If Jesus Was Jewish,
Why Are We Not All Jews?
Kurt Lidderd

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Kurt Lidderd"
Subject: Re: Jesus Question
Date: Friday, April 06, 2001 6:26 AM

The answer to your question depends entirely upon who Jesus was. I personally hold the view that we cannot know who Jesus was or whether he even existed. I believe the Bible's accounts of who he was and what he did are almost pure fiction. The Bible is the only writing that talks about Jesus until long after the Bible was published. So, I don't think it is very easy to prove that a historical Jesus even existed, and it is much tougher than that to show that Jesus was who the Bible says he was. I think we can rest assured that the Bible account is just plain wrong.

So, who was Jesus? This has been the quest of many scholars for the past century, since Albert Schweitzer decided that the Bible wasn't telling the truth, and tried to see who the real Jesus was. Unlike most modern scholars who undertake this study, Schweitzer was utterly disappointed in what he found. Today, most of the scholars seem to "find" a "Jesus" who fits their own views. They do this by stressing certain facts and ignoring others. Schweitzer is probably the only one who went looking for a Jesus that he might like better, and walked away from that search almost wishing he hadn't undertaken it because he found a completely different "Jesus" than what he'd hoped to find.
 

One view that I have liked for the past 16 years or so is the Jewish Political Messiah angle. This view says that Jesus sought to free his country, Judaea, from the clutches of the Roman Empire, and thought that God would help him through miracles. The Roman Empire dominated and occupied all neighboring countries in much the same way that America does to the Native American nations, or the Soviet Union did to her neighbors (before she fell -- about the time you were born), or Nazi Germany occupied France and other countries during World War II. The military of the big country came in and took over the political system of the smaller countries.

So Jesus thinks he is the one who will, through miracles foretold in the book of Zechariah, be the man promised by God who would restore self-rule to the land. In this view, Jesus did not think he was a god, and did not intend to start a new religion. It was Paul who later either took the story of the failed political Messiah Jesus (or completely fabricated a myth) and constructed the story of the God-Man Jesus that we all have heard. This view is described in great detail by Hyam Maccoby.

Maccoby goes to great lengths to show that the Christian religion got its validity partly by claiming that God's grace was withdrawn from His chosen people, the Jews, and then granted to the Christians. Unfortunately, it is impossible to teach that God withdrew His grace from the Jews and gave it to us without instilling deep and vicious religious hatred against the Jews. If God Himself has turned His back on the Jews, then it cannot be proper for us to think very highly of Jews. Throughout much of Christian history, the Jews were demonized, and many have taken it upon themselves to personally inflict God's curse upon any Jew they see.

But (according to the story), the Jews had done the same thing when they thought that God had taken away the land of the Canaanites and the Midianites and had given it to the Jews. They routed these tribes from their homeland (what is now Palestine and Israel) and either slaughtered the inhabitants or captured them as slaves. Abraham is supposed to have come from over by Iraq.

It is not hard to see where religious wars and religious hatred come from. We need only think about this one aspect of a certain group believing they have God's favor -- especially if they think that God has given them favor that once belonged to a rival group.

It is this one aspect, thinking that God withdrew His favor from the Jews and granted it to the Christians, that, I think, accounts for most of the brutality that the Jews have endured for the past 2000 years or so -- including Nazi Germany. A similar attitude was held against Africans for hundreds and hundreds of years -- just because of a single passage of Scripture which many people interpreted as saying that God has cursed the African people. If a solitary passage can foster this attitude about Africans, think of what has resulted from the hundreds of passages in the Christian New Testament which tell of God removing his Grace from the Jews and transferring it to the Christians.
 

Nevertheless, anybody who tries to put together a picture of a historical Jesus (including those who accept the orthodox biblical view) must emphasize some facts and ignore other facts. This is because many of the so-called facts seem to contradict each other, and not all of them can be true for the same person at the same time. When people do this, they tend to construct a "Jesus" to their own liking. Political Liberationists tend to "discover" that Jesus wanted to liberate his people from Rome. Mystics tend to "discover" hidden "truths" in the words of Jesus. Humanitarians tend to "discover" a very humanitarian "Jesus." The orthodox "discover" evidence to justify believing the Gospel accounts. I use quotation marks because I am trying to show that we are not, in any of these cases, talking about a real person, but are talking about a character in a myth, and that instead of discovering anything, as they claim, they are simply making up a myth and finding evidence to support it.

So, I have decided that the best view for me to hold is a new view called "Jesus Agnosticism." This view says that we cannot know much, if anything, about any "historical Jesus" simply because we have too little to go on, and what little we do have was written by a small group of people who lived at least 40 years after Jesus is supposed to have died, and was edited by a powerful group that came much later. Agnosticism does not simply mean, "I don't know," but insists that "We cannot know"; agnosticism, I think, goes further than even atheism, which simply says, I don't have good enough reasons to believe your claims. Jesus Agnosticism is one of the few things in religion that I am truly agnostic about: I think that it is currently impossible to know much if anything about Jesus.
 

I do respect that other people think differently, although I disagree with what they think. Who Jesus was or was not, or whether or not Jesus existed, are questions that only become important to me when powerful religious groups try to force me to acknowledge or practice their religious beliefs. This is why I advocate the separation of religion from government, and see this policy as the only way to ensure that everyone has religious liberty.

I also find myself fascinated by the whole Jesus thing, and have collected Jesus books for many, many years. They are all different, and no two of them can both be true. The more different opinions you study about who Jesus was or was not, the more likely you will become a Jesus Agnostic like myself.
 

Do I need religion? I have my own sense of self, and my own sense of a relationship with the Universe. I can become as enrapt as most religious folks ever get without thinking that there's a god up there trying to get in touch with me. If he's God, why doesn't He just write me a letter or something? And while He's at it, enclose a nice fat check paid to the order of Cliff Walker! That would get my attention real fast! But yes, I can live a full life without being a Christian or a Jew or anything else. I have a sense of morality that rivals any religious system, I have a sense of awe toward nature that rivals anybody's reverence for a deity, and I have quite a cultural heritage as an American whose family roots are quite varied (strong Revolutionary American roots; strong Native American half-breed roots; strong English roots; some Islamic roots; strong Unitarian roots; some Missouri and Texas roots; very strong "Grapes Of Wrath" California roots a lot of nineteenth-century Freethought roots). So, I have stopped thinking in terms of "we" any more, because apart from being human, we differ widely one from another.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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