Christmas has been my favorite holiday ever since I was a little kid, but it was never a holiday on which I’d see extended family or have a special dinner. My family never dressed up to take a Christmas photo, and I never waited in line at the mall to tell Santa what I wanted that year. Yes, my brother and I would wake up excitedly in the morning to see what was lying under our living room’s plastic Christmas tree, but that was our entire Christmas experience. Instead, I think everything about the buildup to December 25th — the lights, the music, the hot chocolate, the Trader Joe’s advent calendars, the general excitement and cheerfulness in the middle of a gray, wet Seattle winter — is why I’ve happily sold my soul to the all-encompassing capitalist extravaganza that is “Christmas”. And I’m okay with that.
At the same time, though, despite not being Christian, I’ve begun to take an interest in the spiritual side of the holiday, even if Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th. I’ve been thinking a lot about the historical Jesus versus the Jesus of Christianity, and more broadly about how different religions — namely Christianity and Buddhism — have claimed to convey the original teachings of their founders while simultaneously depicting their founders in ways that would be unrecognizable to the Jesus and Buddha of history. Two books that I’ve read which deal with this phenomenon are Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and From Stone to Flesh: A Short History of the Buddha by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.
Two thousand years later, the Christ of Paul’s creation has utterly subsumed the Jesus of history. The memory of the revolutionary zealot who walked across Galilee gathering an army of disciples with the goal of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, the magnetic preacher who defied the authority of the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem, the radical Jewish nationalist who challenged the Roman occupation and lost, has been almost completely lost to history. That is a shame. Because the one thing any comprehensive study of the historical Jesus should hopefully reveal is that Jesus of Nazareth—Jesus the man—is every bit as compelling, charismatic, and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ. He is, in short, someone worth believing in.
— Reza Aslan, Zealot
Continue reading “Will the real Jesus Christ please stand up?”