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The Mysterious Disappearance of Jesus and the Origin of Christianity

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(1997)


 

Part I

JESUS AND THE EARLIEST JESUS PEOPLE

 

In this first part of the book I concentrate primarily on what we can know with some confidence about the earliest people in the history of Christianity-- Jesus himself, his relatives, the twelve, the seven etc. The study reveals certain diverse brands of tradition existing from the very beginning and profiles the people from whom the brands originated. It is these primitive brands that, after some reshaping, later became the building blocks of the whole Jesus tradition.

 

Chapter 1

A LOOK AT THE LIFE AND MINISTRY OF JESUS

 

In this chapter I outline the main facts of Jesus' life and ministry. Many of these facts have gained widespread acceptance among scholars of different backgrounds while others will be supported in this and subsequent chapters.

 

Galilee

One of the secure facts about Jesus is that he was a Galilean. It is not of great importance to settle the question whether he was from Nazareth whose existence is called into some very minor doubt by the fact that outside the four canonical gospels and Acts this village is not mentioned by any Christian or non-Christian writer and by the fact that even in the gospels and Acts Jesus is often called not "of Nazareth" but Nazarene or Nazarite which originally may have meant something different but which may have out of misunderstanding created the village called Nazareth.

That Jesus was a Galilean is certain because only Luke and Matthew contain the tradition that Jesus was born in Bethlehem near Jerusalem and because in their case not only the influence of such scriptural passages as Micah 5:2 is all too apparent but also they both admit that Jesus' parents settled in Galilee when he was just a child.

What do we know of Galilee and can our information reveal something about Jesus?

Galilee was only finally conquered by the Jewish king Aristobulus I in 104/103 BCE. It was then forcibly converted to Judaism and compulsory circumcision was imposed on its residents. This of course does not necessarily mean that all or most Galileans resented Judaism. People whose ancestors were forcibly converted to a religion or culture can show great commitment to that religion or culture. But it does mean that we can expect the religion of most Galileans to be not as purely and strictly Jewish as in Judaea. Indeed, Galilee was known for its lack of orthodoxy. Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai reportedly said, "Galilee, Galilee, thou hatest learning; in the end thou wilt belong to the robbers." This is because there was such a lack of interest in the law that the rabbi "lived in Arab (=Galilee) for 18 years and only two cases were brought to him (for judgment)" (Strack-Billerbeck I, p. 157)

Galileans were also known for a rebellious spirit. The zealots may have originated from the activities of Judas the Galilean and there are instances when the zealots were simply called Galileans.

The situation in the Jewish Galilee at the time of Jesus may be compared to the situation in the Christian Western Europe in more recent times. Western Europe was christianized relatively late. One finds there both a strong commitment to Christianity and an independence of spirit that results in new interpretations of Christianity and even in anti-Christian trends.

The culture of Galilee was a peasant culture which is reflected in many of Jesus' parables. Jesus may have thus belonged to the peasant class, although he himself may have engaged in the manufacture of goods needed by the peasants. In Mark 6:3 people describe Jesus as a carpenter while in the parallel passage in Matthew they call him carpenter's son (13:55). Matthew seems to consider it derogatory to Jesus that he be described as a carpenter, but there is no reason to doubt the description in Mark. Since in ancient times a profession often passed from father to son, it is quite plausible that Jesus' father or step-father was also a carpenter, a fact that Matthew has exploited to deflect the description from Jesus. Since the gospels present no sign of Jesus pursuing the profession of a carpenter just before or after the start of his ministry, it is possible that Jesus left the profession some considerable time before his ministry.

The language of Galilee was Aramaic with some use of Greek. Hebrew may have been used in worship. Jesus certainly spoke Aramaic, probably knew Hebrew and possibly also had some knowledge of Greek.

On the basis of the above picture we may conclude that Jesus was raised in a predominantly peasant and therefore oral culture. The gospels present him as committed to Judaism but not a very strict and orthodox Judaism, which is quite understandable in view of his being a Galilean.

 

Baptism of Jesus

Mark (followed by Matthew and Luke), Q (=traditions common to Matthew and Luke but independent of Mark) and the Fourth Gospel show that the start of the ministry of Jesus is some way connected with the appearance of John the Baptist. They all start the story of Jesus with the witness of the Baptist. Mark (followed by Matthew and Luke) and Q further tell us that Jesus was baptized by the Baptist. The Fourth Gospel says that the first disciples of Jesus came from among the followers of the Baptist.

The tradition of baptism of Jesus by John is almost certainly historical. It is difficult to conceive of a plausible process of how the tradition came to be formed if it is not based on a historical fact. Those who do not believe in the existence of Jesus suggest that the tradition arose out of the idea that the Messiah is anointed by his Elijah-type forerunner. But apart from the fact that such an idea is not attested in the first-century Judaism it is difficult to see why the forerunner should baptize the Messiah instead of anointing him.

The historicity of the baptism of Jesus has long been recognized by scholars but full significance of this baptism and of the Baptist for understanding the ministry of Jesus has only recently begun to be assessed.

The baptism means that Jesus was a humble man who hoped for the grace and forgiveness of God. It also means that he regarded John as superior to himself, for he believed that the grace and mercy of God for which he looked could come through John. This latter implication of the baptism is confirmed by Jesus' own words recorded in Q and Thomas. Luke's and Matthew's versions of the relevant Q sayings run as follows:

What went ye out into the wilderness to see? a reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out to see? a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings' courts. But what went ye out to see? a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee. I say unto you, Among those born of women there is none greater than John: yet he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. (Luke 7:24-28) 

The law and the prophets were until John: from that time the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached and every man enters into it violently. (Luke 16:16)

What went ye out into the wilderness to see? a reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? a man clothed in soft (raiment)? Behold, those wearing soft (raiment) are in kings' houses. But wherefore went ye out? to see a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more  than a prophet. This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among those born of women there has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist: yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.    (Matt. 11:7-13)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The non-canonical Gnostic Gospel of Thomas has the following parallels to some of the above sayings:

Jesus said: From Adam to John the Baptist there is none born of woman who is higher than John the Baptist, so that his eyes will not be broken (?) But I have said, He who shall be among you as a little one shall know the kingdom, and shall be higher than John.

