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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. American Humanist

    The author is terribly mistaken. "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"?? Seriously?? A "cliff"??
    Sorry to disappoint, but, there were no "cliffs" anywhere near Nazareth.. In fact, there aren't even any steep hillsides!
    The terrain in the vicinity of Nazareth offered no such possibility! The "people living in his hometown" could have perhaps rolled him down a gently sloping hill.. but.. there's no way, then or now, that this story could have even a grain of truth to it.
    It is a[nother] blatant and ridiculous lie.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • doughnuts

      Google Earth disagrees with you.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • OK

      God didn't create the universe Stephen Hawking

      January 6, 2013 at 10:54 am |
  2. JesusWasNotWhite

    It's convenient how Jesus is depicted as a white man even though he came from the Middle East. He looked more like what's depicted as the modern day terrorist than an American.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • Farooq The Great

      He's depicted many different ways by many different cultures. What wrong with that? What he looked like is immaterial.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • gatecrasher1

      Jesus was Italian and looked like one. Come on, haven't you seen those paintings?

      January 6, 2013 at 10:44 am |
  3. Sean

    I do not understand the anger some professing christians have displayed in the comments. The truth is, from the beginning, Jesus came to die - to die what is probably the worst death humanity has ever invented. He was tortured, whipped, beaten, scourged, and then crucified, and I can promise you none of that was clean. Like the author said, Jesus didn't come to be a superhero. He is the sacrificial lamb, the offering to God. He is the mediator between us and God, the only way dirty, sinful human beings have to reconcile with God. And the only way to mediate between two parties is to share something in common with each, hence his nature as both God and man.

    For anyone who doesn't understand or believe what I have said, read John 13:5, Matthew 21:19, Mark 7:1-8, Genesis 22:8, John 1:29

    January 6, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • christianRN

      Very well said. Some of these comments are so sad

      January 6, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • American Humanist

      I completely "understand the anger some professing christians have displayed in the comments"!! It is the inevitable outcome of a belief system that's based upon fantasy, self-deceit and delusion!!
      Seriously though, what else can one expect from a religion as fragmented and divisive as christianity?
      If any of what christianity purports to be true was actually based upon facts, and if christians truly believed (and understood) all of what they've been taught about their "god", they'd have no reason for "anger"! I mean, given what christianity promises, why would any follower ever feal any anger?? They should be the happiest and most content people on the planet!! But, alas, none of it is true, and none of it is truly consoling.

      Enjoy your delusion.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • on the other hand, facts

      @Sean: I read those verses. Words in actual print! I must believe them.

      @christianRN: The comments are so sad? Awww, now I feel so chastened! How can I be more like you?

      January 6, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  4. Courts

    Sure is nice the courts have ruled... This can't be taught in public schools in the US (ID/creationism).

    January 6, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • RTM12

      Public schools were created to give everyone a basic education. Some schools are still allowed to teach things like World Religions, and I don't know a single school that skips over the Crusades during European history. Here's my problem with a public school teacher teaching religion. Each church (Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, Mormon, etc) has their own distinct theology. I want my children raised in what our family beliefs are, not the beliefs of my wonderful neighbors. I chose to take my children to our family church, where they receive ample religious instruction on both Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. I also choose as a parent to engage my children in discussions about our faith, the Bible, and Jesus in our home, where our faith begins. For the parents who, frankly, are too lazy, too busy, or just don't care enough to take their children to a faith community, shouldn't be the problem of our public schools. If you're insisting on faith being taught in the school, shell out the money to send your children to a Christian private school.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • Wes Scott

      The courts ruled wisely! Why does this crap need to be taught in school? You can learn it at home and in your church. School is for learning useful things that make you better prepared to live in the real world. Religion is for the make believe world where the whole world was populated by incest (Adam and Eve and their sons), killing one's brother (without a handgun or assault rifle), turning sticks into snakes, parting the Red Sea with a stick, turning water into wine, feeding five thousand men, plus the women and children with 5 fishes and two loaves of bread (or is it the other way around?), being crucified and then rising from the dead and all the other b.s. that strains the intelligent mind, but which is right at home in a weak, feeble mind grasping at straws for anything that gives meaning and purpose to those so desperately in need of "salvation" from themselves.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  5. Jimmy

    This just in:

    If Jesus existed at all, he was just a man, he died thousands of years ago, and he's not coming back.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • OpposingView

      If someone named Jimmy exists at all, he's not even human, but is only a demonic spirit from the pit of hell out to deceive people. So nothing to see here...

