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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. Doug

    Of course Jesus paid the price for us so we can be saved. B
    ut also on a personal level he showed us how to live our lives with our imperfect bodies and with the challenges this world presents. Jesus is the way ...

    January 6, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Doug", but "the way" is an element of mythology and is unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE), the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      January 6, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
  2. CNN = Racist

    Was Muhammad dirty?

    January 6, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • phil

      Mohamad was probably less dirty, since he had cash on hand to live a more secure life.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
  3. Marcus

    Here is everything that I know about religeon:

    1. Existence can not be created from natural processes (0+0=0). Therefore, whatever is responsible is "super-natrual".

    2. Something happened to Cromagnon to allow him to advance from hunter gatherer to particl collider in a very short time on the evolutionary clock, and it doesn't fit a Fibonnachi sequence.

    3. The words of Christ are very profound, possibly divine.

    4. Evangelicals typically miss Christ's message when they attempt to combine it with the bronze age scriptures that he himself contradicted.

    January 6, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Damocles

      @marcus

      1) Something can't come from nothing yet you allow both a deity to come from nothing and to create everything from nothing. Strange.

      2) Unless you happen to know the rate of the evolutionary process of other intelligent species, you can't say that we humans have achieved something quicker than other species. We may very well find out that we are hopelessly crippled retards in the grand scheme of things.

      3) If a historical person says something you agree with, I hardly see how you make the jump to 'they are divine'. I like a lot of what Mr. Churchill said, but I don't worship the guy.

      4) I'll kinda agree with this point, but that hardly makes the case for this deity to be 'perfect' as his followers so wish it to be. For the story to be so comfusing and interpreted and reinterpreted.... that's flawed... perfection can't be flawed.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
    • Marcus

      Everything that you said is true. So was everything that I said.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Marcus

      The words of Christ are very straight forward. He even used parabols.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • Marcus

      "Love thy neighbor as thyself" is morally perfect. Christ coined it from the golden rule "do unto others", but he took it from the cerebral level to the spirtiual level(Love). He then walked the walk.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  4. kate

    I like this explanation, Johnny Moore. I have always had a mindset that you are closer to the real truth if there was a Jesus then is portrayed by churches and all faiths. Thanks for the smiles!

    January 6, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
  5. Fred G. Sanford

    When I was a little boy my mother used to take me to church 4 times a week. The preacher was an old man and all he talked about was living holy. No, 'blessings', 'it's your time', 'purpose', 'trials and tribulations', 'praise', etc. Just living holy. He would pound on the pulpit, stomp his feet, scream and holler.....The church would usually be about half full, but the people were the best of the best. The sweetest, most honest, straight-forward, bible doing people you ever did meet. He died and others took over. The message changed and the church packed out so much they had to add on. Such are the times today, as the church, and 'praising God' seem more popular than ever. No matter. All this hyperbole about Jesus, discussion and exaltation of His existence, etc. wont benefit any of us one bit. You still have to live right, or when you die, you'll bust hell wide open.

    January 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
  6. Won

    Rich and powerful? No, not really. I believed in Jesus Christ and he's the son of man. Jesus Christ never sinned against God, and he already fulfilled God's law by showing love and grace to his people. It's all about faith.

    January 6, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
  7. JPD

    Why does CNN publish this crap?

    January 6, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • phil

      And quoting someone from a sham school like Liberty U ? Come on. That would be like getting a quote on mormonism from BYU.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  8. Susan Betts

    This is a great article....The resurrection of Christ would mean nothing if he hadn't been fully human.

    January 6, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Shane

      Exactly! A great Sunday morning sermon on CNN. Who would have thunk?

      January 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • kate

      If there even was a Jesus, yes, I agree, Susan!

      January 6, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Thackerie

      I'm a bit disappointed. I thought this article was going to be about that episode where Jesus & friends were criticized for not washing their hands before eating.

      I always found it odd that an all-knowing god apparently didn't know much about health and hygiene. If, instead, the bible included anything that was not known or imaginable by people living at the time, I might find it easier to believe.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
  9. Robrob

    " inappropriate, and at the most, sacrilege, to imagine Jesus in this way"

    Only because for the vast majority they have never actually *thought* about what it is they believed – beyond magical fairy tales.

    Real living people – everyone – eats, sleeps, drinks, breaths, sweats, poos, pees, spits, coughs, vomits, etc... Their hair and nails grow and gets cut. If the thought of Jesus doing any of that "offends" you then you need to reevaluate what it is you believe.

    January 6, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Shane

      Good comment. I agree. I see an angry Jesus at times, a thoughtful Jesus at other times, but one who lived here as a man by his choosing. That is how and why he died – and death is real. He could have come down from the cross, but he chose to stay and die. That is not a fairy tale, but something that is dirty, and real.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • kate

      LOL, simply put, Robrob, though even better said then Mr. Moore.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  10. Meh

    It would have been more impressive if Jesus had come here as a woman, with the 'monthlies' and cramps, and childbirth, and being treated as unclean a whole bunch of the time, and being considered as property by men...

