Take the Jesus out of Jesus!

Bernard Starr Headshot
Posted: 05/14/2014 2:39 pm EDT Updated: 05/14/2014 2:59 pm EDT

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Frank Micelotta/Invsion/AP, File

If the irresistible temptation to fashion Jesus in one’s own image persists today, nearly 2,000 years after the crucifixion, it must have been even more tempting for the gospel writers, translators, and scribes who reproduced “the words of God” to do the same.

The gospel according to Bill O’Reilly gives us the tea party Jesus, an insurrectionist obsessed with government and taxation. As Selina O’Grady wrote in her causticGuardian review:

[Bill O’Reilly] created a Tea Party son of God. Jesus, the little guy, is an enemy of the big corrupt tax-oppressing Roman empire, which is itself just a version of Washington, only even more venal and sexually depraved. This Jesus is a tax-liberating rebel who incurs the wrath of the Jewish and Roman powers by threatening their joint fleecing of the people. As a member of the populist right, he is not, of course, in favour of redistribution: Bill O’Reilly’s Jesus does not tell the rich to give away their money to the poor.


The four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were written 30 to 70 or more years after the crucifixion — and, according to biblical scholars, most likely authored by converts who did not witness the events they retold based on oral transmission. Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman reminds us that no one has ever seen an original copy of the Christian Bible, or a first copy of the original. Early copies were created one at a time by scribes, who may have heard different versions of the stories or even just bits and pieces. These editions were then copied by other scribes or translated from Aramaic and Hebrew into Coptic and Greek and then into Latin. The loose process of reproduction opened an immense opportunity for differing interpretations of words and phrases, outright errors (not all scribes were scholars, and some may have been scoundrels), and the infusion of personal perspectives and ideologies.

Imagine if Bill O’Reilly were the first scribe to translate the gospels. His ideology surely would have compromised or edited the “words of God,” giving today’s right-wing conservatives even greater license for their orgy of wealth and war on the poor. Expand that scenario to an army of Bill O’Reilly scribes down through the ages, with different languages, ideologies and prejudices, and we can begin to appreciate the hazards of thinking of the gospels as history remembered rather than history storied.

The four canonical gospels themselves raise a red flag, since they offer many different versions of the “words of God.” For example, did Mary, Joseph, and Jesus flee to Egypt after Jesus’ birth, as told in the gospel of Mathew, or did Mary go to the temple in Jerusalem for the Jewish purification ritual 30 days after giving birth, as prescribed in the Torah and reported in Luke’s gospel? In this version the family returned to Nazareth without a side trip to Egypt. The gospel of John says the Last Supper was two days before Passover, but the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) place it on the traditional eve of Passover. During the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane Garden, did Judas identify Jesus with a kiss, as described in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, or did Jesus identify himself (twice, with no kiss), in accordance with the gospel of John? And as Bart Ehrman notes:

In Matthew, Jesus comes into being when he is conceived, or born, of a virgin; in John, Jesus is the incarnate Word of God who was with God in the beginning and through whom the universe was made. In Matthew, there is not a word about Jesus being God; in John, that’s precisely who he is. In Matthew, Jesus teaches about the coming kingdom of God and almost never about himself (and never that he is divine); in John, Jesus teaches almost exclusively about himself, especially his divinity. In Matthew, Jesus refuses to perform miracles in order to prove his identity; in John, that is practically the only reason he does miracles.


What about other gospels? By the end of the first century, there were scores of Christian sects. In second-century Rome four major splinter groups, with vastly different theologies and views on Jesus, were fiercely competing for dominance. Each group had its own leaders, texts, and gospels. In early Christianity more than 50 other gospels existed, with many different accounts of Jesus and his teachings. In the fourth century, after the Council of Nicaea established a unified Catholic Church, the four canonical gospels were sanctioned for the New Testament. Since it’s well known that history is written by the winners, the 27 books of the New Testament became the official “words of God.” Other gospels were banned or burned or just faded into oblivion, since copying them was forbidden. But then serendipitously in modern times, a trove of the early alternative gospels were recovered from Middle East caves and the Egyptian desert; they challenge the accuracy of the church-sanctioned gospels.