      January 6, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • Maxx

      I harken your sentiments, sir, and agree fully.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  6. Vince

    There is no proof that a "Jesus" ever existed. It's a myth...a story. There was never a guy with supernatural powers who was a god. Grow up, everybody. You're living in the 21st century. Time to get real.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Raycamp

      There are several accounts actually from historians at that time period along with Roman records. Try picking up a history book by Josephus a Jewish Historian..... but then again that might actually challenge you to believe in something bigger than yourself. A man named Jesus who caused serious problems for the Romans in 1st century Palestine existed.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • doughnuts

      No, there are no contemporary accounts that include Jesus, not even Josephus. He wasn't even in Jerusalem until 71 A.D. (almost 40 years after the alleged crucifixion), and no copies of his work dated earlier than the 11th century exist.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • Hugh

      Funny enough Vince, the fact of the existence if Jesus is not in doubt – unfriendly commentators of the time refer to him. You can doubt his message his meaning his majesty. His resurrection is disputed by every Muslim. But its a historical fact that he lived preached and died.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • American Humanist

      @Raycamp, your argument fails miserably. Nice try, but it only works with those who are ignorant of the facts.
      The "Josephus" argument has been proven time and again to be false because the comments he allegedly made regarding "Jesus" have been proven to be blatant forgeries.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:26 am |
  7. peterhawkins1

    How did CNN get so religious? There's got to be a bombing SOMEWHERE.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Donna

      Yes, that has to be it! Thank you!

      January 6, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • doughnuts

      Yup. A couple of suicide-bombers in Afghanistan. Just another ordinary day, or religious fanatics blowing up thier countrymen and co-religionists.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
  8. jimbob

    Was this written by a 5th Grader ?

    January 6, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Shar

      Duh ~ cleaner? Duh
      Are we better because we are "cleaner"? Duh ~ no.
      WTH???

      January 6, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  9. the praisworthy

    According to the Bible, on only two instances the Jews opposed Jesus on the basis that he pretended to be God or equal with God. Had Jesus, claimed to be God, he is likely to have been opposed on this basis more frequently. Because in these two instances, when charged, in the one case, with making himself God, and in the other, with making himself equal with God, he denied the charges. In reply to the charge of being an equal with God, he says immediately:

    John 5:19, 30 “The son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father do”; and directly after:

    “I can of mine own self do nothing.”
    In answer to the charge of making himself God, he appeals to the Jews in substance thus: Your own Scriptures call Moses a god, and your magistrates gods; I am surely not inferior to them, yet I did not call myself God, but only the “son” of God (John 10:34-36).

    January 6, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • tepeters

      This works only if you think that the Bible is a piece of accurate reporting which it is not. It was written by those who had a Christian intepretation of the man and we know of mnay other interpretations of him form the time.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • Sean

      I think you may have misunderstood what you were reading. Here is the rest of the scripture directly surrounding what you quoted: John 5:18 "This was why the Jews zwere seeking all the more to kill him, abecause not only was he bbreaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God chis own Father, dmaking himself equal with God."
      In John 10:30 "I and the Father are one."
      John 10:38 "the Father is in me and I am in the Father."

      January 6, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • betty

      pretty silly aproach, mid inteligent people knows that or even assumed it.

      I thought it could be an interesting or scientific discovery.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • the praisworthy

      you have to understand what he meant by saying I and the father are one, his message is the message of God the father what he says is what God asked him to say to the people that god is one ,it's methaphorical languge used in aramaic ,but thanks for the try

      January 6, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  10. Flava

    I saw Jesus smoking crack in a Porto-Potty.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • OpposingView

      And he has foreseen you roasting in the lake...

      January 6, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  11. Sane Person

    lol. Only christians. Resurrection? No problem. Waterwalking? Of course, easy! Invisible, all powerful sky fairy? Without a doubt! Jesus had to crap? I cant believe that. No way. Where is the proof?

    January 6, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  12. Donna

    I come to this website to read the news not to be provoked on a Sunday morning. I'm truly dissapointed at CNN.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • Darth Vader's Mentor

      Amen Donna. IMHO, CNN has certainly lost its luster as a fair and reasonable news source in the last few months. They seem to have gone sensationalist like the cheap newspapers. Has there been an editorial management change there?

      January 6, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • Wes Scott

      Perhaps you do not believe in free thought or the free expression thereof. Why would you deny any person the right to have their own thoughts and express them? And, who is compelling you to read anything that you find to be offensive? Better yet, why are you here reading this instead of in church praying?