Jesus said: Why came ye forth into the field? To see a reed shaken by the wind? And to see a man clothed in soft raiment? [Behold, your] kings and your great men are they who are clothed in soft [raiment], and they [shall] not be able to know the truth. (Thomas 46, 78)

By comparing the two versions of the sayings in Q it is clear that either Luke or Matthew or both have made changes in the original document. It is also possible that the original document used by the two evangelists itself contained changes to the still earlier tradition, a possibility which is confirmed by a comparison of the Q sayings with the parallels in the Gospel of Thomas even if the latter seems in this case to be secondary. Therefore to recover the most original form of the traditions presented here we must undo what Luke and Matthew have done to the Q sayings and what Q and Thomas did to the received oral or written tradition. This is relatively easy. By carefully comparing the three synoptic gospels we can determine many of the phrases, themes, and theological tendencies that are peculiar to each of the evangelists. For example, Matthew has a definite preference for "kingdom of heaven" instead of "kingdom of God." Also, Luke is particularly concerned with salvation history which he divides into three epochs: the time of prophecy which came to an end with John the Baptist, the time of Jesus and the time of the church which starts from Jerusalem, grows in Judea and Samaria and then moves to the "ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8); he is not sure where to fit John the Baptist and thus puts him in the "twilight" zone between the age of prophecy and the age of fulfillment. By taking into account such peculiar preferences and tendencies we can get closer to the original Q version. Thus it is likely that Q originally had "kingdom of God" as in Luke and not "kingdom of heaven" as in Matthew. On the other hand, Luke's view of salvation history seems to have influenced his version of the saying about the law and the prophets (Luke 16:16=Matt 11:12-13). Luke has: "The law and the prophets (were) until John" while Matthew reads: "All the prophets and the law prophesied until or toward John". Luke has made a much sharper distinction between the age of the law and the prophets and that of the age of salvation than Matthew, in keeping with his tendency to divide history in distinct periods.

We can proceed similarly to try to undo what Q and Thomas did to the earlier tradition: determine their tendencies and then counter them. One clear tendency in Q which it shares with most surviving Christian documents is to subordinate John to Jesus. This is clear from the change made to Malachi 3:1 in the quotation in Q (Luke 7:27=Matt 11:10; see also Mark 1:2, where the quotation is not attributed to Jesus). The passage from Malachi reads: "Behold, I send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before me." The Christians changed "before me" (meaning before God) to "before you" (meaning before the Messiah), thus changing the reference to the forerunner of God to the forerunner of the Messiah, identifying the Messiah as Jesus. (It is, however, possible that this was done under the influence of Exod 23:20-22). In view of Jesus' earlier description of John as "much more than a prophet," it is more likely that the original reference of the scriptural quotation was not Jesus but John. In other words, originally Jesus identified John with the eschatological messenger who prepares the way for the coming of the judgment and kingdom of God. The saying in Matthew 11:13 usually translated as: "All the prophets and the law prophesied until John" can also be translated as: "All the prophets and the law prophesied toward or about John (cf. Jerusalem Bible). In this sense the saying is consistent with Jesus' identification of John with the prophesied eschatological messenger who was seen as prophesied in Exod and Deut (the law) and Isaiah and Malachi (the prophets) (see Ch. 9).

The words in Luke 7:28=Matt. 11:11, "the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he", which completely undermine the high praise of John found in the rest of the verses can be safely attributed to the Christian tendency to downgrade John. These words assume an understanding of the kingdom of God according to which only those can belong to the kingdom of God who are alive when it comes; in other words, the dead do not rise to participate in the eternal life of the kingdom. The idea is that the least of those in the everlasting kingdom of God is better than the greatest of those who are dead and gone forever. This idea probably existed independently before Jesus' statement that John was the greatest of all human beings attracted it in order to serve the Christian need to reduce the stature of John. That there existed Christians who denied the resurrection is shown by 1 Cor.15. But Mark (12:25) and Q (Matt 12:41=Luke 11:32) show that Jesus himself did believe in the resurrection of the dead. If this is historical, then we cannot attribute the words in question to him.

The saying in Thomas 78 is not applied to John the Baptist and there is no reference to the eschatological messenger. However, the passage requires some context and in view of any alternative the context in the parallel Q passage (Matt 11:7-10= Luke 7:24-27) can be accepted as the original one. The version in Thomas probably arose from the fact that the saying does not explicitly mention John the Baptist (not even in the Q parallel). The reference to John was made clear in Q by the saying in Matt 11:11=Luke 7:28 (Thomas, logion 46). Thomas probably received the two passages separated from each other and therefore the passage in which John was not explicitly mentioned lost a reference to him.

Thomas seems to throw no light on the original form of the sayings about John. The Gnostic gospel has simply interpreted the sayings in a Gnostic sense. It has divided time into two ages: the time between Adam and John the Baptist and the time of knowledge (gnosis). John is the greatest of all the human beings only in the age of ignorance. Any one who is like a child (cf. Mark 10:15, Matt 18:3) will have knowledge and will become higher than John the Baptist. The field and the raiment of Thomas 78 refer to this material world and the physical body (cf. logion 21 and Riley, Resurrection Reconsidered, p. 130) and the meaning seems to be: those who go after physical comforts and bodily desires will not know the truth of why they came into this world.

Thus the original form of the sayings used in Q and Thomas can now be approximately reconstructed as follows:

Jesus began to say concerning John:

1) What went ye out into the wilderness to see? a reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out to see? a man clothed in soft (raiment)? Behold, those who are clothed in soft (raiment) are in kings' houses. But what went ye out to see? a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. This is he, of whom it is written, Behold I send my messenger before me who shall prepare my way before me.

2) I say unto you, Among those born of women there is

none greater than John. For all the prophets and the law prophesied about John.

3) From the days of John the Baptist the kingdom of God is preached and every one seizes it by force. (Reconstruction)

In the first group of sayings, the meaning is clear: John is more than a prophet because he came to prepare the way for God's coming with his judgment and salvation in fulfillment of the scriptures. The meaning of the two sayings of the second group is similar and also clear. The saying 3) is more difficult to interpret. The most probable interpretation is something like this: Before John the kingdom of God was an object of indefinite hope but with the coming of John started the proclamation of the kingdom as something imminent and accessible. The whole population is gripped by its expectation and everyone is striving hard to be part of it. This is a manifestation of the fact that John is the fulfillment of all prophecy and hence the greatest of all men.

The appearance of John the Baptist is thus an event in the time of Jesus that impressed his mind more than anything that he knew. He was not alone in such a reaction to what John was saying and doing through his baptism. Josephus says of John that people were "impressed to the highest degree by his sermons" (Ant 18:116-119).

In view of the baptism of Jesus by John and his sayings about him quoted above one could describe Jesus as a disciple of John. Neither John nor Jesus came with any detailed system of beliefs and practices which a disciple had to accept. To be a disciple one had to have some continual association with them, believe that their gifts were from God and that their main message which was within the range of acceptable interpretations of the scriptures was correct. From Jesus' sayings about John it seems that he knew him not just from one visit to the Jordan for getting baptized but more closely and of course Jesus believed in the divine origin of John's baptism and his message. We can therefore regard him as Jesus' disciples.