Despite the contradictions and skepticism about the historicity of the New Testament, in one sense it contains the “facts” — that is, the “functional facts,” the scriptures that have framed the way Christians have thought about Jesus, Christianity, and Jews since the fourth century. Stop Christians on the street and ask them about the alternative gospels — the gospels of Philip, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and others — and watch the puzzled looks. The populace only know the four canonical gospels — and for many, only superficially, if at all, considering the “scandalous” rate of biblical illiteracy that has been reported.

That may explain why so many miss the thoroughly Jewish Jesus of the canonical gospels. Jesus’ dedication to Judaism could not be denied or erased from the gospels without undermining Christianity, which based its authenticity on Jewish ancestry and Jewish prophesy.

On one count, Bill O’Reilly gets a high grade. His Jesus is thoroughly Jewish. Unlike the curves injected into the canonical gospels, Bill’s Jesus remains Rabbi Jesus, revered to the end by his exclusively Jewish followers. Jesus’ conflict is clearly with the Jewish leadership, not with his fellow Jews or spiritual Jewish theology. Even as Jesus is condemned to death, O’Reilly comments, “It is not the Jewish Pilgrims who want Jesus dead nor most of the residents of Jerusalem [Jews]. No, it is a small handful of men who enrich themselves through the Temple.”

In contrast, the gospel writers, in their effort to establish the new religion of Christianity, inserted contradictory tidbits of anti-Semitism, suggesting Jesus had broken with Judaism. Not surprisingly, the gospel of John, the last of the canonical gospel to be penned, is the most anti-Semitic. It was written after the brutal Roman war with Jews that led to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 C.E. Converts to Christianity were then primarily Roman pagans. There was no currency in connecting Jesus to Judaism, but great value in casting him falsely in opposition to Judaism — and making the Romans the good guys.

Those who continue to believe that Jesus was anything but a dedicated Jew or insist that he launched the new religion of Christianity must explain why he didn’t play the Christian card when he was facing death for blasphemy against Judaism.

The Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Judaism that condemned Jesus, only had authority over Jewish affairs. If Jesus had defected from Judaism and believed he was launching a new religion, why didn’t he say that in his defense to escape the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin? If he had taken that route and the Romans still wanted him out of the way (as believed by Bill O’Reilly, Reza Aslan and others), we wouldn’t have been saddled with the debate about who killed Jesus, a debate that spans centuries and continues today. It would have been clear that the Romans did it. And hundreds of thousands of Jews who were slaughtered as “Christ killers” would have been spared. Of course, Jesus couldn’t play the Christian card because there was no Christianity at the time, and Jesus had no intention of starting a new religion. In his mind and the minds of his followers, as noted in Killing Jesus, he was Rabbi Jesus till the end.

Just as an added note, the same argument pertains to Paul, who is almost universally credited with establishing the separate religion of Christianity. Yet he too was charged with blasphemy against Judaism by the Sanhedrin and faced death. If Paul, in his mind, had started a new religion and had rejected Judaism, why didn’t he play the Christian card? Paul had an even more persuasive argument than Jesus:

Sanhedrin: I worship Jesus Christ whom you reject. I’m no longer a Jew, I’m a Christian. You have no authority over me as the leader of a religion other than Judaism. Governor Felix (the Roman prefect): I’m a Roman Citizen — born a Roman citizen — and I proclaim I’m a Christian not a Jew. If the Sanhedrin could indict non Jews for blasphemy they would indict you and all Romans. Would you tolerate that? You must release me according Roman law.


Would Felix have any option other than releasing Paul, especially since the Romans had no argument with him (Acts 28:16-18)? Yet Paul allows the charge of blasphemy of a Jew against Judaism to stand — without challenging it. In doing so he squanders five years at the height of his ministry (it’s now almost 30 years after the crucifixion) with arrest, imprisonment, transport to Rome for his trial, and several years of house arrest in Rome before he is executed — as a Jew. Why?

