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1 Introduction in:

Steuart Campbell

The Rise and Fall of Jesus, page 1 - 14

A Complete Explanation for the Life of Jesus and the Origin of Christianity

3. Edition 2019, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-4346-2, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-7327-8, https://doi.org/10.5771/9783828873278-1

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
Introduction Looking for Jesus Jesus is probably the most famous person who ever lived. If true, this can only be because of the influence of the Christian Church, which worships him as God. Edwards (1992), attributing the influence to Jesus rather than to the Church, described Jesus as ‘the most influential figure in the history of the world’.* ‘Most influential’ or not, the name of Jesus is certainly better known in the West than either Muhammad or Newton. Influence is not the same as fame, but Jesus was, indirectly, very influential and is now very famous. However, does he deserve this fame? Since Western society is founded on Christianity, interest in the man thought to have founded the religion is bound to exceed that of interest in any other person. Consequently it is not surprising that nearly everyone seems to have written a book about Jesus; certainly everyone has an opinion about him. It has been estimated that, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, sixty thousand books were written about Jesus (Cross 1970b:17), while Kersten & Gruber (1995) put the total number of monographs on Jesus at 80,000. It is surely true that more books have been written about him than about any other human being. So why do we need another book? Has everything that could possibly be said about Jesus not already been said? Do we not already know all about the historical Jesus? Surprisingly, we do not. Sanders (1993:281) concluded that we know who Jesus was, what he did, what he taught and why he died. In fact Sanders’s own book demonstrates that he knew none of these 1 * According to Michael Hart in The 100 (1993), Jesus is only the third most influential person in history; he is beaten by Muhammad and Isaac Newton. 1 things. On the whole, there is hardly any greater understanding of Jesus and his purpose now than there was when he was alive. ‘Lives’ of Jesus began to appear in the nineteenth century, proliferating towards the beginning of the twentieth century. Some have alleged that these ‘lives’ appeared when interest in historical research increased and it was believed that such research could discover the truth about Jesus just as it had about other historical figures. However, it has also been alleged that the historical method was first evolved by Christian theologians and only later applied to general history (Hoskyns and Davey 1931:10). Some hoped to find justification for their faith, to find historical evidence that would justify Christianity’s claims. Others, already convinced that the truth about Jesus was concealed rather than revealed in Christianity, attempted to rationalize Jesus’ life. Schweitzer distinguished between rationalist, sceptical, ‘liberal’ and eschatological approaches to the problem, identifying himself as a follower of sceptical eschatology. Mackinnon wrote that Jesus is ‘the perennial theme for the inquiring, serious mind, and to judge from history, will ever remain so’ (1931:xviii). Not all serious, inquiring minds are interested in Jesus; nor do they wish to undertake the considerable research required. However there will always be a few keen exponents. Schweitzer thought that there is no historical task that so reveals a man’s true self (he seems to have disregarded women) as the writing of a life of Jesus and the greatest of them are written not with love, but with hate. Not hate of the person of Jesus so much as of the ‘supernatural nimbus’ with which it was so easy to surround him and with which he had in fact been surrounded. Hate sharpens the historical perspective and advances the study of the subject (Schweitzer 1954:4). Has the study of Jesus advanced? Has the historical perspective been sharpened? Yes and no. Some modern theologians, recognizing that the quest for the historical Jesus was finding a person, when it found anyone at all, quite unlike The Son of their faith, have concluded not only that next to nothing can be known of him, other than that he existed, but that even the attempt to seek such information is theologically illegitimate for the Christian. They claim that the faith should be based on ‘the existentialist commitment to a Christ proclaimed in the preaching of the 1 Introduction 2 New Testament’. In fact believers relegate the historical life of Jesus to a secondary place, retaining it merely as a myth in which their spiritual experiences are focussed (Hoskyns and Davey 1931:151). However Zahrnt (1963:104) alleged that faith is not independent of the process of historical scholarship and that if the latter succeeded in demonstrating without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was a quite different person from the one believed in by Christians, then the faith would be completely finished.* Davies (1979) also was sure that the Christian faith is founded on history and that doubt concerning Jesus’ existence, nature, purpose or life undermines the faith. It is clear therefore that doubts will not be entertained by committed believers. To them Jesus will always be divine, an incarnation of the Creator. To those who pay lip service to Christianity and who do not hold Jesus to have been God, he is nevertheless an ideal, a wholly good man trying to do his best for his fellow creatures, but who was betrayed and killed by them. In short, Christians and their sympathizers appear to believe that Jesus fell foul of the authorities in Jerusalem simply because he behaved well, not because he behaved badly. This is hardly an encouragement to good behaviour. If Christians have failed to find the historical Jesus, how have non- Christians fared? Most non-Christians are not interested in Jesus and, in any case, they do not have sufficient knowledge of the Bible to undertake the task. Non-Christian attempts to find a real Jesus have sometimes produced bizarre conclusions. Jesus was a political revolutionary, a magician, a Galilean charismatic, a rabbi, a Hillelite or proto-Pharisee, an Essene, or an eschatological prophet. He was a homosexual, a hippie preacher high on hallucinogenic drugs, insane, a woman, or an extraterrestrial being. Desperation has driven many to propose extreme solutions. Most Humanists, because they prefer the view that Jesus did not exist (see chapter 2), do not seek a historical Jesus. But best placed are ex-Christians like me who have the necessary background and interest and yet who have also acquired the necessary doubt. * Because there will always be doubt concerning this demonstration, Christianity will never be ‘finished’. Looking for Jesus 3 To most writers, Jesus is a mystery. He appears on the world stage making enigmatic prophecies and ethical commands; he preaches love and forgiveness and yet seems to hate the authorities and threatens hellfire to those who do not follow him. He also seems to anticipate everything, even his death, which he does nothing to prevent. He seems to have been certain of ultimate success and yet he predicted his own arrest and death. He made many predictions, some of which appear to have been fulfilled, while others remain unfulfilled. No doubt because their authors could not make sense of Jesus’ life, most ‘lives’ are merely elaboration of the gospel, uncritical accounts of Jesus’ career with some concessions to modern times, perhaps with scepticism regarding accounts of miracles. However, there are a few exceptions, ‘lives’ that form pillars on which the ultimate life of Jesus should be constructed. Predominant among these ‘pillars’ is the work of Albert Schweitzer; even as a student, he held unconventional beliefs that eventually led to his ostracism. Although he was not the first to do so, Schweitzer realized that Jesus could only be understood in relation to the socio-religious milieu in which he lived, that he was a man of his time not of our time.* Schweitzer approached Jesus from the right direction and placed him in the proper perspective. He came closer than anyone else in understanding Jesus’ intentions and yet he failed to understand him completely. He failed to see the clues that reveal exactly why Jesus undertook his mission and how he planned to accomplish it. More important, he failed to see that Jesus cannot have expected to be resurrected by his god. I have adopted Schweitzer’s ‘thoroughgoing scepticism’ and ‘thoroughgoing eschatology’ and developed it. I pick up where Schweitzer left off and come to a surprising conclusion. It is because no one else has come any closer that I have written this book. Few have taken their cue from Schweitzer. He showed the way, but few have followed. Some recent authors have merely shown their ignorance of the subject and/or their discovery of what has long been known to others. Despite the pre-eminence of Schweitzer, some other ‘pillars’ should be acknowledged. These include Reimarus and Strauss (German), Goguel and Guignebert (French), Klausner and Cohn (Jewish) and Mackinnon, Murry and Schonfield (British). There are many others, * A full account of Schweitzer’s views on Jesus is given in Appendix B. 1 Introduction 4 too numerous to mention here, but see Appendix A. The story I tell, although based on Schweitzer, incorporates many ideas from other writers. I acknowledge my debt to them. If I have found the real Jesus, it is only because many other writers have left clues and shown me the way. The problem of Jesus is basically historical, but with associated problems in ancient languages and religions. But these skills are useless without