Who was Jesus? Town Church Pt 2

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A few weeks ago pastor Nate Downey of Eureka’s Town Church sent me an MP3 of a sermon he did entitled “Jesus is: Deity.” The lecture began tersely with a rhetorical question, “who is Jesus?” Considering there are over 33,000 Christian denominations in practice today, the answer to the question varies greatly from church to church. Wanting to set the foundation for his recently formed church, pastor Downey scripturally addressed where he derives his belief in the divinity of Christ. He then attempted to convey what other faiths say about Jesus, along with what he believes to be common cultural and secular arguments in opposition to Jesus being God, or even existing at all.

First depiction of bearded Christ 4th Cent Catacomb of Commodilla, Rome.

Reading the Bible or about the Bible can be exhausting. However, perhaps to the dismay of you my lovely reader, I will reply to Downey's sermon, not by critiquing but by briefly answering the question he poses, or rather, that western society poses to all of us. I will do my best to keep you from such boredom that your addiction to Facebook overcomes you and you flee this page to play Farmville or stalk someone more interesting than myself, pastor Downey, or perhaps even JC.  I feel inclined to make this a lengthy academic retort, but being that it's a blog post I will be briefly summarize a few key points. I guarantee it's still too long for many people's attention span, which is truthfully quite sad.

For those who continuously hurl C.S. Lewis's false dilemma of "Liar, Lunatic or Lord" at me, if by the end of this post you fail to understand why I refuse to answer the trilima by choosing one of Lewis's straw men, perhaps you need to re-ask yourself "who is Jesus." Once you do, the answer Legend will show itself to be the most honest response.

Being concerned with making an argument from history, responding to  “who is Jesus”  is ridiculous for obvious reasons, so I must reform the question as: who was Jesus? Eyewitness Testimony

Historians and scholars look for evidence to deduct truths. The evidence historians hope to have is usually from as many contemporary, independent, unbiased, and consistent sources as possible. So how do we tackle the history of someone virtually unknown during the time of his death?  Many people are swayed by personal testimony, but if there is anything we've learned from the court of law, eyewitness testimony is the most unreliable source that can be provided.

Ever heard of this guy?

Thus is Sathya Sai Babba. He is believed by millions living today to be the reincarnation of the prophet, and God in human flesh, Sai Baba of Shirdi. He is attributed with many of the miracles of Jesus, including being born of a virgin, and has more followers now than Jesus did even hundreds of years after his crucifixion. So if eyewitness and personal testimony are the factors that authenticate divinity, Sathya sai Babba is a God.

Christians have claimed to be atheists in regards to many prophets like Sathya Sai Babba and reject their miracles as frauds. The eyewitness accounts by the followers of such prophets are also deemed unreliable based on the fallacy rate of eyewitness testimony. Because Christians claim to have the word of God in written form, and because these other prophets are not mentioned in the Bible , believing Christians claim that other profits must surely be fake. The dilemma this creates for followers of Jesus is that the writers of the New Testament were not even eyewitnesses, but people who wrote about events that had reached their ears through approximately forty years of oral tradition, during which time the events were translated from Aramaic into Greek. (If you've ever played the game of telephone, you know how reliable oral tradition is.) The Gospels were written anonymously, and the original manuscripts used to write the modern Bible were copied from copies of copies of copies etc -- by hand --  some chapters for about a century, others for over hundreds of years.

Depiction of Biblical scribes

So we have a chain of unreliable methods from eyewitness testimony to oral tradition, language translation to genre construction, handwritten manuscripts by scribes -- some barely able to read write to some bias frauds and forgers -- and then through even more language translations. Needless to say, when just looking at the irrefutable passage of information we have no accurate historical evidence of Jesus' existence besides one brief mention of "Jesus the so-called Christ" by Jewish historian and Roman Apologist Josephus (37 -100 C.E.)  writing approximately 60 years after the crucifixion. The most logical way it can be claimed that Jesus did indeed exist, which at this juncture I'm inclined to agree with, is that because so many people were talking about him he most likely was a real person.  Amazingly, many Christians are able to lie to themselves and others and still believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God.

