Criticism of Jesus

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Jesus of Nazareth is the central figure of Christianity. Christians believe that he was (and still is) divine, while Muslims consider him to have been an important prophet. Since the time in which he is said to have lived, a number of noted individuals have criticised Jesus, some of whom were themselves Christians.

Early critics of Jesus and Christianity included Celsus in the second century and Porphyry in the third.[1][2] In the 19th century, Nietzsche was highly critical of Jesus, whose teachings he considered to be "anti-nature" in their treatment of topics such as sexuality. More contemporary notable critics of Jesus include Christopher Hitchens, Bertrand Russell.

Criticism by Jesus' contemporaries[edit]

Pharisees and scribes[edit]

The Pharisees and scribes criticized Jesus and his disciples for not observing the Mosaic Law. They criticized his disciples for not washing their hands before eating. (The religious leaders engaged in ceremonial cleansing like washing up to the elbow and baptizing the cups and plates before eating food in them—Mark 7:1-23, Matthew 15:1-20.) Jesus is also criticized for eating with the publicans (Mark 2:15). The Pharisees also criticized Jesus' disciples for gathering grain on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23–3:6).

Magic and exorcism[edit]

In the latter half of the first century and into the second century, Jewish and pagan opponents of Christianity argued that the miracles and exorcisms of Jesus and his followers were the result of magic.[3]

Criticism in Judaism[edit]

Judaism, including Orthodox Judaism, Hareidi Judaism, Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Reconstructionist Judaism, rejects the idea of Jesus being God, or a person of a Trinity, or a mediator to God. Judaism also holds that Jesus is not the Messiah, arguing that he had not fulfilled the Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh nor embodied the personal qualifications of the Messiah. According to Jewish tradition, there were no more prophets after Malachi, who lived centuries before Jesus and delivered his prophesies about 420 BC/BCE.[4][5] Thus Judaism is critical of Jesus' own claims and allusions about his Messiahship and his identification as the "son of God",[6] as presented in the New Testament.

The Mishneh Torah, an authoritative work of Jewish law, provides the last established consensus view of the Jewish community, in Hilkhot Melakhim 11:10–12 that Jesus is a "stumbling block" who makes "the majority of the world err to serve a divinity besides God".

Even Jesus the Nazarene who imagined that he would be Messiah and was killed by the court, was already prophesied by Daniel. So that it was said, "And the members of the outlaws of your nation would be carried to make a (prophetic) vision stand. And they stumbled."[Dan. 11:14] Because, is there a greater stumbling-block than this one? So that all of the prophets spoke that the Messiah redeems Israel, and saves them, and gathers their banished ones, and strengthens their commandments. And this one caused (nations) to destroy Israel by sword, and to scatter their remnant, and to humiliate them, and to exchange the Torah, and to make the majority of the world err to serve a divinity besides God. However, the thoughts of the Creator of the world — there is no force in a human to attain them because our ways are not God's ways, and our thoughts not God's thoughts. And all these things of Jesus the Nazarene, and of (Muhammad) the Ishmaelite who stood after him — there is no (purpose) but to straighten out the way for the King Messiah, and to restore all the world to serve God together. So that it is said, "Because then I will turn toward the nations (giving them) a clear lip, to call all of them in the name of God and to serve God (shoulder to shoulder as) one shoulder."[Zeph. 3:9] Look how all the world already becomes full of the things of the Messiah, and the things of the Torah, and the things of the commandments! And these things spread among the far islands and among the many nations uncircumcised of heart.[7]

Slavery[edit]

Avery Robert Dulles held the opinion that "Jesus, though he repeatedly denounced sin as a kind of moral slavery, said not a word against slavery as a social institution", and believes that the writers of the New Testament did not oppose slavery either.[8] In his paper published in Evangelical Quarterly, Kevin Giles notes that Jesus often encountered slavery, "but not one word of criticism did the Lord utter against slavery." Giles points to this fact as being used as an argument that Jesus approved of slavery.[9]

Criticism by source[edit]

Celsus[edit]

