The historical figure Jesus lived and died 2000 years ago. His public live lasted only 3 years. Prior to that we know precious little of his life. In his day Jesus was a religious leader and pointedly eschewed all things political. He rather pointed said that people should give the Cesar those things which are Cesar’s and to God those things which are God’s. That mean prior to people like John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, and their peers, he had already separated the life of politics for the religious life.
But then he said something very curious, at least according to the New Testament. It is something I believe either translates very poorly or is otherwise poorly explained. He stated that he had not come to change the law. He was referring to the ancient Mosaic law, the laws of the old Testament. And yet, that is exactly what he did. He made the state that instead of an eye for an eye, the aggrieved person turn the other cheek. Is that not a change to the old law? He also said prior to the stoning of a fallen woman that only a man without sin could throw the first stone. Again, a long held Jewish tradition, he changed.
The Jesus I know was a man who was the penultimate radical of his day. He chastised many of the Jewish leadership for their preference of worldly things over heavenly. But once again we have a departure from the traditional belief. Jews historically do not believe in an afterlife and yet Jesus, a lifelong Jew, spoke frequently of it. What did he know that the others did not?
But all those things are merely the lead-in for his more important message. The New Testaments of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are filled with “parables.” The word parable is an archaic word for story. That means Jesus told a lot of stories. It is unlikely that most of the characters in his stories were people he had known, although that cannot be dismissed out of hand either, we simply do not know. Either way, Jesus told these stories to make a point. My favorite is the story of the good Samaritan.
In the day of Jesus, Samaria was a region in the Middle East. The Samaritans were a group of people the Jewish population felt ill towards. They simply did not like them. And what does Jesus do? He puts a Samaritan in a situation where that person’s actions can only be thought of as being highly commendable. He tells us that this is the type of person we all should strive to be like.
Jesus spoken in the language Aramaic. His words were first put into the printed work in Greek, as far as we know. The book of Matthew, for example, is not a single text but an amalgam of several ancient Greek texts pieced together to give us the best and most complete version. But we must remember, someone who spoke primarily Aramaic had to tell someone who spoke primarily Greek the actions and words of Jesus. How good are you at remembering something, particular the words, spoken to you 60 years ago or more. That is exactly the situation the early writers face.
I mention all this not to take away anything from the four Gospels but rather to suggest that the words contained within them are the very best version of what happened and what Jesus said that we have. Each is a book of concepts meant to guide mankind in the years after the death of Jesus.
Unfortunately, there are Christians who take each word at face value never considering them to be a list of ideas and ideals. They prefer exacting principles to interpretive ideas. Even more, they fail to recognize the historical setting within which these words were first said, and then translated. For example, Christians believe in the virgin birth. This concept actually did not come into being for several centuries after the life of Jesus when Rome was translating the texts, again, and struggle with the word for virgin. They knew it was synonymous in the days of Jesus for the word “young girl.” Their true struggle was the concept of sex coupled with the fact that a 30 or 40 year old man named Joseph could possibly have had sex with a girl who may well have been only 12-years-old. In today’s society that is unacceptable, of course, but in the days of Jesus, it was not all that unusual and well within the Jewish tradition of arranged marriages. This is my long was of referring you back to Jesus saying “judge as you would be judged.”
It Is not the truth of historical facts that hurts a person like Jesus but rather the half-truths and out right fantasies.
Jesus took on a very traditional and very conservative religious culture by giving them a new way of looking at things. He never shied away from taking a position which ran contrary to accepted beliefs. He was in his day viewed as a radical, a revolutionary. But more importantly, he was hugely popular with the common man, and his popularity grew as his ministry continued. And yet, he never claimed to be anything other than a Jew. Even at his death, the Romans, in what was meant to be derisive, condemned him as “King of the Jews.” Jesus never portrayed himself as being such, but he absolutely was the most charismatic figure of his day.
When Jesus died and the Apostles came out of hiding, they referred to their new form of Judaism as “The Way.” They never called themselves Christians. That was an appellation which took about 100 years to evolve.
“The Way” was quickly spread throughout the Middle East, Turkey and Greece, well before it arrived in Rome. The Apostles insisted that Jews was in fact a deity. But that did not sit well with everyone in the Middle East. In the year 610 and Middle Eastern prophet named Mohammed started a religion we know today as Islam. Mohammed was well away of Jesus, his follows and predecessors. Mohammed, like many others where he lived, saw Jesus as a prophet and so when he was tasked with how to refer to Jesus, John the Baptist and earlier Jews, he referred to them as prophets.
Jesus does have a prominent position in Islam but not as a deity. They acknowledge him as an important figure within their own religion. I think it likely that the writers of Koran used some of the principles Jesus proposed within the Koran and carrying great weight. Mankind has a long history of adopting the ideas and ideals of predecessors into their own tradition for simple reason that they are good and worthy.
The two principles Jesus espoused the most were peace and love. I think we he to once again walk the surface of the Earth he would be aghast by what he would see by those professing to be “Good Christians.” I feel he would have huge problems with the amount of wealth accumulated by the Catholic Church in Rome and by other Protestant religions at their headquarters. Jesus most certainly believed in the redistribution of wealth. He once told a man to give half of everything he owned if that man had hopes to enter into heaven. I really like Jesus the historical figure over the religious Jesus so many religions have made him into. I think the two are so disparate as to defy almost all comparison.