Jesus’ Lost Years

The title of this blog is a reference to Jesus between the ages of about 13 and 30. Jesus was not lost, of course. It is just that we don’t have any written records that tell us what he was doing during that time. “Lost” might mean that there are records that have been lost. Not quite sure.

There are a few ideas floating around about Jesus’ life during his young adult years that I think have some merit. Some people believe that Jesus traveled to the east during his young adult years. A man named Nicholas Roerich traveled to India and Tibet and claims to have found ancient manuscripts that tell of a Saint Issa who studied in India around the time of Christ. That, plus oral traditions of the area, convinced him that Jesus had been there. Whether Jesus went there or not, scholars note the similarities between the teachings of Jesus and those of other religious teachings such as Hindi and Buddhist. I have noticed these similarities myself as I study other religions.

Some scholars note that Israel was a crossroads where people of many different beliefs traveled. Consider the story of the three wise men who are said to have visited the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. The New Testament doesn’t gloss over their religious belief that one can be guided by stars. In my thinking, Jesus would not have to leave Israel in order to encounter the religions of the east.

Jesus was a seeker. I understand this characteristic because I, too, am a seeker. I have an insatiable curiosity about things that sends me into ridiculous directions. I have read books most people would not consider reading. It is one reason I can find them so cheaply. I once paid one penny for a resource book that was probably worth $50 at one time. I envision a book seller just wanting to get rid of it.

I have gone places many Christians I know have not. The course I took on world religions in college included field trips to local places of worship for members of the religions we studied:  a Jewish mosque, a Buddhist temple, a Sikh prayer community (Muslim). I think that experience got me launched because it took reduced any fear I had of stepping into the unknown.

If I could rewrite parts of my life, I would have loved to travel to far corners of the earth where these religions had their birth. Somehow I don’t think that will happen, though one never knows. I still have a few years ahead, I think. I am waiting until Scotty can beam me up so I don’t have to sit in an airplane for hours on end.

Whether these stories of Jesus are true or not, I am quite sure he did not simply pound nails for the 17 years about which we have no written record (so far). We don’t have the writings Roerich claims to have found; we have only his word. So in the end, it is one’s guess. I agree with the scholars who see the similarities between Jesus’ teachings and those of the eastern teachers. There is nothing in the writings we do have to contradict the idea of his traveling. In fact, given what we know about his disciples’ travels after his death, I think it is quite likely.

I don’t know about you folks, but I find this fascinating. I don’t want to stir up too much interest, however, or I might see the books I buy on EBay skyrocket.

Who Knows One?

Yesterday, I shared a poem that actually came to me in prayer as I stood outside with the cornfield on my left, as high as an elephant’s eye, and a tree on my right that has been on this property long before we came here, perhaps since before I was born.

As I indicated, I was inspired by a book about kabbalah, the mystic stream of Judaism. It is an amazing book and I am awed once again by the Oneness of God. I believe that all who search with a sincere heart will find the door to God and when they open it, they will discover the same God that all other sincere searchers seek.

When I picked up this book, I picked up two others, one on Jewish festivals (I was hoping weddings would be included) and one a Passover Haggadah. The Haggadah is the story or script that goes along with the food when a family comes together for the Passover seder (meal). I was delighted when I opened the Haggadah book and realized that the way my family celebrates the seder is pretty accurate. I must have done some pretty good research when I wrote ours 35 years ago. But in this book, there were some really cool children’s songs which, according to the footnotes were sung during the seder to keep the children interested in what is a pretty long, adultish type ritual.

Two that are really fun (I wish I had music to these) are “Who Knows One” and “The One Kid”. The former is a repetition song like the 12 days of Christmas or Old MacDonald. Children love these songs and they are great to help them put to memory ideas you want them to remember. Here is a sampling of the first:

One – who knows one?
One – I know one.
           One is our God, who is in the heaven and on earth.

Two – who knows two?
     Two – I know two.
          Two  are the tablets of the Covenant,
           One is our God, who is in heaven and on earth.

