Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Ever since I studied abroad in Toledo, Spain in 1997 I’ve been fascinated by history. Toledo itself is historic being founded by the Romans, overrun by the Visigoths, transformed by the Moors and conquered by the Christians. Now, the entire place is a relic, full of priceless churches that serve as monuments to the historical power of the Roman Catholic church as well as the plundering of the Americas when Spain was at its zenith by the conquistadors.

In current times, Toledo comes to life from ten in the morning until around five in the evening when the tourists come following advice from their guidebooks which say the city is worth a day trip and nothing more. The locals who run those tourist shops don’t live so much within the walls of Toledo but in the more modern suburbs which surround it. There are also festivals which occur throughout the year as well as markets that bring in local crowds but on most week nights, the city can seem somewhat deserted at night.

I started this post with Toledo because it was founded by the Romans and Roman ruins are found throughout Spain. It is also because of my experience in Toledo that I began to question my Catholic upbringing. I still remember the book that sparked it. Lazarillo de Tormes was a story of a young boy taken in by the Church and subsequently abused. It was banned during the Inquisition. Most Christians will never have heard of this book and if explained some of the contents most likely be re-banned by the religious as it is too hard for them to face abuse in the church. One need look no further than the past two decades to see the struggle of getting the church to admit the horrendous acts by so many of their priests and even by the lay people who wince and then kick it under the rug.

For me, that book was the first time I had ever read anything that put the church in a bad light. As I continued to learn and travel the negative information has only increased and I remain in a state of constant shock the capacity of the faithful to simply ignore or brush aside the bad parts of their beliefs or affiliations. The same goes for recent nationalist movements with Trump as the accellerator. Just wave more flags and ignore 91 criminal incitements, an insurrection, compromising state secrets and so on. That is a subject for a different post, but funny how the movement is coalescing nationalism with religion giving rise to a new sort of “Christo Fascist,” which aptly describes the current speaker of the house. But back to Jesus and the Romans.

Spaniards are “old christians” which we can find reference to even in old books such as Don Quixote as Sancho Panza references “Christiano viejo” several times. This was a boast frequently made by peasants in Spain at the time to indicate they had no Jewish or Moorish blood in their background.

“I am a poor peasant, it is true, but I am an old Christian, and that is enough to be a governor.”

Sancho Panza – Don Quixote

Toledo was never that far from Jerusalem under the Roman empire given their excellent roads and the Mediterranean. In order to understand why Christianity spread as it did we have to understand Rome and it is a delight that interest in Rome has increased greatly over the past year due to social media and what is perceived to be diminishing status among white males. As much of the western world grapples with societal changes and look to Rome as a source of ‘masculinity’ (although slightly misguided) perhaps it will encourage others to reexamine why the western world is Christian and start to question things instead of believing simply because it was the faith of their fathers, grandfathers and as far back as they know.

To understand Christianity we must understand Rome. Thanks to scientific advancements and new archeological discoveries we’re starting to understand more about Rome than at any time since it actually existed. Without Rome there would be no “Christianity.”

The author goes to great pains to separate out the historical, ‘real-life’ Jesus from ‘Jesus the Christ.’ I still don’t understand how one can separate the two without simply making things up but perhaps that is just it. There was the historical Jesus who was one among many miracle workers of his day, all promising that one day a ‘messiah’ would purge the holy land of the Romans and bring about a ‘kingdom of heaven.’ This is a good spot to start the highlights along with my comments and afterwards will state my own conclusion.

Indeed, the Jesus that emerges from this historical exercise—a zealous revolutionary swept up, as all Jews of the era were, in the religious and political turmoil of first-century Palestine—bears little resemblance to the image of the gentle shepherd cultivated by the early Christian community.

