Searching for Jesus without Christ

Little is actually known about the thoughts, words and actions of he, who is called Christ. For over 2,000 years, many have sought to either find Jesus or figure out what he was reportedly about. Some have wrapped whatever the essence of Jesus was around themselves in order to:

  • do right
  • have their sins forgiven
  • receive the promise of everlasting life
  • gain power over other people
  • enrich themselves
  • make themselves feel better about themselves
  • justify their grievances against others
  • Whomever or whatever Jesus was, has been long lost in these processes.

When serving my last year in the USAF in Iceland, I had a good friend, who hailed from Orange County in CA. A conservative area then, an even more conservative area now. My buddy was planning to be married to his high school sweetheart after he finished up with his 1-year tour in Iceland. About 3 months into that tour, my pal received a letter from his girlfriend that she had “found” Jesus and that if they wanted to continue down the path toward marriage, he too would have to find Jesus. My friend was beside himself. He asked me what I thought he should do.

In the course of my 2.5 years of serving either in SE Asia or Iceland, I’d been witness to many of my servicemates receiving these types of letters. Without getting into it, 2+ years before, I had essentially  the same experience for very different reasons. 

My friend showed me a couple letters from his girlfriend. Was fairly clear that she was saying the choice was between him & Jesus. During my early teenage years, I had been closely attached to the Lutheran church. Served as an altar boy, and had a minister, who was pushing me to consider the ministry as a career path. The Jesus which I had been taught proved too dogmatic for me. When I went off to college, took a course in religion which had the effect of turning me away from organized religion in all forms. Philosophies became what I sought and collected. 

I suggest to my that all he could really do is follow his heart. If he really loved the girl enough and she loved him, it would probably be worked out. My pal wrote his girlfriend back and asked her if they could put a hold on his decision about Jesus until he got back. He still had 8+ months left to do in Iceland. Within 6 weeks, his girlfriend had dumped him and found a replacement, who was as immersed in Jesus as she thought she was. My friend took it hard. 

All of this took place at the height of the early 1970s “Jesus Freak’ revolution. Many of the hippies were turning to Jesus & Godspell was on the horizon. 

Had a lot of free time on my hands in Iceland. Spent a lot of it in the gym playing basketbal, reading what ever caught my interestl and using the sauna. The situation with my buddy and his far-off girlfriend caused me to use some of my time to try to figure out what this “Jesus revival” was all about. I bought a King James version & read the entire Bible through twice, trying to figure out what magic was in there that I may have missed earlier. What I found were a lot of contradictions and unbelievable claims which seemed more myth than reality. Once again, I put Jesus behind me. 

At this point, if one of the alleged chroniclers of Christ were writing this story,  I would repent of my ways & come to find what much of evangelical Christianity claims to be the real “Jesus”. The reality for me has been basically the opposite.

Always had curiosity about what the real person & life of Jesus may have been all about. Perhaps I hadn’t looked long or hard enough into the ebb and flow of Christian-induced religious intoxication. Primarily due to the rise of pseudo-Christianity within the right wing of US politics, I decided to take one last dive into it.  

Learned long ago in my college course on religion that the New Testament was a set of second, third & fourth hand accounts of Jesus written by people, who had their own agenda. Learned that a wide variety of 20th Century discoveries such as the “Dead Sea Scrolls” and writing of the Jew Gnostics and other long ago discarded Christian sect were available. Began digging into them.

At the risk of becoming like those who wrote the gospels, in particular the writing of the gospel of John, I’m going to summarize my view on the life & times of Jesus. Want to strongly emphasize this is “my view”, not some godly or Christian inspired awakening. I went into this looking to understand Jesus, not myself. 

Jesus came from the northern part of Judea. This was basically the other side of the tracks as far as most of the traditional Jewish community was concerned. The Jewish religion had two major components. Pharisees, the elitists and religious intellectuals, and the Sadducees, the hard core traditionalists. There were, as there always have been, plenty of strange offshoots of the religion. Probably a good idea to note that Israel/Judaism had always been a small to medium size fish, swimming among a group of sharks.

What I’ve learned from those who claim to repeat direct quotations from Jesus (see the Gospel of Thomas), is that Christ was something of a snarky evangelizer, who spoke in parables and had a general knowledge of what passed for medical treatment at that time. Jesus was somewhat in awe of John the Baptist. Jesus never claimed to be God. Other than the standard context of priests granting absolution, Jesus did not claim to be a vehicle for forgiveness of all sin. What Jesus did seem to believe was that Judaism was meant to be not only the religion of the downtrodden Jewish community but a path toward not only a fuller understanding community and spirituality, as well as how to make life better by working together. Jesus in essence, was a funnier, earlier, more humane, version of Karl Marx. 

Jesus' brand of the Jewish religion was different than that being practiced by both his Jewish counterparts or those who practiced assorted pagan religions. These religions all expected something out of their god. Good crops, protection from their enemies, healing their illness, absolution for their sins. The little I’ve learned about the direct quotations from Jesus and his practices, suggests this is not what he was offering. Jesus was talking about creating a kingdom of heaven on earth through practicing those things which benefit the entire tribe. Do not worship expecting to have your god do something for you. Worship so that you may have knowledge and methods to better both your own and your neighbor’s lives. Worship through dedication to expanding the spirit of those practices. Forego anything which does not fit into that spirit. Jesus believed his religion was improving and ministering to his tribe. Jesus was “the truth and light”, but Jesus was showing that any Jew, who understood his message, could be the same. Eternal life for the Jewish nation came from implementing his truth and light.

