A Christmas Message for those who seek to neutralise it

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It is sad to witness  in the media how the traditions and values of Christians have once more been caught in the crossfires of the ongoing cultural wars. The New Right are out in force  propagating  their   “Christmas is no more than a pagan ritual” strategy: an all -out elemental attack, as they call for a return to the worship of Mother Earth or the Norse gods. The Marxists and Socialists claim Christmas is meaningless and should be abolished, castigating Capitalism, whilst they bring up the rear assault by spouting about the Crusades and the unjust bloodshed in its Imperialist name. Others more concerned with consumerism emphasise the sales, whilst wishing all a politically correct “Happy Holiday”; a strategy aimed to safeguard their profit taking, and those customers who might be offended by the once cordial and inoffensive greeting “Merry Christmas”.

All it appears seek to neutralise the Christian message of Christmas.

On this festive day, however, let us take stock and reflect on the true value of Christmas.  A fundamentally Christian message, and one that does still seek to spread  the values of happiness, tolerance and peace through the message of Jesus Christ.

Whilst we do so, let us also address some of the criticisms raised against it.

First, there is no scripture or ancient text that fully details the rituals of true paganism. So all the Earth worshippers who claim Christmas is no more than the practise of  a pagan ritual  and, as a consequence, seek to vilify it as irrelevant, immoral, lessened in its value, or somehow sacrilegious of a more ancient festival, are spouting fallacy. Of course, Christmas traditions carry the cultural influences of the past, varying from nation to nation, but the Christian message of Christmas is and remains universal and unique.

In respect to Saturnalia, the Roman ritual wasn’t accurately a “pagan” ritual; although Christians might more generally denote it as such. It should, more properly, be considered the practise and worship of a Roman theology: a polytheistic religion based on the mystery cults, and which in turn incorporated the myths and rituals of ancient Greece. It is, therefore, influenced (if not derived) from earlier traditions and cultures. The original and pure  rituals  and traditions, however, are neither practised today, nor  fully known or understood, even by the self named modern “Pagans” themselves.

The Christian ritual modified and moralised the pre-existing, and in some cases, violent rituals of the past. As the entire  Roman Empire became Christian,  Christmas cannot be criticised, or lessened on that account. Indeed,  much of Roman  culture was modified and civilised accordingly. Does that make Christianity any less valid? No. Indeed it is a fact that only increases its value and worth.

No one knows when Jesus  was born exactly. Therefore, one day of celebration is as valid as any other. As a consequence, perhaps all should remember to try to practise the Christian values of fellowship that Christmas in its essence signifies 365 days of the year.

In respect to Saturnalia, it  happens to roughly coincide with Christmas, but so what? So do the Winter festivals of Hanukkah, Diwali and  Eid,   approximately at any rate,  and whilst all focus on light in their symbolism,  their message and values are very different.

Chronology or cultural influence is no barometer of a religion’s moral worth, only the message and the ideology it espouses. Christmas, therefore, as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ,  is  a celebration of life, and his moral message of peace and love. This emphasises the uniqueness and value of Christianity: a message for the improvement of humankind, and the individual’s soul.

Whilst some rituals, such as the Muslim festival of Eid, originated later than Christianity, some such as Hanukkah predate it. Should we therefore call for its abolition because of this? No. Should one be reverenced and celebrated on the White House lawn whilst Christmas nativity is banned? No. Is Christmas more generally of any less importance than Hanukkah? No. Indeed, on the contrary, the fact is it has been the basis of the Western value system. It was the majority religion of the Europeans that settled there in their millions, and the US was largely built on the Christian values that the Old World immigrants espoused.  Its believers ultimately built a new Rome because of it,  as they ultimately sought to realise a New Jerusalem.

Saturnalia was modified as Christianity spread across a Europe occupied by the Romans, who converted in their millions to the truth of Christ’s message. Others were the former believers of the Bacchanalia, and the Greek Dionysian and Apollonic rituals, the Orphic Mysteries, of which some symbolism, such as the Good Shepherd image particularly, were adopted or modified.

None of this changes the fact Jesus existed, and was born at some unprecendented and unspecified date in a Roman occupied province. Or that Christmas commemorates this. It doesn’t change the fact his message of love modified Judaism’s more punitive war religion to a message of peace, at least for the disciples and followers of Jesus . A message that proved to be very popular, and more reflective of the truth of individual human nature, rather than the en masse power strategies and aims of politicians and military men.

Christianity influenced and built Western civilisation, imbuing it with tolerance and the moral values of the new covenant and the new commandment of Love thy Neighbour. Men may have perverted its message to war over the centuries, but the truth of its essential message of universal peace endures.

There is today  too much  persecution of Christians and Christianity. This extends beyond not only differences in doctrinal and religious beliefs, but also to the practise and implementation of political ideology and political correctness. One of the more devious examples being  close to home in the  claim that Christ was a kind of Communist. A line often dropped in Britain nowadays by the Marxists and the Socialists, as they then rather hypocritically spout their atheism and their own preferred religion of dialectic materialism in the name of “peace”.

Whilst others extend the practise of  the  persecution of Christians in the Middle East, by not  reporting such crimes in the press, lest they directly offend the sensibilities of the British Muslim, still others seek an outright attack upon Christians at home,  justifying their own intolerance  by recourse to the prejudice of the courts with, in the case of a Christian cake maker who declined an offensive order, the charge of homophobia.

Whatever example one seeks to cite to illustrate the vilification of Christians and Christianity, its values and observances, it is time to make a stand: not just for the right to hold personal beliefs, but more generally for the sake of Western culture.

The bottom line fundamental is this: Christmas is  the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. The temple traders can continue to trade, but they can’t start calling the worshippers who still see it as a temple the sinners, nor persecute them as politically incorrect blasphemers. Governments should hold  no jurisdiction over the extent or spectrum of human faith, nor its religious expressions. Nor can they determine or limit how best a man is to serve his God.

This is the celebration to mark Christ’s birth. It is invariably performed in the privacy of a church, or in the privacy of one’s own heart. That it should be practised by those who seek to without vilification, criticism or hindrance, is in the best traditions  of an open and free society.

Those pagans who want to practise their neo pagan modification of true paganism, the rituals of which no one fully knows the details of, can do so too. But lets not make out it is somehow of more importance, or Christianity’s observance of Christmas is somehow lessened because of it. The paganism of today is a modern cult and not a world wide living religion. It hasn’t influenced western civilisation to the same degree. Neither is its theology or practise as widespread. Lets not hear the pagans, who are in the same breath often spouting political radicalism, claiming that Christmas is in fact theirs.

The  atheists, who call for its abolition, should also respect the tradition that spread the values that  built European civilisation and inspired the Renaissance.  Less they too seek to be the  intolerant bigots they slander the Christians as. They should also respect Christianity, and not seek to sow discord.

For those who are acting not for religious reasons, but for political reasons, there can be no referent to a loving or all forgiving God. The neo Marxists tolerate no religion but their own. This in itself is a bigoted form of uniform intolerance, which harbours only prejudice and  hate.

 

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Are Liberal Christians destroying their own faith, or giving birth to a new religion?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVozY8L14rs“It is right to listen and respect a variety of viewpoints and beliefs that are all brushing against each other in a plural society. By the same token, there should be no apology by Christian people when they speak out about their beliefs. “

Dr Carey’s comment on the right to freedom of speech for Christians is morally right, considering the restrictions believers now experience in our politically correct, pluralistic society. However, he fails to consider the dogmatism by the liberal left in his own clergy, and the damage they also cause to the Christian faith, knowingly or otherwise. Many of these are anti-Christian, inasmuch as they espouse a politically correct moral relativism, and not the absolute faith they are supposed to believe in. They champion Islam in their own churches, in the interests of “inclusivity” , “egalitarianism” and “tolerance”, but in doing so incredibly propagate the destruction of the Christian faith itself.  Some of the more ideological politico-centric activists even deliberately seek to destroy Christianity as a covert general attack on  western culture. Some act as a 5th Column based in the Church of England, and more widely in the Protestant faith itself.

An example of the damage that can be caused by the ideology of moral relativism,  can be found in a Muslim service  held recently  at St John’s Waterloo, Southwark. A fine example of inter-faith  brotherly love and faith practise in a Christian church by the liberal preaching clergy. Or so it was presented. But it might well mask a more devious and destructive objective for some, and certainly an unintentional self-nihilism for others.

