Did Jesus Exist

Commentary on DID JESUS EXIST? by Bart D. Ehrman

I recently read Bart D. Ehrman's book, DID JESUS EXIST? You may remember that I wrote two essays recently in order to answer two questions, namely;   How did Christianity become the major dominant force in history that it did? and Why don't Christians do MITSVOT?

I could have written these essays as one but I wrote them as two because they deal with two separate beings and two separate movements.

The first essay dealt with YESHUA the Nazarene and his Jewish followers. The second dealt with Iesous Xristos, god of the Christian religion, and his worshipers.

While I was in the midst of writing the second essay, I had dinner with a group of people calling themselves Freethinkers, and several of them made it a point to say that they do not believe there ever was a person called Jesus who lived on earth. About a week later, I downloaded a video lecture from YouTube called Examining the Historical Jesus by David Fitzgerald, a gentleman associated with something called Skepticon which probably, among other things, goes out of its way to deny the existence of God and/or Jesus.

I found the lecture interesting but unbelievable and unappealing as well. Mr. Fitzgerald went through a litany of reasons about why Jesus could never have existed. Fitzgerald is what has come to be know as a mythicist, a person who is sure that a man called Jesus of Nazareth never existed. Using Bart Ehrman's book as a guide, I'd like to go through the arguments put forth by the mythicists and say why I disagree with them and very much believe that a Jewish man called YESHUA who came from a town in Israel called Nazareth actually did live, was part of a Jewish sect called NOTSRIM, Nazarenes, associated with Jewish unlearned peasants, tried to teach them as best he could how to follow the TORAH, who also taught that the age of cosmic history was coming to an end to be replaced by a new golden age called the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN or ZAMN HAMESHIACH, Messianic Age in which the righteous would be rewarded and the evil done away with. This was a historical man from Galilee, northern Israel, whose words and actions caused him to be considered a rebellious outlaw and a threat to the status quo, both Jewish and Roman, and who eventually was arrested, brought to trial, convicted of wanting to overthrow the established government of the Roman province of Palestine and make himself king, and was therefore executed by crucifixion by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. After his death, the NOTSRIM came to believe that he was the messiah who would soon return to earth to drive out the gentile occupiers of Israel and establish the Kingdom of Heaven.

Before saying anything else, I have to state that as I am following Ehrman's book in this essay, he is the scholar and I am the lay person who has gained some knowledge of the subject. I have my own ideas and approach to the subject that sometimes correspond to his own and sometimes diverge. Nevertheless, in the final analysis, Bart Ehrman is the scholar.

Ehrman points out that the mythicists have their own wider agenda of which Jesus denial is a subset. He doesn't fully spell it out but I am sure that he means that the loudest and most strident mythicists are also a subset of the new, angry, militant atheists whose philosophical position is that nothing good comes from religion because religion has been the cause of many negative things in the world from wars and murder to inquisitions and witch hunts but as Michael Shermer points out in his book on why people believe in God, for every bad thing that has come out of religion, probably a thousand good things have come out. It's just that the newspapers only care to report on the bad things.

I've spoken to many people about the subject and plenty of them never have even read the New Testament but have gotten their ideas about Jesus, as Ehrman says, from THE LIFE OF BRIAN and THE DAVINCI CODE.

But if the mythicists have their agenda, so do I. Their agenda may be to put down and abuse anyone who is a serious religious person and mine is to show that in spite of the assumptions that Jesus was a pre-existing divine person who emanated directly from God and who was the enemy of Jews, mine is to show that he was in fact a good Jew who taught people to obey the TORAH and that he ONLY had an interest in Jews and the Jewish future, and felt at least an antipathy for non-Jews because nothing Jewish is alien to me. Even the well-known Rabbi Shmuely Boteach has written about a Jewish view of YESHUA in his latest book, KOSHER JESUS. I suppose that Orthodox Jews are not happy with it but so what?

People who know me may ask if I really believe that God parted the Red Sea or if He stopped the sun in the sky to help Joshua win a battle or if He made all of Reality in six days. I tell my friends, and anyone else who may be interested, that I am a religious person although I am a non-theist. My religiosity revolves around being intensely involved with and committed to the Jewish People. It involves praying with my fellow Jews when the Spirit moves me, to participate in a Passover SEDER, to eat in the SUKKAH, to enjoy PURIM and CHANUKAH, to support Jewish causes and the State of Israel, among other things. I leave the mysteries of ocean splitting, sun stopping, and the age of the Cosmos to those more learned and more competent in these matters than I.

I believe there was a man named YESHUA who belonged to and for a time led a Jewish sect called NOTSRIM. He had followers as opposed to believers. If it can be said that there were Jews who "believed in him", I expect that they believed that he was possibly the messiah who would return from the dead to usher in the messianic age just as there are Jews today who believe that a certain deceased individual will soon return to do the same. YESHUA's followers certainly didn't "believe" that believing in him would "save" them.

Do I believe that YESHUA walked on water, turned water into wine, cast out demons, cured the lame and the blind, and rose from the dead? Just as I am not equipped to say that the Sea parted and the sun stood still, neither am I equipped to say that YESHUA performed miracles. Generally non-theists do not believe in the literalness of reported miracles. The effect of YESHUA's charisma on his people that made them attribute extraordinary powers to him is more to the point than anything that he might have done contrary to the physical laws of nature. His greatest miracle was having his name remembered after more than 2000 years.