 

Forty days in the wilderness

Both Mark and Q talk of Jesus' stay in the wilderness for forty days where he fasted (Q) and was tempted by the devil (Mark, Q). The double independent attestation shows that the tradition of the stay in the wilderness is quite early. Its version in Q shows that at one time and place it was the object of considerable legendary speculations. Like the baptism, it is difficult to see why Christians would invent the stay in the wilderness: there is nothing particularly messianic about the story. Even if the Messiah was believed to be the agent for the overthrow of Satan and all his evil powers there is nothing in the common elements in Mark and Q which suggests that such a motif is behind the creation of the story. We can, consequently, accept the stay as a historical fact. But from the gospels it is not possible to understand the motives of Jesus' stay in the wilderness or to link it with the events before and after it. It is possible that the gospel tradition knew only the bare facts of Jesus' baptism and a subsequent stay in the wilderness. Since the stay takes place after baptism and John is also a man who fasted and lived in the wilderness, it is natural to think of Jesus' stay in the wilderness and his fasting there as having something to do with his contact with John. Such a connection is further strengthened by the fact that Jesus, at his baptism by John, receives the Spirit and it is the Spirit that leads Jesus to the wilderness, thus suggesting a continuity from baptism to reception of the spirit to the stay in the wilderness. One can easily think that John instructed some of his closer disciples to go through such a spiritual exercise and Jesus was one such disciple. If so, ignorance on the part of the tradition may not be the reason why the stay in the wilderness is presented to us without any links with the earlier events. Christians' need to make Jesus independent of John may have been the real motivation.

The exercises may have been linked in some way to the wandering of Israel in the desert for forty years and/or with Elijah's journey into the wilderness during which he was fed by the angel of the Lord and his subsequent travel for forty days and forty nights (1 Kings 19). On the basis of these connections John may have fixed the period of the exercises as "forty days" or "forty days and forty nights".

It is expected that one of the main object of the spiritual exercises in the wilderness was to discover and control evil inclinations in man. "The wilderness was traditionally the haunt of evil spirits" (Nineham, Mark, 64). It was a place to face one's demons and to overcome them. Once one had successfully overcome one's demons one became a righteous man or a son of God. Then he could perform extraordinary deeds. This is expressed in the gospels by the statement that Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness or led there to be tempted by him. Nineham notes in his commentary that the "Greek word peirazein is much wider than the English word tempt and can include 'testing' or 'trying' of any sort (p. 63)." It could refer to any process of facing and overcoming the evil spirits. Mark says that Jesus was with the wild beasts and the angels ministered him. Matthew (following Q) says that the devil left Jesus after he had resisted the three temptations. All this has a remarkable parallel in the following passage from the Testament of Naphtali:

If you do good, my children, both men and angels shall bless you, and the Devil shall flee from you and wild beasts shall fear you and the Lord shall love you. (8:4)

This passage shows that nothing that is said in the temptation story is particularly messianic; such a story could be told of any righteous man. But of course, the similar powers could be attributed to a messianic figure. In T. Levi 18:12 we read:

And Beliar shall be bound by him (i.e. the coming priest), and he shall give power to his children to tread upon the evil spirits.

The serpents and vipers in the desert are visible incarnations of the evil spirits. So to tread upon the serpents and vipers is like treading upon the evil spirits. Thus when Jesus sends the seventy on their mission, he tells them:

See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you (cf. Mark 16:18).

Here Jesus may be transferring the powers that he got during exercises in the wilderness to the disciples.

It is possible that in the oral tradition there existed stories about other rabbis as to how during some similar exercises the devil tempted them and how they resisted such temptations. The three temptations in Q may have been adopted from such stories. It is noticeable that the account of the three temptations reveals a high level of skill in the use of scriptural passages such as is expected of scribes and rabbis, thus showing that the story originated among scribal circles.

The above explanations of the stay in the wilderness find some support from the recently published Qumran texts from cave 4 and discussed in Evans, "Recently Published Dead Sea Scrolls and the Historical Jesus," pp. 563-565. One of these texts is 4Q525 5:2-5a. This text is in a very poor state but words and phrases that do survive or can be restored with confidence suggest spiritual exercises in the desert that lead to the revelation of the mysteries of God and power over evil spirits and serpents and vipers:

serpents in [it, and you will] go to him, you will enter [...] there will be joy [on that day when] the mysteries of God [are revealed] for[ever. ....] burn. By poi[sons] will a serpent weaken his lords [...] of God [ ... vip]ers [...] In him they will take their stand. They are accursed for[ever] and the venom of vipers [...] the Devil (lit. the Mastema) [...] you choose depravity [...] and in him the demons of death take flight ...

The passage is talking about a place where there are serpents and where someone is instructed to enter and is being promised the revelation of the mysteries of God.

The other text is 4Q491 11:1:12-19, which may be a hymn describing someone who has successfully completed the exercises in the desert and to whom the mysteries of God have been revealed.

[El Elyon gave me a seat among] those perfect forever, a mighty throne in the congregation of gods. None of the kings of the east shall sit in it and their nobles shall not [come near it]. No Edomite shall be like me in glory, and none shall be exalted save me, nor shall come against me. For I have taken my seat in the [congregation] in the heavens and none [find fault with me]. I shall be reckoned with gods and established in the holy congregation. I do not desire [gold,] as would a man of flesh; everything precious to me is in the glory of [my God]. [The status of a holy temple,] not to be violated, has been attributed to me, and who can compare with me in glory? What voyager return and tell [of my equivalent]? Who [laughs] at griefs as I do? And who is like me [in bearing] evil? Moreover, if I lay down the law in a lecture [my instruction] is beyond comparison [with any man's]. And who will attack me for my utterances? And who will contain the flow of my speech? And who will call me to court and be my equal? In my legal judgment [none will stand against] me. I shall be reckoned with gods, and my glory [with that] of the king's sons. Neither refined gold, nor gold of Ophir [can match my wisdom]. (Text as restored and translated by Morton Smith, "Two Ascended to Heaven - Jesus and the Author of 4Q491," p. 296)

The gospel temptation story does not lead to such an ascent to heaven and quasi-deification. It regards the point of the spiritual exercise precisely to overcome the desire for such glory and power. Perhaps the gospel version represents a reaction to this sort of claims of exaltation and glory made by those who went through the spiritual exercises. Or, perhaps it means to combat the accusation that Jesus was a magician (often called a son of a god) who got his powers from the devil during exercises in the wilderness. It is unlikely that the ascent to heaven and the accompanying deification originally followed the story of temptation and was suppressed by the church, for the story of Jesus' transfiguration shows that if ever the story of temptation contained any type of ascent to heaven, it would have been reported.

 

Healing, exorcising and inspired speech

Judging by the stories of other great men of religion, it is likely that Jesus passed through a spiritual crisis at some point in life. This led him to John the Baptist through whom he came out of his crisis.

