Personal circumstances well beyond my control were such that at the age of eight I found myself pushed me into the girls’ line up for a Catholic Premiere Communion. My parents who, at the time, were temporarily working in a remote area beyond the city limits of Tunis, Tunisia, in the early ‘60s, had enrolled me in a French nun-run boarding school reputed as the only establishment suitable for an expatriate child. One year later followed the equally compulsory Confirmation. The lovely pristine white habit-styled garment and the large pectoral cross notwithstanding, both rites constituted quirky happenings for one born of a Jewish mother.
These days, though not in the least bit interested in any religion or prophet, I have become curious as to how Yeshua, the young Jewish rabbi, wearing the tefilin according to the Talmudic obligation and sporting long earlocks, was propelled centuries after his death to the pinnacle of Christian religions as the Son of God.
Not a cohen, a priest, but a simple teacher of the Torah, Yeshua’s wandering occupation was as common then as it is today for, in modern day Israel as in ancient Galilee and Judea, as in most nooks and crannies of the planet, there has never been a shortage of individuals whose ministry has resonated in enough people hungry for love and a ‘special’ spiritual connection to generate a following.
The confounding thing for anyone in search of categorical pronouncements from modern, eminent secular scholars of early Christianity, regarding the authenticity of Jesus, as enshrined in the Christian doctrine, is that there are no such pronouncements to be found anywhere.
Instead, most expository information concerning the data made available to such experts is couched in the amorphous fuzziness of recurring words such as interpretation, ambiguous or scarce evidence, items of contention, failing to paint an accurate historical picture, carrying too little information woven in and out of a great many cautionary ‘It is believed’ types of phrases and is further compounded by numerous mentions of questionable authorships. Even in the writings of Saul [Paul the Apostle], precise references to Yeshua, the man and his ministry, are sparse – quasi non-existent.
In fact, from the writings of Josephus [né Yosef ben Matityahu] the Jewish historian who, in the 1st century, did write ‘something’ about Yeshua to the texts of the first gospel by Mark, which has inspired every ensuing Christian doctrine, all have been amended by a number of unknown monks or scholars. Each alteration is further compounded by the problems of translations from Hebrew, Aramaic – the common language of its time – to imperfect Greek translations of scrolls.
The end result is that just about every remnant of ancient texts found to this day is stamped with an objective caveat: Authenticity contested by many scholars.
Still, let us assume that the Hebrew man who made a grand entrance through the eastern gate of the fortified city of Jerusalem astride a white donkey on one fateful day of Succoth did exist circa 33 AD.
Though the quasi total lack of historical data makes this tenuous, let us agree for now that this man’s name was, indeed, Yeshua and that Yeshua was one whole, real, individual who lived to die on the cross some thirty-three years after his birth.
Though it is generally assumed that Josephus wrote more about Yeshua and the era of early Christianity than has so far been found, one cause of the rarity of texts attributed to him is that, as a Roman collaborator, he was utterly despised by the Jewish intelligentsia, the ones who would have immersed themselves in academic writings. In fact, they collectively ignored his codex.
Throughout the various ferocious sackings of Rome, the epicentres of which were palaces, places of worship and libraries, some Christian monks did managed to rescue ‘something’ of Josephus’ body of work among others, but proceeded to alter it while copying the texts on to fresh vellum.
Generally speaking, beyond the impulse of a succession of kings, emperors and scholar monks to cook the books, entire sections of the gospel narratives, there has to also have been many passages genuinely lost in translation. Regardless, the body of these ‘refreshed’ documents was then moved from fiction to reality writing. Perhaps not surprisingly, the game of Chinese Whispers comes to mind.
All alterations made to every known shred of surviving texts of that era were intended to bolster the Christian beliefs of the time in the name of Divine Authority and one of the main beliefs was, of course, that Jesus had been a much maligned Messiah, a martyr, and that this Messiah born of Jewish parents along with his parents and all his Jewish disciples had to be re-cast as Gentiles, the term meaning non-Jews. Only Yudah (Judas) was allowed to remain ‘tainted’ by his Jewish blood, but only to be used within the Christian anti-semitic context of the betrayal of Jesus. The Jewish rites Yeshua followed ‘religiously’ till his last moment, such as the Passover Seder (dinner), were passed as new Christian rites. Clearly, copyright and intellectual property were not an issue in those days.