why the victim’s legs had to be broken was to expedite death by asphyxiation, but Jesus’ legs weren’t broken. Christian doctors, wishing to offer expert medical “testimony” to this debate often ignore their own statements: “Crucifixion was never intended to kill anybody. It was only intended to make a human being suffer as much as could be inflicted upon him before killing him by breaking his legs… Crucifracture is what they would do when they simply grew tired of watching this agony and suffering or when they had something better to do and wanted to end a crucifixion.” (“The Cruxification” by Dr. Keith Maxwell[64]). Almost all ignore another key fact: “A typical cross granted the victim a partial seat, called the sedile”[65] (or “sedulum”).  Less common was the addition of the “cornu” (“horn”) which had a function we need not detail. (See “The Bible as History” by Werner Keller, Barnes & Noble Publishing (1995), p348 and “Dialogue ‘To Marcia on Consolation’”, in Moral Essays, Seneca, 6.20.3, trans. John W. Basore, The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1946) 2:69).

Because the issue is so sensitive to Christians and so vehemently defended, I will take a minute and address their major contentions:

•Jesus’ early death is logical considering he underwent brutal beatings, a flogging (many people did not even survive this), crucifixion, and being stabbed in the side with a spear, and this after being up all night and suffering from severe dehydration.

Logical is far from factual. It was common for Romans to inflict the suffering described, but such also indicates the strong desire to torture and prolong the agony. As many Christian authors claim, the Romans were experts as crucifixion and to kill the victim too soon was contrary to that expertise.

•Roman soldiers faced a possible death sentence for prisoner escape; giving them adequate incentive to make certain Jesus was dead.

Perhaps, but “escaping” by premature death negated the fundamental purpose of this form of execution.  All three men being crucified that day probably endured similar treatment and the other two were obviously alive at the time it was determined that Jesus was dead.

•Crucifixion was a common practice in the Roman Empire and the soldiers would know when an individual had died.

This assumes that they cared, weren’t bribed, and hadn’t been instructed otherwise. Modern doctors are occasionally fooled into believing someone has died when they haven’t. There was even a Jewish tradition in which a deceased's body was set in a tomb before sundown on the day of their death and visited a few days later to make certain that the body had truly died. Mistakes were made.

•The legs of a crucified victim were often broken to speed up death, yet Jesus’ legs were intentionally not broken since everyone was convinced he was already dead.

Christians are fond of noting that the religious leaders were anxious to make sure that messianic prophecies were not available to Jesus’ followers (thus the guards at the tomb). Wouldn’t these leaders would have been aware of the “no broken bones” prophecies of Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, and Psalm 34:20? Nevertheless, John tells us that “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken’," (John 19:31-37). If the soldiers were convinced he was dead, there was no reason to pierce Jesus’ side.

•Following the resurrection, no one suggested that Jesus survived but rather that his body was stolen. It seemed everyone had concluded for certain he had died.

True. But if Jesus was revived and the truth had been told, the Romans (assisted by their traitorous Jews) would have hunted him down and we probably wouldn’t know the name Jesus.

•Jesus made several appearances shortly following his resurrection where he walked long distances, conversed, and ate food while giving no signs of serious injury.

We’ll have to deal with the resurrection appearances elsewhere, but we should note how weird and inconsistent they are (as in not realizing it was Jesus until later).

•Jesus’ disciples would not likely die as martyrs if they knew Jesus did not prove his divinity by rising from death.

Thousands of Jews died shortly after Jesus’ death as “martyrs” who didn’t even know him or about him. Many through the ages have died because of belief in other divine personages – but they were obviously wrong?

•The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had been seeking Jesus’ death for some time and would have ensured that he was actually dead.

They apparently did their best. But we might also give credit to Jesus’ followers for they were unquestionably (at least for Christians) filled with the Holy Spirit, capable of miracles, adept at healing, and capable of out-smarting the authorities (see the Acts of the Apostles in general).

•Jesus spent three days in a cold tomb receiving no medical attention.

Well, actually, the NT doesn’t say that. What it says is that Jesus wasn’t in “his” tomb three days after at least two remarkable and powerful men placed him (or someone) there. We have no record of what happened between the cross and the tomb, in the tomb, or for the time until someone (conflicting reports) went to the tomb on (or after) the “third day” (as little as 33 hours by some accounts).

