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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. Bootyfunk

    when i saw the t.itle to this article, i thought by 'dirty' it meant jesus downloads lots of p.orn.

    January 6, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • Bet

      If by "Jesus" you meant "Johnnie Moore", I'd say you guessed correctly.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  2. Perry Keener

    today we're advanced? Are we? Why can we not believe in things spiritually, because it's 2013? Are we advanced? advanced in what? Causing more confusion like the land of Babble?

    January 6, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      Mmmkay. Maybe you should go live in a cave with no electricity or running water for a while. We'll see whether you think the world is more advanced nowadays after you give it up to live in a cave and you have to hunt down your own food.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  3. ncreader

    my pizzas here. i'm going to go eat it.

    January 6, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • Bet

      Enjoy!

      I'm having pork chops, butternut squash and peas with mint. Later I'm making popcorn with butter and watching Season 4 of Sons of Anarchy.

      Have a wonderful evening.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
  4. Fact

    The average atheist on here is most likely one of the following:

    1) a self delusional narcissist
    2) an arrogant teenager who thinks the world revolves around him
    3) someone who grew up without a mommy/daddy and thus hates anything good/happy in this world
    4) a POS who hates anything that has morals because he wants to do what he wants when he wants

    January 6, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      you forgot #5:
      someone that thinks for themselves instead of following a 2K year old book written by ignorant men that thought the earth was flat

      January 6, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
    • I Am God

      Wow you are really far from facts. You are just a troll. Probably the same troll as truth and many others below.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
    • I Am God

      I'll say this again as well. I would rather walk my own path then walk the path thousands take.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • THX1953

      Alex, I will take Independent Thinker for 1000.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • A Deist

      Christianity has rules, not morals.

      Read the book of Matthew again. Read it and see the crazy that was coming out of this man. People believe and worship the Christian altar of God because they do not read the Bible and do not know what it is they are following. If more people read the Bible cover to cover, there would be more non Christians.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Bootyfunk,

      What have you "really thought" for yourself with the exception of rants and raves demeaning the godly endorsed? What are your theories of Life without having to parrot away upon the ways of others? Let me guess. You have no self-thoughts, right?

      January 6, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
    • #6

      Raised in a good christian home (TM) but saw chrisianities hidden dartk side, the rotten black heart that is at the core of christianity. Lies, hypocrisy, self righteousness, gossiping, back biting and petty, most all the reasons Ann Rice gave for quitting the christian church

      January 6, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • J Rod

      My friend you are mistaken. You may not understand things such as String theory or Einstein theory of relativity and you stick to simple things like the bible but some Atheist like myself are far from being a narcissistic child.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
    • End Religion

      There is no average atheist.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
  5. J Bassett

    What is the point of this article. Did Jesus get sick, yes He was fully man. Did He suffer from the lack of sanitation that the first century universally had yes. So what is the point, simply to upset the feelings of some believers. To make His seem cheep to the world. Or does it have no point at all.

    January 6, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  6. Truth

    I pity atheists. Such anger and shallowness prevails. That's true of all the atheists I know in real life and even more true looking at the comments in here from atheists.

    January 6, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • I Am God

      I pity the troll attacking atheists on a blog.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      My invisible pink unicorn pities you, but is not angry.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      you don't know any atheists in real life. just because we don't have an imaginary sky-fairy friend doesn't mean we aren't happy - we're happier. we pity those in cults, like yourself, cause you're not thinking for yourself. try it. thinking - not overrated at all.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • This is the best you can do in defending your god?

      He must be very embarrassed by you right now

      January 6, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • Bet

      I pity people who can't think critically.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • sam stone

      Still dreaming of svcking jesus dry, are ya, "truth"?

      January 6, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
  7. ladymarchhare

    Hercules had a huge following, as did Mithras. Both lived the dirty, direct life. There is no mystery, even to filth and their/our closeness to it. We want our saviors to understand our plight. We want them to have real emotions, frustrations, humor, we want them to muck out Stables, or be born in them.

    January 6, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  8. Jenelle

    Thank you so much for this amazing article. Though as Christians we are taught to believe Jesus was 100% man as well as 100% God, we tend to forget about that 100% aspect in that He was dirty, smelled, and had some of the same human emotions that we do. That is what makes Jesus so great – He brought Himself down to our level so that He could understand us, spend time with us, and die for us. Wonderful article.

    January 6, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • Bet

      He brought Himself down to our level so that He could understand us, spend time with us, and die for us.

      If Jesus is god and god is omniscient, and god created us, why does he need to become a human to "understand us"? If he knows every hair on our head, why doesn't he understand us?

      If he is omnipresent, why does he need to come down to our level to spend time with us? I thought god was always with us and god was everywhere.

      If he is omnipotent, why does he have to sacrifice himself to himself to save us from himself?

      January 6, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • End Religion

      What Bet said, plus I'd like to add... um... well.... nothing I guess.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  9. Truth

    Atheists claiming oppression in the US is laughable.

    January 6, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • I Am God

      We laugh at you Christians as well when you cry oppression.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  10. Ohmygod

    Jesus did not exist. Look at the Jesus did not exist videos on Youtube. People have done a lot of research on Jesus and the Bible. There is no proof on the existence

    January 6, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • I Am God

      I can agree and disagree on that statement. True that there is no proof of Jesus Christ ever existing, but on a historical perspective I can probably believe of an individual existing during that time trying to reunite people and people just proclaimed him Jesus Christ.

      January 6, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Ohmygod,
      It’s on the internet, so it must be true. They don’t let anyone put anything on the internet that isn’t true.

      January 6, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
    • Truth

      Laughable, even atheist historians admit he existed. Typical atheist living in self delusion.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • Perry Keener

      Yeah

      January 6, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • So What

      No you fool, the biblical Jesus is a construct and did not exist. That was made up bu the early Catholic Church to control the masses. There was a real Jesus and little is known about him.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
  11. paul

    this is the Jesus who in Mathew chapter 25 declared 'i was hungry you gave me food, was thirsty and you gave drink - and then to others (on his fet) i was hungry, thirsty, naked ,in prison– but you did not care, so go to the hell prepared for satan and his angels. i wonder whether tea party zealots and christian taliban even heard about it

    January 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
    • David Scott

      Paul, you obviously have very little knowledge of who Jesus really is. Rather than destroy something you don;t understand, why don't you do the intelligent thing and study it out. The you would at least be able to make your stance based upon fact and not fiction. Of course, it will probably mean you will have to change your stance.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Darth Cheney

      No one in the Tea Party is familiar with Matthew 25. It would make their heads blow up.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
    • paul

      thanks mr.scott, i really appreciate the way you assessed me. you only mentioned that i have no (little) knowledge of Jesus; what i would like you to do to address my concern.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
  12. Sargon

    CNN always blasts Christianity, but if they BLAST Islam, or Judaism its a big deal right? Considering the fact that it is Christmas Eve for those who are orthodox, January 7th is the old and original date of Christmas...Ironic that this article was posted now.

    This article is highly offensive, and absolutely ridiculous. CNN should be ashamed.

    January 6, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Most Christians don't appear to be offended by this and it's written by a VP at one of the most right wing Christian colleges in the country. What specifically do you find offensive?

      January 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
    • I Am God

      You should be ashamed of crying over an opinion piece.

      January 6, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      Sargon, you're not even making any sense! What's offensive about it?

      January 6, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • jafar

      i am Muslim, from Jordan, place where Jesus lived, and i find this article very humiliating to a good man, who had influenced millions with his kindness, and great presence, i find the writer of such article is useless, not intelligent, and sick....freedom of speech has limitations when sick people as this writer apparently is tries to spread his germs around, and in public.
      shame on you cnn for allowing this germ to write here….none the less at this time of the year, animals have more shame than people I find sadly some times…

      January 6, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • Xerxes

      Shut up you stupid idiot moron. You are a loser.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      Uh "Jafar", human beings are covered in billions and billions of "germs"/ bacteria. THAT is reality. Why is reality so offensive to you?

      January 6, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Jafar, this was written by an official at one of the most conservative religious insti'tutions in the US. Pretty much everyone accepts that anyone living at that time would be dirty by our standards and infested with lice. This was a reminder to Christians of what the reality was and what should be valued, and you aren't going to see anything but a radical fringe reacting to it.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
    • Darth Cheney

      You're the equivalent of Muslims who can't tolerate an image of Mohammed.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • jafar

      How would you like to be reminded how you were conceived on your birthday ?
      Reality is fine, but only when its useful, not to be blasted out to insult great people.
      Jesus is my people as a Jordanian… and for most for being the great person he is too,
      Why take a cheap shot of a “ reality “ crap now today, and for what reason ?

      Again, would you like me to say how you became who you are from your mom and dad ?
      Or shall I write about using toilets…
      What a sick, and useless piece of reality….please do not hate me cause I stand up Jesus, and if you have to take a cheap shot, do it to me, not him please.
      We are all good, lets embrace goodness, not this reality useless crap aimed for no good.
      Peace.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • Justsomeone

      What are you, nuts? The idea that Jesus lived within the muck and soil is some form of insult? If anything it says he was no pansy=@$$ diety who would melt if ever the earth touched him.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
    • Saraswati

      @jafar,

      You really aren't getting what this author was trying to say. His point is that understanding Jesus fully as a man makes people better Christians and makes him someone that people are more likely to follow. His first followers (according to Christianity) were people who knew him closely, and knew that he was a normal man with normal bodily functions. To forget that and leave it out of the image, is to present an image of Jesus that is different from what caused people to follow him in the first place.