Let’s analyse the facts

Islam believes in the absolute values of the Quran. These values being absolute are considered to be  the “truth”. Therefore, it cannot accept (with good conscience) any relative views, or conflicting views that might be espoused by an alternative faith such as Christianity. It might tolerate various interpretations by Muslim theologians themselves, but it will not and cannot accept Christian beliefs as equally divine or valid, at least if these principle beliefs conflict with their own. The Christian notion of Jesus and God, as particular examples, cannot be understood as anything akin to the “truth” of the Quranic conception of Jesus and Allah.  Indeed, these interpretations are a blasphemy of the so called “truth”, which is supposedly derived from Allah pre-eminently, passed by the testament of Mohammed the Prophet, and recorded as the supreme testament in the holy Quran. It is by virtue of the Quran being considered the revelation of Allah to Mohammed the Prophet, that it is considered to be the supreme holy and divine book. This is not Mohammed’s “opinion” of Allah, it is the revealed truth of Allah. In this, Jesus is not God, but a mortal Prophet, and yet is termed the Messiah (al-Masīḥ). Indeed Muslims believe Jesus (Isa ibn Maryām) is a Muslim himself. He presently lives in Heaven,  and did not die on the cross, but was raised up. He will return only to live another 40 years, where he will oversee a period of universal peace and justice.

But the Christian view of Jesus as God (homooúsios) is markedly different from the Islamic view,  and herein lies the problem. For in holding such a ceremony in a Christian church,  the liberal clergy actively undermine (knowingly or otherwise) their own faith base, as well as the sanctity of their own Christian beliefs.

Christians are supposed to believe in the one true loving God. Jesus was supposed to be  God on Earth. Why, then, are they accepting this Islamic conception of  Allah  and promoting in churches the idea that Jesus wasn’t God, or even Allah incarnate, but merely a second class prophet, who was not even crucified on the cross? These are the contrary beliefs of the Quran. There is a world of difference, therefore, between freely allowing other religions to practise their faith, and inviting these religions into one’s own sacred space of worship, in order to promote their contrary beliefs and values. It is in effect undermining and desecrating Christian belief itself.

 

A personal experience 

Curious and concerned about the state of my country’s Christian faith, I wanted to find out more. I tried to find one of these inter-faith services held in a mosque for Christians. I supposed they would be readily held in a mosque as well as a church, because, after all, they all claimed at the churches  where they held the Muslim services they did it to provide “tolerant”, “non judgemental” and “inclusive” spaces where you can “truly be yourself”. I guess this applied for both religions, and especially the “religion of peace” rIght?

I therefore approached Finsbury Park mosque and asked for information. I was laughed at for  asking such a strange question. I was then approached by an Imam who stupified informed me that it would be a blasphemy to hold a Christian ceremony in a holy Islamic space. I was told Islam is Islam and this is the one true religion, Jesus was not crucified on the cross, and Allah was God. Mohammed (peace be upon him) was his preeminent  Prophet and Messenger.

I certainly received my answer  then.

Of more importance: why do Christians promote a religion that does not believe in the central tenet of their faith? Namely, that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, not just the Messiah. That as Saviour, he died on the cross and rose again to “purify our sins”? Why are they on occasion trying to promote Islam or Chrislam in preference to their own religion in the churches? A religion that does not believe in these basic views? The answer is in the liberal progressive part of their self destructive, politically correct, concerns. A concern with moral relativism, and not the absolute truth of God and the Bible. It appears, furthermore, to outweigh the importance of their own faith, in favour of promoting an Islamic view of the crucified Christ as an imposter.

“And because of their saying (in boast): ’We killed messiah Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’; — but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but the resemblance of Jesus was put over another man (and they killed that man), and those who differ therein are full of doubts. They have no (certain) knowledge, they follow nothing but conjecture. For surely, they killed him not (i.e., Jesus, son of Mary). But Allah raised him (Jesus) up (with his body and soul) unto Himself (and he Jesus PBUH is in the heavens). And Allah is Ever All-Powerful, All-Wise.” The Holy Quran, Chapter 4, Verse 157,158 .*

To summarise: the so called “truth” of Islam (Muslims claim) is an absolute truth. This “truth” is not preaching moral relativism. That attitude which they hold, and which makes for so much fundamentalism, is clear from my experience in the mosque.

On the other hand, the Christians promoting Islam in Southwark church (and others across Europe) are practising moral relativism and in the process intentionally or otherwise destroying their own religion. They do this in favour of promoting a politically correct stance, which for some supersedes the primacy of their faith. They espouse liberalism to be popular, and seek inclusiveness to achieve the same end. They do this, rather than preaching their belief that God incarnate is Jesus, and that the Bible is the true and ultimate fulfilment. In this, for believers, it is the one true faith,or it should be, at least for those who accept Jesus Christ as Saviour. Their promotion of Islam in their churches, therefore, is accepted in the names of pacifism, tolerance and inclusivity, but it is destroying their own faith, and their basic beliefs all the same. It stands in contradiction to the basic views that:

1. Jesus was God (not simply a prophet as it claims in the Quran).
2. That he was crucified and rose again (unlike the Quran that claims he wasn’t crucified and his place was taken by a doppleganger!).
3. That Jesus was both Messiah and Saviour, not just a human prophet as Messiah. His pre-eminence as the Saviour alone is attested by him as:  “no one shall come to the Father but through me”.

Such services are not just promoting brotherly love and peace. They are promoting Islam over the Christian faith and ignore that some extreme Muslims in Syria and around the world are slaughtering Christians because of it. This choice to ignore their own persecution is often perpetuated. It is perpetuated by Muslim extremists also, but not simply for political reasons, but  because of the faith based truth they claim Christians espouse as a heresy. Namely,  that Jesus Christ is God, the one Messiah, who died and resurrected and is therefore Saviour of the world. Basic Christian  beliefs, but views which have a long history at loggerheads with the “absolute” Quranic truth system and its future prophecies of a Mahdi, quite distinct from the Christian beliefs.

 

Muslim Service at St John’s Waterloo, Southwark

The Christian Church is in a very bad place. Many of its active clergy are destroying it from within, Whether by accident or design they destroy, by clinging to a politically correct ideology over the pre-eminence of their Christian faith. The destructive ethos might even be perpetuated by the Christian values of tolerance modern liberal Christians conflate with Jesus’ teachings. They do this knowingly or unknowingly, but the consequences and nihilistic results for Western Christianity and culture are the same.

There are two stark choices, therefore, for Protestantism and Christianity more generally in the face of Islam. Either:

  • Reaffirm  the faith base of Christianity, particularly of Martin Luther and  the more conservative, absolute values of its own more literal religion. This requires in respect to Protestantism specifically, a reaffirmation of the 5 solae that would exclude any accommodation of Islam as a faith based in “truth” at odds with the biblical teaching, and by extension any acceptance of it in the sacred space which is a church.
  •  Alternatively, accept its role as a liberal mediator, and seek to reform Islam through a liberalisation of its absolute values. This would facilitate a better assimilation of it into western culture.

Neither are easy tasks. The former runs the risk of inter-faith dialogue breaking down, and Christianity becoming intractable, dogmatic, fundamental and as a result even more alien to mainstream potential converts, let alone Islam. This despite both religions sharing a potential common platform in a more absolute faith based fundamentalism.

For Christianity, however, much can be achieved in a fervent reaffirmation of faith based principles, as was the case in the Protestant Reformation, and this would enliven Christianity and assure a renaissance  of its following. Yet this also runs the risk of exacerbating social disharmony and even war, particularly amongst  those Islamic fundamentalists that might see it as a direct threat to Islam. Likewise, the reform and liberalisation of Islam is one that many of its even more so called “moderate”  adherents oppose with a fundamentalist zeal themselves. Liberalism exacerbates in turn the idea that Christianity is something “un-Islamic”, or “anti-Islamic”, and even corrupt and immoral itself. It views inter-faith meetings and reform in some sense as a subversion of Islam, or a Christianisation of it in some sense that many Muslims find unacceptable.  It seems then that Christianity is in a no win situation, whatever course it seeks to revive itself, at least in respect to Islam and the acceptance of western liberalism.

 

The political difficulties for western democracies of a liberal approach

The difficulties of the cause to propagate the reform and liberalisation of Islam have nowhere been more clearly evinced than in the contrasting attitudes of President Erdogan and Mr Cameron in the following extracts.

First, here is David Cameron, speaking on the role model that he considers Islam in Turkey already provides, while addressing the problem of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East.

“It is vital we make this distinction. In Turkey we see a government with its roots in Islamic values but one with democratic politics.”

It is clear, however, Mr Cameron’s liberal view of Islam is one based only on a personal belief of how he would like it to be. It is both a liberal and a Christian view, but it is a view that has no basis in reality. In fact it is simply based on a wish and a prayer. An idealism that plagues many liberals that profess a western Christian interpretation of what Islam is.

As an example, the Turkish President Erdogan has stated in respect to the Islam Islamism distinction, which Mr Cameron propounds and believes is already provided as an example in Turkey:

 “These descriptions are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.”
Source: Milliyet, Turkey, August 21, 2007.