To answer this question we must first recognize that almost every gospel story written about the life and mission of Jesus of Nazareth was composed after the Jewish rebellion against Rome in 66 C.E. In that year, a band of Jewish rebels, spurred by their zeal for God, roused their fellow Jews in revolt. Miraculously, the rebels managed to liberate the Holy Land from the Roman occupation. For four glorious years, the city of God was once again under Jewish control. Then, in 70 C.E., the Romans returned. After a brief siege of Jerusalem, the soldiers breached the city walls and unleashed an orgy of violence upon its residents. They butchered everyone in their path, heaping corpses on the Temple Mount. A river of blood flowed down the cobblestone streets. When the massacre was complete, the soldiers set fire to the Temple of God. The fires spread beyond the Temple Mount, engulfing Jerusalem’s meadows, the farms, the olive trees. Everything burned. So complete was the devastation wrought upon the holy city that Josephus writes there was nothing left to prove Jerusalem had ever been inhabited. Tens of thousands of Jews were slaughtered. The rest were marched out of the city in chains. The spiritual trauma faced by the Jews in the wake of that catastrophic event is hard to imagine. Exiled from the land promised them by God, forced to live as outcasts among the pagans of the Roman Empire, the rabbis of the second century gradually and deliberately divorced Judaism from the radical messianic nationalism that had launched the ill-fated war with Rome.

The book speaks to the “kingdom of heaven” mostly referring to expelling the Romans. Nobody did, God never intervened and Jerusalem was completely destroyed. This is not a successful story so it was changed well after Jesus had died replacing liberation here on earth to a ‘kingdom of heaven’ after death.

The role of the Temple in Jewish life cannot be overstated. The Temple serves as calendar and clock for the Jews; its rituals mark the cycle of the year and shape the day-to-day activities of every inhabitant of Jerusalem. It is the center of commerce for all Judea, its chief financial institution and largest bank. The Temple is as much the dwelling place of Israel’s God as it is the seat of Israel’s nationalist aspirations; it not only houses the sacred writings and scrolls of law that maintain the Jewish religion, it is the main repository for the legal documents, historical notes, and genealogical records of the Jewish nation.

The temple, the holiest of holies in Judaism must have been a nasty place. There were hundreds of animal sacrifices, splattering of blood going on every day of the year. It must have smelled atrocious and just seems so primitive that fancy dress, bells and incense do not improve. Innocent animals sacrificed to an idea created by primitive people for some magical blessing or fortune, paid for to enrich the priests who are the only ones allowed to kill the poor animals.

Taking a step back and looking at it this way, it seems the religion is nothing more than superstition by primitive humans. The customs and superstitions are passed on from generation to generation becoming something much different from what they were originally. Christianity is from Judaism. Jesus was a Jew. It can be considered a fork, a branch that become something very different.

It was, the Bible claims, only after the Jewish armies had “utterly destroyed all that breathed” in the cities of Libnah and Lachish and Eglon and Hebron and Debir, in the hill country and in the Negeb, in the lowlands and in the slopes—only after every single previous inhabitant of this land was eradicated, “as the Lord God of Israel had commanded” (Joshua 10: 28–42)—that the Jews were allowed to settle here.

Tribes conquering tribes, nothing much has changed except the tribes have become larger and morphed into something called “Nations.” The same war from thousands of years ago has flared up again with the Israel, Palestine conflict. Taking out technology have we really advanced much as human beings?

Herod’s Temple was meant to impress his patrons in Rome, but he also wanted to please his fellow Jews, many of whom did not consider the King of the Jews to be himself a Jew. Herod was a convert, after all. His mother was an Arab. His people, the Idumeans, had come to Judaism only a generation or two earlier. The rebuilding of the Temple was, for Herod, not only a means of solidifying his political dominance; it was a desperate plea for acceptance by his Jewish subjects. It did not work.

The temple was a place of power, subjugated by the Romans with the golden eagle, a symbol of Rome signifying who was really in control. Not ‘Yahweh,’ first Rome, then Yahweh to satisfy the Jews.

The readers of Luke’s gospel, like most people in the ancient world, did not make a sharp distinction between myth and reality; the two were intimately tied together in their spiritual experience. That is to say, they were less interested in what actually happened than in what it meant.