No matter, for the sake of intrigue the only sources to determine the events of Jesus' life, are the Gospels, or "the good word," (genre pieces, not any sort of reliable journalistic text). But before further addressing the history of the Gospels lets first look at other figures from myths and history that share attributes with Jesus.

Shared Attributes of Christ

When we say that Jesus Christ was produced without sexual union, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven we propound nothing new or different from what you believe regarding those whom you call the sons of Jupiter. -Justin Martyr, Church Father

Downey stated that no other major prophet claimed to be God. There is truth to his statement regarding Buddha, Mohammad, and even Zoroaster, however Jesus is said to have done more than claim to be God. Many Bible scholars doubt Jesus claimed to be God himself. Jesus only eludes to being God in the least historically viable Gospel, albeit a well written hero story, John. (John 8:58-59, John 10:30-33, & John 14:8-9) Some Christians like to quote Mark 14:61-64 as to say, well Jesus remains silent when he's being worshiped so he's essentially claiming to be God. May I remind those reading this who share such a view that Jesus remains silent when asked this vary question several times in the Bible. Pleading the 5th is not an affirmation of attribution.

It should be noted that many political leaders and dictators throughout history have claimed to be God and millions of people have witnessed them performing miracles. Alexander the Great claimed to be descended of Dionysus; Augustus Caesar and his successor Tiberius (who was emperor of Rome when Jesus was executed), also claimed divine lineage. Jesus' story is far from authentic.

So what attributes did Jesus share and with whom?

Dionysus/Baccus (Alexander the Great claimed to be his descendant)

--Dionysus was born of a virgin on December 25 and, as the Holy Child, was placed in a manger. --He was a traveling teacher who performed miracles. --He “rode in a triumphal procession on an ass.” --He was a sacred king killed and eaten in an Eucharistic ritual for fecundity and purification. --Dionysus rose from the dead on March 25. --He was the God of the Vine, and turned water into wine. --He was called “King of Kings” and “God of Gods.” --He was considered the “Only Begotten Son,” Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Sin Bearer,” Anointed One,” and the “Alpha and Omega.” --He was identified with the Ram or Lamb. --His sacrificial title of “Dendrites” or “Young Man of the Tree” intimates he was hung on a tree or crucified. 

Horus/Osiris --Horus was born of the virgin Isis-Merion December 25 in a cave/manger with his birth being announced by a star in the East and attended by three wise men. --His earthly father was named “Seb” (“Joseph”). --At at 12, he was a child teacher in the Temple, and at 30, he was baptized having disappeared for 18 years. --Horus was baptized in the river Eridanus or Iarutana (Jordan) by “Anup the Baptizer” (“John the Baptist”), who was decapitated. --He had 12 disciples, two of who were his “witnesses” and were named “Anup” and “Aan” (the two “Johns”). --He performed miracles, exorcised demons and raised El-Azarus (“El-Osiris”), from the dead. --Horus walked on water. --His personal epithet was “Iusa,” the “ever-becoming son” of “Ptah,” the “Father.” He was thus called “Holy Child.” --He delivered a “Sermon on the Mount” and his followers recounted the “Sayings of Iusa.” --Horus was transfigured on the Mount. --He was crucified between two thieves, buried for three days in a tomb, and resurrected. --He was also the “Way, the Truth, the Light,” “Messiah,” “God’s Anointed Son,” “the “Son of Man,” the “Good Shepherd,” the “Lamb of God,” the “Word made flesh,” the “Word of Truth,” etc. --He was “the Fisher” and was associated with the Fish (“Ichthys”), Lamb and Lion. --He came to fulfill the Law. --Horus was called “the KRST,” or “Anointed One.” --Like Jesus, “Horus was supposed to reign one thousand years.”

Krishna

--Krishna was born of the Virgin Devaki (“Divine One”) on December 25. --His earthly father was a carpenter, who was off in the city paying tax while Krishna was born. --His birth was signaled by a star in the east and attended by angels and shepherds, at which time he was presented with spices. --The heavenly hosts danced and sang at his birth. --He was persecuted by a tyrant who ordered the slaughter of thousands of infants. --Krishna was anointed on the head with oil by a woman whom he healed. --He is depicted as having his foot on the head of a serpent. --He worked miracles and wonders, raising the dead and healing lepers, the deaf and the blind. --Krishna used parables to teach the people about charity and love, and he “lived poor and he loved the poor.” --He castigated the clergy, charging them with “ambition and hypocrisy . . . Tradition says he fell victim to their vengeance.” --Krishna’s “beloved disciple” was Arjuina or Ar-jouan (Jouhn). --He was transfigured in front of his disciples. --He gave his disciples the ability to work miracles. --His path was “strewn with branches.” --In some traditions he died on a tree or was crucified between two thieves. --Krishna was killed around the age of 30, and the sun darkened at his death. --He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven “in the sight of all men.” --He was depicted on a cross with nail-holes in his feet, as well as having a heart emblem on his clothing. --Krishna is the “lion of the tribe of Saki.” --He was called the “Shepherd of God” and considered the “Redeemer,” “Firstborn,” “Sin-Bearer,” “Liberator,” “Universal Word.” --He was deemed the “Son of God” and “our Lord and Savior,” who came to earth to die for man’s salvation. --He was the second person of the Trinity. --His disciples purportedly bestowed upon him the title “Jezeus,” or “Jeseus,” meaning “pure essence.” --Krishna is to return to judge the dead, riding on a white horse, and to do battle with the “Prince of Evil,” who will desolate the earth.

Mithra of Persia --Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25 in a cave, and his birth was attended by shepherds bearing gifts.

--He was considered a great traveling teacher and master. --He had 12 companions or disciples. --Mithra’s followers were promised immortality. --He performed miracles. --As the “great bull of the Sun,” Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace. --He was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again.

--His resurrection was celebrated every year. --He was called “the Good Shepherd” and identified with both the Lamb and the Lion. --He was considered the “Way, the Truth and the Light,” and the “Logos,” [Word] “Redeemer,” “Savior” and “Messiah.” --His sacred day was Sunday, the “Lord’s Day,” hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ. --Mithra had his principal festival on what was later to become Easter. --His religion had a Eucharist or “Lord’s Supper,” at which Mithra said, “He who shall not eat of my body nor drink of my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved.” --“His annual sacrifice is the Passover of the Magi, a symbolical atonement of pledge of moral and physical regeneration.”

Zoroaster/Zarathustra --Zoroaster was born of a virgin and “immaculate conception by a ray of divine reason.” --He was baptized in a river. --In his youth he astounded wise men with his wisdom. --He was tempted in the wilderness by the devil. --He began his ministry at age 30. --Zoroaster baptized with water, fire and “holy wind.” --He cast out demons and restored the sight to a blind man. --He taught about heaven and hell, and revealed mysteries, including resurrection, judgment, salvation and the apocalypse. --He had a sacred cup or grail. --He was slain. --His religion had a Eucharist. --He was the “Word made flesh.” --Zoroaster’s followers expected a “second coming” in the virgin-born Saoshynt or Savior, who is to come in 2341 CE and begin his ministry at age 30, ushering in a golden age.

The list could go on: Apollonius of Tyana, Attis of Phrygia, Honi the circle-drawer, Thor, Orpheus, Hermes, Buddha, Devatat, Beddru, Balder,  Theseus, Romulus, Hercules, Perseus, Zeus, Apollo, Baal, Jupider, Adonis...

