Jesus (Joshua) and miracles are virtually synonymous. Millions of people around the world accept the idea without question that Jesus was a miracle-worker. There are millions of others, the number is unknowable, who think that idea is nonsense: there is no such thing as a "miracle." After a great deal of thought I decided to take a middle course. While I consider Jesus to be a great and good man, I don't think he was divine. And as far as I can tell, neither did he. On the other hand, he certainly seems to have had healing skills, partly physical, partly psychological. Also, as time goes by, more and more scientists recognize the connection between body and brain and the possibility of curing physical ailments by utilizing our mental abilities seems not only possible but probable. I had no difficulty concluding that Jesus was ahead of his time in manifesting these skills, and while I do not in any instance have Jesus claim to have performed a miracle, I had little difficulty including these events in the narrative. I have found that the great majority of readers, Christian and non-Christian accept my version.
Anne Rice, a very successful fiction writer of, e.g., The Vampire Chronicles, has also turned her hand to writing novels about Jesus of Nazareth. One of her preposterous concoctions is Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. Apparently this book is based in part on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a late 2d Century C.E. document. In Rice's novel, Jesus's family is in Egypt (having fled from the murderous KIng Herod), and Jesus, age about 7, is discovering his amazing divine powers. In the most outrageous example, he murders another child and later brings him back to life.
There are at least 2 things I am totally certain of: (1) Jesus and his family were never in Egypt. Jesus, in his life never traveled more than 100 miles from Nazareth in any direction; (2) Not as a child or an adult, did Jesus every kill anyone. It is absurd, not to say obscene, to claim that Jesus, the kindest of men (and children) would be party to such an act. It is disgraceful of Anne Rice to assert such nonsense The fact that thousands of her fans read these Jesus travesties and accept them is pathetic, but it is worse of Rice to create such monstrosities.
It may be that the answer to this question is “infinite,” i.e., that there is at least one Jesus for every believer, and another Jesus for every non-believer—who has an opinion of Jesus. Of course, there is the Jesus (or Jesuses) of the gospels; it is difficult to conceive of the Jesus of Mark’s gospel as equivalent to the Jesus of John’s gospel. Mark’s Jesus is no friend of the Jews, but John’s Jesus is a flaming anti-semite, who despises the Jews and equates them with Satan. Then there is Paul’s Jesus. We must remember that Paul’s affiliation with Jesus is decades earlier than the experiences of the gospel writers. I have my own opinion of Paul, but this is not the place to express it. However, Paul’s view of Jesus is less anti-semitic than the gospel writers.
All of these folks wrote well over 1500 years ago, and during those centuries ideas of Jesus have fluctuated, but until the Enlightenment (17th-18th centuries), the general view of Jesus by Christians (a loaded, but surprisingly indefinite category) were based on the idea that Jesus was divine—Son of God, equal to God, God before God—but always divine.
However we are now in a different era. While internationally the number of Christians may be growing, as a percentage of the population in western countries this number is shrinking.
But there is another view of Jesus that fascinates me. In the U.S., you can meet this Jesus repeatedly if you scroll among the many Christian television programs and channels. For the most part, the Jesus one meets here is a very personal Jesus. He is available to virtually anyone interested in having him in his or her life. This Jesus is a personal friend. He responds to prayer. He loves us—he loves everyone. The priest, pastor, or commentator tells us that Jesus died for our sins. How this was accomplished or what was involved is not always—if ever—clear. But since we have surely sinned since he was crucified, his forgiveness is available now, today, as well. All we have to do is accept him as our lord and savior.
There are tens—possibly hundreds—of millions of people, not only in the western world, but on all the continents, who accept this view of Jesus. And they are overwhelmingly sincere. To remove Jesus from their lives would be disastrous, even if it were possible. To cast doubt on the saving grace of this Jesus is despicable. Unkind and unworthy.
Other people, surely a minority, but a very active one, are interested in the “historical Jesus,” who by definition is not identical to the devotional Jesus, although many struggle w ith the attempt to merge these two images of Jesus.
What phase are these parallel inquiries in today? A question for another posting.
The great majority of historians, clergy, and religious commentators believe that Jesus (Joshua) was an apocalypticist -- a fancy word for those who believe (in any era) that the end is near, a great event--probably very destructive-- and a new age will begin. For Christians, and some Jews, this means that the judgment day will occur, and the good will be separated from the evil. The good will live happily in God's kingdom and the evil will suffer the torments of hell. It is undoubtedly true that many Jews of the so-called Second Temple Era believed that the apocalypse was imminent, and may holy men as well as not-so-holy men were preaching this very thing.
I don't believe that Jesus was among them. He was assuredly a devout and committed believer in an all-powerful and all-wise God, and he was convinced that it was his duty--and privilege--to do God's will. He was all too aware of the sufferings of his people under Roman rule, authoritarian, vicious and deeply cruel. And the cruelest man of the era was Pontius PIlate. It was also clear to Jesus that Pilate was intent on provoking a rebellion, which he would then joyfully crush with the full weight of the empire. At the Passover of Jesus's death, probably 33 C.E., Pilate had requested from the Syrian Legate additional troops. He had already quietly brought all the soldiers under his command from Caesarea to Jerusalem, dispersing them from Herod's Palace to the Antonia Fortress, where he waited anxiously for the proper moment.
Jesus understood this very well--the apocalyptic event that awaited his people was not the arrival of God's kingdom, but the holocaust planned by Pilate. It was from this understanding that Jesus acted as he did, and it was to save his people that he sacrificed himself. He did not die for some nebulous concept of "our sins," but to thwart the villainous Pilate. He succeeded, but only for a while. In 66, goaded beyond belief, the Jews erupted in rebellion, and there was no Jesus of Nazareth to save them.
One of the most despised figures in all of human history is Judas, one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. According to the traditional telling, Judas is the person who identified Jesus to the Temple guards who were searching for him by leading them to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus and the others were spending the night, and then kissing him on the cheek. Thus we have the original villain who betrays a friend or family member by giving the “Judas kiss.” Of course, the story is preposterous. Jesus had been openly teaching in the courts of the Temple for days, making no attempt whatsoever to hide his identity. It was the time of the Passover, the Feast of Liberation. Jerusalem was filled with travelers from all over Israel and the Jewish diaspora. Pilate, concerned there might be an uprising at this most dangerous of moments, had requested and received the basing of extra troops from Damascus in the Syrian Department. There is no doubt that the Romans knew who Jesus was and they were following his every movement. They knew that day after day, Jesus had been walking from the home of Lazarus in Bethany to the Jerusalem Temple and preaching for hours.
Joseph Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest and his supporters and guards, not to mention spies, were also aware of the presence of Jesus, his disciples, and hundreds, perhaps thousands of followers who watched his comings and goings, and listened to his teaching iin the Temple courtyard.
We know that subsequently Jesus was arrested by Pilate, condemned as a seditionist, tortured and crucified. What happened subsequently is a matter of overwhelming importance in human history.
As for Judas, we are told that he was agonized by his betrayal and committed suicide. In The Murdered Messiah, these subsequent events are described in a singular manner.
But what about Caiaphas—and Pilate? Their stories occur after the time frame of this book. However, we do know something of their subsequent history. According to traditional telling, Jesus was crucified in 30 C.E. I believe this terrible event occurred between 33 and 36 C.E. The year 36 C.E. was of tremendous importance in the lives of these powerful but not lovable men. Caiaphas was stripped of his status as High Priest, although the reasons are not entirely clear. Pilate, ruthless as ever, ordered a violent attack on the Samaritans at their sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim. Thousands were slaughtered and shrines destroyed, all without any apparent authority. This terrible event was reported to Rome, Pilate was stripped of his position as Prefect (governor) of Judaea, ordered to return to Rome and more or less disappears from history.