Sometimes very soon after his baptism and spiritual exercises in the wilderness Jesus began to perform exorcisms and healings with extraordinary results. By using a later but expressive Christian phrase, he received the gift of healing. This is not unbelievable even if one does not believe in the supernatural: a humble man deeply aware of the power and grace that God can bestow on man, keenly desirous to receive that power and grace is baptized by a man whom he strongly believed to be a channel for the power and grace of God; as a result he does get empowered. Something in his background ensured that the power that was released within him manifested in healing and exorcising. We know too little about Jesus' early years to be able to say what kind of earlier experiences caused the power released within him to take the particular expression that it took. But it is probable that he had seen other exorcists and healers and considered their work a divine gift (Matt. 12:27=Luke 11:19, Mark 3:22-26) and presumably wished that he possessed this gift. It is probable that Jesus' father or step-father Joseph died when Jesus was quite young, since, whereas we continue to hear of his mother even after his "death and resurrection" the mention of Joseph ceases at very early stages of his story. If so, Joseph may have had a relatively short life, having been killed prematurely by a terrible illness. This may have left Jesus, on the one hand, with a need for a father figure, which may have been partly fulfilled by John (although, if we go by Luke, John was only some months older than Jesus) and, on the other hand, an interest in the nature of disease and its cure, which later contributed to his receiving the gift of healing. Probably the stay in the wilderness also played a role in this connection. By facing and overcoming his own demons Jesus developed the ability to drive demons out of others.

Despite the importance of the healing activity in the life of Jesus, it is difficult to recover a historical account of any healing actually performed by Jesus. There is no healing story that is found in all the four gospels: only the words, "Arise, take up your bed and walk", by which Jesus heals a paralytic appear in all canonical gospels (Matt 9:5-6, Mark 2:9,11, Luke 5:23-24, John 5:8) although with variations and in stories that in their Synoptic and Johannine forms are quite different. There are three miracles with possibly double independent attestation. The healing of the Capernaum centurion's servant in Q (Matt 8:5-13=Luke 7:1-10) and that of a Capernaum official's son in John 4:46-54 are probably versions of the same story. The healing of the leper in Mark 1:40-45 may have an independent attestation in the Egerton Gospel (NTA, II, 96-97). And the healing of the blind man in Mark 8:22-26 has some similarity with that of the blind man in John 9:1-7. But this cannot be, and has not been generally considered, enough to confidently affirm the authenticity of any of the four stories.

The reason for the fact that we cannot confidently recover any individual story of healing is not hard to find. When after his disappearance Jesus, due to the belief in his ascension to heaven, had been put in the league of such Jewish miracle workers as Elijah and Moses and pagan divine men the actual healings performed by Jesus could not fit his image. His actual healings were relatively less dramatic and their successes were mixed with complete or partial failures, as is suggested by Mark 6:5. Consequently reminiscences of actual healings had to be combined with stories of established miracle-workers to create new and much more dramatic stories and this process of creation did not take place under any kind of control that could impose some uniformity in stories coming from different sources.

I do not take the view that miracles cannot happen. The crucial question is whether the universe is determinable in the sense that it runs according to laws discoverable by man. There is no possible way to settle this question in the affirmative, since there is a part of the universe, the future events, which we cannot observe. And if the universe is not determinable, then events can occur which in principle cannot fit in any humanly conceivable model of the way the universe functions. Miracles can be defined precisely as such events.

But, of course, the belief in miracles does not mean that we can accept every miracle story. A miracle is an event in time and space and a report about it is like the report of any other event which can be examined as to its historicity. It is when we examine the gospel miracle stories in this way that we find it difficult to put much trust in their historicity.

Naturally, Jesus was much more successful in healing mental and psycho-somatic disorders, since these are far more susceptible to treatment by suggestions. The earliest layers of tradition talk more of Jesus' exorcist activity rather than of his healing more physical ailments. It is true that in ancient times all diseases were attributed to evil spirits and thus perhaps were considered to require exorcism but tradition also knew of a distinction between the two categories of disorders. Luke 8:2 says that Jesus healed people of "evil spirits and sicknesses".

Despite mixed and, relative to the gospel stories, mediocre results of Jesus' healing work, Jesus during his life earned a reputation of being a great healer. This is not surprising. Reputation depends on what else is available and also it feeds on itself. Once reputation is established in a certain circle, the successes are exaggerated and the failures are ignored. Those outside usually have neither the motivation nor the means to investigate the claims of the admirers whose voices therefore generally dominate. When some outsiders do have a motivation to dispute, they usually resort to general type of accusation. In case of Jesus, there were at some stage people who were motivated to undermine his reputation as a healer but they did not try to prove that the miracles did not occur but took the easier route of charging that Jesus performed his healings by the power of the devil.

We cannot recover the historical healings performed by Jesus by the usual method of moving to an earlier layer of tradition through multiple attestation and other criteria of priority in time. But some history can be recovered by another approach. Most of those successfully healed by Jesus are expected to become his disciples and some are expected to become well-known for having been healed by Jesus. Let us, therefore, see if there are some identifiable persons who are said in our sources to be healed by Jesus. Generally the persons Jesus heals in the gospels are nameless or otherwise unidentifiable, but there are two notable exceptions. One is provided by Mark 1:29-34 (followed by Matthew 8:14-17 and Luke 4:38-41) which describes the healing of Peter's mother-in-law suffering from fever. The other is found in Luke 8:2-3, where a number of women disciples are named who were healed of evil spirits and diseases; of these Mary Magdalene is singled out with the comment, "from whom seven demons had come out." We have no reason not to accept that Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law of fever and Mary Magdalene of serious mental or psycho-somatic disorders. There were doubtless many other similar cases but the names of the persons involved and the details of their healing have not survived in our sources, probably because they did not play any prominent part in the church.

In addition to the gift of healing Jesus also began to talk of religious matters in an enthusiastic, inspired and wise way. As a humble but intelligent and sensitive man who looked towards God's grace and mercy, Jesus probably possessed wisdom before his baptism but it began to come out more and more after the baptism.

It is very likely that Jesus preached and baptized for a while as John's disciple (Robert L. Webb, "John the Baptist and His Relationship to Jesus," 219-223). In his preaching he must have repeated the main elements of John's sermons in his own eloquent words and also proclaimed John as the Elijah-type eschatological messenger, as is clear from the same sayings. Starting with the assumption that Jesus was carrying out a ministry during the time of John and as his disciple we can explain both the Fourth Gospel which says that Jesus was carrying a parallel ministry during the time of John and Mark which starts the ministry of Jesus after the arrest of John: the Fourth Gospel, which alone among the canonical gospels omits explicit reference to the baptism of Jesus, deals with the fact of Jesus' activity as John's disciple by turning that activity into a completely independent, parallel and even rival activity while Mark deals with the same embarrassing fact by ignoring it and starts Jesus' ministry when it does begin to assume some independence, namely, after the arrest of John, which, perhaps, also allows him to more literally present John as a forerunner.

