This paper will use Hermeneutics, the tools of history and cultures to look into the search for the historical Jesus. Is it possible to study the geographical areas of the world to determine the birth and life of a given individual? Those of us, who are Christians, accept the life, death and resurrection of Jesus without question. I believe, help thou my curiosity. Today, in the parts of the world so vividly described by the writers of the bible, American troops travel. The media in an effort to describe location and activities, record biblical names and places. The conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine is making history come alive in the 21st century. We can get a look into the lives of ancient people, whose traditions and life styles may not have change significantly in over 2,000 years. Today’s world’s events help us to understand that what we think we may know about people may not be factual. We know that Israel is today, as it was yesterday. We know that the children of Abraham are still in conflict over birthrights. We see the bitter dispute between neighbors, and we can just imagine what it was like during the time of Jesus.

What is the spiritual language of violence? Did the violence of the people attract them to God centered violence, or did God create a violent people in order to demonstrate his compassionate and mercy? There are many paths to find God; there are also many paths to find Jesus. Some find him in a simple biblical story. Some find him in the complex history in the development of his church. Still others find him through intellectual discourse. They want the empirical evidence of his history and existence. This paper cannot answer all of these interests, but I invite you to take the journey with me to find the why and the how of the historical Jesus.

Jesus was born

Jesus Died

Jesus came back from the dead

He lives 33 years

He turned his world upside down

He healed people

He made many enemies

He made many friends

He healed the sick

He raised the dead

People made up many stories about His life

A religion was started in His name

Religious wars were fought in His name

Great violence occurred in His name

Great peace occurred in His name

2 billion people follow a religion centered on His name and mythology

Today, people believe the same history about the beginnings of Christianity as people did 2,000 years ago. Christianity is the largest religion in the world. Islam is second with 1.5 billion people and it is growing.

 

However, as seminary students in search of the truth, we must be aware that there are other bodies of scholarly work in the universe of knowledge, which suggest that maybe someone was playing fast and lose with our belief systems. Was there an historical Jesus?

Research on the Question of the Validity of a Historical Jesus.

 

Marcus Borg[1] suggests two negative claims about the historical Jesus. First he says that Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah, or have a message centered on himself or his own identity, and second, Jesus did not expect the coming of the Kingdom of God in his own time.

Borg suggest that a “spirit person” someone who took on the hopes and dreams of a depressed people.

There are others who join with this idea that the people living during the time of the historical Jesus needed a symbolic element of a supernatural nature, which had the power to life them out of their conditions. People needed compassion, which was lacking from the impassionate rulers of Rome. They needed someone to would heal the sick and raise their dead loved ones.

The question arises; did the oppression of an occupying force give rise to the Jesus spirit? Will man when pushed beyond endurance seek a savior who will come forth through some supernatural means and save them from life’s cruel adventures?

Earl Doherty[2] suggests that Christianity began with a mystical Christ, which was influenced by the Jewish mystical speculation on the scripture found in the writings of Solomon as well as the influence of Platonism and Hellenistic ideas of the day.

Robert Funk[3] suggests that Jesus was not apocalyptic. Jesus was different from John the Baptist and Paul who were apocalyptic, and preached a message that the end was near, and all who did not listen and perform certain rites were doomed. Jesus did not scare people to him as many of the founders of Christianity have done. Jesus tended to use a more radical approach, and focused on the every day issues concerning humankind.

It may make for some exciting intellectual discourse to ponder on the reliability of the scripture concerning the life of someone living thousands of years ago. However, intellectual massaging of the mind does not address the needs of human voices crying out in a hollow universe. If man cannot or will not hear the cries of the masses, then perhaps the spirit world can. Perhaps the spirit world can and did influence the mind until the mind gave form to a savior. The stories of the Old Testament and the New Testament are the stories of a human population struggling with adversity. Most of that adversity had to do with political, social and economic conditions of the time.

The stories that we read over and over again in our Holy books help us to endure our life’s struggles. Women all over the world, throughout time have been in the center of pain, injustice and sorrow. Therefore, it is understandable, that if the universe were going to change some of these conditions, it would have to center around the needs and wants of women.

The Jesus story elevates women from some of the despair they face. Women reading about a young girl having a baby are not concerned if the story is true or not. They are not concerned about the identity of the author of the story, the story fits, and they say yes to it. It does not matter to the oppressed if Jesus said the words attributed to him in the style and manner presented. The language we receive this information in is Shakespearian, is does not matter that Jesus spoke and thought in Aramaic. It does not matter that he is Jewish, and all of his teachings are Jewish, it still works in the minds on non-Jewish peoples.

