Who was Jesus?
And what was Jesus’ name? “Jesus” simply means “Savior” in hebrew, just like “Christ” is the Greek for “anointed” (a term used in the Old Testament for many kings). But what was his real name?
The family name Barsabas is attributed in the Acts to both a Joseph and a Judas. There is evidence pointing to the fact that Judas Barsabas could be Thaddeus, who is also Judas the “twin brother” of Jesus (Thaddeus is a contraction of “Judas Thomas”, that in turn means Judas the brother). Names similar to Barsabas (and Barabbas) recur in Jesus’ relatives. The very bandit Barabbas could just be a split in the story, that separated the prophet from the bandit (they were one for the Romans).
Irenaeus himself writes that “Iesous… is a symbolic name”.
The Romans kept accurate records of every political and judicial event.
There is no record of Pontius Pilate trying and executing a man named Jesus.
Only two Roman writers of Jesus’ time mention Christians (Pliny and Svetonius) but they don’t mention Jesus.
The first Roman to mention Jesus is Tacitus, but almost a century after the death of Jesus.
The Jewish historian Josephus certainly mentions Christians, but his words about Jesus are generally considered a later forgery (the Christian historian Origen of the third century wrote that Josephus never mentioned Jesus).
The Jewish philosopher Philo, who lived in Egypt at the time of Jesus does not seem to know anything about Jesus or Christians (he died in the year 40).
Paul himself, one of the founders of Christianity, never talks about Jesus’ life, while he definitely talks about his brother James.
By analyzing the historical records, one possible explanation of the events emerges. Jesus, whether because related by blood (via his mother) to the Maccabeans that Jews still revered, or because related to Herod whom Jews feared, claimed to to be the king of the Jews. Some Jews liked him because they recognized his credentials (especially if he was indeed a Maccabean), some Jews despised him as a madman. Eventually, his claims came to the hears of the Romans, as well as his teachings (he was probably a sort of “communist” philosopher, preaching that all humans are equal), and that is what the Romans killed him for. He was probably killed with no trial, just like many other “rebels” of the time that Rome did not deem worthy of any bureaucracy. That is the reason why nobody knows where his tomb is: the Romans did not bother to bury him or return his body.
Paul, heir to the Jewish establishment that wanted to coexist with the Romans and adopt Greek philosophy, was the first Roman citizen to become Christian and spread the Christian word around the world. He was also the first to claim that Greeks and Romans could be as Christian as Jews. In Rome, it was a natural decision to adopt his version of Christianity. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christianity was “relocated” from Palestine to Rome: instead of recognizing the thread that starts with Jesus and continues with James and the following disposyni/desposini, Rome decided to start counting with Peter (the first Christian martyr in Rome) and his descendants, the popes.
The Shroud of Turin
I frequently get asked for an opinion about the Shroud of Turin. This is a shroud that has preserved the body image of a crucified man in his 30s. For centuries devout Catholics believed that it is the shround in which Jesus was wrapped after the crucifixion and that a miracle preserved the body image. Historical records only go back to the 14th century. Then it came into possession of the Savoy family that ended up uniting and ruling Italy, and today the Shroud belongs to the Vatican and is stored in Turin (the old capital of the Savoy kingdom in northern Italy). Countless theories have been advanced to explain the “miraculous” image. Scientists were allowed to conduct tests in 1978 and delivered a verdict: the Shroud was manufactured in the Middle Ages.
However, the scientific method was rather unscientific and it did not settle the question at all. Personally, i suspect that the Shroud is indeed real: it dates from Jesus’ time and it might well be that the corpse wrapped in it was the corpse of Jesus. It is just implausible that someone (someone with an amazing knowledge of chemistry) would create such a perfect fake that would last for centuries and fool everybody for centuries. There is no other artifact from the Middle Ages that even remotely belongs to the same category. There is no document of anyone having discovered a technique to manufacture this kind of images. It is simply implausible that someone would achieve this feat but no record would remain of it, and that person would never take credit for such an amazing creation, and nobody else would ever learn that craft and continue it.
The first skeptic was John Calvin, who objected that the Gospels never mention this quasi-magical Shroud. There might be two simple reasons:
1. It was discovered later, during the Roman persecutions, and the Christians had no motivation and no power to publicize it;
2. It was already known at the time of the Gospels but the Gospels were meant to tell the story of Jesus by people who already believed him to be a divine being, and did not need to mention a shroud as further evidence after having listed much more spectacular miracles.
In fact, i suspect that the Shroud (and possibly other relics that we have never found or that are not as dramatic as the Shroud) is the very reason that so many people believed in Jesus’ superpowers: in an age awash in all sorts of irrational legends, the Shroud must have looked like a very rational proof of Jesus’ divine status even to those who never met Jesus and who would not have otherwise believed the tales of the apostles.
Further opinion and reading recommendations found here: