Was Jesus an Extraordinary Person?

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Was Jesus an Extraordinary Person?

Post by Guest on Fri Feb 19, 2016 2:19 pm

Introduction

The conventional notion about the character of Jesus of Nazareth is that he was grand, captivating, a paragon of virtue, and a teacher of concepts that all human beings should use to govern their lives. This view is shared at least in part even by many persons who do not worship the man. Because of these alleged traits, people regard Jesus as unique.

The present essay will examine the conventional view of Jesus by asking and answering a set of questions relevant to his character, avoiding customary presuppositions of exaltation. The answers of necessity must mostly be based upon the Gospels. These were written by eulogists, and subjected to elaboration and exaggeration in successive versions (Teeple 116, 207). They express ideas that would have astonished or appalled Jesus and his contemporaries, such as the notion of a trifid God. The Gospels do not present an accurate picture of their subject (ibid., chap. 1), but they are the only biographical material available. (The late, spurious biography to which the name John was attached will mostly be ignored. It was written to promulgate the author's concept of Jesus, and appended ideas from Greek philosophy to the dead man's cult [Teeple 187-90, 372-75].)

The Gospels are repetitive, and rather than citing every relevant passage, the existence of parallel passages in one or more of the other Gospels following the one cited will be indicated by par, unless there is a significant difference between the versions justifying explicit mention of the subsequent one(s).

1. Was Jesus free of faults of character?

Jesus is depicted as capable of petty pique (Matthew 21:18-19, par), and of violence (Matthew 21:12, par; John 2:15). He had no qualms about causing discord (Matthew 10:34, Luke 12:51-53). He told his followers to arm themselves (Luke 22:36, 38). Speaking in the third person, Jesus called for forcing people to submit to him (ibid., 14:23) and for killing those who did not (ibid., 19:27). Thus by explicit statements he excluded himself from the class of blessed peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

Jesus and his disciples sometimes neglected the hygienic ritual of washing their hands before eating. This was important because diners put their hands into bowls used in common (Matthew 26:23, par). When people called attention to this fault, Jesus became angry, denigrated the custom of washing, and used the incidents as occasions for tirades against those who had remarked on the lapse, as well as others (Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13; Luke 11:37-52; Teeple 295-96). In doing so, although he presented himself as a devout Jew, he insulted (Luke 11:45)[1] persons who were respected by many Jews for their piety and learning (Matthew 15:7-9, par, 23:1-33, par), and he did this even when he was a guest of the person he insulted (Luke 11:37-44).

2. Did Jesus express a complete or even forward-looking system of ethics?

Jesus' society and Jesus himself inherited a moral code that originated in a patriarchal Iron Age society. An allegation that he held ethical ideas more advanced than those of his Jewish contemporaries must be supported by one or more specific statements attributed to him. Interpreting an individual remark or act ascribed to Jesus as an expression of a modern moral principle, then inferring that he manifested that principle generally, is a semantic tactic, not a valid demonstration.

Jesus expressed unqualified approval of the "Mosaic" (Pentateuchal) law (Matthew 5:17-18) (although he is reported not to have adhered to it on several occasions [Matthew 12:1-4, par, 12:46-49, par; John 5:16-18, 8:3-10]). Nothing in the Gospels indicates that he would not have approved (for example) mutilations as punishments (Exodus 21:22-24), burning women alive (Leviticus 21:9), or not punishing a slave owner who beat a slave to death (Exodus 21:20-21).

