Category Archives: post-nicaea Christianity

Japanese Jesus

(Sign explaining legend of grave of Jesus Christ, in Japanese.)

“Leo Quix” has an interesting post today, Parahistory and the Historical Jesus:

In 1935, while researching his family’s library in the prefecture of Ibaraki (about 60 miles northeast of Tokyo), a man named Kyomaro Takeuchi claimed to have unearthed some very ancient documents which turn out to be the source of this peculiar, lesser-known variant of the Jesus legend. [me: does this sound familiar?] These documents included the Legend of Daitenku Taro Jurai (the Japanese name that Jesus would reportedly take on for himself). The legend revealed that Jesus first came to Japan during the reign of the eleventh emperor Suinin, landing at the port of Hashidate (on the western coast of Honshu), and that he eventually settled in the Etchu province, where he studied Japanese language, literature, and philosophy under a Shinto priest.

After this formative period of immersion into pre-classical Japanese culture, it is reported that Jesus returned to Judea. The New Testament tells us what happened next. The part where Jesus less-than-triumphantly marches into Jerusalem one Passover weekend to usher in the new Davidic age, botches it up and then proceeds to get crucified in the process for all his trouble, is ingrained into our collective cultural frontal lobe. There’s no need to revisit the details of the familiar story. But the Takeuchi documents have a different, happier ending than the New Testament does. They inform us that Jesus was in fact spared the undignified death outlined in the gospels. Cancel the passion. Cancel the resurrection. Cancel Pentecost. The ancient texts tell us that Isukiri, Jesus’ baby brother, voluntarily took his place and died instead.[1]  Having thus escaped death by the hand of Rome Jesus hurried eastward, carrying with him his martyred brother’s ear and a lock of hair from their mother. After much hardship along the long way from Judea to Japan (via Siberia and Alaska—!!—, we are told) Jesus eventually made it home to Japan. The legend then holds that during this second visit, Jesus eventually settled down in Herai, married a woman named Miyuko, worked as a simple rice farmer, raised a couple of daughters, and later died there at an extremely advanced age. The Takeuchi documents further reveal the Sawaguchi family to be the direct descendants of Jesus of Nazareth

The tale of Jesus being swapped by a doppelganger is at least as old as the late 1st / early 2nd century. The first person to have promulgated this variant of the myth is a Gnostic named Basilides, who was said to be a disciple of Peter. In Basilides’ version, Jesus switches places with Simon of Cyrene and looks on while Simon is crucified. I’m not sure whether Basilides was a true docetist or not, but docetism might be at play there.

Of course, you may think that the tale ends there, but the same motif seems to have been involved in the foundation of Islam. In Islamic lore, Jesus is switch by Allah himself with a sort of ghost or phantom (i.e. docetism!) on the cross. The phantom is “crucified” while Allah whisks the real Jesus up to heaven. Literally, the Koran says that it only “seemed” that Jesus was crucified but actually wasn’t; and that’s exactly where the word “docetism” comes from: Dokeo (δοκέω), “to seem”.

He also has this footnote at [1] about the strange name of the brother who is crucified in Jesus’ stead:

The phonetic quality of written Japanese katakana highlights a curious relation between the names of the two brothers. The name of Jesus, イエスキリスト (= Iesukirisuto) contains the name of his brother  イスキリ (=Isukiri). It’s really a condensation of the first five characters of the former name to four (just omit the ‘e’=エ). Compositionally, this link between the names sets up a potential doppelganger motif to the tale. Note that the name Isukiri is a far cry from Jacob, Judas, Simon, or Joses, the names of Jesus’ brothers as listed in the Gospel of Mark.

This is interesting because one of Jesus’ disciples is named Judas “Twin Twin”. That is, Judas Didymus Thomas. Didymus (δίδυμος) is Greek for “twin” and Thomas is Aramaic for “twin”.