For purposes of this essay, let's forget about all the theories about who YESHUA was and what he did. The theories are interesting but far from shedding light on the issue, they confuse it by stating that YESHUA was a Zealot, a Marxist, a Feminist, a proponent of gay rights, a secret Buddhist, a Gnostic, or a Magician.
There is no real evidence that he was any of these things, HARD evidence that is. In all of modern Israel's 64 years of existence, no Israeli archeologist that I am aware of has found any document or artifact pertaining to YESHUA.

There are several references which may pertain to Jesus or Christ written by Roman writers but they are in the context of what Christians have to say about him.
There are documents which mention Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Palestine under whose administration YESHUA was put to death. But not much more. There is a reference to YESHUA by the Jewish historian Josephus but there is so much controversy about this reference as to its authenticity that it is useless as a proof
of YESHUA's existence as far as I am concerned.

There are unflattering mentions in the TALMUD of someone called YESHU BEN PANTHERA or YESHU BEN STADA and their context is that this individual was a bastard son of a Roman soldier who had sex with Miriam the hairdresser. Panthera, the Latin word for Panther is supposedly a mockery about the Virgin Birth. Ehrman points out that Panthera may be a near anagram for Parthenos, the Greek word for "virgin".

So if there are no as yet discovered archeological artifacts and no direct discovered "original" Nazarene documents about YESHUA, what is there to let us know that YESHUA ever existed? Only one thing; the New Testament, and primarily the Gospels. I've heard so many objections to accepting the New Testament as a set of reliable documents to prove that YESHUA existed. I am familiar with the main ones - the New Testament books were written too long after the death of YESHUA to be of any use in this issue, the events described in the Gospels contradict each other, there are things written in the Gospels that can't be historically true.

In a certain way, these objections are valid. But they are only valid if you are saying that the New Testament is supposed to be a history book. I ask people if they think that the "Bible" is a history book. Most people I ask, Jews and Christians, say that it is. I tell them that the Bible is NOT so much a history book as a book that INTERPRETS history. It can't be a history book in the way that modern historians define history.

The Union army won the battle of Gettysburg which meant that the Union won the Civil War. If a modern historian wrote a book in which he said that a voice from Heaven told the Union officers to order their men to go up into the hills on the outskirts of Gettysburg so that the Confederates would be unable to bypass them on their way to Harrisburg and ultimately to Washington DC, or if he said that an angel kept Captain Jeb Stuart from reporting the whereabouts of Union forces to General Lee before it was too late, that would not be a history book as we understand writing about history. BUT even so, it would report on actual events that happened. The Union army DID occupy the hills. Captain Stuart DID fail to tell General Lee about the whereabouts of the Union forces.

Similarly, the Scriptures do let us know that our ancestors took over Canaan, that there was a king David and a king Solomon, that the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, and so forth. And similarly, the New Testament tells us about certain historical episodes. Once we realize that the Gospels are not history but a story of Christian salvation, we may remove the supernatural from them and we are left with traces of a real story about a real Jew that actually lived.

Let me begin:

1. The New Testament books were written too long after the death of YESHUA to be of any use in this issue.

Actually the earliest books of the New Testament, the letters of Paul to his various churches, began to be written no later than ten to fifteen years after the execution of YESHUA. I don't know anyone, even the mythicists, who say there was no real Paul and that he didn't write letters to churches that he had established
before the middle of the first century CE.

Paul himself reports that he acted as a law enforcement man on a mission to arrest the diaspora followers of YESHUA whom he called Iesous. Paul was not pursuing Christians. There were no Christians then, although Ehrman consistently calls both Jewish followers and gentile believers as Christians. Paul was pursuing Nazarenes, and possibly other Jewish messianists. Although we do not accept that Paul had a real epiphany outside his head which propelled him to create a new god and a new cult, we can accept that he factually reports certain historical "facts" in his various letters. For one thing, he reports that YESHUA spoke to Pontius Pilate, governor of Palestine. [1 Timothy 6:13 - "I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Xristos Iesous, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession."]  He also reports that he personally met with YESHUA's brother, YAKOV, and YESHUA's lieutenant KEFA. [Galatians 1:18,19 - "After three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter and stayed with him for fifteen days. But I didn't see any other apostles except YAKOV [James] the brother of Iesous." So Paul is telling us that there was someone who was in Jerusalem whose friend and brother he actually met, and in many places in his letters, he says that this someone was crucified.

The mythicists point out that Paul does not refer to many of the activities of YESHUA while he lived and that he doesn't quote YESHUA's teaching. No, he doesn't.
But the mythicists, along with most other people, seem to erroneously believe that the religion called Christianity is an outgrowth or evolution of a Jewish sect
called Nazarenes, and that when Paul talks about his Xristos Iesous, he is always talking about the historical YESHUA. He is not. Christianity is Paul's sole creation. It is NOT a continuation of the Nazarene sect. Nor is it any form of distorted Judaism. Those of you who are familiar with my essay about the origin of Christianity remember that Christianity is a polemic AGAINST the Jewish religion and a disparagement of the TORAH. It's very scriptures are the height of antisemitism despite apologetics to the contrary. Paul began the process of transforming a Jewish apocalyptic teacher into a pre-existing part of God who calls Jews children of the devil. By the time John's gospel appeared, Iesous is hardly Jewish anymore.

