I just completed two books by Bart D. Ehrman, in close succession, and I must say I have become quite a fan. What I found engaging was how little we actually know about real characters in our legendary texts.
Let’s test your general knowledge. I will ask you about a widely known character of the ancient antiquity, let’s see if you can identify him. Here are the clues:
- His father is God and his mother is a mortal virgin.
- He is born in a cave or humble cowshed on December 25 before three shepherds.
- He offers his followers the chance to be born again through the rites of baptism.
- He miraculously turns water into wine at a marriage ceremony.
- He rides triumphantly into town on a donkey while people wave palm leaves to honor him.
- He dies at Eastertime as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
- After his death he descends to hell, then on the third day he rises from the dead and ascends to heaven in glory.
- His death and resurrection are celebrated by a ritual meal of bread and wine, which symbolize his body and blood.
- He is often referred to as the savior and “Son of God.”
You don’t need to raise your hand. If you think you got it at the very first clue, good for you; still, take the pain to read the rest. Confident of your answer? Sadly, you are wrong. The person I had in mind isn’t the great JC.
Osiris, the Egyptian god of fertility, ruler of the underworld and Dionysus, a Greek mythological god can share the credit. If you were just about to swear “what the”, let me stop you there. I will have to request you to be decent first and behave like a matured individual. This has nothing to do with faith or religion, this has to do will social sciences. No, these myths didn’t develop together. They were however conceived by common aspirations and inspirations. Hence, multiple Gods across the globe have very striking resemblances. Most of these similarities aren’t purely coincidental, these parallelism arose out of correspondence and commonness of yearning. Thus, any likeness with Jesus doesn’t necessarily rule out the divinity of the pious men, it only projects the collective expectations and supposition of the contemporary mass. So, what the historical Jesus ACTually was is perhaps not correctly reflected in the legends. Yet, this Jesus is equally real (in not factual) for this is the Jesus which came to be remembered. Of all the people who have ever lived in the tides of time, how many have been so widely revered and remembered? I think it’s more important to know the Jesus as he was remembered, while we enquire to view the factual Jesus merely out of curiosity.
The history of Jesus, hence, isn’t just about what he really was, but also what he was perceived to be and how he was remembered by his biographers. In Jesus’ case, an interesting exception can be noted. Jesus’ death made him the hero that he was. They say, the winners write the history. Our Jesus was brutally crucified and that would be a serious anti-climax for the messiah. His enemies won the battle, but Jesus won the war. His death gave his followers the necessary momentum to assemble people under the unified cause of the impending apocalypse. Sin had filled up the earth and the end was soon to come, for, the darkest hour is the nearest to dawn. But, this turn around had to be justified. Jesus was resurrected. More people caught on to the faith. A new generation of Jews emerged with renewed faith in God’s promise and salvation. Trouble arose when Gentiles raised questions on keeping the Jewish laws. So what was it then? Was the path to eternal salvation through the strict adherence to the scriptures or faith in the Lords’ second coming? The leadership was torn apart. These are situations when lobbying and special interest groups play their cards. A formal religion was established. This God was a loving God who sacrificed his only son for mankind. The task of retrospective beautification was taken up by the scribes. So much so, that in sharp blow of irony, people began questioning the authenticity of Jesus’ existence. Too much paint and air-brushing has marred the real face of Christ, cloud of mysticism has engulfed Jesus. The Shroud of Turin fails to capture his true features.