This is fascinating to me and something I’d like to learn about. I want to experience, or at least understand how the world appeared to ancient people. It must have been a magical and mysterious place. Rome conquered Hispanola to Jerusalem, from the Nile to the Rine but what lay beyond that? As the author mentions myth and reality would have been one in the same? But are we really much different? A vast majority of human beings are religious and isn’t religion just another name for superstitious myth? We have made great strides in understanding planet earth, but it is just one habitable rock in a seemingly infinite universe. Thinking this way, are we really much more advanced than the ancients?

Matthew needs Jesus to come out of Egypt for the same reason he needs him to be born in Bethlehem: to fulfill the scattered prophecies left behind by his ancestors for him and his fellow Jews to decipher, to place Jesus in the footsteps of the kings and prophets who came before him, and, most of all, to answer the challenge made by Jesus’s detractors that this simple peasant who died without fulfilling the single most important of the messianic prophecies—the restoration of Israel—was in fact the “anointed one.”

One of many facts that are just completely wrong in the Bible. Jesus was not from Bethlehem even though we celebrate this in countless Nativity plays every Christmas. Adding to this nobody knows when Jesus was actually born. We do know that his birthday was conveniently placed on the same birthday as Mithra, a diety the Roman elite worshiped.

The gospels present Pilate as a righteous yet weak-willed man so overcome with doubt about putting Jesus of Nazareth to death that he does everything in his power to save his life, finally washing his hands of the entire episode when the Jews demand his blood. That is pure fiction. What Pilate was best known for was his extreme depravity, his total disregard for Jewish law and tradition, and his barely concealed aversion to the Jewish nation as a whole. During his tenure in Jerusalem he so eagerly, and without trial, sent thousands upon thousands of Jews to the cross that the people of Jerusalem felt obliged to lodge a formal complaint with the Roman emperor.

The author mentions later that Pilot sent thousands to the cross and that this story is most likely fiction.

It started with Ventidius Cumanus, who was stationed in Jerusalem in 48 C.E., two years after the uprising by Judas’s sons had been quelled. As governor, Cumanus was little more than a thief and a fool. Among his first acts was the posting of Roman soldiers on the roofs of the Temple’s porticoes, ostensibly to guard against chaos and disorder during the feast of Passover. In the midst of the holy celebrations, one of these soldiers thought it would be amusing to pull back his garment and display his bare ass to the congregation below, all the while shouting what Josephus, in his decorum, describes as “such words as you might expect upon such a posture.”

A Roman soldier “moons” the Jews. A prank usually reserved for high school juveniles but in this case represents the relationship between an Empire and an unruly province filled with restless religious fanatics.

Yet in the midst of the celebrations, as Jerusalem was being secured and a fragile calm was slowly descending upon the city, Menahem did something unexpected. Draping himself in purple robes, he made a triumphal entry into the Temple courtyard, where, flanked by his armed devotees among the Sicarii, he openly declared himself messiah, King of the Jews. In some ways, Menahem’s actions made perfect sense. After all, if the Kingdom of God had indeed been established, then it was time for the messiah to appear so as to rule over it in God’s name. And who else should don the kingly robes and sit upon the throne but Menahem, grandson of Judas the Galilean, great-grandson of Hezekiah the bandit chief?

One of many ‘messiahs’ trying to fulfill prophesy. The only reason Jesus’s name survives is thanks to Rome and Constantine’s desire to combine religions in order to more fully control his empire.

He needed a Triumph: a fabulous display of Roman might replete with captives, slaves, and spoils to win over his disgruntled citizens and strike terror into the hearts of his subjects. And so, immediately upon taking the throne, Vespasian set out to complete the task he had left unfinished in Judea. He would not simply quash the Jewish rebellion; that would be insufficient to make his point. He would utterly annihilate the Jews. He would wipe them from the earth. Devastate their lands. Burn their temple. Destroy their cult. Kill their god.

I wonder if Hitler took inspiration from Vespasian. Hitler was also trying to build an empire and it can be useful to copy aspects of previous empires which may add legitimacy to their movement. A “we will succeed where previous empires had failed” sort of approach. How does the saying go? “History doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes? ” There is always someone to blame, how better to unite the populace then to define a common enemy.

