I saw this sign on the way downtown the other day and liked it enough to snap a picture with my cell phone. I did a little research and think they might be right about this. While historical evidence for the existence of Jesus outside of the Bible is tenuous this is a concept worth exploring for it would make sense that Jesus, like millions of others, would have been sick of the brutal and oppressive Roman rule.
There a few historical sources regularly cited as evidence for the existence of Jesus outside of the bible. They include Pliny the younger and Tacitus, both came at least 20 or 30 years after Jesus would have died and are a matter of great debate. For the sake of argument this article will assume Jesus existed, at the very least, as a charismatic wise man a little over 2000 years ago in or near Jerusalem.
So, according the Bible, Jesus was a Jewish peasant living under Roman rule a little over 2000 years ago. What might he, and other peasants, be sick of? They lived under a dictator that ruled by bloodshed and conquest. While the Roman rule did bring a great deal more peace and freedom there were some very high prices that needed to be paid:
- Women: Cicero summarized Roman treatment of women in one line: “Our ancestors, in their wisdom, considered that all women, because of their innate weakness, should be under the control of guardians” Women had no real rights at all, marriages were almost always arranged and had only a little more freedom than under traditional Islam.
- Slavery: Slavery was common and rampant. The slaves were the lowest of the low in Roman culture and anyone with love in their heart (as Jesus would have) would find treating people this way abhorrent.
- Viciousness: Romans were vicious and violent. Throwing people to the lions was very entertaining and those civilians that were problematic were subjected to beatings, torture and crucifixion.
Roman peasants lived in dirty, squalid houses that could collapse or burn at any moment. Education, human rights and medical care were virtually non-existent and they lived in constant fear of their rulers. There was certainly a lot of things worth fighting for and so it stands to reason the someone like Jesus would have tried to teach people how to live and fight for a better life.
So if Jesus started a movement it would have most certainly been anti-roman establishment and that, as well know, would lead to to a torturous death. Jesus never expressed wanting followers or a religion, just change and what he said was his message from God. So the United Church that I saw this sign at was probably right about this. If Jesus did exist he had a good cause indeed. Even more importantly though, he didn’t set out to start a religion. He only wanted to help people live a better life, a message all churches could learn from.