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The Historical Jesus and New Testament Rubbish: Part Two: Jesus' Transformation into Christ (God's Begotten Son)

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A Review of Zealot, by Reza Aslan, (Random House, 2013) and Christian Beginnings, by Geza Vermes (Yale, 2013)

In 1956, L. Festinger, H. W.Rieckin and S. Schlacter co-authored a book titled, When Prophecy Fails: A Sociological and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the Destruction of the World. Summarizing its conclusions, John Gager noted: "Under certain conditions a religious community whose fundamental beliefs are disconfirmed by events in the world will not necessarily collapse and disband. Instead it may undertake zealous missionary activity as a response to its sense of cognitive dissonance, i.e., a condition of distress and doubt stemming from the disconfirmation of an important belief." (Reza Aslan, Zealot, Notes: Chapter Thirteen)

Didn't the Jews in the Jesus movement suffer precisely such cognitive dissonance? After all, as Professor Reza Aslan notes in his best-selling book, Zealot, "To the Jews, a crucified messiah was nothing less than a contradiction in terms." Even worse, Deuteronomy 21:23 says, "Anyone hung on a tree [that is, crucified] is under God's curse."

Thus, in Aslan's interpretation, "The very fact of Jesus' crucifixion annulled his messianic claims. Even the disciples recognized this problem. That is why they so desperately tried to deflect their dashed hopes by arguing that the Kingdom of God they had hoped to establish was in actuality a celestial kingdom not an earthly one; that the messianic prophecies had been misconstrued; that the scriptures, properly interpreted, said the opposite of what everyone thought they did; that embedded deep in the texts was a secret truth about the dying and rising messiah that only they could uncover."

Professor Aslan maintains that it was Paul "who solved the disciples dilemma of reconciling Jesus' shameful death on the cross with the messianic expectation of the Jews, by simply discarding those expectations and transforming Jesus into a completely new creature, one that seems almost totally of his own making: Christ."

Without suggesting any role played by Paul, the late Professor Geza Vermes, writing in his recent book, Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea, notes: "After the crucifixion of Jesus, a small number of Jewish Christians emerged in Palestine. They believed that the Messiah promised by the prophets had already revealed himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth," who "rose from the dead, was exalted to heaven and would soon return to inaugurate the eschatological Kingdom of God." This small group displayed contagious ecstatic behavior that permeated the community." (pp. 81-82)

The problem plaguing members of the Jesus movement, however, was their inability to persuade many Jews living in Palestine to believe in a crucified messiah. These Jews simply knew their Hebrew Scriptures too well.

Greater success, however, was to be found among the less knowledgeable Hellenized Jews living in the diaspora. And, thanks to the proselytizing of Paul -- who achieved significant success among "lower-class, unsophisticated Greeks" (Vermes, p. 97) by his preaching and by exempting them "from the ceremonial and dietary regulations of Mosaic Law" (p. 94) -- many Gentiles were converted to Christianity.

As a consequence, however, a serious rift developed between Paul, the self-proclaimed apostle who never met the historical Jesus, and Jesus's actual brother, James, who had become the titular head and favorite of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.

Sometime around 50 C.E., Paul was summoned to Jerusalem to "answer for his deviant teachings" to the Apostolic Council. Moreover, "almost immediately after Paul left Jerusalem, James began sending his own missionaries to Paul's congregations in Galatia, Corinth, Philippi, and most other places where Paul had built a following, in order to correct Paul's unorthodox teachings about Jesus."

According to Professor Aslan, "Paul was incensed by the delegations, which he viewed, correctly, as a threat to his authority." In response, Paul wrote many of the epistles now in the New Testament and addressed them to congregations that had been visited by the representatives from Jerusalem.

It took acts of violence to resolve the dispute between the outsider Paul and the Jewish Christians led by James. James was executed in 62 C.E. and the Romans destroyed the great Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. As Professor Aslan puts it, "After the Temple was destroyed, the holy city burned to the ground, and the remnants of the Jerusalem assembly dispersed, Paul underwent a stunning rehabilitation in the Christian community."

Why? Because, "with the possible exception of the Q document (which is, after all, a hypothetical text), the only writings about Jesus that existed in 70 C.E., were the letters of Paul."

Today "more than half of the twenty-seven books that make up the New Testament are either by or about Paul." Moreover, all of the gospels were influenced by Paul's letters.