All at once, the factionalism and feuding amongst the Jews gave way to frantic preparations for the impending Roman assault. But Titus was in no hurry to attack. Instead, he ordered his men to build a stone wall around Jerusalem, trapping everyone inside and cutting off all access to food and water. He then set up camp on the Mount of Olives, from which he had an unobstructed view of the city’s population as they slowly starved to death. The famine that ensued was horrible. Entire families perished in their homes. The alleys were filled with the bodies of the dead; there was no room, and no strength, to bury them properly. The inhabitants of Jerusalem crawled through the sewers searching for food. People ate cow dung and tufts of dry grass. They stripped off and chewed the leather from their belts and shoes. There were scattered reports of Jews who succumbed to eating the dead. Those who attempted to escape the city were easily captured and crucified on the Mount of Olives for all to see.

Meanwhile, in triumphant Rome, a short while after the Temple of the Lord had been desecrated, the Jewish nation scattered to the winds, and the religion made a pariah, tradition says a Jew named John Mark took up his quill and composed the first words to the first gospel written about the messiah known as Jesus of Nazareth—not in Hebrew, the language of God, nor in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, but in Greek, the language of the heathens. The language of the impure. The language of the victors. This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus the Christ.

Judaism was devastated. What better time to plant new seeds than just after destroying and burning the old crop. Something will inevitably sprout from the ashes.

Jesus was crucified by Rome because his messianic aspirations threatened the occupation of Palestine, and his zealotry endangered the Temple authorities.

Christians have long interpreted this parable as reflecting the importance of helping those in distress. But for the audience gathered at Jesus’s feet, the parable would have had less to do with the goodness of the Samaritan than with the baseness of the two priests. The Jews considered the Samaritans to be the lowliest, most impure people in Palestine for one chief reason: the Samaritans rejected the primacy of the Temple of Jerusalem as the sole legitimate place of worship. Instead, they worshipped the God of Israel in their own temple on Mount Gerizim, on the western bank of the Jordan River. For those among Jesus’s listeners who recognized themselves as the beaten, half-dead man left lying on the road, the lesson of the parable would have been self-evident: the Samaritan, who denies the authority of the Temple, goes out of his way to fulfill the commandment of the Lord to “love your neighbor as yourself” (the parable itself was given in response to the question “Who is my neighbor?”). The priests, who derive their wealth and authority from their connection to the Temple, ignore the commandment altogether for fear of defiling their ritual purity and thus endangering that connection.

In first-century Palestine, professional wonder worker was a vocation as well established as that of woodworker or mason, and far better paid. Galilee especially abounded with charismatic fantasts claiming to channel the divine for a nominal fee. Yet from the perspective of the Galileans, what set Jesus apart from his fellow exorcists and healers is that he seemed to be providing his services free of charge. That first exorcism in the Capernaum synagogue may have shocked the rabbis and elders who saw in it a “new kind of teaching”—the gospels say a slew of scribes began descending upon the city immediately afterward to see for themselves the challenge posed to their authority by this simple peasant. But for the people of Capernaum, what mattered was not so much the source of Jesus’s healings. What mattered was their cost.

Again, Jesus appears to be one of many ‘wonder workers’ only he does it free of charge. Interesting to think that the leaders of todays mega-churches perform ‘miracles’ as well but have gone back to charging. How else would they afford their private planes and mansions? The ‘people’ really are sheep and the Bible referring to them as a ‘flock,’ seem to be with very good reason. Most people are not ‘free-thinkers’ but need to be told what to believe. Even today with all our universities and education, most cannot tear themselves away from religion. They could be the most brilliant scientist yet when it comes to religion remain a sheep needing to be ‘herded.’

