~ An Amazing Life ~ 

A book by Rich Van Winkle

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An Amazing Life: Jesus and the Nozerim

Introduction

Ask most “Christians what they know about Jesus and you’ll get a litany that includes:

·         He was born in a manger in Bethlehem to Mary, who was married to Joseph (although Jesus wasn’t his child).

·         They went to Egypt to escape Herod’s massacre of the innocents.

·         They moved to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, where Joseph taught Jesus to be a Carpenter.

·         Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and began an itinerant ministry.

·         He gathered a group of twelve followers that were called Apostles.               

·         He performed a variety of miracles, including raising Lazarus from the dead.

·         He overturned the vendor carts in the Temple.

·         He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was proclaimed the King of the Jews.

·         They had a “last supper” where he revealed that one of his followers (Judas) would betray him.

·         He was captured by the Romans outside of Jerusalem, tried by both the Jews and the Romans, and was then crucified.

·         He was put in a tomb, but when his friend Mary came to attend to his body, the door was open and the tomb was empty.

·         Jesus appeared to a variety of his followers and then ascended to heaven.

Those who attended Sunday school or took classes can add details, but almost always follow this general theme. If asked to characterize Jesus, the answer includes five key elements:

v  Jesus was a poor unknown uneducated nobody except that God chose him as His Son.

v  Jesus was largely separated from his family and the politics of his time.

v  Jesus lived to save us from our sins and died to offer us hope of salvation.

v  Jesus was some form of divinity – either as an Adam replicant or as part of the Trinity.

v  Jesus founded the Christian Church through Apostles Peter and Paul.

If asked to answer “true or false” to the following questions, almost all educated Christians will answer “yes” or “true”:

ü  Was Jesus of royal descent in the family of David?

ü  Did three “Magi” or kings bring gifts to Jesus after he was born?

ü  Was Jesus the only child of Mary?

ü  Were Jesus and John the Baptist related?

ü  Was Jesus a Jewish Rabbi?

ü  Did Jesus preach: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand?”

ü  Did Jesus appoint Peter as his successor?

ü  Was Mary Magdalene one of Jesus’ friends and disciples?

ü  Did Jesus choose Paul as an Apostle?

ü  Did Jesus know that Judas was going to betray him?

ü  Could Jesus have avoided trial and crucifixion?

ü  Did Peter deny his relationship with Jesus three times?

ü  Did the Apostles believe that Jesus was the Messiah during his life?

ü  Did Jesus believe that he was the Messiah during his life?

ü  Do the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life concur and coincide on these matters?

Finally, if one asks these questions of a Christian, they are likely to get any number of answers:

¨       Why don’t the genealogies of Jesus offered by Matthew and Luke agree?

¨       What happened to the very valuable gifts given by the Magi?

¨       Why does only Matthew mention Mary’s and Joseph’s “flight to Egypt”?

¨       In the ten instances in the New Testament where "brothers" and "sisters" of Jesus are mentioned (Matt. 12:46; Matt. 13:55; Mark 3:31–34; Mark 6:3; Luke 8:19–20; John 2:12, 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5), why shouldn’t we read such literally?

¨       If Peter is the chosen successor to Jesus, why does “James” (a brother of Jesus) become the first Bishop of “Christianity” in Jerusalem? (See Acts, 15:13 where James leads the Council of Jerusalem and issues the "Apostolic Decree" in opposition to Peter and Paul).

¨       If Jesus was sinless (as divinity must be), why would he need to be baptized?

¨       Did not Jesus repeatedly teach the Torah (law of the Jews) and the need for righteousness through the Mosaic writings?

¨       Then, by what authority did Peter and Paul decide Jesus was wrong? (Acts, as above).

¨       Why did the resurrected Jesus first appear to Mary instead of relatives or Apostles?

¨       Other than Paul’s claim of having been chosen as an Apostle (in a dream), what authority did he have? (He never met Jesus, heard him speak, or accepted his teachings).

¨       If Jesus presaged his fate (betrayal, trial, and death), why didn’t he escape?

¨       How do you explain the weirdness, absurdities, and denials that are inherent in the trial, execution, and resurrection stories? (Aside from prophecy fulfillment, faith-only based myths, and superstitions).

¨       Can you explain the behavior of the Apostles during Jesus’ ministry (doubting and misunderstanding), the last supper and in the Garden at Gethsemane (apathy), and after resurrection (failing to recognize, believe, or obey Jesus)?

