We do not know what Jesus of Nazareth did and said (Drews, 1910/1998, pp. 214-224; Lane Fox, 1992, pp. 202-204, 400; Price, 2003; Teeple, 1994, pp. 399-405; Vermes, 2001, p. 1; Wilson, 2009, pp. 248, 257-261). From the canonical Gospels we know only what is attributed to him in the short, edited books of one inventive storyteller (“Mark”) (Ruprecht, 2008, pp. 7-9, 142), two imitators who revised and added to Mark’s story to make it agree with their own ideas (“Matthew” and “Luke”) (Helms, 1988, pp. 34, 39-41; Ruprecht, 2008, p. 33), and one egotistical forger (“John”) who often contradicts and wants to supplant the other three (Cassels, Vol. 2, pp. 249-479 [Part 3]; Ehrman, 2016, p. 264; Helms, 1988, pp. 83-84, 106-107; Lane Fox, 1992, pp. 208-209, Ruprecht, 2008, pp. 5-13, 34-36, 67-75, 103-118, 128; Vermes, 2001, pp. 129-130). All of these men wrote decades after Jesus had died. They were not writing as historians, but to record their understandings, expositions, alterations, or inventions of stories (Ehrman, 2016; Fitzgerald, 2010, pp. 65-74; Fredriksen, 2000, pp. 3-4; Helms, 1988; Lane Fox, 1992, pp. 284-304, 384-397; Ruprecht, 2008, pp. 30-31; van ‘t Riet, 2018, pp. 49, 60-67; Vermes, 2001, p. 25) about a man who they believed was in some way an agent of the god of their people.
If one goes outside of the official Gospels (Ehrman & Pleše, 2004; Ruprecht, 2008, pp. 125-141), he finds himself in a dark forest where no path can be discerned. It resounds with many voices clamoring to be believed. Some of them depict a Jesus even more strange than he of the New Testament (Ruprecht, 2008, p. 92).
Collectively, the Gospels propound mutually contradictory ideas about Jesus’ nature, purpose, and significance.
A probable idea of the “historical” Jesus is that he was a working man who decided—likely under the influence of John the Baptist (Fredriksen, 2000, pp. 97-98; Price, 2003, pp. 101-120; Teeple, 1994, pp. 59-69, 390)—that he had a vocation as an itinerant preacher. He then wandered about Palestine preaching—wrongly, as it turned out—the imminent divine judging and transformation of the world, and urging his fellow Jews to get in Yahweh’s good graces before it was too late by practicing their religion more sincerely (Loftus, 2010; Ruether, 1997, pp. 66-67; Teeple, 1994, pp. 78-81, 389-391; Vermes, 2001, pp. 38-45, 51-60; Wilson, 2009, pp. 63-94). He did not introduce novel doctrines. Rather, he propounded traditional Jewish values (McCabe, 1914; Teeple, 1994, pp. 88-100), adapted to his belief that the end of the world was near (Fredriksen, 2000, pp. 98-100). The Gospels state that he challenged contemporary conventions (Mark 2:23-27; Matthew 12:11-12), but these stories retroject conditions at the time that they were written into the time of Jesus (Fredriksen, 2000, pp. 102-106). He may, however, have criticized religiously prominent Jews for their vanity, injustice, avarice, and hypocrisy (Matthew 23:1-7, 23-28; Luke 20:45-47). The truthfulness of episodes in the Gospels that portray Jesus in conflict with religious authorities can be questioned (Maccoby, 1986, pp. 33-36, 40-42).
Jesus died nearly 2000 years ago. His body presumably would have been disposed of by his supposed Roman executioners in some place unknown ever since (Ehrman, 2014, pp. 156-161; Kirby, 2001). Some of his followers imagined (Ehrman, 2014, pp. 195-197; Ruether, 1997, pp. 69-70; Teeple, 1994, pp. 118-122) or invented the story (Price, 2003, pp. 333-345; Reimarus, 1774-1778/1879, pp. 88-97, 101-103) that he had become alive again and shown himself to them. Then after a while he had floated up into the sky and disappeared (MacDonald, 2015, pp. 135-138; Price, 2003, pp. 345-346; Teeple, 1994, pp. 122-124), a tale that only partly explained why his miraculous reanimation had not been observed by the public.
Some of Jesus’ fellow Jews who heard his discourses adopted some of the principles that he expressed, perhaps even basing their mode of life upon them. Several such persons living in proximity could form a group, and if the group attained sufficient size it could constitute a sect. Jesus left no writings, so those who regarded themselves as his followers were able to modify his supposed precepts, and their ideas about his nature and significance, to suit their needs and circumstances (Mack, 1993; 1995). The sect of Jesusism promoted (perhaps founded) by the self-styled apostle Paul became the dominant sect and evolved into a dogmatic religion: Christianity.
The question arises: if Jesus-as-he-really-was could in fact be reconstituted now and were shown the character, effects, and history of the religion that regards him as its founder, what would be his reaction? This essay demonstrates why he would be horrified, disgusted, despairing, and angry.
Christian Scriptures’ Depiction of Jesus is False
Neither Jesus’ followers nor anyone else is known to have written anything about him during his lifetime or for at least two decades following his death. When “Mark” conceived the idea of expounding his (or his sect’s) ideas about Jesus in the form of a partial biography, he may not have known more facts about the life of his subject than a writer today would know about a person who had died 30 or more years earlier, and about whom there was nothing written and no official records (Helms, 1988, p. 26). Even the year of Jesus’ death (according to either Jewish or Roman calendars) and his age at death are unrecorded and unknown.
The pseudonymous authors of the Gospels do not mention any personal experiences of Jesus. Some of what they believed to be incidents of his life they probably learned from earlier oral or written reports, whose accuracy neither they nor we have the means to confirm. Other incidents could have been invented to suit a particular sect and circumstances (Mack, 1995, pp. 45-46, 49-53, 58-60). These authors were cultivated Hellenists, and when creating their books, they could use the contents and literary methods of multiple sources, such as:
- Tanakh—the Jewish scriptures—particularly in the Septuagint Greek translation (Fitzgerald, 2010, p. 163; Helms, 1988, p. 16; Mack, 1995, pp. 65-67; van ‘t Riet, 2018, pp. 51-60, 101-103, 111-114, 123-128);
- works of Greek philosophy (Mack, 1995, pp. 50-51, 54-57; and see below);
- Greek and Roman biographies (Burridge, 2018; Helms, 1988, pp. 24-25);
- Greek and Roman epic poems (Collins, 2015, p. 116; MacDonald, 2015);
- Greek dramas (Ruprecht, 2008, pp. 7-8, 80, 89-90, 185-186);
- Greek, Latin, and Jewish histories (Lee, 2013);
- Greek and Jewish novels (Vines, 2002); and
- myths of the Near East, Egypt, Greece, and Rome (Collins, 2015, pp. 69-146; Drews, 1910/1998; Kee, 1983; Taylor, 1857/2006).
Many of the anecdotes about Jesus reported in the Gospels can be explained as fictions based on events and statements in these sources (Helms, 1988).
If, however, the real nature and purpose of Jesus’ preaching were as stated above, then the Gospels’ descriptions of it are perverted by several concepts and processes, such as:
- human sacrifice
The feature of Christianity that probably would most appall Jesus is that it accuses him of the ultimate impiety of alleging that he is, in some sense, Yahweh himself (Vermes, 2001, p. 186). This monstrous irreverence of a person claiming to be the one God is not even mentioned in Tanakh; it might have been too horrific to express. The deification of Jesus, and the attribution of this impiety to him, were notions that developed after his death (Ehrman, 2014; MacDonald, 2015, pp. 13-17; Teeple, 1994, pp. 342-360).
One result of Jesus’ deification that would especially offend him is the doctrine that all righteous deceased Jews—including persons whom Yahweh particularly favored, such as patriarchs, prophets, and just rulers—were languishing in Hell waiting for Jesus to come to release them. (For a contradiction of this doctrine in the New Testament, see Troki, 1633/1851, pp. 257-258.) This scenario has Jesus himself descending into Hell the moment that he died, albeit for a sojourn of less than two days. He would find this highly insulting.
When a group of believers wants to persuade other people that a certain individual was an agent of a deity, they imagine—or invent—wonderful deeds associated with that individual. These are offered as signs of the person’s divine mandate (and also strengthen the believers’ pre-existing notions). The Gospels depict Jesus as a wizard, and emphasize his performance of miracles (37 recorded in all) (Price, 2003, pp. 131-163; Teeple, 1994, pp. 199-214) and his prescience. Miracles are exhibitions of power, and the Gospels thus make Jesus a dominating person. Jesus, however, would have wanted people to listen to and believe him not because he was thought to perform magical acts, but because he was exhorting them to follow the principles of the religion to which both he and they adhered. The Gospels deny him his true role of a devout Jew addressing his coreligionists in a familiar rabbinic manner, with parables and exhortations (Vermes, 2001, p. 10).
The authors of the New Testament wrote in a time and place in which people had adopted not only the language but also the ideas of their erstwhile conquerors. These writers spoke Greek and thought like Greeks. Many of the people among whom they were proselyting, both Jews and non-Jews, spoke Greek (van ‘t Riet, 2018, pp. 19-25) and thought like Greeks. To succeed, the authors had to purge their ideas of anything Jewish that was not easily compatible with Greek thought, and to explain themselves using non-Jewish Greek ideas that their listeners and readers would find comprehensible and consonant with their own ideas. Therefore the stories about Jesus quickly became vehicles for abstract doctrines modeled on Greek philosophy and religion (Fredriksen, 2000, pp. 213-214; Hatch, 1890, pp. 65-83, 123-138, 188-208, 238-279; Hopkins, 2009; Jaeger, 1961/1985; Vermes, 2001, p. 167, 186).
A concept from Stoic philosophy that became attached to Jesus early is that of logos. In Greek philosophy this term had multiple meanings, including some related to the creation of other entities by the primal agent of creation (Fredriksen, 2000, pp. 10-11). One use of the concept was as a fanciful attempt to answer the question how material things could be produced by an immaterial agent (Hatch, 1890, pp. 180-187, 258-268; Wheless, 1930, pp. 154-157). In Christian usage logos usually is translated as “word” and has been understood to denote both the act and the result of the spirit Jesus becoming a material object, namely, a man. (For an argument that the biblical concept of the Logos was of Jewish, not Greek, origin, see Cassels, Vol. 2, pp. 278-296.)
For a long time Christians quarreled about Jesus’ purpose and the reason for his alleged torturous death. They finally adopted as dogma the horrific idea that he had been a voluntary human sacrifice needed to appease an angry and punitive God. But, they added, this salvific act benefited only persons who shared their beliefs; everyone else still was damned. These concepts demean both God and humankind. Jesus would be appalled by the notions that his untimely death was the principal purpose of his life, and that he willed to be crucified. The idea of human sacrifice was abhorrent to the Jews (despite a few scripturally approved instances), and Jesus is reported to have said that sacrifices to the deity are less important than charity and mercy (Mark 12:32-34; Matthew 9:13, 12:7; see Hosea 6:6). He is depicted as preaching Yahweh’s paternalism and providence, and he would consider the Christian view of God as essentially unforgiving, and the consignment of all humankind to perpetual torment in an afterlife, a horrifying insult to the deity.
