An Attempt at a Jesus Biography

The Gospels and wider New Testament, we know, are faith documents of early Christians, and from that post-Easter perspective they are history-like and biography-like but not histories or a biography. I've wondered, is it possible to get behind the Greek New Testament and these faith statements to write a potentially neutral biography of Jesus? The answer should be no, and there is no neutral position, given that even Jesus's own life was a life of faith. But I'm going to break all the rules and have a go.
To do this I'm going to do it like a short story, a novella, where I am forgetting the ifs, the buts and the possibles and probables. I will just say it and go from birth to death. Though he will have been called Yeshua, I'll call him Jesus, the Greek name. So here we go.
According to the Gregorian calendar we use today, Jesus was born in Capernaum in 4 BCE. In worldly terms it was just another birth to just another family. His childhood was short, and was soon learning and working in the building trade alongside his father, especially in the Roman city of Sepphoris that is never mentioned in the New Testament. His father, a proud Jew, hates the fact that he has to work in Sepphoris, and probably never otherwise mentions the place, but it is why Jesus learns Greek as well as Aramaic as his two fluent languages. Jesus takes on that Jewish nationalism, and is an avid reader of the Hebrew scriptures, and is regarded as a bit of an oddball in his excessiveness by the family and others locally, and so Jesus goes off to learn the faith more actively among rabbis. Despite the incoming and outgoing trade routes, with Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Greek influences, Jesus is interested only in the faith of the Jews, in the God who intervenes as recorded, and the God who chooses prophetic individuals.
He becomes, in effect, Rabbi Jesus, if not formally. He goes to Jerusalem around Passover and participates (if at the margins) in the animal sacrifices. If demons shoot out of humans, they'll occupy unclean animals. But it is in Jerusalem that he is disgusted at the difference between Jewish wealth and poverty, never mind Roman power as at Sepphoris. Jesus is of course active in synagogues. Dissatisfied, he goes looking for those who would under God sweep away the present and bring in justice and peace. Indeed, in a new world, even the animals would join in with the harmony.
He comes across John the Baptist, or John the Nazarene, who like those back in Qumran, preaches a Teacher of Righteousness and a coming end to the world of injustice. He joins John's gang, and absorbs ever more of this messianic approach, along with the rabbis' import of Zoroastrian resurrection beliefs. In the mix too are Buddhist-origin views of compassion and its individualism on top of Judaism's own ethical demands. It is clear that Jesus has his own charismatic skills of communication and faith healing.
Given those skills, John's arrest and execution brings Jesus to the fore. John the Nazarene's fate underlies the necessary suffering servant approach for anyone who is chosen by God to convince God that now is the time to act and sweep away time and bring in the new reality, when the Kingdom of Heaven lowers itself into the plane of the earth and where the asleep in the underworld are woken to come to justice and resurrection. So Jesus forms his own version of John's approach, but where the faith healing comes to the fore, and the Nazarenes undergo change.
He has a long think about this on his own where his mind is affected and the demons are felt to work on him. He comes from that and gathers around him twelve capable people in business or professions to head up those twelve tribes of Israel to be restored at the end time. He preaches that, despite appearances, the wealthy and healthy are not necesarily chosen by God for early entry into the Kingdom, and he goes around the poor of Galilee removing their demons, telling them to sin no more (for to have demons is to sin), and be ready for the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is so close you can almost touch it. The Beatitudes are a summary of various teachings made along the way: they describe the Kingdom to Come. His communication skills involved an ability to connect with people, holding their attention, using his own building trade metaphors as well as agricultural and labouring metaphors in clever story telling. His view on marriage states that people will become angelic, and the married will each be angels in one body. Therefore, no one should divorce, and no man even should look at another woman sinfully.
Now when he was among the rabbis, and training, a certain Mary Magdalene became attached to him, and she was a potential marriage partner for this rabbi. She was always around, and stayed with him. The trouble was, he showed less interest in her than she did with him. Indeed, among the disciples, he had a soft spot for John. In other words, he wasn't sexually attracted to women. He escaped that sin of lust for women. Still, Jesus showed he could organise a brother's wedding, and his mother and Mary Magdalene hoped his own might be not so far off. But Mary was important because she was a woman of means and bankrolled the wanderers. Also she was useful among the uncounted women and children during the big picnics Jesus held among those that came to get healed and hear what was his vision for the near future.
Some thought he was at times on the brink of insanity, and this was part of his charisma. Incredibly intense, he was a theomaniac, but then this was among a country of theomaniacs and within a sect of imminentist beliefs shared fairly widely. In other words, he had cultural support for his egomaniacal beliefs, beliefs that would have intensified as his suffering servant road became ever more obvious, compulsive sand final in its testing. To enter the Kingdom the Son of Man had to do the will of the Father; the more the Son did in the way of the Father, the more the Son would be as the Father, and this Son was ever closer to the Father, and surely chosen.
Jesus realised that to go on and on with healings and preachings would mean going stale, and within a year realised that he would have to press the main message into Jerusalem. He knew the important suffering servant role in the Hebrew scriptures along with the messianic purpose, and therefore the extreme lengths necessary to prompt God into taking the final restorative action to bring all injustice to an end. And surely the Romans would oblige, if horribly. He once thought he might have introduced another as a transformed Messiah (he wasn't sure), but in the end he identified that would be that person who, having undergone suffering, would be himself transformed by God into the fully-functioning Messiah.
