The Five Languages
No wonder there has been confusion and mistranslations over the story of Jesus as there have been at least FIVE languages involved.
Jesus spoke Aramaic.
Educated Jews, mainly in Jerusalem, such as Caiaphas, spoke Hebrew.
The Romans spoke Latin (so how did Jesus and Pilate communicate?).
The gospels were written in Greek.
And we know about them because they were finally translated by Tyndall and King James into English.
Nobody knows why the four gospels we know today were chosen from the vast array of gospels available. There were gospels of James, Thomas, Peter, Philip, Bartholomew and many, many more. There were even gospels according to Mary Magdalene and Judas!
The story of Jesus that we know now is all down to Mark. Although we don’t know who he was (indeed we don’t know who any of the gospel writers were), Mark was clearly a brilliant story teller. He could have been a very good playwright or novelist.
Mark’s gospel was the first. It was written between AD 60-75 – about 40 or so years after the death of Jesus, during Nero’s persecution of Christians. Mark did not know Jesus, he simply gathered together individual verbal stories, tales and anecdotes from all sorts of people and put them together in an order that made sense to him.
Mark never mentioned the Virgin Birth (see below) nor the Resurrection. Christians later called it “the Lost Ending”. Centuries later, someone added what is now known as the “Short Ending” to include the Resurrection and another, the “Long Ending” adding the Ascension to the end of the story.
Twenty to thirty years later, Matthew wrote his version of Mark’s gospel. Indeed, 600 of Mark’s 661 verses appear in Matthew’s gospel. Matthew only changed things that he personally didn’t agree with. His Gospel was a creative reinterpretation of Mark with some extra quotations that he had found in addition to Mark’s gospel. Unfortunately, his gospel was the first to be anti-Semitic, unfairly blaming the Jews for Christ’s death.
Twenty to thirty years after Matthew’s gospel was ‘published’, a man called Theophilus, who was converting to Christianity, employed someone called Luke, to write the story of Jesus for him. Luke also continued the story for him, and this became the Acts of the Apostles. The problem for scholars is that there have been many different versions of Luke found in different places and it is thought that it was still being substantially revised well into the 2nd century. That’s two hundred years after Jesus’s death.
Again, Luke’s gospel is a rehash of Mark’s one. Luke also included similar quotations that Matthew had and scholars are sure that they both were quoting from an earlier book of the sayings of Jesus that is now lost. Scholars call this missing book “Q” from the German word “Quelle”, meaning “source”.
The gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke are referred collectively as the Synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in the same sequence in similar or sometimes identical wording, mainly because they are copies of the original, Mark.
Around a 100 years after the death of Jesus, John’s gospel emerged. This account of Jesus’s life is quite different to the Synoptic Gospels. Many stories in John, such as turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, the resurrection of Lazarus and Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, do not appear in Mark, Matthew nor Luke. In reverse, John does not recount many of the stories and incidents described in the Synoptics. It appears John drew on entirely different sources, such as early Jewish writings, Greek philosophers, Greco-Roman mystery cults and Samaritan messianic beliefs. Interestingly, it constantly refers to “the disciple that Jesus loved” which many Christians believe refers to John himself and say that John the Evangelist is the same John that was a disciple of Jesus but that would make him around 140 years old when he wrote his Gospel. Furthermore, most biblical scholars believe the gospel of John was written by at least four different people and had many subsequent editors.
It’s ironic then that the dictionary definition of the word “gospel” is ‘absolute truth’.
One indication that the gospels are theological documents rather than historical chronicles is that they devote about one-third of their text to just seven days, namely the last week of the life of Jesus, also known as the Passion of Christ.
Our show, Jesus Christ Superstar, covers this last week in Jesus’s life. The endgame.
Did Jesus Actually Exist?
While there is no archaeological or other physical evidence for his existence, most scholars agree that Yeshu the Nazarene preacher did exist and that he was born sometime in the decade before the Common Era (1 AD) and crucified sometime between 26-36 AD (the years when the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, ruled Judea).
