Posts tagged ‘Jews’
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” – Josephus, from Antiquities of the Jews
Josephus was a Jewish historian. He was a law observant Jew who lived from approximately the years 37 to 100 C.E. He watched and chronicled, among many other things, the existence of Jesus and his ministry and the birth of the fledgling church.
Why is he considered so important to Christianity? He wasn’t even a Christian. Well, he’s vitally important to Christianity because he provides us with an impartial view of the times. The writers of the Bible can be accused of bias for Christianity. The gospels, for instance, could be said to be pro-Christian propaganda.
What proof do we have in the year 2010, for instance, that Jesus even existed? Some atheists question not only Jesus’ divinity but whether or not such a historical figure even lived. Josephus puts that rumor to death.
Josephus was raised in Jerusalem to a family with priestly and royal connections. He was a soldier and a diplomat. He was a Hellenistic Jew (which meant that he believed that Judaism was not in conflict with Graeco-Roman thought) but also a Hebrew patriot. His works were written in Greek, and he is considered to be a Roman apologist. He was a Pharisee by birth but perhaps not by inclination. He served for the Jews in the first Jewish-Roman revolt, although there is some question as to his loyalty since he was the only surviving member of a suicide pact.
His most important works were The Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews. His works chronicle not only the early Christian church and Jesus but also the first Jewish-Roman revolt and the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. Because of Josephus we have an account of Masada, the Maccabees, the Hasmonean dynasty, and the rise to power of Herod the Great. His works directly reference John the Baptist, Pontius Pilate, and James the Just.
The oldest surviving manuscripts of Josephus’s works date to the tenth and eleventh centuries. Justin the Martyr failed to include Josephus’ reference to Jesus in his Christian apologies, and Justin was a known admirer of Josephus’ writings. This leads some to doubt the authenticity of Josephus’ account of Jesus. They believe that the information may have been added later by someone with a pro-Christian agenda.
Many other passages, beyond the one quoted at the beginning of this article, however, corroborate New Testament characters and stories and the existence of the political climate and social mores that are present in the Gospels and letters of the New Testament. These passages are unchallenged by scholars. It seems likely that there may have been some tampering with the text in calling Jesus the Christ, since Josephus was not a Christian, but there seems little doubt that he would have included information about Jesus.
This account of Josephus’ life and work is grossly oversimplified. To read more about Josephus for yourself, check out these links:
What could I write about the apostle Paul that hasn’t already been written? Damn near nothing. He is without question the single most powerful influence on the Christian religion as we know it today (if you don’t count Jesus, that is). His conversion story is dramatic. His zeal was catching. His passion for converting the gentiles made Christianity its own religion rather than a subset of Judaism, and this allowed Christianity to eventually flourish throughout the Roman world and beyond.
Saul of Tarsus was born a Hellenized Jew and a Roman citizen. Saul means “asked for” in Hebrew, and he may likely have been named after King Saul, King David’s predecessor and father-in-law. He was probably sometimes called Paul prior to his conversion since Paul was the more Greek friendly version of his Hebrew name. It was almost certainly a calculated choice to use the Hellenized version of the name in his later ministry.
Saul’s dad was a Pharisee, and Saul grew up to also become a Pharisee. He first learned a trade before he was allowed to go to rabbinical school. Saul learned to make tents. Apparently the people of antiquity also felt that their children should have something to fall back on. At the tender age of twelve he would have been sent to learn scripture.
He would have been sent to a fine school, as Tarsus, located in present day Turkey, had a reputation for being something of an intellectual capital of the Jewish world. Think of Tarsus as being like present day Boston, Massachusetts. Close your eyes and throw a dart at a map of the greater Boston/Cambridge metropolitan area and pick a school, any school. Yours landed on MIT? Damn! What a shame for you!
At rabbinical school Saul would have studied intensely to become the modern day equivalent of a professor, a pastor, and an attorney. Becoming a rabbi was no small feat. It’s not exactly a shabby accomplishment now, either.
Saul of Tarsus was a contemporary of Jesus, and when Jesus’ ministry was in full swing he would no doubt have been aware of it. Jesus was only one of many such men who claimed to be the Messiah that would deliver the Jewish people from Roman occupation. The Jews dreamed of political independence and a Jewish state free from the oppression of the Romans. The Pharisees and Saducees that Jesus spoke of with such disdain for their beliefs – Saul would have been one of them, even a leader among them.
After Jesus was crucified Saul became a chief persecutor of early Christians. He was present at the martyrdom of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen. His conversion experience would have been just as shocking to him as it was to the people who heard it. In fact, many Christians did not initially trust Paul’s motives when he insisted that he had been saved and wished to preach for Christ. They were suspicious and fearful of him. I would be, too, if I were a Christian then. Paul, before his conversion, was a big Bob Dylan fan – everybody must get stoned.
Because of his impeccable Jewish education and his familiarity with Greek culture and his Roman citizenship, Paul was uniquely poised to bring Christianity to the masses, especially to the pagan masses. Thus began Paul’s ministry. He became convinced that Jesus had died to save the world from its sins and that by grace alone are we saved. This was a far cry from his previous beliefs as a Pharisee, which emphasized strict adherence to the law.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’,” (Romans 1:16,17)
The most lasting contribution that Paul made to the Christian religion was the authorship of thirteen epistles. These epistles are letters that Paul wrote to early Christian churches. He probably wrote them with the help of a scribe who may likely have paraphrased him, such was the custom of the time. The letters that Paul sent were not meant to be scripture but rather to be a means of delivering comfort and encouragement to scattered congregations. When Paul wrote on matters of theology, he was frequently answering the questions of confused parishioners or settling disputes over differences of opinion amongst a congregation. He was ultimately, in many of his letters, determining just which Jewish laws would stay a part of Christianity and which would go.