Even persons who idolize Jesus manifest distress at his failure to say anything against slavery (Brace 42), and feel obliged to find excuses for him by devising specious arguments (ibid., 43-45). This is, however, only one aspect of a general fact. The moral ideas of Western civilization have advanced substantially during the past 2,000 years, especially since The Enlightenment (Pinker). If Jesus had been a supernaturally informed moralist, one might expect that he would have anticipated some of the moral progress of the future, such as abolition of slavery, rejection of subordination of women, abolition of judicial torture, or replacement of authoritarian governments with popular governments. But in the words attributed to Jesus there is no hint of any moral ideas beyond those propounded by the moralists of his day (Jewish and other) (McCabe). He did not express or even foreshadow modern moral principles such as these from the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights[2]:

Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
Art. 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms ... without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion [etc.].
Art. 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.
Art. 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Art. 16, section 2: Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
Art. 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief.
Art. 21, sect. 3: The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.
Art. 26: Everyone has the right to education.[3]

Arts. 1 and 2 are contrary to the spirit Jesus exhibited when he likened non-Jews to dogs (Matthew 15:22-26; Mark 7:26-27).

Jesus' ethical principles included some of the good ones of his time (see question 6), and his personal moral influence probably was positive. But he did not attain the ethical level of modern moralists. This creates a problem for thoughtful persons who assert that he was the complete and ultimate moralist. A common response is to allege that Jesus was the inspiration of all moral advances after his time. For those matters about which there is no record of his having said anything, devotees suppose that his general demeanor, or the implications of what he did say, somehow inspired future progress (Brace).[4] No convincing evidence is offered to support this thesis; it is a supposition.

Very many people after Jesus' time who said that they were his followers contravened the principles of love, mercy and justice that they attributed to him. Persons who allege that Jesus said nothing that promoted persecution by Christians (e.g., Brace 441) ignore quotations such as Matthew 10:21, par, 10:35 37, 12:30; Luke 12:51-53, 14:26, and 22:36, 38 that collectively express violent antagonism between the followers of Jesus and everyone else. Jesus' principle that God desires discord and violence on "his" behalf has been used by his followers ever since to justify imposition, persecution, and war.

3. Did Jesus offer any useful ideas for ameliorating the social problems of his day?

Jewish society in Palestine before, during, and after Jesus' life was replete with turmoil, dissension, and strife (Dujardin 249-68; Horsley; Teeple 101-4).

For centuries, various powers had fought over Palestine. By Jesus' day, all the lands he traversed were ruled by tyrannical foreigners (Herod, king of Judea, was only half Jewish) (Teeple 40).

The lot of the Jewish peasants--the people from whom Jesus came--was precarious and oppressive. The capacity of the land for agriculture was limited, and ongoing warfare had damaged the agricultural resources. Jesus' own family, in which the parents had raised at least seven children (Matthew 13:55, par)[5], illustrates the problem of excessive population in relation to agricultural capacity.

The peasants were subjected to burdensome taxation, first in the form of tithes to support the Jewish priests and temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 17:24), and then by the occupying powers, whose principal interest in the land and people was to extract from them as much wealth as possible (Horsley 32-33, 55-58, 190). To meet these exactions and still be able to support themselves, peasants fell into debt, and some lost their land and became day laborers or tenant farmers. Partly as a result, brigandage was common.

These social conditions provided topics for the similes (parables) Jesus employed in his preaching (the anecdotes about the unmerciful servant, the workers in the vineyard, the wicked tenant farmers, and the good Samaritan). He was well aware of the problems of the peasantry. The subject of these parables, however, mostly was an imaginary afterlife. They did not address social problems. Jesus urged his disciples (Luke 12:33) and one rich man (Matthew 19:21, par) to give their possessions to the poor, but he himself seems to have recognized that such exhortations commonly were ineffective (ibid., 19:22-24, par). He did enunciate some specific, praiseworthy principles of charity (ibid., 25:34-40). These were not original (McCabe 286-87); and their moral force is vitiated by their being expressed not as behaviors worthy in themselves, but as valuable because they will be rewarded in an afterlife. Jesus did not address the causes of poverty and injustice.

Resistance to the excessive taxation had sometimes been violent before Jesus' time (Horsley 63-64). In his day evasion or overt refusal to pay probably were present (ibid., 55). "Paying taxes to Caesar was a religious offense as well as an economic burden" (ibid., 231). But when Jesus was forced to address the matter, he advocated acquiescing in payment of the Roman tax (Matthew 22:16-21, par). He is not recorded as having criticized the temple system with its taxes, except perhaps indirectly (ibid., 23:4). This although his hearers knew that their tithes were being used to accumulate wealth and not for the public good (Horsley 55, 60-61).

