In the Gospels Jesus Was a Mortal--jk

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A very different vision of Jesus is to be

found in the Gospel of Mark as understood

by Mark and his audience, namely that

Jesus was a mortal, born of Joseph and

Mary, who came to fulfill the prophecies

as interpreted by the Jewish community at

that time (a view inconsistent with the

actual Old Testament texts as understood

by the people for whom they were written).

[1][1]  The first Church fathers debated

quite heatedly the nature of Jesus:  was

he like Mark held, a mortal unto whom the

spirit of God entered upon baptism, or he

born the son of God and thus purely divine

but sent on a mission disguised as a

mortal.  The latter position won out and

thus the additions to the work of Mark of

the Nativity found in Matthew and Luke.[2]

[2]  Certain passages were dropped ("Our

present edition of Mark, with vestiges of

the secret tradition still visible, Mark

4:11; 9:25-27; 10:21, 32, 38-39; 12:32-34;

14:51-5"--Barnstone, 340).  This debate

did not end with the establishment of an

organized body that among other things

established dogma and attack those who

resisted.  The Arians, for example, held

that Jesus was not really one with God,

but a mixture of human and divine.  These

"heretics" had a large following from the

3rd to the 8th centuries; large enough to

dominate the papacy in France for over a

century.  Mark simply wrote of Jesus as

the greatest of prophets in a way that was

consistent with the literary usage of his



Mark held Christ to be mortal, thus there

was no miraculous birth, no divine spirit

impregnating Mary.  The book of Mark

begins with John the Baptist, a fanatic

who like the Jewish Essenes required of

initiates a baptism.  John acknowledges

that one would be coming who is greater

than him.[3][3]  "It happened in those

days that Jesus came from Nazareth of

Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by

John.  On coming up out of the water he

saw the heavens being torn open and the

Spirit, like a dove, descending upon

him."  (Mark 1: 9-11).  One who already

knew the secrets of heaven and who already

was divine would not have the divine

spirit enter him a second time.  Jesus

could not thus be the son of god in the

way we understand those terms (developed

in 2 paragraphs).  Thus it was not an

omission by Mark of the Nativity story,

but rather that the story would have

conflicted with the story of how the

spirit of God entered Jesus.  Marks view,

like the Gnostics was that Jesus was a

mortal who was the greatest of prophets

and teachers.


Matthew and Luke included this chapter of

Marks, but they for quite different

reasons added the Nativity account;

namely, to fulfill then current beliefs

about all the Old Testament prophesies. 

One such prophecy was about virgin birth

(Isaiah 7:14).  Randel Helms in Gospels

Fictions in detail lists the deliberate

ways passages of the Gospels were written

to prove that Jesus fulfilled these OT

prophecies.  The nativity story served

other purposes, among them to contradict

the Gnostics a rival sect that held Jesus

to be, like Mark held, the greatest of

mortal prophets:  A prophet who through

faith in him the initiate would receive

the mysteries of the spiritual world and

be saved.  Matthew and Luke based on the

authority of the OT oracles, they improved

upon Marks narrative.  Church fathers

later made Jesus totally divine, that is,

one with Yahwehthe Mystery of the Trinity.



Matthew and Luke realize the potential

contradiction by adding the nativity story

with the baptism scene, and thus they

modified the passage so that Jesus is

baptized not to gain powers (he already

had them) through the dove entering a

mortal Jesus, but merely because  as Jesus

said, "it is fitting for us to fulfill all

righteousness" (Mat 3:15).  Mathew and

Luke have through this and other changes

removed the harmony between Mark's Gospel

and the position of the Gnostic



That Mark uses the phrase son of god is no

solace for Christian commentators, for its

ancient meaning is quite different than

its modern translation.  The following was

said of the meaning of the son of god in

the Catholic journal Notre Dame Magazine:

"On the point is clear from the outset: our understanding of divine man or Son of God is different today than it was to the

world in which Jesus lived.  It was not an

uncommon designation in those days.  Nor

was it uncommon to have gods impregnate

mortals who yielded divine offspring often

the human partner was a virgin woman."[4] 

Justin Martyr of the 2nd Century says as

much:  "And when we say also that the

Word, who is First begotten of God, was

born for us without sexual union, Jesus

Christ our teacher and that He was

crucified and died and rose again and

ascended into heaven, we propound nothing

new beyond what you believe concerning

those whom you call sons of Zeus.  For you

know of how many sons of Zeus your

esteemed writers speak:  Hermes the

interpreting Word and teacher of all;

Asclepius, who thought he was a great

healer, after being struck by a

thunderbolt ascended into heaven; and

Dionysus too who was torn to pieces; and

Heracles, when he had committed himself to

the flames to escape his pains; and the

Dioscuri, the sons of Leda; and Perseus,

son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who though

of mortal origin rose to heaven on the

horse Pergasus.  For what shall I say of

Ariadne, and those who, like her, have

been said to have been placed among the

stars?  And what of your deceased

emperors, whom you think it right to deify

and on whose behalf you produce someone

who swears that he has seen the burning

Caesar ascend to heaven from the funeral

pyre?"[5]   Continuing with the article in

Notre Dame Magazine:  "Divine heroes were

conventional mythological characters

familiar figures in the culture in which

the scriptures were composed.  Pythagoras,

Plato, and Alexander the Great were all

born of a woman by the power of a holy

spirit.  Hercules, too, was the child of

the Greek god Zeus and a human woman.  In

48 BC, Julius Caesar was proclaimed god

manifest, savior of human life, and divine

man.  Augustus, during whose reign Jesus

was born, was said to have been sent by

God."  The beliefs, as illustrated by

their stories, are quite different from

todays.[6][4]  Thus the meaning of the

phrase the son of god does not, given then

ancient usage, entail Jesus to be in fact

a god, but rather one who through

apotheosis is risen to a new status. 