Finally, Jesus would be horrified and disgusted by the weird, morbid idolatry in which huge sums of money have been spent to create hundreds of thousands of images of him dying and dead, which millions of people have revered, before which they have bowed and knelt, and to which the less theologically sophisticated have prayed. These are rites of a mortuary cult in which the processes of his becoming a corpse and—in imagination—leaving that state are valued vastly more than anything that he did during his life.
Christianity’s Depiction of Jesus’ God is Heretical and Impious
A corollary of the notion that Jesus is God is that it destroys the unity of Yahweh, a fundamental tenet of Judaism. Christians not only divided him into two parts, Father and Son, but also added a third person, the Holy Spirit. Ever since, the nature and relations of this third being have been a subject of speculation and a cause of controversy (including endless quarreling about whether it emanates from the Father alone, or from both Father and Son). (For biblical refutations of the concept of the Trinity, see Troki, 1633/1851, pp. 46-50, 241.)
The Jesus cult must have begun simply, with some Jews valuing his statements as expressions of the religion that he and they shared. Some of his hearers may have surmised that he was empowered by Yahweh (Ruether, 1997, p. 67). Jesus may have averred that he was “an authoritative spokesperson for the coming Kingdom” of Yahweh (Fredriksen, 2000, p. 100). The Jesus sect (or sects) initially was a minor element in Judaism (Fredriksen, 2018; Teeple, 1994, pp. 391-393; Wilson, 2009, pp. 95-102). Beginning soon after Jesus’ death, however, groups of his followers separated from Judaism because their ideas had become incompatible with their parent religion. This break required the schismatics, and their successors the Christians, to allege that now they, not the Jews, were the people chosen by God to follow his wishes and declare them to humankind, and that the deity had rejected the Jews (Matthew 3:8-9; John 8:39-44, 14:6; Acts of the Apostles 2:38, 4:10-12; Galatians 5:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Hebrews 10:1; 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 12:9, 17; Ehrman, 2016, pp. 265-268; Ruether, 1997, pp. 73-79, 124-165; Steigmann-Gall, 2003, p. 38; Wilson, 2009, pp. 195-210, 234-235; refutations at Troki, 1633/1851, pp. 14-17, 60-63).
But in Genesis (17:4-8, 19) Yahweh makes promises to Abraham, and contracts an “everlasting covenant” with him and his descendants, that he will be their god. Later, Yahweh swears by his own self—the most powerful possible basis for an oath—that he will bless Abraham, that “all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants,” and that those offspring will be numerous (and dominant over their enemies) (Genesis 22:15-18). This promise was renewed to Abraham’s son Isaac (Genesis 26:3-4) and grandson Jacob/Israel (Genesis 28:14, 35:11), and to the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:38-41). Elsewhere in Tanakh it is referred to repeatedly (e.g., Exodus 2:24; Deuteronomy 7:8-9; Judges 2:1; Ezekiel 37:26-27). Through Jeremiah, Yahweh declared that he would “reject all the offspring of Israel” only “if the heavens above could be measured, and the foundations of the earth below could be fathomed” (Jeremiah 31:37); that is to say, never. The anonymous Christian author of the Letter to the Hebrews paraphrases the deity’s oath and attributes to it the character of unchangeableness (6:13-17).
Yahweh told Abram (Abraham), “One who will come from your own body, he shall be your heir” (meaning Isaac) (Genesis 15:4). There is no suggestion that the divine pledges are conditional or transferable, or that the persons referred to could be other than genetic descendants, and instead some kind of “spiritual” offspring (as implied by Galatians 3:29 and made a Christian doctrine). Tanakh repeatedly calls the Jews Yahweh’s holy people (e.g., Deuteronomy 7:6; Isaiah 62:12; Jeremiah 2:3), and Yahweh “the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:6, 37:23, 41:14; Jeremiah 50:29). The alleged transfer of the unique bond between God and the Jews to a sect that increasingly was not composed of Jews means that Yahweh lied to Abraham, or was at least deceptive to a degree that made him untrustworthy (as one Christian internet site puts it, “God is tricky” [Samdahl, 2002]). Thus Christians allege that God swore a false oath.
Jesus would be revolted by the notion that God has a split personality, by the allegation that he and his fellow Jews no longer are the special beneficiaries of God’s blessing, and by persons who say that they are his followers implicitly charging God with inconstancy and dishonesty (Troki, 1633/1851, p. 195).
Christians Deny the Validity of, and Desecrate, the Scriptures Jesus Revered
Christians deny the validity of Tanakh as Jewish scriptures. The most basic way in which they do this is by interpreting the sacred books in their entirety (starting with Genesis 3:15) as being principally advance notices of Jesus (Helms, 1988, p. 18, 28, 53, 116, 134). Christians perceive the Jewish texts either allegorically, or as “types” of future things (Hatch, 1890, pp. 65-83; Helms, 1988, p. 19, 77; McGrath, 2011, pp. 130-134; Reimarus, 1774-1778/1879, pp. 76-81; Teeple, 1994, p. 281), and conceive their meaning to be an anticipation of Jesus in the role that Christians assign to him and to the Christian organization. (For refutations of this notion, see Asher, 2012 and Troki, 1633/1851, pp. 59-66, 93-127, 132-205, 209-217.)