 

Under and out of the Baptist's shadow

After his arrest, John's movement must have come under a considerable strain. Baptism started by him, even if continued on his behalf by some of his disciples was very closely linked with him. The rite is expected to reduce in popularity with the absence of John from the scene and to be gradually abandoned. Certainly, Jesus seems to have abandoned it and instead concentrated on his healing activity.

Jesus naturally became more and more prominent as an independent leader after the absence of John from the scene. However, even after the death of John, Jesus continued to speak very highly of John, which is a manifestation of Jesus' own greatness. The sayings mentioned earlier were probably spoken after the death of John. In any case, the following two traditions certainly belong to the period after the death of the Baptist:

Parable of the wicked husbandmen (Mark 12:1-12=Matt 21:33-46= Luke 20:20-26=Thomas 65). One plausible interpretation of this parable is that "servants" are the "prophets" while "son" is John whom Jesus considered "much more than a prophet". The point is that after God's eschatological prophet was killed on top of the persecution of many earlier prophets the judgment and kingdom of God was bound to come soon. This interpretation of the parable is also proposed by Aaron Milavec and D. Stern (see Craig L. Blomberg, "The Parables of Jesus," p. 251, n. 97). Blomberg rejects the interpretation on the ground that it is against the "fairly uniform Christian tradition of associating [the son] with Jesus," but this is hardly a fatal objection. In the first place, the Christian interpretation may not be as uniform as suggested by Blomberg, since Thomas does not give us any interpretation; in the absence of any reference in Thomas to the death of Jesus, it is in fact quite possible that Thomas is not identifying the son with Jesus. And in the second place, whatever uniformity does exist in the Christian tradition with regard to the interpretation of the parable can be explained otherwise: the identification of the son with Jesus was natural on the part of Christians and once made it was accepted universally. Finally, we have other cases of a fairly uniform Christian understanding of a tradition which we cannot trust. Thus John's reference to "one mightier than I" has been uniformly understood in the Christian tradition as a reference to Jesus. But on that basis alone we cannot accept that understanding as historical: John may be talking about God or the Messiah without ever thinking of Jesus.

A question of authority. In Mark 11:27-33, when the Jewish authorities ask him, "By what authority are you doing these things?", he points to the authority behind John's baptism. Morton Smith (Jesus the Magician, p. ) correctly remarks that the question by the Jewish authorities is amazingly mild if "these things" refers to the disturbance caused by Jesus' overturning the tables of the temple traders; he suggests that "these things" refers to Jesus' miracles which according to his opponents were performed with the power of the devil. The expression may also include reference to Jesus' preaching. In any case, this incident is put in Mark towards the end of Jesus' ministry and shows how to the very end Jesus defined his own role in terms of that of John.

Not only for Jesus himself but also for many of his contemporaries Jesus remained under the shadow of John for some time after the latter's death. This is indicated by the following traditions:

Jesus as John the Baptist. One way in which some people recognized the debt owed by Jesus to John for his prominence is the opinion recorded by Mark:

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him." (Mark 6:14).

See also Mark 8:28 where some people say that Jesus is John the Baptist.

The bridegroom and his friend. Another way in which people attributed Jesus' rise to John was through the metaphor of the friend of the bridegroom.

The term "Bridegroom" is used for Jesus in Mark 2:18-20 and John 3:25-30 (cf. Matt. 25:1-12, where it is applied to Jesus in connection with his parousia in the interpretation of the parable of the ten virgins) and Thomas, logion 104.

MARK 2:18-20

18. Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" 19a. Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests [or friends of the bridegroom; literally, sons of the bride-chamber] cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? 19b. As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day."

JOHN 3:25-30

25. Now a discussion about purification arose between John's disciples and a Jew. 26. They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him." 27. John answered, "No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, 'I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.' 29. He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 30. He must increase, but I must decrease. (Some ancient manuscripts have "Jews" instead of "a Jew" in v.25, which is probably an attempt to make the passage more easy to understand. Since, after once mentioning a Jew the passage starts talking about Jesus, it has been suggested by some, without any manuscript support that the original text of John 3:25 had "Jesus" instead of "a Jew.")

THOMAS, LOGION 104

They said [to him]: "Come let us pray today and fast". Jesus said: "What then is the sin that I have done, or wherein have I been vanquished? But when the bridegroom comes forth from the bridal chamber, then let them fast and pray."

In both Mark and John the metaphor of a "bridegroom" is applied to Jesus in the context of a controversy involving the disciples of the Baptist. In Mark and Thomas the use of the metaphor of the bridegroom is related to fasting, although Thomas also mentions prayer. But in John the issue is neither fasting nor prayer but purification. The metaphor is used by Jesus himself in Mark and Thomas and by the Baptist in John.

How did the metaphor of the bridegroom came to be applied to Jesus?

The Rabbis thought of the community as the bride of God, and they interpreted the Song of Songs in this way but this has no bearing on the use of the metaphor (Bultmann, John, p.173-174, n. 11). Also, neither in Mark nor in John nor in Thomas is there any reference to the heavenly Lamb (=the Messiah) whose marriage is mentioned in Rev. 19:7, 9 or to the messianic marriage of the eschatological community (Rev. 21:2, 9; 2 Cor. 11:2). Hence the metaphor probably did not originate from a messianic understanding of Jesus, although it later acquired such an understanding.

We can better understand the origin of the metaphor if we start with the observation that all the passages quoted above suggest a situation in which Jesus has come out of the Baptist's shadow and his disciples have become a group distinct from that of the Baptist's disciples. This has created some rivalry in which certain objections are raised by the Baptist's disciples regarding the practice of fasting or some purification rite and some comparisons are made between Jesus and the Baptist. In this latter context the metaphor of the bridegroom and his friend was used to describe the relationship between Jesus and the Baptist. The aptness of the metaphor becomes clear in terms of the following observation made by Bultmann: "According to Oriental custom, the 'friend' has an important role to play, both before and after the marriage, in wooing the bride, arranging the feast, etc." (John, p. 173). In other words, the bridegroom owes his very status and prominence to the 'friend.' If we keep in mind that the imprisonment and then the death of John soon began to dim the star of the Baptist while Jesus' star began to rise (John 3:26, 30, 4:1), this observation leads us to the following interpretation of the original use of the metaphor: the prominence of Jesus was entirely due to John as the prominence of the bridegroom is due to his friend. Perhaps the original tradition behind John 3:29 read something like this: He who has the bride is the bridegroom but the friend of the bridegroom makes him the bridegroom. Such a view could have originated from the followers of the Baptist, or even from people generally on the basis of common knowledge of the rise of Jesus and his relation with John. Later, the followers of Jesus shifted the focus from the "friend of the bridegroom" to the "bridegroom" and this latter metaphor was put to various new uses.

In Thomas and Mark nothing of the original motivation for the metaphor of the bridegroom seems to have survived. Instead, the metaphor is used to say something about fasting which is very difficult and artificial. From whatever the gospels tell us about the Baptist, it seems that he did not institute any new regular practices such as fasting but only required morally good conduct (Matt 3:7-10=Luke 3:7-14) within an existing Jewish system of law. Some of those who came to be baptized by him seem to have gone through some spiritual exercises including fasting as is suggested by the story of Jesus' stay in the desert. Perhaps when people thought of the disciples of the Baptist, they thought of such individuals. If a system of fasting was not a fixed part of what the Baptist taught, as seems likely, then Jesus and his disciples were not violating any essential part of Baptist's teaching by not continuing fasting in the form in which it was practiced by some of those baptized by John. Nevertheless some of the Baptist's disciples objected, presumably out of rivalry, to the fact that Jesus' disciples did not combined baptism with a further process of purification through that particular form of fasting that they had gone through. In the church the objection was understood in terms of fasting generally which flew in the face of the fact that early Christians did practice fasting in some form. It was therefore concluded that Jesus and his disciples never practiced fasting of any sort during Jesus' life and that this practice started after Jesus' departure. This presumed fact was then explained using the metaphor of the bridegroom: just as wedding guests do not fast while the bridegroom is with them so also Jesus' disciples did not fast while Jesus was with them.

In John the original metaphor of the "friend of the bridegroom" is still present but the bridegroom has now become the Messiah Jesus and John's role as the friend of the bridegroom has become that of a joyful forerunner and witness of the Messiah.

 

Jesus' precautions

It is clear and has been suggested often that Jesus must have known of the threat to his life, especially after the arrest of John the Baptist and even more so after his execution. As we read the gospels we do not find any understandable process which ended the career of Jesus. That he faced hostility from powerful people such as Herod is extremely plausible and likely. It is natural to assume assume that Jesus would do everything possible to escape his enemies rather than let their hostility end his life. This simple and natural assumption is the one that a historian should fully explore before turning to any other hypotheses. A look at Jesus' ministry confirms this. It shows that Jesus carefully proceeded to make a maximum impact on the people with the minimum threat to himself. He also learned from the example of John the Baptist and avoided those aspects of the Baptist's ministry that made it easy for Herod to arrest and execute him.

John operated, as far as we can tell, from relatively fixed locations. This was partly dictated by the need to be not too far from flowing or "living" water, which was most suitable for baptism associated with purification, repentance and forgiveness (Lev 14:5-6, 50-52, 15:13, Num 19:17, Deut 21:4, Sib. Or. 4:165-167, Apoc. Mos. 29:11-13). This probably facilitated the Baptist's arrest. Jesus, on the other hand, learning from John's fate did not operate from a fixed location but continuously moved. This probably also contributed to his abandoning the administration of baptism. It also necessitated having people to host him, which in turn led him to have shared meals with his hosts and their guests. A great deal has been made out of Jesus' meals, especially with the tax collectors and other people on the fringes of the Jewish society, in which secrets of some messianic self-consciousness or of his superiority to John is imagined. But the tax collectors and harlots were also welcomed by John, as we learn from Matt. 21:31-32=Luke 14:29-30 (Q). That Jesus ate with them was simply necessitated by the fact that often they were the only people willing to host him.

The fact that Jesus traveled a lot had a far-reaching effect on the development of the Jesus tradition. For this meant that there was no group of persons who were constantly present with him to know all that he did or said. In each place people only knew a small amount of what he said or did. After the conclusion of his ministry, people in different places went by what they knew. This partial information then travels between places, often resulting in a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding.

Another consequence of constant traveling on the part of Jesus was that at times he suffered hardships. A comfortable lodging was not always assured, as we learn from the following saying in Q:

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the son of man (that is, this humble one) has nowhere to lay his head (Luke 9:58 = Matt.8:20).

The need to avoid the fate of John also makes Jesus avoid the large urban centers in Herod Antipas' Galilee. Galilee had three cities of substantial size -- Sepphoris, Tiberias, Scythopolis -- but the gospel tradition does not mention any visit to, or activity by Jesus in, these urban centers. He is seen active only in small towns and villages, mostly near the Sea of Galilee. The best explanation of this fact seems to be that Jesus wished to avoid confrontation with the executioner of his mentor.

Thus the evidence suggests strongly that ending his mission in death was the last thing on Jesus' mind.

 

The proclamation of the kingdom of God

The "spirit of God" released in Jesus after his baptism was also manifested in his speech. He spoke in powerful, memorable way using hyperboles; his sayings about John, with some exaggeration in them provide an example. His first hearers knew that his words were not always to be taken strictly literally, since they were quite familiar with this style.

An important theme in Jesus' sayings is the "kingdom of God." For him, as also in some rabbinical writings, the kingdom of God is something that is always present. It represents the power and grace of God and is manifested in all that is good and wholesome. One can enter into it by faith and by submitting one's will to God. But at present the kingdom of God exists alongside the kingdom of Satan, which is manifested in disease, suffering and all that is evil and harmful. When Jesus talks about the coming of the kingdom of God he means simply the destruction of the kingdom of Satan, which, naturally leaves only the kingdom of God. But when he says that the kingdom of God is "in the midst of you" he is referring to the kingdom of God as it is now present alongside with the kingdom of Satan. He could also have said, if occasion demanded, that the kingdom of Satan is "in the midst of you." Each time when he or any other exorcist casts demons out, the kingdom of God is manifested here and now and the destruction of the kingdom of Satan and therefore the "coming" of the kingdom of God in the near future is foreshadowed.

Like many other Jews before him, including John the Baptist, he did not think in terms of human agents that bring about the establishment of the kingdom of God. He used the term "son of man" as a modest, self-effacing way of referring to himself; we can translate the expression as "this one" (see Ch. 9). This usage by Jesus later played a part in turning Jesus into a messianic figure. For, after his disappearance when the idea naturally developed that Jesus had been raised to heaven alive, it would be extremely easy for some of his followers to think, on the one hand, of "one like a son of man" who in Dan. 7:14 appears in heaven and given power and dominion and, on the other hand, of Jesus' not infrequent use of the expression "son of man" to refer to himself. Jesus' use of the expression also explains another curious fact, of which a great deal is made by some scholars: in the New Testament the expression "son of man" occurs almost always on the lips of Jesus: since it was known that Jesus referred to himself as "son of man" any statement using this expression, even if its original author did not intend it to be a statement of Jesus, was almost certainly going to be attributed to him at some point during its transmission.

In Jesus' view, he himself or John did not come to bring or establish the kingdom of God but to prepare men for it and help them enter it.

How central was the kingdom of God in the teaching of Jesus? Early septennial tradition found in the Gospel of Thomas, Q and elsewhere in the canonical tradition shows that there was more to Jesus than a mere prophet of the kingdom of God. Some scholars have argued that the preaching of the kingdom of God entirely dominated Jesus' preaching. This is a reasonable view if Jesus thought in terms only of a future and imminent kingdom of God, for a proclamation of such a kingdom by its very nature could not but completely dominate Jesus' preaching. However, Jesus' sayings demand that we attribute to him a view according to which the kingdom of God could be both present now and come in the future. The best way to do that seems to be that he viewed the kingdom of God as existing now alongside with the kingdom of Satan and that the coming of the kingdom of God in the near future means that the kingdom of Satan will be destroyed in the near future. This seems to have allowed Jesus to take interest both in the present as well as the future reality of the kingdom of God, the former of the two interests leading Jesus to impart wisdom teaching relevant to the present reality as well as to perform exorcisms and healings.

 

Rejection in Galilee

Jesus' work in Galilee soon ran into opposition from three sources. First, Jesus did not fit into the established Jewish image of piety. This is not because he rejected the law and the prophets or even Jewish customs and traditions. Rather, Jesus was a healer, a prophet of the kingdom of God and a teacher of wisdom and such men do not fit in established images; in general, they neither reject traditions nor are they enslaved by them. John, before him, also did not fit into any such image. Some of his contemporaries said of him that "he has a demon" (Q, Matt.11:18=Luke 7:23), the ultimate charge of non-conformity. When Jesus' fame increased, the religious establishment of the scribes felt threatened by him and therefore started to attack him as one who was neither pious himself nor encouraged others to piety. As a teacher he led people astray; hence as a prophet he was an imposter and as a healer he was in alliance with the devil. Some other pious Jews, not necessarily feeling any threat from Jesus, also had doubts about him.

Second, the rising popularity of Jesus also alerted Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee. He became understandably worried that Jesus may excite the crowds because of his recent execution of John. So Herod issued a warning to Jesus.

LUKE 13:31-33

31.[Some] Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." 32. He said to them, "Go and tell that fox [or, donkey according to some manuscripts] for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, on the third day I finish my work. 33.Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem'".

Here vv. 32 and 33 are two different versions of Jesus' answers, as is shown by the repetition of "today", "tomorrow" and "the third or next day." Verses 32, which says nothing about Jesus' death, is probably closer to the original answer. In this answer, Jesus seems to have replied that he would be active only for a short while, after which he would leave Herod's territory. Such an answer was not acceptable to Christians who either ignored the whole story or modified the answer as in verse 33, which interpreted Jesus' leaving as leaving for Jerusalem but not to escape execution but to be executed!

Third, Jesus also faced indifference from the common people in Galilee. Unlike John, Jesus had nothing tangible to offer. People could go to John and get baptized. But Jesus healed and not every one was sick and demon-possessed. Also, while healings could sometimes be seen to fail, it was more difficult to attribute failure to baptism.

The indifference of the people to Jesus at some stage is attested by both Mark, Q and John. Mark 6:1-6 records a visit by Jesus to the synagogue in his own home town towards the end of the Galilean ministry. The visit ends in people being offended and Jesus saying: "Prophets are not without honor, save in their hometown, and among their own kin, and their own house," an early saying found in different forms in all the canonical gospels (Matt. 13:57; Luke 4:24; John 4:44).

The rejection of Jesus in Galilee is also mentioned in Q:

Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago. But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades (Luke 10:13-15=Matt. 11:12-14).

John 15:24-25 speaks of the hatred of the world for Jesus. Note that in Q Jesus is rejected in spite of his mighty works while in John he is hated because of them.

Some of the above traditions may reflect rejection suffered by the early Christian mission, but it is almost certain that Jesus' mission, after initially winning him some reputation as healer and prophet, came to a dead end in Galilee.

 

The disciples

Did Jesus make disciples whom he imparted some kind of teaching or whom he trained to assist in his mission? Several times in the gospels Jesus tells people to follow him or people are said to follow him, but the term is primarily used for people leaving their settled existence to accompany Jesus. In Q (Matt 8:21-22=Luke 9:57-62) a man (identified by Matthew as a scribe) says to Jesus: "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replies, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but this one (lit. "son of man") has nowhere to lay his head." Both the statement of the man and Jesus' reply assume that "following" is understood in a physical sense of going with Jesus. The same is true about the words of the man who said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father" and Jesus' reply, "Let the dead bury their own dead." In Mark 10:21 the rich man is told to sell everything he has and to give the money to the poor and then follow Jesus. And in Mark 10:28 Peter says: "Look, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus promises that those who have left possessions to follow him will receive hundredfold now in this age and in the age to come will receive eternal life. In Mark 15:41, it is said of the women at the cross: "These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee ..." Clearly, women had not stopped following Jesus after they left Galilee or even after Jesus' alleged execution except in a physical sense.

It can be accepted as historical that some men and women on occasions accompanied Jesus during his travels, some more often than others. But it is doubtful that Jesus himself made disciples or ask people to be his followers and then taught them any specific set of doctrines or practices. In the passages from Mark and Q cited above only to the rich man and to the man who wanted to bury his father does Jesus say, "Follow me"; but in both cases it is doubtful that words go back to Jesus. The rich man is told: "go, sell what you have ..., and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." Here after the promise of treasure in heaven, the command to follow Jesus becomes redundant and may be a secondary addition. In case of the man who wanted to bury his father, Matthew and Luke put the command to follow Jesus in different ways and it is not clear whether it was part of the original tradition in Q.

Jesus does not seem to have a program for which one needs disciples and followers. He appears like a great artist who simply gives expression to what is inside him except that his art is religious and political. Some people liked to associate with him and accompany him in his travels but they were not followers in the strict sense that they learnt from him a definite set of ideas and practices and assisted him in carrying out a well-defined program, although we will refer to the people who accompanied him as his "followers" for lack of a better word.

What was the main appeal of Jesus' "art"? His deeds and words lifted the spirits of those who heard and saw him, especially the downtrodden. He lifted people's spirits by giving them faith in the power and grace of God. He lifted their spirits by healing their sick and promising salvation to the poor. He lifted their spirit by pointing to the kingdom of God as it was manifested now along side the kingdom of Satan and as it will be manifested in the near future when Satan's kingdom will be no more. We can be confident that many of those who spent time with him were filled with admiration and wonder and cherished those moments with him.

 

In Jerusalem

The threat from Herod, opposition from the scribes and indifference from the people led Jesus, probably at the encouragement of his brothers (John 7:3-4), to decide to take his work to Jerusalem. In making this decision he must have been aware of the risk that he was taking. Some scholars have suggested that Jesus went to Jerusalem prepared to die and that he saw in this death some salvific significance. But this view seems to be based more on the influence of centuries of Christian theological reflections on the cross rather than the evidence. Apart from Mark 10:45 and other passion predictions whose authenticity is subject to serious doubt, the only possible evidence for the suggested view is provided by Luke 12:49-50. But the original meaning of this saying is too uncertain to lead to any probable conclusions (see a more detailed discussion in Ch. 13).

