Religious figure: born, ca. 6 B.C., in Bethlehem; died, ca. 25-27 A.D., outside Jerusalem; raised in Nazareth, Palestine. Parents were Mary and Joseph, who were a rather well off couple engaged in an independent business enterprise; they were betrothed, but not married.
[An aside: The end of the second millennium - two thousand years after the birth of Jesus - occurred in 1994 by the above account. The calendar we use has been adjusted a number of times, and other authoritative computations place the birth of Jesus as late as 4 B.C., but no later, in which case the millennium ended in 1996. On no account is the year 2000 actually the second millennium of anything.]
The story goes that Jesus was born in a manger, because there was no room for his parents at the inn. People get romantic about this, for at that time and place, inns had a particular construction which had less expensive (and less desirable) accommodation on the first level, along with stables for the animals of the patrons. The more costly lodging upstairs away from the smells was an open plan affair, where travelers slept in rows, next to one another, sharing the space available. Since that society was then (as it still is) dominated by male preferences and directives, "no room at the inn" may simply have meant that there was no room for a woman to give birth right in-between a bunch of men tired from the day's tribulations -- so Mary and Joseph had to go downstairs where they would not prevent high-priced customers from sleeping. There is evidence that Joseph had ready cash to pay for any lodging available. The costlier accommodations were just not available, considering all factors; being born in the stable has nothing to do with humility.
The Magi (from the "East") who are said to have later appeared at the site of the birth (whether there were two, or three, or many more is under heavy debate) were probably Zoroastrians; they were not Jews. It has been said that Judaism is a Zoroastrian heresy, and that Christianity is a Jewish heresy. The original meaning of "heresy" is "thinking for one's self." What's next?
Jesus' daily language was Aramaic, but he learned Hebrew (which he was able to read too) and could also have been capable in Greek and Latin. Otherwise, Jesus was a Mediterranean Jewish peasant who worked with his hands and became one of the greatest moral teachers of antiquity. Probably he was a nice guy. His preaching career lasted from one to a maximum of three years.
A number of the recent translations of Dead Sea scrolls, among other ancient documents being currently examined -- a large quantity exists -- tell an interesting set of variations (from the popular versions) on the story of the life of Jesus.
Jesus had sisters and four brothers (the Bible gives their names, although none of them accomplished much, with one exception), but this has been disputed by some and their relationship to Jesus is subject to conjecture. However, Joseph died long before Jesus' public life began and Jesus, being a responsible sort and the (perhaps) eldest child, cared for Mary and the "other children" until they were able to fend for themselves, after which time Jesus entered his teaching career at about age thirty. How much time passed between the conclusion of Jesus' child-care responsibilities and the beginning of his preaching is not known, nor is the process by which Jesus formed his philosophies, but some clues on this topic follow elsewhere below.
The one exceptional sibling mentioned above was Jesus' twin brother, who probably was named Judas (a common name at the time.) Some extremely interesting recent research supports the thesis of the existence of such a person, and the evidence is growing as scholarship in the field advances. Also, on the topic of names, "Thomas" (the dominant "other" at the time of Jesus -- as in 'doubting Thomas', etc.) is a corruption of a word in Aramaic which means "twin." In Aramaic, Thomas was not an actual name at all. Since the character 'Thomas' was seen to interact closely with Jesus, current wisdom suggests that reference was being made to the twin of Jesus, likely Judas.
Judas Iscariot was also not the actual complete name of anyone, exactly. Iscariot is not a family name. "Iscariot" is a modifier, not merely a sobriquet, such as Jesus "Christ", or Jack "the Ripper." "Iscariot" has many meanings, if one listens to all the interpreters. They describe the word as indicating everything from traitor, to leather worker. The intriguing recent scholarship referred to above suggests that it likely means something close to traitor, but more than that has been learned, such as this:
Judas, the jealous lesser twin brother, was also the disciple who betrayed Jesus, but as the fatal moment came, he was overwhelmed with remorse and, looking the same as Jesus, surreptitiously substituted himself, thereby allowing Jesus to escape to safety. It was Judas who was crucified on the cross, to the confusion of all who understood him to be Jesus. To conceal this deceit, the grave of "Jesus" was opened and the corpse of Judas removed, since a close examination would have revealed the clever substitution. Judas Iscariot, the betraying disciple, was the exact same Judas who was the brother of Jesus.
