Readers who have followed my writings over the last decade or so are aware—from the book NazarethGate (final chapter) and on this website—of my thesis that Yeshu ha-Notsri was the historical founder of Christianity (e.g., see here). Yeshu lived in the early decades of the first century BCE (not CE!), thus exactly one century before the putative Jesus of Nazareth. Unlike Jesus of Nazareth, however, Yeshu is a prophet known to non-Christian literary records dating back to antiquity. That datum is critical, for the same cannot be said for Jesus of Nazareth. Over the last century, Jesus mythicists have scientifically shown that early attestations for the man from Nazareth are, without exception, either Christian forgeries or late Christian interpolations. The most thorough demolition of those false literary ‘witnesses’ is doubtless Hermann Detering’s book Falsche Zeugen (“False Witnesses,” German, Alibri, 2011). But several works in English reach the same conclusion, including several by Robert M. Price as also Frank Zindler’s, The Jesus the Jews Never Knew (AAP, 2003).
None of the above authors, however, ventures to discuss Yeshu ha-Notsri. Scientifically, this is actually quite surprising, for the name Yeshu ha-Notsri exactly translates “Jesus the Nazarene.” And we even know of a Jewish prophet, Yeshu ha-Notsri, in history. That Yeshu appears in both the Mishna and the Talmud as an early disciple of Joshua ben Perachiah, who was the head of the Sanhedrin in early I BCE and the most powerful religious figure in Israel after the High Priest. Yeshu fled to Alexandria, Egypt, together with ben Perachiah and a number of other rabbinic v.i.p.’s during the infamous pogrom of Alexander Janneus against the Pharisees, chronicled by Josephus (Ant. 13.372-83; Wars 1.90-98) and by rabbinical writings.
The Jewish records infer that Yeshu ha-Notsri was a well-placed Pharisee by upbringing, education, and heritage. For a discussion of the passages regarding Yeshu in the Talmud, see NazarethGate 419–427. Alternately, you may wait a couple of weeks and I will be mirroring those critical pages in subsequent posts in this series.
That Jewish records suggest Yeshu was a well-placed Pharisee may strike readers as a summary disqualification for him being the founder of Christianity. After all, the Jesus of the gospels is implacably opposed to the Pharisees—he is hardly a Pharisee himself! History, however, is ever full of surprises, and the problem evaporates when we learn that the historical Yeshu abandoned his Pharisaic heritage and subsequently became an inveterate enemy of the Pharisees, his one-time faction.
It is fashionable in scholarly circles today to portray Jesus as a Jew through-and-through. When stripped of their (secondary) narrative frames and ancillary accoutrements, however, the sayings and parables attributed to Jesus in the New Testament are quite un-Jewish—they endorse poverty, asceticism, encratism, abandonment of family, love of enemies, and the search for something better than what materiality and this life can provide. All these things are quite foreign to Judaism—at least, to the Judaism enshrined in the Old Testament. Surprisingly, however, all these elements are entirely at home in Buddhism.
Most astonishingly, it should not be overlooked that Jesus, like the Buddha, was a wandering mendicant prophet. The fundamental similarities in lifestyle between the two religious figures are truly striking.
I will explore the known details of Yeshu ha-Notsri’s remarkable life and religious career in future posts. Here, however, I summarize by saying that while in Egyptian exile he abandoned his Pharisaic heritage and evidently embraced a radically un-Jewish philosophy, impelling Perachiah to excommunicate Yeshu for apostasy. What was that philosophy? I strongly suspect that while in Alexandria the founder of Christianity encountered Buddhism, a form of gnosticism, and was converted. Refusing to be intimated, after his conversion/excommunication Yeshu evidently returned to Palestine and taught his new religion/philosophy with great success among the common people. That religion was arguably a form of Buddhism adapted to Jewish sensibilities, imagery, and language. Yet, Yeshu’s very successful activity caused both astonishment and fear among the Jewish establishment. He was arrested by the Sanhedrin, tried for heresy and apostasy, stoned to death, and his body hung on a tree for passers-by to see. That, in a nutshell, is a summary of Yeshu’s meteoric and extraordinary religious career.
Obviously, there are many striking parallels between the ministry of Yeshu ha-Nostri and that of Jesus of Nazareth: both were prophets living around the turn of the era, both opposed the “Pharisees and scribes,” both were tried and found guilty by the Jewish establishment, both were sentenced to death, and both were crucified/hung up on a tree. And, of course, the names of the two prophets are identical: Iesou Nazarene is certainly a Greek adaptation of the Hebrew Yeshu ha-Notsri (see next post for proof of this).