Three – who knows three?
      Three – I know three.
          Three are the Fathers,
          Two are the tablets of the Covenant,
          One is our God, who is in heaven and on earth, etc.

Having worked in Early Childhood for years, it is easy for  me to imagine actions to go along with this song.

The second song reminds me of songs I taught my children – “Hush Little Baby”,  “There’s a hole in the bucket” and “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly”. Here are the words:

The one kid, the one kid, that daddy bought for two zuzim, the one kid.
And the cat came and ate the kid, that daddy bought for two zuzim, the one kid, the one kid.
And the dog came and bit the cat, that the kid, etc.
And the stick came and beat the dog, that bit the cat, etc.
And the fire came and burned the stick, that beat the dog, etc.
And the water came and put out the fire, that burned the stick, etc.
And the ox came and drank up the water that put out the fire. etc.
And the butcher came, and butchered the ox, that drank up the water, etc.
And the Angel of Death came and slaughtered the butcher, who butchered the ox, etc.
And the Holy One, blessed be he, came and slaughtered the Angel of death, who slaughtered the butcher, who butchered the ox, who drank up the water, that put out the fire, that burned the stick, that beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the kid, that daddy bought for two zuzim, the kind and one kid. 

Footnote says of the first that it was probably composed in the 15th or 16th century. The second was originally written in poor Aramaic no earlier than the 15th century. One explanation for its meaning: “Israel is the kid which God bought for two zuzuim, which are the two tablets of the Covenant. Subsequently, Israel fell prey to the first of a series of empires, each of which destroyed its predecessor in turn. The cat is Assyria, the dog Babylonia, the stick  Persia, the fire macedonia, the water Rome, the ox the Saracens, the slaughterer the crusaders, and the Angel of death the Turks.” The song is a history lesson.

So who will give the  meaning of our songs…Henry’s bucket, the Little Old Lady’s Spider and the Hushed Little Baby? Someone else’s research.

Samson – Biblical Hero

Okay, all you lovers of the Bible as the Word of God.  I just finished the story of Samson in the book of Judges. It is about as yuckie a story as one can conjure. Tripple R rating for sex and violence. I thought to myself, “Why did the author give this guy any press, let alone credit him with being some kind of worthy leader?”  Here is a summary of the story:

Even though his parents raised him in the faith, when Samson was a young adult, he coerced them into going to the Philistines to get a young woman to whom he was attracted. Enroute to the Philistine city, he kills a young lion for no reason than his roaring. At his bachelor party he taunted the men with a riddle about the lion but they couldn’t figure it out. So, they got his new wife to get the meaning of the riddle out of him  while they had sex. If she cooperate, they threatened to kill her and her family. When Samson found out what they did, he went to the nearby town and killed 30 men, stripped them, and gave their clothes to the guys who had tricked him. Then he went home in a huff.

Some time later, Samson went back to claim his wife only to find out she’d been given to another man. He got so mad, he captured 300 foxes, took two at a time, tied their tails together and put torches into the knots. He lit the torches and let them loose into the Philistines’ wheat fields and olive orchards.  Because of this, the Philistines went to the house of her father and burned it along with her and her family. Then they went to attack the people of Judah. The people were afraid so they captured Samson and turned him over the Philistines. After being captured, he broke free of the ropes that bound him and with a jawbone of a donkey, he killed a thousand Philistines.

Years later, Samson goes to the Philistine city of Gaza to find himself a prostitute. When the people found out he was there, they planned to capture him when he left her house. But he outsmarted them and escaped at midnight. As he left the city, he broke down the city gate, supporting posts, lock and all.

Later he lusted after a woman named Delilah. The Philistines bribed  her to trick Samson into telling her why he was so strong. While they were alone doing their lusty thing, he told her a number of lies about the what the Philistines would have to do to overcome him and each time she told them. Each time they tried to capture him and each time he’d get away. He kept going back to Delilah in spite of her continual betrayal. His sexual addiction had clearly taken him over.

Finally Samson told Delilah that the strength was in his hair. So she lulled  him to sleep and chop-chop – off with his hair. Sure enough, when he woke up he was weak as a flapping fish out of water. The Philistines captured him and put his eyes out, chained him and put him to work grinding stone in prison. Meanwhile his hair started to grow back.