And what gets to me is that in religious America's popular culture, the term "Judeo-Christian" has come into prominence. It's basically a meaningless phrase as pointed out by Arthur A. Cohen, whose 1970 book, “The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition’ describes it as a self-serving white Protestant catch phrase invented in the early part of the 20th century by ardent enthusiastic Christians to be "polite" to Jews while actually wishing that they at last acknowledged that Jesus is the messiah; in other words - Jews - your religion is wrong! Whenever a Christian says openly, "The messiah has come", he says to himself, "And the Jews be damned." The idea of a Judeo-Christian tradition is absurd. A Christian may say to a Jew, "We both worship the same God." A Jew does not make that statement to a Christian. Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/religionandpubliclife/2011/01/what-wrong-with-the-judeo-christian-tradition.html#ixzz215M3yjEn

As to the four gospels which wound up as books in the New Testament, they probably found their final editing between the years 70CE and 100CE. I said received their final editing then but no one can say that there weren't earlier manuscripts about YESHUA from which the authors of these gospels drew YESHUA traditions.
In fact, most New Testament scholars believe there were several early documents written about YESHUA very soon after his death. We haven't found them but the authors of the gospels we have drew upon traditions, certainly oral traditions and written ones. In the ancient world, Jews relied upon oral traditions. In fact, what we call the ORAL LAW, the TALMUD existed in an oral state for a long time before the rabbis committed it to writing.

2. The events described in the Gospels contradict each other.

Sure they do because they were written by different men in different locales who were in possession of different documents and traditions told to them by people who knew people who knew YESHUA. They may differ in details but in the basic YESHUA story as a whole, they agree. They agree that YESHUA came from Galilee from a town called Nazareth, that he was somehow in league with an itinerant preacher called YOCHANAN the Immerser, that he headed a sect called Nazarenes, that he acted as a teacher to the poor, uneducated Jews of Galilee, that he ran afoul of the Roman and Jewish authorities, that he was arrested during a trip to Jerusalem, that he was tried by Pontius Pilate and that he was found guilty of being a royal pretender [King of the Jews], and executed for fomenting rebellion against the establishment. They agree that after his execution, the sect of Nazarenes continued both in Galilee and Judea. We also know that after the year 70CE, our rabbis excommunicated members of the sect and added a curse against the Nazarenes and other "heretics" in the daily prayers, a curse which we continue to recite today although our SIDURIM no longer use the word NOTSRIM; instead we use the word "slanderers" and "arrogant ones". Nonetheless, earlier copies of our SIDUR have been found in which the word NOTSRIM is used. We know that the Nazarene sect continued to exist for several centuries and that their members were persecuted by Jews, Romans, and Christians. So whom were those Nazarenes following and whom did they hope for to return and start the new age?

3. There are things written in the Gospels that can't be historically true.

No kidding. Not historically true means they report things that cannot be proven or which go against a reality within which we live. No, we can't prove that YESHUA was born in Bethlehem or that his mother was a virgin or that he raised the dead or cast out demons or that he himself resurrected. That is, we can't prove the same kinds of things about the gospel YESHUA story that we can't prove about the story of the Deluge or the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Well, we also can't prove that an angel prevented Captain Stuart from reporting the location of the Union army to Lee. What has that to do with whether YESHUA was a real person or not?

The mythicists point out, as many have, and as I did in my essay about the creation and evolution of Christianity, that Xristos Iesous is really no different than the other dying and rising gods, and they use that as proof that Iesous never existed. Ehrman states that there is no proof that Osiris, Attis, and Mithras had stories similar to that of Xristos Iesous; no proof that they were born on December 25, born of a virgin, and died and rose to affect the salvation of their worshipers. I take issue with this. If I am not mistaken, the GOLDEN BOUGH, the monumental comparative study of mythology and religion, by Sir James George Frazer first published in 1890, says that the ancient mystery religions were very similar to Christianity's divine drama. But even if not, so what? Whether or not
Iesous is patterned after these pagan gods has no bearing on the historicity of YESHUA the Nazarene. Paul stopped dealing with YESHUA as soon as he came up with his own non Jewish religion. Nowhere in his book does Ehrman distinguish between our YESHUA and their Iesous nor between Nazarenes and Christians. In that, his argument against the mythicists is weakened.

As I was reading Ehrman's book, I kept looking for him to quote Paul's famous line to the Corinthians: - "Even though we have known Xristos according to the flesh, yet now we know him in this way no longer." - 2 Corinthians 5:16; but he never quoted it. That line alone should convince people that the mythicists are ironically right. The Christian figure upon whom they are casting historical doubt - Iesous - never did exist.

Mythicistic Inane Arguments -

1. Where did you say YESHUA came from?
One gospel says YESHUA's family was Bethlehem; another says his family was from Nazareth. - YESHUA is so closely associated with a town in Northern Israel called
Nazareth but the prophecies concerning the MESHIACH is that he comes from Bethlehem. So of course the Iesous story has to harmonize the fact of YESHUA's known
Galilean origin with a folktale about him being born where the MESHIACH is supposed to come from. But all the deniers are saying is that there are contradictory stories of where his family was from. NOT that he was not actually from somewhere. - We have a report that Moses' wife was from Midian and another one that she was from Ethiopia. Does that mean Moses had no wife?

2. There was no such place called Nazareth when YESHUA was supposed to have lived.

The earliest gospel, Mark, states that YESHUA came from a place called Nazareth. [Mark 1:9] If this were not a fact, why couldn't Mark say he was from somewhere else? YESHUA had many disciples from KFAR NACHUM[Capernaum] and he spent a lot of time there. Why not say he came from there, or anywhere? Why invent a town that didn't exist? It would have been better to just say he was from Bethlehem - BUT - everyone knew he was from Galilee.

3. YESHUA was called a Nazarene so his followers said he had to have come from a place called Nazareth.

Oh give me a break. What does Nazarene have to do with Nazareth? I'll tell you. Nothing at all. The sect of Nazarenes was probably in existence long before YESHUA came on the scene. There is no place in the New Testament that talks about the origin of the sect. By the way, not only was YESHUA called Nazarene, all his followers were called Nazarenes and they came from other places. Nowhere does the Christian scripture state that YESHUA had followers from Nazareth. In fact, the gospel puts the following words to the people of Nazareth in YESHUA's mouth - "Iesous said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and in his own hometown." - Matthew 13:57

A sharp person would stop me right here and say that Lubavitcher Hasidim don't come from Lubovitch but they call themselves after the name of the rebbe's city.
Good. Except there is a problem with that. Until the 1700s and the advent of the BA'AL SHEM TOV, Jews NEVER called themselves after the name of their rabbi. This custom originated with the modern Hasidim. Other Jews do not follow this custom.

To make matters worse, people, even the gospel writers, have confused Nazarene with NAZIR, a man who takes a vow not to shave or drink alcohol. There are also people who thought that YESHUA was called NOTSRI because the prophet Isaiah calls the messiah "the Branch out of Jesse"; the root of the Hebrew word "branch" is NUN TSADEY RESH. Because of this, early followers supposedly invented a town called NATSARET. This is so wacky. Obviously the first Christians did not even know why YESHUA and his Jewish followers were called NOTSRIM so they just associated the word with the town called NATSARET.
A NOTSRI [Nazarene] is NOT a citizen of NATSARET. A citizen of NATSARET is called a NATSARETI, not a NOTSRI.

The Hebrew root NUN TSADEY RESH has three meanings, not just one.
1. branch out or shoot out
2. hide or cover up
3. guard

Those who don't subscribe to the branch theory say that the NOTSRIM were a hidden or secret society. I believe that the Nazarenes were a pretty open group. In fact, their openness got them into trouble with the Jewish and Roman authorities.

So what's left? The name NOTSRIM probably means Guardians. Guardians of what? Your guess is as good as mine. Guardians of Israel? Guardians of the TORAH?
Today in Jerusalem there is a sect called NETUREY KARTA, Aramaic for Guardians of the City. NETUREY is the Aramaic form for the Hebrew NOTSRIM. In Aramaic, the Hebrew TSADEY is transposed to TAV.

Finally, if nothing else, the very word NOTSRIM can be found in our scriptures in Jeremiah 31:5 - KI YESH YOM KARU NOTSRIM B'HAR EFRAYIM -KUMU V'NA'ALEH TSIYON EL HASHEM ELOHEYNU - "For there shall be a day that the watchmen upon mount Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the LORD our God." If the King James translators chose to translate the word as "watchmen", OK; they could just as easily have translated it as "guardians" which is the same thing.

In fact, Israeli archeologists have found coins and pottery near the site of the modern Nazareth which date from the time YESHUA lived. Their theory is that the town was small when YESHUA lived there; perhaps fewer than 100 families who were very poor. This is NOT the type of town that the messiah should be from and it's relative unimportance left it unmentioned in written records and the TALMUD. Nevertheless YESHUA's followers insisted that he DID come from this poor, out of the way, small town.

But let us say that YESHUA was not from Nazareth So what?, says Ehrman. It's the same as saying he was not from Bethlehem. It does not invalidate his historical existence. He was from somewhere.

4. YESHUA's Followers Described as "Jewish Christians".

I guess I should not be shocked that even Ehrman does this. So many other people do, so why not he?

What were "Christians"? The diaspora Nazarenes who spoke Greek probably translated the Hebrew MESHIACH into their everyday language as XRISTOS. The word in either language means "anointed". But why would these Greek speaking Nazarenes have to invent a new name for themselves when they already had one, belonging to an established Jewish sect? So how did the name and identity of "Christians" come about? The book of Acts, which I have previously called one of the most historically unreliable documents in the New Testament, gives the origin.

"Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch."
Acts 11:25,26

Which disciples is Acts talking about? It cannot be the Jerusalem apostles. Why would either James or Peter call themselves "Christians"? And what is the context of the origin of the name? It seems to me to be a name of derision, something like "Oily People", that later the Christians themselves welcomed the way our ancestors welcomed the originally negative appellation Hebrews, or the way Americans welcomes the derisive term Yankees.

Besides we should look at the context of the verses. It's in one of those chapters that especially insults the intelligence of any critical thinker who knows anything about Christianity's origins. The author of Acts embeds two data into the verse; Paul is brought to Antioch and only then the term "Christian" is introduced. But who invented Christianity? Paul did. He invented it as a new religion for gentiles, and then he himself became a gentile by living and thinking as one. Jews didn't call themselves Christians. Even early Christian writers refered to the Jewish followers of YESHUA as NOTSRIM or EVYONIM [Poor People], a secondary name which the Nazarenes chose for themselves.

What about the rest of the context of Acts 11? Why do I call it insulting?

Look at these verses:

"When Peter came to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, You went with uncircumcised men and ate food with them. But  Peter discussed the matter from the beginning, and explained it in an orderly manner to them, saying, I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw  a vision. A certain vessel came down which appeared as a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners, and it came even to me. When I stared at it, I saw             four-footed animals, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and birds. And I heard a voice saying to me, Get up, Peter! Kill and eat. But I said, Oh no, Lord: for nothing TREYF or TAMEY has ever entered my mouth. But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God has cleaned, do not call it TREYF. And this was done three times."
Acts 11:2-10

What we have in this chapter is Acts' author beginning to gentilize the Nazarene movement by removing its Jewishness. All the ingredients are there. The reintroduction of Paul, the great gentilizer, the gentilization of YESHUA's lieutenant Peter, and the gentile CHRISTIANIZATION of the movement.

