The Theosophy of Jesus Christ: A View of Historical Influence

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  • Author Robert Depaolo
  • Published January 9, 2024
  • Word count 4,250

by Robert DePaolo

Abstract

This article discusses possible origins of the new-Judaic religious system espoused by Jesus of Nazareth in terms of prevailing trends during and prior to his ministry. The idea is put forth that while Jesus has been viewed in deistic terms he was in fact thinking and feeling as a human being during his time on earth and that as a result was influenced by historical trends and cultural and theosophic antecedents. He appears to have combined moral principles espoused during the Era of Prophets and spiritual elements of Hellenism.

The story of Jesus emergence has been conveyed in the gospels of Mark, Mathew, John Luke, Mary Magdalene and undoubtedly others whose accounts were either discarded by latter-day theologians or buried in the rubble of conquests and invasions. One interesting aspect of the Bible is that stories in the New Testament are typically seen as continuations of the theology presented Old Testament.

Jesus was, of course, a Jew and since many of his sermons seemed to reference the words of Micah, Isaiah and Elijah, not to mention Moses - to whose mission and status Jesus' ministry has been compared - it would seem his outlook would have to be seen as derivative of ancient Hebrew law, faith and virtue.

On the other hand, many of Jesus' teachings differed in emphasis and tone from many in the Old Testament and offered a new approach to prophecy. The books of the Old Testament varied thematically, perhaps influenced by changing historical and cultural trends, and the human tendency to absorb and conform to cultural standards. Yet there were consistent trends permeating each account.

In determining how the history of Jews influenced Jesus' theosophy it is important to consider the transition among Hebrews from nomadic/tribal groups to a population that became nationalized. The transition was not smooth, as seen in Samuel's warning against a kingship (Samuel8:10-18 (in this case Saul) because he felt deviating from the consanguine purity of the essential Hebrew tribe and creating disproportionate power for a leader could lead to moral contamination.

As nations emerged and began to control agricultural and territorial resources a power dynamic took over, which set the stage for the domination of small tribes by large armies and ultimately the enslavement of Hebrews. Once that occurred the concept of Israel as a nation state became if not preferable then certainly a necessary evil.

Jews adapted. The era of kings arrived, not without betrayal, connivance, and drifts toward paganism but as an inevitable trend. While Saul's reign met with ambivalence God sanctioned the kingship of David. This was the first foray into formal messianic leadership. Perhaps borrowing from the Egyptian transition from political, spiritual kings to warrior kings (particularly after the conquest of Egyptian territory by Assyrians and other groups) the warrior kings of Israel became prominent. Meanwhile, prophets, less influential but still provocative, took a back seat to the warrior kings. In a sense this shift in emphasis had an earlier origin and became evident even amid the period of Exodus.

While Moses received the word of God on Mt. Sinai and was charged with delivering his people from bondage he was primarily a man of words - more prophet than warrior. Joshua became the first Hebrew conquerer, with successful military campaigns against the Canaanites. Later, Samson gained notoriety for his physical prowess vs. the Philistines. The shift had occurred. It was about kings not prophets as the kingdom of Israel took hold. Still, during these times - which occurred mostly within the period of 1000-700 B.C.E. the prophets still plied their craft.

After the reigns of David and Solomon the kingdom of Israel lost its way. As with the Egyptian and later the Roman empires, poor leadership, abandonment of core beliefs and sheer incompetence led to discord and eventual fractionization. Israel broke off into the north and south territories of Israel and Judah.

As this occurred Israel became weaker and to survive required forming alliances with other nations. Those nations either cooperated with Israel or subjugated them. In any case, cultural, political and religious mixing resulted in paganism sweeping over Israel, leading to an unholy dilution of the tenets of Abraham, Moses and David. That created a schism within Jewry.

Since kings failed during this time it was left to the prophets to reestablish their primacy. To an extent their arguments took a combined religious/economic form (here one can see the influence of these prophets on Jesus). For example, Amos (2:4-6) Micah and Hosea ((Hosea 6:6) protested against growing disparity between the rich and the poor. Isaiah protested against the faithlessness of king Ahab who condoned worship of pagan Gods to placate his wife Jezebel (Kings 16:32). Others looked around and saw not only immorality in the tolerances and practices of Jewish kings but helplessness.

