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  Cover Story December 9th, 2010     
Cover Story

The Historical Jesus: Mortal, Prophet, or Divine?

by Frederick Gomez

Of all the topics, in all the world, few will evoke as much interest and controversy as this one.

One only need to say the word "Jesus," and much of humanity will respond, with varied convictions, and/or opinions, from all corners of the globe. A large slice of the planet's inhabitants have heard of his name, and subsequently, have formed a kaleidoscope of ideas as to who he really was.

Of all the religious figures in world history, this Jesus is the seminal influence behind the largest religious following on this Blue Marble. Christians comprise 2.1 billion people, by far the greatest number of devotees extant today. With a world populated by almost 6.9 billion human beings, this is a dizzying proportion of religious followers who regard Jesus as the Christ, the centerpiece of their faith.

That the historical Jesus actually existed is, generally, an accepted fact by most historians of repute, worldwide. Even Jesus' detractors grant him as much, positioning themselves more at debunking his metaphysical claims, rather than his historical reality. Save for a few exotic conspiracy theories, which mainstream historians do not attribute sober consideration, the Man from Nazareth is more 'real' in his historicity than, say, Socrates or Homer. Outside of the Christian scribes there are various non-Christian sources who corroborate Jesus' existence, such as historian and Pharisee, Flavius Josephus (A.D. c. 37 to c. 100); Roman writer and scholar, Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundas, (A.D. c. 62 to c. 114)); Roman governor and historian, Publius Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. c. 55 to c.120); and Roman biographer and antiquarian, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (A.D. c. 69 to c. 140); just to enumerate a few examples, all of whom -- independently – substantiate the historical Jesus, in question. As modern Jewish author, scholar, and professor, Rabbi Lewis D. Soloman states: “Two thousand years ago Jesus walked the face of the earth, of that there is no doubt."

Whether Jesus existed or not is no longer a cogent query, though there will always be those who will persist in that regard, usually those outside the realm of serious scholarship credentials. So the question, instead, is: who Jesus claimed to be -- and the subsequent claims of his followers, past to present -- that is the fodder for cannons of controversy, and upon which lines of diversion begin to manifest. Often vehemently.

The historical Jesus is different things to different people. Discuss him with an orthodox Jew, Hindu, Mormon, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, et al, and you will readily find that this one individual is seen through prismatic lighting.

Even from the root standpoint of his name, some may find his reality to be an unexpected one. If one were to step into a time machine and travel back to his day, the name "Jesus" would suddenly dissolve. His name was never Jesus, and he was never called that, during his lifetime.

At birth, he was named Yeshua, a shortened form of Yahoshua or Yahshua. We sometimes forget that Jesus was a Jew of antiquity. In the Hebrew language, there does not exist a letter with an equivalency to our Anglo-American "J." The letter "J" ' (sound) may have existed long ago, but not in the ancient Hebrew language.

The English name "Jesus" is the outcome of the Greek word “Iesous” and the Latin version, "Iesus.” This Greek and Latin spelling of Jesus -- along with the Hebrew spelling -- was placed (according to Christian Scripture) on the head of Jesus' cross, by order of Pontius Pilate, along with the inscription, "This is the King of the Jews." (Luke 23:38-39, KJV) One message, in three distinct languages of the day. But all without the letter "J" in the original Greek, Latin, and Hebrew spelling.

To this very day, many crucifixes (most notably, Roman Catholic) still retain the original Latin version of Jesus' name, along with the original inscription, all without the letter "J:" "Iesus Nazarenus, Rex, Iudaeorum" (Trans. "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.") This is also revealed in just the initials, which are often inscribed on crucifixes: INRI.

To reiterate, the letter “J” did not exist during the time of Jesus. Historical records reveal that there was no such letter “J” in the English alphabet until it was introduced by medieval scribes, centuries later. Even after the introduction of the letter “J” (the last letter to be added to our 26-letter alphabet), it still did not become widely popular until the 17th-century (1600s), centuries after its inception. (Encyclopedia Americana, International Ed., Vol. 15, 2006.)