The recently discovered Gospels of Thomas have not shed any light on why the Jesus thing works. The Gnostic beliefs and writings about a coded body of secret knowledge only available to and for the truly selected do not matter. What matter is that there is power in the scripture as the word of God. The scripture gives value to the meaning and purpose of our lives, and when that meaning has no purpose, the words still give comfort in time of distress.

The writings of the theological scholars are just another way to view events of history for which we have to depend upon the written word. We were not there during the formation of Christian history. We will never know what factors gave rise to a Christ. We may never know about the historical Jesus, any more than were know about Moses, Abraham or Jacob. Words control history and our belief systems. Our lives are influenced by what we choose to believe.

 

Who is here to testify to the reality of the Crusades? Words written by men connect our minds with history. The spirit of the Christ is something else. Jesus is not a historical figure. The historical Jesus could and would not work in today’s Christianity. Jesus has a transforming presence in which he indwells within the human being at this time and at this stage of his existence.

The historical Jesus preaching on a mountaintop to groups of people wearing dresses does not work. However, in the moment of greatest need the spiritual Jesus steps forth and takes his place besides and inside of individuals of the Christian faith. It is important that one should not come to seminary and lose their religion. The discourse is exciting, but the living and transforming power of Jesus, as a central belief system is more powerful. We tell the story because it has power. We discuss the wars centered on the birth of the religion, because that is the path that some travel to find meaning in their religion. We center on the men and epic leaders who lived during this time of spiritual birth, because form a time frame perspective, it gives order to our Roman minds. The exciting stories around the birth of the Christian and the Catholic Church can be viewed as similar to the stories of Moses and the Israelites and the many battles they had to endure in order to give birth to the nation of Israel. Therefore, just sit back and take a ride through history and some of the events, which influenced the birth of the largest religion, as of today, in the world.

 

The Evolution of Christianity

 

The evolution of Christianity is the evolution of history.[4] The story of a child born to a

 

“virgin” mother and unbelievable understanding husband is only part of the story.

 

Why did this birth of peace cause so much death and destruction in the world? Is

 

Christianity the story about Christ, or a story about a world rising out of its stages of

 

barbarism? Would this story have happened with or without the birth and life of the

 

carpenter? The Christian story is many stories about many men. Strong men with

 

strong beliefs that had the power to kill over those beliefs. The sword is turned upside

 

down and made into a cross. It is not the cross which gives birth to the new religion, it

 

is the sword that travels on its destiny, and on its way finds Christianity.

 

If there had not been a historical Jesus, human kind would have created one. The has always been the need to have someone suffer for the pains of human existence. The Shakespeare tragedy of depicting events in life in such a horrible way that it evokes deep feeling of sorrow and relief are well played out in the story of the crucifixion. The Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world has to be born again. There are many worlds and many sins yet to be taken away.

The story of the disciples, who represented the 12 human characteristics of man, demonstrates that the story of Christianity and its evolution is the story of the world. The Christian churches that were established could represent the nations of the world giving birth to itself.

What does it say about human nature, when a gentle man walks among people, talking to them and healing their pain, and they turn on Him and crucify Him? What does it say to those who want to go out and help the poor and oppressed? What does it say about trust and dependency? Will there always be a Judas to watch for in Christian work? In the message of Jesus, even though the knowledge of a Judas is pre known, does the work of the messenger continue on? Huston Smith[5] suggests that sometimes people have problems distinguishing between the religion of Jesus and the religion about Jesus. Christianity sometimes gets away from the message and tries to analyze the messenger. The evolution of Christianity moved into violence and sacrifice, somewhere along the way it lost the Jesus message of love and helping.

Christianity moved into what became “churches,” these churches divided off into political power bases and belief systems. It is a true testament to the miracle of God, that the Christian church has survived. It is broken into a Western church called Catholicism and an Eastern Church represented by the Orthodox countries and religions.

During the days of Peter and Paul, it was just a question of serving Jews or Gentiles. To circumcise or not to circumcise. The fight spread all over the world, and serious battles were fought over rites and rituals. Churches could not agree on the elements that represent the “true” wishes of God, or even who was God, or how many Gods are to be worshiped.  

               One individual who had a significant influence on Christianity and the early church was Marcion (c 85-c. 160 A.D.) Many of his views are being discussed 2,000 years later, and have can be the discussion in theological centers of learning. He was a Gnostic ship-wner, who started the belief about two Gods. This introduced the concept of dualism. He believed that the God of the Old Testament was not the same as the God of the New Testament. He believed that the God of goodness and kindness sent His son Jesus to earth because He took pity on earth. The believed that the two gods were in a constant battle for the souls of men. He believed that the evil God of the Old Testament was a punishing God, one of wrath and fire punishing mankind when ever He had a temper fit.

