Yeshua’s Greatest Hits

20

The Transfiguration

Yeshua takes three of his disciples up a mountain to pray. Suddenly, his face changes, his body is transformed and his clothes become dazzling white light. The prophets Moses and Elijah appear and engage him in conversation. A cloud overshadows them, and a voice says, ‘This is my son, my chosen, listen to him.’ The disciples turn away, terrified, and fall to the ground. Wisely, on their return to civilisation, they choose to keep quiet about what they have seen. Even in those days, one could be locked up for telling tall stories!

(Mark 9:2-10)

19

Ask and you shall receive

‘Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you,’ proclaimed Yeshua. People loved it, and they still do. If all you have to do is ask, then let’s ask for whatever we want – money, fame, youth, new toys, Pacific cruise, why not? Unfortunately for those craving the material things in life, Yeshua was not talking about earthly, but spiritual riches. Hence this oft quoted saying is understood by few – including, one imagines, Howard Hughes and the unfortunate King Midas.

(Matt 7:7-8)

18

Sharp words

Everyone enjoys seeing a bully humiliated and unable to retaliate, and when Yeshua let fly, he let fly! ‘You brood of vipers,’ he exclaimed with a group of Pharisees in his sights, ‘you hypocrites,’ ‘you snakes, how can you escape the sentence of hell?’ How the audience enjoyed his outbursts! (There is no record of what he did for an encore.)

(Matt 12:34, Matt 23: 29-33)

17

The Last Supper

Before being led away to his death, Yeshua shared bread and wine with his disciples and, in an impressive demonstration of clairvoyance, let slip that he knew which of them would betray him. Who would have thought that two thousand years after the event, people the world over would still be breaking bread and sipping wine mimicking a symbolic act intended only for those present at the time? Incredibly some of these people believe the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Yeshua! Yuk!

(Mark 14: 17-25)

16

Washing the disciples’ feet

A demonstration of service and humility that would not go amiss in the boardrooms and corridors of power in every land.

(John 13:4-10)

15

The Prodigal Son

A cautionary tale loved especially by young men who have left home, messed up and crawled home expecting a warm welcome, a good meal and new clothes. A lesson for the elder brother in controlling jealousy too. Poor thing – he thinks he’s missed out, but doesn’t realise he had it all, all the time. Perhaps he should spare a thought for the fatted calf! There are always others worse off than yourself.

(Luke 15:11-32)

14

Love your enemies

Yeshua’s great injunction is admirable but rarely put into practise. ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,’ he said. ‘For if you love only those who love you, what reward do you have?’ So, come on people of the world – and that includes you all you politicians, and religious leaders – shape up!

(Matt 5:44-46)

13

The crucifix: a universal symbol of fellowship

Bit gruesome, this one, and not of Yeshua’s making for he was long dead before the idea caught on. It owes much to the misogynist and religious obsessive Paul of Tarsus who wrote, for example, ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God;’ and, ‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ Strangely, some are more inspired by Yeshua’s ghastly death than his exemplary life.

(1 Corinthians, 1:18 and Galatians 6:14)

12

The Lord’s Prayer

Two thousand years after being dictated to a massed throng, various translations and mis-translations of the Lord’s Prayer – surely the world’s favourite prayer (even more so than the Prayer of Saint Francis) – are recited by millions on a daily basis. All together now:

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.’

(Matt 6: 9-13)

11

A novel way of paying taxes

Yeshua is reminded that even the Messiah has to pay taxes, so he sends a disciple to the lake and tells him next time he catches a fish, to open its mouth, and he will find a coin sufficient to clear their arrears. (If only it were always so easy!) So if you plan to go fishing when the wife wants you to do some jobs around the house, tell her this! But bear in mind, nowhere does it say Peter took Yeshua’s advice.

(Matt 17: 24-27)

10

Ascending to heaven on a cloud

Acts of the Apostles tells us that forty days after returning from the dead, Yeshua told his disciples that they would soon receive a great power and preach his message to the ends of the earth. Then a cloud took him out of their sight. Two white-robed men then appeared and said that he would one day come in the same way as he went. So if you ever see a man descending on a cloud, that’s him!

Incidentally, Luke’s Gospel says he ascended ‘soon’ after the resurrection. We know that the two accounts were written by the same author – dementia, perhaps?

(Acts 1: 9-11 and Luke, Chapter 24)

9

The Sermon on the Mount

The greatest piece of oratory ever? Even Monty Python were inspired by the birds of the air and the lilies of the field! Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, Churchill’s wartime speeches or Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ don’t even come close.

Original version: Luke 6:20-49

Extended long playing version with sampled bonus material: Matt 5, 6 and 7

8

Casting out demons

Yeshua cast out a host of demons from a madman and sent them into a herd of pigs. The pigs, it is said, stampeded into a lake and drowned. Impressive, but tough on the pigs!