Jesus frequently spoke of righteousness (the translation of dikaiosunë), but the sense usually is virtue rather than equitableness or justice.[6] Protests against injustice and oppression were commonplaces of popular movements in Palestine before and after his time (Horsley 30 43, 253-4). In his adopted role as an itinerant preacher among the poor, Jesus would have been remarkably obtuse if he had not criticized these things. But the Gospels record but one instance in which he explicitly denounced injustices: "devouring" widows' houses, by which apparently he meant appropriating them unjustly; "plundering;" and being negligent when acting as judge (Matthew 23:14, 23, 25; Mark 12:40; Luke 11:42, 20:47). Likewise, only a single occasion is recorded on which he may have decried oppression (Matthew 23:4, par; it is not clear to what "burdens" refers). He even exhibited toleration of injustice: the peasantry were subject to theft and violence by the rich and powerful; Jesus counseled them not to resist (ibid., 5:39-41, par). Submissiveness as a principle was reinforced by injunctions to be nonjudgmental and forbearing (Luke 6:37). (Jesus urged humility not as a social virtue meritorious in itself, but as a religious behavior to be rewarded in the afterlife [e.g., Matthew 5:3, 23:11-12].)

An inevitable result of otherworldliness is lack of interest in mundane matters that are not perceived as determining the nature of the afterlife. Secular welfare is one of these ignored subjects. It is noteworthy that when Jesus is recorded as speaking of injustice or oppression (previous paragraph), he does so for the purpose of denouncing groups of his contemporaries. His interest is in their flawed characters (which will affect their afterlives: Matthew 23:14, par, 33), not in the effects of their behavior on other people. No instance was recorded in which Jesus proposed a specific course of action likely to ameliorate the social problems of his fellow countrypersons.

4. Did Jesus advocate or demonstrate a mode of life suitable for humankind?

In a single passage (Mark 6:3) Jesus is said to have been a tektön, which can mean either a woodworker or builder, or an unspecified craftsman. Traditionally Jesus has been thought to have been a carpenter, but recently some scholars have suggested that he was a stonemason.

Nowhere else in the Gospels, however, is there any mention of Jesus having worked (and in the parallel passage [Matthew 13:55] he is called "the carpenter's [or craftsman's] son," without mention of any occupation of his own). His early adult life is a blank and one supposes that he then was employed as a craftsman. But when, after a few fantastic tales about his infancy and childhood, he reappears at about age 30, he already is a vagabond. He and his followers obtain the necessities of life by charity from admirers (Matthew 26:18; Mark 11:2-3, 14:13-15; Luke 7:36, 10:7, 11:37, 14:1, 19:5, 29 30, 22:10-12), among whom women are prominent (Matthew 8:15, 27:55; Mark 15:41; Luke 8:2 3, 10:38). At times the group appears to have had no food (Matthew 12:1 2, par, 21:18 19, par) or shelter (ibid., 8:20, par). People's failure to offer them charity seems to have angered Jesus (ibid., 10:14-15, par). In keeping with a life of vagabondage, Jesus expressed the precept that one need not make an effort to procure the necessities of life (ibid., 6:25-34, par, 10:9-10, par). A life of wandering and subsisting on charity is not, of course, a model suitable for people in general to follow.

With respect to family relations, Ernst Haeckel observed that Jesus,

with his gaze ever directed to "the beyond," ... thought as lightly of woman and the family as of all other goods of "this life." Of his infrequent contact with his parents and sisters the gospels have very little to say; but they are far from representing his relations with his mother to have been so tender and intimate as they are poetically depicted in so many thousands of pictures. (Haeckel 357)

(See Matthew 12:46-50, par; Luke 2:48-49; John 2:3-4.) Jesus refused to allow some people who wanted to become his followers to perform family duties first (Matthew 8:21 22; Luke 9:59-62). He had no qualms about disrupting families and destroying the love of family members for one another (Matthew 10:21, par, 10:35 36, 19:29, par; Luke 12:51-53, 14:26).