Abandoning his disintegrating constituency (which was dispersing upon the 'failure' of the teaching of Jesus due to his "death") Jesus fled. Here the stories differ interestingly. One version maintains that Jesus ventured to India (where yet some other stories claim he had received his philosophic training in the first place as a younger man.) A second version has him off to Kashmir, and the third has him going to France !
Although no one supports the French connection with real enthusiasm (which may be a mistake), the Indians do like the India story. The version which has the most acceptable recent scholarship behind it is the one placing Jesus in Kashmir. At that time, as well as up to quite recently, Kashmir was indeed a paradise, so the report offered by Mary Magdalene that Jesus had gone to heaven was quite literally factual. The confused interpretation of her story by others that Jesus had gone "up" into Heaven may have actually been accepted (and not corrected) by her as a clever method of salvaging the rapidly dissipating support for Jesus' teachings, which she felt were worth perpetuating -- plus, if he had escaped death and gone to paradise, so could the masses, as they estimated.
To this day there is a reverently maintained tomb of Jesus Christ, in Kashmir.
In the end, the most probable story is that Mary Magdalene went to Kashmir with Jesus where they raised a family, did honest work, and lived to a ripe old age, he having retired from the preaching business judging it to be a bit risky.
[A digression: The Nag Hammadi Gnostic Gospels , discovered in Chenoboskion, Egypt in December, 1945 (but not released by the Egyptian government to the general public until 1977 - and still far from complete in translation today), are likely older than the gospels in the "standard" bible, which is the source of most of our conventional knowledge of Jesus.
In the first two centuries after the death of Jesus, there were many competing versions of Christianity. Each of them accused the others of heresy and fraud, in an attempt to gain followers and power. In this process, those subscribers to the version of events which was to become the teaching of the Catholic Church won this political battle to the exclusion of other beliefs. The conflicting philosophy of the Gnostics was subject to hostile suppression, and their writings were destroyed and history rewritten -- except for those books discovered in Egypt in 1945.
The Gnostic account of events -- and point of view about them -- is often similar in interpretation (of the more ancient Jewish scriptures) to the versions more familiar to us, but just as often, it differs greatly. Some examples: In the story of Adam and Eve and the Serpent, the Gnostic version tells us that Eve is the spiritual principle in humanity who raises Adam from his base material condition. The serpent is not evil, but rather the bringer of wisdom. In this account, God does not carry out a threat of death and banishment if Adam and Eve should eat of the tree of knowledge; His character is changed here -- He is not jealous that the man and woman have discovered wisdom. The use of metaphor was normal to the Gnostics, who avoided all suggestion of authoritarianism.
Ponder the difference in the treatment of women during the last 2000 years, had Eve's role been taught through the centuries as it is portrayed in the Gnostic gospels...
On the topic of Jesus, the Gnostics tell us that he enjoyed telling a good joke, a party with his friends, some decent wine; he was fond of garlic and had a healthy appetite. While he had started out as a slender carpenter (maybe -- the record is not clear), he rounded out some as he did his preaching.
Most interestingly, they portray him as normal. We are told that his constant and intimate companion was Mary Magdalene, whom he loved more than all the rest of his disciples put together. In fact, the other disciples were offended when he frequently would kiss her passionately in their presence. To quote, "They said to Him, 'Why do you love her more than all of us?' The Savior answered and said to them, 'Why do I not love you as (I love) her?'" They frowned and perspired a lot as they thought this over...
Jesus was three cubits tall (160cm, or 5'3"). Also, he was Black, and likely a member of one of those "lost" Jewish tribes now found just in Ethiopia but who were dispersed widely in the Middle East at the time.
The Gnostics did not view God as "other," but rather that God could be found within one's self. They did not accept events in religious history as being physical, flesh and blood facts (as in the orthodox dogma of the Catholic church, concerning such items as the virgin birth, or the resurrection), but rather as symbolic lessons; metaphor as a spiritual guide. They presented a philosophy, not absolute laws.]
Back to the life of Jesus:
The orthodox bible tells us that as he was about to enter public life, Jesus went to John the Baptist, asking for baptism -- a ceremonial process indicating a cleansing to those who were repentant of their sins -- although Jesus seems never to have thought of himself as a sinner in need of repentance, in spite of his extreme ethical standards and simultaneous relationship to Mary M...
The baptism was a "soul shaking experience" the standard Bible tells us. Jesus heard a voice "from heaven: 'Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.' " He at once began a "forty day" meditation in the wilderness, which resulted in him understanding what his unique relation to God involved, but, at the same time, he saw that it did not exempt him from the ordinary limitations of men.
"Forty days" appear repeatedly in the lives of many antique religious figures. Also Lent is forty days long; the Jews spent forty years in the desert; Noah's flood was forty days and forty nights long; in the Russian Orthodox Church the deceased are mourned for forty days; etc., etc.; we even work forty hours...
John was arrested by Herod Antipas; Jesus began his preaching; John was executed.
Jesus taught his moral philosophy by pithy sayings that were easy to remember, and by parables -- some of which were obvious in their meaning, some were not (he was not that good at speech-making really). He expanded his concern for the downtrodden, and sought disciples who would assist in his crusade, though he did not demand that any join him. The Gnostic gospels make it clear that Jesus' disciples were women, as well as men. (Which makes a lot of sense, since women -- especially at that time -- have shown themselves to be much more skilled at care-giving, an ability essential to the concerns of Jesus.)
While his religious movement grew, curiously he took none of the steps that prudence might have prescribed for perpetuating his mission. He wrote no book, nor did he elaborate an organization (compare Mohammed's mighty enterprise). Perhaps this is not surprising since his whole career may have lasted only one year. Eventually, because of his new ideas, Jesus ran afoul of the religious leaders of his people and was betrayed by a disciple (his brother, Judas) who led the authorities to him. Considering these responses, Jesus felt that he had failed.
There are other accounts of the fate of Judas of course, aside from that mentioned earlier (getting crucified in place of Jesus.) In the version of all this which has Judas surviving and Jesus dead, one account (Matt. 27:5) says that Judas hung himself. The better story is found in Acts 1:18, which says that Judas exploded !
The orthodox dogma of today tells us that Jesus was executed, and admirers (not his disciples), who were Pharisees, buried him in a stone grave. His disciples also believed that he had failed, and scattered in fear not wanting to get themselves crucified too.
The execution of "Jesus" (?) was on a Friday; the Bible states that the grave was found empty by Mary Magdalene on the following Sunday (did she know who had removed Judas?). According to John, 20:17, Jesus appeared to Mary (the "Gospel of Mary" - discovered in 1896 - says that she received a "vision in her mind" - perhaps this is a bit more realistic, especially if we consider who's idea the vision was...), and instructed her to tell his disciples that he was ascending to God in Heaven; which she did, sort of. Soon disciples all over the place stated that they too had "seen" and recognized Jesus (which confirmed their closeness to him in the eyes of others, as the plan went.) Luke reports that the appearances continued for "forty days." Who really saw what is not at all clear in my mind.
However, the disciple Simon Peter claimed that it was he to whom Jesus first appeared (grabbing the spotlight), and it was to him that Jesus delegated power and authority over the Christian church. The institution which grew following this claim maintained that Peter's declaration of the first appearance was true and correct -- never mind that two of the gospels of the New Testament clearly state that Jesus appeared first -- with instructions -- to Mary Magdalene. Peter's asseveration of authority is still the basis for the structure of the Roman Catholic Church, and is the specific upon which the Pope maintains control today. Politics... At the same time "Peter" is a corruption of a word meaning "rock", so he may have been merely symbolic anyway.
The Gnostics included an equal number of men and women among the leaders of their faith. The orthodox Roman Christian institutional authority structure grew from a Middle Eastern society heavily dominated by males. It most definitely did not grow from any proclamation of Jesus. Hence male priests, et cetera.
The reported resurrection of Jesus is the event which saved his teachings from disappearing. The disillusionment which gripped his disciples would have caused his teaching to vanish had their faith not been ignited by this (apparent) exciting escape from death, which they felt they could obtain as well if they did what Jesus had said; it seems to have worked for him.
The deification of Jesus progressed while the Catholic church rose to power as the state religion after the second century. In this process, the church proclaimed as solid fact stories that were not present in the earliest written accounts. Such as: the virgin birth, the performance of miracles, sacrificial murder, and subsequent resurrection. All of these are typical events, which can be recognized in descriptions of the lives of many deified heroes (e.g. Hercules, Osiris, Wodan, Odoacer) but the church fathers insisted on absolute literalism in the understanding of their stories -- Jesus was in the process of being deified, and a power structure needed to be built...
© Jerome C. Krause