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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. jozefdegroot

    THX. It seems to me absolutely necessary that Jesus was a dirty God. If he was not totally human than we, who are, would not be redeemed, and we could never feel worthy.

    January 6, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
    • ME II

      Why? Are you saying God couldn't "redeem" humans with being totally human? Doesn't sound omnipotent to me.

      January 6, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  2. bobcat

    People 2000 years ago did not bathe much? No kidding. But really, good article.

    January 6, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
  3. asis76

    um why the hell is this important when there is all sorts of other crap going on? I mean seriously CNN this is why you guys are going down the dang tubes because you guys can't get orginal content and can't figure out what the heck to write about. LEMMINGS!

    January 6, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
    • asis76

      I dig the Arthur but i just don't think this is front page material.. When there is a million things happening... Like a bill getting introduced to make Obama have a 3rd and 4th term i mean REALLY CNN GET A DANG CLUE!

      January 6, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • renonow2

      This is very important, given so many conservatives choose to use Yeshua bin Yosef to justify hatred, bigotry, guns, and way, while portraying him as a blue eyed, and white skinned, of European descent. A dose of reality is always in order.

      January 6, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • ME II

      @asis76,
      Apparently this has happened multiple times since the 2 term limit was enacted in the 50's.

      http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/termlimits.asp

      January 6, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  4. Christinsanity

    VP at Liberty University.
    Why don't they get some of their "Creation Scientists" to research whether Jesus bathed or not?

    January 6, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
  5. mason

    Liberty "University"..LOL...Jesus is a dirty joke myth on gulible humans...

    January 6, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
  6. Mike

    Liberty University = rightwing Christian madrasa
    Sorry bud. You may be a decent guy, but your opinion is of no value.

    January 6, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
  7. christophernowak

    If an article of this manner was written about Muhammad we would see American flags being burnt in the streets and non Muslims being accosted in the Middle East. Why is it OK to point out the realities of one "God" but not the other?

    January 6, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "christophernowak", but the Abrahamic "God" is an element of mythology, therefore it doesn't matter. 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 4:40 pm |
    • Saraswati

      It's "OK" in most people's books to discuss anything intelligently. But this is a Christian scholar at a Christian university writing for a predominantly Christian audience. I'd hardly expect him to write on Islam any more than I'd expect a french art historian to write on ship building in China. Especially when someone might kill him over it.

      January 6, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      You're the one claiming the US is a 'christian' nation. Why would anyone write such an article for consumption in a country where no one would read it?

      January 6, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
  8. Kleo

    The sad is their Aethists only see the view that fits their self-worshiping agenda. Bad religion is when pseudo-Atheists teach it. A real religious teacher does not worship himself, that is a teaching of Atheism. Real religions teaches that self-love before God is wrong. The problem is not the religion, but the mis-guided people that should not be teachers. Just like teachers in a public school that mislead children, those teachers don't live by the laws (God), but their own (Atheist).

    January 6, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
    • Mike

      Stick with knowing nothing, it seems to be working for you.

      January 6, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Kleo", but "God" is an element of mythology, therefore "it" is inappropriate to be considered in "laws". 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 4:43 pm |
    • JWT

      The laws of your god only apply to you – no teacher outside your church or home should be teaching them.

      January 6, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  9. GulpOff

    Prayer does not change diapers.

    January 6, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
  10. the fox

    This man is a professor and vice-president of a university? Then I read the name of the university, and that told it all....

    January 6, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
  11. Ansel Adams

    Last time I checked no one has a real photo of Jesus...there are interpretations and the Shroud myth; however, if Jesus did walk the Earth – It is very reasonable to believe he would look like everyone else...Personal Hygiene wasnt something folks really cared about 2000 years...And its not like he had a bidet and indoor plumbing in every home. No one can put their modern image of Jesus and how they live today as something that relates to that Era of world history. This article really is pointless. Believe in Jesus or Dont Believe in Jesus...dont care...but if he did walk this Earth 2000 years ago – I am guessing he would have had to been dirty...just like the rest of the world.

    January 6, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • Saraswati

      It's pointless to people outside the belief system (at least in its original intent) or Christians who already think of him this way. But the point was to remind Christians who forget he was dirty that he was, both as a reminder of what this god (or son of god or prophet) sacrificed and of what is to be considered important. I'm not a Christian, but I can see what he was getting at from that perspective, and as an outsider it's interesting to know what followers of the nations largest religion are talking about.

      January 6, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
  12. CNN = Racist

    Jewish hatred towards Christ...

    January 6, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  13. CNN = Racist

    ....

    January 6, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  14. pc

    What does this have to do with Jesus, and that guys pic makes him look like a devil AND WHO CARES ABOUT HOW DIRTY JESUS IS!

    January 6, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  15. Marty

    Evil media empires gong to tell me about my God, ....riiiiiiiiiiiight!

    January 6, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  16. Mickey Weedon

    Christians are scary scary people. Imagine if they got their way and the GOP got Sara as VP. McCain dies and we right now would have Sara Palin as president, Michelle Bachman doing morning prayers at the White House and Rush Limbaugh writing policy. Comon you nut bags worship some dead guy on a stick. Get real!

    January 6, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
    • Heinrich

      I feel sorry for you. Jesus died to save you, and yet you still reject him.

      January 6, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
  17. jesusrules

    Real nice imaginarium. Especially the potty joke.

    January 6, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  18. cart kent

    gay atheists always are focused on peoples pooping habits before getting to know someone.. ass backwards. poor writers as usual on CNN.

    January 6, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "cart kent", but, based on your response to the article, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to seek psychiatric assistance as soon as possible. This is for your own safety as well as the safety of others, "cart kent".

      January 6, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Did you read either the author bio info or the article itself?

      January 6, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
  19. ME II

    ... hmmm

    January 6, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
  20. Rosstrex

    More of the same old CNN Propaganda.

    CNN must be owned by Muslims:
    1. CNN is constantly finding people to write articles like the one above.
    2. CNN is usually trying to align Jesus with what Muslims believe and remove his Divinity.
    3. CNN has not ever written anything negative about Mohammed but regularly attacks Jesus, Christians and Churches.
    4. CNN appears to be watching for any chance to attack Christianity in support of Islam. When Anders Brekivick killed people in Norway CNN was screaming from the Mountain tops about him being a "Christian" even though he did not belong to a church and his manifesto clearly placed him outside of Christianity.

    CNN = Crescent News Network

    January 6, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Uh – the article is written by a faculty member at Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell and notably intolerant of anyone – even guest speakers – who don't adhere to Falwell's hyper-fundamentalist views. I hardly think they're pro-Muslim over there.

      January 6, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • Mickey Weedon

      Obviously another Christian who talks to some invisible space daddy...Muslims are no different your all nuts

      January 6, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Almost 3/4 of the US population is Christian, less than 1% Islamic. What exactly do you think is going to be of interest to this population (the readers of the ads on CNN)? And do you think they're giving out VP posts at Liberty, of all places, to Muslims?

      January 6, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • Rsvp

      You are an ultimate ignorant. Do you know Muslims consider Jesus as their prophet? To be a Muslim you have to believe in Jesus and Bible. They must be fuming to read this article.

      January 6, 2013 at 4:49 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.