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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

soundoff (7,741 Responses)
  1. genold

    ....and the point of this article is?

    January 6, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • Cliff

      To demean and diminish the deity of Christ

      they wont Demean Obama but they will their own Creator

      January 6, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Steve

      Make Christians start thinking about other religions

      January 6, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Danno

      Cliff: Obama is real. God is not. If you'd like to refute that, please give some evidence. Otherwise, your religion has as much truth to it as Scientology.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • Wow

      Prove Muhammad was gay

      January 6, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • Ed F.

      Cliff

      My creator is my parents, unless you can prove otherwise, oh that's right you can't.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • sam stone

      cliff: way to inject politics into this. congrats on getting those neurons to fire

      January 6, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • wes

      Jesus was a brown foreign Jew who lived in the dirt...at his own choosing..How is that diminishing the deity of Christ, Cliff.

      Seems to me you could learn volumes from that.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  2. 633music

    Jesus was a perfect man, no mention is ever made that he suffered any ailments that his imperfect brothers, sisters, mother and father suffered, interesting idea.
    But this statement is the ridiculous one, :"But despite the Christian belief that Jesus was both fully God and fully man", that is a pagan teaching, not a Christian one, Jesus as the Bible clearly states was the son of God, John 3:16.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • Burg

      Christianity is pagan. Hence why they celebrate Jesus' birth during the winter, even though he was born in spring or maybe even summer. But def. not the winter.

      January 6, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  3. Richard

    I've seen exactly one movie (of many) based in the Middle Ages where the people actually looked as dirty as people in Europe were back then. That Christ is portrayed as clean does not surprise me.
    P.S., regarding some of the above posts; why is it leftists and others like them are SUCH blowhards that they feel they need to write an entire book. Do you honesty think people will take the time to read it all? Be concise and make your point quickly.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • UncleBenny

      Would that have been "Monty Python and the Holy Grail?" "The Life of Brian" is the one movie that depicts people in the 1st Century Holy Land as being just about as dirty as they probably were.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:05 am |
  4. Elliot Carlin

    You 'astounded' colleagues when you suggested our Savior relieved himself on the side of the road suggesting he may have been subject to physical sickness? Really? Your theology department must really sit around and muse the deep things of God. I believe the Gospels spell out His 'likeness in human flesh' quite well and to 'astound' anyone with your comment reflects on you and your buddies. And to write an article, much less a book, on the subject means we've pretty much run out of things to write about. Sheesh.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:55 am |
  5. dhkeith

    I found this an interesting piece, albeit a bit inaccurate. Jesus, you see, did *not* "start a religion." He never said he was going to and he never did. Zealots who lived only after his death started the religion that came to be called "Christianity." These people never met Jesus, according to biblical and contemporary historical writings. They simply took those of his ideas and teachings they liked, re-interpreted those with which they disagreed, and spouted it all as "the word of God." In truth, Christianity is based upon fiction – historical, perhaps, but fiction nonetheless. It's exactly like my reading a few books about Napoleon Bonaparte, for instance, and then running around telling everyone I met that Napoleon was, in fact, a God and we should all insert our right hands into our shirts and pray to the Great Ghod Bonaparte.

    I do, however, applaud Moore for his courage in pointing out that Jesus was, in all his sordid glory, a man. He urinated, he shat, he farted, he stank, and he lusted. He could never have truly understood the reality of humanity if he did not. He was a common man, the son of a dirt-poor carpenter ekeing out a living in a small village. Jesus undoubtedly grew up learning how to use the carpentry tools of his times – his hands *were* dirty. He ate what the rest of the people ate, drank what they did – and suffered their ailments caused by poor hygiene. So, Moore was spot on with that assessment. He blew it for me, though, by claiming Jesus started the religion – he did not.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • Elliot Carlin

      He didn't lust. "In Him there was no sin."
      Nice try though.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • Alfredo

      I am reading "Constantine's Sword" by James Carroll. He goes into depth about the politics within the Jewish community and how it helped Rome stay in control.

      It was local politics that got him nailed to a board. He messed with a "rival gang" and got popped.

      January 6, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
  6. AlFranken

    I guess I better make a cup of coffee and feed the cat.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  7. THINK

    I can't believe that other people believe any of this....or Fox News.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  8. Mikeinmiami

    Jesus was a composite.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  9. MrWombat

    Just a "rub you wrong then calm you down" piece of writing. Complain all you want but the whole thing is very accurate.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  10. YouMayDisagree

    Next thing you know the author will tell us that the earth is round...

    January 6, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  11. AlFranken

    adose of reality:

    Let's just take your blather really slow:

    1. At its most fundamental level, Christianity requires a belief that an all-knowing, all-powerful, immortal being created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies 13,720,000,000 years ago (the age of the Universe) sat back and waited 10,000,000,000 years for the Earth to form, then waited another 3,720,000,000 years for human beings to gradually evolve, then, at some point gave them eternal life and sent its son to Earth to talk about sheep and goats in the Middle East.
    While here, this divine visitor exhibits no knowledge of ANYTHING outside of the Iron Age Middle East, including the other continents, 99% of the human race, and the aforementioned galaxies.
    Either that, or it all started 6,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake. Either way “oh come on” just doesn’t quite capture it.