The propensity to supplant the letter "I" in Iesus with the letter "J" completed the word-transformation into its present Christian usage: "Jesus," in the English language.

It is noteworthy to point out that Jesus' actual birth name, Yeshua (which means "The Lord is salvation," or "The Lord will/has saved"), was a popular name two thousand years ago in that region of the world. The fact that Jesus' name was a very common one may surprise many people today. So common was his name that it may come as a startling revelation that the notorious Barabbas, who was released by Pontius Pilate in place of the religious Jesus, was named Jesus Barabbas (var. Bar-Abbas). The infamous criminal, Jesus Barabbas, is named in his entirety in some of the early Christian manuscripts but, interestingly, his first name was deleted by various Christian scribes, to the extent that his full name remains relatively scarce amongst today's various Christian Bibles. “Jesus Barabbas” still appears in the Armenian and Syrian versions of Matt. 27:16-17. Also in other such works as The Harper Collins Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version, 1989. (Matt., Ibid).

Of what interest is this deletion of detail? It is of germane interest in our quest to truly understand and fully recognize, not only the historical Jesus, but also the impact and influence that he had, then and now. The deletion of "Jesus" as Barabbas' first name is viewed as no accident in transcription but, rather, is seen as a deliberate act of omission. Modern Bible scholars, such as William Barclay, D.A. Carson, Robert Gundry, and Klaas Schilder, believe -- as do many others -- that Barabbas' first name (Jesus) was expunged because it was offensive and irreverent to associate him with Jesus who is called the Christ. If any hidden reason is to be found, perhaps this one has credence. If Barabbas’ first name was, indeed, erased by early Christian scribes by design, and such omission remains prevalent today, it attests to the prevailing power of influence that Jesus continues to have over Christianity. Devout Christian followers are (understandably) quick to defend and keep Holy, his name. Deletion of fact, however, is a touchy matter, in spite of any worthy or noble motive, no matter how well intended.

That “Barabbas” translates to the "son of the father," may have added further discomfort to the early Christian transcribers of the Bible.

That there were many ancient Jews who shared Jesus' name is more than just a fanciful exercise in erudition. It is an index of just how much we know -- or do not know -- of the cultural setting that surrounded and shaped this paradigmatic individual.

That some may regard this as irrelevant to their basic belief tenet would be to cast insensitivity to those who may wish to be so informed. It is a healthy excursion in democratic ideals to welcome divergent points-of-view and discussion; a civil forum, whereby dignity and tolerance is extended to opposing dogmas and secular opinion. It is this very lack of tolerance, which history records, that has bred human arrogance, and subsequent blood-letting in the form of Holy Wars, Crusades, and Inquisitions. The esteemed Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, of New York City, eloquently states that Rabbi Jesus may well say, "Isn't it terrible that in my name they've killed millions of people? And I hear the cry of their souls, all my brothers and sisters. Whenever you have a chance, tell them to stop killing in my name." (Jesus Through Jewish Eyes. Beatrice Bruteau, editor. Orbis Books, NY. 2001)

Christian, Jewish, and secular scholars are well aware of Jesus of Nazareth's true Hebrew birth name, Yeshua, and it's present form today. Our historical Jesus was born in one of two towns known as Bethlehem. Yes, there was more than one Bethlehem in ancient times. One was situated in Galilee (in the region of Zebulon) bordering the valley of Jiphthah-el in the north, near Nazareth (Joshua 19:15-16). The other Bethlehem, of Jesus' reputed birth, is in the hilly region to the south of Jerusalem, in the vicinity of Judah. In the Jewish Torah (aka the Christian Old Testament), it is first spoken of in Genesis 35:19. It is this Bethlehem, in Judaea (Judah), where a child was said to be born; a child that would change the world as no other religious or secular figure in all of world history. Whether this Jesus was the Anointed One --foretold in the Jewish Torah -- is hotly debated to this day, for over two thousand years now, and counting. However, that he influenced the landscape of human thinking more than any other single, individual entity, is beyond rational dispute.