He goes further, however, by affirming that his “democratic government” seeks to implement sharia law, and even to forgive those that Mr Cameron seeks to distinguish not as good Muslims, but as Islamist terrorists.

“A Muslim cannot commit genocide. Assimilation is a crime against humanity.”

In this, his pragmatic end can only be a view of fundamentalism where jihad in both spiritual and military terms is encouraged, or at least condoned or excused:

“The mosques are our barracks, the domes our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers. This holy army guards my religion.”

Erdogan’s “democracy” is merely a western construct based on a liberal misunderstanding of what Islam is. Its correspondingly alien values have only one prime ideal:  the implementation of the sharia based theocracy of Islam and ultimately one which strives  for a global caliphate. Here “democracy” is no more than a means to an end. It is “like a bus” and:

“You ride it until you arrive at your destination, then you step off.”

Whilst Islam too remains ensconced within the perimeters of a fundamental, literal and absolute interpretation, as it largely believes it should in order to preserve the characteristics of its faith, the xenophobia of it adherents particularly those with political power to those non believers (kuffir), particularly Christians and Jews, represents (at least for some) a dangerous and inhumane  prejudice:

“I speak openly. Foreigners love oil, gold, diamonds and the cheap labour force of the Islamic world. They like the conflicts, fights and quarrels of the Middle East. Believe me, they don’t like us.They look like friends, but they want us dead. They like seeing our children die.”

In respect to equal rights for women too Mr Erdogan, the so called “friend of the West”, asserted:

“You cannot put women and men on an equal footing. It is against nature. They were created differently. Their nature is different. Our religion (Islam) has defined a position for women: motherhood. Some people can understand this, while others can’t. You cannot explain this to feminists because they don’t accept the concept of motherhood.”

Mr Cameron needs to realise Islam is Islam and at least accept his liberal objectives to reform Islam are, at present, not based in any political or ideological structure that readily accepts moral relativism. He speaks of an idealism of the future, which has no basis in a  realistic understanding of the current (let alone future) sharia based values of the government and specifically President  Erdogan’s views. Cameron does not inhabit the world of Real Politik, but he also gravely seeks to westernise and Christianise Islam. He even believes such a reformation has partially occurred. While dialogue is to be encouraged, fruitful and productive discussions can only progress once a realistic appreciation of Islam’s true religious values as they exist presently are grasped.

 

The future possibilities of theological reform

Three scenarios present themselves in an unknown future:

1. The sanctity of individual religions, their faith based perspectives and their practises, are respected and distinctly  preserved.

This is  irrespective of their individual claims to be the “truth”.  While acknowledgement of more universal moral and ethical concerns may bring about mutual tolerance and common dialogue via philosophical/theological discussion.

This is the present hope for those seeking reform of Islam. Secularism in a constitutional republic might provide a good model of progression to purge Islam of its radical fundamentalism here, but this is one that also faces challenges from the US Christian Right, who would deem it a threat against the Constitution itself, which they view as the purveyor of primarily “Christian” values. Dialectic debate too, in a genuine and sincere sense, is often perverted by those Islamic fundamentalists who seek only “submission” to Islam. They are bent on implementing Islam and sharia as an absolute project. Deceit (al-taqiyya) is often justified for the cause of fundamentalist Islam. It is presently used via debate as a tool to achieve supremacy and bring about an advantage for Islam generally in the long term.

2. The death of Christianity occurs.

This, rather than Islam, would be more likely, as it is ill prepared to fight proactively, set as it presently is on the path of moral relativism, passive compliance and in some sense corruption of its prime beliefs.

Its popularism, more generally, has declined in the West due to Liberal Progressivism, which it seeks to accommodate, but which in turn often  seeks to provide a cultural critique of it.  It further champions Islamic values as being under represented, in order to seem tolerant or inclusive. Presently, this is to the detriment of the host nation’s Christian faith.

The desire to implement sharia law also poses an escalating threat. Another threat exists  in terms of its growing popularism, due to Islam’s growing demographic numbers. More generally, sharia  provides a danger to modern “democratic” values in the West, which paradoxically champions them in turn.

3. The birth of a new religion.

This would need to be based on an evolution, and a philosophical synthesis of existing faiths. With this goal clearly in mind, inter-faith debate could occur. It would require a modification of theological perspectives more in line with democratic values. It would then be popularised and spread globally.

However, it is an objective (for those ardent and commensurately intransigent believers who cling to their faith)  which only enhances the prospect of a clash of civilisations and hence war. Enforced change in the name of reform escalates this likelihood. It might initially invoke charges of  blasphemy and dissent from both sides, stoking tension. It is also very much based in the future, and one founded in an intellectual, open minded idealism that is unrealistic presently, even if it might occur  at some point, as it rather derides and devalues the sanctity of pre-existing faiths.

Philosophical discussion might seem attractive to neutralise radical elements and begin the process of reform.  It provides an attractive solution for those intellectuals who do not readily find themselves adhering to the principles of an absolute faith.  Yet it is, contrarily, those very believers who do cling to tradition that truly need to be convinced,  and it is their opinions that need to be reformed. In this sense  too, it could trigger disastrous consequences, by forcing their hand. It is a growing internal threat in any case without assimilation and the  safety valve of secularism. A Hegelian dialectic model in the interests of promoting debate very much invites conflict and war without secularism. Increased security and a more proactive approach from government needs to be implemented in any case, but this in itself invites further conflict, justified as it would be as prejudice against Islam. The activists already adopt a victimhood mentality to further their advantage as it is.

In respect to Islam, unlike Christianity, the journey to a modern reform from a fundamental and Middle Ages based pre-Enlightenment mindset is long, but it is one that must be embarked upon, regardless of the risks. Besides discussion and debate, however, this requires slow and generational change, while  increased statism is entailed internally to supress an active and aggressive threat.

Generational change through reform and re-education ultimately mitigates the obvious and inherent threat to western society and Christianity by Islam itself. Theological debate itself is, however, something of an academic exercise and a paper tiger. In the short term it would most likely not be able to neutralise or reform  the more literal and dogmatic Islamic theologians within the mosques themselves. Inter-faith discussion can play its part, but only  if the intellectual acumen and open minded will is there. Presently it does not exist in a fundamentally orientated Islam that is increasingly influencing the mainstream.

Generational change requires a quantum leap in the current mindset of the Imams to provide the catalyst. This is, however, presently not prevalent in the majority  percentage of Imams in Islam. It requires an admittance amongst them that faith based dogma can be given a less literal perspective in  a rational and superior theology through the activity of dialectic discussion. A practise of their golden age. It requires an acceptance of the primary Meccan Quran, rather than the later Medina text that broadly justifies jihad and violence. Abrogation of the early texts needs to be jettisoned or philosophised into peaceful perspectives, much as the Ahmadiyya believe.

The need for reform is pressing, but the likelihood of its success necessitates   slow change to avoid global conflict. It has not come soon enough to avoid local wars and terrorist acts. It might not come soon enough to mitigate a full scale global war in any case.

Dialectic supplies the means by which more universal first principles might resolve theological disputes and inter-faith disagreements, or at least begin the process away from a more marked intransigence in any literal reading. Philosophical universals seek to justify and resolve theological disagreement deductively, through a more universal, overarching and inclusive world view. But none of this necessarily mitigates the prospect of war, if it is theologically proved to be necessary as a divine imperative. In this,  intransigent believers do not want to be persuaded whatever “reason” is given.  It is these very people paradoxically who are the inciters of violence that present the danger and need to be convinced. Their present attitudes, ethos and imperative, however, incite terrorism. Punishment, whilst necessary, only elevates their victim status and adds justification to their message and cause for the more mainstream believers.

The argument to initiate reform might be made with the justification that whilst the fundamentalists have at least ensured their faith has survived, fundamentalism has also ensured Islam’s petrification. Whereas  its golden age and cultural growth in contrast was one marked by the ascension of philosophy and theology. This justifies and necessitates philosophical discussion. It has more than anything been the guarantor of preserving the diversity and popularity of its various perspectives, This makes reform possible. Inter faith philosophical debate might be vaunted to ensure its more popular appeal in the post Enlightenment era. This could be implemented with an appeal to reason and democratic debate. It has, however, been derided as a perversion of more fundamental perspectives by earlier reform movements such as Salafism. This movement sought to restore the pure teachings and rid Islam of its philosophical modifications.

