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. Jack 21

    Funny seeing so many biblethumpers bash this article but were the first in line to vote for Romney the Cultist. Romney was no christian,he was a man who thought his Mormon Magical Underwear had Magical powers that origionated ferom his skidmark......and they believe the most devout shall never take the underwear off even to bath....They also replaced the bible with the book of Mormon,they believe Joesoph Smith is the Messiah.They believe in polygamy ,child slavery,cult rituals...they do not believe Jesus is son of god. Thety also believe that when you die you fly into outer space with your Mormon Magical Underwear and become a god Flying to the Planet KOLOB where you believe the Gods live........They believe Dark skinned people are the spawns of evil........These are the things DEVOUT CHRISTIANS supported when they decided to vote and support Romney.....They turned their back on christianity to support such a vile religion................The gops new religious platform huh ...........Makes me laught to hear these biblethumpers talk about god yet they turned their back on him to support the Mormon CULT LOL.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  2. Reality

    Based on the topic, some updating:

    Jesus was an illiterate, dirty, sometimes sick, Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from the dirty, sometimes sick P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the dirty Messiah from muddy Nazareth to a mythical clean character from mythical clean Nazareth to a dirty ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ unclean life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various dirty, sometimes sick, Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Saraswati

      He was probably literate and may well have been exaggerating rather than hallucinating...but I'll give you most of the rest as probable.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • End Religion

      Since there is endless debate and no proof, if he existed, jesus was probably not literate. We couldn't possibly have any idea if jesus exaggerated or hallucinated because he didn't write the bible. All of this is, of course, academic since jesus didn't exist and the bible is a complete fraud. But it's nice to know you'll make your own comforting assertions as to your imaginary friend's mental state from 2000+ years ago.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:40 am |
  3. rymnd81

    If Jesus ever existed, he was a brown middle eastern Jewish male, a human with human frailties. He would have got dysentery and other human illnesses, maybe more than normal because he belonged to the lower strata of society. Jesus and his initial disciples would have looked like hobos in the modern context. The one trait of Messianic societies of that time was influencing countless people into believing that they were Messiahs and their message was from God. Jesus was one such individual and there were hundreds like him, it is just sheer luck that his message was the one that resonated, also helpful was the Roman empire's embrace of the new religion under Constantine. It is the same case with other prophets like Muhammad etc, if any of these guys were resurrected today, they would be really surprised that their word has metamorphosed into major religions.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • snowboarder

      rym, i imagine you are correct. the evolution of religion. fascinating.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  4. Superficial

    The world is so superficial and the author of this article has reflected that perfectly. Jesus was pure in nature, He had a perfect moral standard and knew that being clean wasn't important on the outside but what was on the inside. He even called out the Pharisees on this who "looked" the part of holy but on the inside were rotten. You are just as blind as the Pharisees Johnnie Moore...sad sad sad

    Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.Luke 11:39-41

    January 6, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Superficial", but "Lord" is an element of mythology, therefore your assertions are all 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 11:30 am |
    • Superficial

      Wow, I guess you win with your superior semantic skills...*Cough*

      January 6, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
  5. lacoaster

    Someone should share this with those who like that gospel of prosperity junk. I am not comfortable with any kind of fanatic anyways, especially religious and political. I think there is where the nastiest street smarts hide.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:26 am |
  6. Anon

    Jesus is myth and believers have been hoodwinked without ever realizing it.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:25 am |


    January 6, 2013 at 11:25 am |
  8. dreamer96

    Jesus took on Human Form....What do you expect him to do Hold it in for 33 years....

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

    I am a Muslim and my Belief: Jesus was human but chosen as a Prophet of God.
    He was not God and he was certainly did not raised physically to heaven.
    He did not died on the cross but died like any other human in old age. His tomb is in India.
    He was a humble man and influenced people around him but rejected by most.
    His message spread across the world since he was a God appointed.
    Any logical and conscious mind cannot accept Jesus as God.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • Anon

      Both christians and muslims are delusional.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • pjr

      Ammar – One day every knee will bow to Jesus and NO ONE else. Jesus was God in the flesh. You can believe now, or YOU WILL believe later. It is your choice. But, don't choose poorly.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • Fernando

      That sounds very sensible. India? I get the impression that he traveled back east regularly (caravans?) and indulged in some of the mystical, drug-oriented practices. In the context of humanness, do you have any opinions on the likelihood of him taking/using hallucinogens or marijuana?

      January 6, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • snowboarder

      pjr, there is literally no reason to believe what you say to be true.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Fernando

      @pjr: You worship a false god. You will burn for eternity. Repent sinner for thou art unclean. (echo, echo, reverberation)

      January 6, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  10. John

    Nice article. Mr. Moore kits on the very thing that keeps Christianity from being relevant to many people today. Christ is set above us not among us. Christ has very little in common with the common man. If people were taught how much Christ had in common with them more people would follow his teachings.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • End Religion

      If people were actually taught anything about Christ there would be many more atheists. He didn't exist, friend. It is time to grow up.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "John", but "Christ" is an element of mythology, therefore "Christ" cannot be anywhere relative to "us". 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 11:34 am |
    • ??

      I have to agree with NR,the more people investigate religion,using an open mind and logical reasoning,the more likely they are to doubt religious teachings.However,religion does not allow a shadow of doubt,due to fear of god's wrath,which has become essential to the continuation of their beliefs.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  11. Tammy Comer

    I loved this post. Great insight.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:23 am |
  12. P

    Thank for your amazing and powerful, insightful and original thoughts. I think your brilliant ideas here have changed the whole world and reshaped Christianity itself. All I can say is wow you are incredible.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • Fernando

      Would Jesus be sarcastic? I think not.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  13. sybaris

    Take everything into account and the alleged jesus man was just your average megalomaniac.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:22 am |
  14. daniel

    I liked this article. i think it points out our Savior's divinity and his humanity. He is our Savior because He knows how we feel and what we go thru. Good article, thought provoking.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • End Religion

      If it were truly thought provoking you would become an atheist. We're expected to believe he could arise from the dead but couldn't cure his own diarrhea? Absurdity ad nauseum...

      January 6, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "daniel", but "Savior", "He" and "divinity" are all elements of mythology, therefore "it" cannot have any "humanity". 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 11:36 am |
  15. Larry

    "so that the world’s souls might be made clean." is the only meaningful lesson one can learn from this article irrespective of other details.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:22 am |
  16. Bob

    There is no god and no afterlife. You stop existing once your brain rots. Anyone that has ever said otherwise is full of feces, including Jesus. This is the simple truth. No magic necessary.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • Saraswati

      I think the whole point of the article is to remind people that everyone is, literally, full of feces.

      January 6, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  17. Flava

    Jesus, if he existed, was just a man.

    He won't be back.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  18. Peace

    i enjoyed reading this article. Jesus did get dirty and its humbling to see the roman Gods were portrayed as high and mighty, living in luxury, and away from typical people in their homes in the mountains, but Jesus humbled himself to the point of poverty so that even the poor can relate to him.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  19. inspiration

    I'd like a dog that doesn't poop!

    January 6, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  20. citpecs

    Very insightful article. Thanks!

    January 6, 2013 at 11:20 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.