(Mark 5:1-13)

7

The feeding of the five thousand

Five thousand people, starving after a hard day’s hero-worshiping, fed to excess by five loaves and two small fishes. Beat that, Sai Baba! Would be usefully replicated in places like Eritrea, Darfur and the Congo. Where’s G_d when you need it?

(Mark 6: 30-44)

6

Render unto Caesar: a stunning riposte

Everyone enjoys seeing a smart-ass humiliated with a neat reply. In this case, a group of Herodians asked Yeshua a trick question: is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Yeshua knew that if he said yes he would alienate his followers, and if he said no he would be arrested by the Romans. So he took a coin and asked them whose image was on it. ‘Casear’s,’ they replied. Then he told them to give the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to G_d the things that are G_d’s. Game, set and match! How today’s politicians wish they could emulate this stunning riposte!

(Matt 22: 15-22)

5

Throwing the bankers out of the temple

Wouldn’t everyone like to see bankers, currency dealers and speculators get their comeuppance? Well try this: go into the head branch of any bank, open the tills and tip the contents on the floor. Tell the manager his bank is nothing but a den of robbers, then try to leave. See how far you get

(Mark 11:15)

4

Walking on water

Cephas couldn’t do it, but Yeshua could. Even Evel Knievel never managed this – nor Houdini, nor David Blaine –  the ultimate stunt for show-offs!

(Matt 14:25-32)

3

Raising Lazarus from the dead

Lazarus had been dead for four days and making quite a stench when Yeshua brought his rotting corpse back to life. Isn’t it amazing that G_d continues to allow such suffering in the world if his son is capable of such feats?

(John 11:1-44)

2

Rising from the dead

There’s plenty of speculation on this one, and no-one except Yeshua really knows the truth. Even so, it’s quite a claim and, amazingly, a quarter of the world’s population believe it!

(See, for example, Matt 28:1-20 and John 20:1-30)

1

Changing water into wine

The ultimate party piece! He did it for his mother (doesn’t everyone want to please their mother?) Amazingly, in surveys eight out of ten said they would rather be able to turn water in to wine than come back from the dead.

(John 2:1-10)

 

©David Lawrence Preston, 30.7.2017

 

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Front cover 201 things

Balboa Press, 2015. Available through Amazon and other retailers.

 

We know next to nothing about Yeshua

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

Facebook and Twitter

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Front cover 201 things

Balboa Press, 2015

‘Jesus’ wasn’t called ‘Jesus’

The first and most obvious historical fact about the main character of the New Testament gospels is that he wasn’t called ‘Jesus’. To some, this is an obvious point, to others it comes as a surprise; some acknowledge it but think it doesn’t matter. But it does, because it illustrates the way in which the religiously-charged carpenter from Nazareth was transformed into the son of G_d in the minds of his followers.

He was probably known to his family and friends by the Aramaic name Yeshua bar Yehosef – Yeshua Son of Joseph (or Yeshua ben Josef in Hebrew). Aramaic was a dialect of Hebrew once spoken in Northern Palestine, and Yeshua’s mother tongue. Jesus is the Greek equivalent.

So why Greek?

All the books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek, not Hebrew or Latin as commonly supposed. Then around 382 CE, a priest called Jerome was translating the New Testament scripts into Latin and decided to stay with the Greek name. It stuck.

After his death, Yeshua became known as ‘the Christ’ at the instigation of his leading apostle, Paul of Tarsus. The literal meaning of Christ is ‘the anointed one’, from the Greek ‘Christos’. ‘Messiah’ means much the same thing.

Jesus

Yeshua became known to the world as ‘Jesus Christ’, but he would not have answered to either name. Strange, isn’t it? Millions of subscribers to the world’s largest and most influential religion refer to their ‘Saviour’ by a name he would not have recognised! They are names ascribed to him years after his death.

Does it matter? Consider this: the bogus and mischievous millionaire ‘guru’ known as Bagwan Shree Rajneesh in his lifetime, the man who preached simplicity and humility yet acquired 98 Rolls Royces, was relaunched as ‘Osho’ after his death. It distanced him from the real man and made him seem more likely to be taken seriously. Need I say more?

 

Copyright David Lawrence Preston, 26.8.2016

Facebook and Twitter

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

 

Front cover 201 things

Balboa Press, 2015

Christianity is not about good deeds but blind faith

Does Christianity help or hinder us realising our spirituality?

Spirituality is a deep appreciation of our non-physical essence coupled with an enriching process of personal growth and transformation.

In contrast, religion is a formalised set of beliefs and rituals presented within a formatted organisational structure. It’s an uncomfortable fact for those who like formality and ceremonials in religion that the Christian Prophet Yeshua (‘Jesus’) was not a huge fan of them.