If one were to step out of our theoretical time machine, and come face-to-face with this Man from Galilee, what would we see? There are absolutely no (specific) physical descriptions of him within the (accepted) Christian canonical works. There is only one oblique reference to his physical features contained in the Old Testament Bible, itself. If we are to take that at face value, or through Christian faith, then we would accept what is found in Isaiah 53:2. It says: "He hath no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him." According to this Scriptural source, Jesus was neither attractive or handsome.

The search for this historical Jesus would lead us to inquire of his other ‘physicalities.’ What did he look like, in general? It is unfortunate that his appearance was, erroneously, influenced by
many of the Renaissance paintings; paintings which, sometimes, give him northern European attributes: light hair, blue eyes, milky-white complexion, etc. Almost all such renderings accord him as handsome, the very opposite of what the Christian Bible states in Isaiah 53:2.

It is by general consensus, from qualified secular and religious scholars, that his appearance was of the period and time of which he occupied, i.e. he looked more Semitic, not European.

He may have had a rabbi's beard, and dressed modestly, perhaps even poorly, as is the educated guess. Respected author, and Jesus biographer, Dr. John Dominic Crossan (who is also professor of religious studies at DePaul University) refers to Jesus as, "a Mediterranean Jewish peasant," as do many of today's Jewish and Christian scholars. The highly-regarded Christian authority, the Reverend Billy Graham, states that Jesus was of a "swarthy complexion," an assessment shared by almost all members of the cognoscenti, Christian or otherwise. This would suggest that he had dark features, hair, and dark eyes. While it is true that today's Jews may cover the gamut of blue eyes and alabaster-white skin, this was not the case -- realistically speaking – in what is now known as the Middle East, over twenty centuries ago.

If this Jesus of antiquity adhered to rabbinical conventions of the day, his beard (if any) may not have been a well-manicured one due to Hebrew Law. As stated in Leviticus 19:27, orthodox Jewish males of the time had Torah strictures, "Ye shalt not round the corners of your head, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard." And even though he was thought to be of a rebellious nature in his teachings, he did, in fact, honor and keep the guidelines of the Torah (as he viewed/interpreted them), including reading openly from the Torah in the synagogues. However, growing one’s hair and beard long – which is a popular assumption -- may not have applied to the historical Jesus. Antiquity experts and historical sources of the period say that many Jewish males during Jesus’ day kept their hair and beard cropped short to protect against lice.

The language he spoke was most certainly Aramaic, an agreement strongly adhered to, across the board, from antiquarian experts and Judeo-Christian pedagogues. He lived the major portion of his life in the north, such as Nazareth (he was called a Nazarene) as well as the surrounding areas within Galilee. The local tongue in these aforementioned regions was Aramaic.

To this day, Aramaic is still spoken in that area of the Middle East, to the north of Israel and to the south of Syria; areas not far from where the historical Jesus grew up. Aramaic was the so-called 'mother tongue' of the Galilee area, during Jesus' time. Even the sacred Jewish book, the Talmud, has not changed its language in thousands of years -- it is still written, today, totally in Aramaic, and not in Hebrew. (Aramaic, incidentally, is not a dialect of Hebrew, as some may think.)

Also, Rabbi Jesus' alleged commands to raise Jairus' daughter from death, "Talitha cumi" (Mark 5:41), meaning, "Little girl, arise" was spoken in Aramaic. "Talitha" is Aramaic for “little girl.” And “cumi” is both Aramaic and Hebrew for “arise” or “get up.” Certain words will be the same in both languages. However, it seems clear to linguistic experts that Jesus, in this scenario, was speaking Aramaic, and used “cumi” in the Aramaic context, as to be consistent with the Aramaic ‘noun’ “Talitha.”