Main article: Celsus

Celsus, 2nd-century Greek philosopher and opponent of Early Christianity, mounts a wide criticism against Jesus as the founder of the Christian faith.[1] He discounts or disparages Jesus' ancestry, conception, birth, childhood, ministry, death, resurrection, and continuing influence. According to Celsus, Jesus' ancestors came from a Jewish village. His mother was a poor country girl who earned her living by spinning cloth. He worked his miracles by sorcery and was a small, homely man. This Rabbi Jesus kept all Jewish customs, including sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. He gathered only a few followers and taught them his worst habits, including begging for money. These disciples, amounting to "ten boatmen and a couple of tax collectors" were not respectable. The reports of his resurrection came from a hysterical female, and belief in the resurrection was the result of Jesus' sorcery and the crazed thinking of his followers, all for the purpose of impressing others and increasing the chance for others to become beggars.[10][11]

Celsus stated that Jesus was the bastard child of the Roman soldier Panthera or Pantera.[12] These charges of illegitimacy are the earliest datable statement of the Jewish charge that Jesus was conceived as the result of adultery (see Jesus in the Talmud) and that his true father was a Roman soldier named Panthera. Panthera was a common name among Roman soldiers of that period. The name has some similarity to the Greek adjective parthenos, meaning "virgin".[13][14] The tomb of a Roman soldier named Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera, found in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, is taken by some scholars[15] as the Pantera named by Celsus.

According to Celsus, Jesus had no standing in the Hebrew Bible prophecies and talk of his resurrection was foolishness.[11]

Porphyry of Tyre[edit]

The Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry of Tyre (c. 232–c. 304) authored the 15 volume treatise Against the Christians, proscribed by the Emperors Constantine and Theodosius II, of which only fragments now survive and were collected by Adolf von Harnack. Selected fragments were published in English translation by J. Stevenson in 1957, of which the following is one example:

Even supposing some Greeks are so foolish as to think that the gods dwell in the statues, even that would be a much purer concept (of religion) than to admit that the Divine Power should descend into the womb of the Virgin Mary, that it became an embryo, and after birth was wrapped in rags, soiled with blood and bile, and even worse.[16][17]

Friedrich Nietzsche[edit]

Nietzsche considered Jesus’ teachings to be "unnatural".

Nietzsche, nineteenth century philosopher, has many criticisms of Jesus and Christianity, even going so far as to style himself as The Anti-Christ. In Human, All Too Human, and Twilight of the Idols for example, Nietzsche accuses the Church's and Jesus' teachings as being anti-natural in their treatment of passions, in particularly sexuality: "There [In the Sermon on the Mount] it is said, for example, with particular reference to sexuality: 'If thy eye offend thee, pluck it out.' Fortunately, no Christian acts in accordance with this precept[18]... the Christian who follows that advice and believes he has killed his sensuality is deceiving himself: it lives on in an uncanny vampire form and torments in repulsive disguises."[19] Nietzsche does explicitly consider Jesus as a mortal, and furthermore as ultimately misguided, the antithesis of a true hero, whom he posits with his concept of a Dionysian hero.

However Nietzsche did not demur of Jesus, saying he was the "only one true Christian". He presented a Christ whose own inner life consisted of "blessedness in peace, in gentleness, in the inability for enmity". There is much criticism by Nietzsche of the organized institution of Christianity and its class of priests. Christ's evangelism consisted of the good news that the kingdom of God is within you.[20] "What are the 'glad tidings'? True life, eternal life is found—it is not promised, it is here, it is within you: as life lived in love.... 'Sin', every kind of distancing relationship between God and man, is abolished - precisely this is the 'glad tidings'. The 'glad tidings' are precisely that there are no more opposites...."

Bertrand Russell[edit]

Bertrand Russell called Jesus’ vindictive nature a defect in his moral character.

