The Historical Jesus

I am not a religious person. If asked, I’ll simply claim atheism. If pushed, I might note that my sympathies drift more toward the pagan side of the street than any other. But overall I’m an atheist.

Which isn’t to say I have no interest in religion. It is, after-all, a rather large part of human experience, however regrettable I may think that is. My interest, however, is not with the dogmatic or the theological but rather with the history of religion.

And the question of why, of course, a rhetorical question with no real answer, one which I have found best to avoid as any conversation involving ‘why’ always seems to come down to the ambiguous concept of “faith”, the sole purpose of which is to slam the door on any further inquiry.

The history, though, that I enjoy. History, anthropology and archeology are subjects that consume a great deal of my reading time. Had I completed my thesis oh so many years ago, I could add a Masters degree in Religious Studies to my Bachelors in Psychology.

The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of ChristianityHaving been raised a Christian, a religious concept I rejected pretty early on, I have a particular fondness for the historical Jesus. During my years in college I did a lot of reading on this subject so, when I came across The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity by James D. Tabor recently, I snatched it up.

Dr. Tabor is the chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina and is considered an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls and on Christian origins. I am familiar with some of his earlier work and found The Jesus Dynasty to be both an informative and enjoyable read.

By examining recent archeological finds in Israel and through the careful reading of existing and more recently discovered ancient texts, Dr. Tabor has painted a much fuller picture of the historical life of Jesus than I ever got back in my college days. A picture which has been grossly edited by later writers to fit Jesus more neatly onto his Christian throne than he ever intended to be. Indeed, it is my belief the poor guy is spinning at a rather high rate of speed inside his ossuary in whatever tomb, possibly as yet undiscovered, that ossuary might be sealed in.

As a writer, though, the thing that struck me hardest during my read of The Jesus Dynasty was not so much the facts and informed speculations Dr. Tabor made but rather the picture of the times in which Jesus walked the earth; the poverty and oppression of the populace, the cruelty of the Roman conquerors, the barbarism of the Jewish leaders over their own kind, all of which fomented an undercurrent of rebellion which Jesus and John the Baptizer emerged the leaders of.

This Jesus became more human to me, more real, than any religious exposure to him had ever shown me. It was a story of passion and rebellion, of deceit and danger at every turn. Jesus and John, the King and the Priest foretold of in the prophecies of the time, had nothing less in mind than the complete overthrow of the Roman yoke and the coming of the kingdom of their god.

And in the end it’s a tragic story. The priest beheaded, the king, through some judicious rereading of the prophecies to account for this unexpected event, walking boldly into the lions den, fully aware of the danger awaiting him, believing that though his god demanded his suffering, he would, in the end, save him from death there-by heralding a new day when the Romans would be vanquished, the overlords scattered and the chosen people would live free and in peace.

What a disappointment he must have suffered, along with all the other horrors of the cross, when death came instead of his god.

What a story it would make, what a piece of historical fiction, what a tragedy. I could see the characters in my minds eye, hear them talking, hear the young, exuberant passion in their voices. I’ve witnessed that kind of zeal back in the 60s and 70s when our oppressor was Nixon, our objective the end of an unjust war and the overthrow of a government far out of touch with its people.

And I’ve witnessed the death of that zeal, the utter disappointment at its passing, and am living through a time when I would welcome the return of Mr. Nixon and his ilk with open arms.

Could I write such a story? Perhaps, though I must admit to having my doubts. Still, given enough time and the desire to do the intensive research necessary, maybe. I finished The Jesus Dynasty several days ago and the images are still quite sharp in my mind, the story still whispering to me.

Would I write it? Not likely. In the current publishing climate, I doubt I’d be willing to spend the several years I believe such a book would take to write while being fairly certain it would be declared unmarketable when finished. That’s an assumption on my part, of course, and probably a cop-out as well. Still, predicting the exact moment in which a fairy will be discovered in a lilac bush in Minnesota would be an easier task than predicting what the publishing industry will accept as marketable or reject as unmarketable at any given moment.

Pity, though. I think it would make a good story. The Jesus one, I mean. Well, maybe the fairy in the lilac bush as well.

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