Not long ago, a prominent former UK government minister presented a TV programme on the future of Christianity. During the programme, she debated with a Humanist. He argued, as a humanist would, that the whole basis of Christianity is fictitious. There are no gods, no angels, no devil and no miracles, and morality doesn’t depend on believing in these things.

‘Don’t you believe in love and forgiveness, and being kind to each other?’ she countered. He said of course he did, but that didn’t make him a Christian; all the great religions teach love, compassion, peaceful conduct and right living. Humanism does too. They’re largely common sense and do not need Christian theology to support them. And he’s right. Because it’s not these things that define Christianity. There’s a lot more to it than loving your neighbour and treating others as you would like to be treated.

JC

Even following the gospel teachings of Yeshua is not enough. It’s not even the point. Far more important for Christians is to believe certain things about him – who he was, how he came to Earth, his place in the Holy Trinity and what became of him after he died. The religion’s greatest apostle, Paul of Tarsus made this very clear: he wrote that if we have absolute faith in Yeshua’s death and resurrection, we take our place in the Kingdom of G_d. This, not one’s good deeds, is what distinguishes a Christian from a non-Christian.

© David Lawrence Preston, 25.8.2016

Facebook and Twitter

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Front cover 201 things

Balboa Press, 2015

If we want a rounded picture, we must be look at all available sources

Church theologians say that everything we need to know about Yeshua (‘Jesus’) can be found in the New Testament, and that what is written there is all true. But surely if we want a rounded picture, we must be look at all available sources. That’s not easy; Yeshua barely features in any non-Christian sources from the 1st Century and none at all from the first half of the century when he was alive.

Outside the New Testament there are only four known references to him, and they don’t say very much:

  • Flavius Josephus[1], a Jewish historian (c37-c100 CE), referred to him as a ‘Yeshua who was called Christ’, a healer from Galilee[2] who attracted large crowds, told stories and was put to death because he made the authorities nervous.
  • The Roman historian Tacitus (c55-c120 CE) wrote of the ‘Chrestiani’ blamed by the Emperor Nero for setting fire to Rome in 64 CE. The name derived from ‘Christus’ who ‘was executed in the reign of Tiberius on the orders of the procurator Pontius Pilate’ for allegedly refusing to pay taxes to the Emperor.’[3] Tacitus tells us that ten years after Yeshua’s death the authorities were aware of conflict in Rome’s Jewish community about whether Yeshua had really been their Messiah. Christians were mistrusted by mainstream Jews, persecuted by Emperor Nero and widely mocked.
  • Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c75-150 CE), a Roman biographer and historian[4], and Pliny the Younger (c62-113 CE)[5] also mention conflicts between Yeshua’s followers and the authorities.

Neither Josephus, Tacitus, Tranquillus nor Pliny considered Yeshua’s teachings worth a mention, and none verify the most extraordinary events described in the New Testament, the virgin birth, nature miracles, resurrection and ascension.

Historians have long expressed amazement that a man who was supposedly mobbed by crowds, performed miracles and rose from the dead didn’t get much of a mention in any of the non-devotional literature of the time. It suggests he was a fairly minor figure during his lifetime, almost unknown outside his own region, and that much of what was written about him came from the creative imagination of a tiny group of people – the Christian community.

[1] Antt.20, 197-203 = XX, 9,1)

[2] A small province that is now part of Northern Israel.

[3] Annals XV, 44,3)

[4] Claudius, 25

[5] Epistles X, 96

©David Lawrence Preston, 2015

Facebook and Twitter

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Front cover 201 things

Balboa Press, 2015

Yeshua bar Yehosef was barely mentioned by the chroniclers of his time

Did Yeshua bar Yehosef, the man later renamed ‘Jesus’ by his Greek and Roman followers, actually exist?

At one time I doubted it. I placed him in the same category as King Arthur, Hercules and Robin Hood, mythical characters only loosely based on real people. But now I’m sure he did, even though the historical evidence is slim.

The problem is, the New Testament texts and most of the so-called Gnostic Gospels were written by men who never met Yeshua and were intent on glorifying him. Indeed, they are the only documentary sources from his own century that place any great importance on him at all. From a historical perspective he was a marginal figure, barely worthy of a mention by the major chroniclers of the time.

Outside the gospels there are only four known references to him, and they don’t say very much. Only one, by Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, referred to him personally. He described him as a  healer from Galilee who attracted large crowds, told stories and was put to death because he made the authorities nervous.

The Roman historians Tacitus, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus and Pliny the Younger also mention conflicts between Yeshua’s followers and the authorities but say nothing about Yeshua the man.

Neither Josephus, Tacitus, Tranquillus nor Pliny considered Yeshua’s teachings worth a mention, and none refer to – let alone verify – the most extraordinary events described in the New Testament, the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection and ascension.

If these events really took place, don’t you think they would have done?

©David Lawrence Preston, 24.8.2016

Facebook and Twitter

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @David_L_Preston

Front cover 201 things

Balboa Press, 2015