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

 

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The Christian gospels repeatedly disagree – with each other!

In my book, 201 Things About Christianity You Probably Don’t Know (But Ought To), I give dozens of examples where the four official Christian gospels disagree with each other. ‘Luke’ even disagrees with himself (since he also wrote Acts of the Apostles).

Those who say G_d wrote or inspired the Bible are shooting themselves in the foot. Does G_d get its fact wrong or contradict itself? It seems so.

There are many possible reasons why the gospels frequently disagree; you may be able to think of a few of your own. They include:

  • Chinese Whispers: the stories were passed down orally to each of the authors leading to distortions, exaggeration and inaccuracies.
  • They each researched the stories separately and uncovered different facts.
  • They selected those parts of the story which appealed to them, such as ‘Matthew’ preferring the myth of the Wise Men in the nativity stories and ‘Luke’ the shepherds.
  • None of them had all the facts, being separated from the events by time, language and distance.
  • They were more concerned with making theological points than getting the factual details right.
  • Each gospel author had a different agenda and chose only those facts which fit.
  • They used artistic licence to create a convincing argument and/or good story. In other words, they made some of it up!

Perhaps it’s all of the above!

Many years ago a journalist shared with me the guiding principle of his profession: ‘Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.’ The gospel authors were undoubtedly better journalists than historians! The evidence is right there in the pages of the New Testament itself.

©David Lawrence Preston, 25.8.2015

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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

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All reported speech in the New Testament is only an interpretation of what was actually said

Not many people realise that the entire New Testament was originally written in Greek – a language that Yeshua and his disciples barely knew (if at all). Their everyday tongue was Galilean Aramaic. They may have understood a smattering of Greek since Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee and just a stone’s throw from Nazareth, was on the main trade route from Greece to Asia Minor.

Most Jews also learned Hebrew so they could understand the scriptures, just as Muslims today learn Arabic to read the Qu’ran. Yeshua would also have needed Hebrew to communicate with the temple dignitaries in Jerusalem who would surely not have spoken Aramaic. We don’t know if he spoke Latin, the language of the Romans. Probably not, which poses an interesting question – how did he communicate with Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect, if indeed he really did (and there’s plenty of doubt)? Pilate may have spoken some Greek, but it’s unlikely they could have held a detailed conversation.

The implications are clear. Since the entire New Testament was written in a language foreign to Yeshua and the poor, illiterate Galileans with whom he associated, all reported speech in the gospels must be at least a third-hand translation of what was actually said. Or, more accurately, of the authors’ impressions of what was said or what the authors would have wanted him to say.

Aramaic, Hebrew and ancient Greek are said to be extremely difficult to translate into modern languages, but today’s expert linguists have a better knowledge of these languages and the people who spoke them than ever before so modern translations are considerably more accurate than their predecessors.

Scholars have thrown such additional light upon the original meaning of the scriptures that we cannot assume that a single paragraph of the Bible is understood in our day as it was intended at the time it was written.

Here’s the key. When reading any Bible passage we should ask ourselves, ‘What meaning did these events and sayings have for people living in that place at that time?’  Look for the meaning behind the words. That’s the challenge!

©David Lawrence Preston, 25.8.2016

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The roots of antisemitism are in the Christian Bible

Ever wondered why Jews are given such a hard time in some circles? It’s entrenched in the New Testament and for centuries was handed down as part of the Christian religion. After all, in the First century most Jews rejected Yeshua as their Messiah. By the year 100 CE (when the Fourth Gospel, ‘John’, was written) Christianity was no longer seen as a sub-sect of Judaism but as a separate religion and Jews and Christians were at each others throats.

All four gospels show Jews in a bad light, but the Fourth is the most derisive. Throughout this gospel, ‘the Jews’ are lumped together as a group, and the term used disparagingly. For example:

The Jews replied, ‘We are not permitted to put anyone to death’.’ (John 18:31)

‘Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus although a secret one because of fear of the Jews…..’ (John 19:38)

The Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.’ (John 9:22)

The New Testament is the origin of antisemitism and it’s a legacy that has never been fully overcome.

©David Lawrence Preston, 13.6.2016

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