Thus, while it is possible that Jesus did die on the cross, it is also possible – or more likely – that he didn’t.  For those who believe, it’s a matter of “faith”; for the rest of us, it’s a matter of probability, common sense, and discerning the facts. We believe that people who are seen alive after appearing dead were actually not dead. And, I will note again the interesting paradox in Christian logic: the Apostles and followers of Jesus are credited with supernatural healing powers. At the very least, they were among the most accomplished healers of their time. Wouldn’t this alone make Jesus’ recovery possible?

Life After Death: Jesus the Savior?

Figuring out what happened after Jesus’ crucifixion is even more problematic than figuring out what happened during his trial and execution. What is clear is that many people claimed to see a living Jesus afterwards. It is hard to discount so many witnesses.  The oddity for me lies in idea that Christian faith in the resurrection is based not on the testimony of these witnesses – but upon the belief that Jesus died in his unusual execution and was reincarnated by God (and that the purpose of such was to relieve us of God’s judgmental burden for our sins). Given a choice between the possibility of someone surviving crucifixion (well established as a real possibility) and someone being reincarnated by God (no reality beyond “faith”), unbiased rational people must choose the former.

If Jesus was not the Messiah or the Son of God, then we might wonder why he is worth so much attention. I propose three answers:

  1. Jesus’ teachings, when placed in their proper prospective, offer a compilation of ideas that can reform the world’s greatest religion into something much more powerful and moral. Viewing God as the ultimate Loving Being has powerful transformative power.
  2. Jesus’ life serves as a powerful model of piety, devotion, righteousness, and love. His mission of helping people turn to a loving God through love of God by being more loving has powerful social and evolutionary power.
  3. Jesus’ death serves as a powerful reminder that commitment to moral purpose and dedication to a worthwhile idea can inspire others (even when it turns out that one’s plan is less than perfect). Jesus so believed in God’s loving nature that he created the expectation of divine intervention and he was willing to die in order to facilitate it. That should touch us at a very deep level and empower us to live better lives.

Whereas there have been others with wise teachings, a few who were inspirational models of righteousness, and many who have died for some moral purpose, who else brought these qualities together in such dramatic and compelling ways. I know of none and I pray that my story is worthy of him.

Therefore whosoever hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man. And every one that hears these sayings of mine and does them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man.  (Mat. 7:21-27).


[1] Which, of course, doesn’t inherently mean that it’s incorrect.

[2] Josephus was a first century Jewish historian who wrote for the Romans. Christians made later insertions into his writings so that Jesus is mentioned in an awkward, meaningless, and clearly inappropriate way. But his works are widely cited as confirming the reality of Jesus and are the best known sources of Jewish history.

[3] Yes, “hate” is a strong word and were it not for the proof of the result, it would be too strong a word.

[4] OK, the “Holy Bible” combines the Old and New Testaments, but is that because Christians want to honor the God and the teachings of the Old Testament or because it was necessary to give credence and respect to their upstart religion? For many Christians, the primary significance of the OT is their belief that its prophecies support Jesus as being “the Christ” (see Appendices V and VI).

[5] See John 14:16-17; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15; 20:22; Luke 24:48-49; Acts 1:1-5,8.

[6] I have never understood this mechanism – those who feel like they can win a debate by making things up. It only works with those who don’t care about the facts (or truth) in the first place, so why not just stick to the myth?

[7] Originating in Deuteronomy 23: 2 and expanded in both tradition and other writings (e.g. Yebamoth 8:3; and the Mishnah).

[8] “Whoever his natural father was, Joseph, another man to whom Mary was not married while Joseph was her husband (a soldier or not, a Gentile or not), or the power of the most high (if some procreative event really is implied in Luke 1:35), Jesus was a mamzer within the terms of reference established by the Mishnah in its discussion of traditional definitions (Ketubot 1:9 above all).” “The Mamzer Jesus and His Birth” by Bruce Chilton at Bard College (2005) - http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/Chilton_Mamzer_Jesus_Birth.shtml. See also, “Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography” by Bruce Chilton, Doubleday (2002) – countered here: http://www.ibr-bbr.org/IBRBulletin/BBR_2004/BBR_2004b_06_Quarles_ChiltonsMamzer.pdf.