One obvious explanation stands out. In Paul’s mind his brand of Jewish Christianity was the new Judaism open to everyone. But after his passing, that vision was lost. The converted Roman pagans picked up the Christian baton. This group, having no ties to Judaism, sought increasingly to distance Christianity from Judaism; thus the separate religion was firmly launched.

Unfortunately, the gospels and later parts of the New Testament do not take up or even mention why neither Jesus nor Paul played the Christian card. I wish Bill O’Reilly had. It’s a serious issue that can’t be casually dismissed!

Bernard Starr is a psychologist, journalist, and college professor. He is the author ofJesus Uncensored: Restoring the Authentic Jew and the organizer of the art exhibit “Putting Judaism Back in the Picture: Toward Healing the Christian Jewish Divide.”

-This article explains exactly what atheists have been saying about the Bible for years. The author meant the article for a different reason, but I think it is a great historical starting point for new atheists. I tend to go with, the Bible is the work of men and couldn’t possibly be inspired by the divine unless the divine is completely retarded.

The importance of Easter to this atheist- from The Guardian


The importance of Easter to this atheist

David Cameron’s quip that Easter isn’t just about eggs misses the point. Celebrating Christian holidays is socially responsible
Mini chocolate Easter eggs

Easter isn’t just about chocolate eggs, says David Cameron, but ‘I don’t feel the real importance of the bank holiday has been addressed by our prime minister’. Photograph: Martin Lee/Rex Features

Atheism, for me, came gradually. I was never raised in an overtly religious family, although the requisite Christingle decorations were made, I sang hymns at school and occasionally we attended a special service at the local church. At some point I realised I didn’t believe in God, and hadn’t for a while, which warranted no announcement and batted no eyelids in my family or friendship circles. It was only when I attended university and my experiences diversified that I began to realise just how controversial a lack of faith can be.

I became aware of families who disowned their children for marrying atheists – or worse, becoming them. When I went travelling I learned about spaces in which a non-believer would never be welcome; where openly declaring that one eschewed deities altogether was cause for widespread suspicion. And, for the first time, while having a conversation with two of my best friends (both religious), I came across the criticism that when I celebrated Christian holidays in the UK I was nothing more than a hypocrite.

At first I was willing to cheerily accept my perceived hypocrisy and continue on my way, living my life as I choose to, cognitive dissonance knowingly intact. But as I’ve got older I have come to understand exactly why my atheist family and I celebrate Easter – chocolate in abundance, no mention of resurrection necessary – and I see no hypocrisy. In fact I have come to realise that acknowledgement of the significance of these holidays is socially responsible.

What reduced trading hours on Sundays and public holidays do for society is force us to step off the treadmill – and we shouldn’t underestimate that value. There are sound financial arguments for getting rid of reduced Sunday hours or bank holidays. But we hold steadfastly to the Christmas break and the Easter weekend because we collectively value that time as a positive gift from our ancestors.

The tradition of embracing time away from work with close friends and family, whatever the cause, is one in which everyone of every belief can take part. It is important for a functioning society: it humanises the realities of wages, commutes and working days, where rampant capitalistic overdrive seeks to dehumanise them. It puts a speed limit up where there used to always be one, allows us to reconsider the relatives we live far away from, and has a positive impact on our mental health.

That is why David Cameron’s comments this week on the importance of the Christian faith, and of teaching children that Easter isn’t just about chocolate eggs, left me unconvinced. Yes, I believe that from a cultural perspective biblical stories are interesting and enriching to learn about; a knowledge of the context behind any religious holiday is a powerful resource. But in a country where children as young as four now spend 10 hours a day at school while their exhausted parents schlep back and forth trying to make ends meet, I don’t feel the real importance of the bank holiday has been addressed by our prime minister.

Instead of taking Easter back to religion and arguing that our problem lies in disassociating Christianity from its holidays, Cameron would do better to concentrate on protecting workers from exploitative systems that force them to work over every holiday. He should consider the need for social bonding and time away from the grindstone that unites us all, and therefore concentrate on the most important aspect of this upcoming weekend.

The fact he has ignored these simple truths while spouting Christian fables is what makes him, and not me, the real hypocrite this Easter.

Some good ‘ol common sense!