some insight into the mind of Jesus himself. Schweitzer (1954:393) suggested that every life of Jesus remains a reconstruction on the basis of a more or less accurate insight into the nature of the dynamic self-consciousness of Jesus. Murry (1926:211) believed that Jesus can be known only through intuition. Even the historian should make intuitive guesses about the past. Camille Jullian wrote that historians should not avoid making conjectures when necessary to connect the rare details that remain of the past, although they should carefully distinguish between such conjectures and the data to be handled (Goguel 1933:213). Salibi noted that one cannot tell which elements in any given story are historically correct but happen to have Old Testament parallels and which elements are not correct (1988:37). He tended to dismiss any story that showed such parallels and so overlooked another possibility, which I will explain. However he explained how historians form a hypothesis and then search for evidence to support it (ibid:1). Indeed, to make sense of Jesus’ life it is necessary to cast up a hypothesis and to test it against the Gospels and the history of his time. If the hypothesis accounts for more of the data than does any other hypothesis, then it may be regarded as a close approximation to the truth. I propose that the hypothesis offered here is such an approximation, the nearest we are likely to get to seeing the real Jesus. I have made out the figure of a real man, not the awesome figure that stood for so many centuries, nor the modern hippy preacher. He is a deluded and desperate Jewish fanatic, typical enough of his time and in the themes that preoccupied him. Yet he appears to have been unique in the degree to which he allowed these themes to control his life. This real Jesus has nothing to do with Christianity, which he did not found. I have put together a picture of Jesus that has not been seen before. Looking for Jesus 5 Rising and falling Christians believe that Jesus rose to life after falling into death. Indeed some believe that he rose to Earth after falling into Hades. Further, they believe that he rose to heaven and some believe that he will yet fall upon the Earth in judgement. It is also believed that his rising wiped out the consequences of The Fall (into Original Sin). I propose that Jesus rose by his own efforts and that he planned to continue rising. His fall was not expected and was accidental. As he was reaching for the next step on a stair, which he thought led to the world throne, he slipped and fell. But only a few saw his fall; most thought that he had raced away up the stair. Thus while millions believe that he is seated somewhere above on the throne, his remains lie buried in the earth.* In the stream of Judaean history, he rose and fell so rapidly, like a leaping salmon, that the water was hardly disturbed. It was the fishermen, as they tried to follow him, who made the waves. Schweitzer likened the appearance of Jesus, historically, to the sun, at first hidden behind mountains before dawn, but creating suffusing and mystical effects. But after the dawn the blazing sun itself dispels the pre-dawn effects and only itself is seen. In Schweitzer’s time, Jesus was at high noon brilliance (Schweitzer 1925:249). Now he is setting and is falling below the horizon. Sometimes, in the evening sky, one can look straight into the sun, to see the spots and blemishes upon its face. Indeed, at any time, sunspots can be seen by means of optical projection or through special filters. So with Jesus; because he is setting we can see his defects. Through filters or projections that reduce the brightness of his image, he can be seen as he really was: a man with faults like anyone else. We now know much more about both the sun and Jesus; we know that the sun is an ordinary star and that Jesus was a mere man, albeit an extraordinary one. Interest in the historical Jesus rose gradually during the nineteenth century, rising exponentially at its end (see Fig. 4 on p. 237). Except * Perhaps at Talpiot in Jerusalem, where some think his bones were found. See Jacobovici’s book, The Jesus tomb. 1 Introduction 6 during the world wars, interest then remained high until the early '80s, when it fell away. Now there are only a few books each year. ‘In the name of Jesus’ It is reckoned that there are over 2 billion Christians in the world, nearly one third of the total human population. They have organized themselves into a great number of sects representing different versions of the faith. The three main sections are the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Protestant Churches. About half of all Christians belong to the Roman Catholic Church, while about 740 million are Protestant. Even in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe, many are deeply religious. In Russia about 70 per cent of the population are Christian, mainly members of the Russian Orthodox Church. In Poland over 87 per cent are Roman Catholic. If anything, the collapse of the ‘iron curtain’ has encouraged religious belief in Eastern Europe and Jesus is worshipped as the liberator. In the former Yugoslavia, division is mainly on religious grounds. In the USA, although it is falling, the number identifying as Christian is still around 73 per cent. Numbers are also falling in the United Kingdom and are expected to constitute only 45 per cent by 2050. In Germany, it is thought that there are about 50 million (61%) identifying as Christian, although perhaps most only nominally. In the West, Christianity survives as an anachronism. Strong belief is held by a small minority, while the majority tolerate it, pay lip service to it and allow it to interfere in education and ceremonies. Jesus’ name is invoked at weddings and funerals, state occasions and at inauguration ceremonies. Jesus’ age is used to number years as if he were still alive and the Bible, which continues to outsell every other book, is regarded as a model of truth and honesty and is used in courts to swear in witnesses. While the membership of the established Churches in Britain (Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Baptist) is declining at a rate of about 1 per cent per year, this rate of decline has slowed and the smaller Churches experience growth. Membership of the Seventh-day Adven- ‘In the name of Jesus’ 7 tist Church is growing at about 1.5 per cent per year and that of the Pentecostal and Holiness Churches also continues to grow. In these latter Churches, many are black. There has also been a phenomenal increase in the membership of the House Church Movement and growth is also evident in the Free Methodist Church and Free Presbyterian Church. About 11 per cent of the adult British population belong to a Christian Church and about half of those attend church each Sunday. In addition, young people are attracted to fanatical and bigoted groups such as the Unification Church (Moonies), where they lose all power to reason for themselves. It can be argued that, among young people the Christian faith is not declining; traditional forms of worship have been replaced by modern ones and converts are being made of those who have not even been reared as Christians. The controversy between creationism and evolution shows how Christians seek to control education and pretend that the Bible is a scientific document. Many Christians believe in the Biblical story of creation because Jesus believed it or because Jesus endorsed Genesis. Thus creationism is founded on the belief that Jesus was who he claimed to be and that he proved it. In the name of Jesus, Christian Churches claim the right to pronounce on major issues of our time. They believe either that Jesus is still alive, a concerned observer from heaven or that nearly two millennia ago he foresaw the future and was interested in it. Christian ethics, derived from those thought to have been taught by Jesus, are everywhere revered and advocated, even by non-Christians. Would these ethical standards be supported if Jesus were known to have been deluded about his identity? In fact it is already known that Jesus’ ethical doctrine was not original; it did not differ from that of contemporary teachers. Marshall (1977:225) noted that if Jesus’ prophecy regarding the coming kingdom was mistaken then the teaching and exhortations based on it are also mistaken. In other words, if Jesus was wrong in thinking that he was the Messiah and that the kingdom of God was imminent, there is no reason to think that he was right about anything. It will be seen that his moral injunctions were contingent on his eschatological expectations and therefore that they have no relevance to the modern world. Not a single word of Jesus is of any relevance today. 1 Introduction 8 Christian beliefs The beliefs of modern Christians are not necessarily those of the early Christians and of Jesus. Indeed, it can be argued that they are necessarily different. Christians believe in the existence of one god (God), an omnipotent and omniscient supernatural being who created the world. Today they are also forced to believe that this God created the whole universe, of which the Earth is but one almost insignificant part. This God is a benevolent father figure who wants all people to worship him. Despite his paternal characteristics, he is believed to consist of or manifest himself in three distinct forms, one of which is the father figure (The Father). The other two are The Son (Jesus) and The Holy Ghost (a divine and permeating spirit being). It is believed that all three exist in one God (The Trinity, an interesting parallel with Hinduism’s Trimurti) and that they have always existed. In particular it is believed that The Son was responsible for the creation (John 1:1–5). Fundamentalist Christians believe that, not many thousands of years ago, God created mankind in the form of Adam and Eve (man and woman). Others, adapting to modern science, believe that God did not interfere in his universe after its creation (the Big Bang, several thousand million years ago). It is believed that, following disobedience, Adam and Eve were punished by being expelled from a perfect environment (The Garden of Eden) and made subject to disease, pain and death, none, apparently, part of the divine plan. This expulsion is known as ‘the Fall’ (from grace) and the disobedience that led to it is known as the ‘original Sin’. It is believed that Jesus was not just the Messiah of the Jews, who failed to recognize him, but an incarnation of The Son, the Creator Himself. He took human form in order to save mankind from the consequences of the primeval disobedience by the original pair. Salvation is obtained by believing that Jesus was (is) The Son (of God) and that he had a personal interest in the believer’s salvation. Salvation consists of preservation from the eternal punishment reserved for all those without it and offers eternal life (John 3:16). It is believed that Jesus’ death (supposed) was a sacrifice of such a magnitude that it can compensate for all the sins of all the people who ever lived or who ever Christian beliefs 9 will live.* It is thought that Jesus revived from death and demonstrated a resurrection that is offered to all believers. Christians are obliged to live good and peaceable lives, although it is not clear how failure to do so would affect their chances of attaining the after-life. Opinions differ on the relative importance of faith in Jesus and good works. Christians believe that Jesus is still alive in an ethereal realm called ‘heaven’, although few are sure of its location, certainly not today when the heavens have been so well explored. While some believe that they will join Jesus immediately after death, others hold that resurrection must await Jesus’ return. This event, usually described as his ‘second Coming’, is eagerly expected by fundamentalist Christians; they see signs of it every day. It is a paradox that, while Christians believe that life on Earth is a trial to be endured and that, after death, they will go to a better place, they are not usually in a hurry to go. An exception was the American evangelical sect whose members committed mass suicide in Guyana in 1978. Also possibly the sect, most of whose members died in a fire at Waco in Texas in 1993. Members of the Order of the Solar Temple, a cult rooted in the Roman Catholic faith, who were either killed or committed suicide in Switzerland in 1994, believed that after death they would travel through fire to the planet Sirius (it is actually a star). In 1997, thirty-nine members of an American pseudo-Christian cult committed suicide in the belief that they would go to a ‘higher plane’ on a spacecraft hiding behind comet Hale-Bopp, then visible in the night sky. On the whole however, Christians try to preserve life and deplore its loss, even among their own number. Christian belief regarding destiny is also paradoxical. Christians pray to God or to Jesus or to Mary his mother asking for help, guidance or intervention in human affairs. If something occurs that answers to their request, then this is taken as proof of God’s existence and his care for the world. If nothing occurs or something occurs that is not desired, then blame is attached, not to God, but to the believer. In short, God is praised for what Christians like, but is not blamed for what they dislike. Some believe that a wicked spirit (Satan) is responsi- * Despite the fact that a divine and immortal being cannot die. 1 Introduction 10 ble for all evil*, although it is not explained how he came to exist or why he is permitted to exist. Some think that he is an ex-archangel, the original turncoat, although they cannot explain how God could have created a being with such a rebellious nature. Indeed, Christian theology cannot explain why God created beings capable of disobedience or why he tolerated their continued existence when they demonstrated it. Fundamental Christianity believes that the Bible is true, that every word is – was – ‘inspired by God’. However there is some confusion over whether God inspired only the original authors or whether he also inspired the subsequent translators. In other words, there is a tendency to believe that only the text in one’s own language is ‘inspired’. The many translation errors undermine belief that translations are reliable, forcing some to admit that their Bible contains errors. Few are able to understand the original languages and so are at the mercy of interpreters. Fundamentalists see the danger that questioning any aspect of the Bible starts a process with no clear end and that can lead to them not knowing what they stand for (Stannard 1982:28). Nevertheless Stannard, a scientist, represents a branch of Christianity that believes that it is compatible with modern science. Thus the Genesis accounts are (necessarily) seen to be edifying myths, not to be taken literally, and the New Testament miracles, excepting the Resurrection, are allegorical. He can see the stupidity of refusing to acknowledge the discoveries of science, but he stubbornly clings to the belief that God exists and that Jesus was his incarnation. In this case the questioning must stop at Jesus and belief in his Resurrection. For all Christians, the Resurrection is the pillar of their faith (I Cor. 15:14). It is evident that Christian beliefs cheapen human life. Christians may be careless with their lives and perhaps with the lives of others who are not Christians, confident that they, if not the others, will live again. In 1993, cult leader David Koresh appeared to be prepared to sacrifice the lives of seventy to eighty people in their compound at Waco in Texas. It is certain that modern Christians do not fear a nuclear holocaust as do non- Christians. Christians can hope that, after incineration, they can be reconstructed and renewed; Jesus is their nuclear shelter. Stannard argued that since God’s purpose was to bring into existence ‘spiritual * This belief is inherited from Judaism. Christian beliefs 11 creatures’ that would develop a loving relationship with him, it does not matter if one day the Earth returns to its former desolate condition through nuclear war (op cit:43). Those who do not share these beliefs can only hope that the finger on the nuclear button does not belong to a Christian. But it has been observed that (US) President Reagan’s administration contained many millennialists* and that their beliefs may have deterred them from attempting to solve the world’s problems. At the time, it was believed that they might even have acquiesced in a Soviet (USSR) attack on Israel believing that it is a necessary precursor to the Second Coming (The Sunday Times, 5 December 1982). Such people may exist in the present US administration. President Reagan himself, apparently influenced by the fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell, subscribed to millennialism; he believed that Armageddon would occur during the present generation (The Guardian, 21 April 1984). Christian faith is built on faith in Jesus, who is supposed to have established the religion. If his beliefs were mistaken and/or he was not who he claimed to be, then Christianity is built not upon a rock but upon sand. Some eighty generations of believers have gone to their graves confident that the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact and that they will live eternally in his company. The fact that so many believed and so many living still believe that Jesus survived death does not mean that it must be true. The Chinese say that ‘if a thousand people believe a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing’. Indeed, if the whole of mankind believed a foolish thing, that would not make it a wise thing. Truth does not necessarily reside with the majority. * Christians who believe that a millennium of direct rule by Jesus is imminent. 1 Introduction 12 Abbreviations The following abbreviations are used or books of the Bible and the Apocrypha: OLD TESTAMENT Gen. Genesis Exod. Exodus Lev. Leviticus Num. Numbers Deut. Deuteronomy Isa. Isaiah Ezek. Ezekiel Dan. Daniel Hos. Hosea Mic. Micah Hab. Habakkuk Zech. Zechariah Mal. Malachi Chr. Chronicles Neh. Nehemiah Ps. Psalms Eccles. Ecclesiastes S. of S. Song of Solomon NEW TESTAMENT Matt. Matthew Rom. Romans Cor. Corinthians Gal. Galatians Thess. Thessalonians Heb. Hebrews Jas. James Pet. Peter Rev. Revelation APOCRYPHA Macc. Maccabees Abbreviations 13

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Abstract

What really happened to Jesus? Did he rise from the dead, and if not why do Christians believe that he did? Did he have a plan and, if so, what was it? Did he accomplish his purpose or did the plan fail? If it failed, what were the consequences?

Steuart Campbell, once a Christian, takes a rationalist look at the problem of Christian origins and shows that no previous writer has completely solved the riddle of Jesus. Here he shows us a new hypothesis, one that explains Jesus‘ curious behaviour.

Here is Jesus in historical context, the leader of an obscure Jewish sect which believed that it was fulfilling a divine plan revealed in the Scriptures. This plan required the Messiah to die and rise again to become the king of Israel, throwing the Romans out of Judaea and even replacing the Emperor as ruler of the known world. Read how Jesus expected to accomplish this.

The author displays immense knowledge of the Bible and the history of the Jews and he explains many mysteries. He builds on the work of many other authors and constructs what is surely the true explanation for the origin of Christianity. This should be the last word on the historical Jesus. It is certainly an excellent review of the many attempts to solve the mystery.