In regards to miracles, it's documented more often than not that individuals with minor levels of fame or social status performed them. One would think that if it was agreed upon that all of these accounts were indeed true, then they would reinforce the possibility of their occurrence. However, religions that make salacious exclusivist claims would rather believe their prophets are the only holders of divinity instead of trying to reaffirm the supernatural.

THE BIBLE

Paul

Paul’s letters never reference the life Jesus. He has no quotes, no stories; Paul relays no eyewitness accounts from James or Peter and fails to even mention Pontius Pilot and the trial of Jesus. Paul is only concerned with the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul has no Bible, no written testimonies, and no scripture to draw inspiration from besides those deemed holy by the Jews at the time. Anyone today could find out more about you from ten minutes on Google than Paul seems to know about the life of Jesus. For Paul, Jesus is simply Lord beyond the grave who sits at the right hand of a celestial dictator to be worshiped by lesser beings until he's supposed to return to take the thrown of the kingdom (something that Paul believes will happen during his lifetime.) Paul's Jesus is one he could very well have made up himself.

The Gospels

'Mark' was the first Gospel written. Most scholars and theologians estimate that it was written sometime between 65 and 75 CE due to parts of the text that reference it being written after the fall of Jerusalem. The Gospels each followed, one every 10 to 15 years, using Mark and source Q as their main references. Most scholars date the Gospels to be written between 70 and 110 CE. Mathew was the first to be written after Mark, next was Luke and lastly John. Reflecting the time line in which each was written, each Gospel grows in its antisemitic tone and imagery.

We call the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not because that's who wrote them, but because an editor added these titles years after they were written. The Gospels were  written anonymously, in the third person, and at least forty years after the death of Jesus. Further more, the followers of Jesus were not Greek speakers but uneducated, Aramaic speaking, impoverished lower-class men. In the original Greek, Acts 4:13 identifies Peter and John as being illiterate.

The authors never claim to be disciples, and being highly skilled in Greek rhetorical writing, they most likely would not have been followers of Christ. So where did these authors get the story from? Oral tradition.

If you take the time to read the Gospels and place the accounts of Jesus' life, death and resurrection next to each other many discrepancies arise. After doing so a few questions arise worth asking:

Where is the garden in Mark? Was Jesus arrested or was he "captured" by 600 soldiers who he really had under his control? What time of day and how many people were there when Pilot questions Jesus? Did Jesus carry the cross the whole way to the mount or did Simon of Cyrene help him? Did both robbers mock him or did one mock him while the other came to his defense? Did Jesus die on passover or the day after? What time of day did he die? Did the curtain rip before or after he died? Who went to the tomb on the third day was it Mary Magdalene alone, or did she take others with her? How many people saw Jesus after he resurrected?

There's an abundance of contradictions. Here is a link listing only about a hundred or so: CONTRADICTIONS IN THE GOSPELS

The answers to these questions depends on which Gospel one reads. (Jesus could not have died both on passover or before etc) The fact of the matter is, if a supposed truth can be found in the Gospels, then the Bible gets it wrong more often than it gets it right.

If a truth can be argued it should appear multiple times, in different sources, and preferably not copied from a root source. (claiming that Daniel's prophecy affirms the existence and divinity of Jesus fails because Jesus' life could easily have been written with them in mind.  Although a completely absurd argument to validate prophecy, fundamentalists have proposed it to me on numerous occasions.)  Considering that it's one of the facts that appears over and over again, a truth that can be taken from the Gospels is that Jesus was crucified for claiming to be king of the Jews.  He was tried and convicted as an insurgent. The incident with Jesus and the money changers, which most likely happened prior to passover, is what got the authorities to take notice of Jesus. (Mark, Luke and Mathew agree on this. In John Jesus was crucified before passover.)  Thousands of people came to purchase sacrificial sheep at the 500 square yard temple for the holiday. When Jesus knocked over the table and whipped the money changer he became an enemy of the state. Most fascinatingly, the coins, which were being changed at the gates of the temple as to not bring currency inside, contained an image of Augustus Caesar who claimed to be a God and was worshiped as one by many within the Roman empire. The idea that Jesus claimed divinity, which by any historical sense he did no such thing, could more realistically be because he challenged the authority of a God/Caesar in a public setting. Thus he was tried as an insurgent or impostor king, something Roman authority executed people for on a regular basis.

Note: Crucifixions historically happened on the outskirts of town and were scarcely attended due to the stench, and the gruesome fact that they were happening daily. Crucifixions were used as a symbol of authority denoting Roman occupation for people entering into the city. Most likely, The crucifixion of Jesus, was scarcely attended. And if one believes it happened on passover, a holiday, it is likely that even fewer people were there than on any other given day.

Manuscripts

The oldest fragment of the 5,700 ancient Greek manuscripts discovered thus far is the minuscule P52, which dates to some time approximately between 117- 138 CE. The next closest fragment in age is about 80 years older than P52. The oldest nearly complete manuscript is the Codex Vaticanus, which dates from mid 4th century and currently resides in the Vatican Library.

P52

One undeniable attribute these texts provide to the history of the Bible is a glimpse at the many mistakes scribes made when they tediously hand-copied the texts along with the purposeful additions and alterations made to the text. For example the verses Mark:169-20 were an addition. The original text ends with the tomb being found empty by Mary Magdalene who never says a word to anyone. Considering that the book of Mark was written after the fall of Jerusalem, and that the Messiah was not supposed to die before putting things right on earth, it is often speculated that the text ends with the sentiment towards God that many Jews and even Christians probably shared at the time.

Another notable addition is the story of the adulteress from John 7:53 - 8:11 (some versions of the Bible insert it at Luke 21:38)

The majority of scholars agree that these were additions that made there way into the Bible long after it was written, and much longer after Jesus was dead. However, given that the majority of errors are minor grammatical and spelling errors, there are a few scholars who illogically argue against the possibility of human fallacy and bias alteration. One thing is certain, whether one wants to believe the texts were altered or not, imperfect humans hand-copied copies of copies of the texts, for hundreds of years, all of which went through a process of canonization before being accepted as scripture. For people who believe the Bible, a catch-22 becomes apparent: If humans are imperfect and born in sin how did the hundreds of scribes not make an error or alter the texts? Did pastoral corruption not come into play until after the writing of the Bible? And if so, then why was Paul constantly writing about heretical teachers and misinterpretations prior to the writing of the Bible?

The Gnostic Gospels

Jesus said to them, "When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter [the Kingdom]." Gospel of Thomas verse 22

Gnostic Codices from 3rd and 4th century CE. Nag Hammadi Egypt, 1945.
The discovery of what is now referred to as the Gnostic Gospels, "Gnostic" derived from the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge, brought forth a new perspective on Christianity. Had these Gospels been included in the New Testament they surely would have shaped a religion far different from what we see today. (No, not a Christianity like the one found in the De Vinci Code)
In 1897, 50,000 fragments of papyrus making up the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the Gospel of Peter were discovered buried with an Egyptian monk. More famously, in 1945 a group of seven Egyptian farmers came across some mysterious antiquarian jars in Nag Hammadi Egypt. Reluctant to open them for fear of releasing an evil genie, the farmers reconsidered hoping the jars contained gold. What they discovered was neither a genie nor a fortune, but rather, a multitude of leather-bound codices including the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Philip, The Apocryphone of James as well as a partial translation of Plato's Republic. Just like the the books that found their way into the new testament these were hand copied unoriginal texts. Written in Aramaic they present a completely different picture of Jesus and Christianity. The Gnostic Jesus was either completely God or man; He felt no pain upon crucifixion and perhaps didn't die at all. He was vengeful. He loved Mary Magdalene over each and everyone of his disciples. What many who take the time to look at these texts find the most shocking is that Jesus spoke not only of God the Father, but of God the Mother.
Catacombs of Priscilla. One of the earliest Christian  paintings.

Women preserved early Christianity, by taking it underground while Christians were under persecution. (thus the earliest catacomb paintings depicting them as Biblical teachers) The Gnostic Jesus held that women should be allowed to enter into leadership rolls within the church and that true followers of God will see them as equal to men. Such strides towards gender equality outraged many people who feared what it meant in regards to reshaping society and the future of the Old Testament texts. The 2nd century Christian theologian Tertullian expresses such sentiments with his outrage against the Gnostics: "These heretical women -- how audacious they are! They have no modesty; they are bold enough to teach, to engage in argument, to enact exorcisms, to under take cures, and, it may be, even to baptize!"

Instead of the misogynistic Christianity dependent on the Old Testament and belief in Jesus, many of these texts such as Gospel of Thomas present a wisdom the Gnostics believed to be the key to eternal life. According the the Gnostic texts one mustn't believe in the resurrection of Jesus but follow his teachings as to find the wisdom that will lead to salvation. Although an elitist ideology, it's one which would undoubtedly be difficult to utilize in a political hierarchy, an ideology that negates martyrdom and a willingness to die in battle. perhaps just a few reasons why they failed to make it through the canonization process.
Athanasius

The patriarch of Alexandria, Athanasius, was one of the first to denounce the Gnostic Gospels as heretical. After appearing at the first Council of Nicaea in 323 CE, where hundreds of bishops had gathered to discuss whether Jesus was God, man or both (thus they came up with the trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit), Athanasus took to annually writing all Christians under his jurisdiction in regards to when they could celebrate Easter. In his 39th Festal Letter, written in 367 CE, he added a list of the twenty-seven cannons that now make up the New Testament. He clearly wrote that these should be the only Gospels ever read, condemning the others that until this point had been accepted in the early church as false doctrines.

Who was Jesus?
After pouring over academic sources, of which are not intended to challenge holy writ, it becomes clear why Christianity is the most divided and segregated faith man has yet produced. (need I remind you, over 33,000 different denominations.) All that can be known about Jesus from a historical perspective is that a person of that name likely existed, he was revered by the less fortunate, and was most likely tried for insurrection. To say Jesus was anything more than a man would be a fabrication of history; to say Jesus is anything other than legend is to lie. Such a statement cannot be made with any viable, factual, and probable truth. Biblical authenticity has been crumbling for quite a while and will continue to do so with each piece of evidence and artifact discovered. For those Christians who feel the need to defend their belief by distorting what little can be known about the historical Jesus, I have to ask, where's your faith? If you have faith, be honest and admit that that is what you stand on, and must stand on. It is what your religion demands of you and what the evidence in opposition does as well. The faith necessary to shuck reason, truth, fact, and justice to believe in the divinity of Christ must be strong indeed. That doesn't mean it's hard to do. People have been lying to themselves since the dawn of man.
Bibliography (other sources are linked in above text)
Baigent, Michael The Jesus Papers (Harperone 2007)
Bruce, F.F. The Cannon of Scripture (IVP Academic 1988)
Crossan, John Dominic Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (HarperOne 2009)
Eherman, Bart Misquoting Jesus (HaperOne 2007)
Eherman, Bart Jesus Interrupted (HarperOne reprint edition 2010)
Fredriksen, Paula From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the NT Images of Christ (Yale University Press 2 edition 2000)
Holding, James PatrickTrusting the New Testament (Xulon Press 2009)
Jones, Pete Owen The Lost Gospels, presented by BBC$
Koester, Helmet Intro to New Testament (Walter de Gruyter; 2nd edition 2000)
Meyers, Eric Archaeology, The Rabbis, and Early Christianity (Abingdon 1981)
Pagels, Elaine, "God the Father/God the Mother" The Social Dimension of Western Civilization (Boston, MA Bedford/St Martins 2003)
Spong, John Shelby Jesus for the non-religious (HarperOne 2007)