Again, Jesus was not the only miracle worker trolling though Palestine healing the sick and casting out demons. This was a world steeped in magic and Jesus was just one of an untold number of diviners and dream interpreters, magicians and medicine men who wandered Judea and Galilee. There was Honi the Circle-Drawer, so named because during a time of drought he drew a circle in the dirt and stood inside it. “I swear by your great name that I will not move from here until you have mercy on your sons,” Honi shouted up to God. And the rains came at once. Honi’s grandsons Abba Hilqiah and Hanan the Hidden were also widely credited with miraculous deeds; both lived in Galilee around the same time as Jesus. Another Jewish miracle worker, Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa, who resided in the village of Arab just a few kilometers from Jesus’s home in Nazareth, had the power to pray over the sick and even intercede on their behalf to discern who would live and who would die. Perhaps the most famous miracle worker of the time was Apollonius of Tyana. Described as a “holy man” who taught the concept of a “Supreme God,” Apollonius performed miraculous deeds everywhere he went. He healed the lame, the blind, the paralytic. He even raised a girl from the dead.

Simply put, Jesus’s status as an exorcist and miracle worker may seem unusual, even absurd, to modern skeptics, but it did not deviate greatly from the standard expectation of exorcists and miracle workers in first-century Palestine.

Yet the Kingdom of God in Jesus’s teachings is not a celestial kingdom existing on a cosmic plane. Those who claim otherwise often point to a single unreliable passage in the gospel of John in which Jesus allegedly tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Not only is this the sole passage in the gospels where Jesus makes such a claim, it is an imprecise translation of the original Greek. The phrase ouk estin ek tou kosmou is perhaps better translated as “not part of this order/system [of government].” Even if one accepts the historicity of the passage (and very few scholars do), Jesus was not claiming that the Kingdom of God is unearthly; he was saying it is unlike any kingdom or government on earth.

Amazing how a hugely influential aspect of religion – that of a ‘kingdom of God’ – that one joins after death is based on a poorly translated phrase.

Yet if one wants to uncover what Jesus himself truly believed, one must never lose sight of this fundamental fact: Jesus was not a Christian. Jesus was a Jew preaching Judaism to other Jews. His was a Jewish mission, one concerned exclusively with the fate of his fellow Jews. Israel was all that mattered to Jesus. He insisted that his mission was “solely to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24) and commanded his disciples to share the good news with none but their fellow Jews: “Go nowhere near the gentiles and do not enter the city of the Samaritans” (Matthew 10:5–6). Obviously, the disciples took this command to heart. As the book of Acts indicates, they did not begin preaching to gentiles until at least two decades after Jesus’s death. Whenever Jesus himself encountered gentiles, he always kept them at a distance and often healed them reluctantly. As he explained to the Syrophoenician woman who came to him seeking help for her daughter, “Let the children [by which Jesus means Israel] be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs [by which he means gentiles like her]” (Mark 7:27).

This fact is disturbing to Christians. How could Jesus’s message only be for the Jews and how could Jesus not be a Christian himself? Well, to them Jesus also looks European and sometimes has a cross on his necklace. Reason and critical thinking goes out the window when it comes to religion.

The oft-repeated commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” was not Jesus’s invention. It comes directly from the Torah and is meant to be applied strictly in the context of internal relations within Israel. The verse in question reads: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). To the Israelites, as well as to Jesus’s community in first-century Palestine, “neighbor” meant one’s fellow Jews, whether friend or foe. With regard to the treatment of foreigners and outsiders, oppressors and occupiers, however, the Torah could not be clearer: “You shall drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. They shall not live in your land” (Exodus 23:31–33).

Again, all we need do to make sense and realize the veracity of this is look at the current Israel – Palestine conflict. Opposition to one another is in their DNA. Here in the USA we like to gloss over or just disregard inconvenient facts such as this when it comes to religion. We can ‘get along’ but if for the religious, if they were honest with their teaching, they cannot ‘get along’ with members of other religions or groups. Yes, Jesus says to ‘Love thy neighbor’ but this author argues Jesus is referring to other Jews. Even if we disagree, does not the bible say that anyone who does not ‘accept Jesus’ face eternal hell? So why bother trying to get along with other tribes / religions unless one is trying to gain a conversion ‘for Jesus?’ The more I read and learn the more I understand that while on the positive side of religion – the search for something greater – the actual practice is nothing more than superstition, hypocrisy and nonsense.