    January 6, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • Akira

      Yeah, the whole "unclean" thing is totally bogus...

      January 6, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Akira

      ...As is being considered the property of men...pfft.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  11. Shane

    The Anti-Christ people are always on here . . . you're like white noise now to most of us. I'll pray for you. Look, Mr. Moore is just giving us a Sunday morning sermon . . . plain and simple. I'm glad, regardless of your beliefs, that you read it.

    January 6, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • sam stone

      you pray for us, we'll think for you

      January 6, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  12. tandazani

    Reblogged this on Tandazani and commented:
    Interesting read. I disagree with the whole dysentery thing though. I am sure Jesus never entertained sickness because he had the power to heal.

    January 6, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Then he would not have known what it is to be human, and redemption would not be possible.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Sid

      Jesus had to be a perfect man to pay the ransom of the perfect life that Adam lost for all mankind. However, if Jesus were God, that would not satisfy justice, either. Jesus was and is the only-beggoten Son of God, just as the Bible states. Worshipping him as God misses the point of worshipping his God and Father, whose NAME is to be hallowed (sanctified, made holy) and to be made known in these last days. If you worship Jesus you follow Satan, if you follow Jesus, then you must worship HIS GOD.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
  13. Holly

    Why does God have a son and not a daughter? Why are you Christians so racist?

    January 6, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • Peter Dirk

      Because you need a man to procreate. Therefore, in Christianity Son Of God is considered the essence of life along with the Holy Ghost.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • kate

      Peter, even though the most religious don't even believe Jesus procreated. Being man, he did.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  14. john-117

    What a pointless article. Everybody goes to bathroom, we know that.

    January 6, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
  15. Mark from Canada

    "the Jesus of the Bible was more human than most people are conditioned to think." Not really...I think that this guy called Jesus was human, never even ventured to guess that there was such a thing as a God. Such a silly child's idea that there is a magical being, a zombie man that came back to life. It is like Santa Claus for kids. When will moral rational thinking prevail??

    January 6, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
  16. tom johnson

    I never knew that there were that many ignorint people in the US. HAL9001 mythology? are you kidding me!

    Tj

    January 6, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • Ahahahahaha

      tom johnson: "ignorint people in the US."

      Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah!

      January 6, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  17. Marcus

    "I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-shirt. 'Cause it says like, I wanna be formal but I’m here to party too. I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party." – Cal Naughton, Jr.

    January 6, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  18. *ray

    I been on both sides, athiest and believer. The only way for you to believe is ask him to show himself to you. Until then you are blind and will not be free of yourselves. Harden your heart and mind and farther you endanger yourselves more.

    January 6, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  19. God is only one, he is NOT born, and he DOESN'T die

    God is only one, he is NOT born, and he DOESN'T die

    Jesus/ Yeshua is a creation of God like you and me... He is NOT God, that would be idolatry which is against God. This article I stopped reading at the first few sentences... pure ignorance and definitely need to read the ten commandments and Isaiah 45 verses 2-7. Go to the father, Go to the creator, don't worship a finite man. God is only one he doesn't have a birth and he doesn't die. watch this video and you will see what a pastor ends up agreeing with regarding "Jesus" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZW-NKGXFGg

    January 6, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      He's a demigod: like Hercules or Wonder Woman.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "God is only one, he is NOT born, and he DOESN'T die", but "God" is an element of mythology, therefore your assertions are unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE), the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      January 6, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      God created s.hit. Deal with it.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • Merc

      "This article I stopped reading at the first few sentences"...And this is why there's such a rift, not only betwixt believers and atheists, but betwixt believers and other believers.

      You aren't even willing to listen to anything other than what you've decided is "truth". You aren't willing to accept that there can be millions of different interpretations of belief/religion and many of them can have an objective sort of truth to them.

      Hell, I'm a hard-core agnostic (that is, I feel that it is presumptuous for us to even think that we CAN know), but even I was wiling to read the article before commenting.

      Pull your head out of the sand. Just because you disagree, doesn't mean the author doesn't make a salient point. If your belief system is "true", then certainly it can survive an analysis or two by someone with a different opinion.

      Your knee-jerk reaction above seems to indicate that you're afraid of the validity of your beliefs. Don't be. Believe what you believe. Just allow other people to believe and question where they see fit to. It doesn't hurt you in any way for someone else to theorize something other than what you believe.

      His questioning doesn't take anything away from you.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
  20. GrowUp

    All nonsense. None of you were there. None of you "know" any truth about Jesus or any other God. Face it, this is a legend that got traction because it makes people rich and powerful.

    January 6, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • Shane

      um . . . ok. Feel better about yourself now?

      January 6, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • JIM

      Now Grow Up and get out of your Mom's basement.

      January 6, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
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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.