Jesus was not a good little boy. By all accounts, the mystic drifter was critical of the government, critical of organized religion, and critical of apathetic souls who complacently sustained the status quo.
Forever the malcontent freethinker, Jesus habitually ignored taboos, unceasingly empowered disrespected riffraff, and wandered from town to town with a hippy gang of penniless communal punks, bringing disorder and chaos wherever he dusted his sandals.
And two thousand years later? The man’s real identity has all but disappeared.
Faux Dead Celebrity Religion
Even as millions worship a faux image in his name, Jesus’ most important messages have been buried beneath a centuries-long torrent of disinformation and superficial distractions.
Only a few years after his execution, channeled scripture and fabricated words were already being stuffed in his mouth. Since then, authentic quotes have been twisted by misguided bourgeois interpretations and institutional creeds — dogma spawned by the same variety of euphonious hypocrites that Jesus spurned with so much turbulent passion in his own lifetime.
And yet, for those who bother to dig deep, at the heart of the bizarre steeped-in-human-sacrifice-and-cannibalism rituals, the intolerant cultish conversion crusades, and the billion-dollar industry built upon macabre first-century dead-celebrity worship, they find the origin: our world’s most famous blasphemer and seditionist, and a mettlesome, hard-boiled, number-one dissident.
The Birth of Jesus
Jesus’ non-Germanized name was probably Yeshua and most historians agree that he was a very real person. Most historians also agree that much of the scriptural Jesus legend is fiction.
For starters, the whole Christmas story is historically flawed. (For those unfamiliar with the Nativity, some scriptures tell how Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Judea, after his parents traveled from their home in Nazareth, Galilee, to take part in a Roman census. This happened while Herod the Great ruled Judea and Quirinius governed Syria.)
First, there was never a Roman census ordered for residents of Nazareth, Galilee. Period.
Second, Quirinius didn’t come to power until a decade after Herod died.
Third, heavily pregnant women don’t set off on four-day, 100-mile jaunts on a donkey.
It’s also worth mentioning that, even though scriptures don’t give a date of birth, Jesus was not born a Capricorn while shepherds tended their flocks in the field. Judean shepherds simply didn’t put their sheep out to pasture during the harsh month of December.
In fact, the first Christians didn’t teach the story of Jesus’ birth from a virgin. The earliest Christian writings — the letters of Paul of Tarsus — make no mention of Jesus having an extraordinary birth at all, and Paul hung out with Jesus’ brother James, so he was in a position to get the real lowdown. Paul just says Jesus was “born of a woman.” (Galatians 4:4)
These, and other indications, suggest that the beautiful, haunting, and wondrous birth fable was an addition of later Christians to make their cult more palatable to pagans.
In part, the Nativity fable borrows from Old Testament stories, and in part it borrows from the narratives of popular Roman gods, like Mithras, who was born of a virgin on December 25, then visited by shepherds and Magi. And shouldn’t we expect mixed allegories from coalescing Jewish and Roman cultures?
So, regarding Jesus’ historical birth, that leaves us with little to nothing, which amounts to only this: about two thousand years ago, a baby boy was born in the backwaters of Palestine. When this kid grew up, he profoundly rocked the course of human history…
The Historical Jesus
Many Biblical scholars have used historical methods to construct the truest biography of Jesus. In addition to books that were included in the New Testament, there are hundreds of early Christian writings providing them clues.
As with most historical detective work, the earliest writings are presumed to paint a more accurate picture than later writings, which undoubtedly include added propaganda that favored particular religious sects emerging by the end of the first century AD.
These scholars have found that the earliest Christians — the Jews who followed Jesus’ brother James immediately after Jesus’ execution — might not even be considered Christian by today’s standards.
President of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars, Oregon State University professor Marcus Borg, describes the real Jesus that these early Christians talked and wrote about:
He was a peasant, which tells us about his social class.
Clearly, he was brilliant. His use of language was remarkable and poetic, filled with images and stories. He had a metaphoric mind. He was not an ascetic, but world-affirming, with a zest for life.
There was a social-political passion to him. Like a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, he challenged the domination system of his day.
He was a religious ecstatic, a Jewish mystic, if you will, for whom God was an experiential reality. As such, he was also a healer. And there seems to have been a spiritual presence around him, like that reported of St. Francis or the Dalai Lama.
And I suggest that, as a figure of history, he was an ambiguous figure. You could experience him and conclude that he was insane, as his family did, or that he was simply eccentric, or that he was a dangerous threat, or you could conclude that he was filled with the Spirit of God.
The Teachings of Jesus
At a time when the Roman Empire and Jewish elite taught Galileans to look out for number one and avoid unclean outcasts, Jesus preached exactly the opposite. He said that everybody was welcome in the Kingdom of God, and that number one would be last. What’s more, he said the Kingdom of God wasn’t a future reward, but was present in the now if people would only open their eyes and see.
Not only did Jesus teach with words; he lead by example, too.
In a time and place where talking with women in public was taboo, Jesus not only spoke with, but openly defended women. And he touched sick outcasts in a purity-focused society where it was against the law to come into contact with the unclean.
Perhaps his biggest taboo breach of all was insulting the religious elite. After logically proving the absurdity of many of their dogmatic rules, Jesus criticized the wealthy religious authorities for selling deliverance to impoverished peasants.
As is often the case today, the elite largely left the talented dissident alone…until the dissident showcased their unethical, corrupt source of wealth and power. It was ultimately Jesus’ violent explosion at the Jerusalem temple’s moneychanging tables that got him swiftly arrested, tortured, and killed.
The Aftermath of Jesus
Some Christians say that Jesus resurrected himself from the grave. Others say he was tossed on a burning garbage heap, as was the practice with most criminals executed by the Roman state. Muslims believe Jesus wasn’t crucified, and the Qur’an says God took him directly up to heaven. Still others believe he survived and had children with Mary Magdalene.
But, whatever happened to Jesus after his crucifixion, it’s his human life that I admire the most.
I most admire those of his actions that I’m capable of practicing myself, not the tales of walking on water or healing the blind. I admire how he loaned his voice and sweat to the weak and oppressed. I admire his unpopular but persistent inclusion of societal rejects. And I admire his courage to tell authorities with distinct and uncompromising language that they are full of bull excrement when they are, in fact, filled to their ears with their own duplicitous waste.
And that’s why, in addition to being an outstanding role model, Jesus is one of my favorite 10 dissidents who changed the world.
“Jesus was a dissident on the fringes of the Empire of his day. He stood with everybody who was nobody. He made a beeline to stand with those on the margins, those whose dignity had been denied, the poor and excluded, the easily despised, the demonized, and those whose burdens were more than they could bear. And they killed him for it.” ~Father Gregory J. Boyle
Go to the previous article in this series:
Stanislav Petrov – Dissident Comrade.
Go to the series index:
10 Dissidents Who Changed the World.
[tags]Jesus, Yeshua, dissident, Christianity[/tags]