      You may differ in your opinion on this, but his position, as a Christian, seems fairly sensible. To let yourself get all bent out of shape about it is ridiculous. You may like having a pristine image of Jesus and Mohammad, but many others feel they grow as people and believers from another view. Live and let live...if you don't like it, don't read it.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
    • End Religion

      @Sargon: I am absolutely and completely unconcerned with which fictitious birthday your goofy faith celebrates for someone who never existed. Don't you think it's time you brought yourself and your family out from the Dark Ages? Come on, just a peak. Don't be shy. Come on, little guy... come on.... that's it, just a little peak.

      January 6, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
  13. nadia

    If the author would have written an article like this about Mohammed, there would be death threats against him, rioting in the streets, attacks on Americans (and their Embassies) worldwide.... just saying....

    That's the difference between a religion of tolerance and one of hate.

    January 6, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      my invisible pink unicorn is also a professor of religion and very wise indeed

      January 6, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • If American museums caused 10% as much damage and destruction

      as American Christians do there would be plenty of articles about them

      January 6, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
  14. Alfredo

    I'd trust a man with calloused hands before I'd trust the slick soft hands of a banker.

    January 6, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • Bet

      Why? The appearance of someone's hands says nothing about their character.

      Besides, when I worked in a bank, my hands were always dirty and rough. Money is filthy, people pull it out of their shoes, their bras, from down their pants, and then they hand it to you. Counting new bills is hard to do without getting paper cuts. I went through bottles of hand sanitizer.

      January 6, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  15. ROGER D. ALIEN

    Christianity is really paganism.
    All dealing with the Zodiac.
    Son of God....Sun God, 12 Apostles = 12 signs of zodiac, Virgin Mary= Virgo
    On the side entrance to Notre Dame cathedral, the arch on the doorway contain
    the 12 signs of the Zodiac with VIRGO, the virgin at the top! Strange isn't it?

    Lots of people born from a virgin, crucified, healed sick, rose from the dead.
    Nothing new and quite common back then.

    January 6, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • Alfredo

      And people thought dead turned out to be alive. Still happens in this advanced day.

      January 6, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
  16. dontbow

    This writer seems to know a lot about dirt. lol

    January 6, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • Alfredo

      I think a man who gets his hands dirty from honest work is a superior man. Work, and the sweat that accompanies it, elevates the man or woman. It doesn't debase them.

      I'd think his level of hygiene would be in line with the people of his village. Most likely the left hand was unclean. A sponge in a brine may have been used for "personal" hygiene. The sponge on a stick was probably used by the Roman occupation and used to further torture the crucified.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  17. CAV66

    Wow. Another pathetic attempt to debase Christianity (and Jesus himself) from a supposed academic. I'm not surprised it gained traction and supportive commentary on the CNN website. Left-wing derision and rejection of Christianity from academia and the media? I'm duly shocked. I assume there will be an equally disrespectful commentary on the prophet Muhammed and the Islamic faith coming shortly. The difference is that Christians won't blow anyone up or cut off anyone's head over the slight. May God bless you all.

    January 6, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • I Am God

      Wow another pathetic attempt to describe Jesus Christ by what you heard from a priest instead of by yourself.

      January 6, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • I Am God

      Um by the way there have been many Christians that have gone and blown people up. For instance, the IRA in Ireland many years ago

      January 6, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Did you even look to see who wrote this? Most Christians have no problem at all with the idea that Jesus lived by the sanitary standards of his day...this wasn't meant to be shocking, just a reminder.

      January 6, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • sweetenedtea

      You...you don't know what Liberty University is, do you? This "academic" is a high-ranking official at Jerry Falwell's personal pet project, one of the most conservative and right-wing Christian organizations in the country.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • My goodness but you're stupid

      " The difference is that Christians won't blow anyone up or cut off anyone's head over the slight."
      No the "difference is" that American muslums are so much more peaceful, tolerant and reasonable then American christians

      January 6, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • sam stone

      cav66: when you inbred bible humpers stop trying to impose your religious beliefs on others through legislation, come back and talk to us. until then....go fvck yourself

      January 6, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
    • Get Over Yourself

      Wow you really think he was not dirty....then you are a moron.

      January 6, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
  18. joao

    Interesting article. It does make one think.

    Of course, the mosaic law kept its adherents relatively clean compared to the rest of the iron-age world.

    As he was perfect, his body's response to infection may have been different to ours in the case of dysentery (he did not fear touching the sick and leprous Mark 1:40)

    Again, thank you for this thought-provoking article. I must point out that drawing on more scriptural references and quotations will add authority to your writings and aid others in their search.

    January 6, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      "If he was perfect". . .if he was immune to every disease there is then he wasn't totally human.

      January 6, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  19. I Am God

    I rather choose my own path then choose one path that has been traveled by many.

    January 6, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
  20. john brown

    Oh my, Johnnie Moore, aren't you clever? I've seen better humor in high school newspapers, better reporting on the Weather Channel, and better research at an ad lib convention. You are indeed a know-nothing and a has-been who never will be. Please stay off the keyboard.

    January 6, 2013 at 6:39 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.