Many of us started our faith journey as Christians. Striving to get closer to the Master, we immersed ourselves in His word. Then, as if waking in a nightmare, we realize our Jesus was not God but instead an idol. The obvious giveaway is the New Testament and its contrast to the Tanakh (Old Testament). Only one can be right, and since the New Testament needs the Tanakh to validate it, and the Tanakh can stand on its own, the answer is clear. However, when we awoke, it was heart wrenching. After the anxiety that accompanied our discovery subsided, questions begin to surface. One of the major questions is “Who is Jesus?”. We will attempt to answer that here.
Some poise that Jesus might have been fabricated. If this was done, it might have been done to benefit the Roman Empire. As we know, before the New Testament was accepted (canonized), the religion of Rome was Christianity. Interestingly, the New Testament puts Rome in a favorable light, i.e. celebrating Roman Officers (Matthew 8:5-13, Mark 15:39, Luke 7:1-10) and encouraging Jews to pay taxes (Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:14-17, Luke 18:9-14). Even when it came to Jesus execution, the blame did not go to the executioners- Rome, it went to the Jews (Matthew 27:25). This is quite remarkable, especially since Rome was a negative influence on Israel; occupying her and defeating her twice in revolts. All of this happened in the time frame of the New Testament.
As for inventing a Jesus, why invent a religious Jewish icon when many candidates existed back then. We know from history, and the Book of Acts, there was a lot of Jewish upheaval in Israel during the first century (Acts 5:34-39). Many Israelite factions fought to bring back the purity of their faith. Maybe Jesus was one of these people, and over time or through design he became the legend we know about today. Remember, Jesus did not say he was God (Matthew 19:17, Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19), Paul did (Colossians 2:9, Philippians 2:5–8, Titus 2:13).
What does history tell us about the key figures back then that could have morphed into the legend of Jesus. Interestingly, there were five Jesuses that fit the build for the Christian messiah1:
- Jesus ben Pandira, 106-79 BC, he spoke about end time prophecy and was killed Passover eve.
Jesus prophesied about end times; Matthew 24
- Jesus ben Ananias, 62 CE, prophecies of doom for Jerusalem and was flogged by Romans, later being killed by them.
Jesus prophesied about the doom of Jerusalem; Luke 21:23-24
- Jesus ben Sapha, 68 CE, created controversy in the Galilee region
Much of Jesus’ ministry was in Galilee; Matthew 3:13, Mark 1:14, Luke 4:14, John 2:11
- Jesus ben Gamala., 68/69 CE, leader of a peace movement. He was killed.
Jesus was a driving force behind a peace movement; Ephesians 2:17
- Jesus ben Thebuth, 69 CE, a priest who gave Temple treasures to the enemy.
Jesus says the Temple will be destroyed; Mark 13
Yet, all these five Jesuses are different people. How can they be one? To make a point, let’s look at Davie Crockett, Daniel Boone and Jim Bowie. Most people answer, when given these three men’s name, that they were great Americans that served as frontiersmen in the early 1800s, but whose who? Which one died at the Alamo or even which was from Texas? Most people wouldn’t know. This is because we have homogenized them into a single person. This pioneers lived 200 years ago, Jesus is from two millennium back. So, it is very possible this might have happened to the Jesus that was engineered into the New Testament. To confound things more, we find that many of the miraculous traits Jesus exhibited (son of god, virgin birth, human deity, resurrection) are found in earlier Greek gods2.
Jesus was more than likely a real person and a mortal. Actually, he told us that. He refers to himself in all four gospels as “son of man”. This is a term used throughout the Tanakh for referring to oneself as a mere human. For example, Ezekiel calls himself “son of man” 92 times. I think Jesus received legendary status as one or all five of the Jesuses of the day. From here, he could be woven into this “New” testament that was first accepted (canonized) in Rome. Likewise, we see a lot of Greek culture blended into Jesus. This is part of Hellenization. This is when the Greeks fuse their cultures into others to create unity. Remember the New testament, unlike the Tanakh, is not written in Hebrew. It is written in Greek.
- Humphreys, M.A. Kenneth. “A Surfeit of Jesuses! But No “Jesus of Nazareth”” A Surfeit of Jesuses! But No “Jesus of Nazareth” N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.
- Jackson, William, J. “Jesus, the Legendary Greek God” Center for Tanakh Based Studies, August 11, 2015