It was the Iron Age and if you could build formidable chariots and towers from which to launch weapons and torch buildings - as had the newly dominant Assyrians, you could not be defeated. Indeed, for all the art, philosophy, law and religious principles said to have created and sustained societal evolution those factors mght be secondary to the invention of weapons of war as core determinants of history. The prophets knew not even a David or a Samson could prevail against such power. In response to this, Isaiah discouraged king Ahaz from mounting an offensive against the Assyrians (Isaiah 7:4). Peace and patience became the new strategy.

This was both predictable and bizarre. In the past Jews believed God could help them overcome any obstacle and defeat any enemy. Where was the resolve? Why not simply carry the Arc of the Covenant out to battle and defeat the Assyrians? Did iron chariots dilute the power of God?

Perhaps the prophets had become pragmatic. Perhaps they realized that God might not favor them because of the paganist drift under kings like Ahab. Judaic history made it clear. One did not simply ask God for help to gain victory. One first had to confess, repent and hope God would not dole out punishment to his chosen people for their faithlessness, as had occurred many times before. In that context, Isaiah likely felt engaging in war against a powerful enemy was too risky.

At this point Isaiah issued perhaps his most significant prophecy. In Isaiah 7:4 he stated: "A young woman is with child, she shall bear a son and call him Emmanuel. Before the child can refuse the evil and choose the good the land before whose kings you are in dread will be deserted." In a sense this ushered in a period known as the Era of the Prophets. If ever there was a central reference point for Jesus' mindset this series of times and events might have been it. Like the prophets Jesus adopted an economic argument, spoke of the poor gaining access to heaven and while welcoming a tax collector into the fold, he seemed to hold greed in disdain.

As stated in Matthew 1:23, this prophecy was considered a prediction of Jesus's emergence as a Messiah - even though Isaiah seemed to have a more immediate timetable in mind, as evidenced by his use of the present tense....She IS with child. Taken literally that would mean Jesus' arrival on the scene was about 700 years too late.

On the other hand, while Isaiah spoke his words well before the birth of Jesus the experience of time back then was different than now. With little information clutter and few formal records of daily events a single idea could more easily be sustained over time and avoid being eclipsed by volume. Still, 700 years was still a long period to hold on to a single prophetic statement.

The prophecy might have endured because its emotional content was driven by historical events. Things had gotten desperate in Judaism. In 586 B.C. E Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and effectively brought an end to the kingdom of Israel. Still the prophecy was not without complications - one of which is seen in the name 'Emmanuel.'

Who was Emmanuel?

In Hebrew the name means "God is with us." It signified that some entity or person personifying the Lord would emerge in the flesh, and walk and talk among the people yet still be considered a form of deity. This was more than just a king, more then a prophet. 'Emmanuel' would be a personification of God - right there on earth. That prophecy was used by Matthew to support the idea of Jesus as a duality, combining the physical and the spiritual - a deity on earth.

Isaiah's Conundrum...

Absent an empirical philosophy and an efficient mass communication system - neither of which existed 700 years ago (Gutenberg and John Locke yet to be born) semantics can get in the way of historical evolution. By this prophecy Isaiah seemed to assert that a man-God entity could exist and present himself as a "God who was with us" - sitting alongside the men in fishing boats in Galilee, riding a colt upon entering Jerusalem, having his feet washed by a worshipful woman, all the while holding divine status. That kind of talk can get someone crucified.

Jewish beliefs explicitly prohibited worship of pagan Gods. It also held God in such high esteem that even assigning him a particular name was considered blasphemous (the assignation 'Ywvh' is really a non-word - a subdued, apologetic reference to a being who cannot be physically described, delineated, labeled or personified. For devoted Jews like Joseph and Mary that pretty much ruled out naming a child Emmanuel. Of course, they did not, instead giving their son a very common name - Yeshua, which was a contraction of Joshua or Yeheshua and analogous to the names John or Joseph in modern times - Jesus would have been difficult to pick out in the Nazareth phone book.

