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My Take: Jesus was a dirty, dirty God
January 5th, 2013
10:00 PM ET

My Take: Jesus was a dirty, dirty God

Editor’s note: Johnnie Moore is the author of Dirty God (#DirtyGod). He is a professor of religion and vice president at Liberty University. Keep track of him @johnnieM .

By Johnnie Moore, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Jesus was a lot more like you than you think, and a lot less clean cut than this iconic image of him that floats around culture.

You know the image. It’s the one where Jesus is walking like he’s floating in robes of pristine white followed by birds singing some holy little ditty. He’s polished, manicured, and clearly – God.

But despite the Christian belief that Jesus was both fully God and fully man, Jesus was a rather dirty God.

He was the “earthly” son of a carpenter, and life in the first-century was both more lurid and unfinished than our collective religious memory seems to recall.

To that end, I suggested recently to several astounded colleagues of mine that Jesus actually had to go to the bathroom, perhaps even on the side of the road between Capernaum and Jerusalem.

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What tipped them over the edge was when I insinuated that Jesus, like almost every other human being living in the rural world in that time, might have even had dysentery on an occasion or two.

Someone said, “You mean that Jesus might have had severe diarrhea?”

“Yep,” I replied, “That’s exactly what I mean.”

It seems like an obvious statement if you believe that Jesus was “fully God” and “fully man” (as most evangelicals believe and call the Incarnation), but to some of us it seems in the least, inappropriate, and at the most, sacrilege, to imagine Jesus in this way. We might believe that God was also man, but we picture him with an ever-present halo over his head.

But, actually, the Jesus of the Bible was more human than most people are conditioned to think.

I call this the dirty side of Jesus. He was grittier, and a lot more like us than maybe we believe, and that’s one of the reasons why so many thousands of people followed him so quickly.

They could relate to him.

He was the teacher from a small town who knew and understood the economic insecurity that was common in the first century. Times must have been rather tough for Jesus at points in his life, for he even spoke of being homeless, having to sleep on the ground with no roof over his head.

He also knew what it was like to have his message rejected and how it felt to be misunderstood. Jesus was regarded with such little significance in his hometown that one of his critics once remarked sardonically, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” Jesus eventually had to move to different city (Capernaum) because his teachings so infuriated the people living in his hometown that they drove him out of Nazareth and even tried to throw him off a cliff.

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The real Jesus had dirt underneath his fingernails and calluses on his hands. He probably smelled badly from sweating profusely in the Judean sun on his long hikes to Jerusalem, and Jesus was, without a doubt, rumored to be a hypocrite or absolutely mad for all the time he spent with prostitutes and those afflicted with leprosy.

Not exactly have a clean-cut image.

He had a rather shady reputation.

Some people thought he was a revolutionary. The religious leaders called him a heretic, and others even accused him of being a drunkard and a glutton - in no small part because of the vagabond group of disciples he had with him. No serious religious leader of his day would have ever recruited such people.

For his core 12 disciples, Jesus included a tough-as-nails, bombastic fisherman (Peter), a chief tax collector named Matthew (the most hated popular figure of the time), an eventual traitor who was stealing money out of the offering bucket (Judas), a prolific doubter (Thomas), two jocks nicknamed the “Sons of Thunder” (James and John) and Simon the Zealot, a member of a radical political party which believed in using violence to kick out the Romans.

Jesus was sarcastic, too.

He often snapped back at the Pharisees with a tone fit for late-night television, and in a terribly embarrassing moment for all those around him, Jesus even called these respected religious teachers “snakes” that were probably sons of “Satan.”

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That’s not exactly the behavior of a sweet, self-help teacher with a halo over his head.

It’s the behavior of a frustrated man who might also be divine, but sure knows how it feels for annoying people to get under his skin.

Christians believe that Jesus chose to be born fully human, too, but why?

Lots of theologians have laid out opinions over the centuries, and in their opining they have tried once again to hijack Jesus’ humanity by defining it in philosophical terms. I believe it’s simpler than the philosophy and church councils and centuries of argument.

The brilliance of Christianity is the image of a God, named Jesus, arrived with dirty hands.

Jesus came in a time period when Greco-Roman gods were housed in gigantic temples and portrayed with superhuman powers and with superhuman physiques. Gods were believed to be far away from people on their mountains or hemmed up in their sanctuaries.

Jesus arrived in defiance of this prevailing imagery.

