Let Nothing You Dismay

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said, "All men will be sailors,
Until the sea shall free them"
But he himself was broken,
long before
The sky would open, forsaken,
almost human
--Leonard Cohen

So it's the time of year when people crowd into malls in a feeding frenzy of last-minute shopping. When colleagues who never see each other outside of work now pretend to like each other for the duration of the office party. When the annual family psychodrama is played out in millions of American living rooms. God rest ye merry, gentlemen . . .

Before it was renamed Christmas, December 25 was a pagan drinking festival. Now it's known as the birthday of the man who may have had more impact on the world than anyone else in history. Century after century, genocide has been committed in his name, and so have acts of mercy. People have been fed and clothed, and people have been tortured and murdered, all by people who invoke the name of Jesus Christ. Worldwide, Christian churches are big business.

He may be the only religious leader whose name is employed as an expletive. You don't hear people exclaim Buddha! when angry. They do use God as a cuss word, and Jesus is the only human being who gets the same status. Because, in the Western religious psyche, God and Christ are the same thing.

Many Christians have argued that, for evidence that Jesus was the Son of God, we need only consider that, 2,000 years after his death, his (or His) influence is so pervasive.

What many people don't know, however, is that there is almost no historical evidence to suggest that Jesus Christ ever actually existed.

The Bible says Jesus was becoming a very powerful figure during his lifetime, which is why it was necessary for the self-serving religious leaders to kill him. And yet there are no clear references to him outside of the Gospels. Although he is mentioned by the Roman historian Tacitus, the reference is vague and unspecific and seems to be based on hearsay.

The most compelling documentation outside of the Gospels comes from the Jewish historian Josephus. Born around A.D. 38, he obviously never met Jesus. But he wrote of "Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one might call him a man. For he was one who accomplished surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as are eager for novelties. He won over many of the Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon an indictment brought by the principal men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him from the very first did not cease to be attached to him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the holy prophets had foretold this and myriads of other marvels concerning him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has to this day still not disappeared."

Although it can be argued that, less than a century after Jesus' death, people would know whether his existence was fact or fiction, several scholars believe that this passage was not written by Josephus, but inserted later by a Christian copyist. This theory seems even likelier considering that Josephus wasn't a Christian.

But, if Jesus was a fictional character invented by early Christians, it would seem logical that those Jews hostile to Christianity would have spread the news of his fictitiousness. They didn't. Since what they did instead was attack his legitimacy, they probably had no reason to doubt his historical existence.

Other circumstantial evidence in support of Jesus' physical existence is unlikely to please orthodox Christians. Some 20th-century scholars have placed part of Jesus' life in India. Since this is not mentioned in any of the Gospels (which are unreliable and probably not written by the people whose names they bear), it has never been given credence by orthodox churches. But there seems to be some evidence that a man with Jesus' name (Yeshua or Joshua in Semitic languages) was a religious master in northern India in the first century.

Jesus may or may not have traveled to India. But someone must have. Because much of the narrative found in the Bible (in both Old and New Testaments) is to be found in Hinduism, whose primary scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, predates Christianity by 3,000 years.

According to the Mahabarata, the epic narrative that takes in the Bhagavad Gita, the king is told by a prophet that a man will be born who will destroy the destroyers. Being one of the destroyers himself, the king isn't happy about this. The prophet tells him what day the child will be born, so the king orders that all male children born on that day are to be killed. In order to save her child, Krishna's mother puts him in a basket and floats him away on a river, entrusting Vishnu (God) to take care of him. Krishna is found by one of the king's aides, and is raised to be a prince.

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