In conclusion, reform of Islam cannot  be achieved through a negation of Christianity’s own values and belief system in the interests of simply “loving thy neighbour”. Whilst this ethos lies at the heart of the Christian religion, and is implemented as a Christian role model of how to proceed, it is facilitating Islam’s elevation. Interfaith worship currently is not evenly spread. It undermines Christianity in its own sacred space. Proselytising cannot be used to justify Islamic rituals in church, when Islam’s absolute principles contradict the basic tenets of Christianity’s own faith. Proselytising should involve dialectic debate for Christians, but the act of worship is merely the symbolic enactment of the believer’s faith. It is the visible enactment of a belief system already established, and an act not open to debate. To facilitate Islamic prayer and ritual in a church simply propagates the faith of Islam and assists in the rise of Islamic supremacism.

Christianity should not seek further self-annihilation in order to accommodate the absolute dogmatism of Islam. It has weakened itself  already in the contemporary era with a diffident acceptance of neo- Liberalism. Christianity must now take a stand and at least be prepared to defend its fundamental principles and values. Whilst peripheral values are always open to reform, it must not continue to undermine  the core tenets of its own faith in the interests of popularism and progressivism.

The need for the modernisation of Islam, however,  is vital, and a far  greater imperative than the Christian need for a renewed traditionalism. Islam being the more intransigent and less passive and compliant to democratic ideals, one less assimilated, and one presently more war-like in some of its fundamental manifestations.

Danger lies in submission, but not in open mindedness. As it is presently understood, however, much of what passes for mainstream Islamic faith requires and seeks only submission. This acquiescent pose,  presently adopted too readily by Christians, serves only to  destroy Christianity’s own faith based beliefs. These have, in any case, been increasingly liberalised, in an attempt to popularise it and accommodate intransigence. Here, Christian  tolerance too often breeds weakness, passivity and submission. It ultimately signifies self-negation; a trait too often praised as a virtue throughout the history of the Christian Church. This  supposed virtue, however, is one that is  simply being  utilised by Islam to achieve an advantage for ever more fundamental, destructive and totalitarian ends. The difficulties and dangers posed in finding the golden mean for both are great.

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*”Allah” is not a horned Moon god. Allah is just the Arabic word for “God”, which ultimately derives from the same root as the Hebrew words El and Elohim. These words are used in Genesis in the account of the creation. Sociologist Lori Peek writes that, “Allah is simply the Arabic word meaning God. In fact people who speak Arabic, be they Christians, Jews or Muslims, often say ‘Allah’ to describe God, just as God is called ‘Gott’ in German and ‘Dieu’ in French.”

 

 

Jesus’ appearance inspires a politically correct concern that masks the beauty of his message

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As is too often the case in modern times, the run up to Christmas has prompted an attack on the Christian gospels from those determined to tarnish the relevance and value of its message. The usual questions  have again been raised. Even the entertainment industry has seen fit to get in on the anti-Christian act, with comedy shows and movies of questionable taste.  

In amongst the melee have been  a swathe of articles currently disputing the stereotypical view of its figurehead Jesus. Was he in truth the long haired, pale skinned beauty of tradition, or did he look like a mundane and somehow more  acceptably typical Jew? The  Christian figurehead it seems is not majestic or splendid enough for modern politically correct sensibilities. A new graven image has to be created, cast from the decaying bones of Israel’s soil. An image more realistic,  less impressive and even, it might be added, positively frightening in its aspect.

In this, however,  it does not seem to matter that Christ’s philosophical message becomes eclipsed by more mundane concerns focused on the largely irrelevant hue of Jesus’ skin. The modern,  somewhat sceptical mind, must be a veritable Doubting Thomas and seek only the  historical reality. It should be satisfied only with empirical proof   based on the “forensic” archaeological evidence. We can leave the message of Christ, his sublime Beatitudes and profound parables aside, therefore, and meditate only on the less compelling and less fantastic truth of his earthly physical aspect. Indeed, we are encouraged to focus  only on the fact of his dark and suggestively sinister visage, irrespective of whether this makes him less appealing, or even positively repellent. Any that find this objectionable are suspect, and any criticism might even call into question their own racially biased prejudices in turn.

This, then, is the departure point from which Richard Neave has taken his work, accepting with good faith the evidence presented to him by Israeli archaeologists. Scientists that seek to dispel the “myth” that the traditionally portrayed  image is no more than a misconception, or worse an artistic fraud and a hoax, which must forever by dispelled, if we are to be clear about the truth of Jesus’ real appearance and his darker more Judeo-semitic origins.

This concern for the truth, however, is neither impartial nor objective, but appears based on some comments to be driven itself by a degree of unwanted and rather unwelcomed prejudice in turn.

Here is a statement by one of the original researchers that Neave’s work was based on, that explains the justification for the project.

“In reconstructing this head, we are not claiming that this is exactly Jesus’ face, but we are trying to counteract all of those bad images of blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesuses running around in Hollywood productions.”
Joe Zias, Israeli archaeologist.

Since when was someone with such features “bad”? Why should any man with blond hair and blue eyes be considered any worse than one with dark eyes and a swarthy complexion? The justification is that it is not empirically accurate. But besides the fact the Hellenised Good Shepherd should hardly be an object less worthy of veneration,  even if historically he had the aspect of a darker haired heavy set brute, why is it necessary to discount out of turn the very real possibility that Jesus himself might indeed have  resembled his more typically Hellenic portraits? After all, the Jesus in movies, artistic images and iconography is a traditional image passed down in an unbroken stream of artistic representation that spans  two millennia. Why should this simply be discounted as bad, or inaccurate, when it might indeed contain some semblance of the truth? A truth perhaps even passed down through the generations by word of mouth initially. It provides in any case an archetypal imago dei in its Christ figure, replete with aesthetic persuasion, and fit for religious contemplation. Certainly the historical, so called racially accurate representation, does not provide or sustain any image of beauty that might facilitate or awaken the spark of religious faith, or awaken veneration in any potential wandering lambs that might first behold his face. Indeed, it provokes quite the opposite reaction.

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Neave’s reconstruction of the “Judean Jesus” presupposes Semitic origins and omits the possibility of mixed racial parentage.

What then can we ascertain based on deductive reasoning and not simply from the so called “authentic” archaeological evidence of the three skulls used for this reconstruction? Semitic  skulls chosen in an area that just  so happened to be in the general vicinity of Jesus’ circumstantial place of birth?

First, the value of this evidence used in the reconstruction, provides only a very general profiling based on the various racial demographics in the  region of Judea, a southern province of Palestine, at that time. Furthermore, it fails to consider Jesus’ possibly unorthodox parentage and the effect this might have had on his looks in turn, something in truth that can never been known, without the actual skeletal remains. 

Certainly we do not know more specifically which race exactly these sample skulls belonged to. The Roman protectorate of Judea, which incorporated Galilee in 44 BC, was a multicultural and multi racial kingdom, and one inhabited by a not insubstantial number of different races and tribes including Romans, Judahites, Edomites, Cuthians, Sephervaim, Arabs and Nabateans. In this,  the impression given by Neave and others,  is that these skulls were of “Semitic” origin, although newspaper reports do not categorically state this, and speak only of the geographic region. This then appears to be a claim that they were “Judean” in a more general Semitic sense,  but even that claim does not necessarily mean they were specifically of Jewish origin, let alone Judean in the tribal sense just because the skulls were located in the geographic region of Judea. This more general claim, then,  simply widens the scope of racial profiling to make the enterprise rather worthless. In any case, even if we are here dealing with specifically Judaeo-Semitic Jewish evidence, something that is never made clear, for the profiling of typicality to be more persuasive one feels a larger number of skulls would have been needed, and certainly more than three.

An alternative racial profiling can be assembled however based on a number of  historical texts and sheer deduction, as opposed to “authentic” archaeological evidence that cannot really be racially specific in any case. Although again, none of this provides a definitive  picture of the actual physical appearance of Jesus himself. What then are the details?

According to the Christian testimony at least, Jesus was considered a Jew. Divine impregnation might well have had some undetermined influence on his physical aspect, but it would not  really effect his Jewishness per se, as this was passed from his mother Mary’s side. Of his tribal lineage, however, more is specifically said: as he was considered to have been born of the House of David, and therefore of the tribe of Judah. But tribal affiliation in this respect is supposed to have been traced from the father’s side.  For this to hold then, Joseph or some other man of the tribe of Judah, would have had to  have been Jesus’ father to fulfil the scriptures. We can place to one side the Christian perspective that  suggests here that God as the prime cause is the originator of all Judaic lineage. 

Concerning Joseph as the father, the gospels of Matthew and Luke both contain a genealogy of Jesus showing ancestry from King David via Joseph, but through different sons. Matthew follows the major royal line from Solomon, while Luke traces another line back to Nathan, another son of David and Bathsheba. Consequently, all the names between David and Joseph are different in the two accounts, but both are of the same House. According to Matthew 1:16,  “Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary”, while according to Luke 3:23,  Joseph is said to be “[the son] of Heli”.