One day, the Philistines decided to have a celebration and offer a sacrifice to their god Dagon. For entertainment, they brought Samson out of prison and made him stand between between two columns. While the people sang and danced, he reached out and pushed the columns apart, collapsing the building. All the people inside were killed as well as the Philistine kings and 3000 men and women who were standing on the roof watching Samson. (One might wonder whether Samson should really get credit for the building’s collapse). Samson died under the rubble and his brothers came to get his body and bury him in his father’s tomb.

I have more to say about what I think about this biblical horror story, but I will let that wait until tomorrow while you let it sink in. Just don’t let it ruin your day.

The Trial of Jesus According to Nicodemus

I am having a blast working on the little midrash stories. As I read the noncanonical* materials, I come across little details that are not included in the New Testament stories of Jesus. Right now, for example, I am reading the gospel of Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a member of the the Sanhedrin, a pharisee, who became a follower of Jesus. Whether Nicodemus actually wrote this gospel is unclear, but it was attributed to him. Also called the Acts of Pilate, it is a record of Jesus’ trial and includes the eye witness accounts of those who were brought forward to testify for or against Jesus. It was such a surprise to read about a real trial which seems fairer to me than the lickety-split job reported in the bible.

Those who come to Jesus’ defense are familiar to me because I read about them in the bible. But what is really fun is that names are given to a few of them. For example, the Roman soldier who came to Jesus concerning his sick servant is given the name Centurio. Also the malady of his servant is named while we are not given this detail in the bible. The servant suffered from palsy, a form of paralysis that included involuntary tremors. Another character that received a name in the book of Nicodemus is the woman who had bled for 12 years and touched the cloak of Jesus and was healed. Her name is given to be Victoria.

Here is another detail that I found fascinating: the religious leaders who stood to convict Jesus rejected Veronica’s testimony because she was a woman. Having just finished reading the book of Leviticus I was able to find the law that said women were to be excommunicated during their monthly periods because they were considered unclean, so I could conclude that this woman was basically excommunicated for 12 years of her life. I also found the spot where it says women are not to testify. For me, these details add depth to the stories that I have read in the bible.

Woe is me. This is what it takes for me to have fun. It is second only to playing with my grandchildren.

*The canon is composed of those writings that were chosen to be in the bible. But there were many other writings about Jesus and those who made the canon selections may or may not have have known about them.  These are the ones I have been reading. Very interesting!

Christian Midrash

I continue to read Lost Books of the Bible. I looked over my old blogs to find out if I explained Midrash and could not find it. Midrash is a literary form engaged by Hebrew scholars over the years. What they did was look at a passage in the scriptures and write a story to expand the story, to give it personality or setting, if you will. These were not intended to be true. They were made-up. I have written my own Midrash stories. They are the scene-behind-the-scene as I imagine it. They grew out of my own curiosity and my desire to make extraordinary stories ordinary so they feel more human to me. For example, reading the little story, only a few verses, of Jesus calling the disciples forth away from their work and all, I thought, “This is ridiculous. Drop everything to follow some stranger?” So I created this story in my head and later on paper of an encounter the fishermen had with Jesus, a conversation over a fire on the beach after their boat was moored, where Jesus told them of his dream. Then, when he issued the invitation, it made sense that they might follow him. So, I guess you might say, I have the same nutty curiosity that the early Hebrew writers of Midrash had.

This morning I read an interesting piece about Mary and Joseph with little Jesus wandering around Egypt, where they had many interesting adventures. There was a group of robbers who saw them coming along and one, Titus, says to another, Dumachus, “I beseech thee let those persons go along quietly, that our company may not perceive anything of them.” Dumachus didn’t like that idea, but finally agreed. Well, Mary knew of the kindness of Titus, though how isn’t quite explained (that if for another Midrash master to imagine) and she said to Titus, “The Lord God will receive thee to his right hand, and grant thee pardon of thy sins.” Now things are starting to sound familiar and I write in the margin: “Like the robbers on the cross.”