As many people do, I look forward to Halloween because it is one of the few times that we atheists get to worship The Lord Satan! Just kidding! I have nothing against people who keep their religions to themselves and I don’t antagonize the believers just to make myself feel better because that is a rather immature thing to do. As you well know, I have said in the past that an atheist that is an atheist because of a beef with GOD is just a disgruntled Christian awaiting re indoctrination. I am an ex christian who lost my faith and WAS angry about it because of the incredible guilt that it brought me, but I got over it. I went through my antagonistic phase but tired of it quickly and moved on to building a solid free thinking life without god or gods. My christian friends are very valuable to me because they do not judge me and they are true giving thoughtful people, therefore I treat them with reciprocal respect. I do not guide them to my thebraveatheist Facebook page or to this blog due to the fact that my atheist activism is only for those interested and for the hypocritical believers out there. I do not wish to throw my stance into the face of good people just because their belief system does not jibe with my own. 

I am an atheist because I cannot be anything else. I see religion as a refuge for the weak and as a crutch for those unwilling to trust themselves and conquer their innate fear of the dark. When presented with religious argument, I automatically counter with fact based data and established scientific theory. Believers naturally counter with pointing out that theories are just theories while failing to recognize the thousands upon thousands of hours invested in the complex experiments that helped to establish those theories. This is where the refuge of ignorance comes in, just like those who ask simple questions over and over because they cannot fathom the magic of Googling! It’s easier to ask someone else and lay that responsibility on someone else than to use the grey matter in your own skull. Human laziness, human ignorance. When 20 million viewers watch the Kartrashians then how can I buy into what 80-90% of Americans say that they believe in? 

I always found it disturbing to think that their might actually be an almighty being out there who sits on his hand while bad things happen down on Earth. I am not gullible or ignorant, so I have to question this delusional crap just because it is so fucking far fetched! Hell, Harry Potter is more believable than the christian GOD! Harry, at least, springs into action when evil is afoot and actually tries to combat it instead of remaining silent while still demanding adoration! I believe in Harry, why? Because Harry puts his money where his mouth is and kicks ass on HIS devils. In the end, he doesn’t expect to just bend Hermione over a stump and collect his winnings, he’s humble! He asks just for support in the ongoing war against bad shit! He’s like an English Samuel L. Jackson, he kicks a fair amount of ass and stays cool while doing it! As things go, I believe in the goddamned X-Men more than an old man in the sky!

The best advice that I can give to anybody is to believe in your doctors if you are sick, faith healing is bullshit but the power of prayer is effective due to the strength of the human mind, not a fairy spirit. Believe in your nurses to help you heal and your firemen to deliver you from the fire. Believe in your tax man to get you the best refund and believe in the soup kitchen to feed the poor. The food came from donations from real hands not from a magical delivery by God, no matter what denomination is represented on the door. Catholics have decent social services and hardly ANY of them actually still believe in God. For them it is a cultural thing that is deeply ingrained and is to them as blood is to life. It is the same with Jewish people. The religion is thousands of years old but many of them do not actually believe anymore, it’s more of a cultural thing that they must adhere to to be accepted in their communities. I truly feel for them because they are in a very difficult position for all of the bullshit that they have to observe. 

My tiny mind tends to come up with these foolish observations and irrational counter arguments in regard to religious debates such as, ‘if I, as a nurse, allowed a patient to seriously injure themselves and did nothing, would I be considered a moral person? Would I be worthy of praise?’ This is the statement that I use for the ‘Free will’ argument when children are massacred on ‘God’s’ watch and ‘He’ of course as usual, sits back and does nothing, thus proving that he is either impotent or doesn’t give a flying fuck, or as we atheists know, just does not exist! Every Christian debater uses the tired old ‘free will’ argument to explain their god’s inaction, but these are convenient arguments used by the weak to keep believing in something that you can surrender personal responsibility to. As I said before, thank that cop that worked tirelessly to find that missing child when prayer didn’t work! Two hands working can accomplish much more than a thousand clasped in prayer!

Well, I’m out for this evening. I will be back soon to throw more sense in the face of fable! Peace and love to my blog people!