From the time of the earliest extant Christian writings, the authors were ransacking the Jewish scriptures looking for passages on to which they could impose a false interpretation as a reference to the future Jesus (Helms, 1988, p. 50, 131; Lane Fox, 1992, pp. 121-123, 338-344; Reimarus, 1774-1778/1879, pp. 34-47; Ruether, 1997, pp. 70-71). By creating stories about Jesus that used events, ideas, and often phrasing from Tanakh (Cassels, Vol. 3, pp. 409-443; Helms, 1988, pp. 63-70, 74-80, 85-95, 102-128, 134-144), the authors of the Gospels could allege that those stories were fulfillments of things foretold in the scriptures and therefore should be believed. Many citations from Tanakh, however, were misappropriated, manipulated, textually incorrect, or invented (Helms, 1998, pp. 49, 52, 57-58, 62-63, 104, 115-116, 131-132, 134, 140-141; Lane Fox, 1992, pp. 339-340; Troki, 1633/1851, pp. 209-217, 227-228, 230-235, 237-238, 244-249, 255, 270-272, 274-276, 278, 281-283, 285-288, 290-294).
And how did one explain the fact that no one before the (proto)Christians had detected the anticipatory character of Tanakh? The answer was simple: despite 1300 years of prayerful study and analysis, the Jews had never understood their scriptures (Ruether, 1997, pp. 64-65, 71-73, 79)! Somehow they failed to perceive that the histories of the Jews, the books of the prophets, and the other writings were only the prelude to the short life of a Jewish working man who lived in a state ruled by a foreign empire that came into existence a century after the final book of Tanakh (Daniel) was written. The Jews’ interpretations of their scriptures could simply be discarded (Helms, 1988, p. 53).
A principal deformation of Tanakh by Christians is wrongly identifying Jesus as the Mashiach (“the Anointed [One],” “the Messiah,” “the Christ”) awaited by the Jews. During Jesus’ lifetime some of his followers, and even Jesus himself (Maccoby, 1986, pp. 15, 121-122, 177-178; Maclochlainn, 2008), may have believed that he would become the just king of a powerful Israel who was envisioned in scripture (Reimarus, 1774-1778/1879, pp. 10-28, 37-38; Ruether, 1997, p. 67; Teeple, 1994, pp. 390-391; Vermes, 2001, pp. 108-113). But when he had died, there was not a single feature of his life that corresponded to the few passages in which this imagined future ruler is described (Isaiah 11:1-5, 10; Jeremiah 23:5-6 [repeated at 33:15], 30:9, 21) (or to other passages that the Jews interpreted as referring to the Mashiach) (Troki, 1633/1851, pp. 1-14, 31-37, 110, 163-168, 173-180, 269).
This should have put an end to the idea that Jesus was the Messiah (Ruether, 1997, p. 69; see Maccoby, 1986, pp. 178-179), but at this point devotion to the man conquered devotion to scripture. To sustain the notion that he had been the Messiah, it was necessary to interpret the texts in an unnatural and forced manner. For example, his prophesied reign was transferred from his lifetime to the future, or ignored altogether (Reimarus, 1774-1778/1879, pp. 48-51; Teeple, 1994, pp. 383-385; Wilson, 2009, pp. 177-180, 214-218, 245-248). On at least two occasions, Jesus’ followers felt a need to invent genealogies (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-31) to create the descent from King David required by the texts (Helms, 1988, pp. 44-47; Troki, 1633/1851, pp. 228-230, 254; Vermes, 2001, pp. 187-190).
Tanakh imposes on the Jews numerous commands, or “laws,” about how they are to behave (Wilson, 2009, pp. 25-29). These include commands about diet, dress, personal and social behavior, and rituals. The most important ritual is amputating the foreskins of male Jews, because this is their part of the “everlasting covenant” that Yahweh made with Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14, 23-27, 21:4). Some of the early followers of Jesus, most importantly the self-styled apostle Paul, conceived the idea that he was Heaven-sent not only for Jews, but for all people who heard about him. But propagating the Jesus sect among non-Jews was greatly hindered by requiring converts to follow Jewish laws, especially circumcision. Paul addressed this matter repeatedly in his letters (Romans 2:25-29, 4:9-12, 14:2-3, 14; 1 Corinthians 7:18-20, 8:8; Galatians 3:23-28, 5:6, 6:15). Acts (15:1-21) reports that it was a contentious issue among the members of the Jesus sect (see Teeple, 1994, pp. 285-286).
Mainstream Christianity eventually adopted the position that Jesus’ followers no longer were bound by Jewish laws (Ruether, 1997, p. 76; Teeple, 1994, pp. 284-285; Troki, 1633/1851, pp. 130-132, 156-158; Wilson, 2009, pp. 173-176). With respect to food, this idea was supported by interpreting (or inserting) passages in Mark (7:18-19) and Acts (10:10-16) (Maccoby, 1986, pp. 131-133; Troki, 1633/1851, pp. 67-69, 273-274; Wilson, 2009, p. 166). With respect to circumcision, Paul stated that this procedure is not necessary for a man to be a “lawful” Jew or to be “justified” by God (Romans 2:29, 3:29-30). This devaluing of divine commands contravenes the statement attributed to Jesus that “the law” was to be fulfilled (Matthew 5:18-19).
Jesus would be horrified at being blasphemously perceived as the true but occult subject of the Jewish scriptures. He would be outraged by wrongful interpretation of those scriptures in the service of a false concept of the Mashiach. And he would reject strenuously abandonment of the Jewish laws (Troki, 1633/1851, pp. 87-95, 237, 279-280).
Christians say that they follow Jesus’ teaching, worship and obey his god, and regard, as he did, the Jewish scriptures as holy. He would be bewildered to learn that they engage in these behaviors:
- In the second creation myth of Genesis (2:4-25), Yahweh is explicitly named as the creator of Earth and Heaven (Genesis 2:4). Elsewhere in Genesis the creator of Earth, Heaven, and living things, including human beings, is called elohim—”gods”—which monotheists take to be the name of a single deity magnified by a “plural of majesty.” Christians, however, assign to the component god Jesus the role of creator of the universe (John 1:1-3; McDonough, 2009).