[9] The translation of the Hebrew word “Mašíaḥ” as the Greek “Χριστός” (Khristós) became the accepted Christian designation and title of Jesus.

[10] In Matthew 2:1, the “three wise men” come to “The King of the Jews” and at Mark 15:2, Pilate asks Jesus "Are you the King of the Jews?" and Jesus answers him "It is as you say."

[11] As in the Josephus insertions; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus.

[12] There would have been thousands of Jews in Palestine with Davidic “blood” during the time of Jesus, but few would have been close enough to any line of descendancy to make their ancestry meaningful. Appendix VIII is dedicated to this complex subject.

[13] Christians generally ignore the paradox created by their conflicting claims: Jesus could not be fathered by anyone other than a Davidic heir and have any legitimate claim to the Davidic throne. Those who propose that his claim came from his mother’s line ignore the clear wording of the New Testament, well established Jewish law and custom (Appendix V), and common sense. Besides, the parentage claims of the gospels would clearly make Jesus mamzerim (as above) and such would disqualify him as king of the Jews.

[14] Matthew 21:1-9; Mark 11:4,7; Luke 19:29-38; John 12:12-16.

[15] According to all four Gospels, Pilate specifically challenged Jesus to deny that he was the "King of the Jews" and Jesus wouldn’t deny the accusation even though the denial would have saved him. According to John, the High Priest asked Pilate to change the inscription, but Pilate refused. (John 19:19-22).

[16] When Jesus was arrested late at night in Gethsemane, he wondered why his captors came there to arrest him when he had been teaching daily in the Temple courtyards (Matt. 26:55; Mark 14:48-49; Luke 22:52-53; cf. John 18:20).

[17] And we should note that in Christian terms, Jesus was touched by the Holy Spirit and should have had the “gift of tongues” (which originally meant that he was fluent in untaught languages).

[18] The oft noted exception is: “Jesus stooped down and with his finger wrote on the ground as though he didn’t hear them.” (John 8:6). Some think that Jesus was merely “doodling” although the original Greek clearly identifies it as writing. 

[19] If something was important enough to be written down (such as a legal document) one wanted a professional involved to ensure that it was done properly (common even today when such documents are written in English instead of Latin or some other “official language”). Writing has less value when only 1% of the people are able to read and where professionals use language as a way to set themselves apart (as some lawyers and priests still do).

[20] See Appendix XIX.

[21] Hillel taught "love peace, seek peace, love mankind and thus lead them to the law." See Appendix XIX.

[22] See Appendix V.

[23] For example, Jesus’ position on divorce (Mat. 5:31) was less lenient than Hillel’s.

[24] See Appendix XVI.

[25] See Appendix XI.

[26] See Appendix XVI. Jesus was not a Qumranian and the Qumranians were not the Essenes. That there is an overlap in ideas, practices, and beliefs means little when viewed with their differences.

[27] The well-known healers who had their major community in Alexandria Egypt (across Lake Mareotis). See Appendix XVI.

[28] In Hebrew, the word “mikveh” literally means "a collection or gathering together" and when used in the immersion context it refers to a gathering (or pool) of water. See I Kings 7:23ff and 2 Chronicles 4:2. For more information, I suggest http://www.haydid.org/ronimmer.htm.

[29] "…uncleanness is not mud or filth which water can remove, but it is a matter of scriptural decree and dependent on the intention of the heart." (Maimonides, a 12th century Jewish scholar in Yad, mikva'ot 11:12).

[30] One of the disputes between Hillel and Shammai was the need for mikveh in the conversion; the Hillelites held it to be essential because it signified the required spiritual cleansing and the beginning of a new life. See Ex. 20: 10; 23:12; 12:19, 48; Deut. 5:14; 16; 11, 14, etc..

[31] In “The Alexandria Letter”, Dr. George R. Honig considers the possibility that Jesus was a brilliant medicinal healer far ahead of his time.

[32] I find the side statement that some of the crowd though the beggar was a fraud to be very interesting. (John 9:9).

[33] In ancient times, spittle was regarded as having special power - not only as a remedy for diseases but generally as a charm. (Persius,"Sat.," ii., 32, 33; Tacitus, "History," iv., 81; Pliny, "Natural History," xxviii., 7). The Misnic doctors speak  of "clay that is spitted", or "spittle clay". Misnah Mikvaot, c. 7. sect. 1.(d).

