Thursday, September 14, 2006

9: The Truth About Jesus

It was around this time, at the Eastern end of the Roman Empire, that a chap known to history as Jesus was starting to make his presence felt.
His real name Joshua or Jeshua or Jeheshua, a perfectly commonplace Hebrew name at the time, but he's known to us as Jesus because that was how his name translated into Greek, but just to be different let's call him Josh.
As far as we know, it seems this man was an itinerant preacher whose followers claimed he was the rescuer of the Jewish people whose arrival had been announced in advance by certain authors of several hundred years before, whose writings had since become Holy (i.e. immune from rational scrutiny and therefore True). That being the case, a lot of people around this time were looking around for a good candidate to fulfil these prophesies: The main reason for them doing it just then was probably that the Romans were stomping all over them, as indeed they were stomping all over most of Europe and the Middle East, replacing local barbaric murderous tyrants with their own civilised murderous tyrants, and no-one seemed to be able to do anything about it.
Centuries earlier (we skipped this bit) the Hebrews had made a legal deal - by proxy of course - with one of their gods, agreeing that they would worship only him and have no dealings with any of the others. Over the course of time this came to mean that they couldn't even acknowledge the existence of any others, and finally that anyone who DID acknowledge the existence of any others was definitely on the outs with the one-and-only real god, whether or not they'd been party to the original deal, and therefore on the outs with his followers too. Thus began the monotheistic mindset of 'we're all going to Heaven and to hell with everyone else'.
This was the state of affairs when the Blessed Hebrews found themselves being stomped all over by the Damned Romans, and naturally enough they had the feeling that this wasn't quite how things were meant to be. Surely their god wasn't going back on the deal?
So the prophesies about a rescuer (or 'Saviour') came to the fore, and they started looking high and low for him. There were a number of candidates - mainly itinerant evangelists - who seemed to vaguely fulfil the requirements, and Josh was one of them. He apparently went along with the idea - after all, he might have reasoned, there's no such thing as bad publicity - and gained something of a reputation. But neither the Jewish Establishment nor the Roman administrators were really won over by this upstart, and between the two of them they had him nailed to a big wooden cross for his impudence.
One would think that would be the end of the story, since this Rescuer, according to the prophesies, was supposed to free the Blessed Jews from whatever Damned Oppressors were oppressing them this time. Getting himself nailed to a piece of wood was never part of the plan. If it had been, one suspects, he might have been a little more cautious about taking the part.
However, Josh had perhaps the best PR men the business has ever seen, and years after he died they got round to writing the whole story down and arguing that this was in fact what was supposed to happen all along. It all ties in with pagan customs involving sacrifice that their ancestors had adopted centuries earlier, and which were still popular in parts of Europe for centuries to come:
Many cultures throughout history have subscribed to the idea that they can get on good terms with their gods by giving them a present. This usually involves killing it. So if you want a particular favour from one of your gods, a specific present would be expected; a chicken or something - the bigger the favour, the bigger the present. If it's a really BIG favour, like asking if the annual harvest can PLEASE be a bit bigger this year than it was the last seven years, the present might have to be the hottest young unattached lady in the vicinity.
To take this reasoning to its next stage, what can you sacrifice to ask the one and only really genuine god to forgive everything you've ever done to upset him as well as everything you're ever going to do in the future? Auntie Vera's eldest, the one with the nice ankles, isn't even going to begin to cover it.
The idea was that by getting himself nailed to the cross, Josh was volunteering himself as a sort of super-human sacrifice. Him being the one and only son of the one and only real god, he was worth way more than some girl of high repute and was therefore the only possible candidate for the job.
Under impolite scrutiny, the logic seems a bit strained to say the least. For one thing, you'd think killing God's son would only upset him. Second, he wasn't actually getting himself killed because he was only supposed to be going back up to Heaven anyway, which by all accounts is a much nicer place than here, even if it is invisible. (Come to think of it, if MY place was invisible that might be considered an improvement.) So where's the sacrifice there?
If the sacrifice is supposed to be ours, in that we don't have him around to consult any more, then that sort of negates the idea that he's all around us all the time, more so than if he was really here, so to speak, as his self-appointed representatives have long been telling us he is.
As if that wasn't enough, we're told he came back for a quick encore a couple of days later as if just to prove he could do it. All of this seems to suggest that the crucifixion business never actually achieved anything worthwhile apart from giving the poor chap a remarkably painful day or two.
Finally we're told that he was then taken up to heaven - floated up on a cloud or something - and that was the last anyone ever saw of him, apart from the occasional cameo on the road to Damascus or on a piece of toast.
Allow me to present two versions of these events, and you may draw your own conclusions as to which is more credible.

Version 1: Josh is up on a hill nailed to a cross. His friends are hanging around watching. They can't do anything because the Romans who nailed him there are also hanging around. After a day or so Josh dies. His friends draw this fact to the attention of the guards who let them take him down and carry him off. Without too much ceremony, they put him in a cave and wheel a great big stone over the doorway.
A couple of days later some of them wander by and find that the stone has been moved away; the door is open. Then they happen across Josh, who is up and walking about. He has miraculously come back to life. After a final quiet party they wander up a hill with him and watch him being taken up to heaven on a cloud.

Version 2: Josh is up on a hill nailed to a cross. His friends are hanging round watching. After a day or so he loses consciousness. His friends tell the Roman guards that he's dead and ask if they can please take him down. The guards, keen to get indoors after standing in the rain for hours, agree. Josh's friends remove him and hide him in a cave. Just to keep the Romans from finding him again too easily, they wheel a big stone across the doorway.
A couple of days later, they sneak back and open the door up again while no-one is looking and take Josh away to a safe house. However the opened tomb does not go unnoticed, and it is decided that it would be a good idea for Josh to make himself scarce and keep a low profile. He does not want to get nailed to a cross again.
Next day a couple of Romans accost some of Josh's friends and interrogate them about the open tomb and the whereabouts of Josh. 'Oh,' they say. 'You won't be seeing him again. We saw him being taken up to heaven'. The Romans accept this, at least as a good reason for not letting this chap create more work and trouble for them.
Naturally enough, word of that story gets around, tying in as it does with all the remaining evidence, and Josh's reputation starts to grow. We might speculate on how much of it Josh himself lived to see, and indeed whether he was responsible for any of it.

One would like to think that all this is of secondary importance compared to the philosophy of life that Josh went around teaching:
Whereas God's instructions in the Old Testament can be summed up thus:
'Do what I tell you, or you'll be sorry'.
Josh's version reads:
'Be nice to each other.'
In itself that seems beautifully simple, harmless and nothing if not helpful and constructive, and even rather obvious, but sadly a lot of people have found it necessary to combine it with the older philosophy, and interpret it this way:
'Be nice to each other or I'll set my Dad on you, then you'll be sorry.'
Which, naturally enough, often provokes the response:
'No you won't.'
To which the inevitable reply is:
'To Hell with you, then.'
... and downhill from there. Which shows what happens when you complicate things.

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