- Yahweh clearly and explicitly told his worshipers that the seventh day of the week was the holy day (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:8-11). Christians changed the Sabbath to the first day of the week (Teeple, 1994, pp. 286-289).
- The deity told the Jews, through Moses, that his name is Yahweh “to all generations” (Exodus 3:15). This appellation appears numerous times in Tanakh. Since about the 3rd century BCE, Jews have regarded the divine name as too holy to speak. Now they substitute for it Adonai (“My Lords”—a “plural of majesty” with a possessive pronoun), or HaShem (“the Name”). In texts, to indicate that when reading Yahweh, Adonai was to be spoken, the vowel marks for Yahweh were replaced with those for Adonai. Now the vowels that originally accompanied the consonants yhwh are no longer remembered (hence Jehovah and other variants of the name) (Parsons, n.d.).
In their translations of Tanakh, Christians ignore Yahweh’s explicit revelation and replace his holy name with an adjusted translation of Adonai: a generic term, Lord (Kyrios in Greek, Dominus in Latin) (Wikipedia, s.v. “Tetragrammaton”). This is blasphemous: the substituted word is not the deity’s real name. Moreover, it is not specific for him. Lord was the form of address for the gods of the “mystery” religions of Jesus’ time (Maccoby, 1986, p. 63). The word has mundane meanings and can refer to numerous kinds of people who have power and authority (in the Christian Bible, the word is applied extensively to Jesus; for discussion see Vermes, chap. 5). Lord can even be used humorously. The effect of the substitution is to prevent Christian readers from being reminded frequently that the “Old Testament” is Jewish, and from perceiving that their triune Lord God is not in fact the same as the Jewish deity (Wheless, 1930, pp. 75-79).
Christians have been Hostile Toward, Reviled, Persecuted, and Murdered Jesus’ People
As Christianity emerged, most Jews rejected its doctrines and were more or less hostile to the new, heretical sect (Fredriksen, 2000, pp. 142-156, 180; Ruether, 1997, pp. 79-80; Teeple, 1994, pp. 274-316). On their part, Christians, even at the time of writing what became their own scriptures, were rejecting Judaism and denigrating Jews (Cohn-Sherbok, 1992, pp. 12-24; Fredriksen, 2000, pp. 180-185; Ruether, 1997, pp. 64-116; Wilson, 2009, pp. 169-170, 182-192). In particular, they falsely blamed the Jews for Jesus’ execution (Ruprecht, 2008, pp. 119-121; Teeple, 1994, pp. 300-302; Wilson, 2009, pp. 192-194, 232-234). Early Christians looked down on Jesus’ followers who continued to live as Jews (so-called “Jewish Christians,” “Nazarenes,” or “Ebionites”) (Fredriksen, 2000, pp. 212-213; Hatch, 1890, pp. 131-132; Maccoby, 1986, pp. 175-177; Wilson, 2009, pp. 248-249). Conflict between Christians and Jews has been ongoing since the 1st century. Hostility toward Jews has been said to be an essential element of Christian theology and the Christian world view (Ruether, 1997, pp. 183-225; Wilson, 2009, pp. 251-253). It is a fundamental Christian doctrine that persons who do not believe in Jesus’ divinity, and the sacrificial and salvific character of his death, are damned (Ruether, 1997, p. 78). Why, countless Christians have asked, should they be kind or even civil to those whom God has condemned to Hell?
The continued presence of Jews is a reminder to Christians that Jesus was a Jew, and calls attention to the fact that 75% of the Bible (the Protestant version, calculated from word counts in the original languages) is Jewish. And Jews “stubbornly” resist the (often violent) Christian efforts to make them abandon their religion and adopt Christianity (Ruether, 1997, pp. 198-203; Troki, 1633/1851, p. 189, 273, 279).
One aspect of Christian antagonism toward Jews has been to ignore (McGrath, 2011, p. 5, 265), minimize, and even deny Jesus’ Jewishness (Griffith, 2009, pp. 7-32; Wilson, 2009, pp. 176-177). This behavior reached a high point in the Nazis’ adoption of the notion that Jesus was an “Aryan” or “Nordic” person, and not a Semite (a transformation that had been begun by the Protestant churches in Germany) (Carroll, 2001, pp. 71-72; Steigmann-Gall, 2003, pp. 27, 31, 37, 39, 50, 86, 95-96, 101, 108, 125, 131, 243, 262-263). Christians have distorted Jesus’ reported criticisms of certain Jews for oppression and hypocrisy into criticisms of Judaism itself and its adherents. Christians have even depicted him as anti-Jewish (Steigmann-Gall, 2003, pp. 18-22, 30-32, 36-37, 107, 126, 254-255, 258, 265-266). Present-day Christians need to be reminded, or even informed, that Jesus, his family, his followers during his life, and the majority of his followers for some time after his death, were Jews (Carroll, 2001, pp. 71-74; Fredriksen, 2018; Maccoby, 1986, pp. 126-127; Wilson, 2009, pp. 261-265).
As soon as Christians acquired political power, in Rome in the 4th century, they began to act on their hatred of Jews. The history of Christians’ persecution of Jews is well known (although ignored or denied by their churches), has been described by numerous authors (e.g., Carroll, 2001; Cohn-Sherbok, 1992; de Rosa, 1989, pp. 266-284; Kertzer, 2002), and need not be recounted here.