¨       During his life, did Jesus act in accordance with the Messianic expectations and did he fulfill the five most essential prophecies[1] of the Jews for their Messiah?

During the last century of non-sectarian scholarship on the early “Christian Church”, there has emerged a new recognition of the historic reality of Jesus.  The legendary Jesus – an itinerant preacher portrayed in the New Testament gospels who became “The Christ” - is not a history based upon the best evidence.  Indeed, the Jesus story advanced by the Catholic Church is largely an intentional misdirection created to serve the doctrinal goals of one man who openly admitted being a murderer, liar, and traitor (Saul of Tarsus). Fortunately, the truth can be hard to overcome and religious persecution by the Christian churches has been greatly diminished so that we can ask better questions and pursue the historical evidence without fear of being burned at the stake. Plus, we benefit from the discovery of libraries of new material that allow us to know far more about Jesus than anyone since those who knew Jesus personally. It is time that we take another look at the life and times of the most famous man in human history.

We must start by understanding why we’ve been fed a myth about Jesus instead of the truth, what sources we may use to help develop a better history regarding Jesus, and what was the relevant context for that history. But first, there are two other quick matters that we should deal with: faith and preconception.

Jesus is the main character in one of the most famous stories of all time – and that story is central to the religious beliefs of many millions of people. For those people, it is not just a story - it is part of the doctrinal and theological collection that supports their faith in God. Some of those people believe that the New Testament is the divinely written or inspired “word of God” that cannot and should not be questioned or challenged. Those people probably should not read further. On the other hand, there are millions of rational and caring Christians who believe the teaching of the New Testament that “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32). They are more concerned with God and the truth than someone else’s doctrines or teachings about God and the truth. I count myself amongst that group and hope that you do also.

We will never know the truth about Jesus and our history of him will always be incomplete. Our quest is to seek and find what truth is available and give it due regard. To that end, we will have to overcome a lifetime of indoctrination: the ideas, images, and ideology about Jesus that we have been taught are difficult to supplant. And, since the story that is already deeply ingrained in the minds of most westerners mixes fact and fiction, we cannot simply ask you to erase or ignore it. Most will find that they have accepted much on faith alone even when there was neither need nor reason to do so. Many who have heard the story and have given it due consideration came away with enough doubt and unanswered questions that they rejected its value and meaning. So, whichever group you might place yourself in, I ask you – I challenge you – to put aside your preconceived notions and ingrained ideas about Jesus and give the truth a chance.

Here then is a short overview of where we’re headed in this book.

What we think we know about Jesus is generally from the New Testament gospels; four short stories about the same historical figure we know as “Jesus Christ”. Not only are there significant differences in the four stories, they include clear errors, contradictions, and absurdities. They freely combine historicity, theology, and mythology towards a common purpose: to support a claim that this man named Jesus was actually the son of God, the expected Jewish Messiah, and founder of a whole new religion we call Christianity. In addition to the gospels of the New Testament, we have learned from an extensive collection of Christian writings, music, and other sources about the legendary person “Christ” who was once the person named Jesus. Because of these teachings and the doctrines of the major churches in the western world, we often view the two as one and the same and we don’t bother to inquire further.

But there have always been doubters, objectors, and scholars who looked a little deeper or saw the motives of the churches as less than honorable. It is an interesting facet of Christian history that much of what we know about the early objections to its tales and doctrines comes from the church itself – in writings where the Church supporters (“apologists”) are addressing the objections (from “heretics”) – quite often after the church has attempted to destroy the evidence of the objection or even killed the “heretic” who objected. Thus, while the Catholic Church actively sought to destroy historical evidence that refuted its claims, it retained references to the evidence so that we know that it existed. There are a number of references within the book of Acts and the epistles of the New Testament that clearly show an early dispute about the facts related to Jesus.

These same doubters, objectors, and scholars also point to the process by which the New Testament was “canonized” as being offensive (and adverse to its claims of historicity). Gospels were re-written or modified to make them more appealing to the church’s doctrines, opposing gospels were rejected and burned, and it was made a capital offense to even possess material that contradicted the church’s positions. Neither authenticity nor accuracy were valued in the church’s canonization process.