There is indeed no reliable evidence that Jesus went to Jerusalem to die. On the contrary, there are two arguments which suggest otherwise. The first of these arguments has already been mentioned: a major consideration of Jesus in the way he carried out his ministry was to avoid the fate of John the Baptist rather than to share it. The second argument is that if Jesus thought that death was somehow necessary for salvation of his people, he could have seen such a function in the death of John. What could his own death have achieved which the death of John, the greatest of all human beings and the messenger of the end-time could not?

It is, therefore, more natural to assume that Jesus, like an overwhelming majority of human beings, both ordinary and extraordinary, did not go deliberately to his death. He was aware of the risk and therefore had some kind of plan to deal with that risk. This plan included the following tactic: to push the authorities only so far as was safe and then hide and escape.

Jesus probably entered Jerusalem, as all the gospels tell us, sitting on a donkey surrounded by a group of followers who joined him in Galilee, on the way to Jerusalem and in Jerusalem itself. Some fame in all likelihood preceded him and he gave his entry as high a profile as he could. He could show this boldness because he had decided that this was his last attempt to move his mission forward; should this attempt fail he would disappear.

The gospels do not allow us to see, despite providing us with many traditions, what exactly Jesus did in Jerusalem. But it is safe to assume that he addressed the crowds, performed some healings, talked about the kingdom of God and spoke on some of the issues that occupied people's minds. His attack on the temple, whereby he suspended all movement of goods and overthrew the traders' tables, although reported by all gospels, has several problems with its historicity: it implies a rejection of sacrifices and therefore of the whole temple cultus which is not otherwise attested in Jesus' sayings; it assumes a mobilization of massive force that is not elsewhere visible in our sources; and the immediate reaction of the authorities is incomprehensibly mild in view of the gravity of the action. The so-called attack probably consisted of a minor skirmish between Jesus and his disciples on the one hand and some traders on the other (see Ch. 16).

There is a huge gap between the events as recorded in the gospels prior to the crucifixion and the crucifixion itself. Jesus' high-profile entry could make authorities nervous and his reported attack on the temple would almost certainly move them to action and yet we see Jesus going about his work as usual after these actions. More than that the two actions are not at all mentioned subsequently during the trials or anywhere else in the passion narratives. The gap between what goes before the crucifixion and the crucifixion itself cannot be filled except by some hypotheses. And there have been many such hypotheses. For example, Brandon, Carmichael and others have said that Jesus had as much force with him as the attack on the temple implies, that the attempted takeover of the temple was not peaceful but violent, that Jesus was arrested during the takeover and duly crucified as an insurrectionary and that the gospels represent an attempt by early Christians, concerned with living peacefully and safely in the Roman empire, to suppress the militant nature of Jesus' mission. This is a very understandable reconstruction of history but it has several problems: 1) it assumes a thorough and highly successful suppression of a major aspect of Jesus' work observed by thousands of people which is extremely unlikely in any tradition, especially a tradition like the Christian tradition whose development did not take place under any central authority; Paul, for example, having never seen or heard Jesus could pursue a mission largely independent of the leaders in Jerusalem and even teach them what the truth of the gospel was (see also Chs. 2 and 3). 2) It does not explain how a militant rebel who was defeated and crucified could become the risen Lord and the coming Messiah; such dead rebels may continue to be remembered by their countrymen as martyrs but they are not expected to become the bringers of the messianic kingdom.

Much more supportable is the hypothesis of Morton Smith who says that Jesus was a magician and was executed for practicing magic. In a general sort of way this view can explain the belief in resurrection: Jesus the magician defeated his executioners by rising again by virtue of his magic. But the hypothesis does not explain the particular form the tradition of Jesus' passion and resurrection took. It is difficult to understand, for example, why it is only in John, and not the earlier synoptic tradition, that we find the statement that Jesus' miracles contributed to his execution.

As our study proceeds, it should become clearer and clearer that the best explanation of the data is that in the gospels the events before the crucifixion do not link up with the crucifixion simply because the crucifixion never happened and that therefore there never was any link in the first place. When Jesus perceived threat to his life he hid himself, left Jerusalem and disappeared leaving little knowledge about his fate. The crucifixion was simply a hypothesis about what happened to Jesus which tradition tried to link with the events of Jesus' last days in Jerusalem but without being able to create a coherent picture. That obscure happenings can excite great interest and become sources of highly meaningful but untrue stories is now demonstrated by the study of rumors (see Ch. 4).

In summary, Jesus was a Galilean of peasant background pursuing in earlier part of his life the trade of a carpenter inherited from his father or step-father. He was a man of humility who hoped for the grace of God. At some point in his life he went through a spiritual crisis. At about the same time John the Baptist came on the scene with his baptism for the forgiveness of sins in preparation for the coming kingdom of God. Jesus was greatly impressed by John and his message in which he saw a new beginning for himself and for his people. He went to be baptized by John in the river Jordan and subsequently he associated with the Baptist. At his mentor's instructions he withdrew in the desert for some spiritual exercises. Jesus came out of his spiritual crisis and attributed this to the grace and power of God mediated through John. He returned to his native Galilee and started to perform healings and exorcisms and also started to talk in a powerful and very relevant way. He talked about the kingdom of God in the manner of John, possibly understood in a somewhat different way. The main thrust of his work was to lift the spirit of his people. During John's ministry, Jesus probably baptized as his disciple. But after the Baptist's arrest and execution, he started to become more and prominent as an independent leader. However, in order to avoid John's fate, he stayed away from the major urban centers in Galilee and limited his activities to small towns and villages. For the same reason he did not operate from a fixed location but moved from place to place, often finding people to host him wherever he went but sometimes having no shelter on his head. The people who hosted him were generally alienated members of the Jewish society such as the poor, the sinners and the tax collectors.

Despite his precautions, it was just a matter of time before Herod Antipas came to know about Jesus and his popularity. The tetrarch of Galilee issued a warning to Jesus. This together with the indifference on the part of people after an initial excitement brought Jesus' career in Galilee to a dead end. At the next Passover Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast and used the opportunity to reach Jews from Judea and other parts of Palestine and beyond. Unfortunately, in Jerusalem a violent confrontation between him and some of the temple traders took place. This made it difficult for him to continue his public activity. He went into hiding and immediately after the Passover left for Galilee, where he met some of his sympathizers a few times and then disappeared without a trace.

Jesus' ministry lasted a very short period, possibly less than a year, and ended somewhat abruptly and mysteriously with his disappearance. One of the appeals of the story of Jesus was that it was only half finished, leaving people to provide the other half from their imagination.

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