Professor Vermes put it this way: "The switch in the perception of Jesus from charismatic prophet to a superhuman being coincided with a geographical and religious change, when the Christian preaching of the Gospel moved from the Galilean-Judaean Jewish culture into the surrounding Gentile Graeco-Roman world. The disappearance of Jewish teachers opened the gate to an unbridled "Gentilization' and consequent "de-Judaization,' leading to the "anti-Judaization' of nascent Christianity." (p. 147)

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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
 

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On some level, I always knew the Chapters of Paul ... by Dorothy Collins on Wednesday, Oct 9, 2013 at 10:53:09 PM
It certainly does not make you an atheist.  B... by Walter Uhler on Wednesday, Oct 9, 2013 at 11:31:02 PM
It's the Old Testament that I have problems with, ... by Suzana Megles on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 1:58:55 PM
Suzana, some people are perfectly content with the... by anna kakol on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 2:28:00 PM
Yes, I am defensive.  Wouldn't you be if some... by Suzana Megles on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 3:23:05 PM
Kant was quite clear about this type of comment: "... by Walter Uhler on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 3:45:35 PM
Too bad Walter that this earth doesn't have more "... by Suzana Megles on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 4:47:56 PM
You not only appear a glutton for punishment, ah, ... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 5:33:06 PM
Spoken like a true unbeliever. I think Suzana repr... by Bob Gormley on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 5:57:58 PM
She was talking herself up and challenging the mor... by Adam Smith on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 6:24:26 PM
What a nice thing to say.  Thanks.  Some... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 6:38:00 PM
Suzana, the "holier than thou" argument is so obvi... by E. J. N. on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 6:03:08 PM
    I'd believe the words of Jesus ... by Bob Gormley on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 5:54:26 PM
Now we're getting somewhere!  Precisely what ... by Walter Uhler on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 6:14:14 PM
Not only is Ms. Megles intolerant, implying only h... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 4:48:58 PM
She knows Becker... it is you who are in the dark.... by Bob Gormley on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 6:00:17 PM
And if you knew for a fact that Robert wouldn't an... by anna kakol on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 7:03:59 PM
You know what's ironic, I feel the same way about ... by anna kakol on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 5:30:44 PM
  Do not be ashamed of Jesus. Blessed are tho... by Bob Gormley on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 5:53:26 PM
Bob, try to understand that most of us who are fin... by E. J. N. on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 6:16:55 PM
It is the height of arrogance to presume to know w... by Walter Uhler on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 6:23:07 PM
Nice try. Seriously. But it's very difficult to re... by E. J. N. on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 3:41:56 PM
     I'd rather listen to Jesu... by Bob Gormley on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 6:02:07 PM
I would too. However, the question is, which are t... by E. J. N. on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 6:39:13 PM
E.J. Have you read Evelyn Unerhill's work on Chris... by Burl Hall on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 6:00:00 AM
If you are perfectly content with the old testamen... by Paul Easton on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 2:58:57 AM
My statement to Suzana was not based on my persona... by anna kakol on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 10:56:58 AM
And as far as the OT goes, I'm not prone to judgin... by anna kakol on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 11:14:48 AM
On what do you base your good-hearted assumption f... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 11:25:12 AM
I'm not exactly sure how many issues you are addre... by anna kakol on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 12:26:14 PM
Maybe in the end, all we really have is the redact... by anna kakol on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 12:50:53 PM
And Robert, I do belief that most of our issues de... by anna kakol on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 1:17:15 PM
No challenge from me and I nearly always endorse y... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 1:22:49 PM
It was not my intent to condone the lunacy by maki... by anna kakol on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 2:47:38 PM
I've been reading Kant of late and he has asserted... by Walter Uhler on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 3:39:32 PM
Agreed  Suzana....     Th... by Bob Gormley on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 5:51:46 PM
I hit "reply to this." I hope you do.click herecli... by Daniel Geery on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 5:58:54 PM
Thomas Jefferson and other enlightenment thinkers ... by E. J. N. on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 2:36:22 PM
Please see my links above.... by Daniel Geery on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 6:03:24 PM
Lots of head knowledge EJN, but you never mention ... by Bob Gormley on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 6:03:51 PM
Ah, I'm glad you brought the issue of salvation up... by E. J. N. on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 6:56:11 PM
Walter Uhler's historical theory about how the... by Christopher Currie on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 3:35:48 PM
"Professor Vermes put it this way: "The switch in ... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 4:41:24 PM
Thank you for your kind words.... by Walter Uhler on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 4:49:58 PM
Wow, the gang of anti-intellectual fanatics are ou... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 6:32:18 PM
If the teachings attributed to Jesus by the gospel... by Derryl Hermanutz on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 8:21:05 PM
I as well believe that science and religion will c... by Paul Easton on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 3:40:00 AM
But I am often joking! And certainly trying to be ... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 9:41:51 AM
The author of "Yeshu, Essene Jesus of the Gnostic ... by Ethan Hollow on Thursday, Oct 10, 2013 at 11:49:10 PM
I have always suspected that Saul's revelation was... by Ida Garza on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 6:13:52 AM
To reiterate my point here, yes there is enough he... by anna kakol on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 5:23:09 PM
There is no doubt that Jesus existed as a historic... by E. J. N. on Friday, Oct 11, 2013 at 7:24:02 PM