I have been thinking about the apostles lately. As in- Jesus’ original followers, by whom the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry were said to be told/written. The Disciples. The Twelve.
All my life, I have heard that the apostles could not have misrepresented Jesus. To a man, they died, sometimes horrible, horrible deaths, rather than deny that Jesus had resurrected from the dead. Why would they do that, if the story was a lie? A lie that they themselves had invented, no less?
If they had lied about Jesus and his claims to gain money, followers and power.
I have been thinking a lot about guilt.
Its a funny thing, you know? There are not really many historic accounts of Jesus’s life, other than the apostles’.
There’s this one place where the historian Josephus that refers to Jesus.
3. Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
The oldest known copies of Josephus’ book were made by Christian monks and preserved by the church. They date from the 11th century AD. The earliest know copies of the Gospels date from the 4th century AD. It is thought that his original text did at least make reference to the crucifixion of Jesus. After all in another place, Josephus describes the death of James “the brother of the aforementioned Jesus”. James the brother of Jesus is thought to be the author of The Book of James in the Christian Bible. However, it is also thought that this flowery passage was spruced up a bit by the Christian scribes who preserved it.
After all, if you had so much respect for a person that you hesitated to call them a mere man, you might be expected to refer to that person more than once.
But Josephus never really does.
We can’t compare Josephus’ writing as it was preserved by the Christians to that writing as it was preserved by his own people, the Jews. The Jews, the great keepers of books, did not keep Josephus’ writings.
In the Great Revolt, when the Jewish nation finally rebelled against the Roman Empire, Josephus was a leader among Galilean military forces. In 67, hopelessly besieged by Roman forces and having somehow stayed alive during the mass suicide of the troops he led, Josephus surrendered to the Roman general Vespasian. He seems to have reinterpreted Jewish Messianic prophecies to Vespasian, telling him that it was foretold that he, Vespasian, was God’s chosen and would rule the whole world, aka, become emperor of Rome. Vespasian decided to let him live and keep him around, as interpreter. In that capacity, Josephus witnessed the siege and fall of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the second temple by Vespasian’s son Titus.
When Vespasian did become emperor, he freed Josephus and gave him Roman citizenship. Josephus took Vespasian’s family name of Flavius and lived out the rest of his days peacefully in Rome, writing books.
It is estimated that as many as one million Jews died during the Great Revolt. It closely rivals the Holocaust, in terms of disasters suffered by the Jewish people.
The Jews did not preserve Josephus’ writing, because they considered him a traitor. He sided with the Romans and twisted Jewish sayings- for what? To save his own life? To gain money and literary fame?
The Great Revolt may well be considered a mistake, as far as the survival of the Jewish people is concerned. Perhaps Josephus felt that he had been betrayed as well.
In his histories, Josephus recorded for us details of a time and of events that would otherwise be lost. They never would have been written if he had consigned himself to death along with his followers.
But did you catch the discrepancy in the account about Jesus’ death?
And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day…
It means of course, that, in the long run, those that loved Jesus did not forsake him. In the long run, the disciples of the condemned man became apostles, preachers of a Jewish heresy and a new religion. In the details of the event itself and of the actual moment, provided by these same men, a different picture emerges.
Matthew 26 :31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’[c] 32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” 34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” 35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
Mark 14:37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Matthew 26:56 …Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Mark 14: 51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him,52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.
Luke 22:5 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. 58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”“Man, I am not!” Peter replied. 59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Of all the disciples who had sworn that they would die along side their leader, if need be, only one had the courage to even witness his death.
John 19: 25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[b] here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
As far as accounts of Jesus’s life go, there are also the Gnostic gospels. Most of these date to the fourth century just as the accepted Christian gospels do. I am not familiar with these and don’t feel competent to speak about them. But the picture they paint of Jesus seems at least different than those of the Apostolic gospels. The religion they derive from him is quite different as well.
I have been thinking about meaning lately. How much more palatable a mistake is when we claim that something good came from it. When it means something greater and other than simply that we failed.
There were many sects and religious groups and odd religious teachers in Judea in the first century AD. There probably always have been in places inhabited by humans.
How strange and shocking it is, to hear the Apostles preach that one of these odd religious teachers claimed to be God. Not a god, not a power, but the Power behind all powers, the God who created all and was above all gods. That his death was the mystical propitiation that would not rule, but save the whole world. That this defeated man was the Messiah.
His life attracted no notice while he was living it. Not enough for any outsider to write down his name. The salvation he provided to the world is suspiciously abstract. When examined closely, it tends to take effect after one dies or after the world ends.
How much stranger would it be to hear the apostles preaching that, during the cruel execution of someone they believed to be practically perfect, in their beloved teacher’s final moments, they simply abandoned him?
That they had failed him?
Are the desires for life and power the only reasons that people lie?