Here is what I find interesting. After Acts 11 tells us that Peter was confronted by the Jerusalem Nazarenes about eating TREYF and after he alibis himself, nothing is said about the Nazarenes' response to him. Either Acts is lying about Peter eating TREYF or the accusers rejected his story. Why do I think that?

Look at Acts 15:

"Certain men came down from Judea [to Antioch] and taught the brethren, saying, Unless you are circumcised according to the TORAH of Moses, you cannot be saved.
 So when Paul and Barnabas had a great disagreement and controversy with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question."
Acts 15:1,2

The certain men from Judea, obviously sent by James, are not happy with the gentilization going on among Nazarenes of Antioch, and whose name pops up? None other than Paul the Apostate, and his forever apostate buddy, Bar-Naba.

But wait! There's more!

Acts 21 is a story that I have gone over and over but I am quoting it here in the context of denying that the followers of YESHUA were ever "Christians."

"When we came to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the next day Paul went in with us to see James, and all the elders were present. And when he  greeted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the gentiles by his ministry. When they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said to him, Do you see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who believe, and they are all zealous for the TORAH? And they know about you, that you teach all  Jews which live among gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they should not circumcise their children nor to walk after our customs. What is going on? The multitude will certainly come together because they will hear that you have come here. [implied threat] So do what we say to you. We have four men which have made a vow. Them take, and purify yourself with them, and pay for their sacrifices when they shave their heads, so everybody will know that those things being said about you, that they heard about you, are nothing. And that you yourself also walk correctly [obey HALACHAH], and keep the TORAH."
Acts 21:17-24

And finally -
5. Who was the historical YESHUA HA-NOTSRI?

From what we can gauge by reading the New Testament and other documents from the first Christian century, both gentile and Jewish, we can make some tentative
statements regarding our Brother J. The documents are clear in telling us that YESHUA was a Jew from northern Israel of humble origins. He was probably born and lived as a young man in an out of way hamlet in Galilee. He received some Jewish education from some sources, luckily, because most Jewish peasants of his day were illiterate, and their "Judaism" was not the developed religion that the rabbis of his time were already setting in place as THE Judaism for the foreseeable future. He was associated in the beginning of his career as a teacher with a man called YOCHANAN HAMITABEL, John the Immerser, an itinerant apocalyptic preacher who believed that history was coming to an end after which the Kingdom of God would appear. What the exact relationship of YESHUA and this John was is uncertain but many scholars believe that John was YESHUA's rebbe for a certain time, after which YESHUA set out on his own to lead a group of followers called the Guardians [NOTSRIM], a Galilean based Jewish sect. The origin of this sect is unknown and it may have already been in existence when YESHUA became it's leader.

If we disregard all the supernatural details attributed to him and just concentrate on what can reasonably be considered as the actual history of his mission, we can accept that he, as well as the Immerser, believed the current age was ending and the messianic age soon to begin. The earliest gospel, Mark, tells us that he told his followers that the End would come during their own generation.

"He said to them, Truly I tell you that there are some people standing here who will not die till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power."
Mark 9.1

He therefore urged his followers to distribute whatever resources they had among the poor.
If the gospel writers can be believed, he directed his mission to Jews only and felt some antipathy to non-Jews.

"Don't worry and say, What shall we eat or What shall we drink or How shall we be clothed? Because all these things are what the gentiles worry about. Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these other things shall be added to you."  Matthew 6:31-33

"He sent out these twelve [disciples] and commanded them, saying, Don't go to any of the places of the gentiles, and don't enter any city of the Samaritans; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, The  Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." - Matthew 10:5-7

He was antipathetic to the extent that he criticized the rabbis for seeking out gentile converts.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you travel over sea and land to make one convert, and when he is made, you make him twice the child of hell than yourselves."
Matthew 23:15

As a Galilean, these sentiments are not strange. Of all Jews of the period, Galileans were the most ethnocentric and xenophobic. It was a Galilean revolt that began the war against Rome in 70CE. Some have said that YESHUA might have been a Zealot [S.G.F. Brandon, JESUS AND THE ZEALOTS; A STUDY OF THE POLITICAL FACTOR IN PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANITY, NY, Scribner, 1967]  but even if not, it's possible that many of his immediate followers were.

"And Simon [bar Jona] he nick-named Peter; and James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James he nick-named BNEI-ROGES, which means, The sons of anger; and Andrew and Philip and Bartholomew and Matthew and Thomas and James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot."
Mark 3:16-18

Some have speculated that BAR JONA may not mean "son of Jonah" but a transliteration of BARYON, the Talmudic name for Zealot. According to how the gospels characterize the two sons of Zebedee, their outstanding characteristic was violence, the most violent of the disciples. The other Simon is clearly called a Zealot.

But YESHUA himself was not happy with Jewish subjugation to Rome

"When they came to KFAR-NACHUM, the men who collected [Roman] tribute money came to Peter and said, Doesn't your leader pay tribute? He said, Yes. But when he  came into the house, YESHUA stopped him, saying, What do you think, Simon? Of whom do the kings of the earth take taxes or tribute? Do they take it from their own children or from strangers? Peter said to him, From strangers. YESHUA said to him, So then the children are free. Notwithstanding, we shouldn't offend them. Go  to the sea and cast a line, and take up the first fish that comes up. When you open its mouth, you'll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for me and you."
Matthew 17

Peter tells the tax collectors that YESHUA does pay tribute but YESHUA chides him and in a parable compares God to an earthly king who only extracts money from
strangers rather than from his own children [Jews]. Peter agrees and so YESHUA tells him, We are free [shouldn't have to pay these Romans anything]. However, at this point, YESHUA doesn't want to give the authorities any offense or opportunity to harass or arrest him and Peter.

