TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH TIM COX – ABC RADIO circa 1990
TIM: Let’s get serious Doug. In the Prologue to Jesus the Heretic you write: “Like every other thinking person in Christendom, I have a spiritual investment in knowing something of the truth, and if not the truth, then at least the nature and seriousness of the lies.” What do mean by that?
DOUGLAS: I mean that Christianity has massive problems on both the theological and the historical front. Christian scholars aren’t being honest, either with themselves, or with us. They’ve sold out to fourth century propaganda and can’t find their way back into the fold of real history.
TIM: Is there such a thing as real history?
DOUGLAS: There is when you compare history with myth, fantasy and fairytale.
TIM: Which is what you think the story of Jesus is?
DOUGLAS: Not the whole story. Our problem is in separating fiction from fact.
TIM: But can that be done when the facts are two thousand years old?
DOUGLAS: It’s not easy, but it isn’t impossible – the information is there, we just have to piece it together properly. And what we have to remember while we’re doing that is that Newton’s laws were just as operative then as they are now. If you jumped off a cliff in the first century, you jumped to your death. If you dropped an apple, it did not shoot up into the sky. In this sense the first century was no different from the twelfth or the twentieth – it was no more special a century than any other century. The laws of physics still applied.
TIM: Yet it was the century in which Jesus Christ was incarnated.
DOUGLAS: It was the century in which someone called Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, was born like any other child, lived a physical life like any other child, and died like any child eventually has to. The rest is mythology and theology.
TIM: There was no star of Bethlehem? No wise men? No shepherds watching their flocks by night?
DOUGLAS: Stars do not wander about in the sky, Tim; and even if they did, it would be pretty difficult to pin-point one single house in a small town while watching an object millions of miles away in outer space.
TIM: James Murray’s review of Jesus the Heretic in the Australian takes you to task on a number of levels. He accuses you of not being a Semitic language expert, of being relentless in your studies, but not scholarly, and of having fallen into the trap of selective evidence. What do your reaction to that kind of criticism?
DOUGLAS: Well, first of all, Murray is well aware that I make no claim to high-flown scholarship; I’m a journalist and novelist by profession, not an academic. And it’s as a journalist and novelist that I’ve tackled the problems to do with Christianity’s origins.
And I think I have the right to do that on the basis of being a professional information gatherer and analyser.
As for the Semitic language bit, what on earth are all the excellent translations of the ancient texts for? If these translations aren’t of any use, then why are scholars writing them? In this day and age knowledge is not always what you have in your head, it’s knowing where to find it.
TIM: And the accusation of having selected your evidence?
DOUGLAS: Well of course I’ve selected it – I’ve selected it in exactly same fashion that James Murray selected his evidence when writing his review of Jesus the Heretic. I’m biased in one direction; he’s biased in another. He’s a cleric with a axe to grind; I’m a journalist saying that his historical axe needs a deal more grinding
TIM: He also says you’re “fatally attracted” to the theories of Dr Barbara Thiering.
DOUGLAS: Whether he likes it or not Barbara Thiering is a leading expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls and she’s not going to go away. She’s done her homework. She speaks the Semitic languages I’m accused of not speaking, and she’s convinced that New Testament studies – as they stand – are giving a quite false impression of Jesus’ life, intentions, and ambitions. I don’t go along with a lot of the things she says. In fact I say in the book that she may well be driven back to the drawing board eventually. But I can’t ignore her just because she’s disliked by conservatives like James Murray. She’s only one of hundreds of scholars that I’ve quoted from.
TIM: Murray’s main gripe is that there isn’t enough evidence available to ever really work out what was going on way back then. In fact he says that such a quest is probably fruitless.
DOUGLAS: As a cleric it’s to his advantage to think that. What interested me was that he follows that statement up by saying that the historical Jesus and the mysterious Jesus – that is, the Christ of Faith – are so intertwined that it’s impossible to tease them apart. Now I take issue with that. These two figures have to be teased apart. The historical Jesus was flesh and blood and lived in the first century; Jesus as God come down to earth is a theologically imagined figure legislated into existence by the Council of Nicea 325 AD. They’re quite different, and their independent pedigrees can be traced. Strip away the theology and you’re left with a quite different figure.
TIM: What kind of figure?
DOUGLAS: A man belonging to his own time and people. A sectarian Jew. A Nazarene. An historical enigma. That’s why Murray uses the rather loose term “mysterious Jesus”, and not the more technical term “Christ of Faith” – he’s shying away from Jesus’ historical reality because he knows that that historical reality flatly contradicts the thinking of theologians past and present.
TIM: After saying that your book is part of a recent headline-grabbing strain of writing, Murray mentions the Nazarenes. He says: “certainly a Nazarene figure has emerged that probably would be unfamiliar to many centuries of Christian faith.” What does he mean by that?
DOUGLAS: He means that if Christians were made aware of who and what the Nazarenes really were, they wouldn’t recognise either their Jesus or the early Jerusalem Apostolic church. The Nazarenes were sectarian Jews; they were members of a larger conglomerate called The Way of the Wilderness. When Jesus is referred to as Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels, he is in fact being wrongly labelled. One ought to read “Nazarene”, not Nazareth – it’s a mistranslation. And it’s constant. There is in fact no record of a Nazareth in that part of the world until around the third century.