Marcion started his own belief system. He denied the virgin birth, the infancy stories, the crucifixion and the resurrection. Of course without these core beliefs, there is no Christianity. Marcion ideas are close to some of the beliefs of some of the new religions. Some of the new religions, not only do not believe in the “Jesus” story, but some go as far and rewriting the chapters in Genesis of the Old Testament. In true Star Wars fashion, some of the new religions believe that there were several chapters before the book of Genesis. These chapters center on the theory that Adam and Eve were not suppose to be together. Eve was suppose to be Satan’s bride, and when she became involved with Adam, the Gods let sin come into the world through the sexual union between the two. There is a whole dialogue concerning sex and sin.

Marcion[6] and the other major heresies were the forerunners of the thinkers and riters of books such as The Da Vinci Code[7]. Today they are not called heresies, and there is no one or religion powerful enough to punish the thinkers or writers. The question is however, what difference it makes if the writers say that Jesus did not exist. That the writers of the Gospels copied from each other, or that Jesus had a child by Mary Magdalene. These stories make exciting  room talk, but it has no place in the church. It has no place in religion. It is not religion any more than the Crusades were about religion and the kingdom of God. Religion is not suppose to cloud the mind so that you cannot see the face and the purpose of God. It is a spiritual miracle that the message of Jesus Christ survived. The mind of man tried to destroy it two thousand years ago. The spirit of the message however, has been passed down to this generation. Jesus is the heart of God, and He is received in the heart, when the heart knows, religion is being experienced, but Christians must be careful how Church history is read and accepted.

 

A Culture of Violence, the Foundation of the Christian Church Church history does not center on a spiritual issue. It centers around the history of the world and its violent struggle through the ages. The violence of the Middle East and Europe remains center fold in any research of the history of the church. Violent king seeking to capture other kings and kingdoms. The blood baths of European history gives birth to a violent and oppressive set of beliefs.It does not appear as if religion or European history had any significant effect on each other. Religion did not make the Europeans a more compassionate people, and history of religion does not provide spiritual road maps of man in search of his god.Spiritual searches seem to take a philosophical journey rather than a spiritual one.

The journeys of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates appear to be more spiritual quest than Peter, John or Paul. The battles of the Caesars, the Pharos, the Alexander’s and the Constantine’s of history had little to do with the will of God for His people. A religion that comes out of a bloody crucifixion could and did inspire a careless regard for humankind. What would have happened if the Prophet and messenger of God gave us a quiet reflection on the spiritual meaning of life? What would have  happened if the quieter populations of the world gave birth to this new religion? What would have happened if Jesus sat under the tree, talking to a group of people about God’s plans for the world, rather than being nailed to the tree with blood dripping  down its bark? Did a violent people need a violent religion? Did Europe need a Jesus on a cross crying out to His heavenly Father? Did the Christ message get lost or swallowed up in the message of violence. It would appear that a people born of violence were not afraid to die for their religious beliefs, but may have lacked the courage to live for them. To dies for the love of Jesus makes no spiritual sense, it does make sense if motivated by the violence of the time. Violent actions produce violent thoughts and the belief that through force individuals will change their ways. Christian history tells little about man and women living lives of kindness and grace. It tells little about individuals living in complex societies and obeying the laws of those societies. Stories of men and women spreading love and kindness without challenging the status quo. This would have been a message of   Christianity which could have had a different history. The armies and the fighting forces of the world would still have fought their needed  battles, but the mingling of Christian history with warfare produced a story of violence  and conflict. Perhaps this trend of thought is naïve . Christianity was born at the cross of violence  not at the heart of love. What is the meaning and significance of the cross? It was always a symbol of death. Perhaps the message was not suppose to be in the cross. Perhaps the message was suppose to be in the quiet heart of the women in the life of the man called Jesus. Perhaps only the women heard and understood the message that the Christ came into the world to deliver. Perhaps the one who bore the life, wiped the blood which oozed out of Christ tortured body, stood by the door of the tomb which housed the human remains of the Savior, and were the first to hear the words of the risen Christ saying “GO and Tell.”          That story would not be exciting. That story of women as the foundation of The Christ Message, would not sell in local markets. It is more exciting to read about body part being torn apart by lions for the sake of depraved human entertainment. The history of the churches of the past are very similar to the stories of conflict and confusion in modern day churches. People gather around strength and differences, and the individual who is strong enough to prevail become the leaders of the church. The Jews and their religion had their own cultural and spiritual belief systems for centuries. It was a family tradition and religion. As the children in the family grow up, they sometimes want to branch out on their own. Two men, Peter, a Jew, and Paul also a  Jew, decided to do his own thing. Peter wanted to bring some new ideas back to the Jewish family and Paul wanted to start a new family all together.                The battles of these two people and positions, is also not about religion or spirituality.  It centers on power and influence. 

