Tag Archive | "Zealots"

Thoughts on the Historical Jesus

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The approach of Easter engenders thoughts about what has been called “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” the life and death of Jesus the Christ.  Throughout the millennia since the historical Jesus walked this earth, men have argued, fought, and died over questions of his Divinity.  Today, even among Christians, his life and death stir controversy as some claim the imminence of his long-awaited Return (see our previous article on Harold Camping and Family Radio).


Accepting Jesus as God and the second member of the Holy Trinity, however, one still ponders questions that for humankind remain unknowable.  As a God-Man, Jesus was both fully human and fully Divine.  As such, was there a time in his life before which he knew not of his own Divinity, and if so, when did he realize that he was God?  What influence did the environment in which he was raised have upon him?  How did the people who knew him best view him?  The Bible provides little insight on most of these issues, as it is silent on the majority of Jesus’ life.


Yet, if one considers the life of Jesus and his message of love in the context of Jewish history, certain patterns of speculation begin to emerge.


“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

(Matthew 22:37-40)


In these four brief sentences, Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew, summarizes the teaching of the Law and the Prophets as found in sacred Jewish texts and establishes the foundation from which the Christian religion would germinate.  Living in a period of great oppression, Jesus was well aware of the might of the Roman occupation as well as the hunger of the Jewish nation for a Messiah, a warrior-leader who would vanquish their oppressors and restore God’s people to preeminence in ancient Palestine.


Jesus was well-positioned for ultimate leadership, springing from the merger of the kingly and priestly bloodlines of Joseph and Mary.  His formative years were spent in the insurrectionist-hotbed of Galilee, removed from the direct, daily Roman influence experienced in Jerusalem and dominated by members of the Zealot movement from which some of his disciples were drawn.  Living within that environment, he undoubtedly knew many men who dreamed of a day when the Romans would be overthrown by force and the nation of Israel restored.


At some point, however, Jesus parted ways with the Zealots who likely championed him as he gained followers.  Perhaps, he came to the realization that violence begets nothing but violence.  Perhaps, he understood that any campaign against the might of Rome could gain little more than temporary victory and would ultimately be crushed, further exacerbating the lot of the Jewish people.  Regardless of the process of reasoning and enlightenment, Jesus began preaching the gospel of “love,” love both of neighbor and of enemies.  He taught his disciples to “turn the other cheek” in response to provocation.  These concepts, in all likelihood, deeply disturbed his Zealot followers and supporters – Judas Iscariot among them.  Even more disturbing from a Zealot perspective, however, was Jesus’ comment on taxes: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”


With waning Zealot support and increasing Roman interest in this preacher, teacher, and healer commonly known as the “King of the Jews,” Jesus, in the final weeks of his life, knew that his fate was sealed.  Whether Judas betrayed Jesus for turning his back on his Zealot followers or in the hope that this would initiate the violent overthrow of the Romans that he desperately desired, the die was cast.  Jesus was crucified and bodily resurrected from the dead.  In his victory over death that first Easter Sunday almost 2,000 years ago was born a religion surrounding the precepts and teachings of this God-Man.


Yet, detractors over the intervening centuries have been in no short supply.  Most recently, in 2007, Oscar-winning director James Cameron and Emmy Award-winning documentary film-maker and journalist Simcha Jacobovici co-produced a documentary that posited the discovery of Jesus’ family tomb containing ossuaries with the bones of Jesus, his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, his brother Jose, and other family members.  If true, this would have been the archaeological find of all time.


It would also have been a major blow to Christianity, denying the possibility of a bodily resurrection.  That Jesus’ entire being, body and soul, was taken to Heaven following his crucifixion and entombment is a major tenet of Christian belief.  In Roman Catholicism, it is also firmly believed that, at the time of her death, Jesus’ mother Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven.


The uproar surrounding the release of this documentary was, of course, predictable, with experts lining up on both sides of the issue.  Non-believers were more than happy to have this “proof” that Jesus was nothing more than a man.  In fact, short of having a sample of Jesus’ DNA from the time of his life with which to compare, no accumulation of evidence could possibly prove with absolute certainty that the bones in the ossuary marked “Jesus, son of Joseph” were those of the Jesus whom many around the world refer to as “the Christ.”


And, in my humble opinion, I do not know if it really matters.  We are all products of our Creator and, to that extent, our growth, development, and growing awareness of our roles in this world are Divinely inspired.  Whether Jesus was a man on a mission either from his people or, as I believe, from his Heavenly Father, his message of “love” is nonetheless valid.  War, violence, and tyranny, as we have studied historically and witnessed in our own lives, are self-perpetuating.  Jesus, perhaps better than most, knew this and taught his followers the power of love and non-violence.  It is a lesson that we should all take to heart, regardless of our religious beliefs.


As for discovering the truth about Jesus, bring it on.  In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus himself is quoted as saying “…for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the Truth.”  And, “the Truth will set you free.” 

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