Who Was Jesus?

Posted on December 19, 2012

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Provocative title, no?  This post-menopausal Jewish woman has been around a long time, but unfortunately, not quite long enough to give you a first-hand account of the true story about Judaism’s most famous son.  (Jewish moms today dream of their sons becoming doctors, but Mary put to shame the ubiquitous “My son is a doctor” thing.)

The title comes from the December 17 Newsweek cover, which like, the National Enquirer, leads us to believe we are about to get the inside scoop about the world’s ultimate celeb, if not of his time, then certainly during many generations that came after him.

Newsweek tackles the following:

Was Jesus married?  Although life for the average Jewish male at the time of Jesus’ birth would have certainly involved marriage, there has never been any evidence that Jesus took the plunge.  That is, until a scrap of papyrus discovered recently revealed the line in which Jesus speaks of “my wife.”  While experts debate the authenticity of the fragment (and at this time, it appears to be a hoax), others may wonder if Mary spent any time trying to fix her son up with nice Jewish girls.

When was Jesus born?  Alas, the Bible gives no clues as to when Jesus was born or where or who came during visiting hours.  The manger is actually referred to as a cave in some sources, a wine cellar in others.  The Gospels, themselves, differ widely in their renditions of the birth.

And where? Mary and Joseph, according to the Gospels, made the trip to Bethlehem after a decree by Caesar Augustus that all people had to return to the place of their birth in order to be counted for a census.  Verifiable documentation of the reign of Caesar Augustus indicates that no such census was ever called for.  But, since the son of God was supposed to have been born in Bethlehem, in Bethlehem it was.

And what’s up with the virgin birth?  Again, inconsistencies abound, the least of which is that any virgin birth, save pit vipers, goes against our knowledge of procreation. Yet, across cultures and throughout history, stories of virgin births have been told and retold.

What is clear is that Jesus is the latest in an illustrious line of others who share at least one item of the Jesus story: virgin birth, December 25 birth, star in the sky, shepherds in attendance, betrayal, violent death, risen after three days. Most of the comparisons don’t pan out, but several do. The bottom line is that all cultures have stories that seek to inspire and to teach, rather than to record actual fact.  And all cultures borrow from other cultures.

But religious belief (any religious belief) has never been about verifiable facts.  Faith, unlike geometry and tax audits, demands no proof.  Those of us who choose a faith, also choose to accept the tenets of that faith.  You can’t enroll in a college, then not bother to attended classes and get high the time, and still expect a degree.  OK, bad example.

So we are once again at the time of year when the faithful will revel in their faith and the non-faithful will get annoyed at all the Christmas music, but will still battle the crowds at the mall.  And non-Christians will either ignore all the goings on or will hope that someone invites them to Christmas dinner.

This non-Christian will host a Christmas Eve dinner party populated by Jews and Christians who have no better place to go.  She will also honor the memory of her Methodist ex-in-laws by remembering the amazing Christmas holidays they created, where love far outweighed money spent and the midnight church service was magical.  Then, on Christmas Day, she will celebrate in the ancient Jewish tradition of seeing two or three movies.  But if anyone out there wants to make her feel included, feel free to send gifts.

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