6 More Insane Facts That Will Change How You View Christianity
If you read Cracked (or like actual historians), you already know Jesus wasn't born in a manager, the New Testament was conceived by a heretic, and the Massacre of the Innocents never happened.
Well, that's the tip of the Christberg. From there, it gets considerably messier ...
Jesus Wasn't the Only Messiah Nor the Most Famous in His Lifetime
First-century Judea wasn't all that different from the Monty Python movie.
It got crowded with all the miracle workers, political factions, and itinerant gurus, as at least seven other recorded claimants to the messiahship. Jesus was one of the more obscure ones.
Judas the Galilean led a failed violent uprising against Roman occupation, losing sons to crucifixion. Simon of Peraea dubbed himself the "King of the Jews" and was promptly beheaded, his followers crucified. JC contemporary Theudas inveigled the poor to revolt against the status quo, with unsurprising results.
More is written of "The Samaritan Prophet" than Jesus in ancient history books, the most famous penned by a historian named Josephus. Likewise, the SP met a swift end at the hands of a busy Pontius Pilate. Josephus also mentions "The Egyptian" who shared an interest in the Mount of Olives, raising a cult hostile to Rome, "promising deliverance." Spoilers for anyone who is behind on their first-century history reading, he didn't. Then there was Manahem, whom Josephus writes off as a jackass opportunist. And finally, there's "Jonathan the Weaver," an assassin-rabble rouser of Cyrene.
Josephus labeled them false messiahs. That honor went to the guy who sacked Jerusalem, Roman Emperor Vespasian. Gives new meaning to "render unto Caesar."
Even a hundred years later, holy men were still vainly hyping new messiahs, none with the staying power of Jesus.
Each Gospel is Describing an Entirely Different Guy
No ad campaign is complete without market research. The same applies to religion. For each new niche audience, an appropriate Jesus and gospel had to be formulated. Jews got Mark to read. Proto-Christians got Matthew. Patriotic Roman gentiles got Luke. John's Jesus is a supernatural Superman, with Judas as his Lex Luthor. As there was no Bible yet, early narratives clashed, intentionally contradictory. It makes as much sense as stitching every Batman movie, cartoon, Turkish rip-off, and fan-film together and insisting every frame is cannon.
In Mark's simple version, Jesus's a neurotic martyr with inexplicable magic. His impeccable bloodline, virgin birth, and resurrection are omitted, as is the entire Joseph character. Can't blame test audiences for wanting a bigger, better ending.
Matthew's Jesus has a mastery of scripture and the right ancestral pedigree, proving he is the rightful Jewish king, not simply a usurper. It is the only gospel in which Jews claim, "His blood will be upon our children," written in a time when Christians began differentiating themselves from those practicing Judaism. In an appeal to the Roman market, the wimpy Pilate "washes his hands" of guilt, the only account of this ever happening.
Jesus, as he appears in Luke, is a chill reformer like Gandhi, hunted down by the high priests. Jesus demands the respectable urbanite crowds stop weeping for him and forgives his torturers. It's the gospel in which the Roman insert (Pilate) is most empathetic, intended for cosmopolitan Romans, written in the style of Greek literature no less.
In John, Jesus is a stoic badass who allows himself to be captured to infiltrate the enemy base, knowing he can't really die because the sequel needs to happen. It's the only gospel in which Jesus is called "God" can physically carry his cross and wears fancy clothes with "no seams," garments reserved for priests. Clearly not written by or for Jews. He does not scream in pain, and is a supernatural entity. OP Jesus, the fan-favorite, hands down.
Early Christians Had Their Own Version of ISIS
The fifth-century North-African Christian community's scourge donned black garb, utilized horrifyingly methods like throwing chemicals at unbelievers, public humiliation, and beating people with blunt objects as they screamed, "Praise God!" These gangs were methodical in their warped strict scriptural literalism, with moderates helpless to stop them from spreading their message. Sound familiar?
The death cult was known as the Circumcellions, and the martyrdom-obsessed idiots accosted travelers until only one remained alive, foreshadowing the dipshits of ISIS. Yes, this cult also wanted to perish to die faster in order to enjoy hanging out in the VIP section of heaven. Only Circumcellions knew the proper interpretation of Christianity, they said, a claim they felt allowed them to torture or kill anyone and desecrate any temple or church they stumbled across. They'd preach a cleansing revolution and twisting scripture to justify any violence and destruction.