In the 1927 essay Why I Am Not a Christian, Russell pointed to parts of the gospel where Jesus is saying that his second coming will occur in the lifetime of some of his listeners (Luke 9:27). He concludes from this that Jesus' prediction was incorrect and thus that Jesus was "not so wise as some other people have been, and He was certainly not superlatively wise".[21]

Regarding Jesus' moral teaching Russell has the following to say:

There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching -- an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not, for instance find that attitude in Socrates. You find him quite bland and urbane toward the people who would not listen to him; and it is, to my mind, far more worthy of a sage to take that line than to take the line of indignation.[22]

Russell also expresses doubt over the historical existence of Jesus and questions the morality of religion: "I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world."[23]

Christopher Hitchens[edit]

Hitchens, late twentieth century author and journalist, was very critical of Jesus and of religion in general. Regarding Jesus' teachings on hell, Hitchens wrote:

The god of Moses would call for other tribes, including his favorite one, to suffer massacre and plague and even extirpation, but when the grave closed over his victims he was essentially finished with them unless he remembered to curse their succeeding progeny. Not until the advent of the Prince of Peace do we hear of the ghastly idea of further punishing and torturing the dead.[24]

Hitchens felt that Jesus was inconsistent, asking: "If Jesus could heal a blind person he happened to meet, then why not heal blindness?"[25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Chadwick, Henry, ed. (1980). Contra Celsum. Cambridge University Press. p. xxviii. ISBN 978-0-521-29576-5. 
  2. ^ Stevenson, J. (1987). Frend, W. H. C., ed. A New Eusebius: Documents illustrating the history of the Church to AD 337. SPCK. p. 257. ISBN 978-0-281-04268-5. 
  3. ^ Jews and Christians: the parting of the ways, A.D. 70 to 135 : the second Durham-Tübingen Research Symposium on Earliest Christianity and Judaism. 
  4. ^ Simmons, Shraga, "Why Jews Do not Believe in Jesus", Retrieved April 15, 2007; "Why Jews Do not Believe in Jesus", Ohr Samayach — Ask the Rabbi, Retrieved April 15, 2007; "Why do not Jews believe that Jesus was the Messiah?", AskMoses.com, Retrieved April 15, 2007
  5. ^ "The Hammer of God" Page 34 by Stephen Andrew Missick
  6. ^ Whitacre, Rodney A. (2010). "John 7". John (IVP New Testament Commentary). Downers Grove, Ill.: Ivp Academic. ISBN 978-0830840045. 
  7. ^ Hilchot Malachim (laws concerning kings) (Hebrew)", MechonMamre.org, Retrieved April 15, 2007
  8. ^ Cardinal Dulles, Avery. "Development or Reversal?". First Things. 
  9. ^ Giles, Kevin. "The Biblical Argument for Slavery: Can the Bible Mislead? A Case Study in Hermeneutics." Evangelical Quarterly 66 (1994): p. 10 http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/eq/1994-1_003.pdf
  10. ^ Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus outside the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. pp 65-66
  11. ^ a b Raymond Edward Brown, Mary in the New Testament, Paulist Press, 1978. pp 261-262
  12. ^ Origen, Contra Celsus1.32
  13. ^ James D. Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity, Simon and Schuster, 2006. p 64
  14. ^ Robert E. Van Voorst,Jesus outside the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. pp 67-68
  15. ^ James Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty (2006), pages. 64-72
  16. ^ J. Stevenson, A New Eusebius: Documents illustrating the history of the Church to AD 337 (Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1957; New Edition, revised by W. H. C. Frend, page 257, 1987). ISBN 0-281-04268-3
  17. ^ Dominic Janes, Romans and Christians, page 51 (Tempus, 2002). ISBN 978-0752419541
  18. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche, 1895, Twilight of the Idols, Morality as Anti-nature, 1.
  19. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche, 1878, Human all too Human: A Book for Free Spirits, The Wanderer and His Shado, aphorism 83.
  20. ^ The Antichrist, § 34
  21. ^ Russel, Bertrand (1927). Why I am not a Christian in "Why I am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects," 2004, Routledge Classics, p.13.
  22. ^ Why I am not a Christian By Russell
  23. ^ Russell, Bertrand. "Why I Am Not a Christian". Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  24. ^ Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great, (2007) pages: 175–176
  25. ^ Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great, (2007) page: 3

Further reading[edit]

  • Toledoth Yeshu, translation of Morris Goldstein (Jesus in the Jewish Tradition) and Alan Humm.