Considering Mary we can be  certain she had some influence on the physical characteristics of Jesus. We certainly know she was Jewish. Her family lineage,  however, offers two possibilities as to her tribe being either of Levite or Judah. We know Mary’s mother was a Levite, the sister of Elizabeth’s father, her cousin, was also a Levite. But whatever the tribal relationship between the mothers of Mary and Elizabeth, that would not necessarily make Mary a Levite, if  tribal affiliation was indeed traced through the male line.  Since Mary’s father was of the tribe of Judah,  however, Mary was also considered of this tribe.

The Levite distinction in respect to Jesus is pertinent only in respect to the claim that the physical characteristics of each tribe may well have been sufficiently preserved at that time to have distinguished his mother’s physical characteristics, dependent on which side of the family she favoured. The details, extent and specifics of this however cannot be  known.

Generally then, based on these details,  we can  assume little more than what Neave, Zias, et al. apparently have: namely that racially Jesus was “Semitic” or more specifically Judaeo-Semitic. If we accept Joseph as his father we can make the further claim that his lineage was of the tribe of Judah. This tribal lineage being further strengthened not just in respect to his adopted “father’s” side, but in respect to his mother’s blood line also.

This tribal profile, however, proves little in  respect to Jesus’  actual physical characteristics, other than that it can be more strongly assumed Jesus was Judaeo-Semitic. Little more can be learned from his tribal lineage either, without knowing the variety of physical distinctions and facial characteristics of the various tribes now diffuse. Furthermore, any influence on Jesus would have to accept that his adopted father was an actual parent, or some other father of the tribe of Judah was, but this evidence too is by no means clear cut.

These vagaries aside, the region of the selection for the skulls is fraught with weakness. For Jesus wasn’t simply conceived in Judea, he was more precisely conceived in Galilee. Neither was he  just the offspring of Mary and Joseph. This  broad claim can be made  based on all the writings, circumstantial evidence and faith based beliefs, irrespective of their differing claims as to his true father,  but it also leaves open the possibility that Jesus may have been sired, if not by the Holy Spirit, then at least by one of any possible number of “outside” races that inhabited the region of Galilee.

Even Galilean Jews were thought of as “outsiders” during Jesus’ time, in a distinct northern geographic region that yet came under Roman jurisdiction.** The demographic population of Galilee (like the southern province of Judea) was again composed of  distinct and diverse elements:  Aramaean, Iturean, Phoenician, Samaritan, Greek and of course Roman. Galilean Jews, furthermore, did not adhere to the stricter orthodoxy characteristic of the southern Jewish “Judeans”. Their differences were accentuated too in respect to their speech. A trait which distinguished them from their typically more sophisticated Jerusalem centred Judean brethren in the South, who regarded Galilee and the Galilean Jews generally with a certain aloof contempt.

What we can deduce is that this Galilean was not claimed to be conceived according to his Mother, or by his disciples and apostles, in wedlock, or out of wedlock, to Joseph of Nazareth, the Galileean Jew of the Tribe of Judah. Indeed, gIven the racial diversity of Galilee then,  of which Nazareth was a part, any one of a number of different  ethnicities could  have fathered Jesus.   Logically then, one need not necessarily presume that Jesus was a typical Judean Jew. Indeed, putting divine impregnation aside,  considering the mixed races in the region, Jesus might even have favoured the features  of a Roman, Greek, Phoenician, etc,  or some other non Jewish racial mix characteristic of his real biological father that inhabited the region of Galilee at that time. Whilst Mary’s Jewish Judean or Levite lineage, dependent on which tribe she too favoured (either on her father’s or mother’s side) also provided an influence.

The Talmud provides an alternative, albeit contrary account to the Gospels,  of Jesus’ possible parentage. The text is divided into two parts, the Mishna and the Gemara. The first discusses such subjects as festivals and sacred things. The Gemara provides a commentary on these subjects. When the Talmud was written is not known precisely. Some authorities suggest a date of 150-160, around the same time the Christian Gospels began to emerge, while others say 450.

Whilst references to Jesus might not be historical, but written in an attempt to disparage the growing cult of Christianity, Jesus’ name is still referred to twenty times. So too it quite specifically documents  that he was born an illegitimate son of a Roman soldier called Pantera, nicknamed the “Panther”. The existence of Pantera, or at least the use of the name, was confirmed by the discovery of a mysterious tombstone at Bingerbrück in Germany. The engraving etched in the headstone read:

“Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera from Sidon, aged 62 years served 40 years, former standard bearer of the first cohort of archers lies here.”

Pantera’s tombstone tells us that he was from Sidonia, now called Sidon, which is slightly north of Judea, which makes it feasible for him to have had sex with Mary or Miriam as she might have been known. His tombstone further tells us that he was a member of the First Cohort of Archers, which were originally based in Palestine at the necessary time in question. In 6 CE they moved to Dalmatia, and then to the Rhine in 9 CE. Since Jesus’ conception occurred roughly around 6 BCE, Pantera was in the right region at the right time. The likelihood of it being this specific Pantera , however, is lessened by it being a commonly used name amongst Romans of a certain class. However, the likelihood of Roman parentage  by another Pantera, and therefore non Judeo-Semitic parent, is not really lessened due to this.

Clearly, based on the Talmudic account, Jesus was not even Judean in the tribal sense, but an illegitimate child born in sin out of wedlock. His physical characteristics therefore may have been Roman if he had favoured his father, or Judean or Levite if he had favoured his mother, or some aspect incorporating both.***

Whilst the Talmudic claims may be false and designed to slur and repress a growing unorthodox and seemingly blasphemous cult, it provides a rich source and loosely matches the time period of the Gospels. Can any information in the New Testament dispel these charges?

Certainly the Gospels concern is to emphasise Jesus’ Judean lineage as belonging to the House of David, tracing the lineage to Joseph, whilst contrarily they do not dispel the story of divine impregnation. This is a well known claim. So too, Jesus’ physical appearance is not specifically stated to support any notion of a divine characteristic effecting his physical appearance generally in a way that would mark him out as miraculous, divine or celestial in origin, let alone quintessentially Judean as befitting his tribe.  However, neither can it be discounted, and a number of apocryphal, but nevertheless interesting historical sources, give some descriptions that do suggest he may not have been entirely of purely Judean or more broadly Jewish (let alone Semitic) origin. At the least his appearance in these sources is conveyed as not being typically Judaeo-Semitic.

The strength of such testimony provides a surprisingly consistent picture of Jesus’ appearance. It also provides evidence that the portrayal of Jesus’ as a tall, pale eyed, fair skinned, long haired,  noble figure need not necessarily be viewed simply as the prejudices of European ethnocentricism. Graven images and accounts of Jesus in  Egypt, Jordan and the Indian sub continent  have also portrayed many of these physical features throughout the centuries. The Hassan Saida book perhaps representing the earliest image of Jesus.

Publius Lentullus, Governor of Judea a Roman Consul during the reign of Augustus (27 BC-14 AD),  supposedly wrote the following epistle to the Senate concerning the Nazarene called Jesus; although stylistic discrepancies mark it out as apocryphal and not of the kind required to be written by Roman officials under the jurisdiction of  either Tiberius or Augustus during Jesus’ time.

“There appeared in these our days a man, of the Jewish Nation, of great virtue, named Yeshua [Jesus], who is yet living among us, and of the Gentiles is accepted for a Prophet of truth, but His own disciples call Him the Son of God- He raiseth the dead and cureth all manner of diseases. A man of stature somewhat tall, and comely, with very reverent countenance, such as the beholders may both love and fear, his hair of (the colour of) the chestnut, full ripe, plain to His ears, whence downwards it is more orient and curling and wavering about His shoulders. In the midst of His head is a seam or partition in His hair, after the manner of the Nazarenes. His forehead plain and very delicate; His face without spot or wrinkle, beautified with a lovely red; His nose and mouth so formed as nothing can be reprehended; His beard thickish, in colour like His hair, not very long, but forked; His look innocent and mature; His eyes grey, clear, and quick- In reproving hypocrisy He is terrible; in admonishing, courteous and fair spoken; pleasant in conversation, mixed with gravity. It cannot be remembered that any have seen Him Laugh, but many have seen Him Weep. In proportion of body, most excellent; His hands and arms delicate to behold. In speaking, very temperate, modest, and wise. A man, for His singular beauty, surpassing the children of men.”

Another letter from Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar, describing his physical appearance, also gives information. Copies are in the Congressional Library in Washington, D.C.