Suicide was considered cheating. That didn't discourage thousands from leaping off gorges to take a short cut to the afterlife, impatient as they were bonkers.
There Was A Bizarro-Catholic Church in Asia That Was Bigger and More Powerful Than the Papal Domain
Christianity spread rapidly into Roman territories, slowing by the Dark Ages. Some parts of Scandinavia and Baltics failed to convert until the 13th century. Simultaneously, Christian missionaries had already come and gone in China, following the Silk Road, Christianity in Russia by centuries. Unearthed monuments are revealing a message that still resonates with Christians today.
With Europe's population collapsing from famine, conflict, and disease, there were suddenly more Christians on the other side of the globe. So many that the Chinese sent their own missionaries and diplomats to Europe to converse with European kings and make sure they heard about Jesus. Mongol armies were packed with Christians. Asia churned out translated Bibles while monks squinted by candlelight, hand-copying one Bible at a time in Latin that no one could read but other monks. Good planning, guys.
In the East? During the Tang Dynasty's Persian monks built monasteries and churches a good 500 years before the Jesuits "discovered" China. With sheer numbers, and Dark Age Rome crumbling faster than Detroit, Xian was poised to become the center of Christianity. In 845, the Nestorian sect was more influential and widespread than Catholicism.
Early Christians Shamelessly Ripped Off Every Piece of Iconography They Could
For the first few centuries, Jesus had an identity crisis. With no established basis on how to depict their him, Christians took the sketchy route by repackaging old gods and art, hoping people would confuse the impostor for the real thing. Picking out a deity no different than hunting for a Gucci bag on eBay.
We can assume Jesus didn't have long hair or a Fabio haircut. They took it a little too far in old mosaics and frescos, dandified and overly androgynous with unusually wide hips. It may have been inspired by bronzes depicting the wildly-popular God Apollo, who resembled a scrawny male model. Initial depictions of Christ portray him with his head lazily copy-pasted on other icons' body, borrowing whatever was trendy. Byzantine and Roman works show a beardless Jesus driving a chariot and wearing a cape. Nah, bootleg Jesus wasn't fooling anyone.
The scruffy beard and CrossFit physique Jesus picked up somewhere along the way was probably from Zeus. Depictions of a heavenly afterlife swiped from Roman frescoes of drunken parties. The shepherd motif was hot, too, with Christian artists co-opting a pre-existing style of Greek sculptures of men carrying sacrificial offerings. Ditto the Roman God Sol Invictus. Christians didn't just snag Sol Invictus's birthday to assign to Jesus; they also stole his halo.
The First Christians Weren't Sure Whether Judas Was the Arch-Villain or Loyal Sidekick
Epic stories need a villain. And later writers chose to shift that burden onto the figure of Judas Iscariot. It might come as a shock that less than a decade after Jesus died, before any known gospel, St. Paul exonerated Judas altogether. He never explicitly mentioned who betrays Jesus, chalking it up to God's will. The gospel writers weren't the only ones to fail to notice the contradiction.
In 1 Corinthians 15:1 - 6, Paul lists Judas as a trusted witness to Jesus's resurrection ... though the gospels have him hang himself in shame or bowels exploding before the resurrection. Talk about a continuity error.
Interestingly, St. Paul does not state that anyone "betrayed" Jesus, only that he was "handed over," the exact meaning lost in translation. As the act fulfilled Jesus's destiny and God's plan, some sects reasonably considered it the opposite of betrayal. The Gospel of Judas hints that there was a sizable portion deeming him a tragic scapegoat. You wouldn't know it by perusing the bizarre church-sanctioned artwork, and if you can figure it out, feel free to explain what the hell is happening.
Luke and Matthew are, at best, second-hand re-edits, and it shows. By the time we get to John, Judas is a deranged Gordon Gekko. Comically, Jesus says to the 12 apostles at the last supper in Luke 22:28 - 30 that they were loyal and will rule in heaven with him ... a problem as Judas is a dinner guest, Luke forgetting Judas was supposed to be going to hell. Or maybe Luke just skipped the part where Jesus yells, "Sike!" and slaps the bread out of Judas's mouth.
Top image: Nikolay Litov/Shutterstock