[34] It is telling that the contradictory verse was omitted from the Vatican manuscripts and was removed from the Coptic, Ethiopic, and Syriac manuscripts while these same documents acknowledge it in its parallel place at Mark 9:29. Origen, Chrysostom, and other primitive Christians acknowledged its presence. Thus, we know that it was intentionally removed.

[35] Within the Seminar’s rankings, comparative verses in other works are also rated. If the rankings are equal, I list both; otherwise I list only the most reliable. Luke’s sayings tend to receive slightly higher rankings with these folks.

[36] The term "parable" (παραβολας or “parabolê”), as used by Mark and most Christians, has a double meaning: it denotes both a type of discourse and teaching that is obscure. See “The Hidden Kingdom”, Aloysius M. Ambrozic, CBQMS 2 (1972), pps.46-106 and http://www.abu.nb.ca/courses/NTIntro/LifeJ/TeacherMethod.htm.

[37] As used here, the mysteries (mustêrion) and what is said in parables (parabolais) seem to be the same. Jesus offers the disciples his secret knowledge about the "mystery of the Kingdom of God," but to others (ekeinoi hoi exo) this secret knowledge is hidden or obscured so that only the deserving receive it.

[38] In the Book of Daniel, the Hebrew term “raz” specifically refers to God's eschatological purposes (Dan. 2:18, 19, 27-28, 30, 47).

[39] Jesus’ view of other legal experts is confusing because Matthew unambiguously states that Jesus was saying stay away from the teachings of the Pharisees (labeling them as hypocrites), yet he reports Jesus as saying “do what the Pharisees say because of their authority.”  "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not follow after their works: for they say, and do not." (Mat. 16:12;23:1-3). We should also note the bias of the gospel authors against the mislabeled “Pharisees”.

[40] Although the Jesus Seminar gives this a 70% rating, I would guess that it was a later assertion answering the issue of Jesus’ not being married (which was considered a religious duty by his peers).

[41] The word used here is “γγίζω” (“eggizó”: perfect tense indicative mood) which expresses extreme closeness, immediate imminence – even a presence. It would normally mean “I bring near” or “to make near”.

[42] “Jesus as a Figure in History: How modern historians view the man from Galilee”, Mark Allan Powell, Westminster John Knox Press (1998), page 47.

[43] Including the “mission statement” as above, Mark 1:15; Mat. 3:2.

[44]John the Baptist is indeed a prophet, and more than a prophet…I tell you all that no greater man was ever born into this world than John the Baptist." (Mat. 11:9-11).

[45] Note that there is a contradiction with John 20:9, which states that the disciples “knew not...that he must rise again from the dead.” There is also a contradiction regarding how long he would be dead: Some verses say “after three days” while others say “on the third day.” (Mat. 12:40; Mark 10:34; Luke 18:33).

[46] “Plan” may strike some as the wrong word, but since the Christian concept has the death of Jesus as a necessary fulfillment of prophecy (to which Jesus was a willing participant), it was not only the Plan of Jesus and Judas, it was presumptively God’s plan.

[47] This is a transliteration (Aramaic sounds into Greek) of Jesus words and one of the several times where Jesus speaks using Aramaic in the gospels. It is suggested that Jesus was quoting the Book of Psalms: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?  Why are You so far from helping me and from the words of My groaning?  (Psalm 22:1-2 where the writers’ piety, or confidence in God was being ridiculed). But the Hebrew source for “forsaken” was “עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי” which would sound more like “azavtani” than “sabachthani” (our transliteration of Greek into English) – which could also be translated as fail, fortify, or refuse (per Strong’s). Some early Bibles (e.g. the Vulgate, Septuagint, Syriac, Ethiopic, and Arabic) use terms (“שגגתי” or “shegagathi”), which would better translate as: "My sins are the reason why deliverance is so far from me." See Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible.

[48] Mark has him spend the night in Bethany before returning to Jerusalem to confront the money changers. John adds the “whip” detail and quotes Jesus: “How dare you turn my Father's house into a marketplace!" (John 2:16 – with a different timing than the synoptic gospels).

