Jesus and Yeshua: An Examination of Cultural Icons

Jeriah Bowser I Spirituality & Religion I Commentary I August 2nd, 2013

His long, well-conditioned, light-brown hair glistens softly in the sun. His deep blue, penetrating eyes betray his Anglo-Saxon heritage. His well-manicured facial hair parts to reveal a gleaming set of perfectly straight, white teeth. His soft white skin and delicate fingers hint at a life free of manual labor and toil. The long, flowing white robe that wraps around his body must have been recently washed and bleached, as it radiates purity and divine goodness. The child in his lap and the crowds that have gathered around him with admiration and awe written all over their faces communicate that this man must be saying something incredibly important and inspirational.

He teaches such divine truths as "Blessed are those who make lots of money, for God loves money" and "For God so loved the world, he made a special place for you to burn and suffer forever if you don't follow his moral boundaries" as well as "When someone slaps you on the cheek, turn to him the other also; unless your government decides that a group of people is a threat to your country, then go ahead and slaughter them."

He is the patron saint of Capitalism. He is the author and originator of Manifest Destiny. He is a card-carrying member of the NRA and a proud Conservative Republican. He is invoked whenever one of his flock needs a new bike, car, house, or business merger. He rides atop our fighter jets and cruise missiles, and blesses our troops as they head off to foreign conquests. He is the epitome of the American dream- born into poverty and obscurity, yet through hard work and dedication he became a great prophet and then sacrificed his life for our sins. He is a prophet boldly upholding and defending the ideals that our glorious country was founded on. He is…. say it with me now… Jesus.

If you were raised in an American Christian family, then you are probably very familiar with the person I just portrayed to you. He was emblazoned on the walls of the churches of our youth, smiling at us from the pages of our illustrated children's bible, and his ideas and teachings were heavily reinforced by our family.

If you were not raised in an American Christian family, then you probably experienced a lot of bigotry, ignorance, and sheer stupidity at the hands of the prior group. Regardless of your personal beliefs, experiences, or awareness of said Jesus, it's safe to say that your life has been greatly affected by the character I just painted.

I would like now to introduce you to another character, one you may not be so familiar with. As a first-century Hebrew male, born into a lower-class minority family under Roman occupation, he was thrust into the center of one of the most tumultuous time periods and areas in history. He was a refugee (also known as "illegal immigrant") for much of his life, gratefully living off of the generosity and kindness of foreigners[1], and was exposed to a variety of cultures, races, and religious practices from an early age. [2] He was fascinated with the concept of God and the ways that humans come to know him, studying many religious texts and manuscripts and engaging in dialogue with priests and other religious leaders with an astounding awareness and openness to the Great Mystery.[3]

As he grew into a young man, he was greatly influenced by the social and political climate around him. He saw the daily injustice and oppression that was enacted on his people by the Roman Empire, and yet witnessed incredibly hateful and oppressive acts carried out by his brothers on another social minority - the Samaritans.[4] [5] He probably was exposed to the Roman tradition of weekly public beatings and executions that perpetuated a culture of fear and violence, and watched it shape some of his childhood friends into cold, calloused vigilantes- the Zealots.[6] [7] He immersed himself in religious studies and engaged in discussions and heated debates with some of the most respected and revered teachers of the Torah, and yet was also stunned by the hypocrisy and moral emptiness of their teachings. He experienced the power of the God Mammon- the power that money had to destroy and corrupt individuals, as he watched members of his community betray, rob, and sell each other out for just a few pieces of metal. [8] [9]

Growing up in the middle of all this, our young Rabbi friend somehow managed to not become bitter or jaded, somehow managed to not get sucked into the corruption or pettiness or hypocrisy that offered him sanctuary from the madness. Something pushed him deeper into his love for humanity, something that gently whispered into his ear, "Another world is possible."

In his 30th year of being human, he decided that he could no longer keep his feelings and thoughts to himself and began teaching, telling the people that, "The kingdom of heaven is here, and it is within you, if you want it. This kingdom is completely contrary, antithetical and incompatible to every kingdom of this earth. You don't have to buy this kingdom, pay taxes to this kingdom, fight wars for this kingdom, or live a certain way for this kingdom. It is already here, if you want it."[10]

As far as appearance, you wouldn't be able to pick him out of a crowd of lower-class Middle-Eastern men, except that he probably looked a tad scruffier than most. He was dark-skinned, probably with dark brown or black eyes and a scraggly, unkempt beard. His hair was probably dark, thick, and matted (also known as an "afro"), or wrapped in the traditional turban of lower-class Jewish males. His wardrobe was probably sparse and simple, maybe a tunic or two and a blanket for cold nights.[11]

He attracted dangerous characters to him - brawlers, prostitutes, drunkards, and thieves.[12] [13] He traveled the country on foot, refusing to be paid or put up for his teaching but instead preferring to sleep under the stars, where there was no barrier between him and God (also known as "homeless").[14] He visited dangerous and forbidden places - once crashing a bestiality and child-sacrifice party to extend his message of love and redemption to the crowd. [15] [16] He broke nearly every Jewish law in the book, breaking down old rituals, social barriers, and stereotypes and starting to heal several century-old wounds and grudges. He taught incredibly dangerous and revolutionary ideas to anyone who would listen, with no regard for the huge target he was painting on his back for doing so. He spoke out in the open to crowds of anyone who would listen to him, intentionally going to lower-class, uneducated, and oppressed areas that no respectable teacher would ever go to. [17] He performed miracles.

Not only did he perform miracles, he performed miracles that healed people, miracles that met people where they were at and gave them what they needed. He restored sight, strengthened withered limbs, healed diseases, fed hungry mouths, extended the life of a child taken too early, and healed wounded hearts with his compassion, validation, and love.

He turned the world upside down by claiming that we should not resist evil people or actions, but instead defeat them with the power of our soul and our love. If someone attacks you or wrongs you, do not seek revenge or compensation, but instead offer that brother or sister the full measure of your love for them and your willingness to suffer for them.[18] [19] He shattered centuries of tradition by claiming that it is not so much our actions that matter, but our words and intentions that birth those actions. [20] [21] He boldly taught that patriotism has no place in this Kingdom, as we are all members of humanity.[22] He defended the marginalized, the poor, the oppressed, and the sick, exposing the ways that religious and political leaders exploited and victimized them.[23] He taught that joy is found in simplicity, contemplation, and community.[24] He completely devalued the currencies of the Empire by introducing a new form of exchange - relationship.[25] [26]

As it is with those who love dangerously, he was eventually killed for his ideas and actions. Yet even in his brutal and humiliating death he stood by his message, challenging the notions of justice and loving his executioners up to his final breath.[27]

He had lived an incredibly revolutionary, meaningful, and powerful life, introducing the world to a new way of being and creating a dedicated group of followers in just three years; his life was indeed complete. Yet he had one more trick to pull. He suddenly reappeared to his disciples, urging them on and inspiring to them to act on his teachings, reminding them yet again that another world is here and it is within them, if they want it. He stuck around for a few weeks, just long enough to lift his followers' spirits and start a chain of events that would end up impacting the geo-political and religious climate of the world in immeasurable ways for the next several thousand years.

His name was Yeshua.[28]

Unfortunately, the world was not ready for him or his teachings, and his message was quickly watered down into one that was much less disruptive to the established powers. Less than 300 years after his death, his followers were quickly either converted to the socially acceptable version of his teachings or subsequently executed.[29] [30] [31] The written accounts of his teachings were gathered together, submitted to a government committee for review of dangerous ideas, and then nicely packaged into a book which was given to the official State church, for the purpose of organizing and controlling the populace.[32] [33] Any offending accounts or stories were methodically destroyed and banned.[34] The Empire, under the influence of Constantine, artfully wove together the various Pagan, Roman, and Greek religious holidays, festivals, and traditions with this new religion, put a pretty bow on the whole thing, and called it: "Christianity."[35] [36]

This new religion survived the dramatic fall and dispersion of the Roman Empire and was forcefully launched into the rest of the world like a virus bursting from within, expelling its contents in all directions. Finding extremely fertile ground to the Northwest, in Europe, this religion planted deep roots, establishing such revered and powerful institutions as the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England.

In the early sixteenth century, a small group of idealistic rabble-rousers somehow found buried deep within these old and dusty religious caverns a seed. They discovered the words of a young Rabbi who lived a long time ago and who dreamed of a better world. They created a wave of disturbances known collectively as the Protestant Reformation, as they were doing just that - protesting and demanding reform. [37] [38]

A few of these disgruntled disciples heard a rumor of a land across the sea, a land completely unsettled and uncivilized, a country with no fear of persecution or restraints of religious practice, a new frontier for those bold and brave enough to face the long journey and untold hardships and mysteries that such a land promised to offer. With hearts full of hope and courage, they answered the perceived call of destiny and sailed across the ocean to claim this land for themselves and their children.

On that fateful November morning when the great ship "The Mayflower" expelled its contents on the shore of this strange country and the first members of Christendom stepped foot in North America, their grand idealism was quickly dashed upon the rocks of hunger and fear, as their first encounters with the natives were hallmarked with theft, gravesite desecration, and murder.[39] It would seem that the peaceful, egalitarian principles which drove them to this land were quickly abandoned in favor of militarism and conquest, and Yeshua's message was once again buried deep under the soil, sharing a grave with the Indigenous peoples of North America. The pious pilgrims continued on their conquest- fearlessly and boldly "civilizing" this new land and finding that the inhabitants were simply too generous, peaceful, and primitive to put up any real resistance to the tidal wave of Western culture that crashed violently upon their shores. This new breed of Christians was emboldened by the perceived "blessing" of God upon their actions, as they exterminated tribe after tribe of Natives and reaped the bounty that their newly "acquired" lands had to offer them. [40]

Their sense of Divine guidance was greatly heightened when they came to a war with the country that birthed them, the child that had grown stronger than his father and wasn't going to take beatings anymore. When England decided that her resources were better spent killing Frenchmen instead of disenfranchised Englishmen[41], the final step in the dance between America and Christianity was completed. This new country, emboldened by their seeming "victory" over the most powerful nation in the world, was convinced that they were destined for conquest and power, and the continued "blessing" of God in the form of Jesus would carry them there.

A small group of men gathered in a courthouse in Philadelphia to draft the legal framework for their new country, so famously starting the document off with the words, "We the people of the United States of America…" It would prove to be incredibly prophetic and ironic, however, that among this group of brilliant minds sat not a single woman, slave, indigenous person, or working class person. It would appear that, "We the people…" was never really about the people, but about the interests and ideas of a few rich white Christian men.[42]

The next 200+ years of this countries legacy will need to be discussed at another time under another theme, yet we will summarize with the words: Conquest, Exploitation, Ecocide, and Genocide - all under the holy banner of Christendom.

Somehow, a poor, homeless, marginalized, and oppressed Semitic man who taught people how to live a more peaceful and a simple life ended up having his name splayed across the banner of one of the most violent, destructive forces the world has ever experienced.

As a culture, we have created a mythical Messiah, an imaginary figure who not only advocates for our economic and military exploitation, but who has created another world, a "heaven" if you will, that we will all retire to once our earthly duties are done. By fabricating a prophet who was mostly concerned with "saving souls" and populating an afterlife utopia, we have effectively absolved ourselves of any responsibility to actually protect and nurture this world and its inhabitants.

We have liberated ourselves of his life by celebrating his death - his crucifixion has become synonymous with his identity. Our delusion has even manifested itself in our physical representations of our beloved Christ, as it is virtually impossible to find a characterization of him that is even remotely close to reality. Do we actually think that a poor first-century ascetic Hebrew male would be white-skinned, have long smooth brown hair, blue eyes, and a clean white tunic?

But we have to believe this; we have to have this absurd representation to justify our grossly misguided beliefs about who he was and what he taught. Just think of the consequences if this were not so!

What if every self-professed Christian was to actually follow their Prophets teachings? What if the world's 2.1 billion adherents of this religion [43] were to actually be exposed to the homeless dissident whose symbol of death they adorn their houses and bodies with?

It would be absolute madness.

Imagine with me for a minute, what would happen if 31% of the world, that's almost 1 out of every three people, decided to adopt a lifestyle of non-violence, simplicity, tolerance, civil disobedience, communal living, and a rejection of material possessions. What kind of world would this be if the imaginary lines we call "countries" were erased and all of humanity embraced each other as brothers and sisters? What if war and violence became a thing of the past, a story told by old people around the dying light of campfires to bright-eyed children who couldn't imagine why people used to kill and hurt each other? What if we began to respect each other, our animal friends, and the earth that sustains us all, actively working towards sustainability and living in harmony with our environment? What if money became not so important, as people began to create economies of community and relationship? What if people began to live simply, so that others could simply live?

Absolute madness.

This is precisely why Yeshua must become Jesus. We have to take him to the spa and bleach his skin, straighten his hair, give him a shower, trim his beard, change his eye color, give him a new pair of clothes and some expensive shoes, and tell him very sternly, "Now, JESUS, listen carefully. No more of that controversial talk, ok? We are all just trying to live comfortable, happy lives around here, and you tend to make that difficult with all your talk about non-violence, simplicity, and your dislike of patriotism. I would much rather have you talk about loving me and blessing me and enlarging my territory and things like that. Got it? Great!" As we smile and pat him on the head.

If we want to keep enjoying the comforts, conveniences, and delusions that we have inherited from our birthright as American citizens, then we cannot accept the teachings and lifestyle of Yeshua. It is incompatible with nearly every facet and function of our culture.

The Narrative

I have just presented an alternative narrative to the dominant story that most of us know. The narrative I just presented you was formed after much research, many conversations, and no small amount of deliberation on my part due to my own life experiences and dissatisfaction with the dominant narrative.

I want to be very clear that, ultimately, we are all just making educated (and uneducated) guesses as to who this person really was and what his intentions were. I wasn't there, and neither was anybody else who is alive today. The important thing is that we are aware that there are many different narratives to every story and ultimately, we choose which one to believe. Whatever story you choose to believe is the story that you will perpetuate, and every story has incredible consequences attached to it.

So choose carefully, my friend, because this story is not yet finished.


[1] The narrative of Matthew 2: 13-23 , First Infancy Gospel of Christ, chapter 4

[2] "Egypt: A Country Study" - Helen Chapin Metz (1990)

[3] "The Gospel According to Jesus" - Stephen Mitchell (1991)

[5] "Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey " - Mark A. (2009)

[10] "The Kingdom of God is within you" - Leo Tolstoy (1894)

[12] "Disciples" - Michael J Wilkins (1992)

[14] The narrative of Luke 9:58, the narrative of Matthew 8:20

[16] The narrative of Mark 8:27 - 38, The narrative of Matthew 16: 17-18

[17] "Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times" by Paul Barnett (2002)

[18] "Jesus and non-violence" - Walter Wink (2003)

[19] The narrative of Matthew 5:38-46 & 50-53, The narrative of Luke 3:14 & 3:27-37, The narrative of John 18:36,

[21] The narrative of Matthew chapters 5,6,and 7, the narrative of Luke 11:33-44

[22] "Myth of a Christian Nation" - Gregory Boyd (2005)

[23] The narrative of Matthew, chapters 5,6, and 7

[24] The narrative of Matthew, chapters 5,6, and 7

[25] "Sacred Economics" - Charles Eisenstein (2011)

[26] The narrative of Mathew 6:19-33 & 13:22, the narrative of Luke 12:15-24 & 16:13-15 & 6:38, The narrative of Thomas verse 54, 95, 63, and 100

[27] The narrative of Luke 23:34

[29] "The early church " - Henry Chadwick (1993)

[30] "A Peculiar People" - Rodney Clapp (1996).

[33] "The Canon of Scripture" - F.F. Bruce (1996)

[34] "Lost Scriptures" - Bart D. Ehrman (2003)

[35] "The Making of a Christian Aristocracy: Social and Religious Change in the Western Roman Empire" - Michele Salzman (2004)

[38] "Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution" -Alister Mcgrath (2008)

[39] "A Peoples History of the United States" - Howard Zinn (1980)

[40] "A Peoples History of the United States" - Howard Zinn (1980)