He has to do it, to go to Jerusalem, where he demonstrates in the Temple against its commercialism and compromise, and the Roman authorities nervously on the edge of empire seek to pick up this leader and cut the head off the Nazarene sect. There was nothing unusual in this: the quicker the Romans acted against such pretenders, the better.
The Romans ruled on this edge of Empire like they did in Britain. If you accepted Roman rule, you could even become powerful yourself and wealthy, join in with the new civilisation. Be like Boudicca in Britain, however, and you'd be smashed to pieces, and the land of your sympathisers razed to the ground. The Jews had periods of quiet and participation, but so many groups there were unreliable and started fighting, so any group risking Roman rule got the full treatment. And the British Celts did not have an ideology so unlike the Romans as did the Jews: British Gods and Roman Gods could intermingle.
Jesus will have spoken to his treasurer Judas about the prophecy of betrayal: Jesus needed to be arrested at the right time to fulfil prophecy. Psalm 41:9 has it "Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me." And then verse 10 says "But you, O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them." Jesus tells Judas at the last supper: "Go and do what you have to do." Judas was reliable, and money was involved, as Matthew wrote. The bribe is in Zechariah 11:12, and Exodus 21:32 says that the amount of thirty shekels of silver is interpreted as the damages to be paid for the injury to a servant. But the real message was Judas spilling the beans wider afield that Jesus was surely the Messiah. Being Messiah was no offence to Jews, but its translation as kingship was an offence to the Romans, and Judas made sure the Roman authorities could make an easy arrest. Judas couldn't cope with the consequences of the action, and with other disciples out of the prior arrangement, had to leave the Nazarenes.
So Jesus is arrested and passed quickly to the Roman authorities. A signature of a quill pen put Jesus to the death in a manner that demonstrated to the public the need to behave. This was death by torture and also the birds would peck away at the carcus and the bones dumped into a common lime-pit grave so a decent burial was denied. There is no known time or event of the Roman authorites ever giving up an executed body to relatives or the weallthy so that it could undergo a burial according to local relgion rites and rituals. Once the bones jumble with others and decompose in the lime, that's it - you'll never identify them and it can stand as a Roman criticism of resurrecting the body. What now would be resurrected of these?
The end-time faith passes to the family, but we also have a certain Saul. Saul as a Jew will have mingled in Jerusalem when Jesus was killed in 29 CE. He paid no attention to any of these torturous executions, other than their demand to behave yourself. Here was a cross-cultural Jew, who some years later went around synagogues telling authorities to either obey the Law as complete or have a Messiah as claimed by a few excited Jewish worshippers, and therefore he concluded all of the Jews in synagogues should obey the Law. But as a believer in the end-time himself, and also somewhat manic and intense in temperament, he changed over. He still said it is either the Law or the Messiah but flipped sides and promoted the necessity of the Messiah for the end and the inadequacy of the Law. The Law contained but did not remove sin: what removed sin was the dying of one who did not have to die, and his spiritual body having been resurrected. The Jewish language - indeed the once Zoroastrian language - of resurrection is turned around into a new purpose, into the roll-call of authority of visited faith leaders and particularly into a kind of victory over death itself. For one who was demon free and removed them from others had died so that others might live and into eternity. Jesus the transformed resurrected was God's one and only Messiah, said Paul.
But that's not what Jesus preached. Jesus preached not that he was demon-free or sinless or the focus of attention, but that he had to suffer to be a servant to other Jews, so that God would institute the Kingdom. He did not preach Paul's Gentile-inclusive universalism of salvation, although there was an impliction that the faithful would eventually enter the Kingdom that had come to earth. And all these are beliefs we simply do not share any more.
There is no three-decker universe, but an expanding red-shift oneof 13.5 billion years old. We do not get ill because of demons, and we do not die because we are worn down by demonic activity or because of sin. We die because biology lives and dies. We do not believe in a God intervening to do things we regard as simply active through natural and continuing processes. We do not believe that time will come to an end, except when the universe is so far apart as to make time utterly cold and meaningless - and the earth has about 5 billion years left thanks to the sun's time. Before then we humans will surely go the way of the dinosaurs, and the Hebrew scriptures knew nothing of dinosaurs. We simply don't share Jesus's supernatural views or those of early post-Easter Christians. We might like his ethics, but we, like the rabbis, can argue about them and their situations for applicability. His ego, intensity or meglamania is unattractive, although we can understand that it came through his culture, upbringing, choice of sect and his frustration at what was happening to his own people. Oh, and people have self-consciousness within their brains, and whatever may be ghostly effects in our world - if any - they are not continuous of a conscious, decision-making person. Once the brain dies, the brain is rapidly unrecoverable, and his brain was eaten by scavenging birds.
This is why I try and tell evangelicals who challenge me. I say to them, "Look, I know as much as you about this, and it doesn't matter how much you go on it cannot make a difference to me." I am not a Christian because I don't share the beliefs of Jesus or those of the early Christians, nor in any supernaturalism, nor in revised interpretations of his Incarnation or Resurrection, nor, in the end, of the incredibly creative post-evangelical, Radical Orthodox, or non-realist theologies that can somehow retain the narrowness of Christian rituals as adequate gift-exchange rituals. I am not interested either in any emotionally-based 'cults of the individual'. But I do believe in tackling this subject, periodically, because Christianity remains very powerful politically and we need to challenge and relativise that human power and always demand the necessity of argument and the place of reasonable reasoning.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful