The Latymer School History Magazine - page 14

Christ Carrying the Cross by El
Greco (previous page)
Many individuals throughout
history have had an impact
on its course - whether with
their wise teachings, their
political movements or their
inventions and discoveries.
There is however, one
individual who has arguably
contributed to history in all
three of the aforementioned
ways. Jesus Christ is the
founding figure of the most
practiced and recognised
religion in the world with
32% percent of the global
population considered
Christian. Like all religions,
Christianity has compelled
believers to do deeds of
immense good and commit
acts of unspeakable evil
because the teachings and
passages in the ‘holy’ books
are open to interpretation
and manipulation. As a pillar
of Western civilisation
spanning over 2000 years
and with more than 2.2
billion followers today, the
influence of his teachings
and his life makes Jesus
Christ one of the most
important figures in history.
But who was Jesus really?
There is some debate about
his life - did he really perform
the fantastic miracles for
which he is so well known? If
not, does it make a
difference to his teachings of
religion? Everything we know
about Jesus of Nazareth is
from stories passed on,
retold and translated many
times over. Could this
narrative have been misread
and is it just by luck that we
have even heard his name
today at all?
It should be remembered
that there were hundreds of
other prophets and holy
preachers wandering the
countryside of Judea at the
time Jesus was alive - he was
just one of these. In the New
Testament Jesus is portrayed
as the Son of God with the
power to feed five thousand
people with only two fish and
five loaves of bread (a meal
enough only for five), bring
the dead to life and turn
water into wine (a handy skill
to have). In short he is
portrayed as a miracle
worker, a magician perhaps.
So can we trust all the stories
written about him in the New
Testament?
Many academic historians
and those who have studied
the ancient texts such as The
Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered
only in 1947) have come to
the conclusion that Jesus’ life
was not exactly how it is
written in the New
Testament. One of the more
popular theories about what
may really have happened in
Jesus’ life is published by
Barbara Thiering of Sydney
University in her book ‘Jesus
the Man’. One of the main
points made in this book is
that Jesus was the leader of a
radical faction of Essene
priests and that the force of
his charisma and charm
garnered him a significant
following. (Essene was a cult
of Judaism practiced in a few
parts of Judea at the time.)
Christianity grew from these
very humble beginnings into
the religious superpower it is
today. The standard story is
that Jesus committed himself
to God, spent his time
preaching and working
miracles, and then died on
the cross unmarried and
childless. Thiering makes the
claim that he was married to
Mary Magdalene and had
children with her; and that
they later divorced. In
addition she refutes the
belief that his mother was a
virgin when she gave birth to
him (I cannot imagine that
this is a surprise to many
people). The point is people
believed in that myth or at
least needed to believe it, so
that they could also believe
that his teachings were the
word of God.
The question is: should it
matter whether we are
following a religion based on
fact or myth? If the simple
facts of a person’s life (as a
leader of small Judean cult)
were all that were recorded
and retold would people
have taken the religion
seriously and become
followers?
As he is portrayed and talked
about in the New Testament,
Jesus acts a positive
influence to many people.
His teachings can regulate
lives and provide a moral
code (the punishment for
breaking the code is a fate
potentially worse than death
- an eternity tortured forever
in hell). Jesus’ teachings also
provide answers for
unanswered questions
(Where do we come from?)
and this gives devotees
some sense of security and
place in the vast abyss that is
the universe, subsequently
fulfilling a primal human
need: the need for meaning
in our lives. All of these
positives stem from the
assumption that all the
lessons that are taught in the
New Testament are to be
taken literally. The influence
that Jesus has had on the
world is Jesus in this
mythological form (miracle
performing, water walking,
Son of God rather than one
of many prophets wandering
hopefully around). If he were
not believed to have done
these miraculous things he
would not have even come
close to the impact he has
made.
Jesus was a very different
teacher and leader to the
other great influential figures
we recognise today - Martin
Luther King for example,
who campaigned for civil
rights in 20
th
century USA.
Jesus did not campaign for a
political movement or to
stimulate change; nor did he
preach in order just to
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