Well, smart is me! Jesus, the little boy, says, “When thirty years are expired, O mother, the Jews will crucify me at Jerusalem; and these two thieves shall be with me at the same time upon the cross, Titus on my right hand, and Dumachus on my left, and from that time Titus shall go before me into paradise.”

Really! This is what I read this morning. I’ve got to give it to the Church for not accepting this,“The first Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ” into the canon. I would have done the same thing. That would have put an end to the spread of Christianity. But really, wouldn’t it have been alright to have another book, like the Jews had, of Christian Midrash writings?

More about the Lost Books of the Bible

I wrote earlier that I am reading some of the “other” writings found about Jesus besides those that were accepted into the Canon that we now know as the New Testament. As I read, I am sometimes touched and other times dismayed. Some of the sayings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Thomas, for example, I really like. A few are slight variations of sayings reported in the canonical gospels.

As for being dismayed, I started reading this morning “The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ”. It is full of fanciful stories of the infant Jesus and his boyhood years. This is the book I referred to earlier that I’d seen in my Aunt Mary’s apartment (see my blog of October 29.). One legend has Mary giving the three wise men one of Jesus’ blankets. Later they tried to offer it to a pagan god and it survived the fire. Another time a blanket was used in a healing of a possessed child. There are also healings of leprosy with Jesus’ bath water. I feel a little like I am reading Grimm or Anderson.

One interesting thing I read in this piece and in an earlier one about Mary, is that when Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem, she went into labor before they actually arrived in the city and had to get her off her donkey quickly. They found a cave and while Mary continued her labor, Joseph ran off to find a midwife, which he did. I have always wondered about the story as it is told in the Bible. I had trouble imagining Joseph serving as midwife. I find this version a little more believable.

One may wonder why I am doing this. I can’t really say. I just find it fascinating. Before the cannon was created, there were lots of stories and letters floating around that were read and treasured by the people. Some may have reflected the religious context of people in a particular area. In other words, there was a tendency to interpret Jesus’ words and action according to what people already knew and experienced, including their religious experiences. What was accepted into the cannon is reflective mostly of Jewish understanding and Greek understanding, at least as I understand it. But I have asked my self, were the writings rejected 100% in error or is it possible that a piece was rejected because only portions were unacceptable. Is it possible, for example, that a saying in the Gospel of Thomas may have been closer to what Jesus said than the same in the cannonicals. Or, and I think this is very likely, the saying was differently applied as it was heard by different people.

Have you ever had the experience of having someone tell you that you  said something that you can’t remember having said? This has happened to me many times. A person claims that whatever I said fit their situation in a way that they felt helped in some way. I may have a vague memory of  saying something but with a different intent than they describe. If the words I spoke were helpful I don’t usually mess with their reporting whether they have anything to do with my intention or not. I figure God is at work here.

So reading all this stuff feels not so much like I am learning more about Jesus as learning about those who followed him. Meanwhile, I ask myself the question, “Who is Jesus for me?” That is the most important question, I guess, and these writings seem to prod me more and more toward the asking of it.

Midrash – 4


Philip said to Jesus, “When can we expect the Kingdom of God to come?” “Oh, Philip,” Jesus said. “Look around you. Now is the time to enter the bridal chamber. The meal is ready, the harvest is great. See the lilies of the field are in bloom.” Philip did not understand until the day when a crowd of 5,000 people were gathered near Beth-saida.  Jesus asked Philip, “How will we feed all these people?” Philip responded, “Lord, two hundred denarii will not buy enough food for each of them to have even a little. It would require at least 200 silver coins.” Andrew said, “There is a boy with 5 loaves and two fish in his basket. He says he wants to use it to feed the people.” “Bring him to me,” Jesus said. Jesus blessed the boy’s offering and began to distribute it to the people. When he did this, the people began to share what little they had until every man, woman, and child was satisfied. Jesus said to Philip, “Do you see now? The Kingdom of God is within the hearts of these people as they care for one another.”

(John 6, 1-13; Acts of Philip 135)


And some people understood: