People think that Moses and Jesus and Mohammed must have been incredibly charismatic. I don’t know about Moses or Mohammed. Never met them. But I can tell you that Jeshua of Nazareth was anything but. He was dour, in just the way the Scots would pronounce the word and pride themselves in being it. Fact is, the man had no sense of humour.
Not that he took himself, not unlike the Blues Brothers, to be on a mission from God. At least not when I first met him. When I first met him he was just – how shall I put this? – unimaginatively religious. He was certainly no philosopher, which is just to say he asked no questions. Mind you, neither did he tell any lies. He was just, well, kind of milktoast. Until …
Until one day, someone – I don’t know who – must have lit a fire in his belly. Because all of a sudden, whereas he’d always been religious, he got religion. And then he went from just a bit of a bore to insufferable. By which I mean he started to preach. And to add insult to injury, people started listening to him. He still didn’t have any charisma. And I wouldn’t say anyone particularly liked him. But he wasn’t particularly unlikeable either. He was just, as I say, preachy.
In any event, he didn’t so much pontificate – well he couldn’t, now could he? – as he just calmly preached what he took to be the spirit of the Law rather than the letter of it; which wasn’t all that surprising since he certainly couldn’t recite Torah, as most wannabe rabbis could. But for all that, he didn’t say anything that hadn’t been said a thousand times before. He didn’t have the gift of the gab to make it more stirring. He just talked. Almost ploddingly. But you felt that he felt what he was saying, in much the way more traditional preachers didn’t. And maybe that’s what drew people to him.
But apart from that authenticity, I guess you could call it, he was pretty much unremarkable. Until … Until some of his followers on Twitter, so to speak, got it into their heads that maybe, just maybe, he could be inveigled into leading an uprising against the Occupation. Because they thought he could be a rabble rouser? No. Rabble rousers were a dime a dozen. Rather because they thought his calm and measured demeanour would prove a refreshing and therefore attractive change to the political palaver of the day.
But, alas, he wasn’t all that interested in politics. He just wanted people to be kinder to one another, not for the sake of revolution, nor for the sake of God, but for the sake of each other. Because that is what he thought the Law was all about. As I say, not particularly novel. But then when it comes to getting along with each other, nothing is.
In any event, what the Gospels did get right is that Pilate’s advisors took none too kindly to the prospect of yet another challenge to the Emperor’s authority. And even though Jeshua was anything but, an example had to be made, and he seemed as good as any for it to be made of. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Overkill, to be sure. And rather sad in a way, because he really wasn’t much of a threat to anyone, let alone the Emperor in Rome. But, as history would tell, it was an overkill that backfired and eventually did become a threat to the Emperor in Rome. To whom, having transferred himself to the east a couple centuries later, Constantine wisely elected to acquiesce to the threat rather than resist it.
The rest of the story, as is so often the case with ‘great’ men, is made up post hoc. There were no three wise men from the East. His mother was not a virgin, nor did he and his family escape to Egypt. He performed no miracles. He had no friend named Judas, nor a hanger-on named Mary Magdeline. He was executed in late August, not at Passover, so who knows what he had for his last supper. There was no tomb, let alone an empty one, and he appeared posthumously to no one, save in the imagination of the Gospel writers.
Plato wrote the script for Socrates, Saul of Tarsus did the same for Jeshua. Both proved to be best-sellers. But from what I knew of Jeshua, he wouldn’t have been even a footnote to a footnote had it not been for Saul deciding to make him the protagonist in a wonderfully inventive morality play. It was Saul’s story, from birth to death to resurrection. But it was a good story, and it took off.
To be fair, Jeshua was an acquaintance, not a friend. So I’m in no position to opine on what was going on in his own mind. Nor, especially, on what if anything was in the mind of God in investing him, if indeed He did, will salvific powers. Nor am I in a position to guess at what we might need saving from. Perhaps God does work in mysterious ways, and He chose to load some weighty metaphysical import onto the shoulders of this unsuspecting nobody. All I can say is that, not unlike Uri Gagarin, I saw none of that.
I suspect – though I have no way of knowing – that I would be equally unimpressed with Moses or Mohammed or Joseph Smith or Stalin or Hitler or Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. People are first and foremost people. Everything else is an add-on, sometimes entirely fictional, at the very least embellished, but always, at some level, important. Otherwise we wouldn’t tell these stories.