Jesus was understood to be the greatest

of  prophets, his miracles were like those

of the OT prophets, only greater.  And as

the son of god, Jesus was not himself a

god.  Son of god did not by the authors of

the Gospels have the meaning we now give

that phrase.


Jesus was in the Gospel narratives the

greatest of prophets, who as a sign did

the same type of miracles as those of the 

OT prophets: "[f]or the miracle stories

about Elijah and Elisha in I and II Kings

provided the basis for a number of the

miracles attributed to Jesus.  Remembering

the principle that the early Christians

turned the Old Testament into a book about

Jesus, we can trace the literary lineage

and grasp the literary structure of these

stories.  Both Elijah and Elisha, for

example, mediate two striking miracles,

the creation of abundance from little and

the resurrection of a dead son.  If these

sound familiar to a reader of the Gospels,

we should not be surprised."[7]  The

prophets of the OT were not called the son

of god only because the Hebrews did not

use that phrase.[8]  Usage had changed and

the Christians were not Hebrews, thus like

Alexander and Julius Caesar, Jesus was the

son of god .  One should not consider the

Gospels to recording events.  "The Gospels

have no historical content; The Gospels

are, it must be said with gratitude, works

of art, the supreme fictions in our

culture, narratives produced by enormously

influential literary artists who put their

art in the service of a theological

vision" (Randel Helms, 11).  For this

theological service the prophet of the

Christian sect was called the son of god. 

Such appellation was frequently used by

the Gnostic Christians for Jesus.  It was

only later that Jesus was raised to an

even higher status and the phrase given a

new meaning.[9]




    The nativity scene added by Matthew

and Lukeas pointed out because of both

contradicting the Gnostics and because it

parallels the legend of Mosesdoes not

entail that they though Jesus to be a god

disguised as a mortal (a theme common in

Greek accounts of their Gods).  The

discussion of the son of god equally apply

to their Gospels. Moreover, their other

changes made to the Gospel of Mark support

do not lend support to position that Jesus

was a god.   The Arians had good reasons

for their position, as does the Unitarians

of our own era. 

[1][1]  The Prophets wrote to their audience (not a future audience) of the coming of a leader who would be anointed  (made king) and with the help of Yahweh would lead the Hebrews to overthrow their oppressors and make them into a great nation as promised in the book of Genesis, " By a remarkable creative fiat of interpretation, the Jewish scriptures (especially in Greek translation) became a book that had never existed before the Old Testament, a book no longer about Israel but about Israels hope, the Messiah, Jesus."   Gospel Fictions, Randel Helms, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1989, P. 18.  One of the two best examples of true scholarship on the Bible, the other being Did Jesus Exist by G.A. Wells, (and his two other books on the same theme) also published by Prometheus Books.   

[2][2]  "Modern research often proposes as the author an unknown Hellenistic Jewish Christian, possibly in Syria, and perhaps shortly after the year 70."  The New American Bible, Catholic Bible Press, 2979, p. 1117.  There are many reasons for this conclusion, and for those who have reviewed these reasons, only one of faith would persist in holding the Gospels to have been written by the disciples of Jesus.

[3][3]  This passage is belittling the followers of John the Baptist, by claiming that John acknowledged Jesus to be a greater prophet then himself. 

[4]       Kerry Temple, Who Do Men Say That I Am?. May/June, The Humanist, p. 6-14 at p. 10.  This is a reprint of the Summer 1990 article appearing in Notre Dame Magazine.  This quote is consistent with the tone of the article by managing editor Kerry Temple whose work is much, much closer to that of Helms and Wells than it is to what is taught in Sunday school.  Quite a turn around for a Catholic magazine.  

[5]      Justin.Matyr, The First and Second Apologies, in Ancient Christian Writers vol. 56, New York; Paulist Press, Ch. 21.

[6][4]  Kerry Temple, supra.10.

[7] Randel Helms, supra. 61.

[8]  Based on a passage of the OT, the Hebrews believed that anyone who claimed to be more than a prophet (viz., the son of god) was a blasphemer and was to be stoned.  None of the prophets could be called the son of god.  But the early Christians were not following the letter of the law. 

[9] There is a logic to progress, and a logic of profits for the priests.  And as was done with Heracles, Helen of Troy, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, so to with Jesus.  The nebulous Jesus of Paul was turned into the son of the most powerful of gods by the Church bishops, not by Paul and not by Mark. 

Once the standards of sound scholarship are applied to the New Testament and the religous writings of that mileu, a quite different understanding is obtained.  It is this scholarship which I have presented in pieces through my family of web sties. 
As I have shown elsewhere (see "Pascal's Wager) that whenever someone claims to know something about the incoporeal world, I can present compelling arguments to show that such claim is without solid foundation.  This essay is about how little we know about Jesus.