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JESUS: Myth and Reality

Christianity is replete with assumptions and traditions regarding the life of Jesus, some with merit and
some not. The basic and familiar narrative is of a humble Jewish carpenter, working away in a
workshop in Nazareth, who suddenly, at the age of thirty three, decides to reveal himself to the
surrounding culture as the long awaited Jewish Messiah. ccording to Christianity he did and said
nothing of significance between the ages of thirteen, when we have a New Testament account of his
discourse with the priests and other religious leaders in the temple, and the beginning of his public
ministry. There were however attempts by some early Christians to fabricate a history of these lost
years. !e find one such attempt in a writing known as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. This
pseudepigraphal writing first appeared in the "econd Century, and rather than providing any legitimate
information on the childhood of Jesus, presents a series of fables akin to the typical #reek pagan genre
of trickster god myths, rendering it useless as a resource for fleshing out the life of Jesus beyond the
#ospel accounts. Then again, if we rely on the traditional approach we have almost nothing to provide
reliable and culturally consistent information on the life of Jesus within the conte$t of %
st
century
Judaism. "ifting through the mythology that has accumulated over &,''' plus years in search of the
historical evidences that will lead us to a clearer understanding of Jesus within his %
st
century Jewish
conte$t is essential to understanding the comple$ities of both his teachings and his place in human
history. (n short, we cannot really understand Jesus to any significant degree unless we first have a
basic foundation in his personal background and the culture in which he lived. )f course, all this
implies the need to shed the familiar images and assumptions, to literally ignore the icon the Christian
religion presents in favor of the Jesus who emerges from the shadows of history. This e$ploration of
Jesus stripped of the disguises foisted upon him by tradition reveals a far more dynamic figure than
Christianity would have us see. Conse*uently it also deconstructs the various myths presented by many
independent researchers who blend fact with their own New ge biases and pet occult theories. !hat
emerges from this honest approach to Jesus is an even more revolutionary, an even more powerful
figure than any hitherto glimpsed in the visions of both church and mystic.
(t may be surprising for many to discover that, though ( am a priest ordained in the institutional church,
my hypothesis is that Christianity is in fact not the original faith taught by Jesus and his apostles. This
isn+t to suggest that Christianity is necessarily defective in some sense. (t does however mean that at
some point the original teachings of Jesus were to the Jew first, and that much of their fuller
e$pression within historic %
st
century Judaism was, over a span of many years, abandoned by the more
numerous non,Jewish believers for something of a somewhat lesser nature. nd there can be no
*uestion that Christianity after the Nicene Council suffered from a gradual syncretism with many
-oman and #reek pagan practices and observances .though given a Christian covering to make them
palatable/ common to the #reek and -oman cultures of that era. 0ssentially this would indeed render
Christianity to what ( suggest is a lesser vehicle of the teachings of Jesus.
Time Travel
(f you were to travel back in time to ancient (srael in search of the original followers of Jesus you
would undoubtedly find them very hard to recognize. 1ou wouldn+t find monks, priests in -oman
collars, giant cathedrals or for that matter the pope. 1ou would find a people very much within the
cultural paradigm of "econd Temple Judaism. Not at all a Judaism like that of our modern era, but a
Judaism of diverse voices and e$pressions, ranging from the strict 2evitical and ritual oriented "oferim
."adducees/, to the slightly less, but still rigid 3erushim .3harisees/, to the Jewish terrorists of that
time, the 4ealots, and finally the more mystical oriented ssayanim .0ssenes/ of the famed 5ead "ea
"crolls. Jesus and his teachings fit very much within this religio,cultural paradigm, where even claims
of Messiahship were not uncommon. (n this time travel you would find men and women faithful to the
observances of Mosaic 2aw, not a people gathering for a pork barbecue dinner after a "unday service.