Fairly certain that being baptized by/ and the killing of John the Baptist, was a major turning point in Christ’s ministry in northern Judea. I have a suspicion that the 40 days/40 nights attributed to Christ having spent “in the desert”, was actually his having spent time with the Jewish gnostics, who populated that desert area.

After returning from “the desert”, Christ's following in northern Judea expanded significantly. Hard to say if this was more a result of the conditions of that time, the assassination of John the Baptist or the popularity of Christ’s traveling road show with his 12 disciples. My personal opinion has become that Christ was a hell of an entertainer and a passable medical practitioner. 

When or how Christ developed political ambitions is up for question. Would speculate that the driver was the growing size of his crowds. The reports that Christ selected 12 disciples, one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel, and told those disciples that he would be their leader, speaks of an ambition to take over Judea and become the “King of the Jews”. Problem was the Romans already had their hand selected King of Jews and the Romans were nothing if not violent in their suppression of anything with threatened their version of Pax Romana. 

Am uncertain that Christ was really all that political. Feel that his genuine belief was in the spirit of Jewish community and adherence to the tenants which made that community stronger. Christ felt only he and his disciples, being as selfless as possible, had the ability to guide the nation of Judea in that direction. 

Jesus was a hardliner when it came to the one god edict. Most of Judea wasn’t.  Have come to think that Jesus believed his god was much more a holy spirit/path for lifting the burden of the downtrodden, than Yahweh or any individual entity. Christ seemed to believe that accepting his tenets provided salvation and the future of Judaism. Doubtful Jesus believed in any afterlife. Extremely unlikely that he planned on ending up hung on a Roman cross.

I believe Jesus was a quintessential Jew. His teachings were for the Jewish diaspora. He had no thought of going beyond them. He spent the majority of his life and ministry in the backwaters of Galilee.  Have come to believe that Jesus may have been quite naive. When he took his traveling medicine & religion show to Jerusalem for his final Passover celebration, Jesus was unaware of the conscienceless brutality of those in power and the self-absorption of the general populace in Jerusalem. Jesus had little idea of what he was riding into. 

Have also come to believe that when Jesus was referring to the Son, Father or any other form of deity, he was implying that anyone could become such a deity by plugging into the thinking of treating other Jews as you treat yourself/family & doing everything in your power to make their lives better. “Worshiping one god” was acceptance and practice of these basic principles. What Jesus thought of as God lies within these principles. Jesus believed this holy spirit was truly the god of Abraham and Moses. These principles were the Holy Spirit and any who bring them into their lives are deified and have made themselves holy. These principles also transcend death and have the potential to bring an everlasting better life for their adherents and descendants. Jesus was about the salvation of the Jewish nation. Jesus would likely have voluntarily given up his life to assure the independence of the nation and its adherence to the tenets which could sustain it. 

The Christian myth of Jesus of Nazareth began its rise in the late 1st Century. Since that time, prophets, priests, charlatans and followers have appropriated whatever the original message was and have used it to build a constantly evolving Christian mythology. A mythology in which forgiveness from sins and promise of an afterlife are given in exchange for fealty and tithes. 

What every Jesus' actual message, it was framed in the context of being a tribal philosophy. My contention is that message was about compassion, wisdom, adaptation, innovation, persistence and community, Parts of that message were relevant beyond Jesus' tribe. This is why self-proclaimed Christians were able to push and expand it far beyond that tribe.

Said in the beginning that I understand what I’ve come to think about Jesus has no more validity than what any other has related about Christ’s life and purpose. Will suggest however that if any of the above has validity, what the evolution of Christianity has wrought is not only highly ironic but the antithesis of what Jesus of Nazareth's actual message was.  

Speculation as to what the historical ministry of Jesus of Nazareth may have been:

Jesus began his career as an itinerant rabbi/healer in Galilee.  Jesus may well have become a healer due to his father being a healer or having been apprenticed to a healer. The focus was more healing than religion. When Jesus was not healing, he was analyzing the Jewish faith. Jesus had some form of a religious epiphany which caused him to seek out John the Baptist. I believe that John the Baptist was a leading prophet of the Essene sect, primarily the Qumran Community.  The baptism moved Jesus enough to go into the desert and reside at the Qumran Community for some period of time. There Jesus became more prophet/rabbi than medical practitioner.  Jesus had evolved to seeing himself as a healer of not only mind and body, but of the entire Jewish community. He soon developed not only a wide following in the northern region of Judea, but a group of 5-12 disciples. Those who came to see Jesus perform just as his disciples seemed more interested in the healer than the prophet aspect of his gatherings. His disciples seemed not to fully understand Jesus’ general message. Sometime between the age of 33-35, Jesus decided to take his disciples and followers to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover. For whatever reason, Jesus' activities around the Temple greatly disturbed the Jewish leaders, who controlled it. They complained to the Romans. The Romans, who were extremely brutal, would tolerate no infringement of the public order (Pax Romana).  Jesus was put on trial and sentenced to death. He was either hung, tortured, crucified or perhaps some combination of all three. What happened to Jesus' body after his death is problematic. What Jesus was teaching was carried on by James the Just and disciples both old and new. What the people saw as resurrection was the rise of the power and promise of Jesus’ message after he had died. 

The rest , as they say, is religious theory and practice

Why do religions, like political parties, always seem to evolve into entities built to empower their leadership?
fortunately for humans, the universe is not looking for affirmation of its existence

                                                               truth does not promote itself
                                                                                   truth simply is