Just who was Jesus?

John Perkins asks how much we really know about Jesus as a historical figure. Have we even got his birth date right?

The historicity of Jesus is fraught with controversy. To start, at the very time of Jesus’ alleged birth, the village in which he was reputed to have been born, Bethlehem, was where King David ruled over Israel 970 years before. Time and again the New Testament and various hymns, particularly Christmas carols, try to impress upon Christians the fact that Jesus “is of David’s line.”

In actual fact the gospels give two different versions of Jesus’ genealogy. Matthew uses the direct lineage approach through the father, and ignores the fact that there was no human father, but nevertheless accords Jesus the title of Prince of Judah, a title which assumes that Joseph was his father. Luke, on the other hand, traces Jesus’ lineage through Mary and avoids the controversy. Christian apologists, a very busy segment of the Christian community, accept that Matthew traces through Joseph and Luke through Mary.

The date of Jesus’ alleged birth was certainly not when Christians celebrate it on December 25. This date is only three or four days after the Winter Solstice, aka the shortest day of the year, a traditional pagan (not to be confused with atheist) festival marking rebirth, renewal and all that good stuff.

It is most unlikely that the shepherds in the area around Bethlehem would be tending their flocks outside due to the biting cold of late December in that part of the West Bank. The overnight temperatures can, and do, fall regularly to zero degrees Celcius, with high humidity measurements making for a bone-chilling environment. But Christianity, not to be outdone by  hordes of previous parvenu gods chose this time of year to celebrate the birth of their entry in the One True God race.

There is no doubt in my mind that Christianity received a colossal boost by Emperor Constantine’s conversion to the faith, the first Roman emperor to be converted, and his organizing of the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. Another column in 2013, before Easter which falls on the last weekend of March, will deal with the Crucifixion, or should it be Crucifiction, and the Resurrection.

My own view is that Jesus is an idealization – he is a combination of all that should be perfect in a man (perfection is not normally a male attribute) and the fictional Jesus had no manly failings  – that we know of.

In closing, I would like to share an anecdote from my childhood. In the Derbyshire village where my paternal grandparents lived, there was an elderly bachelor called Jabez Wells, an atheist. He had lived with his widowed sister until her recent death, upon which he had been asked to leave her rented house by the owner, so he purchased a small cottage in the village, which had not been lived in for several years.

The Church of England Vicar was making his rounds of the village one morning as Jaby was working in his garden. The Vicar leaned over the cottage fence and said, ”It’s wonderful what the Lord can do in a garden, isn’t it Jabez?” Without missing a beat old Jaby retorted, ” Ye shoulda seen it when ‘e ‘ad it to ‘isself Vicar, ‘twere a roight bloody mess!”