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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. wes

    So why are most 'christians' afraid to let brown people in their churches again?

    January 6, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • Tom

      Have no idea what you're talking about. There are all ethnicities in the churches I've been to.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • wes

      Every church I've ever been to has been almost entirely segregated.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • Goose66

      What country do you live in?

      January 6, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  2. Jack

    Jesus is not Gods son. there is no God. Wake up and smell the coffee

    January 6, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • musulmán de egipto

      Either because u don't feel it or u deny it, that doesn't change the fact there's a GOD.. I guess u " have to " wake up before u regret, just think about being created and where u going to be be after death.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • John A

      One day there will be no more Jack.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:59 am |
    • sam stone

      musulman: your empty proxy threats are absurd.

      johna: one day, there will be no need for this god

      January 6, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  3. dreamer96

    Dick Cheney is walking around with someone's heart beating inside him....IS Dick Cheney a modern Frankenstein?....

    January 6, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Frankenstein was the doctor, not the creation.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • dreamer96

      Attack of the 50 foot magical underwear

      So True ...so what did they call the Frankenstein Monster?

      January 6, 2013 at 9:42 am |
    • sam stone

      it's fronk-un-shteen

      January 6, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  4. Santi Clause

    Does it meant that Jews' prayers went unanswered while God was cosplay JC?

    January 6, 2013 at 9:18 am |
  5. jamesrini

    let's not forget this is the Son of God !! Emmanuel ,God with us . cleanliness is next to godliness he walked on water, healed the sickly ,turned water into wine ,let that sink in a little bit !!

    January 6, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • Johnathan Myers

      "Cleanliness is next to godliness" is actually a quote by Benjamin Franklin. It is never found in the Bible. I think Johnnie Moore makes some good points here. The Bible, especially the old testament is fully of "sin" and dirtiness! Jesus was God incarnate, but he was also a real man walking in the flesh. It's good to be able to relate to that, and impressive that God would be willing to relate to us in that way – think Philippians 2

      January 6, 2013 at 9:22 am |
    • sam stone

      repeating a story does not prove the story, jamesrini

      January 6, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  6. Tom

    Why is it ok for CNN to post articles like this on Sunday mornings? Dirtier than you think? Than who thinks? If you are a Christian who goes to church and understands the Bible, you know Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. What is the need to post an article about Jesus possibly having had dysentery on Sunday?? What respect you show for others' beliefs. We already know these things, thanks, But few people would create pictures of a dirty or defacating Jesus just as they wouldn't do so for almost anyone out of respect. CNN would never do this to other major religions! CNN, you stink of atheistic owners pushing their agendas! Grow some respect for others, CNN.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • Jack

      Your an idiot and your mother dresses you funny... Take off that bright yellow summer prom dress, Poophead!

      January 6, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Grow up. Tom – you're sounding like a 4 year old! Oh, boo hoo – the other kids are making fun of my imaginary friend! Waw waw waw! Poor, poor Tommie. Go suck your thumb, little boy. And then go to school. Use your brain.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • snowboarder

      everybody poops. if jesus actually existed, he most certainly did, too.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • Tom

      Nice, mature "grow up" responses. If you don't get it and didn't know that Christians already know this but prefer that others not disrespect God on Sundays, then you're, well, not real bright, but I already gathered this from your responses.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • Goose66

      Nice "enlightened" responses from the non-believers. I am sure it's possible to be an atheist as well as not be a hateful, disdain-filled person, but you don't see such folks on these forums.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  7. Lou

    EXODUS 2:12 Moses saw an Egyptian beating up a Hebrew. He looked around, saw no witnesses, killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

    MATTHEW 5:17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." Jesus endorses the ma-ss mur-der, ra-pe, slav-ery, tort-ure and inc-est written about in the Old Testament.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • AndYouCallYourselfAProfOfReligion

      VERSE FROM THE BIBLE:
      MATTHEW 5:17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."

      YOUR OPINION:
      Jesus endorses the ma-ss mur-der, ra-pe, slav-ery, tort-ure and inc-est written about in the Old Testament.

      You need to research what the "Law" (not the law of the land), or the "Prophets" stood for in the Old Testament.
      Try again.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:29 am |
  8. Todd

    I'm not surprised that this is coming from CNN.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • Barbara Young

      Are we all not in the Image of God?

      January 6, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  9. are122

    Good article. I believe Jesus is far more concerned with the insider rather than the outside. I also think having spent much of His life in carpentry He was accustomed to hard work and physically in pretty good shape...one would have to be to do what He did.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:16 am |
  10. Andrew

    The bottom line is jesus can be whatever you want him to be. That is the nice thing about rich myths, there is enough there to support any imagination. A rainbow of jesus'.

    There are a lot of reasons to conclude that all gods are most certainly myths, including the god of abraham (the jewish, christian and islamic god). And the fact that no two christians (or muslims or jews) worship the same god is one of those reasons – the vacuum of evidence leads to a massive spectrum of the same god. A real god, one suspects, would not spawn this same wide rainbow of understandings/imaginations.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • snowboarder

      there are literally as many interpretations of scripture as there are readers. you would think such a universal truth would be a bit more...well...universal.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • Goose66

      So you understand fully the mechanisms of life on this planet? How living cells were created from nothing? How thinking man evolved from bacteria? Your "universal truth" is just as distant and unknown as the truth of God. How is it that you think your truth is more real than that of Believers?

      January 6, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • snowboarder

      nice false dichotomy goose. that type of response is always a good way to distract from the absurdity of religious claims.

      nearly all things once attributed to divine cause have been determined to be of natural origin. though we don't know everything today, there is absolutely no reason to believe that trend will miraculously reverse. the domain of mythology narrows with every bit on knowledge gained.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Andrew

      @Goose66, You are expressing a common fallacy from the religious.

      I have no idea exactly how abiogenesis might have occurred. And there are many other unknowns out there. We have come along way in understanding the world in a million years of humanity, but there are many, many scientific discoveries ahead.

      But your fallacy is in suggesting we musty know it all to conclude that all gods are myths. We can reasonably conclude there are most certainly no gods by looking at:
      - the vacuum of evidence for the existence of any gods,
      - testing the extraordinary claims of the religious using science and seeing them fail time and again,
      - and looking at the evidence for the man-made nature of religious texts and claims.

      Things we don't know yet are irrelevant and there is no need to place a mythical god there (the much-written-about "god of the gaps").

      January 6, 2013 at 10:00 am |
  11. Khalid

    Jesus & Mary in the Quran

    Jesus and his mother Mary were amongst the cleanest and noblest who stepped on this earth. I have stated below verses 42 & 45 from chapter 3 (Al-Imran) from the Quran for your reference.

    "There came the time when angels said; "O Mary!" Surely, God has exalted you, purified you, and preferred you for His service over all the women of the worlds. (3:42)

    "...He (Jesus) will be noble in this world and the Hereafter; and will be from those who are very close to God" 3:45

    January 6, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • Marl

      I'm sure that Islam has taught their followers that Jesus was an orthodox Jew.

      It's nice that Muslims recognize and don't hate him. Or do they. Hmmm

      January 6, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  12. UncleBenny

    He wasn't a dirty, dirty, God, he was a very naughty boy!

    January 6, 2013 at 9:15 am |
  13. Robert

    lol I think obama wrote this as it shows his talent (not) in writing and hate for God. Put down that free phone and wake up people.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • wes

      Lame

      January 6, 2013 at 9:14 am |
    • What!?

      Obama wrote this? No, but he did win the election. Time to get over it and move on.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • PHOTOMAN67

      Put down that Bible and wake up, Robert.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • Bri

      Did...did you just use a NOT joke? My friend, that's embarrassing.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • KobeAcquital

      And we have "that guy"...shouldn't you be out buying a bunch of guns to fight the tyrannical government and to protect your homestead from Indians?

      January 6, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • Troy

      Robert, your reply shows a true political ignorance, as well as lack of reading comprehension. Moore isn't displaying a contempt of Jesus or God with this piece; it's quite the opposite. There is an attempt here to shed light on some of the more unpleasant realities of Jesus' life. Was He accosted and an object of contempt and humiliation? Certainly. Was He dirty? Without question. He took a human form, so it's completely logical he would go to the bathroom. I think that contemplating Jesus in this way makes His teachings and our relationship with Him even more real and organic. There is nothing at all blasphemous about this article. Politically speaking, Obama doesn't hate God. He has shortcomings as a president too numerous to mention, but baseless attacks like saying he hates God do nothing but give his supporters more ammunition against conservatives.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  14. Lou

    Who Did the Visitors Tell of Jesus’ Empty Tomb?

    Matthew 28:8: So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
    The visitors were overjoyed, and they ran to tell the disciples

    Mark 16:8: Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
    They were afraid, and told no one.

    Luke 24:9: When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.
    They told the eleven and others.

    John 20:10: Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
    Mary informed Simon and the other disciple about the empty tomb, then she remained at the tomb crying.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • UncleBenny

      So the Gospel writers seem to have been a bit confused. Or since the Bible is the Word of God, maybe God is a bit confused.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:16 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Blah blah blah. George told me that john told him that Sally told him that Jamie told her that you blow dead yaks.
      Can I therefore take as true that you blow dead yaks?

      January 6, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • AndYouCallYourselfAProfOfReligion

      Also, the tomb not only was guarded by Roman centurions but also had a Roman seal. Historically during that time, people will be afraid to disturb something that had a Roman seal as they will be put to death if found out. The apostles knew they will be prime suspect by the Roman government if the seal were to be removed so they pretty much left it alone. In fact, the apostles hid upstairs in someone's house in fear and grief (that is before they got the visitation from the Holy Spirit which gave them courage and the ability to speak in tongues (different languages).

      January 6, 2013 at 9:23 am |
  15. The truth is out there

    Just leave it alone already with your unscientific guessing. You know no more about the true history of biblical times than you know of aliens.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • Saraswati

      We have writings, art and archaeological evidence from biblical times. If you have that for aliens you might want to step forward...both fame and fortune are waiting.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • snowboarder

      sara, sufficiently technologically advanced aliens would be indistinguishable from gods. even today, but especially in those supersti tious times.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Saraswati

      @snowboarder, agreed, but the comment was regarding biblical times vs aliens. We clearly have more evidence regarding those times, even if we don't know details about the individual characters.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  16. Beth

    Nothing wrong with Earth's soil on one's hands after a hard day's work. Or coming home and having a beer with Mary Magdalene and the kid(s). Good man! My God would approve!

    January 6, 2013 at 9:13 am |
  17. achepotle

    Interesting! This is like reading a story from 1346. I wonder how many Christs can dance on the head of a pin?

    January 6, 2013 at 9:13 am |
  18. Kierkegaard

    So you're repeating Kierkegaard and that's news to CNN.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:13 am |
  19. Jesus Christ (Yeshua Ben Pendara)

    I do have a map, the bible. So I realized I had to find my Mother, Magdalene, Salome, Martha, and Miriam. They are my heart.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:12 am |
  20. jackie komorowski

    And he was swmimming in the Lake Ontario on 4 Dinosaurs, I have seen him on Sunday. HAHAHAH

    January 6, 2013 at 9:11 am |
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