BTW, don’t confuse archaeological evidence with the preponderance of “holy relics” owned by many churches and cathedrals all over the world. These were fakes created over time simply to make money from gullible believers. There are enough fragments of the True Cross to build an entire forest and even I have a fragment of the Virgin Mary’s mantle – oh yes, and a piece of St Peter’s ankle!
The Virgin Birth
Only Matthew and Luke mention Jesus’s virgin birth.
Whatever you believe in, the Virgin Birth came about from a mistranslation.
Matthew refers to the book of Isaiah (7:14). Isaiah used the Hebrew word “ha-almah” which means “young girl of childbearing age”. It does not mean “virgin” but it was translated as such. The mistranslation occurred when this text was translated into Greek, where the word “parthenos” meaning virgin is used. The Hebrew word for virgin is “bethulah” and cannot be found anywhere in the original Hebrew text, meaning that the original writer did not intend for it to be read as “virgin” but as “young” girl.
We have a similar confusion in English with the words “maid” and “maiden”.
Furthermore, “the Virgin Mary” is a nonsensical concept as she had four sons and some daughters after Jesus. Matthew 13:55 says “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us?”
The Chronology of Jesus
Two main approaches have been used to estimate the year of the birth of Jesus: one based on the accounts in the Gospels of his birth with reference to King Herod the Great’s reign, and the other by subtracting his stated age of “about 30 years” when he began preaching. Most scholars, on this basis, assume a date of birth between 6 and 4 BC.
Scholars estimate that Jesus began preaching and gathering followers around AD 28–29. According to the three synoptic gospels, Jesus continued preaching for at least one year, and according to John for three years.
Five methods have been used to estimate the date of the crucifixion of Jesus. One uses non-Christian sources such as a Jew called Josephus and a Roman called Tacitus. Another works backwards from the historically well-established trial of the Apostle Paul by the Roman proconsul Gallio in Corinth in AD 51/52 to estimate the date of Paul’s conversion. Both methods result in AD 36 as an upper bound to the crucifixion. Thus, scholars generally agree that Jesus was crucified between AD 30 and AD 36.
Rulers at the Time
When Jesus was born, the ruling Roman Emperor was Augustus Caesar and the ruling King of Galilee was Herod The Great who was, according to Matthew, responsible for the Massacre of the Innocents though most modern biographers of Herod, and probably a majority of biblical scholars, dismiss Matthew’s story as an invention.
When Jesus was crucified, the ruling Roman Emperor was Tiberius Caesar and the ruling King of Galilee was the son of Herod The Great, Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist at the behest of his daughter Salome after she pleased him by performing a sexy dance that, centuries later, Oscar Wilde named “The Dance of the Seven Veils”.
The word Sanhedrin means “sitting together,” hence “assembly” or “council”. The Sanhedrin was said to be composed of seventy prominent Jews from several categories: scribes, priests, elders, Sadducees, and Pharisees plus the High Priest, Joseph Caiaphas who was a Sadducee. Interestingly, Annas was his father-in-law.
How Did Jesus Become God?
The Synoptic Gospels and Paul’s writings are very clear that during his lifetime, Jesus didn’t call himself God and didn’t consider himself God, and neither did his disciples.
Then, suddenly, in the last gospel, the Gospel of John, Jesus starts dropping hints like “I and the Father are one,” and “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” So, it was the ‘writing committee’ called John that first inferred Jesus was God.
Subsequently, the question of who was Jesus got sillier and sillier – Mormons say that Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer; Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Jesus is the archangel Michael and New-Agers say Jesus is an avatar. Muslims say Jesus was one of the five greatest messengers of God who are collectively known as the Possessors of Steadfastness.
While many people now regard Jesus as the founder of Christianity, he did no such thing. He never intended to establish a new religion and he never used the term “Christian.” He was born and lived as a Jew, and his earliest followers were Jews. Christianity emerged as a separate religion only in the centuries after Jesus’ death.