      January 6, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  13. Arthur King

    The real Jesus was an anti-slavery activist whose followers, 250-350 years after his death, so angered the Roman nobility that Emperor Constantine I invented christianiity to assume control of all of the slaves and made Jesus the central figure in order to kill the anti-slavery movement. At the same time, they converted chattel slavery to serfdom, making them think that it was actually their hero, Jesus, who had 'freed' them, but the fact is that there was no more freedom without the chains and whips than there had been with them, there was actually less, for the new 'christiaity' destroyed their brains through the terror aspect of it's imposed poverty, ignorance, and terror slave control scheme (PTSD). This form of slave control continues to exist to this day as support for the capitalist slave system. Jesus actually was 'god' for a time while he lived because 'god' is actually a supercomputer that uses a portion of every physical brain on the Earth, of which all of the pieces or 'nodes' communicate electronically, and Jesus was the control node for a time while he lived. There have been thousands of 'brothers of Jesus' ('sons' of god) since then, an today. Today, there has been a method for the extermination of human slavery (computer controlled automation) devised, and it is in process right now.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  14. Fr Cedric

    I loved the article. It all comes down to Christology. How do you see Jesus? Human/divine mix. Most see Jesus as more than divine. I've studied in the Holy Land. Yes, he was dirty, went to the bathroom and got sick. He was one of us. Yet, he was the Son of God. We must see him as both human and divine. Scandolous to some, but not those with a personal relationship with Jesus and who truly know him.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • American Humanist

      You are spouting lies and deceit.
      What is your evidence?? How can you refer to your trip to the land-of-delusion as "studying"??
      If you were truly "studying" the "holy land" you would find a great, great deal in which to disbelieve.

      Take the bible-goggles off and have a good look around for a change!!

      January 6, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  15. Capitoline Triade

    The "God" never existed. When people will understand this, the wars for religious reason will be ended. Now there are ONLY wars because of religion; althought they hide behind a curtain of "spreading democrazy."

    January 6, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  16. Kai

    'By Johnny Moore, CNN pre-school edition, circa 1968'

    This was news over 2000 years ago.

    Why don't you report on something that is new and noteworthy, like "T-Rex: Possibly more carnivorous than previously expected. By Lil Timmy Smith, Grade 3."

    January 6, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  17. DJ

    Jesus said His Church would experience hardship and persecution but would never fall. It has remained for 2,000 years. It is sad so many on this site are athiest, so critical of the One that loves them more than they could ever know,offering all of us forgiveness and eternal life, if they only would follow Him. In the end all will know Him on bended knee. Sadly, many will not follow and will be lost. God does not condemn any of us or send us to hell, we condemn ourselves. It is free will, which he allows each of us. Many here have already chosen that path, but it is not too late to change that....

    January 6, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      So we all have free will to accept or not accept Jesus as god (an immoral premise) but in the end we will have that free will taken away.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • Wes Scott

      I already purchased my ticket to Hell and I am not asking for a refund! I want to spend eternity with naked women and debauchery rather than in a place like Sunday school. Heaven just seems like it would be the most boring place to spend eternity.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • Capitoline Triade

      The christianity is alive until now because the church converted all West putting a knife on the necks of poor people. This is your loving God? You are ridiculous still believing in such manipulations. Today, luckily, the church has less power because the information is spreading; today they cannot burn people and the books anymore like they did for centuries. That is why they survived for such a long time. Not because of some supernatural powers. Now they are at the end of their existence, the slavery to the church is over. In the age of free information we can fully enjoy the freedom and power of an individual.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  18. pjr

    Donna, Even they will bow to Jesus one day, and that day could be very soon.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • Sane Person

      Donna, have no fear. Delusional people have been threatening the end of times since.. the beginning of times. Judgement day is simply another unprovable scare tactic.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • Capitoline Triade

      To who do you want to bow? Jesus never existed.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • OpposingView

      Sane Person… A lot of fools think and believe they won't die too, until it happens…

      January 6, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • cynthia

      I bow to no fairy tails... Not the big bad wolf. not Darth Vader nor the Easter Bunny or Santa or Harry Potter or even your silly made up deity...

      January 6, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  19. Kay

    This was just a story to get a reaction from Christians. CNN does that when they need to fill space on the front page of their Web-site.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • OpposingView

      Believe me, they get a far greater reaction from the countless atheists who are obsessed with commenting on all religious articles...

      January 6, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • nadinesh

      Why should this story get a rise out of Christians? It's awfully reverent and mild. The only rise it got out of me is that not all Christians believe Jesus was God. I don't.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  20. Grumpster

    WHY is this on the front page? Is it because all the sheep are at church on Sunday and want to here yet MORE babble about Jeebus and his magic unicorn show? Get over this obsession CNN....it is sickening.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • Shar

      Grumpster ~ Your handle is appropriate.
      God is watching ~ you can rely on him whenever the time is right for you.
      When it arrives ~ smile and enjoy it ~ you will be the happiest you have ever been.
      Best.

      January 6, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • nadinesh

      Grumpster: why not? It's the religion page. It's Sunday.
      Shar: Shouldn't you be out pressing doorbells with your "literature" around now?

      January 6, 2013 at 10:49 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.