But ultimately he was arrested and delivered up to Roman "justice" after he caused a riot in Jerusalem along with other insurrectionists right before the PESACH holiday, and was executed for the crime of being "king of the Jews" [Messianic pretender].

YESHUA's two major teachings were the two important teachings of Judaism; the hope for the Kingdom of Heaven [messianic era] and the Sanctification of God's Name which would help usher in the Kingdom speedily as spoken by him in his sermon to his followers.

"This is how you should pray: Our Father who is in heaven, Sanctified be your Name. May your kingdom come so that your will may be done on earth, as it is in heaven."
Matthew 6:9,10

This neatly echoes our KADDISH prayer and YESHUA may have been thinking about it when he spoke the words:

"Magnified and sanctified be His great Name in the world that He has created according to His will. And may His kingdom come speedily and in a short time from now."

And there is this.

"A man came running and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit OLAM HABA? So YESHUA said to him, Why do you call me good? There is no one good except One, and that is God. But you know the MITSVOT, Do not commit adultery. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Don't defraud anyone. Honor your parents. He answered and said to him, Teacher, all these have I observed from my youth. Then YESHUA looked at him and loved him, and said to him, One thing you still lack. Go and sell everything you have, and distribute the money to the poor, and you'll have a treasure in heaven. Then come! Pick up the cross and follow me."
Mark 10

YESHUA anticipated that he would die a martyr's death, sanctifying God's Name as I said, fulfilling the MITSVAH of KIDUSH HASHEM, and he invites any who follow him to anticipate the same end for themselves just as Jews did during the time of the Maccabees. His admonition that any who follow him have to be willing to take up their crosses, that is, be willing to die for the faith, is the message that he preached.

YESHUA's two metaphors which he applied to the people listening to his sermon, and by extension to the whole Jewish People, bears repeating:

"You are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost its taste, how can you salt with it? From then on, it is good for nothing but to be thrown out, and to be stepped on  by people. You are the light of the world .... But people do not light a candle and hide it under a bowl. They put it on a candelabra, and it gives light to all the people in the house. So let your light shine before people that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven."
Matthew 5:13-16

The metaphors are interesting and completely lost on their gentile readers. Salt is used to make meat KOSHER and YESHUA is saying that his Jewish listeners are to humanity what salt is to meat, namely, that the world can only be KOSHER so long as there are Jews in it. But if Jews don't act like salt [lose their savor], if they don't do MITSVOT, then they are not salt and they will be stepped on by their enemies. And again, he says that Jews are like candles set in a CHANUKIYA which is not hidden but which shows the miracles of God by shining publicly. So then they ought to shine and glorify God and sanctify His name by their deeds and lifestyle which will bring forth the Kingdom of God.

Mark's response:
The first gospel to be included in the New Testament is the one written by someone calling himself Mark. This gospel was composed around the year 75CE. Why did Mark choose to write his story of YESHUA and why did he write it at the time that he did?  

From the time that YESHUA died until the year 66CE, the Nazarenes were able to take control of their movement and the story of their dead leader. They were even able to overcome the false teaching of Paul and to begin to influence many of his Christians. But in the fateful year 66CE, the fatal rebellion of the Jews against Roman occupation of Israel began. Those Jews who believed that YESHUA was the messiah may have hoped that the outbreak of war signaled his imminent return as the Son of Man descending from heaven with an army of angels to help his people defeat the Romans and initiate the Kingdom of Heaven. When he failed to return, and when the Romans finally destroyed Jerusalem and burned down the Temple, Nazarene leadership headquartered in Jerusalem disappeared and the sect fell into disarray. Not only did many of the sect's followers turn away in disillusionment and rally around the Pharisees [rabbis] but those gentile Christians still loyal to Paul were able to point to the Jewish defeat by Rome as a sign that Paul had been right all along when he said that the Christians were now the new, true people of God. They pointed to the destruction of the Temple as the ultimate rejection of Israel and it's TORAH by God. To Christians, the super apostles had been put to shame and Paul vindicated. Any chance of a rapprochement between Nazarenes and Christians was now lost forever. YESHUA's Jewish followers as a sect weakened. For the rest of the three and a half centuries that it remained in existence, it was set upon and persecuted by Jews, Romans, and gentile Christians. And Christianity was launched as a new, separate gentile religion.

Mark now felt himself challenged to write a history of YESHUA as Iesous Xristos, no longer a Jewish messiah but as the universal son of God, misunderstood and rejected by Jews. By writing this presentation, Mark accomplished several things. Iesous was not the expected messiah of the Jews to come from Bethlehem. He is not even necessarily descended from David. Mark's gospel contains no nativity story. Iesous simply comes from Nazareth. He feels no special affinity to Jews; not even to his own mother and siblings. While he lived, Jewish leadership, typified by the Pharisees, are already early in his career his enemies. And although he came from Galilee, Mark is also writing for the Romans, letting them know that Iesous was really NOT a rebel against Rome, and the Christians are loyal subjects of the Empire, not military and militant rebels whom Rome has to be afraid of. Whatever Jewish followers he did have may have called him king of the Jews but all the Romans have to do is look around and see that the people who believe in him are gentiles, just like themselves. Christians do not hate Romans and other gentiles like the Nazarenes do. They love all mankind and have no interest in the destroyed Temple where gentiles were not even allowed in except to the outer courts. Iesous even told people to respect the Empire and pay taxes to Rome. I have not cited sources here but you can read the gospel of Mark for yourselves on line. It's the shortest of the four gospels. Later on, the gospels of Matthew and Luke were written using Mark's gospel as a guide. The later gospels have turned Iesous into a god or the born son of God. Mark's Iesous appears to have been born as a mortal and became adopted by God as His son immediately after his baptism.