In the absence of clear-cut information systems and with reliance on oral tradition ideas can get meddled, combined and confused over time. Man's tendency - make that need - to assimilate concepts to override uncertainty and function in his world would have led to attempts at closure. That means while Jesus undoubtedly knew of Isaiah's prophecy, he would have been exposed to a wider variety of ideas, one of which forbade any true connection between man and God. The fact that Isaiah's notion was provocative created a need for more certainty than the vague man-God model provided. Jesus had to think his way out of this and although he seemed well focused at the time of his baptism there might have been years of irresolution between his childhood and that point in time. He studied and became even more versed in scripture than the precocious ten-year old who lectured an astounded audience in the Temple.

That raises questions. If he was the son of a carpenter, how could he have been so well versed in Biblical history and verbally gifted enough to gain a following? True, he was, as the New Testament states, initially less than successful in his home town, indeed after one sermon he was threatened with being thrown off a cliff. Moreover, as he resumed in Capernaum it was with the aid of his apostles, who had enough wealth to own boats, particularly Simon Peter, whose wife was a woman of means. Consequently, as his theosophical support system grew so did his appeal. Still, he must have been persuasive and glib enough to attract followers, including John the Baptist, who was himself a very persuasive man.

One possible reason for his gift of language is that the description of his father as a tradesman might have been misinterpreted in later biblical translations. As A.N. Wilson suggested in his book Jesus; A Life, the word for carpenter in Aramaic could be translated to mean something more metaphorical - i.e. a wordsmith or "builder of words." It might otherwise be hard to explain why Joseph was relegated to manual labor despite being from the house of David.

When it comes to the development of Jesus' theosophy more questions arise. The prophecy by Isaiah was issued seven centuries before Jesus' birth. Notwithstanding the slow rate of information transmission back then that is a long time to sustain a hopeful image of a messianic figure who would come to the rescue. Indeed, - after seven centuries, rescued from whom? What leviathan would hold Israel is bondage? What type of power would this entity have and how would 'Emmanuel' carry out his mission? Like Joshua with inferior weaponry but superior tactics and resolve? There is no way even Isaiah could have envisioned such events and consequently no way a young Jesus could know just how he could turn into a deliverer. Sure, Rome had Tiberius and Augustus as modern versions of Sargon but the times had changed and Jesus needed a more recent method by which to turn the prediction of Isaiah into a new reality.

Another of Isaiah's ideas provided guidance- this one in the form of a paradoxical prototype leader described as a "suffering servant" (Isaiah 53) whose ostensible flaws, tribulations, and passivity would somehow lead to salvation of the people. With that single phrase Isaiah created a neo-Judaic humanistic paradox that was faithfully echoed by Jesus...leaing to paradoxical predictions such as...the meek will inherit the earth, and the lion will lay down with the lamb.

The template was set. Jesus would assume the form of a non-violent transformer, not Joshua, not David or Solomon. Not even Moses, who had the direct support of God in carrying out his mission. While under the implicit supervision of God Jesus was flying solo. In fact nowhere in the New Testament is there any mention of any consultation between "father and son" and only one contact (unanswered) between Jesus and the Lord in the former's last moments on the cross.

Jesus must have been a lonely figure, and perhaps in many ways a confused messiah His mission was perhaps less clear than the Bible suggests. On one hand he was supposedly sent from heaven to become a sacrificial lamb and offer himself in repentance for the sins of mankind. He must have wondered why. Did he really believe the Jewish people were all beyond repentance? The Jordan River was still there. Why not simply solicit repentance from the people - as did John the Baptist?

It raises the possibility that more than the human version of a burnt offering was involved in his mission After all. When Jesus first appeared on the scene, he announced that his mission was not personal sacrifice but to "bring good news to the poor." it seemed to be a combined egalitarian, economic and political message that extended well beyond redemption.