    Let's dissect this heap of **it for a second. I don't even know where to begin. Can you elaborate on the first run-off sentence "Christianity requires a belief that an all-knowing, all-powerful, immortal being...."?
    Makes no sense of valid context to anything.

    Make reference or something.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • B C

      ok, So what explanation would you give on how the universe is created?

      January 6, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • Danno

      Just because we're not 100% sure how the universe started doesn't mean we should believe incredibly simple and nonsensical stories written thousands of years ago. Science will never stop trying to find the truth... but religion is quite satisfied with shutting down potential knowledge in favor of mind control.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • UncleBenny

      Why bother explaining it to you? You wouldn't listen anyway. You're happier with the idea that some unseen supernatural being who had no origin but was and is eternal created everything out of nothing for his own amusement.

      The science of origins is a work in progress and probably always will be. But at least they are trying, and not relying on the stories told by an Iron Age people who thought the Sun travelled across the sky. The fact that we don't have a definitive answer to the question of the origin of the Universe doesn't mean you get to say "God did it."

      January 6, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • markbro

      you are very fluent, I just pose the idea that the earth appears to be millions of yrs old but is a young planet, evidence is there to support this, but I used to believe in evolution and it not be possible with a young Earth, I look at Jesus first miracle he turned water into wine for a wedding, the (divine)wine had been made in an instant, but was said to be the best by the wedding guests, so made instantly with the apperance of age. I dont have answers to life,but I saw more truth in the words of Jesus than anybody, and he is a hero for the world, everything he says and does is Gods will not his he was a servant leader that works on the heart, but he respects humans freewill, yes there are all kinds of people doing awful things that hurt other in his name and untill I read Jesus words I was a cynic.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  12. What!?

    If Jesus could turn water into wine, I'm absolutely certain that he could change wine into Pepto Bismol. So I think he was a tad less dirty than the author assumes.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  13. Ed F.

    Jesus like to create a holy Dutch oven with his stinky robes.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  14. Eileen

    This is amazing! wow! Thanks for sharing!

    January 6, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • McMullet

      Either you're a troll or rather brainless for having other people think for you.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:04 am |
  15. Steve

    I believe that Jesus was real, but I don't believe Jesus was God. Jesus came to renew our Faith in God, to reveal more of Gods word in order that humans might grow and civilization advance. The trouble is when man begins to "tinker" with the word of God. The result is Dogma. The Bible speaks to us on an individual basis, as I believe all scriptures do. I can read the Bible and interpret it the way my heart hears it, not the way I'm programmed to hear and believe. I believe Jesus has come several times and has been rejected, just as all of Gods messengers always are. It takes a spiritually "awake" person to recognize. Peace

    January 6, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  16. Ed F.

    Jesus could raise the dead but couldn't raise enough money for a change of holy underwear.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  17. Mohamed

    Jesus was HUMAN like us, except he was a messenger from God like Moses, Mohamed, Ibrahim.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:51 am |
    • Ed F.

      Not really.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • Danno

      I'd love to see proof of this. Because I can make stuff up too.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • Mohamed

      Danno, do your homework and start reading

      January 6, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • MrWombat

      BUT....!!!! He didn't tell his people to kill everyone that didn't convert to Christianity.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Danno

      Mo: That's a total cop out. Why should I believe your religion over Judaism/Buddhism/Scientology? Give me one piece of factual evidence. The fact that you can't do that speaks volumes.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  18. Ed F.

    I heard Jesus would get Peter in a head lock and force him to smell his stink finger.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  19. Richard

    Considering he didn't even EXIST, your rhetoric is just that. A rant.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:51 am |
    • Cliff

      Greek, Egyptian, Jewish, and Roman History proves he existed,

      January 6, 2013 at 8:56 am |
    • Wow

      No one doubts he at least existed...you live up to your name yet again

      January 6, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • Joe

      Considering most people in the field acknowledge Jesus did exist (regardless of religious beliefs) that is a pretty foolish statement but thanks for adding to the discussion.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • UncleBenny

      No, the sources mentioned don't prove anything of the sort. They prove that some people believe he existed, and that some people were clumsy forgers (some of the passages about Jesus in Josephus, for instance).

      January 6, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • Dan

      Right on!!!! He might as well have told us how dirty Samta Clauss or Mickey Mouse were....

      January 6, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • ankenyman

      Richard, I believe that you don't exist. You haven't done much research have you?

      January 6, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • The serpent

      Spot on.
      Outside of the Bible, there is no evidence that Jesus was anything more than a combination of various people (messiahs) during the very early first century. Also, the Biblical stories are historically incorrect regarding the Roman census, the existance of Nazereth, and the fulfillment of old testement prophecy. Sorry, Christians.... your saviour is no more real than Tom Sawyer.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:03 am |
    • Ed F.

      EXACTLY

      Not a single piece of evidence proves Jesus ever walked the Earth.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:05 am |
  20. jack

    if Jesus could heal the sick, raise the dead, and walk on water, I'm sure keeping his hands and clothes clean and never getting sick would be quite easy. In fact it would be further evidence to followers that he was divine. I'm sure he radiated some incredible energy.

    January 6, 2013 at 8:51 am |
    • Wow

      LOL! Love the sarcasm

      January 6, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • wes

      He had Mary for all that.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:04 am |
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