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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in historiography, post-nicaea Christianity


Chris Hallquist on the History of Fundamentalism

This is a pretty good post. Here’s a little excerpt:

One of the most famous attempts to counter the rise of theological modernism came in 1909, when a pair of wealthy businessmen named Lyman and Milton Stewart decided to finance a series of essays opposing liberalism and defending the truth of the Bible and what they regarded as traditional Christian doctrine. A couple essays explicitly endorsed a 1893 statement by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which stated, “The Bible as we now have it in its various translations and revisions when freed from all errors and mistakes of translators, copyists and printers, is the very Word of God, and consequently, wholly without error.” This doctrine is known as “inerrancy.”

Over several years these essays, known as The Fundamentals, were sent free to Christian pastors and missionaries, and later they were republished as a four-volume set [10]. The word “fundamentalist” itself was proposed in 1917 by Baptist preacher Curtis Lee Laws, to describe himself and other Christians who were willing “to do battle royal for the Fundamentals”.

[…N]o one uses the word “fundamentalist” to describe anyone who lived much longer than a hundred years ago. Yet the beliefs defended in The Fundamentals are much, much older than that. In particular, Biblical inerrancy has been advocated by the most influential theologians in the history of Christianity.

For example, Augustine (354-430), the most influential Christian theologian from after the apostle Paul until the late middle ages, wrote that the authors of the books of the Bible “have not erred in any way in writing them.” Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), one of the most influential philosophers of the middle ages (some would say the most influential), quotes this statement approvingly near the beginning of his Summa Theologiae. (Ia.1.8) Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564), the two most important leaders of the Protestant Reformation, also accepted inerrancy. (Cite also W) As I’ll show in later chapters, all these men had ideas about what the Bible says that were closer to those of modern fundamentalists than to those of modern religious liberals.

It’s a short post, but you should go read the rest.

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Posted by on September 1, 2012 in history, post-nicaea Christianity


Jesus Wars

This was originally posted in the February 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (vol. 75, no. 2, pages 18-23) and then reposted on this website. I only post it here because it fits my conclusion about early Christianity being a sordid enterprise of politics and not divine intervention.

When bishops brawled: An interview with Philip Jenkins

A U.S. Catholic interview


Professor Philip Jenkins, who studies Christianity both ancient and modern, devotes a whole book to the story, but there’s more to it than just airy theological questions. Scheming bishops, monastic militias, and the imperial court all played their parts, along with a healthy dose of chance.

“When you look at history, you realize that what we think of as orthodoxy gets established only gradually by a long series of events, which seem to be almost random,” says Jenkins of the story he tells in Jesus Wars (HarperOne, 2010). “Is it pure chance or, looking at it in a good Old Testament way, is it providence?”

Theological questions aside, Jenkins argues that ancient conflict among Christians contributed to the rapid spread of Islam in the seventh century in what had been the heartland of Christianity. “Where did Islam come from? You cannot understand how Islam appears in the seventh century unless you understand the world of the divided churches,” he says. “A lot of problems that we think about as modern actually go back 1,500 years or more.”

Your new book is called Jesus Wars. Why would you describe the debate over the natures of Christ as a war?

For several hundred years, especially in the 400s and following centuries, the whole world revolved around literal and figurative wars over who Jesus was. That basic question ultimately destroyed the Roman Empire and led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people during the fifth century.


Theological ideas don’t exist in a vacuum. The toughest thing to explain to people in the fifth century would be the difference between politics and religion. They would see the distinction as meaningless. Religion was about God and how God took care of the world, including how God rewarded and punished states.

Why were these questions arising at this point in history?

A large part of it was connected with establishment. Christianity received toleration in 313, but then the empire had to decide which particular part of Christianity it was going to tolerate. In the fourth century the Roman Empire got more specific about who it recognized as legitimately Christian. There was a lot at stake, because once you said that somebody was not legitimately Christian, they didn’t have the right to have church buildings and would have to operate secretly.

The world became a lot less tolerant as the fourth century went on. In 385 the Roman Empire executed its first heretic, and by the 430s people talked about burning heretics quite regularly. By the year 500 your life depended on whether you were the right kind of Christian.

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Posted by on January 19, 2010 in politics, post-nicaea Christianity

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