There is no evidence in the Gospels that Jesus married. His reported remarks about sexuality consist mostly of denunciations of coitus outside marriage (Matthew 15:19, par, 19:18, par) and of second marriages (ibid., 5:32, par). He seems to have thought that castration, or at least avoidance of coitus, was desirable, while acknowledging that this would not be accepted by all men (ibid., 19:11-12). Jesus is not reported to have said anything positive about sexuality.

5. Did Jesus contradict himself?

The answer to this question is "repeatedly." The matter has been extensively addressed by Dennis McKinney in chapter 7 of his Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy (McKinney), which should be consulted. (This chapter also contains observations about Jesus' character.)

6. Did Jesus have original ideas?

Jesus' moral precepts were the same as those expressed in the Jewish scriptures, and by contemporaries, both Jews and non-Jews (McCabe; Teeple 55-58, chap. 6).[7] This includes his several exhortations to love one's neighbor, a concept that Jesus each time (Matthew 5:43, 19:19, 22:36 and 39, par) attributed to an earlier source (Leviticus 19:18; McCabe 282-83; Teeple 95-96).[8] The solitary injunction to "love your enemies, do good to them" (Matthew 5:44, par) also had precedents (Proverbs 25:21; McCabe 230-33), but perhaps none that made the self-contradictory plea to love a person whom one regards as an enemy. (Joseph McCabe observes that with this injunction Jesus asks his followers to be more magnanimous than his god [McCabe 299].) Jesus urged this and other benevolent behaviors not as abstract principles of ethics or to promote the welfare of individuals as members of society, but by stating that they would procure a "great reward" (Matthew 5:12, 19:29, par, 25:34; Luke 6:35-38, 14:14, 18:29-30) (see McCabe 236, note 1); "there never was a more utilitarian ethic in history than that of Jesus" (McCabe 305).

Jesus' reported use of immortality as an inducement (Matthew 19:29, par, 25:46; Luke 20:36), and postmortem "fire" as a threat (Matthew 5:22, 29-30, 13:42, 50, 18:8-9, 25:41; Mark 9:43 48; Luke 16:22-24) was not original. Long before his time some Jews had adopted the Egyptian-Persian notions of an afterlife in which people are assigned to a pleasant or an unpleasant residence depending upon the degree to which their behavior conformed to the prevailing religion (Teeple 46-47, 248-51, 254 57).

Jesus is reported to have dined with tax collectors and (unspecified) sinners on two occasions (Matthew 9:10, Luke 19:1-6), and may have done so repeatedly, as suggested by Matthew 11:19, par. (He also accepted meals from Pharisees [Luke 11:37, 14:1].) He stated that his reason for this was that these people were more in need of hearing his call to repentance than others (Matthew 9:12, par). This can only mean that he regarded them as did the other Jews, as having less merit to enter the kingdom of heaven. He thought that by becoming his followers they could join the kingdom. Christians make much of Jesus' associating with such people; they are impressed because they view it as condescension by God. But nowhere does Jesus state that he has a special regard or love for sinful persons compared to others. (A possible reason for his associating with disapproved persons and the poor was that other Jews did not find his apocalyptic preaching credible or inspired. This would explain why he stated that "the first" would not receive the rewards he promised his lowly followers, "the last" [ibid., 19:30, par].) Nowhere does he express a principle that all humankind are kindred ("brotherhood of man") with which Christians credit him. His address is to his followers and his fellow Jews (ibid., 10:5-6).[9]

Jesus believed that the end of the world was imminent (Matthew 10:23, 16:27-28, par, 24:34 35, par; McCabe 304-5; Teeple 78-79, 233). This was the reason why a center of his preaching was calling on his hearers to repent and seek Yahweh's favor (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Teeple 78 81, 92-93). This apocalyptic belief was not his own idea. It was widespread among his contemporaries (Horsley 16-20, 44-45, 194, 250; Teeple 62-64, 79-81). This popular anticipation of the end of the world can be attributed to people's inability to escape overwhelming social problems (see question 3), causing them to hope for relief by supernatural events (Horsley 19-20, 253-54).