Jesus spoke about the end of days, but it did not come to pass, not even after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and defiled God’s Temple. He promised that God would liberate the Jews from bondage, but God did no such thing. He vowed that the twelve tribes of Israel would be reconstituted and the nation restored; instead, the Romans expropriated the Promised Land, slaughtered its inhabitants, and exiled the survivors. The Kingdom of God that Jesus predicted never arrived; the new world order he described never took shape. According to the standards of the Jewish religion and the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus was as successful in his messianic aspirations as any of the other would-be messiahs.

Shoot, if it is restoring Israel why haven’t everyone proclaimed David Ben-Gurion, Eleanor Roosevelt and Trygve Lie, influential people at the United Nations the messiahs? The fact is that it was thanks to United States military that Israel was possible. Without the USA old Palestine might currently be under German control. It was due to military might Israel was allowed to exist, not Jesus or any other ‘miracle worker’ who knew nothing outside of a small little area in the Middle East.

Jesus may not have been prophet, liberator, or king. But that is because he rose above such simple messianic paradigms. As the transfiguration proved, Jesus was greater than Elijah (the prophet), greater than Moses (the liberator), even greater than David (the king). That may have been how the early church understood Jesus’s identity.

*That is how the early church CREATED Jesus’ identity.

Nor, by the way, did Jesus call himself “Son of God,” another title that others seem to have ascribed to him. (Contrary to Christian conceptions, the title “Son of God” was not a description of Jesus’s filial connection to God but rather the traditional designation for Israel’s kings. Numerous figures are called “Son of God” in the Bible, none more often than David, the greatest king—2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:7, 89:26; Isaiah 42:1). Rather, when it came to referring to himself, Jesus used an altogether different title, one so enigmatic and unique that for centuries scholars have been desperately trying to figure out what he could have possibly meant by it. Jesus called himself “the Son of Man.”

Something else to make up reasons for. Whenever Christians get stuck, then just like the priests, nuns and educators I knew when growing up, they can always rely on the phrase ‘It’s a mystery.’ Right.

“Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man [i.e., ‘any man’] it shall be forgiven of him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven, neither in this age nor the one to come” (Matthew 12:32 | Luke 12:10).

I’d like to learn more about this “Holy Spirit.” Every single time I’ve asked, the response has been evasive, confusing and nonsensical. It is one of those times priests and educators will just make stuff up often on the fly. They never have a good answer. The Holy Spirit isn’t Jesus, it isn’t God, but it is a part of the “Trinity” and they’re all in one. Kind of like a smores, three ingredients mushed together. I’m always left wondering if it isn’t something like ‘The Force,’ from Star Wars. Go ahead, ask any Christian and I can 100% guarantee they will have a very difficult time giving an answer.

Thus, a story concocted by Mark strictly for evangelistic purposes to shift the blame for Jesus’s death away from Rome is stretched with the passage of time to the point of absurdity, becoming in the process the basis for two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism.

Another reason I forgot about when explaining how even though in our modern times, the best we can do is to ‘get along’ between religions and groups. The Bible says Jews were responsible for Jesus’s death. So if Christians were to really adhere to their teaching, then no, they cannot really ‘get along’ with Jewish people now can they. The only avenue open to them is to just disregard that ‘fact’ from the Bible. And it was much more Rome’s fault anyway! Yet very few people know anything about Rome, the power directly responsible for the reason Christianity got a foothold.

The more their focus shifted to converting gentiles, the more they allowed certain syncretistic elements borrowed from Greek gnosticism and Roman religions to creep into the movement. And the more the movement was shaped by these new “pagan” converts, the more forcefully it discarded its Jewish past for a Graeco-Roman future. All of this was still many years away. It would not be until after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. that the mission to the Jews would be abandoned and Christianity transformed into a Romanized religion.

Thank you Constantine. There are many fabulous documentaries out there, my favorite being by the Cambridge Professor Mary Beard, which explain that Constantine was looking to combine the cult of Mithra, the cult of Apollo (and other Roman deities), and Christianity. Rome has an excellent track record of absorbing conquered tribes religions and guess what! So does Christianity. It makes sense that many Christian holidays fall directly on older pagan festivals. As I stated, Christmas is on the birthday of Mithra, and that falls directly on the winter solstice. Easter? Easter is around the vernal equinox. Many old pagan festivals have something to do with the sun and who is the god of the sun in Rome? Apollo, the most powerful God.