A reconstituted Jesus would be insulted by the denial of his Jewishness and his devotion to his religion. He would be horrified and enraged by what countless bigots, saying that they are acting on his behalf and claiming his authority for their cruelty and violence, have done to his coreligionists for some 1700 years (an interval as long as the scriptural period from the birth of Isaac to the birth of Jesus).
Christianity versus the Christ
Finally, if Jesus were restored as he is depicted in the Gospels, and turned his attention from Christians’ actions with respect to himself and his religion to learn about Christianity overall, what would he find about its correlations with his own reported values?
- Jesus praised peace (Matthew 5:9); he lived in a place under military occupation, where civil strife in the form of oppression, banditry, and uprisings was common (Carroll, 2001, pp. 78-85; Fredriksen, 2000, pp. 78-79; Horsley, 1999; Teeple, 1994, pp. 101-104). But the first Christian state, the terminal Roman Empire, was at war most of the time during the 96 years (380-476) that it lasted. Later, prelates who were also rulers—especially Popes—maintained armies and made war on their neighbors (Chambers, 2006). Sectarian Christianity became the reason for vicious internecine wars in Europe (Housley, 2002). The apocalyptic fantasies of the Revelation of St. John the Divine continue to inspire people to violent uprisings and war (Cohn, 1957/2004; O’Kane, 2014). Christianity provided the pretended moral justification for Europeans and their descendants on other continents to conquer and occupy the Americas, Australia, the Pacific Islands, Africa, and vast tracts of Asia, displacing the native peoples, destroying their cultures, and imposing Christianity on them. This oppression often was accompanied by extreme cruelty. (See Conroy-Krutz, 2018; Griffith, 2009, pp. 240-246; Havea, 2018; O’Brien, 1919; Rodney, 1972/1982; Stannard, 1992; Weed, 2017, pp. 37-61.)
- Jesus told rich people to give their wealth to the poor (Mark 10:21 and parallel passages in the other gospels). As Christianity spread throughout the world, the churches became wealthy, not only in money but also in land, materials, and labor (often in the form of slaves). The churches required their adherents—many of whom were only nominal Christians—to “offer” valuables to the churches. They engaged in profit-making activities including commerce. The Pope at times may have been the richest man in world.
- Jesus adhered to the Jewish moral principle of caring for the poor (Fredriksen, 2000, pp. 98-99). Some individual Christians and their churches practice charity toward the poor, but it is rarely disinterested or primarily concerned with the needs of the recipients. Instead, it is a tool for proselyting, as in a shelter for the homeless in which the customer pays for a meal and a bed by listening to a sermon and being urged to peruse church tracts. Political Christianity has always sided with the powerful to oppress and despoil the poor, and continues to do so (Griffith, 2009, pp. 184-189, 271-278; Hendricks, 2006, pp. 191-332; McCabe, 1919). The churches exhort the poor to obey their masters (no matter how unjust) as the Christian Bible commands slaves to obey (Colossians 3:22-23; Ephesians 6:5-7; 1 Peter 2:18-21), and threaten them with damnation if they are not submissive.
- Jesus said that the merciful are blessed (Matthew 5:7). The principle of Christianity, however, is that every human being deserves damnation from the moment of conception, and divine mercy is acquired only by believing the dogmas of whatever sect is speaking, and doing its clergy’s bidding. Other Christians, and non-Christians, receive no mercy from God (Bawer, 1997; Griffith, 2009, pp. 41-83). Following this divine example, Christian churches have practiced on a large scale war, massacre, and torture. They have engaged in and supported slavery, the subjection of women and girls, and authoritarian rule that oppresses populaces. (Present-day churches do, however, show great mercy to their own clergy who commit sexual “sins” including abuse of children, to other clergy who protect those abusers, and to clergy who commit financial crimes [Shupe, 2007; Willis, 2000, pp. 175-187].)
- Jesus inveighed against sexual behavior outside of marriage, but he is not recorded as having spoken against sexuality itself. In Christianity, sexual behavior is the focus of morality, and its clergy have devoted themselves continuously to vilifying it and trying to prevent it (Fuchs, 1983, pp. 91-92, 97-105, 115-116, 150-154, 168; Griffith, 2009, pp. 286-287; Ranke-Heinemann, 1990; Ray, 2012, pp. 157-178; Sullivan, 2006). They regard what people do with their genitalia as more important ethically than injustice and cruelty. This clerical behavior is not based on genuine ethical concerns; rather, it is a tactic for propagating the religion by creating guilt (Ray, 2012, pp. 20-41). Its consequences are immoral: ignorance about how to prevent unwanted results of coitus, morbid sexual attitudes and behavior, denigration of male and female sexuality, subordination of girls and women, and government interference in people’s sexual and reproductive behavior (Anderson, 2015).
- Jesus criticized a domineering, unjust, and uncharitable priesthood. In past and present Christianity he would find clergy who claim absolute power, are oligarchs, abet and practice injustice, crave wealth and luxury, and are sadists and sexual predators (de Rosa, 1989; McCabe 1939; Pirie, 1935/1965; Posner, 2008; Shupe, 2007). The largest Christian sect has a high priest who claims divine authority and infallibility in religious matters as the vicegerent of Jesus.
- Jesus did not hesitate to associate with women, and some of his principal supporters were women. He would find in Christianity a 2000-year history of misogyny and oppression of women (Armstrong, 1987; DeConick, 2011; Gage, 1893; Griffith, 2009, pp. 84-136; McCabe, 1908; Schüssler Fiorenza, 1983; Torjesen, 1993; Willis, 2000, pp. 105-121; see also Lane Fox, 1992, p. 402).
The Jesus of the Gospels would be disgusted and outraged by the behavior of Christians, acting as Christians, during two millennia. He would be horrified and appalled to learn that they cite him as the justification for their immoral acts.