[49] Matthew and Mark state that Jesus was tried the same night he was arrested. (Mat. 26:57, Mark 14:53). Luke states that Jesus was tried the next morning (Luke 22:66).

[50] Jewish courts were strictly forbidden to meet at night (Ex 18:24) or during a festival (Num 28:18).  

[51] Mosaic law required that witnesses appear on behalf of the accused, no single judge preside at any legal proceeding, no capital case be tried in a single day or on the day before the Sabbath, and no sentence be pronounced before the morning sacrifice. Jewish law prohibited the initiating of a charge without a plurality of corroborating witnesses, the admission of conflicting testimony, false witnesses, and interviewing of witnesses in another witness’ presence.

[52] Philo recorded a letter written to Agrippa I indicating that the death penalty was allowed without Roman approval to anyone who entered the Holy of Holies without authority (De Legatione ad Gaium, 39). Similarly, capital punishment was allowed the Jews for any Gentile (even Roman citizens) who entered the inner Court of the Temple. (Jos. BJ, v. 5:2). The Talmud records executions (an adulteress burnt at the stake and a heretic stoned) during the period. (T. J.  Sanhedrin 24, 25).

[53] The Arabic text that reads:  "wa ma  qatala hu wa ma salabu hu wa lakin shubbiha lahum" which is better translated as "but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but the resemblance of  'Isa (Jesus) was put over another man (and they killed that man)". The variations appear in the translation/interpretation of the end portion of the verse which reads: "wa lakin shubbiha lahum".  “Shubbiha” means to be made like; a likeness or similitude. This could refer to a likeness or similitude (of Jesus) or even a likeness or similitude of killing & crucifixion.

[54] It was the "extreme and ultimate punishment of slaves" (Cicero's “servitutis extremum summumque supplicium”, Against Verres 2.5.169), the "cruelest and most disgusting penalty." (crudelissimum taeterrimumque supplicium, ibid. 2.5. 165.), and "the most pitiable of deaths" (Josephus ,Jewish War 7:203). It was also a disgrace (Deut. 21:23).

[55] For a good summary, go to http://carm.org/swoon-theory.

[56] Frankly, it is difficult to accept a Christian argument based upon medical evidence, since medical evidence would counter their belief in the miraculous healings. Besides, if the disciples of Jesus were given healing powers (as alleged in the NT), then we can only accept that they would have healed Jesus once he was removed from the cross.

[57] The “beloved disciple” of the gospel of John is the subject of considerable debate. I doubt if it was John. Since this person took Mary into his home, it is unimaginable that it wasn’t one of Jesus’ brothers.

[58] Only John gives a possibility – the disciple whom Jesus loved. But that doesn’t explain the different versions or why he’s not mentioned in the other accounts. Note the “eye witness” assertion at John 19:35 and then note that the word “ράω” used there often has a metaphorical meaning: "to see with the mind" or to see spiritually (Strong’s).

[59] Both John and Luke tells us that when Jesus appeared to Thomas after the crucifixion, he told him, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." The Greek word for hand (χερας) used by both gospel writers is specific (wrist would be “καρπός”, genitive καρπο).

[60] Because iron was so valuable, the Romans generally didn’t use nails - they tied the victim's arms to the crosspiece. I note the exceptions of Yohan Ben Ha'galgol and Jehohanan.

[61] See “Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross”, Martin Hengel, Fortress, 1977.

[62] Typically, death came from exposure, dehydration, and damage caused by scavenger animals. (Ouch!) One source speaks of historical records showing that one person lived for nine days on the cross. (See Tsamis, below). Josephus tells us of a friend who survived crucifixion (The Life of Flavius Josephus, 75).

[63] For one of the better ones, see “The Crucifxion of Jesus - An Historical, Procedural, and Pathological Approach” by William J. Tsamis, M.A. available at http://fidei-defensor.blogspot.com/2006/08/crucifxion-of-jesus-historical.html.

[65] “The Crucifixion of Christ” at http://www.themoorings.org/apologetics/crucifixion/cruc.html. Justin Martyr spoke of a protrusion on the cross at its center, which carried the weight of the crucified. (Dialogue 91:2.) On this rough "seat," Irenaeus says, "the person rests who is fixed by the nails." (Against Heresies 2.23.4). Tertullian called this feature a "projecting seat." (Ad Nationes 1:12).

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