7. Did Jesus offer a message to all humankind, or even to all the people of his society?

The evangelists report that Jesus imparted information obscurely (Matthew 13:18-23, par, 15:15-16, par, 16:6-12, par; but see Mark 5:33) and as secrets (Matthew 13:36-43; Mark 4:13-20, 34; Luke 24:45).[10] He acknowledged that he intentionally spoke obscurely (Matthew 13:10 13, par; Mark 4:10-12; John 16:25) and secretly (Matthew 10:27). In these respects he compares unfavorably with Gautama Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, and other esteemed exponents of ethical principles who expressed their precepts openly and in a manner understandable by the public.

Some of Jesus' moral precepts were poorly conceived because contrary to human nature and impossible for most if not all people. "Love your neighbor as yourself," "love your enemies," and calls for self-mutilation (Matthew 5:29-30, 18:8-9, par, 19:12) are not realistic principles. These precepts would have seemed sound only to a select group of followers.

Jesus' purpose was to cause his fellow Palestinian Jews to prepare themselves for the impending end of the world (see the previous question). If he had intended to expound a moral message for other people, or for future generations, he could have, like Muhammad, found scribes to write down his words. Long after his death and after the creation of the Gospels, transcribers and editors added to the Gospels texts such as "the great commission" to proselyte everywhere (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47), which contradicted earlier commands (Matthew 10:5-6; Luke 10:1). Other than these additions, there is nothing in Jesus' purported words to indicate that he perceived himself as having a message for humankind.

8. Was Jesus charismatic?

The Gospels state that Jesus attracted huge crowds (e.g., Matthew 4:25, 9:36, 13:2, 14:13-14, 15:30, 19:2) (note that the Gospel writers regard the men in the crowds as more important than the women [ibid., 14:21, par]). If Jesus was an extraordinarily popular person, however, it is remarkable that no record of his effect on the populace is found except in his postmortem eulogizing biographies. There is no evidence of any contemporary writer having been aware of his existence (Dujardin 262).

Although the Gospels report a few instances in which individuals not already members of Jesus' circle expressed a wish to follow him (Matthew 8:19; Mark 5:18, par; Luke 9:57 61), the men who were continuously devoted to him seem to have been limited to 12 apostles. (Regarding benefactors of Jesus and the apostles, see question 4.)

Beside the conventional one, there are views of Jesus that may explain his alleged popularity but do not attribute superhuman characters to him. Perhaps the most accurate idea of him is that he was a pious and sincere, but antiritualistic, Jew, mostly good-hearted, and much given to the common rabbinic device of speaking in similes; an itinerant preacher and visionary of a kind found in Palestine in his day (Dujardin 261-64; Horsley 160-87, 245). (The late gospel, but not the others, reports that he thought of himself as the Messiah [John 4:25-26] and divine [ibid., 8:23-24, 42, 58].) He was a man with the knowledge, beliefs, and hopes of his fellow Palestinian Jews. There are other perceptions of Jesus (e.g., McDonald 95 115), not all of which are favorable (see the next question).

9. Were the motives for Jesus' acts benevolent?

Jesus' motives were questioned as early as the early 18th century:

The Egyptians ... maintained that the spirit of God could have commerce with a woman and make her fecund.
Jesus ... gave currency to this opinion, he thought it suited his designs. Considering how much Moses had made himself famous ... he undertook to build on this foundation, & got himself followed by some imbeciles. The Treatise of the Three Imposters, arts. 11, 12 (Anderson).
Hermann Reimarus may have been the first to observe that a plausible interpretation of the Gospel narratives is that Jesus' plan was to have the people in Jerusalem proclaim him king, fulfilling their idea of a Messiah anointed as the ruler of Israel (Reimarus chap. 2). His goal, that is, was to be a secular monarch during his lifetime. This purpose would have been quite reasonable in view of the history of popularly chosen Jewish "kings," right up to the time of Jesus' birth (Horsley 92-117). The sign reportedly affixed to the cross on which he was executed (Matthew 27:37, par) may have demonstrated his judge's awareness of such a plan.

Conclusion

The scanty biographical material about Jesus does not substantiate the opinion of his worshippers and others that he was uniquely virtuous, or that he was uniquely imposing and captivating. When Jesus' followers arrived at the supposition that he was in some way divine, he was invested with the characters that they desired their deity to possess: unbounded charity, mercifulness, and justness, and a bringer of peace (if victory were unattainable). And being divine he also, in their view, must have been imposing, capable of capturing people's attention and affection, and an exponent of exalted truths and principles.[11] Since that time, these alleged characters have been cited, in a circular argument, as evidence of his divinity.

Jesus did not express or even foreshadow important principles of present-day Western morality. But as ethical concepts have evolved during the past 2,000 years, progressively expressing humanism rather than theism, Christians have retroactively ascribed the later principles to Jesus.

During the course of history, many men have propounded a world view that gained them adherents, and have inspired their followers to exceptional actions. Many of these persons have been regarded as agents of deity, and some have been believed to be gods themselves. The fact that Jesus has had a large and long-lasting following need not be attributed to any unique character of his own, but to the circumstances existing in his day, and most importantly, to his having been made the central figure in a state religion that imposed itself and exterminated alternative sets of beliefs by the use of force.


http://infidels.org/kiosk/article/was-jesus-an-extraordinary-person-909.html



Interesting article where even though I am atheist I still believe Jesus was a good teacher for the time, which is difficult to assess based on just the works compiled within the bible. As there is certainly more to learn from the works not found within the bible
Be interested to see what Quill thinks on this

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Re: Was Jesus an Extraordinary Person?

Post by eddie on Sat Feb 20, 2016 3:42 pm

Here's what I think:

He was ahead if his time and he was a decent bloke.
He called himself the "don of God" meaning we are all "children of God" and people took him literally.
He had import she things to say and wouldn't shut up so he got killed

Did he rise from the dead? No
Was Mary a virgin and God impregnated her? No

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Re: Was Jesus an Extraordinary Person?

Post by HoratioTarr on Sat Feb 20, 2016 8:11 pm

eddie wrote:Here's what I think:

He was ahead if his time and he was a decent bloke.
He called himself the "don of God" meaning we are all "children of God" and people took him literally.
He had import she things to say and wouldn't shut up so he got killed

Did he rise from the dead? No
Was Mary a virgin and God impregnated her? No

I think it's all symbolic rather than fact as they'd have us see it.   Of all the Bible, I think Jesus is the nearest we'd get to 'real' but not in the magical sense.   Rather what you say, he was an exceptional human being.   Or perhaps an alien.
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Re: Was Jesus an Extraordinary Person?

Post by Lurker on Sun Feb 28, 2016 6:04 pm


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Re: Was Jesus an Extraordinary Person?

Post by Syl on Sun Feb 28, 2016 6:10 pm

If Jesus had been portrayed looking like he most probably did...would he have been as popular I wonder.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/a234/1282186/

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Re: Was Jesus an Extraordinary Person?

Post by Ben Reilly on Sun Feb 28, 2016 7:56 pm

eddie wrote:Here's what I think:

He was ahead if his time and he was a decent bloke.
He called himself the "don of God" meaning we are all "children of God" and people took him literally.
He had import she things to say and wouldn't shut up so he got killed

Did he rise from the dead? No
Was Mary a virgin and God impregnated her? No

The Don of God?


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Re: Was Jesus an Extraordinary Person?

Post by eddie on Sun Feb 28, 2016 11:33 pm

Lol Ben just re-read my post - don't even know how Horatio even deciphered it??! lol!

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