If the “historical” Jesus were reconstituted, he would find that his message, as described at the beginning of this essay, has been erased by Christians who seem to have known little about what he did and said. That message was replaced with the ideas of men who used Jesus’ preaching, and to an even greater extent tales about his deeds, only as a scaffold for their own thoughts.
- Instead of being a messenger for Yahweh, Jesus has been transformed into the subject not only of his own statements, but of the entire revelation by Yahweh in scripture.
- Yahweh has been replaced by a novel tripartite deity and his name has been abandoned.
- Instead of exhorting Jews to be more observant of their status as Yahweh’s people, Christians deny the Jews’ special relation to the deity and are hostile to them.
Also, Jesus’ belief in the imminent divine judging and transformation of the world has been largely abandoned, not because of Christianity, but because the end of the world did not happen in Jesus’ time, as predicted. (This notion has, however, been a continuous fantasy of Christians, and deforms the thoughts and actions of many Christians today.)
One can imagine the horror and despair that Jesus would feel were he to learn that the result of all his labor and preaching is that he:
- is believed to have committed the damnable blasphemy of claiming to be God;
- is alleged to be the authority for heretical and blasphemous notions about the deity;
- has become the reason for the systematic misinterpretation of, and disregard for, books that he esteemed as holy;
- is claimed as the founder of a religion that disregards God’s ordinances, asserts that Jews are damned, and is inimical to Jesus’ principles (as they are described in the scriptures of that religion); and
- has been used to justify countless terrible crimes against his people, the Jews.
Moreover, this all came about largely because of one man—Paul—who never saw or heard Jesus, probably did not know of his existence while he was alive, and had almost no interest in what he had done. Paul transfigured Jesus into a Jewish adaptation of a pagan type: the savior who descends from above, dies an atoning death, and is resurrected (Fredriksen, 2000, p. 56; Maccoby, 1986, pp. 16, 101-103, 184).
We can reasonably conclude that Jesus would hate Christianity.
 Any attempt to construct a biography of Jesus must either choose among, or make a composite from, the different Jesuses depicted in the New Testament (Fitzgerald, 2010, pp. 75-90; Fredriksen, 2000, pp. 18-61). The standard Christian biography (Fredriksen, 2000, pp. 94-96) follows the second method, extracting and arranging incidents from the Gospels and omitting contradictions and anything that might reflect badly on Jesus.
In addition, there are no authentic historical records of Jesus (early Christians forged many [Collins, 2015, pp. 44-49; Wheless, 1930]). This is extraordinary in view of the Gospels’ allegations that he worked wonders and attracted large crowds, and that his death was accompanied by prodigies. Absent evidence, by ordinary standards of history, that he existed, one can reasonably question his reality (Carrier, 2014; Collins, 2015, pp. 52-55, 155-159; Drews, 1910/1998, pp. 230-235; Fitzgerald, 2010; Freke and Gandy, 2001).
Fredriksen’s book (Fredriksen, 2000) may go as far as a historian can in regarding the Gospels as history. For an informed Christian theologian’s presentation of the Gospels as history, see Sanders (1993).
 Other conclusions about Jesus’ character and purposes are of course possible. For views that Jesus’ sermonizing was not apocalyptic, see Mack, 1995, pp. 51-53 and Price, 2003, pp. 275-280. For a view of Jesus as a charismatic healer (a Hasid), see Vermes, 2001, pp. 40-63, 67-71, 106, 136, 195. For the idea that Jesus was “the messianic man whose task it is to make Israel a messianic people” to convert non-Jews, see van ‘t Riet, 2018, p. 106, 111. For Jesus as a militant revolutionary, see Maclochlainn, 2008. The existence of these divergent opinions is partly attributable to the lack of historical character of the Gospels. For a recent addition to the books by would-be followers of Jesus seeking to discover his true character, which was obscured by later writers, see Jackson, 2012.
 More accurately, the religions. Jesus has roles in Unitarianism, the Latter Day Saints (Mormonism), Christian Science, and other religions derived from Christianity, but they are different from his role in that religion.
 A precursor “Q” source of the Gospels has been hypothesized, and scholars have attempted to reconstruct it (Mack, 1993; 1995, pp. 47-53). It consisted of alleged sayings of Jesus, among which there might have been versions of things that he really said. No written text corresponding to Q has been found.
 Christians credit many things because they are traditions, that is, statements or stories that have been believed for a long time, and because of their longevity, are assumed to be true. Therefore, it is worth noting that whereas tradition makes “Mark” and “Matthew” Jews and “Luke” a Gentile, the internal evidence of the Gospels suggests that “Mark” was a Gentile (he seems not to have perceived that the Jewish scriptures were the source of much of his material, and did not know the geography of Judea) (Helms, 1988, pp. 29, 40, 77, 103, 110, 113, 126-127, 134), whereas “Luke” was a Jew (van ‘t Riet, 2018).
 If Jesus in fact claimed identity with Yahweh, one would expect that the authors of the Gospels would have written something about the reaction of the Jews to this impiety. But only in the late, forged gospel of John (10:33) is it mentioned. In this text Jesus is accused of “blasphemy” (blasphēmia). This is not a religious term; its basic meaning is “using abusive language.” The Greek word has no exact correlate in Hebrew (Cox, 2004, p. 65). The definition of blasphemy used by the Jews in this passage is “you, being a man, make yourself God.” In this chapter of John, however, Jesus distinguishes himself from God (vv. 15, 17, 29, 36-38) except in v. 30: “I and the father are one,” which is not the same as “I am God” (Troki, 1633/1851, p. 264). Because Jesus does not speak the name Yahweh, it is debatable whether most Jews would have regarded his statements as blasphemous under Jewish law. See: Cox, 2004, pp. 66, 70-73; Troki, 1633/1851, pp. 264-265; Vermes, 2001, p. 18; and the notes to Mark 14:51-64 and Matthew 26:65 in The Jewish Annotated New Testament. (For a contrary view, see Fitzgerald, 2010, pp. 80-81.)