"It happened in those days that Iesous came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately coming up out of the water he saw the   heavens open, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him. Then there came a voice from heaven, saying, You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
Mark 1:9-11

But Paul said that he did not become the son of God until his resurrection.

"Paul, a bond-servant of Xristos Iesous, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, and who was declared the son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead."
Romans 1:1-4

But we shouldn't concern ourselves with Christian fairy tales about a dying and rising god. This essay is about YESHUA, our lost brother.

Why should we Jews concern ourselves with this?
This is a good question since any talk of YESHUA appears to make Jews uncomfortable. We can't be blamed because his Hellenized name has caused us a lot of sorrow. But let's step back and look at our history. Our MEANINGFUL history as Jews begins about 500 years before the common era. This was a glorious century in itself.
Greek philosophy began to flourish as did the teaching of Gautama Buddha. It was also the century when Ezra the Scribe came to Israel from Persia to teach us how to be Jewish.

Ezra saw the beginning of the construction of the Second Temple but more importantly, under him, the TORAH received its final editing and for the first time the TORAH was read publicly by him. It was the ratification of the Jewish constitution under God. Under his teaching, Jews in Israel turned away from their gentile
ways and started to become TORAH observant.

But our ancestors were not to be allowed to live in peace. The fourth century BCE saw the emergence of Alexander the Great and the subsequent birth of Hellenism
whereby the Greeks chose to impose their culture and way of life upon the world they conquered.

By the second century BCE, Jews had to fight to save our identity and our religion. YEHUDAH MAKABI led an army of Jewish REBELS to victory over the Syrian Greeks
and the festival of Hanukkah was born. But in their fight against Hellenization, many Jewish people were martyred because so dedicated to TORAH were they that they chose death over breaking the commandments. This precedent of martyrdom remained alive in the Jewish soul and the Jewish ethnic memory. It established the whole idea of KIDDUSH HASHEM, Sanctification of God's Name which YESHUA taught his poor Galilean AM-HA'ARETSIM.

The most famous of the Maccabean martyrs were the woman with seven sons described in 2 Maccabees 7. Shortly before the revolt of YEHUDAH MAKABI, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Syrian Greek king, arrested a mother and her seven sons, and tried to force them to eat pork. When they refused, he tortured and killed the sons one by one. The mother also died but the Book of Maccabees does not specify if she was also a martyr.

There is an oblique reference to these seven sons in a question put to YESHUA.

"The same day came to him the Sadducees who say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, saying, Teacher, Moses said, If a man dies and has no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up descendants for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first, when he had married a wife, died, and having no children, left his wife to his brother. Also the second also dies, and the third, to the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection, whose wife shall she be of the seven? They all had her."
Matthew 22:23-28

John Hyrcanus [YOHANAN HYRCHAN] was king of Judea. His reign was from 134 to 104 BCE. He was a Hasmonean (Maccabeean) leader who was the son of SHIMON MAKABI and therefore the nephew of YEHUDAH MAKABI.

Beginning in 113 BCE, Hyrcanus began a long military campaign against Samaria. Ultimately, Samaria was overrun and totally destroyed. The inhabitants of Samaria were then put into slavery. These Samaritan slaves were Macedonian settlers.
Hyrcanus then invaded Transjordan in 110BCE.After his victory there, he went north to SHECHEM and Mount Gerizim. The city of SHECHEM was reduced to a village and the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim was destroyed. Destroying the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim helped Hyrcanus´ status among religious Jews who detested any Jewish temple outside of Jerusalem. Hyrcanus also initiated a military campaign against the Idumeans in the Negev near Eilat. Hyrcanus then instituted forced conversions on the Idumeans. This was an unprecedented move for a Jewish ruler. It was from Idumea that the Herodian kings came. Because they were the descendants for forced converts, the Pharisees had problems with their Jewish status.

Alexander Jannaeus [ALEXANDER YANNAI], the son of John Hyrcanus, was king of Judea from 103 BCE to 76 BCE.

Jannaeus led a Judean army that conquered the entire coastal plain except for Ashkelon, conquered western Samaria, Galilee and northern Transjordan. These victories assured Jewish control over the Mediterranean outlet.

More to the point, I will home in on Galilee which Alexander both conquered and Judaized.

Originally the home of the tribes of Naftali and Dan, this area of northern Israel had for many centuries been the home of various foreigners who either came to settle there or who had been forcibly deported there by the Assyrians. Already in the time of Isaiah it came to be known as "GALIL HA-GOYIM", Galilee of the Gentiles. [Isaiah 9:1].

The region contains Lake KINNERET which Christians now call the "Sea of Galilee". In YESHUA's day, it was also called Lake GENNESARET [Luke 5:1], from GINOSAR [Hebrew] "GE", valley", and either NETSER, "branch", or NATSOR, "to guard" or "to watch", the word which may also have produced the name of the town of Nazareth.