The long final chapter of my second book, NazarethGate (American Atheist Press, 2015) is unquestioningly the most detailed resumé to date of the case for Yeshu ha-Notsri as founder of Christianity. Entitled “In Search of the Rejected Seer,” the chapter extends to seventy-five pages. In it one will find a variety of arguments and details supporting my thesis, most especially pages 419–27. Here I do not intend to review all the surprising and forgotten historical details revealed in the book. I limit myself merely to the chapter’s highlights, proceeding section by section:
(a) Controlling the story (pp. 402–06)—The traditional view of Christian origins, so widespread today as for the last fifteen hundred years, is itself based solely on Christian records. There is no external control. As it turns out (see above), those records were forged and fabricated long after the turn of the era by Christians themselves, in order to promote the false views of Jesus of Nazareth as set forth in the New Testament.
(b) Pre-Christian gnosticism (pp. 406–08)—Generally ignored, the fairly universal religion of the Levant in pre-Christian times was a religion centering on hard-to-find gnosis. That ubiquitous religion is widely attested in cuneiform records of the Bronze and Iron Ages, from Sumer to Anatolia. In that pre-Christian gnostic religion, water is a widespread symbol for gnosis. Enki (literally “Lord of the World”) was a Sumerian water deity known for his wisdom. Enki’s home was in the watery deep (the “Abzu”), and Gilgamesh seeks the plant of immortality also deep underwater (Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet XI). Solomon’s Temple had a great basin of water, a relic of the older religion (1 Kg 7:23-26 and 2 Chron 4:2-5). Only acquaintance with the Bronze-Iron Age religion of watery gnosis allows one to understand the prehistory of baptism, as well as truly puzzling passages in the Bible, such as the one in which David curiously yearns for the water from Bethlehem (2 Sam 23:13–17). Bethlehem itself was the mythical gateway to gnosis and the beyond—but all this rich proto-gnostic imagery and symbolism has long been lost. And that is no coincidence—it has been systematically and deliberately obliterated by Christianity.
(c) Jesus of Nazareth was unknown to “Paul” (pp. 408–11)—This is still contested by mainstream Christianity, but it is quite evident that Paul knew only a spiritual Jesus, an all-encompassing, invisible, saving, and divine entity that is available to all and at any time. Paul also knows nothing—or next to nothing—of the career of Jesus of Nazareth.
(d) A human being (pp. 412–17)—While Paul’s Jesus is spiritual, certain epistles attributed to Paul seem to refer to the fusion of divine and human elements in a single person of history, one who was “anointed,” who “suffered,” and who was spiritually elevated to the status of High Priest in heaven. The Epistle to the Hebrews refers to “in the days of his flesh” (5:7), and many epistles have allusions to a prophet in the flesh (a full list of passages with discussion is in the book).
(e) Docetism (pp. 417–18)—The above theological perspective (what I call Stage II Christology), that is, the fusion of divine spirit + human body, is today mischaracterized as “docetism” (from Gk. dokein, “to seem”). As commonly defined, docetists denied that Jesus had a fleshly body. However, this is a mischaracterization because Christians in the first century CE (Jesus of Nazareth had not yet been invented) denied only that the divine saving spirit had no body—it was immaterial (above, point [c]). However, that spiritual entity came down and indwelled a body here on earth—and it can do so for any number of people and at any time. This perspective is key to unlocking so many New Testament epistles attributed to Paul. In short, docetists did say that Jesus had no body, but only because they defined ‘Jesus’ uniquely as the immaterial, spiritual aspect of a saved person.
(f) “Clues to a lost teacher” (pp. 419–71)—In the 50+ pages of NazarethGate under this title I present the evidence that a prophet of the early first century BCE, by the name of Yeshu ha-Notsri (probably itself a title/given name) was the true founder of Christianity. I discuss Yeshu in Jewish writings (pp. 419-28), the invention of the Christian Jesus in II CE, and many enigmatic figures that may, in some ways, be merely echoes of Yeshu as reflected by different first century groups of followers (James the Just, Simon Magus, John the Baptist, Dositheus, etc). I close the chapter with a brief discussion of Qumran and its probable links to the original Jesus, Yeshu ha-Notsri.
NEXT : Evidence for Yeshu ha-Notsri from the medieval Jewish writer Abraham ibn Daud.