Jesus didn’t come flinging lightning bolts from a mountaintop, or playing politics in Rome. He came to live in a typical Middle Eastern village called Nazareth that was home to a couple hundred typical people. He didn’t decide to brandish his power, but to spend most of his time with the powerless and disenfranchised. And when he started a religious movement that reshaped history, he did it in the most profound and anticlimatic way:

He let himself be killed, and then he busted open a tomb.

In Jesus we meet a Savior who understood the desire to sleep just a few more hours, and who had to control his temper sometimes. In Jesus we find a God we can relate to because he chose to relate to us.

He was the God who became dirty so that the world’s souls might be made clean.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Johnnie Moore.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Jesus • My Take

soundoff (7,741 Responses)
  1. Henry

    The negative responses about Jesus and Christianity are far more interesting than the article. A psychologist would have a field day with these personality damaged folks.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • Ed F.

      Says the guy who believes in invisible men.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • JJ

      You nuts should be laughed at (and feared) just like all followerd of the occult.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  2. hostale

    when the journey on earth ends for each of us then something is revealed to us where is peaceful or infernal. Have awarness of this if not findi this out lots of people have seen hravrn and hell. Lots of soul are on hell for refusing Jesus as their saviour when they had all the chances while being alive.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • Mg

      Hahaha. Wow. And if you believe something else what happens? Jesus is it? And people like you vote. Ugh.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Okay, just put down the doobie, and step away, step away.

      Hey, what if there is a god, but not your god? What if that god absolutely HATES people who followed Jesus? Woops! Bring your asbestos undies!

      January 6, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • JJ

      You might want to learn proper grammar, punctuation and spelling before threatening people with hell-fire. You sound like the typical trailer park Talibangelical Christian.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • YouMayDisagree

      I always felt sorry for those who believe out of fear. "If you don't believe in god you will not get to heaven" is scare tactics, dictators use that kind of approach a lot.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  3. Daverelentless

    There is no evidence of ANY kind that Jesus OR Joseph were Carpenters. The hallucinations of Paul do not count, as he NEVER met Jesus. Such fanciful things create the "managed" image of Jesus. Like saying he was from Nazareth, a town not built until 150 years after Jesus death.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  4. Ed F.

    Jesus was that guy at the Grateful Dead show who hasn't showered in a year and smells like a dirty diaper and spouts that he saw god and Jerry in a bush after he took too many mushrooms.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  5. Sam A.

    Of course Jesus was human he "prayed to God" the Bible says.. so he was human.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  6. Paulie

    As silly as religion and Jesus seem to people--these beliefs have existed for thousands of will be here long after they are dead. Therefore they are more powerful than the average person who will only last about 100 years or so. Few of them will make their mark in the world or do anything significant in the way that religion has persisted.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  7. Rich

    Reminds me of the Democrats.
    So what was the intent of this article? To discredit him?
    Belief in him will still be here long after your bones are bleached white from the sun.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:40 am |
    • Ed F.

      Crackpot

      January 6, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • Daverelentless

      Luckily Jesus was buried in the family tomb at Talpiot, with his wife, mother, brothers and his adolescent son, His bones did not bleach in the Sun, instead they mouldered in an Ossuary underground.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:46 am |
  8. Faisal

    This is a disrespectful, bigoted article, and CNN should be sued for publishing it. If you are a Christian group capable of doing this I highly desire that you do this. Unlawful defamation should not go unpunished.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • Ed F.

      Who's going to sue, dirty Jesus?

      You sound incredibly silly.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • JJ

      Lol...you sound like the Taliban. Did you put a Fatwa out on the author who happens to be from Liberty U.?

      January 6, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  9. Bill

    What is going on here? I thought CNN was a news network. I thought this was a news site. Why is this fairy-tale the biggest lead story on a news website? Please give equal time to the Easter Buny and Tinkerbell soon. Thanks.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:39 am |
  10. Nonsense

    Yeah, much like Jesus floating in the air, I just called my fairytale friends and they're going to bring over some pixie dust and unicorns so we can fly to clouds of the never ending story. Believe as you wish, that's totally cool and your right, but I cannot understand how people believe in invisible characters and people get paid for writing these articles.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • noreply

      how was the common era named, after a fairy?

      January 6, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  11. Leopold Stotch

    This dudes writing is pointless. He's simply trying to beat up Christianity.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • Ed F.