So for James Murray to say that Jesus the Nazarene would be unfamiliar to Christians today is the understatement of the year – he wouldn’t just be unfamilar, he would be a veritable shock-wave to just about everything Christianity stands for.
DOUGLAS: Because the Nazarenes had a history going back to 400, if not 500 BC, and that history shows them to have been a sect with some very curious ideas about Godhead. The 400 BC group split into two factions, and one of those factions believed that their leader, the prophet ESSA, was divine.
TIM: In the same way that Jesus was believed to be divine?
DOUGLAS: Sufficiently divine for the other faction to call them heretics. But what’s important is that these Nazarenes didn’t come from Palestine, they came from the Hijhz mountains of western Arabia, were called Nasara, and originated in the village of Nazirah. When you translate Nasara from the Arabic you of course get Nazarene; but when you translate Nazirah you get a shock – you get Nazareth.
TIM: The Nazareth that Jesus was supposed to come from.
DOUGLAS: Exactly. But it gets even more interesting. The name of the mountain district in which the village of Nazirah was located was Jalil, and Jalil is the Arabic for……Galilee.
TIM: Scary stuff!
DOUGLAS: And it gets even more scary, for the leader of the Nasara, or Nazarenes, was, as I’ve said, ESSA, and when you transliterate the name ESSA from Arabic through Aramaic into ancient Greek, you come out with Iesous, and Iesous is the name given to Jesus in the Greek New Testament. Which means that the leader of the ancient Nasara of 400 BC was called Jesus, and he was the leader of the same sectarian group that the New Testament Jesus belonged to in the first century.
TIM: Two Jesus’?
DOUGLAS: And separated by at least four hundred years.
TIM: Where did you get such information?
DOUGLAS: My research on the Nazarenes comes from many sources, but principly from a study done by Professor Kamal Salibi in 1988 – Salibi was then professor of history at the American University in Beirut. He’s also a Semitic scholar with Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic under his belt – that’s probably why James Murray doesn’t attack his findings or draw direct attention to the research I present in my book. To take on Salibi would be to open the door to all kinds of realisations about Jesus’ origins and the nature of the Apostolic Nazarene Church.
TIM: But he does admit that there’s more to the Nazarenes than meets the eye.
DOUGLAS: Oh yes, and that’s why. Hence his statement about a Nazarene figure emerging that would not be familiar to Christians. Murray makes no reference to this material in his review of Jesus the Heretic. In fact he ignores my book’s considerable content and attacks me personally. His review is not actually a review at all, it’s no more than a snobbish dismissal.
TIM: (Laughs) You’re not a Semitic scholar, Douglas.
DOUGLAS: No, but that doesn’t mean I’m a congenital idiot. When the poet Robert Graves and Joseph Podro wrote The Nazarene Gospel Restored way back in the mid fifties – they too were on track of the same Jesus as myself and Salibi – they focused entirely on the Nazarenes as a group. Why? Because they knew that that was the weak link in the historical chain. And knowing the kind of reaction they would get from clerics and some New Testament scholars, they wrote a special paragraph to highlight the problem they believed themselves to face from readers like James Murray:
“We acknowledge no spiritual authority, except the still, small, nagging voice of conscience – a survival from our early Scriptural education – which urges us to tell the truth as we know it. We are, in fact, amateurs or irregulars, well aware of the deep mistrust which our book will arouse among those whole livelihood depends on a careful observance of theological etiquette.”
DOUGLAS: That exactly describes my position; and I think it accurately describes James Murray’s as well.
TIM: But it still means that someone like Murray doesn’t have to take you seriously.
DOUGLAS: That’s not what his website says. His website says that he is willing to give people with an opinion different to his a fair go….or words to that effect. I don’t believe I’ve been given a fair go, either by James Murray or The Australian. I asked for right of reply, for instance, and I was refused.
TIM: (Laughs) Reviewers would give up reviewing if right of reply was automatic.
DOUGLAS: I agree. Where I don’t agree is in calling James Murray’s review a review. How can a conservative Christian cleric fairly review a book containing the kind of information my book contains? Jesus the Heretic is not an academic treatise, it is a polemic, it is an argument specifically designed to incite debate and discussion.
TIM: Two Jesus’ four hundred years apart! It’s a big ask.
DOUGLAS: What if I were to tell you that there are actually three Jesus’ in the New Testament, not two.
TIM: (Laughs) Please explain.
DOUGLAS: It comes out like this. Jesus number one is the New Testament Jesus, the historical Jesus James Murray doesn’t think can be properly described. Jesus number two is ESSA, or Iesous, the believed to be divine Jesus of 400 BC amalgamated with the Historical Jesus of the first century.
TIM: And Jesus three?
DOUGLAS: Jesus three is a phantom Jesus created out of the other two. It is this Jesus who heals the blind and raises the dead, feeds thousands of people out of one lunch box and can detect fish under water in the dark. This is the Jesus that scholars have long suspected never existed, and they are absolutely right.
TIM: You’re saying that the writers of the Gospels knew about this earlier Jesus.
DOUGLAS: I’m saying what James Murray says so guardedly in his review. He says:
“certainly a Nazarene figure has emerged that probably would be unfamiliar to many centuries of Christian faith. But not to the contemporaries of Jesus.”
TIM: In other words, everybody knew what was going on way back then.
DOUGLAS: Exactly. Everyone knew, and all I’m saying is that it’s high time we found out what they took for granted.
TIM: (Pause) Douglas Lockhart, thank you very much.