1ou would find them observing the ancient Moedim .holy days/ of (srael, wearing tzizit .fringe/ on
their clothing, praying in synagogues and living 6ust as any other Jew of that time. The western
0uropean mind has transformed Jesus from what he was, a Torah observant Jew, into a figure created
in our own #entile image. Jesus was certainly not an oddball in his community, though he did go
against the grain of those religious leaders in charge. 7owever he looked like, observed the same rituals
as, and celebrated the same holy days with every other Jew of his era, as did his disciples. ( believe my
research demonstrates that rather than looking upon Jesus as a disruption of, or cultural rupture within
%
st
century Judaism, Jesus was actually very much a part of the normative fabric of Jewish society.
(ndeed, ( believe the evidences indicate rather heavily that he was associated, at least for a period of his
life known infamously as the lost years with the 0ssene sect. This fact .not e$plored here/ does fly
in the face of one fairly current and popular New ge myth of the married Jesus.
The Married Jesus
"ince the publication of the best selling book +7oly 8lood, 7oly #rail+, authored by Michael 8aigent,
-ichard 2eigh and 7enry 2incoln, the hypothesis that Jesus was married has gained considerable
attention. Critics of the New Testament and the orthodo$ view of the life of Jesus point to this as a
central problem that cannot be brushed under the rug. The hypothesis can be simplified to the
following9 the historical Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, very probably at the wedding feast at
Cana mentioned in the #ospel of John, and as a result of this marriage they had children. They claim as
evidence the following passages in the #ospel of John:
And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And
oth Jesus was invited! and his disciples! to the marriage" And when they wanted wine! the mother of
Jesus saith unto him! They have no wine" Jesus saith unto her! #oman! what does this have to do with
you and me$ mine hour is not yet come" %is mother saith unto the servants! #hatsoever he saith unto
you! do it" And there were set there si& waterpots of stone! after the manner of the purifying of the Jews!
containing two or three fir'ins apiece" Jesus saith unto them! (ill the waterpots with water" And they
filled them up to the rim" And he saith unto them! )raw out now! and ear unto the governor of the
feast" And they are it" #hen the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine! and 'new
not whence it was: *ut the servants which drew the water 'new;+ the governor of the feast called the
ridegroom! And saith unto him! ,very man at the eginning doth set forth good wine; and when men
have well drun'! then that which is worse: ut thou hast 'ept the good wine until now" This eginning
of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee! and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples elieved on
him"
John &:%,%%
;rom peripheral evidences and this passage the <Married Jesus 7ypothesis= posits the following:
%/ To be a rabbi in first century Judea, one needed to be married. This was not a demand of Torah,
per se, but strong (sraelite tradition.
&/ (t was the groom+s family that was responsible for providing wine at a first century Jewish
wedding. "till is tradition today. Thus Mary going to Jesus when the wine ran out is evidence
that this was the wedding of Jesus.
>/ (t seems Jesus+ mother held some position of authority at the wedding, in that she went directly
to her son when they were out of wine. nd she was not 6ust complaining. Their interaction
indicated that she was addressing him in a tone of both responsibility and admonishment for
him to do something about it.
?/ Jesus also seemed to have authority over the servants, as he tells them to do this and that, etc.
@/ nd at this point, he is simply <the carpenter+s son.A 7e has no rabbinic authority established.
"o the pertinent and essential *uestions before us are, did Jesus have to be married to be a rabbi, and
was the wedding feast at Cana his weddingB The answer to both *uestions, ( believe, is a definite no
when we e$amine the totality of evidences. !hile it certainly would have been the average thing for an
(sraelite man to do, it was by no means an established must as we will see through an e$amination of
rabbinic literature. nd furthermore, if Jesus was an 0ssene as ( theorize, he likely would not have
married and his rabbinic standing would have been well established. !e will also closely e$amine this
New Testament passage for more clues as to the reality of the situation. 2et+s e$amine each of the five
evidences given above for the <Married Jesus 7ypothesis=.
Marriage or Celibacy?