 Attributions of miracles to persons believed to be agents of deity begin soon after their deaths, as demonstrated by the history of Ali Muhammad, or the Bâb, the source of the Bahá’í religion (Carpenter, 1930, pp. 214-217). The assertion by some Christian apologists that there was not enough time to invent miracle stories about Jesus before the Gospels were written, and therefore they must be true, is wrong (MacDonald, 2015, pp. 1-3).
 An idea that post-Enlightenment Christians attribute to Jesus, but which was not in fact expressed by him, is the Greek concept of a common humanity that transcends tribe or nation (Zeller, 1883/1931, pp. 224-225 [§64], 272 [§79]).
 The abandonment of Judaism by followers of Jesus was a complex process, occurring in different groups of followers at different times (Shanks, 2013). A frequent reason for the break was the notion that Jesus had (by his death) in some way made it possible for his followers to enjoy a happy postmortem existence free of punishment for their sins (Ruether, 1997, pp. 74-75, 78-80; Wilson, 2009, pp. 103-108, 111, 113, 125-130, 147-149; see Teeple, 1994, pp. 134-138), a concept not acceptable to Jews.
 It is not reasonable to believe that Yahweh, having maintained a special relation with the Jews for some 1700 years (by Jewish chronology), would abruptly abandon them. Nor is it reasonable to believe that he transferred his affection for this single people, who had long worshiped him, to an ethnic mix that included Phoenicians, Nabataeans, Idumaeans, Ammonites, Greeks, Romans, and others, who for all those centuries had worshipped other gods.
 John the Baptist is described as preaching a message similar to that of Jesus (Matthew 3:1-2, 7-8; and parallel passages), and his sect may have been a precursor or competitor of the Jesus sect (Fredriksen, 2000, pp. 24-25, 127-128; van ‘t Riet, 2018, pp. 50-51; Vermes, 2001, pp. 14-16). In a manner similar to their treatment of the Jewish prophets (Maccoby, 1986, pp. 190-191), Christians portray John as no more than a forerunner and servitor of Jesus (Fredriksen, 2018, chap. 3; Helms, 1988, p. 30; Matthew 3:11, 14; 11:2-3, 10, and parallel passages; see also Wheless, 1930, p. 116).
 In Mark 14:61-62 Jesus identifies himself as the Christ—”I am,” but in the later parallel passage in Matthew 26:64, these words are replaced by “You have said so.” These and other relevant passages are discussed by Price (2003, pp. 281-284) and Vermes (2001, pp. 123-127). Vermes concludes that “there is every reason to wonder if he [Jesus] really thought of himself as” the Messiah (2001, p. 149).
 There is no reference in the Jewish scriptures to a future Jewish ruler identified as the Mashiach. The title mashiach was applied to kings and high priests. The references cited below are to a future king descended from David. (The only title given to this king is “Yahweh our Righteousness” [or, “our Vindicator”] [Yhwh Ṣiḏqênū] in Jeremiah 23:6.) Associated with this king are promises that Yahweh will restore Israel to his favor (Jeremiah 30:22), that the dispersed Jews will return to their homeland (Isaiah 11:11; Jeremiah 23:3, 8), and that the independence (Jeremiah 30:8, 21), security (Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16), and prosperity (Jeremiah 30:18) of the kingdom will be re-established. After the last autonomous Jewish state of antiquity was abolished by the Romans in 63 BCE, the Jews vested their political hopes in the future Davidic king and called him the Mashiach. This idea became a basic belief of Judaism, but the use of the title in this context is postscriptural (Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Messiah”).
Referring to a supposedly future ruler, mashiach or a related word occurs only twice in Tanakh, namely in Daniel 9:25-26. Here it is an adjective (māšîaḥ) modifying ruler (nāḡîḏ) and the phrase should be translated as anointed ruler (the adjective is so translated in 2 Samuel 1:21). The translation as “the Messiah the Prince” in the King James Version, and similar renderings as “Messiah” in other translations, are gratuitous and retroject Christian notions into the Jewish scripture, as well as being grammatically wrong. The ruler referred to is not Jesus but (probably) the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (r. 175-164 BCE) (who is remembered as the person whose desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem resulted in the festival of Hanukkah commemorating the rededication of that edifice). What is presented in Daniel as a 6th-century-BCE prophecy is a forgery written some 400 years later.
 One reason for Christians’ insistence on the false notion that parts of Isaiah (especially chapters 7 and 53) refer to Jesus (Cassels, Vol. 3, p. 442) is the necessity of finding a scriptural substitute for the unrealized future ruler portrayed in Isaiah and Jeremiah. See Troki, 1633/1851, pp. 95-127.
 Perhaps the earliest expressions of this notion are in the pseudo-Pauline letters Colossians (1:16) and Hebrews (1:2). Translators disagree about whether in the former the preposition expressing Jesus’ role in creation, en, should be rendered as by (the traditional translation), in (denoting causation), or through. In the latter, the preposition is di(a), through. By the time of John 1:3 the idea was stated more explicitly. In none of these texts is Jesus named, but understood from epithets. (See the note to Colossians 1:16 in The Jewish Annotated New Testament.)
Ephesians 3:8-9 sometimes is incorrectly translated with the phrase “all things having created” being attached to Christ by a nonexistent preposition “through” or “by.” The phrase in fact follows the word God and refers to him.
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