An essay donated by Alton Thompson
“Killing Him Won’t Be the End of Him”
So says a woman near the end of an advertisement currently running on television for an episode of A.D. The Bible Continues, scheduled on the NBC channel for 2015-APR-05, Easter Sunday . 1 The woman is referring to Jesus, of course.
In this essay, however, I question that woman’s assertion. In doing so I do not, of course, question the fact that Christianity arose. What I question, rather, is whether Jesus continued to “live” . . . in Christianity, and I answer that question in the negative!
In making that assertion, the question arises: What would it mean for Jesus to continue to “live”? And the answer to that question should be obvious:
If Jesus were to continue to “live” after his death, he would need to (a) have had disciples who (b) had listened to, and (c) remembered, his teachings, and
then, after the death of Jesus, had (d) conveyed those teachings to others, who (e) continued the process . . . .
“Continuing” the teachings of a Master would, of course, involve not only verbatim repetition of those teachings, but the development of the Master’s teachings over time -- with each new generation giving them an interpretation appropriate for the characteristics of the time and place. Such interpretation would, of course, lead not only to changes in the teachings over time, but a variety of interpretations in different places at a given point in time.
Insofar as “followers” at one location became aware of interpretations of other followers at other locations, they would become aware of the fact that others had different interpretations -- those differences being attributable to:
- People living in different situations, with individual “followers” having different personalities, life experiences, degrees of wealth, levels of education/intelligence, etc. -- but with all individuals having a sincere, honest commitment to interpreting the Master’s teachings in a way believed, honestly, to be consistent with the original teachings.
- Dishonesty on the part of some who claim to be disciples of the Master -- e.g., individuals who perceive a Movement developing, those individuals having a personality that “drives” them to seek control over others,
- that “drive” leading them to “join up” with the Movement, and then proceeding to gain control over it.
Becoming aware of different interpretations could, conceivably, lead to conflict with members of other groups, but:
- Groups in the first category above might not enter into conflict because each might recognize that the interpretation given by another group was at least compatible with their own interpretation -- so that following the “love of neighbor” principle taught by the Master demanded living in peace with that other group.
- Groups in the second category, given the nature of their leadership, might regard all other groups as their enemies, and therefore attempt to “convert” them -- but through, e.g., conquest, rather than persuasion.
In the case of Jesus, scholars know that a number of groups having an orientation to Jesus developed after his death -- the German scholar Walter Bauer [1877 – 1960] being a notable initiator of research on that topic 2 -- with Bart D. Ehrman’s "Lost Christianities" being an example of a recent work carrying on that tradition. 3 However, although of these groups the Ebionites seemed to have carried forth Jesus’s teachings most accurately/honestly 4 (insofar as we know what those teachings were!. 5 “virtually all forms of modern Christianity, whether they acknowledge it or not, go back to one form of Christianity that emerged as victorious from the conflicts of the second and third centuries” 6 -- and that form was not Ebionism!
The group that did emerge to dominance labeled itself as “orthodox,” and labeled all other groups as “heretical.” This group -- which we moderns have come to call the “Christian” group -- emerged to dominance for a variety of reasons, with Emperor Constantine’s [272 – 337] “conversion” to Christianity perhaps being the major factor. 7 And what’s significant about that “conversion” is that, as Ehrman notes,
“Some scholars think that Constantine saw in the [emerging] Christian church a way of bringing unity to the empire itself.” 8
The strong possibility that Constantine’s “pushing” of Christianity 9 was motivated by political considerations shaped the way that Christianity developed. The fact that the leaders of Christianity chose that name for the religion implies that they perceived Jesus as Christ -- as, that is, the (long-expected -- with Jews) Messiah. 10 More importantly, however, their choice of the word “Christianity” for their religion -- along with the fact that they applied the term orthodox 11 to it -- indicates that they had a belief orientation. Which orientation just happened to have been compatible with Constantine’s political intentions! A behavioral orientation -- with love of neighbor as its central principle -- would by no means have been compatible with the imperialistic practices associated with the Roman Empire!
Scholar John Dominic Crossan, in his The Birth of Christianity, 12 has tried to understand the early years after Jesus’s death in terms of a “Life Tradition” and “Death Tradition.” Crossan argued (p. xxxiv) that the Life Tradition placed an emphasis on “the sayings of Jesus and on living within the kingdom of God,” whereas the Death Tradition put an emphasis on the (alleged) “resurrection of Jesus and on lives lived in expectation of his [i.e., Jesus’s] return . . . .” However, the Life Tradition appears to have had few representatives in the early years (the Ebionites being, though, somewhat of an example), with most of the groups being either in the Death Tradition 13 or “other”! Thus, the distinction made by Crossan was more a matter of wishful thinking than something having empirical support!
The Christian Bible, with its New Testament, was the work of leaders of (orthodox) Christianity, 14 and the gospels in that collection of books present (alleged) events in Jesus’s life, along with (alleged) teachings (many of them using the parable as the vehicle for presentation). The teachings contained in the gospels could form the basis for a religion (which we might term “Jesuanism,” to distinguish it from “Christianity”), but as I have pointed out, other than Ebionism, few if any of the early “Jesus groups” that formed in the early years after Jesus’s death had an orientation to his teachings.
More commonly, the groups that formed had some sort of belief orientation, and paid little heed to the teachings contained in the gospels -- which fact is ironic, of course. But although it is ironic, it is also understandable: Given that Christianity developed basically as a political tool, why should one be surprised to learn that it developed with a belief, not a behavioral, orientation; and from an institutional standpoint developed (a) as a vehicle for controlling the behavior of others, and (b) engaging them in behaviors of a merely ritualistic nature?
Thus, although the woman quoted at the beginning of this essay declared that “killing him won’t be the end of him,” in fact the rise of Christianity did, in fact, “put an end to Jesus” -- to an important degree. It’s true that Christianity does not ignore the teachings of Jesus recorded in the four canonical gospels, 15 but the various denominations of Christianity tend to give more emphasis to beliefs about Jesus than the teachings attributed to him. Put another way, rather than being the religion of Jesus, Christianity tends to be a religion about him. Given what I said about “discipleship” at the beginning of this essay, there is, then, justification for asserting that Christianity did “put an end” to Jesus!
The following linked information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "A.D. The Bible Continues," at: http://www.nbc.com/, as of 2015-MAR-16.
- Bart Ehrman, "Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew," Oxford University Press (2005). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. Available in Kindle, hardcover, paperback and audible formats.
- A group of conservative scholars have questioned the “Bauer thesis” in a recent book edited by Paul A. Hartog.
- Ehrman, op. cit., p. 253.
- As no contemporary evidence exists about Jesus, it is impossible to know with certainty what his teachings were -- or even whether he ever existed, for that matter! The four gospels in the Christian Bible present teachings by Jesus, but each gospel presents a different “picture” of Jesus.
- Ehrman, op.cit., p. 4.
- Ehrman, op. cit., p. 251.
- Ehrman op. cit., p. 250.
- Emperor Constantine [272 - 337 CE] issued the edict of Milan in 313 CE, legalizing the practice of Christianity. The emperor Theodosius I [347 – 395 CE] made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Emperor in 380 CE.
- In “(Ancient Greek: Χριστός, Christós, meaning ‘anointed’) is a translation of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ) and the Syriac ܡܫܝܚܐ (M'shiha), the Messiah, and is used as a title for Jesus in the New Testament.
- Orthodoxy “(from Greek ὀρθός, orthos (‘right’, ‘true’, ‘straight’) and δόξα, doxa (‘opinion’ or ‘belief’, related to dokein, ‘to think’),) is adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion. In the Christian sense the term means ;conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early Church’.”
- John Dominic Crossan, "The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus," HarperCollins, (1998). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. Available in Kindle, hardcover, and paperback formats.
- The emphasis that some placed on the (alleged) significance of the blood shed by Jesus during his crucifixion has led some to label this version of Christianity as Vampire Christianity! I would also add that the title of Ehrman’s book (Lost Christianities) is misleading in that not all of the early groups in question here thought of Jesus as the Christ -- and that given that, they should not be referred to as Christians.
- Their being motivated to create a New Testament by an earlier such document created by the “heretic” Marcion.
- Of course, “Christianity” is not monolithic but, rather, consists of a number of different denominations -- and some denominations give more attention to the teachings attributed to Jesus than others.
Originally posted: 2015-MAR-16
Last updated 2015-MAR-16
Author: Alton Thompson