“TO TIBERIUS CAESAR:

A young man appeared in Galilee preaching with humble unction, a new law in the Name of the God that had sent Him. At first I was apprehensive that His design was to stir up the people against the Romans, but my fears were soon dispelled. Jesus of Nazareth spoke rather as a friend of the Romans than of the Jews. One day I observed in the midst of a group of people a young man who was leaning against a tree, calmly addressing the multitude. I was told it was Jesus. This I could easily have suspected so great was the difference between Him and those who were listening to Him. His golden colored hair and beard gave to his appearance a celestial aspect. He appeared to be about 30 years of age. Never have I seen a sweeter or more serene countenance. What a contrast between Him and His bearers with their black beards and tawny complexions! Unwilling to interrupt Him by my presence, I continued my walk but signified to my secretary to join the group and listen. Later, my secretary reported that never had he seen in the works of all the philosophers anything that compared to the teachings of Jesus. He told me that Jesus was neither seditious nor rebellious, so we extended to Him our protection. He was at liberty to act, to speak, to assemble and to address the people. This unlimited freedom provoked the Jews — not the poor but the rich and powerful.

Later, I wrote to Jesus requesting an interview with Him at the Praetorium. He came. When the Nazarene made His appearance I was having my morning walk and as I faced Him my feet seemed fastened with an iron hand to the marble pavement and I trembled in every limb as a guilty culprit, though he was calm. For some time I stood admiring this extraordinary Man. There was nothing in Him that was repelling, nor in His character, yet I felt awed in His presence…”

Old Testament references about a coming Messiah  (whom Christians believe to be Jesus) have been projected forward to form conjectures about the appearance of Jesus on theological, rather than historical or archaeo-forensic grounds. In Isaiah 53:2  for example the scourged Messiah appears to be a man with “no beauty that we should desire him”, whilst Psalm 45:2-3 describes him as “fairer than the children of men”. Lamentation 4:7 speaks of  a contrary mix of physical attributes hardly less conclusive:

“Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more swarthy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire: Their visage is blacker than coal;” as referring to facial skin color. Whilst 1 Samuel 16:12 describes David, the ancestor of Jesus, as having “beautiful eyes” or “fair countenance.”

None of these prophecies of the future Messiah however relate to Jesus as far as Orthodox Jews are concerned. Neither do they provide proof  or evidence of Jesus’ physical attributes as they were in actuality. However, he might have needed, or have been expected to have fulfilled the requirements of at least some of these contrary attributes nevertheless, should the claim of Messiah have been taken seriously. The descriptions, however, are so broad or vague in their requirements that any one of any number of Individuals could have successfully staked a claim to have been the Messiah and invariably did. 

Quranic and Hadith traditions such as Sahih Bukhari, as well as Tafsir, have given an oral depiction of what Jesus looked like, although some small details in the accounts don’t match. Such as the claim that Jesus had  both curly and straight-hair. The Hadith refer to Muhammad’s account of the Night Journey, when he was supposedly  taken up to heaven by the angel Gabriel and witnessed Jesus as a Prophet who “…had curly hair and a reddish complexion”. Others say his face was flushed “a reddish man with many freckles on his face as if he had just come from a bath”.

It should be noted here that the Greeks called the Edomites the “Idumea” or “red” people. Esau of Edom was described as having a red skin tone in Genesis 25:25. He was also described as hairy. Esau was the name of at least two Edomite rulers. In this genealogy Isaac’s sons were not Jews, but Horites like their father and grandfather Abraham. That is why Esau the Elder married into the line associated with Seir the Horite (Gen. 36) and why Jacob married into the Horite line of Na-Hor. Edomites were at least one race which inhabited Judea during Jesus’ time. 

In another account (from Bukhari) Jesus is seen in a dream near the Kaaba, as “a man of a wheatish complexion with straight hair. I asked who it was. They said: This is the Messiah, son of Mary” However, other narrations give variations in the color. Salim ibn Abd-Allah reported  that the prophet “did not say that Jesus was of red complexion”, rather he was “a man of brown complexion and lank hair”. In contrast Abd Allah ibn Abbas asserted that Jesus was of “moderate complexion inclined to the red and white colors and of lank hair.”

Such disparities have been explained in various ways to emphasise the different assertions about his race. For example, Ana Echevarría notes that medieval Spanish writer Jimenez de Rada in his Historia Arabum chose a particular version to highlight a belief  that  Jesus was whiter than Muhammad, quoting the Ibn Abbas version: “I saw Jesus, a man of medium height and moderate complexion inclined to the red and white colours and of lank hair”. Echevarría comments that “Moses and Jesus are portrayed as specimens of a completely different ‘ethnic type’, fair and blond; ‘ethnic’ or ‘racial’ differences between them and Muhammad are thus highlighted.”

Whatever the prejudices and various emphases on his physical appearance to score points, or create a more persuasive and appealing figure for new converts complementary to their own races, what is clear is the consistency of a description where the dark, swarthy, short haired, rotund figure that Zias, Neave, et al. suppose is not one that need be  necessarily presumed. Even by their own admission the facial characteristics can never be known, and their reconstruction only attempts to provide a picture  in characteristically general Judaeo-Semitic terms; something Jesus might not have even been, at least on his father’s side. So too, for this to be taken seriously, any number of skulls would have had to be reconstructed to gain a more accurate  picture of characteristic typicality. However, enough evidence can be provided to dispute even the basis of the premises on which such archaeological evidence was selectively justified, based on deductive reasoning and historical testimony. This is not to discount the excellent work of artistic reconstruction that Neave did. It simply need not necessarily be considered indicative of the racial characteristics of a man, who at least by some accounts, might not necessarily have even been typically Judaeo-Semitic or even Semitic, let alone from Judea.

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Painted on a Catacomb wall, Jesus with short hair, depicted as the Good Shepherd (3rd Century AD). The Graeco-Roman dress style is notable.

Next, a number of arguments need to be considered concerning the claim Jesus’ might have had long hair. In our traditional view of Jesus, he is invariable portrayed as having long hair and a beard.****

Many have claimed Jesus had long hair because he was a “Nazarite.” The argument rests on a number of passages appealing to the Nazarene Vow such as:

Numbers 6:2:

“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord: (3) He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried. (4) All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk. (5) All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.”

Numbers 6:6

“All the days that he separateth himself unto the Lord he shall come at no dead body. (7) He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die: because the consecration of his God is upon his head. (8) All the days of his separation he is holy unto the Lord. (18) And the Nazarite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings.”

Here is a summary of the Vow:

  1. The drinking of wine or liquor of grapes or any products made from grapes was prohibited.
  2. During the separation time, you were not allowed to cut your hair. This was for a sign of humiliation before the people and God.
  3. You were not allowed to come in contact with any dead body.
  4. At the end of the Vow you were to shave your head to end the humiliation and shamefulness before God.

If Jesus of Nazareth was under the Nazarene Vow, he would have broken this vow by his acts as given in   Matthew 9:25 “But when the people were put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose.” This would make Jesus a liar and  a vow breaker to touch a dead body.

 Jesus was born in Bethlehem not Nazareth. Whilst he was raised by Judeans in Nazareth in Galilee,  there is never any mention of Jesus taking this vow. But furthermore  if Jesus had worn his hair long, he would have been devalued in the eyes of his own followers, disobeying the instruction as given in  1 Corinthians 11:14:

“Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?”

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A possible 1st century depiction of Jesus the “Saviour of Israel”

Short hair on men has been prevalent  throughout recorded history. During  the time Jesus lived, it was thought to have been the accepted and general custom. Today it is still recognised as being typical of the Romans and adult Greek males of that time period, whereas the Jews are typically portrayed as hairier, with longer hair and beards.

Busts and statues of famous Greeks and Romans of Christ’s time support the idea they typically had short hair. In every case, the men are portrayed with short hair similar to what we find  today. The style is supported by the busts of Roman leaders  Augustus, Pompey, and one believed to be Herod, who are all depicted  with short hair. In addition,  all carvings and statues of the Roman legionnaires portray them with short hair. This is why Roman and biblical epics concerned with this time period always portray them like this.

It would have been quite an oddity for a Roman man to wear his hair long. It would have been considered unhygienic, uncivilised and impractical in combat. The reality is that before, during and even after the time of Christ, every Roman emperor depicted on coins and in busts and friezes from Julius Caesar to Trajan had short hair. Ordinary men often  mimicked the emperor, who set the pattern in style and mode of dress for the entire empire. Just as the kings and queens of England often did in Tudor and Elizabethan times, and even do to this day.

The Hellenistic Greek culture dominated the Eastern Mediterranean area, influencing Judea before the Romans came on the scene. Quite a large segment of the Jewish population spoke the Greek language and had a Hellenistic influence in their views in the time of Jesus. (John 12:20, Acts 6:1.)

The style of hair for men of this culture was to wear it  short. In Cornfeld’s Daniel to Paul (p.146) for example, a picture showing a:

“marble statuette of an unidentified man of the Hellenistic period, a time of close contact between the Jewish and Hellenistic civilisations in thought, art, and everyday life illustrates this tendency. Whether Jewish or Gentile, he evokes his age and environment.”

The man depicted in this statuette had short hair. From the comment made by the author, however, a scholar of classical history and an archaeologist, it is clear that he could not tell if the man was a Jew or a Gentile. The reason for this being because, throughout the Near-Eastern region at this time, the style of wearing short hair  for most races was more or less the same.

Some argue that those Jews who did not have a Hellenistic view may have worn their hair long. Jesus they claim being a Judean from Galilee, rather than a Hellenised Galilean, would not have observed this trend. However, in the anti-Hellenistic, Jewish Talmud, the instruction that every thirty days, all the priests should cut their hair undermines such an argument. The priests observed  Ezekiel 44:20 : “Neither shall they shave their heads, nor suffer their locks to grow long.”

God intended that the priests set the example for the rest of the community. Malachi 2:7. Further examination of the Talmud reveals that the hairstyle was “Julian,” or what would be called “a Caesar cut” (Sanhedrin 22b).

Erroneously assuming that Jesus was under a Nazarite vow, some argue that although the hairstyle for men of Jesus’ time was typically short, Jesus wore his own hair long. But Jesus  may not have even been  under such a vow, and whilst he did grow up in Nazareth, which fulfilled the prophecy that He would be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23; Mark 1:9; Luke 1:26; John 1: 45) this has less to do with the Nazarite vow, which was a vow specifically forbidding the drinking of wine, or the touching of  a dead body.

Jesus drank wine in Matthew 11:19 and, on occasion, touched a dead body (9:25). Had he been under the Nazarite vow, he would not have done either of these things.  In any case, when the time of the vow was over, the person under the vow was obliged to shave his head ending this shameful period: see I Corinthians (11:14). There is no account of Jesus doing this. 

 Jesus quite simply would not have worn his hair long throughout the course of his ministry, or even before this time. To do so would have contradicted and lessened his status in the eyes of Orthodoxy and later when he preached unorthodox views even amongst his followers. As it was, the man who inspired the New Testament and the prohibition in Corinthians to refrain from wearing long hair for men, would have had to have been true to his word, and acted as the perfect example.

Final Comments and Conclusion

The vast majority of artistic renderings portray Jesus with long hair, fair though not feminine in features, bearing a sentimental, kindly, or sanctimonious look, with searching, fathomless eyes. The historical testimony that does offer details, largely suggests he was remarkable in appearance and very handsome. These claims bear no similarity in any way to what Neaves et al study proposes he probably looked like, based on archeological and supposed racial profiling of “typical” Judeans.

 
 They seek to claim, contrary to the apocryphal testimony, that Jesus would have looked like any other Judean Semite of his time. A wild assumption based on his possibly mixed parentage, the likely place of his siring, and the claims of many historical texts. That more generally he would have been a healthy, strong looking man it can be presumed. As a carpenter he would most probably have spent most of his early and young adult life working manually or outdoors (Mark 6:3) and been physically capable and dexterous. He would not then have the look of an other worldly stripling during his time in Nazareth, unless he had particularly led an ascetic life. A lifestyle he did adopt later, during his 40 day trial in the desert. The demands of his ministry would have no doubt also been  physically taxing, adding to any ascetic look .

We can, however, assume like Neave and Zias, et al. that  he had short hair, like any respectable  Judean and  Galilean of his time. In his non remarkable aspects he appeared to be able to blend into a crowd. Perhaps this was because he looked just like everyone else (Luke 4 30; John 8:59; 10:39).  If Jesus had looked extraordinary in this respect, wearing long hair (contrary to the accepted style of the time) he would have been more noticeable, particularly if he had been tall. Neither would it have been necessary for Judas to use the special sign of a kiss to point him out to his enemies in the Sanhedrin, some of whom had spoken with him on occasion and observed him, albeit from a discreet distance, for sometime. If he had been remarkable of aspect he would have stood out from the crowd even on a dark night in the Garden of Gethsemane. His general unremarkable appearance  is further strengthened by the fact that even some of his followers were not always sure of his appearance; as the problem of recognition on the Road to Emmaeus in Luke (24:13-35)  recounts.

“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him….”

The recognition was only realised on the act of breaking the bread:

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight.”

 

His remarkable aspect, however, might simply not have been readily recognised due to the oft presented portrayal of Jesus as simply wearing some kind of head covering, as per custom and convention. During the time of Jesus, Jewish teachers would always have their heads covered in public, as a sign of righteous reverence. They often wore the “sudarium” (white linen cloth), wound round the head as a turban, with the ends of it falling down over the neck. Common people sometimes wore a cloth with a band, or just a band in warm months.

Today religious Jews wear the Yarmulke (“kippa” in Hebrew), because it is believed that by covering the head during prayer, one shows respect for God.

“And their nobles have sent their little ones to the waters: they came to the pits, and found no water; they returned with their vessels empty; they were ashamed and confounded, and covered their heads. Because the ground is chapt, for there was no rain in the earth, the plowmen were ashamed, they covered their heads.” Jeremiah 14:3-4.

Other evidence concerning his appearance comes from further Apocryphal evidence in the Gospel of Thomas, that even suggests he  had a twin brother. This book opens with the lines:

“These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and the twin, Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down.”

This raises all kinds of questions concerning whether Jesus had a twin. A  view supported by Quranic  testament that claims a twin took Jesus’ place at the crucifixion.  Actually, the name Thomas Didymos  is in fact Hebrew for Thomas “the twin”. Didymos being the Greek for twin. The implication, then, is  that there was indeed, on this apocryphal texts’ claim, a twin brother.

The family name Barsabas is attributed in the Acts to both a Joseph and a Judas. There is evidence pointing to the fact that Judas Barsabas could be Thaddeus, who is also Judas the “twin brother” of Jesus (Thaddeus is a contraction of “Judas Thomas”, that in turn means Judas the brother). The Gospel of Mark 6:3 and the Gospel of Matthew 13:55-56 also state that James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon were the brothers of Jesus, the son of Mary. The same verses also mention unnamed sisters of Jesus. All these brothers and sisters  could either have been the offspring of Joseph from a previous marriage (the belief of the Roman Catholic Church) or later children parented by Joseph and Mary in wedlock.

Whatever the case, concerning the conflicting evidence and arguments for racial lineage and parentage, or the consistency of the claims as to his physical appearance, the actual face of Jesus will never be known without  his  skeletal remains. Nor has it been a  deficiency not to know. For it is only the inspiration he provides for Christians, his moral message, philosophy and how he lived his life which guides as an example the way Christians should seek to live their own lives. In this, it is Jesus as the Christ that provides the template of the “truth, the way and the light” and has since his birth and resurrection. This inspiration transcends physicality, and originates moral inspiration provided by God through the active power of the Holy Spirit. In this context, the apostle John described Christ’s appearance in visionary terms, but it is one knowable as a man in a purified and transcendent form, Thus, Christ possessed the following perceptible attributes, translated as they were into knowable physical terms as Jesus the perfect man:

“His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire” (Revelation 1: 14).

It is this perfected figure of Christ that seeks to communicate the transcendent aspect of Jesus the man through the power of John’s words. As an imago dei, moreover, the Church  has venerably communicated the archetype through  its sacred tradition of iconography. It has successfully created an intimate portal for personal and collective contemplation throughout the history and evolution of its artistic depictions. This portal through which the artistic representation communicates the presence of God in the figure of a man is one that need not be limited or restricted by a merely rational concern for  scientific, historic or racial authenticity. The Christ is the Everyman and in Christ, for Christians,  all believers are one.

jesus-christ

Christ portrayed as the Light of the World.

 

__________________________

*As reported in the Spectator “The first step for Neave and his research team was to acquire skulls from near Jerusalem. Semite skulls of this type had previously been found by Israeli experts, who shared them with Neave. With three well-preserved specimens from the time of Jesus,  Neave used computerised tomography to create X-ray “slices” of the skulls, thus revealing minute details about each one’s structure. This evaluation is based on racial profiling from an area where Jesus was born, but not sired. Further it rather implies Jesus’origins to be Judean, in contradiction to such claims or possibilities made in the Talmud and New Testament. The premises of the “reams of information about known measurements of the thickness of soft tissue at key areas on human faces” to  “re-create the muscles and skin overlying a representative Semite skull” assumes if not Judaeo-Semitic then more broadly Semitic origins that might not have even been pertinent in Jesus’ particular case  and, therefore, they would have only an approximate bearing on the truth of his physical appearance.

Jesus of course can be claimed to be Jewish by virtue of Jewishness being passed down via his Mother’s side. This is substantiated irrespective of whether it was Joseph the Judean, a Gentile, or the Holy Spirit that fathered Jesus. The question of pure Semitic physical characteristics however is too readily assumed, considering both the possibility of divine impregnation, or more rationally, mixed racial parentage and geographic location with varying racial demographics at this time. He was, in any case,  only born in the province of Judea and was most likely sired in Galilee.