Even more confusion is seen in Jesus' commentary in Luke 18:19. After being referred to as "good" (bearing in mind that back then the word good meant god-like, he deferred; asking Why do you call me good when only God is good." On the other hand in John 10:30 Jesus states: "I and the Father are one." Beyond that, he asked the apostles how people were referring to him after he had become a notable figure around Capernaum. One apostle said he was being compared to John the Baptist. Another said he was viewed as a prophet. It was Simon Peter's comment that Jesus was a messiah that led to his appointment as the "rock of the church"

What does messiah mean? In ancient Hebrew it meant "deliverer" or "anointed one" Yet, while Moses was a deliverer, he was not considered a God. Joshua was also a deliverer, not a God or suffering servant. The word messiah signified that an individual would come along and free the Jewish people without being divine. Any hint of that during Exodus and the Lord would have abstained from opening the Red Sea. The word refers to a secular warrior. That is why Pilate finally viewed Jesus as a threat.

So, whirling around in the mind of Jesus were various models and purposes with religious, political and military implications. It probably created duress, occasional self-doubt and possible misgivings - perhaps best exemplified by his final statement to God on the cross - "Why have you forsaken me?" The fact that Jesus had doubts until the end is indicative of the seldom discussed uncertainty of his mission and his role. In fact, one could surmise (in term of Jesus' self-perception) that he did not have a fixed mission from the outset but rather spent his life evolving, from the child preacher in the Temple to the humble man baptized by John to the rejected teacher in his hometown to the alleged "king" of the Jews and finally to the figure who declared that his blood and body were components of a new covenant.

As result Jesus would have needed guidance - not through direct intervention with God because there was none. There was no burning bush, no mountain sojourn - at least as acknowledged in the New Testament and none of the direct support and communications from God offered to Abraham, Moses and Joshua. He needed a bridge to connect images in order to incorporate the potentially inflammatory prophecy of Isaiah into his personal experience and the world in which he lived - while fully aware that Rome was adamantly intolerant of aspiring Jewish deliverers.

While Jesus seemed to favor the integrative "old school" economic/political/moral approach espoused by prophets like Micah, Amos, Isaiah and the latter's protege Elisha (whom Jesus likely knew) began performing miracles, including feeding a throng of people by multiplying a basket full of fish and loaves), a long time had passed since the Era of the Prophets. Subsequent ideas, religious and otherwise flowed through the area. Gaps had to be filled. Cultural stimuli had to kick in to provide a link between a prophecy issued centuries earlier and the beginning of the Common Era.

There were many shifts in power among nations in that interim, with many wars, newly emerging leaders and frequent territorial sculpting, but while most of those changes were superficial in terms of Jesus's mission two were prominent. One influence, Rome, was a practical empire, grandiose, good at building roads, aqueducts, organizing its military, formalizing language, developing weapons, constructing gorgeous architectural edifices and even writing poetry. Another was Greece.

They were different in many ways even if Roman culture was derived from the Greeks. Rome was physical. Greece was metaphysical. Rome was about action. Greece, while occasionally at war with Persians and within its own territories was about contemplation. Rome was super-organized, Greece much more exploratory. Rome conquered territories and imposed its own language, political and cultural customs. Greece conquered territories and proceeded to educate the conquered. They brought philosophy, theology, metaphysics and science to these territories and their overall cultural influence was broader. While Roman emperors burned down libraries and temples in various lands to prevent the spread of new ideas the Greeks built libraries, theaters and schools, to encourage them. They also were humble enough to borrow from other cultures - Plato visited the schools in Egypt and bought back some of their teaching methods back to Greece.

Yet the most significant Greek influence on Judea and its inhabitants (possibly including Jesus) emanated from the mind and motives of two men. One was said by his mother, Olympia, to be born of a deity and a human (a theme that permeated Greek theology and eventually Christianity). He was referred to by his mother and eventually by himself as "The Son of God." His name was Alexander. The other was his tutor, a metaphysician, scientist, botanist, philosopher and possibly the brightest mind on earth at that time. This was Aristotle.

The Greek influence they purveyed came centuries after Isaiah and could have provided more recent food for thought for a young Nazarene trying to find his way.

The Greek influence on newly emerging Christian theosophy was profound. It is not surprising that Jesus found a receptive audience when he traveled to a Hellenic settlement in present day Syria called Decapolis, that some of the gospels were written in Greek or that an intellectual named Saul of Tarsas, who has been renowned for his persecution of Jews became a convert and quintessential spokesman of Christianity.