The sun is what brings life, it allows plants to be grown and thus feed people. It is my take that once early humans began to reason, they knew how important the sun was and created religions and festivals around important dates for the sun. Over time, they grew, morphed, personified the events into something to worship. Then tribes were conquered religions morphed again and in this way we now have our current various religions around the world.

The story of Paul’s dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus is a bit of propagandistic legend created by the evangelist Luke; Paul himself never recounts the story of being blinded by the sight of Jesus. If the traditions can be believed, Luke was a young devotee of Paul: he is mentioned in two letters, Colossians and Timothy, commonly attributed to Paul but written long after his death.

Legend is another word for myth. A hearsay, of a hearsay of a nonevent – Arthur Schopenhauer.

He calls his fellow believers who continue to practice circumcision—the quintessential mark of the nation of Israel—“dogs and evildoers” who “mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2). These are startling statements for a former Pharisee to make.

Circumcision is mutilating the human body which bizarrely continues into our modern times all due to superstitious religions. The best reason for it that I’ve found is that ancients thought it would help keep the penis clean as regular bathing and washing was not an option. I’m not saying that is right, only the best reason I’ve found so far that might make sense for ancient people. In modern times it is complete lunacy.

Paul’s portrayal of Jesus as Christ may sound familiar to contemporary Christians—it has since become the standard doctrine of the church—but it would have been downright bizarre to Jesus’s Jewish followers.

“The disciples said to Jesus, ‘We know that you will depart from us. Who will be our leader?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Where you are, you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.’

James the Just, Jesus’s brother, not Paul, or Saul who likes to make things up. Well, as we will see in later quotes Christianity decided to go with Paul, who never even met Jesus instead of Jesus’s own brother. Christianity continues to go from absurd to complete idiocy, a delusion created in ancient times in order to control that persists to this day. Most Christians only practice because it is what their father and grandfathers practiced. They go to church, listen to men, many of whom rarely got any higher level education outside of the seminary. They follow the religion because it is what their community practices, not because they have given it any critical thought. If critical thinking were involved it should be kicked into the curb after those first lines that describe the creation of the earth. A description only fit for ancient people who knew very little.

Three centuries of early Christian and Jewish documentation, not to mention the nearly unanimous opinion of contemporary scholars, recognize James the brother of Jesus as head of the first Christian community—above Peter and the rest of the Twelve; above John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2); far above Paul, with whom James repeatedly clashed. Why then has James been almost wholly excised from the New Testament and his role in the early church displaced by Peter and Paul in the imaginations of most modern Christians? Partly it has to do with James’s very identity as the brother of Jesus. Dynasty was the norm for the Jews of Jesus’s time. The Jewish Herodian and Hasmonaean families, the high priests and the priestly aristocracies, the Pharisees, even the bandit gangs all practiced hereditary succession. Kinship was perhaps even more crucial for a messianic movement like Jesus’s, which based its legitimacy on Davidic descent. After all, if Jesus was a descendant of King David, then so was James; why should he not lead David’s community after the death of the messiah? Nor was James the sole member of Jesus’s family to be given authority in the early church. Jesus’s cousin Simeon, son of Clopas, succeeded James as head of the Jerusalem assembly, while other members of his family, including two grandsons of Jesus’s other brother, Judas, maintained an active leadership role throughout the first and second centuries of Christianity. By the third and fourth centuries, however, as Christianity gradually transformed from a heterogeneous Jewish movement with an array of sects and schisms into an institutionalized and rigidly orthodox imperial religion of Rome, James’s identity as Jesus’s brother became an obstacle for those who advocated the perpetual virginity of his mother Mary. A few overly clever solutions were developed to reconcile the immutable facts of Jesus’s family with the inflexible dogma of the church. There was, for example, the well-worn argument that Jesus’s brothers and sisters were Joseph’s children from a previous marriage, or that “brother” actually meant “cousin.” But the end result was that James’s role in early Christianity was gradually diminished. At the same time that James’s influence was in decline, Peter’s was ascendant. Imperial Christianity, like the empire itself, demanded an easily determinable power structure, one preferably headquartered in Rome, not Jerusalem, and linked directly to Jesus. Peter’s role as the first bishop of Rome and his status as the chief apostle made him the ideal figure upon which to base the authority of the Roman Church. The bishops who succeeded Peter in Rome (and who eventually became infallible popes) justified the chain of authority they relied upon to maintain power in an ever-expanding church by citing a passage in the gospel of Matthew in which Jesus tells the apostle, “I say to you that you shall be called Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my church” (Matthew 16:18). The problem with this heavily disputed verse, which most scholars reject as unhistorical, is that it is the only passage in the entire New Testament that designates Peter as head of the church. In fact, it is the only passage in any early historical document – biblical or otherwise – that names Peter the successor to Jesus and leader of the community he left behind.

