Most religions can be traced back to a wise, knowledgeable and persuasive teacher, usually with great charisma, who claims to have answers to the deeper questions. Often they claim that G-d spoke directly to them.
Yeshua certainly held this appeal for his close followers and continues to do so for millions around the world. But the truth is, we know next to nothing about him!
We know a great deal about the main historical figures of that era – Nero, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Marcus Aurelius and so on. We know more about characters that pre-date him, such as Socrates, Plato and Alexander the Great. We also know more – much more – about New Testament figures such as Pontius Pilate, the Herods, Caiaphas and Paul of Tarsus..
The dilemma faced by anyone interested in the real Yeshua is this: there are no independent sources. Moreover, the real person cannot be found in the gospels because they present a highly selective and distorted view. The historian Josephus and the other contemporary authors merely described Yeshua as a man who suffered the usual fate of dissenters in Roman Palestine (crucifixion).
But the New Testament authors had someone quite different in mind – the person Yeshua had become for them during the time that had elapsed since his execution decades earlier. He had become the mystical Christ figure described in the Fourth Gospel, written in the 90s or later. By then he had become a god-man incapable of sin; a miracle worker who had power over life and death; who offered signs so people would believe, and who offered up his life knowing he was destined to be the saviour of humankind.
We don’t even know what he looked like
The popular image of Yeshua as a tall, long brown-haired, pale faced man wearing a long, flowing robe, cannot possibly describe his real appearance. He would have resembled any other rural Galilean Jewish male of that era, and remains of poor Jewish men from that time reveal that they were short by today’s standards, thick set, dark-skinned, bearded and with dark tousled hair.
Whether he was fat, thin, long-haired, short-haired, healthy, fit, attractive or ugly we will never know for sure. Nor will we ever know what he sounded like. Did he have a deep voice or a high-pitched voice? We don’t know. The only adjective describing his speech in the gospels is ‘authoritative’.
Most images of Yeshua are much like the word pictures of him and discourses in the Fourth Gospel – loosely – yes, very loosely – based on a real person, but highly fictionalised.
©David Lawrence Preston, 29.8.2016
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Balboa Press, 2015