A few key elements of their Hellenic world view might have impressed the soon to be messiah. One was the notion of democracy which abolished theoretically the barrier between rich and poor and set the stage for empowerment of the lower class. The other was a place called Elysian Fields. where the spirits of the righteous dead were said to continue on in paradise. This was not like the Garden of Eden which Genesis indicated was in a fertile area of Mesopotamia, but in a lofty place in the heavens. It was a concept alien to some Jewish leaders., particularly the Sadducees who rejected the idea of life after death.

An even more significant Hellenic influence can be seen in Jesus's style of preaching. The Baptist and many prophets of the past spoke in a critical, admonishing tone. To them God's word was so absolute that using reason to prove its validity seemed unnecessary. Jesus did have a temper and could be dogmatic but for the most part he presented his arguments in a dialectic format. That was necessary because unlike John and Isaiah before him he was reaching out to gentiles who had no prior knowledge or allegiance to the Jewish faith. In sermons like the Lillies of the Field in Matthew 6:28 he used the logical induction method used by Aristotle at the Lyceum. In coming to the rescue of a fallen woman he asked if any of the accusers throwing stones were without sin. (John 8:7). The use of a questioning format to elicit a response and convey a point of reason was exactly what Plato did at his academy through the dialectic format.

No one knows how long Jesus' family remained in Egypt after fleeing Judea in light of Herod Antipas' order to kill all Jewish males. But one of the closest towns on the road from Lower Israel to Egypt was Alexandria - the capital of metaphysics ruled by mathematician Ptolemy, and the seedbed of Hellenic progressive thought. It is possible the child Jesus spent time in that environment, was schooled there and by combining traditional Judaic thought with Hellenic moral concepts was able to find his way.

While that is obviously conjectural it seems curious that much of Jesus' life was omitted from the New Testament. He left Israel as a toddler, returned several years later but there were a number of years left out. For some reason his story begins in earnest in his early thirties. What happened in between? Even if he did cut his intellectual teeth in Judea is it possible Hellenic ideas embedded in that part of the world were so compatible with Judaic doctrine that young Jesus could not resist incorporating them into what he might have deemed a staid, overly materialistic version of Judaism? There are reasons to believe this was the case.

Plato and the Christ...

In his book, The Crito, Plato wrote about the importance or turning the other cheek to deal with animosity. He spoke about the need to sustain nationhood because in his words: "A nation united cannot fall" Jesus repeated those statements in his sermons although he inverted Plato's words by stating: "A nation divided against itself cannot stand." Was young pre-ministerial Jesus a partially Hellenized Jew, espousing a hybrid theology emphasizing the implicit virtue so important to Greek thinkers that made his followers say: "What a word is this" when he delivered the Sermon on the Mount? Was he in a sense a metaphysician as well as a prophet, speaking about the imminent opening of heaven's gate, to a place where both rich and poor could go after death, where the spirit could last forever and where virtue arising from within, through introspection and mercy would comprise the new morality?

One thing seems fairly certain. Jesus was not a man of his time. On one hand he was a purist, harking back to a time when Israel had been erased from history, military retaliation seemed pointless, and the only solution could be found within the mind and soul of the individual. In fact, his being called king of the Jews and crucified as a result seems to have been one of the saddest ironies in history. Israel had typically been dichotomous; Throughout its history influenced waxed and waned. Either kings ruled or prophets prevailed. Jesus did not have the mind or inclinations of a king. His line of reasoning, sentiments and disposition were in direct line with those of the prophets.

On the other hand, he was raised in a Greco-Roman era where an interesting merger between science and faith was being created, where an astute Judaic thinker could create a fusion between abject obedience to God and using the dialectic method to reason one's way to faith. He was pre-Augustine, pre-Aquinas, and conceivably part Aristotelian. His apparent integration of these ideals ultimately reached more people and nations than even he might have imagined. He did reach out to Roman soldiers and gentiles during his time, which was perhaps more Greek than Jewish. But his influence eventually spread to all corners of the earth in places he probably did not know existed at the time.

Robert DePaolo MS Clinical Psychology, practitioner of clinical, educational and neuropsychology, former professor of psychology NH University System, author of 8 books and many articles on science, psychology, true crime and religion and anthropology.

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