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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. John P. Tarver

    The Jesus born in poveryty is already enough of a lie and we do not need more lies to feel more akin to God.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • inspiration

      Jesus himself is a lie.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • nadinesh

      Goodness! Do you really believe he wasn't? Isn't it obvious? And furthermore he suggested that wealth was an impediment to spiritual growth. Where are you getting this from?

      January 6, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      I get my story of Christ's wealthy birth from the book of Luke. When Christ tells the rich man to walk away from all he has and follow me, Christ knows exactly what he is asking.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:19 am |
  2. SimplyAmazing

    The writer of this article works with some seriously stupid people. Of course Jesus would get dirty in his every day; those were the times! And of course he would poop and pee; he was a living person just like everyone else!

    January 6, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • inspiration

      Do we really need to know all the details?

      January 6, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • nadinesh

      No, of course, dwelling on the details seems to imply disrespect. But I would say that it helps to consider it from time to time, so that we remember he was, in fact, a man, whatever else you may consider he was.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • fenn

      I believe that was the author's point, that a core of Christians do not entertain the thought, though they might agree in retrospect. All the images I ever see of Jesus are that he is clean and white. Neither is true but that doesn't take away from the power of the message.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:38 am |
  3. inspiration

    What's this obsession with washing the feet?

    January 6, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • Seyedibar

      It's a sign of humility and subservience to their cult leader.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • Guest

      He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

      7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
      8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

      Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

      9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

      10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

      12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • inspiration

      ...and Peter said to Jesus: Are you going to wash my but?

      January 6, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • inspiration

      but but buttocks!

      January 6, 2013 at 11:16 am |
  4. Ahappyfarmer

    Great read. You really made this an eye opening experience. You forget how truly he was just like us, but completely faultless.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • inspiration

      Except when he got the runs!

      January 6, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • nadinesh

      The implication of those who believe that Jesus was "without sin" is certainly not that he was faultless, although very (as we would say today) "evolved." But rather that he was not *born in original sin.* That's not the same thing. Certainly he became very discouraged, even had moments of doubt. I don't care if he was dirty or not, but I think one needs to remember that he was a human, too. Like us.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • sqeptiq

      If every person was "born in original sin" and Jesus was not, then by definition, he was not a person.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
  5. WarMachine99

    "Christians believe that Jesus chose to be born fully human, too, but why?"

    It's been said that man was created in the likeness of God (I do not know exactly where it was – the book of Genesis?). So this is the other side of the coin – God taking the human form (so interaction with humans would be more natural, instead of the burning bush?).

    In any case – the representation of Jesus across time has somewhat varied according to artistic style of the corresponding eras, but there's the likelihood that Jesus wore grittier garbs than what previous art forms may have suggested, and was not as clean and Euro-looking either. A man of that region had harder and darker factions (this is almost desert area, not the Alps), and endured many hardships. No surprise there.

    However, the "late night" television comment may be off. I've watched late-nite tv, and Conan and the others don't speak like that at all. Must've been a different channel...

    January 6, 2013 at 11:07 am |
  6. Ramon

    Best article I've ever read.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  7. Jonas

    All those "Christians" attacking the author of this piece might want to look at his credentials - he's a professor of religion at Liberty University, a Christian university founded by the king of hypocritical Christians - Jerry Falwell.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • snowboarder

      professor of theology. that would indicate a truly wasted life.

      the only legitimate study of religion is anthropology.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • SimplyAmazing

      Just because he's a professor doesn't mean he's smart.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • nadinesh

      Simply Amazing: that is rather distasteful. Just because you profess to be a "Christian" doesn't mean you have the "truth," either. We all have our own beliefs and we believe they're right because they resonate truthfully within us. Nothing the author of this article said is contradicted by gospel accounts of Jesus' life. It makes sense to me.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:23 am |
  8. Tere Sosa

    I have always thought of Jesus like you have describe him here. I usually "talk" to him instead of praying to him, and when asking for guidance I remind him how he went through all the same problems and frustrations we are going through and to help me overcome them.
    Since we are both divine and human, I choose to relate to Jesus on the human side of God who attained enlightenment and came to us to teach us how to do the same. To become One with God.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • nadinesh

      I agree. It seems to me that this is the essence of Jesus's humanity.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  9. igpajo

    Oh Jesus, you dirty, dirty man!

    January 6, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  10. Maxx

    In my mind, I see him as more human than man. No different than you an me. The man ate, drank, slept, bathed, did his business just like everybody else. His claim to fame was that he sparked a major historical revolution based on non-violence, to the likes of Mahatma Ghandi, with repercussions that are felt 2,000+ years later. [This opinion comes from a married, 31-year-old God-worshiping man who has seen the uplifting/wonderful and the undermining/destructive power of American Christianity first-hand].

    January 6, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  11. Colin

    Of course he smelled. It was Iron Age Palestine! He also pi.ssed, sh.it, mast.urbated, vomited and had $ex like any other human being. It was only after his death that his followers turned him into some kind of god. People today who proclaim to know the most about him tend to be the most ignorant of the historical evidence for anything he said or did.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  12. Jeff 30

    I wonder if Romney clicks his heels once or twice to activate his cult Momon Magical Underwer? During the last presidental debate Romneys face was turning red and sweaty........this was because his Mormon Magical Underwear Malfunctioned.....he was fevorishly clicking his heels together,clinching his buttocks tightly hoping they would activate but to no avail...........THe cult powers of Kolob and Joesoph Smith failed Romney.......... Thus he lost the debate. Its funny seeing this backfire on all the christians that turned their back on their faith to support a man who thinks the skidmark in his underwear grants him magical powers..........lol devout christians ......yeah right lol...

    January 6, 2013 at 11:05 am |
  13. Lauradet

    The image of Jesus as being "polished, manicured, and clearly – God" is falsely portrayed by Europeans. White people redesigned Jesus, god, saints, angels etc. in their own image to suite their bizarre superiority complex.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:05 am |
  14. charles darwin

    A myth will always be a myth no matter how one paints it.

    It just keeps getting stranger as it rolls along.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  15. required

    Johnnie Moore knows these things, because he was there at the time.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  16. John P. Tarver

    Jesus was a wealthy man born with purchased Roman citizenship, as described in the book of Luke, and the story taught by western churches is a lie from Satan. The author should read the Gospels and comprehend that he is an agent of the evilone.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • snowboarder

      "from satan"

      lol

      January 6, 2013 at 11:11 am |
  17. Raphael

    And now everyone follows with comments on their opinion. Does anyone ever ask, "What is God's opinion"?

    January 6, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Sure, but you'd have to designate which god. There are over 3000 in the world, and over 60 in the bible. But many of them offer their opinions in the Old Testament.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  18. Puzzled in Peoria

    Nothing new here. Everyone with common sense knows people in those days smelled bad (not "badly" as the author says, which means there was something wrong with his nose) and that they had to relieve themselves out in the open.

    The spotlessly clean, handsome Jesus of the movies was Hollywood, not the Bible. It wouldn't be sacrilegious to depict a dirty, ugly Jesus. No description is given of him in the Bible.

    And as usual, the nonbelievers are drawn to every article on Christianity to spew their hate, which, by the way, Jesus predicted. So nothing new here. You either get it or you don't.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  19. Philip Mark Edwards

    My guess is that he and his followers did like a little lamb stew from time to time. Furthermore, I think it's appropriate to suggest that the good shepherds regularly fleeced their flocks. To expand on the analogy, where do good shepherds lead their flocks? Could they be headed to the market?

    January 6, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  20. SixDegrees

    Everybody poops.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:02 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.