)ne of the errors of the <Married Jesus 7ypothesis= is it+s selective reading of rabbinic literature and
ignoring the fuller historical conte$t of Judaism in the first century, which was much more diverse than
it is today. !hile certainly not a common practice, celibacy was not unheard of even within the
3harisaical sect of Judaism as scholar, archaeologist and 8iblical historian #eorge ;oot Moore tells us:
-Celiacy was! in fact! not common! and was disapproved y the rais! who taught that a man should
marry at eighteen! and that if he passed the age of twenty without ta'ing a wife he transgressed a
divine command and incurred God.s displeasure" Postponement of marriage was permitted students
of the Law that they might concentrate their attention on their studies! free from the cares of
supporting a wife" Cases li'e that of Simeon be 'Azzai, who never married! were evidently infre/uent"
%e had himself said that a man who did not marry was li'e one who shed lood! and diminished the
li'eness of God" 0ne of his colleagues threw up to him that he was etter at preaching that at
practicing! to which he replied! What shall I do !y soul is enamored of the Law" the population of
the world can be #ept up by others"""It is not to be imagined that pronouncements about the duty of
marrying and the age at which people should marry actually regulated practice$-
-abbi "imeon was clearly celibate and considered a holy man because of his focused devotion to the
Torah which prevented him from marrying and having children as tradition and culture may have
demanded of him. 5o note that he was not dis*ualified to be a rabbi by virtue of his celibacy, nor did it
dis*ualify the 0ssenes. This precedent is reflective of the #ospel of Matthew which says:
%is disciples said to him! If that is the relationship of a man with his wife! it1s not worth getting
married2 3ut he said to them! 4ot everyone can accept this saying! e&cept those to whom celiacy
has een granted" (or some men are celiate from irth! while others are celiate ecause they have
een made that way y others" Still others are celibate because they have made themselves that way
for the sa#e of the #ingdom of heaven" 5et anyone accept this who can"
6atthew 78:79
This last reason for celibacy that Jesus taught to his disciples is the e$act reason given by -abbi
"imeon and the 0ssenes. The 0ssene adherents were described by contemporary historians Josephus,
3hilo and 3liny as being celibate. (n %
st
century Judaism a class of individuals who were +allowed+ or
+e$pected+ to be celibate were prophetic figures$ This is witnessed to throughout Jewish history.
0$amples are the prophet Jeremiah, the wilderness prophet 8anus .attested to by Josephus/, John the
8aptist, and possibly even 0li6ah. 0ven the &nd century Chasidic miracle,worker, the #alilean rabbi
3inhas ben 1air taught that celibacy was essential to reception of prophetic wisdom and the 7oly "pirit.
-abbinical literature does indeed give witness of other celibates such as 0liezer ben 7yrcanus who said
of his celibacy, <-6y soul is in love with the Torah" The world can e carried on y others-. That such
a tradition could be enshrined in the Talmud clearly suggests that celibacy, though frowned upon by the
rabbis, was not unheard of in Judaism during the time of Jesus+ earthly ministry. The common rationale
for celibacy is an all,consuming commitment to #od+s will in one+s whole life that precludes the usual
path of marriage and child,rearing. Certainly a fitting reason for the Messiah.
(n view of this tradition in early Judaism, it is hardly surprising that the Jewish scholar #eza Cermes
views Jesus as celibate in fulfillment of his prophetic ministry. 7e states,
-Against such a ac'ground of first:century A) Jewish opinion! namely that the prophetic destiny
entailed amongst other things a life of continence! Jesus. apparent voluntary emrace of celiacy! at
any rate from the time of his reception of the holy spirit! ecomes historically meaningful"-
"o, although it would have been +normal+ and e$pected for a young Jewish man to be married, we have
e$amples of where it was acceptable for that not to be the case. Therefore, Jesus would not need to be
married even by 3harisaic thought to be a rabbi. Thus ends one myth upon which the married Jesus
hypothesis is predicated.
