On Jesus of Nazareth
The aleph, the mem, and the omega
If one must say something, it is sometimes best to say it quietly, and this blog will never get any quieter than it is right now.
I will not try to summarize 2000 years of Christian theology here. Suffice it to say that, at least since the Nicene Creed of 325 AD, that theology often includes the claims that one Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago: A) was born of a virgin; B) performed miracles; C) was resurrected to life after he died by crucifixion.
I deny each of those claims.
Born of a virgin
We must first note that in some contexts the word “virgin” means “a young woman”, and in other contexts it means “a woman who has never had sexual intercourse”. It is the second meaning that is relevant here. Wikipedia summarizes the theology:
The virgin birth of Jesus is the Christian doctrine that Jesus was conceived and born by his mother Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit and without sexual intercourse. It is mentioned only in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38.
Wikipedia goes on to note that there are many other legends of virgin births, none of which are part of Christian theology. The suggestion of a virgin birth raises obvious scientific questions that would not have been thought to be asked at that time in history. Would his cells have been haploid or diploid (or pure spiritual energy)? We cannot expect answers to these types of questions, and move on.
An alternate theory is that Jesus had a father (other than Joseph) he did not acknowledge. The 2nd century author Celsus identified this father as Panthera, a Roman soldier. Any evidence regarding the nature of such a conception is surely lost to time, but it is decidedly non-miraculous.
It would explain why phrases such as “son of man” and “son of God” are used. Jewish names are, traditionally, patronymics. We have James, son of Zebedee and Simon bar Jonah. Yet Jesus, with no Earthly father to acknowledge, must use a courtesy patronymic.
The ability to perform miracles is in no way uniquely attributed to Jesus. There are traditions of miracles in basically every religion on the planet. If the analysis is restricted to the Bible, Moses and Aaron perform miracles in Egypt. The prophet Elisha miraculously incites bears to attack his enemies. In Acts 3 and again in Acts 9, it is the apostle Peter who performs miraculous healing. The record thoroughly rejects that conclusion that Jesus alone could perform miracles.
The person who claims Jesus and others did perform miracles has a bridge to cross. On one side, miracles are suggested to have been common in biblical times, but are no longer so. This doctrine is called cessationism. Some Protestant denominations ascribe to this philosophy, I do not. While there are some very interesting heresies here (what if השם was absent from 700AD to 1700AD), those heresies are heretical and I do not discuss them here.
Another option is that miracles are still possible today. However, apart from the incident at Fatima, there is no real suggestion of any visible miracle occurring in the past 200 years. (Miraculous remissions of diseases are wonderful for those who are cured, but are not the types of miracles I am concerned with here.)
The simplest explanation, that these accounts of miracles are simply the process of history turning facts into legends, is most likely the correct one.
By example, we take the healing of the man with the withered hand. We quote from the Jefferson Bible:
And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they [the Pharisees] asked him [Jesus], saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.
And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?
How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.
And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
The story works just fine without any miraculous healing. The theologians among you will note that today, mainstream Jewish theology agrees with Jesus that it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath.
Resurrected after death
The rough outline of events here, as I understand it:
Jesus dies, on the cross.
Jesus is placed in a tomb.
Three days later, the tomb is found to be empty.
Jesus appears, to a variety of his followers, and then physically ascends to heaven.
Jesus continues to appear to his followers after ascending to heaven.
If we are agreeing that Jesus was born a mortal man and the son of mortals, the conclusion here is clear: Jesus was not resurrected in the flesh, but appeared as some form of divine vision. Once again, this is not unique to Jesus; there is an entire theological industry related to apparitions of Mary.
We are left with the Nicene Creed in shambles, and the outright rejection of many hundreds of years of Christian theology. Of course, many Christians today don’t quite believe in the Nicene interpretation either. The Unitarians, the Pentecostal movement, the Latter-Day Saint movement, and a variety of other new churches have different interpretations of השם and the Trinity.
We briefly outline two possible interpretations, while being careful to note we are not suggesting any specific denomination subscribes to these interpretations. First, we have an interpretation where the Holy Spirit is השם, and the Father and the Son are syncretic adaptations of Roman religion. Second, we have an interpretation where השם is known as Jesus, the Father is an explanation to ignore certain inconvenient or obsolete portions of the Old Testament, and the Holy Spirit is theological details that the lay believer need not concern themselves with.