This article is going to be controversial, and I fully accept that, but I want to establish that this article is meant to engender conversation not provoke an Internet Holy Flame War. What I write here comes from an educated place. I have done an in depth study of several versions of the Bible (NIV, KJV, and a terrible translation of WYC), the Torah, the Koran, the Book of Mormon (Latter Day Saints), as well as many different teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism. A good portion of this is also based around the book “Zealot” by Reza Aslan, a noted and respected historian. Also note – There is SO MUCH information that I cannot possibly put it all into a reasonable article. So many hundreds of thousands of books have been written on the subject, so I’m going to do my best to condense this down into the bare facts based on historical context and cultural background. Ready? Three controversial statement in 3… 2… 1…
Jesus was NOT white.
Jesus was a Jew, who followed the laws and practices of the Jewish tradition.
Jesus was not the only messiah.
Okay, so let us back up and let me explain these before I move on.
1) Jesus’ skin pigmentation was not the pale color attributed to a Caucasian cultural background. It is acknowledged in the Bible that Mary is indeed the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:42, ESV), and as Mary herself was not the bastard daughter of Romans, we can assume she matched the cultural pigment profile of the region. Even assuming God is Caucazoid, Jesus is, at best, a healthy mix of melanin profiles.
2) Jesus was a Jew. He was called King of the Jews many times over, he practiced Jewish traditions (the last supper is generally assumed to be a Passover meal), and he was called Rabbi by his disciples and followers (Mark 9:5, NIV).
3) And finally, and this is where historical context comes into it, Jesus was not the only messiah. It’s true! In his time, many called John the Baptist the messiah, as well as a little known guy named Apollonius of Tyana. Not to mention many others throughout that period. See, times were not easy, what with the Romans basically pervading every aspect of everyday life. There were so many men claiming to be the messiah that, even though proclaiming oneself a leader or king above that of Roman leadership was illegal, mostly the Roman’s ignored it. So what sets Jesus apart from these others? Why does the Christian faith honor him above all others? In a word? Propaganda.
Now hold up. Before you get all angry with me, propaganda isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I am in no way saying that Jesus wasn’t a groovy Jew with radical notions of government, leadership, and social justice – he totally was and I dig that. But Jesus must have had an edge on his messianic rivals – and that edge was charisma and a good campaign manager. (God maybe? Not saying, just saying.)
Look, taking the divine out of it for a moment, this guy managed to get noticed. Raising the dead, traipsing around with hookers and lepers, feeding the masses, walking on water, this guy and his disciples knew how to work the rumor machine. Guy is unconscious, thought to be dead? Jesus wakes him up. Feeding the masses? Good pre-planning. Walking on water? Guy swims out to the boat, a few well-placed innuendos to the uneducated masses and BOOM! Divine Bridge of God.
He got so much attention that the Roman policy of ignoring the upstart messianic Jews became more and more difficult. I mean when a carpenter’s son suddenly has enough devoted followers to threaten a governor, you’ve got to take notice, right?
So Pilate did what he had to do. He followed the letter of the law, even gave the people a chance to save their erstwhile savior. I won’t speak to the division of the Christian and Jewish faiths that came about from this moment, but I find it rather reprehensible to blame an entire culture and religion for the actions of a likely ill-informed few. And Jesus dies on the cross.
Then he is, ostensibly, resurrected. But in the earliest versions of Mark, the chapter ends at 16:8, and this itself was written some 300 years after Jesus’ death. Here is the whole passage from the New International Version:
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 “But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
The remaining versus (9-20) didn’t enter into it until much much later. Seems awfully weird that it just cuts off before they get a chance to talk to the risen Christ. Just a dude in robes telling them that Jesus had risen and went ahead to Galilee to… what? Get his affairs in order? See the sites one last time?
This article is not meant to dispute the divinity of Christ. I know what I just said, but listen: If you’re a believer, everything I cited here can be explained. But if you’re a skeptic (and I am), there are plenty of holes in your plot to be poked. Even ignoring the fact that if Jesus was the Messiah, he was a rather poor one as he did not bring about the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth as he was prophesied to do. Indeed, he instead implied that the Kingdom of God was in fact, Earth (Luke 17:21). And frankly if THIS is the Kingdom of Heaven? God can keep it.
Consider this food for thought: If Jesus was the son of God, then what he managed to do in his short time on this globe was nothing terribly special. If indeed God is truly all powerful, He has contrived to do something that has failed, thus proving his own fallibility. But if Jesus was just a man with radical ideas… then he has done more (for good or for ill) than any single human being living or dead has ever done. And THAT to me is the REAL gospel of Jesus.