HOLY WEEK REFLECTIONS. The alternative biography of the Christ (Part 2)

HOLY WEEK REFLECTIONS. The alternative biography of the Christ (Part 2) Featured

Last of 2 parts

IN part one of this series, we examined the split and the eventual victory of St. Paul’s faction over that of the Jerusalem Church of Christ’s brother James, giving rise to the current Christian set of beliefs. In essence, the divinity of Christ, as promoted by St. Paul, is the central doctrine of Christianity. It was therefore imperative that Christ’s divinity be established and sustained from birth. How can one reconcile the human Jesus to being the son of God? Jesus cannot be born of a man through the natural operation of sex between Joseph and Mary. Therefore, Mary the mother must remain a virgin “impregnated by the spirit,” as announced by the angel Gabriel (Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:26-38). Matthew’s Gospel, which was written by either a compendium of unknown writers or one named Matthew, 50 years after Jesus’ death, had to carve out a story that would fit the virgin birth. The gospel has to make sure that Jesus’ birth be seen as foretold by prophecy from the Old Testament. Matthew found the answer in Isaac’s prophecy: “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a child and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, a town in Galilee. But when the time came for Jesus to be born, the family traveled to Bethlehem, a 7-to-10-day trip on a donkey purportedly to take part in a Roman census. Bethlehem was where King David came from and was crowned King of Israel. Jesus too had to be born in Bethlehem to establish a symbolic descendancy from King David. Historical facts revealed there was no Roman census around Jesus’ time. Jesus most probably was born in Nazareth.

Matthew’s other exotic ingredients in the birth story — a star appearing in the heavens and the three wise men were no doubt conjured to establish Jesus’ credentials as a man of the masses yet shrouded with a mystique attributable to the divine. The alternative biography, stripped of the aura, would simply define Jesus as an ordinary, minimally educated Jew living a mundane life as a carpenter’s son until infected by the revolutionary fervor of John the Baptist, one believed to be his mentor.

As painted by the Gospels, life in Nazareth was pastoral, peopled by itinerant preachers and healers. But contrary to the bucolic images, Nazareth and Galilee and the whole of Judea in Palestine were in fact under the cruel grip of Roman occupiers. Around 60 BC, Palestine was invaded by the Roman Legions and over the following decades, Jewish uprisings were suppressed and mercilessly crushed. Thousands in the rebellion were executed through the Roman-preferred death by crucifixion.

Jesus could not have been blind to the economic injustice perpetrated by the Roman puppets. Galilee’s economy was booming but the disparity between the Jewish elites and the peasants were glaring — a decidedly revolutionary atmosphere.

After the beheading of his cousin John the Baptist, and with the suffering of the Jews under the Roman boot, Jesus’ trajectory was to follow John’s revolutionary path. Thus, he began to recruit his own coterie of converts, friends and believers from the masses. One of them became his favorite, Mary Magdalene. Jesus’ divinity too required that the Gospels present him as pure and celibate. Thus, his relationship to Mary Magdalene was understated in the New Testament. It is highly unlikely that Jesus was single among his male disciples. Further inference of Mary Magdalene as his wife was in the circumstances of his burial. In the Jewish and Roman traditions, only spouses of the crucified could claim the remains of the crucified for burial; and only after an interval of a few days leaving the body for scavenging dogs and crows as a gory warning.

Given the humanity of Christ, his role as a Jewish patriot and a leader and more importantly his belief that he is to establish God’s Kingdom on earth, the most plausible earthly scenario is for the revolutionary patriot to make a bid for power and restore the throne of David.

In 34 AD, amid the turmoil in Palestine, particularly in the seat of power, Jesus entered Jerusalem. His timing and the drama could not have been more perfect as the Jewish feast of the Passover was being celebrated commemorating the liberation of the Jewish nation from Egypt. There was an estimated half a million pilgrims. Jewish tradition envisaged the appearance of a messiah at Passover. This was a volatile situation the Roman governor Pontius Pilate was facing.

To ram the Pauline Church narrative against the old Jewish religion, the Gospels have to paint Jewish priests as the enemies of Christ and depict Pilate as a merciful Roman tolerant of Jesus. The Gospels therefore presented a Jewish leaders’ plot to execute Jesus. Christ unwittingly helped this fabrication when he cleared the Jewish temple of moneychangers and scalawags. But it was the intent of Christ to rid the house of prayer, the symbol of the religious and political establishment. It was not an attack against the Jewish priests and leaders as these were merely Roman puppets. The temple was no longer the seat of God but controlled by the Romans.

Titus Flavius Josephus (circa 1st century AD), a Jewish-Roman historian, painted Pontius Pilate as a “ruthless, vicious and a rapacious butcher.” And he would not tolerate a Christ that would challenge the primacy of Rome over Palestine. Rome abolished the Jewish monarchy and Jesus was a rebel. Rome was to apprehend and try him for political subversion, and crucify him — the Roman punishment of choice. And indeed, Christ died a revolutionary death in Palestine.

But the Gospels have to play around this straight narrative, blaming the Jews on several turns. The Gospels have to present Judas as a betrayer. This was not even necessary as the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem was public and dramatic. Later biblical scholars advanced the argument that Judas’ betrayal was a “… mythological necessity. In most great legends, someone has to function as one who betrays. Without betrayal, the great protagonist of the story does not become a martyred hero.”

And in the endgame, “For Paul, Jesus death was the whole point of his life…Paul was not interested at all in the historical Jesus. He never met the man. For Paul, history begins the night before his death and finished three days later with his resurrection. And the real Jesus was ignored by Paul. All he wants to know was Christ was crucified.”

Yes, he may have been resurrected from death as Lazarus was from a miracle or Jesus resurrected himself. But after 2,000 years the Pauline Church through the New Testament prevailed. Christians believe that it was the will of God for a new religion to evolve from the Old Testament of the Jews.

But just consider, there would have been no Christianity now had James’ version of Christ’s biography prevailed. And James, the brother of Christ, knew him best.

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