"Easter," and the man behind it....
In Search of the Historical Jesus
[Nyerges is an educator, and author of such books as “Extreme Simplicity,” “Enter the Forest,” and “Self-Sufficient Home.” You can learn more about his classes and activities at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]
Jesus! What a man he was! Perhaps the most amazing thing about Jesus – a man who is known and worshipped by at least a third of all humanity, and around whom our system of reckoning time revolves – is that there is still so much debate about who he was, what he did, how he lived, and what he believed. Hundreds of differing sects are stark testament to the fact that though Jesus might have had “one message,” that message has been widely interpreted over the centuries.
Let’s work through some basics. As an historical person, he can be placed in a specific time and location. All historians concede that they do not know the birthday of Jesus, but it’s not Christmas day. Most scholars suggest that Jesus was born in either April or September, in 4 B.C. or 6 B.C.
“Jesus” was not his name, just the English rendering of Yeshua. Did he have a full name? Yes, of course, and it was not “Jesus Christ,” which is a title, meaning Jesus the Christ, or Jesus the Annointed. Historians say that the actual name was Yeshua ben Josephus, that is, Jesus son of Joseph. Another version says it is Yeshua ben Pandirah, Jesus son of the Panther. In Indian literature, he is referred to as Yuz Asaf, in the Koran he is Isa (or Issa).
WAS JESUS BLACK?
Ethnically, culturally, and religiously, he was Jewish. But occasionally, a writer will suggest that Jesus was actually black, with such evidence as the preponderance of the “Black Madonnas” found throughout Europe. The only Biblical evidence on this are the two lineages of Jesus provided, which uncharacteristically include women.
The key genealogies of Jesus listed in the Bible are Luke 3: 23-31, and Matthew 1:1-17. In these lineages, we are told of at least four of the women in Jesus’ genealogical line. These are Rehab, Ruth, Tamar, and Bathsheba. Rehab (also spelled Rahab) was a Canaanite. Tamar was probably a Canaanite. Bethsheba, often referred to as a Hittite, was more likely Japhethic, that is, not a descendant of Ham. (However, this is not clear). Ruth was in the line of Ham. Now, who was Ham? Who were the Canaanites and Hittites?
According to Genesis 9:19, all mankind descended from Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham’s descendants became the black people who settled in Africa, and parts of the Arabian peninsula. His sons were Cush, whose descendants settled in Ethiopia, Mizraim, whose descendants settled in Egypt, Put, whose descendants settled in Libya, and Canaan, whose descendants settled in Palestine. The descendants of Cush were the main populace of the Cushite Empire, which extended from western Libya to Ethiopia and Nubia, all of present day Egypt, and the Arabian peninsula into the mountains of Turkey. They spoke several languages and had skin pigmentation ranging from dark black to medium brown.
It takes a bit of study to ascertain who these people were – and there were other possible African women in Jesus’ lineage as well – but, in general, when we are speaking of Cushites, Canaanites, descendants of Ham, etc., we are speaking of Africans. It is entirely possible that this wasn’t a big deal when the scriptures were written since Jesus’ racial background was common knowledge.
So, although Jesus had some African ancestry, his physical appearance was such that he fit right in with the Jews of that era, based on several passages that indicate that Jesus not only looked like every one else of the day, but was also very average and normal looking Middle-Easterner, not sticking out at all.
THE EARLY YEARS
The Bible speak of the young Jesus talking to the Rabbis in the Temple, sharing his youthful wisdom with the elders to the surprise of his parents. Then there is no Biblical record of what he did as a teenager, and during his 20s. We don’t hear from his again in the Bible until his appearance on the scene at about age 30, where he turned water into wine at a wedding feast, and is depicted as a healer, prophet, and fisher of men.
His religious observations would have been the regular observations for Jews of the day, and quite different from the observations of most Christian sects today. The reasons for this are well-known. The early Christians were known as Judeo-Christians (Jews who followed the Christ), and as the new religion became more and more encompassing, it eventually became Christianity by the 4th Century. In order to attract ever-more followers, Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Kingdom, and Christianized all the popular Mythraic (so-called Pagan) observations and turned them into Christian Holy Days. Catholocism, after all, means Universalist.
Growing up as a Catholic, I studied Jesus, and wanted to be holy like him. I wanted to be like Jesus -- but what did that really mean? There was so much about this person that was beyond my ability to research. For example, what Holy Days would Jesus have observed? Was he an Essene? Was he a Nazarene? What did these groups believe and practice? Did he have any Buddhist influence? Who were his closest followers, the apostles? What did he actually teach his close followers, beyond what is known from his various public talks? Were his miracles and public healings actual events, or were they symbolic stories? These and other questions have always swirled around this man called Jesus.
As a student of the real and historical Jesus, here are just a few of the many books I have found to be useful.
Garner Ted Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God in Pasadena, wrote a book about the “Real Jesus,” and Jesus was described as a hard-working, athletic, health-food eating powerful man, a sort of health advocate Gypsy Boots of the past. But certainly Jesus was much more than that.
Holger Kersten in his “Jesus Lived in India” book presents a very different Jesus, one who is depicted on the Shroud of Turin, and one who traveled to India and studied from the Buddhists. In fact, the way in which the holy men of the Bible sought and found the baby Jesus is very much of the pattern of the holy men of Tibet seeking and finding the next Dali Lama, and Kersten puts Jesus in that very same pattern.
Manly Hall, who founded Los Angeles’ Philosophical Research Society, writes that the patterns of all historical saviors (he cites at least 16) include more or less the same elements. But Hall is less concerned about historical facts than he is in demonstrating that there is an extant prototype of human spiritual evolution.
According to Harold Percival in his “Thinking and Destiny” book, Jesus succeeded in re-uniting his Doer and Thinker and Knower, his internal trinity, which put him in touch with his divinity, which made him, effectively, a God. Though Percival’s terminology is unfamiliar to most Christians, he is less concerned about the historical details of Jesus and more concerned about what Jesus did, and became, that made him a focal point of most societies on earth over the last 2000 years. According to Percival, the virgin birth, the miracles, and the resurrection should all be studied to find the inner meanings for our own individual evolution.
There is also a silly but interesting book that purports to show that Jesus was never a person but actually a hallucinogenic mushroom. Don’t bother reading it. Another book suggests that there was no Jesus, that he is just a made-up person as a metaphor of astrological principles. Really?
I believe it is unwise (and incorrect) to suggest that a Jesus never existed because of the way his followers centuries later chose to remember him, and continued to overlay so many symbols onto the historical person.
Jesus lived, and it is not reasonable to assume that the stories of such a great one arose from mere myth or fabrication. Such a person lived, and his influence of what he did and said affected many people.
Regardless of your religious background or belief, you are likely to be richly rewarded by delving deeply into the nuances of who Jesus was. When everyone’s mind is upon Jesus and the Mysteries during the Easter season, I have found great value in viewing the “Jesus of Nazareth” series, and I even find value in such depictions as “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Unlike so many who purport to follow in his path, I find the real Jesus one who was not dogmatic, but one who knew that only when we recognize each other’s humanity do we rise up into our own divinities.
According to Holger Kersten, “Jesus did not supply theories to be ground in the mills of academia, about his path and message – he just lived his teachings! Tolerance, unprejudiced acceptance of others, giving and sharing, the capacity to take upon oneself the burdens of others, in other words, unlimited love in action and service for one’s fellow human beings – this is the path which Jesus showed to salvation.”