That he spoke Hebrew is readily accepted by academicians, since the Torah Scriptures were written in Hebrew and Jesus is reputed to have read aloud from the Torah. His eventual cry from the Roman cross, “Eli, Eli lama sabachthani!?” (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!?”) is of the Hebrew tongue. It is also (surmised) that Jesus may have spoken Koine Greek, a somewhat reasonable assumption, since that was the 'universal language' of his day, permeating wide sectors of the Roman Empire. This wide-spread linguistic influence was inevitable, since the Greeks had conquered Judea some two centuries prior to Jesus’ reported birth. It is not a question of the ancients having to learn these languages formerly; rather it is through “cultural osmosis,” i.e. being totally immersed in a multi-lingual environment. Koine Greek was so widely used that historians believe it was a natural predilection that the original translation of the Hebrew Bible would be in Koine Greek. And so it followed that the original Christian New Testament Bible would first be written in Koine Greek. (It is noteworthy, however, to point out that Koine Greek was spoken throughout the eastern Roman Empire (except) Greece, where the Greek citizenry prided themselves in speaking a more cultured Greek tongue.)

It is also inevitable that some Christians will claim that Jesus was able to speak any language he wanted, since they regard him as God incarnate, or at minimum, the Son of God. This, however, might be considered a presupposition by opposing dogmas/and or faiths. Some established religions and/or faiths view the Man from Galilee differently from Christians. Even within the confines of Christianity, itself, not all professed Christians are in absolute, total agreement that Jesus was God incarnate; some only assessing him as the only-begotten Son of God. However, (mainstream) Christology deems Jesus as co-equal with the Godhead.

So far, we have delved into Jesus' real name; that 'Jesus' was a common name during his lifetime; that there was more than one Bethlehem; and that he was deemed not attractive, etc. But, what about his physical stature: was he a short, medium, or tall man? Archeological evidence seems to suggest that the (average) height of a male Semite during Jesus' day may have been close to 5' 1" tall. Studying skeletal remains and the height of excavated houses during Jesus' time all seem to suggest this. This is not to say that there were no exceptionally tall individuals during that time. There were. But, it was not the norm in this part of the world, during ancient times.

That Jesus may have been of even smaller (stature) than the average Semitic male of his day has not been without its supporters. Proponents of this theory often cite a possible clue that may be found in the Gospel of Luke (19:3), wherein Zaccheus attempts to glimpse the charismatic Jesus, who is preaching to a large crowd of followers: "And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and he could not for the crowd, because he was low of stature." It is uncertain, however, if this Gospel account is referring to Zaccheus, or the historical Jesus. This ambiguity precludes any proof, one way or the other.

However, Jesus' small stature is, again, alluded to in the ancient Gnostic writings found in The Acts of John, verse 90: ". . . I was afraid and cried out, and he, turning about, appeared as a man of small stature . . ." However, this 2nd-century Gnostic text is not considered a canonical, or trustworthy, source and has even been deemed heretical by mainstream Christology.

There are added physical descriptions of our historical Jesus in what are called apocryphal and pseudepigraphical manuscripts. These are fanciful terms for manuscript sources that have also been rejected as being, mostly, unreliable by the pillars of orthodox Christianity, to this day.

Little is known of the number of inhabitants of Jesus' village of Nazareth and conjecture seems to be inconsistent. Estimates of 500 or more, however, seem to be overly high to most antiquarian experts. Most surmise ancient Nazareth, two thousand years ago, to have a village population of between 70 to 150. But even these estimates are not proven.