      Everyone should, it's the root of all evil.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  12. C

    Infinity if tine that has passed us, and trillions of years of our time, and many still think that the infinite Universe has no God. How little we are and nothing more than just mere animals in the multi-verse. So much more than most think to life, and we will all know the real truth after death.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:38 am |
  13. ryannerd

    Finally an acknowledgement of the fact that Jesus was not only divine, but also human. How else could we have lived up to Jesus's mandate of "What manner of men ought ye be? Even as I am."
    We could not even begin to try to emulate Jesus if he was some metaphysical nonsensical being with no human weaknesses (no dirt).
    He was perfect in the fact that he obeyed his Father to the letter (e.g. "I do nothing except what I have seen my Father do.")
    He was human in the fact that he was subject to sickness, hunger, sorrow, pain, and death.
    He did this so that when we are brought before the Judgement seat of God we could not say: You don't know how it feels to be human. How can you judge me when you don't know what it is like to live as someone in the flesh?
    Great article. Thanks for your insight.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:37 am |
  14. Paulie

    The other rumor is I hear Jesus wasnt white (gasp) because white people dont come from the middle east.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  15. William

    What a waste of ink. Let me summarize this article: Jesus was human".

    Now-if you want to write an article that will truly be interesting–write about the true "human" character traits of Mohammad.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • Paulie

      Islamists might try to kill the author of that article.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      @ paulie – which would demonstrate how insanely dangerous such fundamentalist Islamists are to the world.

      Imagine how weak and puny your Prophet is that he would be offended and would need protection because someone wrote an article.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:40 am |
    • Paulie

      Attack: religion is a powerful force in the world- it will be here long after you and I or dead- islamists minds wont be changed as they follow their faith to the letter unfortunately.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • Ed F.

      Paulie

      Christians only kill 6 million Jews.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      That's why we have to keep fighting them, and speaking out against their atrocities.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • John

      All of these religious "figures" has typical human traits. Attacking other religions doesn't make you more right and them more wrong. They were people, and people has the same traits such as temptation of power and lust. No matter what you believe, people are people. The tale of the life of Jesus is one of a man who experience and overcome these things. If he did not experience these, how can you relate to him. You would be nothing like him.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  16. adose of reality

    Is that the zombie Jesus you're praying to? The one who came to Earth as his own son, in order to die (but not really) and then go back into the sky to join himself (this is the ultimate sacrifice????) so that people, if they telepathically say that zombie Jesus is their master, will be cleansed of the sin that was placed on them thousands of years ago when a lady made from a rib was convinced by a talking snake to eat an apple, and if they do that (even if they are the most horrible, evil people in the world) get to live forever in paradise, while people who don't accept zombie Jesus will burn forever? Is that the Jesus you pray to?

    January 6, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • John

      Yep, that's the one. Cool, ain't it?

      January 6, 2013 at 8:39 am |
  17. Pete

    The bible stated that Jesus was born of a woman, weren't we all? So, why is it so amazing that Jesus urinated or had a bowel movement. The bible didn't point out any kind of special distinction about Jesus that made Him any different than other man. Remember those were the kind of signs that the Jews were looking for to help them distinguish Jesus from everyone else. Throughout the 4 gospels, the Jews were looking for signs that Jesus was the Christ. Jesus wanted people to believe in Him because He was spoke of throughout the O.T. He showed them through miracles that was never before performed that He was who He said He was. I believe that Jesus might have had no where to lay his head at times because the bible states that in Matt. 8:19-20, then a certain scribe came and said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." So, it's no great revelation that he was not popular with the people. The Jews believed in the Old Testament Law and rightfully so but Jesus was teaching them that the law talked about His coming. Jesus worked with his father as a carpenter when he was growng up. So, did He need a bath? YES! The bible speaks of Jesus looking just like his brethren but the difference is that he committed NO SIN! The bible was right when it stated in Roman 5:7-8, "For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." So, your article in some ways agree with what the bible teaches, Jesus was a man with physical limits, needs, and weaknesses as we have today as man did back then. To this day we are all born through woman! Now which one of us did God say, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased?" Thanks for your time!

    January 6, 2013 at 8:35 am |
  18. C

    Why can't I just em ail this in CNN to a friend without some acocuint BS

    January 6, 2013 at 8:33 am |
  19. joedog

    At the very least the human condition 2,000 years ago did not suffer something we have presently. That is the boorish and irritatingly snide Piers Morgan in ones living room.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:33 am |
  20. Ed F.

    I heard Jesus gave the lesser known Sermon on the Throne.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Hmmm – Sermon on the Mount: If jesus was doing human stuff, like mounting one of the local ladies. "Oh, Jesus! Oh Jesus!!"

      January 6, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • Ed F.

      My mom gave birth to me while she was on the throne, too.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:40 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      No sh!t?

      January 6, 2013 at 8:40 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.