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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. Mohamad

    beware Christians: This is a jewish plot to make and look Jesus bad and dirty, basically insignificant. Moslims respect Jesus as a great prophet with powers given to him from God. And Moslims lalso believe Jesus will come down from heaven during the end times to bring peace.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Jonas

      ISince, as, presumably as Muslim, you hate the Jews no matter what, it's almost futile to point this out - the author is a professor of religion at a Christian University.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:05 am |
  2. nadinesh

    Why should Jesus having bodily functions upset people? I mean, I can understand not wanting to dwell on Jesus having human excretion system rather than what the man said, but maybe it's a good idea to remember that he was a man, because he was. He had pals; he had political beliefs; he got irritated from time to time; he got discouraged. He certainly eschewed the pillars of his community in favor of outcasts and ordinary people. It helps to remember that. Well it helps me, anyway. I can't relate to a "man" who never went to the bathroom, raised his voice, disagreed with anything or underwent the indignity of his feet touching the earth.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:54 am |
  3. jpccem

    The ideas expressed in this article I have seen expressed much more elegantly many times before. I don't agree entirely with the content. Just one brief item: We believe Jesus was fully man, as the author noted, however, we surmise that he was a very good man all around (i.e. without sin). He did get dirty, of course, but probably was very good with hygiene, including all of the requirements of Orthodox Judaism. For the most part, the content is OK. The headline, however, according to the CNN style and politics towards Christianity, is distasteful. If any of you thought some of these points interesting, you should not look to CNN for your religious education. Start with the New Testament, and of course there are many modern authors and authors down through the ages that have commented on the life of Jesus. There used to be a poem that the newspapers published at Christmas, called, I believe one simple life. I challenge CNN to post that poem as a headline in response to this article. "One Simple Life" portrays many of the same thoughts, but in a manner much more respectful to our Lord.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • nadinesh

      Respectfully, a "very good man" is still a man. He still eats and digests food. He is made of flesh and feels the temptation to be immoderate. As for being "without sin," well if you mean by that that he didn't use the toilet, I have to disagree. I don't get the logic of a divine being incarnate in imperfect flesh unless he takes on incarnate imperfections, and experiences them. This incarnation of the divine as a human is a two-way street - we not only experience him; he also experiences us. As for his disagreeing with the solid citizens of his time, that cannot be disagreed with. It is narrated over and over and over again in the gospels. That he liked ordinary people and did not consort with the wealthy and powerful simply can't be contradicted. I find your politicization of Jesus distasteful, actually, and it makes me wonder if you're trying to fit the person he was into some political mold in your head rather than simply hearing his message.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • jpccem

      To nadinesh. Your comment "I don't understand" is clear from the rest of your comments. My advice to you is to study the Gospel, and hopefully you will understand better. But thanks for your reply in any case.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  4. Marc

    5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:53 am |
  5. monte

    And who cares what this guys opinion is, my belief is, Harry Reid likes little boys.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:53 am |
  6. ilkfire

    I think that we should be more worried about what was on the inside than if he had dirty hands or smelled. After all that was the point of it. The church has this image they have to always be the pushed around non aggressive constantly suffering continuous morning people. While the world worries about things that do not even matter like possessions and perception. When we all should see that he came to show us how to live, with authority, understanding gods love for us, and how to treat each other.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  7. Lancesackless

    It never fails.

    Mention the word religion and the hypocritical haters come out in droves like a slobbering Pavlovian dog.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • on the other hand, facts

      Yes, I disagree with you. Therefore I must hate you!

      January 6, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  8. ROCKWOOD

    Well I think everyone knew this basic concept of the article. It was explained to me as a child. There is that saying that we never know when He will come before us, and he probably won't come before us dressed in his finest......I try to keep that in mind.

    I think religions need to get their acts together because all this bickering between the various religious groups isn't doing anyone any good.

    Interesting article though.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  9. David DeForge

    No Jesus is the one white guy in a sea of olive skinned people who smiles and looks like Brad Pitt. See, look there's a painting over there.

    And he never pooped. Ever.

    Or if he did, it landed as gold, burst and the odor or fresh Jasmine rose and pleased the Lord. Fred 15:10

    January 6, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  10. inspiration

    Jesus was a stoner. Most contruction people are druggies and drunks, and most of them don't work.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  11. Ben Gillespie

    This is an amazingly great article. I've been reading the Bible and theology for years. It's right on. Thank You CNN.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  12. liberal disease

    i feel the same about our drug using President

    January 6, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  13. Ironhouse

    Jesus was kinda like the first hippie, and we all know hippies are dirty in a natural earthly kind of way. Proof its true, if he wasnt dirty he wouldnt have needed his wife to clean his feet.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  14. hee hee

    Apparently the author likes his gods dirty.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  15. Flava

    Did you know that after the crucification, Jesus pretty much lost his sweet tooth?

    The M&Ms kept falling through the holes in his hands.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  16. RichardSRussell

    "Fully man"? I totally buy that.
    "Fully God"? Gonna need to see some evidence.

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

      How about rising from the dead? Actually, it probably won't – it's all about faith. You don't believe what you can't see. And yet, you believe the light will come on when you flip the switch, the chair will hold you up when you sit on it – that's faith, of a kind. But faith that the Creator of time and the universe and everything in it could come back from the dead? Naaaaahhhh. Well then, live your life as you see fit; believe what you want to believe, believe whatever makes you feel good about yourself (BTW, that's a gift from God, free will). Sin? The need for redemption? Downers, for sure! Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. (Some of us get to live forever, in peace and love, but that belief's just for chumps, right?)

      January 6, 2013 at 11:05 am |
  17. j s

    whats really funny is if you go back and look at the time of christ u will see there was another religion at the time called mithras, which also had a virgin birth born on dec 25 died and rose 3 days, also to note not one sindle person who wrote the gospels met or knew jesus, they wrote the gospels about a 120 years after his death.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  18. NSP

    Great article.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  19. OldJoe

    It's a BOOK, for God's sake!
    Don't have to read it, or buy it, or rely upon CNN reviews as guidance on how to think about Jesus.

    January 6, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  20. jesus beats off

    All religions suck – Islam is the worst!

    http://bit.ly/MuslimDiscriminates
    http://bit.ly/VaticanMafia
    http://bit.ly/PastorOnGay
    http://bit.ly/RobertsonDebunks6K

    January 6, 2013 at 10:48 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.