               Christianity then became a struggle between two power forces. The Peter religion and the Paul’s religion. However, neither was strong enough to inspire religions to be named after them, so they started the religion of the written word. Each writer claimed to have divine inspiration, and a fax machine straight to the front office of God.

 

These writers hired themselves an army of translators, since all of these messages were sent back written in a different language or coded, they were able to announce themselves as the only authentic voice of God. Each writer had a different Fax machine and a different set of translators; Christianity became a religion of words and translations of words. There was even the question of plagiarism. It was difficult to determine who copied from whom. It could be suggested that some of the translators were moonlighting with the opposition.

Debates began to center around who wrote what, and who wrote it first. Theories developed with respect to who had the “real” fax machine. The real one was able to send secret messages. Gnostic messages sent in a form that only the select could or would understand. This was not religion, this was politics. This was sociology and or psychology, but it was not religion. Peter set up and organization with specific rules of order. The individuals who became part of this organization, did not have to think, they only had to follow the rules of order, and let selected individuals think for them.

Peters organization became the Catholic Church, which because it followed the order and structure of the Roman government was successful. It still however was not religion. It was obedience. Paul decides to go out into the ’Hinter” lands and start club houses around the known world. The members of these club houses focused on issues relating to life and behaviors for living effectively with each other. There were many conflicts, but it still was not religion.               Enters Constantine the Great. He represented the Roman government. He was engaged in the many fun sports of the time which were the bloody battles. Christians running around not quite sure of who or what they were had been a minor annoyance, but the bulk of the Christian’s time was spent in internal disputes over who said what, who saw what, and who wrote what.

             In between these disputes on who was or was not a Christian, and who had the authority to speak for Christians, there was always the willingness on the part of some individuals to go to the cross of sacrifice and suffering. Since they were not clear about the religion, they were clear about the suffering part. Constantine realizing that he was only making the confused Christians happy by leading them to the enlighten, through suffering and death decided not to help Christians enter into heaven on his watch. He made an interesting decision. He decided to make Christianity the official state religion of Rome. Christians were not sure of whom they were or have clear foundation on a religion with structure. By becoming the official religion of the state, they permitted the state to determine what Christianity was. The state, as represented by Rome was in the business of conquering countries and bringing them into the Roman Empire through force. The state did not take on the religion of Jesus the Christ. The church and the followers of the disciples took on the personality of the Roman state. The history of the church from that point on became the history of violence. The violence of Rome became the violence of the Church and this continued for over one thousand years.

                 This is our bible. These were the events, which influence the writing of the bible. The studying of the bible must be taken in the context of the history of the people and the times. Words can be used to express those events, but unless there is an understanding of the cultural and historical factors surrounding any given event, the words are almost meaningless. The bible cannot be studied in any meaningful way without paying attention to what was going on during the time when the writer was writing.

All of the characters in the bible have personalities. Each of these personalities contributed to the richness of the story. The story would just be a collection of words without some context. The same word may have different meanings for different peoples. The same scene described could be preceived in a different way depending on cultural background. Hermeneutics ask the researcher to take into consideration all of the variable surrounding world. The who, what where, when, how and why are the major questions of the bible. These are the questioning world that should be used if the biblical stories are to have meaning in our lives.

[1] http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

[2] ibid

[3] ibid a founder of the Jesus Seminars

[4] Houston Smith, The World’s Religions, Our Great Wisdom Traditions, Harper San Francisco, A Division of Harper Collins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

[5] Huston Smith, The Religions of the World, Our Great Wisdom Tradition, Harper San Francisco, A Division of Harper Collins Publishers 10 East53rd Street, New York, NY10022, V111. Christianity

[6] Gnosticism, Montanism, challenged the church to define itself more clearly. Marcion was the son of a bishop. He was called the first born of Satan. He could not believe that the father of Jesus was the same God of the Old Testament. Professor Mickler Church History 1 Winter 2005,

[7] Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, Doubleday New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Auckland. Interesting story about Jesus not dying on cross, but marrying and having a child. The story detains how the Catholic Church tries to kill all the descendants of Jesus in order to keep the male domination of the church. Entertainment but not religion

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