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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. Sonya

    Never thought of Jesus in this way, but if you think about it most people of that day lived as peasants. You were either rich or poor, no in between. Jesus walked miles to preach in all kinds of weather to reach all kinds of people so yes, Im sure he may have had a moment of smelly. However, Im sure Jesus took pride in his appearance, he knew he was a King and had to still be approachable when preaching. I still think this is great writing. It reminds me that God humbled himself when he became man. He endured all that we endure as humans: rejection, broken hearts, poverty, betrayal etc. and therefore understands our prayers when we go through the same. Except what we choose to believe as Christians is that Jesus defeated death, unlike any other, in order to prove he was the son of God. He rose as our salvation! And he did, it's a beautiful story.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:46 am |
  2. Water into beer

    ....er, how 'bout dem wet dreams?

    January 6, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • MagicPanties

      ooh, great question!

      January 6, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  3. Just Me

    So now the 666 anti-Christ atheists are out on full force.....I wonder when will they realize that they were never evolved from APES? LOL

    January 6, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • MagicPanties

      My invisible pink unicorn is praying that you get a clue.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • Water into beer

      ...er, better than involved with apes.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      See...your crazy book has got you believing in demons.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      And...we are apes, moron.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:55 am |
    • want2believe

      Ummm... we didn't evolve from apes. Human and apes evolved from a common ancestor. Please read a book other than your bible.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:58 am |
  4. Khalid

    Mary & Jesus are respected, loved and have a high status in Islam. Muslims (followers of the Islamic faith) will find this article to be offensive.

    On the contrary to what you state, Jesus and his mother were amongst the most righteous, cleanest and noblest who stepped on this earth. I have stated below verses 42, 45 & 46 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

    He (Jesus) will speak to the people in the cradle and in his maturity and he will be among the righteous" 3:46

    January 6, 2013 at 9:46 am |
  5. Rajesh

    I am a non-christian but this article makes no sense.
    Everyone knows how people lived at that time. Do people believe in Jesus because of his cleaniness or how many times he washed his hands.In today's world people are more physically clean but look how horrible they are in their deeds.
    Also people should open up their minds if something is written in Quran or Bible does'nt mean it is true. Always question yourself and question your books.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:46 am |
  6. Tim

    The really important question is, would Jesus oppose liberal gun-control laws?

    While at it, which car would he buy?

    January 6, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • want2believe

      I bet he'd ride a huffy

      January 6, 2013 at 10:01 am |
  7. CSV

    Except Jesus is a fictional character, a myth.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • Bob

      Amen!

      January 6, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • MagicPanties

      My invisible pink unicorn believes in Geezus.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • John A

      So is CSV opinion

      January 6, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • Just Me

      And your divine EVIDENCE is..................................?????????

      January 6, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  8. MagicPanties

    Yes, the christian god replaced the gods of mythology, not unlike painting your house one color instead of several.
    It didn't really change the house, just a superficial veneer.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • John A

      Save your excuses for later.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  9. salathieljones

    Reblogged this on The World Outside of Yourself.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  10. Bob

    This is like trying to argue about whether Frodo Baggins ever had diarrhea.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  11. Bob

    ...and btw nachoknights, I'll leave it to you to have the pi$$ing match about who's is best, I really don't care either way...bless ye ;)

    January 6, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  12. Michelle

    Jesus born of a poor carpenter did not come to this life with riches. Never did it cross my mind about his bathroom habits or his body smells. I am sure that was with everyone in those days. I bet if you were in those days and in those conditions you would be a dirty man as well. Jesus came to save us and did nothing anyone could condem him for and yet they crucified him. Can you say the same? Looks like you better think twice if you have the right to throw that stone. I know I dont.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  13. Ariel

    And you KNOW all that because... "Jesus told you"?... "God told you?"... "You met angel Michael at Taco Bell and he told you?"

    Sheesh.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • FriendofGodtoo

      are you from Nazareth too?

      January 6, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  14. Culpepper

    But of course, we still know that Jesus was blonde haired and blue eyed, just like the painting on my Grandma's bathroom wall

    January 6, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  15. M Twain

    Mark Twain's "Innocents Abroad" truly captures life as it was in those times long ago. With a touch of humor.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  16. Again

    What in the hell? CNN obviously has no standards of deceny – but we already knew that. Blasfamous offensive left wing drivvle-. Last april it was that jesus didn't exist- no cnn we didn't forget :-). Left wwig rag not fit to wrap your fish in – Obama kissing anttiamerican – antichristain dogs. Besides that a good news organization really.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:43 am |
    • The Matador

      What the heck are you talking about, crazy person?

      January 6, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • want2believe

      It says a lot about yourself when you get so offended by reality.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  17. LiberalLove

    There is no proof whatsoever that people were dirtier back then than they are now. This is a spin off from the theory of evolution. The farther you go back the more dumb and primordial people were. In fact, in most civilized areas, that was not the case at all. Many societies took a hard dip in, well civilization during the dark ages and based on that we have determined the scale to measure all other civilizations of all periods. It's not an accurate scale. I would also mention that "smelly sweat" is a by product of diet. More than likely Jesus ate a healthier diet that modern man. We gorge and gorge. The people of that day did not. They did not have welfare. The diets of the poor from that era make up the diet crazes of this one. i.e. the Mediterranean diet.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  18. Natalie

    Yes and no. Today we have baths, shampoo, and such that make it easier to be clean and smell good. We also know more about germs. But, the Jewish people in the biblical days were in a way cleaner then some other cultures because the Torah had many laws assocated washing, mildew, what foods to eat, etc. So it is unfair to say they was dirty because they did do hand washing, feet washing, checked for mildew, ate foods deemed clean, and did what they knew and could do to keep clean. Jewish Priests was the cleanest they would always take baths and wash their hands because they were commanded to in the Torah.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:42 am |
    • RASP

      That may be true to some extent; however, Jesus often went against the Law established by the religious leaders. He came to fulfill the law, not follow it. Jesus was God and He never sinned, but that doesn't mean He never got sick, dirty, angry, sad, confused, or overwhelmed. And there were many days he went without food and other days grains of wheat (hand-picked on the Sabbath against the Torah's teaching) were all He had to eat.
      This doesn't make Him any less our Savior; it only goes to show how far He was willing to humble Himself for our sake.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:59 am |
  19. chief

    This same argument about Jesus being an ordinary man who had a divine message is found in the Quran. The Quran also says Jesus was not God but a human being who was born by God's power. He was given miracles like healing the sick and bringing back the dead to convince people to believe in him and follow him..........

    January 6, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  20. Irrational Exuberance

    Did you know there was a tie for shortest verse in the bible?

    Jesus shat.

    January 6, 2013 at 9:42 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.