This is the – very long – quote I was referring to about how nonsensical it is that the writings and beliefs of Peter should take precedence over Jesus’s own brother. I went to Catholic school and we were never even taught that Jesus had brothers. How about that!

As indicated by his decision at the Apostolic Council, James was willing to forgo the practice of circumcision and other “burdens of the law” for gentile converts. James did not want to force gentiles to first become Jews before they were allowed to become Christians. He merely insisted that they not divorce themselves entirely from Judaism, that they maintain a measure of fidelity to the beliefs and practices of the very man they claimed to be following (Acts 15:12–21). Otherwise, the movement risked becoming a wholly new religion, and that is something neither James nor his brother Jesus could have imagined.

Thus we’re at the end of my highlights. There is one crucial point I’d like to reference in regards to the reason Christianity spread and exists to this day that I’m surprised the author didn’t mention. Christianity spread thanks to the Roman empire and “Constantine’s vision” where he saw a cross in the sky, painted them on his soldier’s shields and led him to victory over Maxentius. There is evidence now that there were Christians in Rome’s army as well as that of Maxentius. How useful it would be to accept Christianity ensuring the loyalty of your own soldiers as well as a large contingent of those you’ve just defeated. But here is the kicker.

After watching this video on YouTube as well as various Roman documentaries by the Cambridge professor Mary Beard, I’m convinced ‘the vision’ was all a fabrication in order to give more power to Constantine. One of the major pieces of evidence is that on Constantine’s Victory Arch over Maxentius there are plenty of references to Mithra and Roman deities but not one single reference to the cross or anything Christian. One would think that if the story of the vision were true, and Constantine’s victory over Maxentius were due to God and the cross, there might be at least one reference to that which ensured the victory on the victory arch?

The more I learn, travel and read the more I’m convinced that religion as a whole is nothing more than man’s way to try and understand this reality were all in for a short time. Why are we here? What is all of this? Where was I before? This question evolves to include rituals, sacrifices, dogmas, beliefs which all morph and change over millennia eventually becoming something completely unlike their origins.

It baffles me that in this age with unparalleled access to education versus any other time in history, with technology and modern advancements that people still cling to religion. Perhaps the overriding reason is at the end of the day, even without all of our technology, we’re no closer to answering those ultimate questions than those splattering blood of animal sacrifice in the Jewish temple were. The answer is always supposedly just behind the veil, just dig deeper into the teachings, just do one more sacrifice, just deepen your relationship with the unseen being and you’ll get the answer. All I’ve seen is people following tradition doing what their ancestors did when it comes to religion.

This is not to say I don’t believe there are infinite unseen things which no human can comprehend. On the contrary, I’m sure there is a much greater reality out there. The truth just doesn’t reside in any modern religion as far as I’ve seen.

By Mateo de Colón

Global Citizen! こんにちは!僕の名前はマットです. Es decir soy Mateo. Aussi, je m'appelle Mathieu. Likes: Languages, Cultures, Computers, History, being Alive! \(^.^)/