Paul wrote the following books of the New Testament:
Along with the scribe controversy, many modern theologians like to point out that Paul has a massive amount of influence for an apostle who never had any first hand knowledge of Jesus. We are, as Mohammed called us, People of the Book. We do not have Jesus among us in the flesh so we must rely on what the Book tells us about the words of Jesus, his character, his life, his ministry. What would Jesus do? Many of us would turn to the words of Paul to try to decipher this.
And why not? If no one but people who met Jesus wrote about Jesus our Bible would be the size of a tract. We’d also be missing out on some really great theological contemplations by C.S. Lewis, Oswald Chambers, J.I. Packer, Rick Warren, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Josh McDowell, Henri Nouwen, Anne Lamott, G.K. Chesterton, and the list could go on and on. All these people are also unqualified to give their opinion on Jesus.
Paul’s legacy is well deserved. That he was a faithful disciple of Jesus cannot be questioned. Paul was imprisoned four times for a total of five and a half to six years. How many of us would be willing to do that for Jesus today? He was killed for his beliefs. We’re spoiled because in the Western world we don’t have to contemplate the possibility of prison or death for our faith. Why? Because ultimately what Paul started made freedom of religion a possibility for Christians. He didn’t get to see it in his lifetime, which is a pity. But perhaps it’s also a good thing that he didn’t get to see the complacency with which many Christians worship today.
“Faith without works is dead.” – James the Just
James the Just is one of the three pillars of the early church, the other two being Simon Peter [https://gooseberrybush.wordpress.com/2010/10/16/] and the Apostle Paul. James has little to do with this website [http://www.jamesthejust.com/], just for your information, but I think ancient swords are wicked cool. Check it out.
James was, depending on which church tradition you choose to believe, either the brother, stepbrother, or cousin of Jesus. Just what relation he was has to do with church doctrine and different interpretations of certain Greek and Aramaic words and phrases. I won’t get into that here since that’s for way smarter people than me to debate. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches’ official theology says that Mary remained a virgin until her death, which in part explains the stepbrother and cousin theories. I could get started on the sexual politics inherent in that belief, but I’ll reign myself in just this once.
Not much is known of James the Just, so there’s not much to tell, and the most interesting thing about his existence was the controversy surrounding whether or not he was actually Jesus’ brother and the son of Mary. James was called James the Just because he was especially righteous, or pious. He ministered to the Jews, and he is generally recognized as being the church’s first bishop. The seat of the church at that time was in Jerusalem, and he would have been the superior of both Peter and Paul, although to read the Bible that was written maybe thirty or forty years later one would hardly guess he’d played a role.
James is not one of the two disciples of Jesus named James. He is, however, regarded by church tradition to be the author of the book of James. This means that although he was never explicitly defined as such in the book itself, early church fathers assigned the book’s authorship to James the Just. Many modern scholars believe it to be written after the death of James the Just. Evangelicals generally regard it to be the work of James the Just. The book of James, though, is generally regarded to be “…a Christian revision of a Jewish work,” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_of_James] and since James the Just was described as a pious Jew this seems to lead credence to his authorship.
We know that James was a married man and that he was a Jew who continued to observe all facets of Jewish law, including diet. There’s an instance in Galatians [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+2&version=NIV] when James comes to visit Peter where he is ministering to the Gentiles. Peter had been eating “unclean” food with the Gentiles, but when James made his visit he quickly got up from the table and insisted that Christians should be kosher, in a show of hypocrisy that Paul later called him out on.
From the fact that there’s not much talk of the outcome of that showdown, we can probably safely assume that James sided with Peter on that one. James probably believed that they weren’t starting their own religion so much as they were reforming Judaism and that being a good Jew was intrinsic to being a good Christian.
As far as I’m concerned, James the Just is the greatest argument that we have for Christianity. Think about it. James was Jesus’ brother. This means that whether he was an older brother or a younger brother, he undoubtedly observed his brother in his daily life. They probably had the same sibling rivalries as any other two brothers. He saw Jesus fall and skin his knee, heard him fart, and watched him pick his nose and maybe soil his diapers. Yet this same man picked up the torch for his brother and carried on his beliefs and his ministry after Jesus ascended to heaven. He died for his brother’s faith. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but although I love my brother I wouldn’t perpetuate a massive deceit of this scale for him.
The most amazing thing we have in the Christian faith is the hope in the resurrection. People rising from the dead is nothing new. There are stories stretching back into antiquity of people coming back from the dead, Lazarus among them. Today people return from their deathbeds with a shock from the paddles. But Jesus was the first man to resurrect himself. And he remains the only man to have done so.
It’s a pretty heady proposition; it’s a bold and audacious claim, not only that your brother is the Son of God and the Messiah but that you know that he came back to life from the dead. Now, if you were James, and any of that weren’t true, wouldn’t you, at some point, while the masses were throwing stones at you, scream through the arms protecting your face, that this was all a farce.
“Wait! Stop! I admit it. He was my brother, and this is all nothing but a hoax. Son of God, poppycock! He shit just like everyone else. Please! Listen to me! I renounce him. Let me live.”
But no. What James the Just did instead was to die by stoning, for his beliefs that his brother Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, and that he had come to save us from all our sins and was resurrected. And while they stoned him, he said, “I beseech Thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”