The Scriptural message of “who” Jesus really was, and the antipodal replies from Jewish orthodoxy, Islamic Muslims, Mormons, secularists, et al, would fill volumes and volumes, and certainly -- in the name of brevity -- many salient points have been placed aside out of necessity. However, one need not be a Christian to find the historical Jesus worthy of study and examination, regardless of one's spiritual or non-spiritual stripes. Rabbi Rami Shapiro, respected author, esteemed lecturer, and holder of a Ph.D. in Jewish thought, crystallizes one’s need to search out knowledge regardless of where it may be found. Shapiro believes in Jesus' reality and subsequent crucifixion, but not in his resurrection nor that he was the Messiah (Mashiach), much less the only-begotten Son of God. Nevertheless, Rabbi Shapiro finds the historical Jesus -- as do many other Jewish leaders -- a fascinating study: "Given all of this, do I believe it is worthwhile for Jews to study Jesus? Not only worth-while, but vital. Jesus is the most famous Jew who ever lived." The prominent Rabbi Shapiro nails his essence: "To ignore him . . . is to give up an important part of our legacy as Jews." (Jesus Through Jewish Eyes, Ibid)

Jehovah's Witnesses see Jesus as Jehovah's son, but he is not viewed as God, himself. The Mormons view him as Son of God, the spirit brother of Lucifer, and even refer to him as Lord (by their definition of the word “Lord”), but they do not believe him to be God incarnate. The Islamic faith (second largest only to Christianity) sees Jesus as a great prophet, even virgin-born, and also the Messiah/Christ (The Koran, Ch. 3, Al-Imran, verse 45-47). But Muslims do not profess him to be the only-begotten Son of God, much less, God incarnate. Most atheists – if they believe he existed at all -- view him merely as a flesh-and-blood mortal, nothing more. The assessments from all corners of the earth differ, through filtered light, as to who Jesus of Nazareth really was.

As to any resurrection claims attributed to Jesus, one could invoke Carl Sagan's chant, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Sagan, being the late, noteworthy author and astronomer. (This is not to imply that Sagan subscribed to atheism.) Nevertheless, Christians could make the sound reply that faith is a fundamental precursor to one's salvation (in God's grace).

Christian claims of a resurrected Jesus Christ are not without merit, at least by their definitions of reliable eyewitness accounts and testimonies. And salient examples of believers choosing death rather than recanting their beliefs is astonishing, to say the least. It is perplexing as to why the so-called Apostle Paul would suffer, needlessly, if a Risen-Jesus did not truly exist for him. After all, Paul traded in his life of persecuting Christians for one replete with persecution for himself, and a grisly death of decapitation, all because he decided to join the ranks of Christians; a tortuous path he could easily have avoided by choice.

However, this, in itself, is not enough to suffice for those who wish to play 'devil's advocate.' One could argue that there are many examples in life that are difficult to reconcile, such as in Paul’s apostasy, that may not necessarily affirm the existence of a deity.

Speaking of roads, this is one on which many will have to travel: who do you say the historical Jesus is? Everyone must make their own decisions and live by that free-choice. What this author believes is not of importance. My singular voice is easily lost in the din of world opinions. Nevertheless, if I were to be pressed in offering up a summation of my own view on the Godhead, I would answer in simple, peasant-like language. And I am certain a lot of feathers would be ruffled in the process. To be concise, I wholly believe the historical Jesus to be everything he said he was. In short, he is -- in my puny opinion -- the Messianic figure, foretold in the Hebrew Torah (and the Christian Old Testament). He was a carpenter’s son, from a lowly birth, and a peasant’s life. A homeless vagabond, who lived the most virtuous life ever accorded any human being; and who uttered the most stunning and breathtaking passages I have ever read or heard in my lifetime, from any philosophy, university, book, or human voice. Words of infinite wisdom; piercing pearls of insight; endless beauty encapsulated in simple, timeless parables. He held the world spellbound, then and now, as no other, before or since. In the entire sweep of human history, his life is unmatched. His life was a marvel of crystallized splendor of what we could ever hope to become.

It has been over two thousand years now, and we are still thunderstruck by his Sermon on the Mount. Nothing in all of literature comes close to its luster, sweeping majesty, and grace.

He healed the sick; let the crippled walk; cured the blind; made whole the disfigured; cleansed the lepers; made pure the harlots; restored lost souls; and raised the dead. And then, He raised himself!