The Wedding at Cana
Now we come to the claim that the wedding feast at Cana was the wedding of Jesus, possibly to Mary
Magdalene. This claim again demonstrates a lack of comprehensive understanding with regard to not
only Jewish weddings of that period, but also a dishonest picking and choosing of the totality of
scriptural evidences regarding this episode in the life of Jesus. The first point in refuting this myth of
Cana as the wedding of Jesus is the report of John that Jesus was invited to the wedding feast.
0n the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee! and the mother of Jesus was there; and oth
Jesus and his disciples were invited to the wedding" John &:%,&
There is no reason why a groom would have to be invited to his own wedding. To even suggest so is
not only absurd, but a dishonest rendering of the internal reporting. ;urthermore, a groom would
certainly not leave with his mother after his wedding, since his primary responsibility would be to his
wife at that point. nd again, John tells us that Jesus left with his mother and family members.
And after this he went down to Capernaeum! he and his mother and rothers and disciples; and they
stayed there for a few days" John &:%&
Note there is mention of every family member, yet no mention of a wife. )f course there would be no
mention since he was a guest at the wedding as demonstrated in the verses previously e$amined. -ather
than this story proving Jesus to have been married, it demonstrates that Mary was a somewhat
overbearing mother, who sought to help the bridegroom at this wedding feast save face rather than run
out of wine. This is where the claim that Mary going to Jesus regarding the wine is evidence that he
was the bridegroom falls apart. -ather than panicking himself or demonstrating concern for what was
certainly traditionally the bridegroom+s responsibility, Jesus clearly states it is not his nor his mother+s
concern. The literal translation from the #reek te$t reads as follows with regard to Jesus+ response to
his mother. (n verse three Mary rushes to Jesus and .paraphrasing here/ says, <They+ve run out of wineD
5o somethingD= To which Jesus responds:
#hat is that to me and to you! woman$ John &:?
;irst, Jesus+ use of the word .woman. in response to Mary was still respectful, but considered at that
time to be a maternal rebuke. (n essence he was saying, <This doesn+t have a thing to do with us,
womanD= 7ardly the response of the bridegroom, but certainly an e$pected response of an invited
guest. 0ach time a phrase such as this occurs in the #reek it is always a disengagement from the
situation at hand9 a denial of responsibility. -ather than substantiating the claim that Mary had
authority at the wedding it further demonstrates that she was being a bit of a busy body, overstepping
her boundaries with regard to the situation at hand. nd yet Jesus still helped the bridegroom, whoever
he was, by telling the servants to fill the 6ars. 7is directing them to do this does not demonstrate his
authority at the wedding, but rather the normative authority that any rabbi would have held, and indeed
the panic that must have set in at the thought of running out of wine on the part of the servants and no
doubt the bridegroom. nd if, as ( believe, he was associated with the 0ssenes .a training period that
would account for the e&act number of years considered to be lost/, there is also no substance to the
idea that was not yet a rabbi. (n short, the internal te$tual evidence of the New Testament accounts can
only be used to substantiate a married Jesus if one ignores the totality of their reporting as well as the
testimony of rabbinical literature regarding the customs of %
st
century Judaism. (n short, one would
have to ignore all evidences available, distort those chosen as proof te$ts, and avoid the reality of the
situation.
Final Thoughts
The net of this is that any reconstruction of the life of Jesus from the New Testament and rabbinic
literature must go to great lengths to demonstrate that any traditions it cites actually are descriptive of
the situation.
"o we have established that,
%. Jesus did not have to be married as the witness of the New Testament, -abbinical literature and
history confirm.
&. The Church did not cover up any marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
>. -econstructions of Jesus+ life from critical usage of the New Testament and compared with
rabbinic material substantiates the basics of the #ospel accounts.
?. The married Jesus hypothesis fails both the tests of rabbinical history and New Testament
criti*ue.
1et another false Jesus hypothesis bites the dust as the Jesus of history is revealed in full %
st
century
Jewish conte$t.