**Galilee, a beautiful and very fertile country, is justly praised by Josephus (“B. J.” iii. 3, § 2). According to his statement, it included a number of cities and many villages, the smallest of which had not fewer than 15,000 inhabitants. This is probably an exaggeration, though the density of the population is beyond question. As early as Old Testament times the population of this region was greatly mixed; and it became more so after the downfall of the Ephraimitic kingdom. During the Maccabean struggle, however, the Jews of Galilee constituted such a small number that they could all be brought to Jerusalem (I Macc. v. 23).

*** Celsus, a second century, anti-Christian Greek Philosopher, also wrote that Jesus’ father was a Roman soldier named Pantera. But his anti Christian views suggest again his testimony is prejudiced and used quite possibly as a literary device. The claim of the Roman parentage of Jesus might have held an association derived from the unpleasant memory of Roman military operations suppressing a revolt at Sepphoris near Nazareth around the time of Jesus’ birth. Although Mary could even have fallen victim to unwanted attentions during this time. The “common legionary name” Pantera could have arisen from a satirical connection between “Panther” and the Greek word “Parthenos” meaning virgin. Pan-terra also has connotations of  a ruler, or god over all the world, or an earth god.

That Jesus was the son of a man named Pantera appears to have been well known to Jews in the Talmud who used this claim to discredit the faith of Christianity and its figurehead generally. Here Jesus is widely understood to be the figure referred to as “Ben Stada”:

It is taught that Rabbi Eliezer said to the Wise, “Did not Ben Stada bring spells from Egypt in a cut in his flesh?” They said to him, “He was a fool, and they do not bring evidence from a fool.” Ben Stada is Ben Pantera. Rabbi Hisda said, “The husband was Stada, the lover was Pantera.” The husband was “actually” Pappos ben Judah, the mother was Stada. The mother was Miriam “Mary” the dresser of women’s hair. As we say in Pumbeditha, “She has been false to “satath da” her husband.” (b. Shabbat 104b)”

Peter Schaffer explains this as a commentary designed to clarify the multiple names of the historic  Jesus, concluding the explanation that he was the son of his mother’s lover “Pantera”, but was known as “son of Stada”, because this name was given to his mother, being “an epithet which derives from the Hebrew/Aramaic root sat.ah/sete’ (‘to deviate from the right path, to go astray, to be unfaithful’). In other words, his mother  was also called ‘Stada’ because she was a sotah, a woman suspected, or rather convicted, of adultery.” A few of the references explicitly name Jesus (“Yeshu”) as the “son of Pandera”: these explicit connections are found in the Tosefta, the Qohelet Rabbah and the Jerusalem Talmud, but not in the Babylonian Talmud. The question as to their validity or truthfulness is of course open to debate.

A contemporaneous Gospel passage that might reflect accusations of Jesus’ illegitimacy is Mark 6: 3, where the people of Nazareth refer to Jesus as “the son of Mary.” This might be  an insinuation that his father is unknown, or that Jesus was the son of a widow. We just don’t know whether “son of Mary” as opposed to “son of Joseph” would have been derogatory in first-century usage.

In an especially heated exchange however in John (8:41) , “the Jews” retort to Jesus, “We’re not bastards!” “Bastards” captures the insulting tone better than the more polite  “illegitimate.” The syntax of the assertion puts the emphasis on the “we,” and thus implies, “We’re not bastards—you are.” This does not necessarily indicate that John was reporting that Jesus was known to be illegitimate. For example, later in the argument, Jesus calls “the Jews” “children of the devil,” and they call him a Samaritan. Neither of these insults are meant literally, and so we have less reason to think that the insinuation voiced actual disparaging rumors about Jesus’ unorthodox parentage.

The notion that Jesus was illegitimate  is supported by historical evidence, but isn’t indubitable. While it cannot be viewed as conclusive, the geographic region of his being conceived adds to the possibility of mixed racial parentage. At least it seems highly likely that Jesus was fathered by someone other than Joseph, based on his shifting attitude on learning of the news of Mary’s pregnancy. If he had  indeed been the father why not simply fulfil the vow of marriage he had recently taken out? Joseph however displays  initial reluctance to take on the responsibility of a marriage he had presumably  hereto been keen to fulfil and consumate. Luke’s story of the virgin birth of course answers the question of parentage differently. Stories about miraculous births announced by angels would be deemed inadmissible here on scientific grounds. Historically, therefore, and in the context of Joseph being persuaded to become the adopted “father”, we should accept the possibility that Jesus was sired by another (quite possibly non Judean) “father” during the betrothal period, and Joseph  eventually decided to accept the responsibility to save Mary’s reputation, or even her  life. None of these possible  historical events impair the message of Christ’s ministry however. They simply influence his possible appearance in contradiction to Neave et al’s reconstruction premise.  

It seems likely that the conception if accepted historically was by force. This could be claimed even theologically,  but we can omit the prospect of divine impregnation in terms of rape as being unworthy of consideration. The likelihood was that at that time both Joseph and Mary were betrothed, and being observant Judeans, had not yet consummated the marriage. Hence ,when Joseph became aware of Mary’s pregnancy, the  consternation on his part led him to consider divorce as a first plan.

“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19).

The passage suggests both were already engaged at the time, but if so why the use of the term “husband”? Jewish custom allowed that they be considered as husband and wife, even though no official contract had been signed or ceremony enacted. Such a ceremony usually happened after a year and during the interim fidelity was expected and observed.  Clearly then (as reported in the Gospels) both were surprised at the pregnancy, as the marriage had not yet been consummated. Their attitude clearly changed later. The key point here, however, is that Joseph and Mary (at that point) had experienced no sexual contact with each other, as verse 18 “before they came together”, points out. Joseph then was in a quandary. Jewish law provided that his betrothed, because of her “unfaithfulness”, could be placed before the elders for judgment and death. But he was thinking to just put her away quietly without public knowledge if at all possible. The fact that he should even consider this, rather than simply go through with the ceremony if he had been the true father himself, discounts him as the real father. It also  befits his religious sensibilities. The problem becomes clearer when it is understood that even marriage “engagements” in those times were binding and could only be terminated by an official divorce decree if some transgression had occurred. Joseph then could not simply walk away and move on to another more suitable potential bride befitting his religious sensibilities. Only a divorce and then a new betrothal would have been acceptable. The grounds for such a divorce would have most likely led to difficult questions being asked that could have jeopardised Mary’s reputation, or even her life. Clearly, however, the fact he was even prepared to consider divorcing Mary strongly suggests he was not the father, and the situation was very serious in his mind.

Luke 2:1-7  confirms the idea that Joseph and Mary, although only engaged, were considered as husband and wife by Jewish custom even though the actual ceremony had not yet been fully enacted. Such ceremonies, as has been stated, generally took place after a year, although a dowry was usually exchanged and a contract prepared beforehand. Such a contract was immediately deemed binding, with the couple considered effectively married even though the actual ceremony and then consummation of the marriage would not have occurred until later. The interim time  was clearly a sort of testing of fidelity, with the couple having little, if any contact with each other. At the point of Mary’s pregnancy then, Joseph, if he had been observant, was not the father of Jesus. His eventual acceptance was, according to the Gospels, due to being instructed of Jesus’ divine parentage by an angel. Considered only historically, however, he might simply have accepted that Mary,  a woman he clearly was committed to,  should be viewed as blameless if she had been the victim of unwanted sexual attentions, by say a Roman soldier.   

**** I take for granted that Jesus existed. Inscriptions  on tombs at Dominus Flevit, ‘The Report of Pilate to the Emperor Claudius’, as well as mention by Tacitus, Thallus, Phlegon Olympiads and the Babylonian Sanhedrin all make the likelihood of Jesus being a historical person rather indisputable for all but sceptics like Freke, Grandy and Zindler. Additionally the claim by paphrologists that the Rawlings manuscript of Matthew dates prior to 50 AD and the claim that Jesus is referenced in the 7Q5 manuscript at Dead Sea cannot be easily dismissed. Additionally, Josephus’ mention of Jesus as the brother of James and the controversial Testimonium Flavianum (scoffed at because a Pharisee would not likely have endorsed his Messianic claims, but now seeming to have been a quote from a previous manuscript) should provide additional problems for the sceptic.

Besides all this, the notion that twelve men should give up their work and homes and families simply to dream up a concocted myth;  raise the  ire of the Romans and Sanhedrin generally against converted believers and risk their own lives,  all in the name of a non existent person, is too ludicrous to accept seriously. Jesus existed. His physical appearance is unknown and uncertain, but his archetypal image as the Christ has endured and continues to inspire millions.