He is of the Triune Godhead. He is the Redeemer, and the Light, and the Truth, and the Way. He is the Ever-Lasting Life. And our true Parent. And that, my friends, is my humble opinion.

Now, go your individual ways, and search out the truth for yourselves. You have the luxury of free choice. We all do, by the grace of God.

Frederick GomezAbout the Author: Frederick (pronounced Freidrich) Gomez began writing at a very early age . . . would you believe at age 12? He used to dream of writing. As he matured, he sold his first piece to The San Diego Union-Tribune Newspaper, and then subsequently accepted freelance projects. He has the very first dollar that he earned from writing framed on his wall.

Frederick took up magic as a hobby; that segued into him doing exclusive writing assignments for a very prestigious international magic publication called "Genii." Prince Charles of Great Britain is a huge magic fan (a member of London's Inner Magic Circle), and reportedly reads the magazine (Genii). He is delighted to know that Royalty reads his essays on magic!

While in England, he attended Paul Daniel's Holiday Magic special at the BBC studios, London. He had worked out an assignment beforehand (with Genii & Mr. Daniels) to interview him for a frontcover story for the international readership! Paul Daniels is a magician and an everyday celebrity in Britain -sort of like the late Johnny Carson was here. His TV show is the longest, uninterrupted show in U.K. history. He also interviewed other celebrities like Lance Burton in Vegas. He has done many other writing assignments for various humor magazines based on the east coast; for these magazines he was able to interview a number of famous celebrities.

Like most writers, he had a dream of writing his own book. He did and following that a number of syndicated newspapers picked it up and it went national and then international (Canada, UK, Australia, etc.)

A man of many talents, Gomez also started his own business: Riders Up, International, which featured various collectibles, T-shirts, etc., based in San Diego. It was a successful business but his love of writing brought him back to the writer’s desk. He loves writing to this day and it shows in his work, particularly in his detailed research.

We were surprised and delighted to learn that Mr. Gomez chose to become a frequent contributor to The Paper because of his deep admiration and enjoyment of our “Chuckles” column.

As he says, "I almost 'bought the farm' a couple years back when I had a very bad accident. I had to learn to walk all over again, etc. In the Palomar Hospital for weeks, I had little to cheer me up, till one day a very nice girl brought me my first issue of The Paper. I read the Chuckles, and couldn't stop laughing. All my doctors (seven in all) could not believe my positive outlook in life -- so suddenly!! I kept reading The Paper each Thursday to give me strength and let my total body heal: head, ribs, brain, etc. I whispered to myself: ‘God, if I ever make it out of here (I had multiple surgeries), I wish to someday write for this publication that "gave me back my life." I learned to laugh again, every Thursday, with The Paper's Chuckles. I was called a "miracle patient" -- that's how fast I recovered. And that's it in a nutshell­.”

“Before you even knew of me, you were healing my bones, my brain, and giving me back my will to live -- and you never, ever knew of the positive impact you were having on another human being! That's how things work: The Paper influences a lot of lives, not just mine. You never know, Lyle, you just might be making some other patient laugh, in some hospital, far away -- that you dont even know.

What a wonderful surprise it was for us to learn that we played a role in the healing of Mr. Gomez . . . and that he has opted to join our group of outstanding writers.

We are privileged and proud to have his writings appear in The Paper and eagerly look forward to more of his precious writings.

Mr. Gomez is Native American (a member of the Kumeyaay Nation). His 'family' has been here for over 12,000 years! He says he plans to stay as well, as he loves San Diego.

Mr. Gomez’s cover stories for The Paper:

July 15, 2010
Horse Racing Fever Del Mar Style

September 2, 2010
Hollywood's World Famous Magic Castle

October 28, 2010
Houdini - His Magic Ended on Halloween

(All of the above stories may be read by going to www.thecommunitypaper.com - then clicking on Archives.

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