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Christmas Myth: Was Jesus Jewish?

by Revilo P. Oliver

THE HEBREW NAME which is vocalized as Yēhōshūa (=Joshua) and means “God is riches” (or, in more up-to-date English, “God is money”), was colloquially contracted (as our “William” is contracted to “Bill”), especially in the dialect of Aramaic, to Yēshūa, for which the Latin equivalent is Iēsūs, but in the general ignorance of the Roman decadence, when the Christian cult became popular, this was corrupted to, Jēsŭs, whence the English “Jesus.”

The name was extremely common among Jews. The more civilized ones replaced it with genuinely Greek or Roman names to affect participation in the culture of the time, much as Jews in this country often assume English names. Other individuals bearing that name could be distinguished from one another only by adding the name of the father or the place of origin, if either was known, and, obviously, even with such additions a great deal of confusion was possible and even likely.

There were quite a number of agitators named Jesus whose careers could have contributed elements to the various Christian legends. Among them:

(1) A Jewish rabble-rouser who adopted the Greek name, Chrestus, and whose real name may have been Jesus. He is mentioned by Suetonius, who tells us only that around A.D. 30 he incited Jewish outbreaks in Rome so serious that they had to be put down by troops. He may have escaped from Rome at that time to incite trouble elsewhere, possibly in Palestine. He is mentioned first because he would account for the fact that when the Christians first appear in history, around A.D. 112, they were known as Chrestiani, and it took them a century to get their name changed to the spelling now in use.

(2) Jesus, son of Ananias, who prophesied in A.D. 62 that the temple in Jerusalem would soon be destroyed. According to Josephus, the Sanhedrin tried to persuade the Roman procurator to crucify this Jesus, but the Roman thought him merely insane and so released him. He was eventually killed by the Romans during the siege of Jerusalem.

(3) A Jew from Egypt, name unknown but identified in the Talmud as Jesus of Nazareth, who tried to start an insurrection in Jerusalem by posing as a “prophet of God,” intending to pillage the city with a mob that he assembled on the Mount of Olives. According to Josephus, the Roman procurator naturally sent out the cavalry, killed four hundred of the crazed fanatics and captured two hundred more, dispersing the rest. The agitator naturally took care of his own skin, eluded pursuit, and high-tailed it back to Egypt. He must have been glib, if, as Josephus says, he acquired in Judaea a following of 30,000 before he made his foolish attempt to attack Jerusalem. His career would account for the odd association of the Christian hero with Egypt in many legends.

(4) Jesus, son of Sapphias, who started a revolt in Tiberias, where he burned the palace and massacred the Greek inhabitants. He escaped from the region, according to Josephus, who tells us no more.

(5) Jesus of Galilee, who went to Jerusalem with a private army of 600 men and tried to infiltrate the city, but was betrayed by one of his confederates, Jesus, son of Gamalas. Josephus does not tell us what happened to him, but if the Romans caught him, they probably sliced off his head or nailed him to a cross.

(6) The Jesus, son of Gamalas, just mentioned, who, although a Man of God according to Josephus, was assassinated by the Zealots while the Romans under Titus were besieging Jerusalem.

(7) A thaumaturgist [a “miracle worker”; that is, a magician who claims divine powers — Ed.] named Jesus (paternity unstated), who, according to Josephus, was called a messiah, attracted quite a following, and was crucified. The passage in Josephus’s Antiquitates is generally regarded as a Christian interpolation, on the grounds that a Jew would not speak well of a Christian messiah, but that argument is grossly anachronistic since it supposes a difference between Jews and “Christians” at a date when the “Christians” were just another one of the many sects of Jewish malcontents and fanatics in Palestine. According to Josephus, this man had a brother named Jacob (James), whom the Sanhedrin, putting something over in the interval between the departure of one procurator and the arrival of another, had stoned to death. If this group had a considerable popular following, Josephus may well have wanted to curry favor with that party of Jews. He wrote, for popular consumption by his fellow Jews, a version of his work in Aramaic, now lost but probably the basis of a Slavonic version in which it is said that this Jesus was the legitimate King of the Jews, but did not reign because he was crucified by the prosperous Jews, who feared that his projected revolt would fail and get them in trouble with the Romans. Of course, one cannot be sure of the authenticity of either passage.

(8) Quite a number of Jews who jostled others out of the post of High Priest and were later jostled out them­selves were named Jesus. One such, who assumed the Greek name of Jason, was thrown out by his brother, Onias, who called himself Menelaus. Jason-Jesus started riots to regain his holy office and may have been killed or executed. His brother, Menelaus, remained High Priest until his intrigues got him into trouble and he was seized and executed (mode of execution not stated) by Antiochus Epiphanes.

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Source: Instauration magazine, September 1979


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