Cover Story December 9th, 2010
The Historical Jesus: Mortal, Prophet, or Divine?
by Frederick Gomez
Of all the topics, in all the world, few will evoke as much interest and controversy as this one.
One only need to say the word "Jesus," and much of humanity will respond, with varied convictions, and/or opinions, from all corners of the globe. A large slice of the planet's inhabitants have heard of his name, and subsequently, have formed a kaleidoscope of ideas as to who he really was.
Of all the religious figures in world history, this Jesus is the seminal influence behind the largest religious following on this Blue Marble. Christians comprise 2.1 billion people, by far the greatest number of devotees extant today. With a world populated by almost 6.9 billion human beings, this is a dizzying proportion of religious followers who regard Jesus as the Christ, the centerpiece of their faith.
That the historical Jesus actually existed is, generally, an accepted fact by most historians of repute, worldwide. Even Jesus' detractors grant him as much, positioning themselves more at debunking his metaphysical claims, rather than his historical reality. Save for a few exotic conspiracy theories, which mainstream historians do not attribute sober consideration, the Man from Nazareth is more 'real' in his historicity than, say, Socrates or Homer. Outside of the Christian scribes there are various non-Christian sources who corroborate Jesus' existence, such as historian and Pharisee, Flavius Josephus (A.D. c. 37 to c. 100); Roman writer and scholar, Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundas, (A.D. c. 62 to c. 114)); Roman governor and historian, Publius Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. c. 55 to c.120); and Roman biographer and antiquarian, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (A.D. c. 69 to c. 140); just to enumerate a few examples, all of whom -- independently – substantiate the historical Jesus, in question. As modern Jewish author, scholar, and professor, Rabbi Lewis D. Soloman states: “Two thousand years ago Jesus walked the face of the earth, of that there is no doubt."
Whether Jesus existed or not is no longer a cogent query, though there will always be those who will persist in that regard, usually those outside the realm of serious scholarship credentials. So the question, instead, is: who Jesus claimed to be -- and the subsequent claims of his followers, past to present -- that is the fodder for cannons of controversy, and upon which lines of diversion begin to manifest. Often vehemently.
The historical Jesus is different things to different people. Discuss him with an orthodox Jew, Hindu, Mormon, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, et al, and you will readily find that this one individual is seen through prismatic lighting.
Even from the root standpoint of his name, some may find his reality to be an unexpected one. If one were to step into a time machine and travel back to his day, the name "Jesus" would suddenly dissolve. His name was never Jesus, and he was never called that, during his lifetime.
At birth, he was named Yeshua, a shortened form of Yahoshua or Yahshua. We sometimes forget that Jesus was a Jew of antiquity. In the Hebrew language, there does not exist a letter with an equivalency to our Anglo-American "J." The letter "J" ' (sound) may have existed long ago, but not in the ancient Hebrew language.
The English name "Jesus" is the outcome of the Greek word “Iesous” and the Latin version, "Iesus.” This Greek and Latin spelling of Jesus -- along with the Hebrew spelling -- was placed (according to Christian Scripture) on the head of Jesus' cross, by order of Pontius Pilate, along with the inscription, "This is the King of the Jews." (Luke 23:38-39, KJV) One message, in three distinct languages of the day. But all without the letter "J" in the original Greek, Latin, and Hebrew spelling.
To this very day, many crucifixes (most notably, Roman Catholic) still retain the original Latin version of Jesus' name, along with the original inscription, all without the letter "J:" "Iesus Nazarenus, Rex, Iudaeorum" (Trans. "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.") This is also revealed in just the initials, which are often inscribed on crucifixes: INRI.
To reiterate, the letter “J” did not exist during the time of Jesus. Historical records reveal that there was no such letter “J” in the English alphabet until it was introduced by medieval scribes, centuries later. Even after the introduction of the letter “J” (the last letter to be added to our 26-letter alphabet), it still did not become widely popular until the 17th-century (1600s), centuries after its inception. (Encyclopedia Americana, International Ed., Vol. 15, 2006.)
The propensity to supplant the letter "I" in Iesus with the letter "J" completed the word-transformation into its present Christian usage: "Jesus," in the English language.