ALEXANDER YANNAI, after defeating the Galileans in battle, annexed the area to his Judean kingdom and forcibly converted the mostly peasant inhabitants to whatever stage of the Jewish religion existed at the time. Since the Galileans previously had no real ethnic identity which they could call their own and since
Judea was a rising kingdom which had Rome as a patron, the Galileans probably did not mind taking on the new Jewish identity. In fact, by YESHUA's time, they had become, along with the Idumeans, very militantly ethnocentric and anti-gentile after the Romans made Israel a Roman province.

As Jews, the Galileans of YESHUA's time probably were not very religiously educated and their brand of religion was more primitive that that of their brethren in Judea. I suggest this because I am sure that the incident of The Woman Taken In Adultery took place in a Galilean town. [Gospel of John, verses 7:53 to 8:11] The English idiomatic phrase to "cast the first stone" is derived from this story. The incident in which the town's inhabitants wish to stone the adulteress contrasts sharply with YESHUA's statement that an adulteress is to be divorced, not killed. [Matthew 5:31,32] This is also what the rabbis of his time taught.

Additionally Galilee was the home of the group which Josephus called the Fourth Philosophy but which called itself KANAYIM, "Zealots". The Galilean peasantry, egged on by the Zealots, gave the Roman occupiers grief and as a young lad growing up there, YESHUA must have witnessed many crucifixions, and he must have been influenced by the Galilean zeal since he attracted to himself militant Galilean disciples.

There had been some Jews living in Galilee at the time of its conversion under Alexander Jannaeus but we cannot say for certain that YESHUA wasn't a descendant of a converted family.

Given the history of later Israel as a religious country, persecuted by a king who tried to dissolve Jewish identity and Jewish religion, thereby sparking a revolt which included martyrs willing to die AL KIDDUSH HASHEM and the rise of a new non-Davidic dynasty of kings which eventually was done away with by foreign occupation, producing a longing for the Kingdom of Heaven, it is not farfetched to see YESHUA and the NOTSRIM as part of the Tradition of the hope for the Kingdom of Heaven to be brought about by the Sanctification of the Name. This is still an ongoing tradition except in our own time it is no longer an apocalyptic one. The old Romans are gone but Jews have a Jewish country now, and any Jew can visit there and walk in the same places that YESHUA walked. Very few will though because his name is a curse among us. YIMACH SHEMO refers originally to him and then to later enemies of Israel but should he be included among our enemies just because the gentiles have taken his identity and turned it into a monster? I personally don't think so. He is still my brother J and perhaps some time in the foreseeable future, he can be rescued from the infamy with which he is regarded by our people. Rabbi Shmuely Boteach has taken a first step in this direction. If an Orthodox rabbi is willing to do this, maybe the issue needs a new look. Be that as it may, no matter how people look at him, YESHUA was a real person who really lived in Israel and died as a martyr like so many other Jews whom the gentiles have murdered.

Additional Resources for further study -

Web resources on early Christianity
Posted on May 6, 2009

Ancient Christian Codex discovered at Nag Hammadi.

Here´s a round-up of some interesting lectures and podcasts about early Christianity available around the web.

The Early Christian Church (http://www.davidmiano.net/early_christian_church.htm), David Miano, UCSD.
This course gives the historical background to the rise of Christianity, and historical sources on the life of Jesus. I especially recommend lectures 6 and 7, which analyze the synoptic Gospels, and shows how they provide evidence for the differing beliefs of different early Christian communities. Miano is an energetic lecturer who uses analogies with modern culture to help make the ancient world more understandable. (Note: Miano made this course available on his own website after the end of the spring 2009 quarter.  As an extra bonus, YOU CAN DOWNLOAD THE COURSE powerpoint slides.) The syllabus is for Spring 2007 is at http://historyweb.ucsd.edu/pages/undergraduate/Spring%202007%20pdf/HIEU105sp07.pdf. The current course book list is at https://ucsdbkst.ucsd.edu/wrtx/TextSearch?section=653929&term=SP09&subject=HIEU&course=105.

Historical Jesus (http://itunes.apple.com/itunes-u/historical-jesus/id384233911#ls=1), James Sheehan, Stanford University.
This short course (11 lectures) looks at the historical evidence for the life of Jesus and the historical context for the rise of Christianity.

Messiahs and Resurrection in the Gabriel Revelation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWf3MkH2jms&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fhartmaninstitute.wordpress.com%2F&feature=player_embedded), Israel Knohl, Hartman Institute.
Last year Knohl´s analysis of an ancient Hebrew inscription, dubbed the Gabriel Revelation, made headlines around the world. (See Time: Was Jesus´ Resurrection a Sequel? at http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1820685,00.html) Knohl talks about his controversial theory and his new book in this short YouTube video. He argues that this tablet is evidence that the major theme of the Gospels, the idea of a suffering Messiah who would be executed and then rise from the dead after three days, was an existing motif in Jewish apocalyptic thought even before Jesus of Nazareth was born.

Related posts:

Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean at http://diyscholar.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/religions-of-the-ancient-mediterranean/

New to academic podcasts?
Are you new to the world of online lectures and courses? Check out my Getting started guide. http://diyscholar.wordpress.com/getting_started/
Wondering what courses to take? Check out my list of best free courses & lectures http://diyscholar.wordpress.com/best-webcasts-podcasts/
and my other list of even more courses! http://diyscholar.wordpress.com/even-more-courses/


The Do It Yourself Scholar by Dara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
The Do It Yourself Scholar Theme: Twenty Ten Blog at WordPress.com.  
Follow “The Do It Yourself Scholar’  Get every new post delivered to your Inbox. Join 162 other followers
Powered by WordPress.com

Feel free to send me email; CLICK HERE

Click to return to the Literary Index

Click to return to the website home page

Copyright 2012