Finally, there was the central issue of Christianity – whether Jesus was actually the Christ or not (“Christ” merely being the Greek for the Hebrew “mashiach” or “Messiah”). Since this is and was a Jewish concept, it seems only reasonable to ask the Jews why Jesus could not have been their “anointed one”. Their answers are pretty compelling since the Jews are pretty good at interpreting their own scriptures. But then, the Catholic Church sought to make it clear that it was the Jews who were behind the killing of “Jesus the Christ” and that they don’t deserve to have a say in the matter; lacking the same divine inspiration that supposedly guided the Catholics, the Jews were supposedly unable to understand their own language or their own religion in refuting the Catholic messianic claims or prophecies.

In the end, the Catholic Church has become its own worst enemy. Greed, corruption, avarice, and abuse have pervaded its leadership and although piety remains important, it is more a tool than a purpose. The larger Christian community has roots so intertwined with the Catholic Church that they cannot escape its corrupted truths. And yet, their power remains. In part this is due to momentum and the powerful infrastructure behind the scenes. But mostly, it comes from something far greater: a sense that permeates our culture centered upon the person and life of Jesus. While some might choose to believe that this is merely false hope, acceptance of an empty promise, or naïve faith in something unknowable, I believe that it’s far more.

I don’t believe in the miracles of Jesus as offered in the gospels, but I cannot deny the miracle of what happened after his death. His “resurrection” story seems too much like the other later doctrinal adjustments in the gospels, but there is one undeniable fact: a great many people at the time believed in either the actual resurrection or a metaphorical resurrection of this amazing man. There was something superhuman about his effect on those closest to him and there is something magical about the fact that we revere him 2,000 years later. Paul and the Catholics understood the power of his story and his teachings. They bent and twisted it to fit their religious views, but it retained its power and influence. The Church used that power and influence to become fantastically powerful and wealthy, which it remains now. But ultimately, the truth has caught up with the Church and new generations see behind its veil. Hopefully we won’t allow the Church to further deprive us of the power and the glory that belongs to Jesus – the man.

That, then, is the goal: to sift through what we have, search for more, and bring it together into something more honest and awesome. I can promise the first and hope for the second. Here then is the gist of the new story of Jesus:

Jesus the “king of the Jews” was not only a descendant from David, but was related to the most powerful families in Judea and Egypt.

Jesus the “Nazorean” (which does not mean “from Nazareth”) was a disciple of Hillel the Elder and a follower of his cousin John the Baptist – reformers who had a better vision for Judaism.

Jesus the “Jew” was an orthodox (follower-of-the-Torah) Jew[2] who worshipped and served the Lord in the manner of his unusually righteous (and famous) family.

Jesus the “Rabboni” was a prominent and respected rabbinic yeshiva (teacher and scholar) and not an itinerant preacher from the back-country.

Jesus the “leader” was aligned with the Hasidim (sub-sect of the Pharisees), the “Essenes” (who are almost entirely misunderstood), and the Zealots (as a nationalist party). 

Jesus the “brother” was a family leader and respected sibling who gained the love of many through compassion, devotion, honesty, and sacrifice.

And so, on to the story…

Click Here for Part One...


[1] The essential Messianic beliefs, held by almost all Jews, were some combination of the following:

The Messiah was to be a Davidic king who would restore Israel by defeating the enemies of Judah and reestablishing the twelve tribes of Israel (a descendant of David would throw out the Romans and restore Israel politically). The Messiah was expected to clean (restore) the Temple as the true High Priest (perhaps as a priest of Melchizedek) and worship in the Temple like the kings during Israel's golden age. The Messiah was supposed to bless the Lord's people (righteous Jews) with wisdom and happiness, offering the true interpretation of the law. He was supposed to inaugurate Israel's ethical revival and accomplish essential cultic reforms.  (A true sage would be able to predict the future and cure diseases). [More below]…

The Messiah was supposed to comfort those (Jews) who need to be comforted by defending truth, humility, and righteousness as the compassionate “judge the nations”. The Messiah was supposed to usher in a new world rule for the messianic age. It was not clear whether the Messiah (as 'the desire of all nations') would rule the world (Daniel 7:14; Psalm 72) or would merely inaugurate God's personal rule of the universe (e.g., Isaiah 24:23).

[2] As a devout Jew, Jesus faithfully observed the halakhah and accepted every “jot and tittle” of the Torah, teaching a message of salvation that was fully consistent with the Mosaic traditions. 

 

RVW

July, 2011 – Oregon, USA

 

 

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