It is noteworthy to point out that Jesus' actual birth name, Yeshua (which means "The Lord is salvation," or "The Lord will/has saved"), was a popular name two thousand years ago in that region of the world. The fact that Jesus' name was a very common one may surprise many people today. So common was his name that it may come as a startling revelation that the notorious Barabbas, who was released by Pontius Pilate in place of the religious Jesus, was named Jesus Barabbas (var. Bar-Abbas). The infamous criminal, Jesus Barabbas, is named in his entirety in some of the early Christian manuscripts but, interestingly, his first name was deleted by various Christian scribes, to the extent that his full name remains relatively scarce amongst today's various Christian Bibles. “Jesus Barabbas” still appears in the Armenian and Syrian versions of Matt. 27:16-17. Also in other such works as The Harper Collins Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version, 1989. (Matt., Ibid).
Of what interest is this deletion of detail? It is of germane interest in our quest to truly understand and fully recognize, not only the historical Jesus, but also the impact and influence that he had, then and now. The deletion of "Jesus" as Barabbas' first name is viewed as no accident in transcription but, rather, is seen as a deliberate act of omission. Modern Bible scholars, such as William Barclay, D.A. Carson, Robert Gundry, and Klaas Schilder, believe -- as do many others -- that Barabbas' first name (Jesus) was expunged because it was offensive and irreverent to associate him with Jesus who is called the Christ. If any hidden reason is to be found, perhaps this one has credence. If Barabbas’ first name was, indeed, erased by early Christian scribes by design, and such omission remains prevalent today, it attests to the prevailing power of influence that Jesus continues to have over Christianity. Devout Christian followers are (understandably) quick to defend and keep Holy, his name. Deletion of fact, however, is a touchy matter, in spite of any worthy or noble motive, no matter how well intended.
That “Barabbas” translates to the "son of the father," may have added further discomfort to the early Christian transcribers of the Bible.
That there were many ancient Jews who shared Jesus' name is more than just a fanciful exercise in erudition. It is an index of just how much we know -- or do not know -- of the cultural setting that surrounded and shaped this paradigmatic individual.
That some may regard this as irrelevant to their basic belief tenet would be to cast insensitivity to those who may wish to be so informed. It is a healthy excursion in democratic ideals to welcome divergent points-of-view and discussion; a civil forum, whereby dignity and tolerance is extended to opposing dogmas and secular opinion. It is this very lack of tolerance, which history records, that has bred human arrogance, and subsequent blood-letting in the form of Holy Wars, Crusades, and Inquisitions. The esteemed Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, of New York City, eloquently states that Rabbi Jesus may well say, "Isn't it terrible that in my name they've killed millions of people? And I hear the cry of their souls, all my brothers and sisters. Whenever you have a chance, tell them to stop killing in my name." (Jesus Through Jewish Eyes. Beatrice Bruteau, editor. Orbis Books, NY. 2001)
Christian, Jewish, and secular scholars are well aware of Jesus of Nazareth's true Hebrew birth name, Yeshua, and it's present form today. Our historical Jesus was born in one of two towns known as Bethlehem. Yes, there was more than one Bethlehem in ancient times. One was situated in Galilee (in the region of Zebulon) bordering the valley of Jiphthah-el in the north, near Nazareth (Joshua 19:15-16). The other Bethlehem, of Jesus' reputed birth, is in the hilly region to the south of Jerusalem, in the vicinity of Judah. In the Jewish Torah (aka the Christian Old Testament), it is first spoken of in Genesis 35:19. It is this Bethlehem, in Judaea (Judah), where a child was said to be born; a child that would change the world as no other religious or secular figure in all of world history. Whether this Jesus was the Anointed One --foretold in the Jewish Torah -- is hotly debated to this day, for over two thousand years now, and counting. However, that he influenced the landscape of human thinking more than any other single, individual entity, is beyond rational dispute.
We are delighted, at The Paper, to have found a brilliant writer such as Frederick Gomez. He not only impresses us with his brilliant research, documenting all that he says, but his ability to weave important information into a fascinating story.
This is Mr. Gomez’s fourth cover story for The Paper. We hope to have him write many, many more cover stories for us.
Please, read the whole story presented by Mr. Gomez, by going here: