Jesus: Man, Miracle, or Myth?
We may never know the complete story or truth about Jesus.
First, let me state that there is no doubt in my mind that Jesus was a real person. So was the Prophet Muhammad, the Buddha - also known as Siddhārtha Gautama, Siddhattha Gotama, Shakyamuni, Sakyamuni, and The Buddha. There were four significant prophets associated with Judaism and eventually Christianity. Four major prophets are listed in the Bible: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Their writings comprise five books of the Bible in the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations (possibly written by Jeremiah), Ezekiel, and Daniel.
Legends and spiritual texts about prophets have permeated cultures since the dawn of society. The most prevalent associations with the notion of prophets originate from Judeo-Christian tradition dating back to as early as 4000 BC. But divination, prophecy, and oracles are not unique to the Abrahamic religions. Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece dabbled in these mysterious customs. They also existed among early Buddhists in China and Tibet, the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and European icons and persist in the 21st century.
Mesopotamia is the birthplace of human advancement, stretching as far back as 10,000 BC. Traces of divination practices of this region correlate with the Akkadian Empire and the Neo-Sumerian Empire, or the Third Dynasty of Ur ('Ur III'). The Cuthean Legend and the ancient poem The Curse of Akkad tell of the fabled Akkadian ruler Naram-Sin, who declared himself a deity.
I'll stop there; it is not my goal to replicate the history of religion. For that, you can visit Ancient Origins, where I got those last two paragraphs and many other sources on the Internet. My focus is on modern monotheism. I'm not saying just Christianity because that would technically leave out Judaism and Islam, both monotheistic beliefs. While both religions acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as among the prophets, they don't accept that he has the divinity attributed to him by Christians for being the son of God. I want to focus on the life of Jesus and, based on his celebrity.
As an Atheist, what do I believe? First of all, Jesus was a real person, as I said earlier. Nothing written about him, in my opinion, can be considered history. History is a collection of facts, a chronological record of events that were either recorded at the time of the events by witnesses or reconstructed from archeological documents and artifacts. A myth or legend, on the other had, is typically a story passed down over time but unverifiable, factually.
The recounting of events in the New Testament, generally considered to be the story of Jesus and what followed, appears to have begun some seventy years after the death of Jesus and continued into the Middle Ages as various religious scholars lent their hand to the translations. Most scholars reckon Jesus was crucified between 30 and 33AD. Multiple religious sites want to move the recording of Jesus' life to shortly after his death to try to add a historical cast. Still, I believe they are understandably biased in their attempts to counter claims that it was oral history for a century or more after Jesus died before being written down. I find the Britannica history as unbiased as you might find in terms of how the New Testament was recorded, modified, and, I would say, deified hundreds of years later.
Jesus was a rebel. He challenged the existing beliefs that were dominant during his life. Some Jews embraced the Roman rulers, while others resisted. Four predominant religious groups had emerged: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. Jesus most likely interacted with them all. Jesus was a Jew, and most Jews rejected Jesus' claim that he was the Messiah and especially denied that he was the Son of God. Those that believed in him became Christians.
As with many of the "prophets" back in the day, I find it interesting that we don't seem to have those anymore - it appears to me that Jesus saw his society suffering from overbearing and brutal government and corrupt religious practices. He rebelled by speaking out, which ultimately cost him his life.
As for the validity of the stories about Jesus, I suspect that, like most lore, there is some truth and some embellishments. After all, most of the Disciples and later champions of Christianity were on a mission to convince the world that Christianity was the "true" religion. This quote, from belief.net, indicates there are unanswerable questions from all the writings and translations of the stories:
"The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - are written in Greek. Though a few scholars argue that Matthew first appeared in Hebrew or Aramaic, most believe the four biblical Gospels were composed in Greek. Their writers might have known Aramaic and/or Hebrew, and they may have drawn upon oral and written sources in these Semitic languages, but when they put stylus to papyrus, they then wrote in everyday Greek.
Yet the New Testament Gospels do include non-Greek words in the text (spelled with Greek letters). And some of these words are Aramaic. Others are probably Aramaic, though they might be a variety of Hebrew. The word Abba, for example, means "father" or "papa" in Aramaic and can also be found in later Hebrew dialects. So, while Jesus' use of Abba probably reflects his Aramaic speech, we can't be 100% sure of this."
Indeed, much of what Jesus purported to have said, his words on peace, love, and respect for each other, are both wise and timeless. As for the "miracles", I suspect much if not most of that is the result of the more zealous followers of the new Christian faith embellishing mundane stories of Jesus. Other words and events in the New Testament attributed to Jesus suggest he was not perfect or that his acolytes were flavoring their oral rendition of his teachings with opinions of their own. We see various priests and ministers today trying to interpret the words in the New Testament and apply them to a modern world to give their followers a sense that the words attributed to Jesus are universal.
Does this make believing in Jesus a bad thing? No, not at all. Like the words of many prophets and philosophers, I believe Jesus was a student of human existence, a thinker, and a philosopher. Like the ancient Greeks, there is much to be learned about life and how to cope with life's inevitable hardships and tragedies from these people who observe life and seek solutions to our problems. Do I believe Jesus was the son of God? No. But then I believe God is a manifestation of ancient minds filled with fear of the unknown, and ten thousand years ago, virtually everything was unknown to our ancestors. Modern humans have inherited a brain that seems to want to believe in the supernatural and the mysterious, and so religion as we know it will continue far into the future while we evolve a more practical intellect.