Knowledge of the life of Jesus comes to us from the Gospels, so we need to accept them as written for what they are, a post facto rendering of history. Historians place the birth of a male child called Joshua, who is considered to be the historical Jesus, in either 4 BCE or 2 BCE. His death by crucifixion at the hands of the Roman Procurator of Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate, takes place when Jesus is thirty to thirty-three years old. What is certain, is that there was a man called Joshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) who played a significant role in the history of the Jewish people at that time in Roman Judea.
Before continuing, I should make two points clear to the reader; this blog is written by a very Secular Jewish person who views Jesus as a co-religionists who was a courageous advocate for his take on Judaism at that time. Jesus was a well-educated Jewish person who was raised in the Pharisaic tradition of the Oral Law. The Pharisees followed a more personal form of Judaism which did not depend in the Temple or the priestly class represented by Sadducees. The importance of a personalized form of Judaism independent of the need for a Temple in Jerusalem was critical, since it would be destroyed in 70 CE.
Why then, should a Jewish person, advocate for the importance of Christmas as a time to recognize the birth of an important leader of a significant Jewish sect? As such an advocate for the memory and respect for Jesus as a person, and as a Jew, there is no room in my heart for the mythology of Jesus which forms a significant part of the four gospels. There is no room in my head for the idea of an Immaculate Conception or miracles or resurrection or even a Messiah. These ideas are impossible to accept as anything other than a significant mythology because of my focused study of the history of the Jewish people and a rigorous education in the sciences. Now let’s continue with these points clearly stated.
Jesus is important to me because:
1. He was a scholar, a thinker and a leader of an important Jewish sect.
2. He, and those who followed him maintained the essentials of Jewish practice, including all the celebrations of holidays, dietary laws and the rite of circumcision, but decried the idea of sacrificing animals as a part of religious practices.
3. He had the courage of his convictions, and was willing to accept the consequences of his actions knowing that the High Priests and the Sanhedrin were the puppets of the Roman State in Judea.
4. He advocated a belief that is based on all that was good in Judaism and was a kind a gentle leader. He truly led with the consent and support of his followers.
Jesus had the audacity to challenge the practice of ritual sacrifice by attacking the practice of changing foreign currencies to the coin of the realm. This service was required by those who came to the Temple, so they could purchase animals for sacrifice by the priests of the Temple. This has to be true, because such people as money changers operated in the Hall of the Gentiles, the first great courtyard inside the Temple where commerce of various sorts was allowed by all peoples, Jews and non-Jews alike. When he attacked these activities within the Temple, Jesus knew he was attacking the dominance of the priestly class as well as the Roman State that controlled them. Jesus was not naive politically. He knew exactly what he was doing and why.
There was nothing Jesus did as a sect leader that would have bothered either the Jews or the Romans, because he was simply the leader of another of the many sects of Judaism that were common throughout Judea and the Jewish diaspora that existed in those days. He only became a problem when he attacked the practices of the Temple. At that point he became a threat to stability in Judea, after all, he had a growing following which might begin agitating against the practices advocated by the Sadducees. They might had fomented rebellion, all be it a minor one, that would undermine the authority of the Temple and the Sanhedrin. Since there had been several revolts and rebellions by the Jews in Judea, Rome was not going to allow the possibility of any disruptions to peace (under the strict control of Rome) and law and order in Judea.
I won’t go into the matter of the trial and punishment of Jesus in this post since the intent is to honour his birth and his importance as a Jewish person in the history and evolution of a religion. There a few interesting ideas to present before ending this post, including the role of the Essenes in this story, and the matter of Jesus’ lost years.
1. The Dead Sea Scrolls informed us that the Essenes practiced Baptismal rites and held a strong belief in resurrection and the idea of a Messiah as early as 200 BCE.
2. The Essenes were apolitical and had no place for all the arguments between the Pharisees and the Sadducees or the struggle for power between the Priestly class and the Roman government. They separated themselves from all of that by retreating from society.
3. It is likely that Jesus spent some time with the Essenes. Jesus disappears from the Gospels at the age of 12 and reappears when he is baptised by John in the river Jordan. John the Baptist was a Jew and his practices were very clearly influenced by the Essenes. That is exactly why Jesus accepted baptism.
4. Jesus is supposed to be of the House of David. He had twelve disciples. King David ruled with the consent and assent of the Twelve Tribes and their leaders, a striking parallelism. Initially the power was in the hands of King Saul who came from the tribe of Benjamin. Saul was not the popular choice. When Saul died as a result of his failed attempt to conquer Philistia, David was announced king. David came from the tribe of Judah and had been the popular choice all along.
The idea of the popularity of Jesus and the modified Judaism he espoused, makes him a significant person in my mind. Has the followers of Jesus continued as a Jewish sect without the pressures of persecution, would it have survived as a sect? Would it have grown into the major streams of Christianity, Catholicism, Orthodoxy and the all the manifestations of Protestantism that exist to day is a good question with no answer? Of course that’s not the way history unfolded.
Have a great Christmas, and let’s all celebrate the birth of a great man, Joshua the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
As always, your faithful blogger, L Alan Weiss (Larry) – Author of Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment
Please visit my author website at www.lalanweiss.com