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Jesus – A better speaker than Tony Robbins?

He put the pathos in the Holy Trinity.

One thing has always fascinated me about how Jesus become the biggest celebrity and arguably the most succesful influencer of all time: How good of a speaker was he? Was he better than, say, Tony Robbins?

Years ago, a child was born, who grew up to become quite special. We know little from his upbringing, but as a man, he became known as Jesus of Nazareth. The Nazarene, from the region of Galilee. The man’s message elevated him to a status, where he would become arguably the most famous person of all time. Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Quite the career advancement. A lot has been written about him in religious contexts, but because almost everything written about him is written with a religious motivation, it is fair to be skeptical about the legitimacy of those stories. Because of this fair skepticism, many even argued the Nazarene did not exist at all but was a figment of spiritual imagination crafted to derive power to a corrupt patriarchal institution in the making. However, most respected theological scholars now agree that the historical Jesus did exist. There is documentation (very little, but enough) describing Jesus in contexts where there would be no religious motivation for even mentioning his existence.

In the year 64CE, the roman historian Tacitus wrote this:

"Nero fastened the guilt ... on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of ... Pontius Pilatus,”

Being a roman, Tacitus would have no personal or strategic reason to mention Jesus or what happened to him, as Rome at that time was not yet Christian. Similarly, the first-century historian, Josephus, mentioned not only Jesus but also his brother James, when he wrote this:

“… one James described by the Jewish Sanhedrin, the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ.”

The interesting thing here is obviously not the documentation of the existence of Jesus, but the question: Were you aware Jesus had a brother? Of course, he did. He had several. This was two thousand years ago. As opposed to our time, only children were very rare. But then again, he went on to become the one and only Son of God. So, I guess the misunderstanding is fair.

But if Jesus of Nazareth has had such a profound impact on our western civilization, surely, we must know more about him, then just two or three trustworthy mentions in the first century Reader’s Digest, Roman empire edition. How much do we presume to know about him? In the 19th century there was a whole surge of research, very Indiana Jones-esquely referred to as The Quest for the Historical Jesus, done into uncovering and differentiating the historical Jesus from the divine one, the Christ, from which information (the bible and other religious documents) was considered convoluted and historically unreliable.

There are only a handful of things we can regard facts about the historical Jesus. He was obviously not Christian, since he did not become Christ until after his death and subsequently promoted resurrection. Jesus was a Jew, and he promoted a messianic version of Judaism to other Jews. This was not at all unusual at the time. There were hordes of groups popping up all over the place, with their own trending version of the coming Messiah. If you have ever seen Monty Python’s The Life Of Brian, and remember the scene where the group sitting on the bleachers (like taken out of the sports arena of any American teenage musical movie), watching the gladiator fight arguing with Brian whether they are The Judean People’s Front or The People’s Front of Judea, you have no idea how on the nose that scene, and the whole movie is, to the historical situation in the region around the time when Jesus walked the holy land. The Monty Python guys had seriously done their homework. We can also with a fair amount of certainty say that he had a mentor in formulating this messianic movement in the midst of the whirlpool of Jewish movements, and the mentor went by the name of Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτίζων (John, The Baptist). Finally, we know, for sure, that Jesus of Nazareth, as a result of his preaching this new kingdom of God on Earth, was accused of sedition, trialled and sentenced to death by crucifixion by the Roman empire. An all-powerful, totalitarian regime at the time of Jesus' birth ruled by Emperor Octavian, and at the time of crucifixion by Emperor Tiberius, governed in Jerusalem by Pontius Pilate. Oh yes, and we know he had at least one brother. That’s it! But then comes the inevitable and oh, so exciting speculation, because who are we, as humans, with all to imaginary minds, to stop there, when the man turns out to be the freaking Christ? Let us start with why he got crucified, and that is actually not speculation yet, because this has a logical explanation seen through the lens of that time and place being the Roman empire. It is uncertain whether Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Messiah of this coming kingdom that he preached, but it is obvious to assume he did, given the tragic outcome of death by nails and starvation on a cross. Stating, at that time, that you were the Messiah meant you claimed to be the direct descendant of King David, and thus have arrived to reunite the twelve tribes of Israel and usher in the final Kingdom of Israel. However, in the Roman empire there was a special clause in the emperor contract saying: When you become emperor, then you, by definition, also become a roman god. And we complain about CEOs getting lavish bonuses and lucrative retirement plans. The Romans took contractual benefits to a whole other level. By claiming to be the Messiah, the King and heir to the kingdom of the ONE true God, you also said that the emperor, on the other hand, was NOT god or the ruler of the world. And obviously the Emperor could not have people running around spreading that kind of nonsense. Also, the sentence of crucifixion was reserved exclusively for crimes against the state. Nails it was. Semi-speculative, but for very good reason is the issue of his family. There is mention of four brothers of Jesus, the famous one of them being James (Jakob). Actually, we know much more about James, historically, then about Jesus. Much was written about James, who led the Jesus movement for about thirty years, which Jesus himself only led for three-four years. Now, how many brothers and sisters he had is obviously not the most exciting part of the family-issue. The speculation always skyrockets into a stratosphere of blockbuster producing books and movies by the one intriguing thought: Was Jesus married? The natural and highly logical response given the time and society in which he lived was, YES! Of course, he was married. A thirty-year-old man, having a normal functioning life and a place in society at that time, not being married would be unthinkable. The only adult men living an unmarried life of celibacy were monks living within ascetic, monastic orders closed off from society. Jesus was clearly not closed off from society. On the contrary. He was actively taking part in society, trying to shape it for a better future. The huge conundrum is the fact that despite this logical assumption, not one piece of written documentation mentions marriage or a wife of Jesus. In various gnostic gospels there are vague hints at a personal relationship with Mary Magdalene, but out of the gazillion ancient fragments and manuscripts in existence, not once is there a concrete mention of a wife or a marriage. This is so conspiracy theory provoking it is almost irresistible.

The speculation could and have gone on forever, so far, but out of the meager facts we have about this man, one awe-inspiring conclusion remains: Regardless what he was or what he was not, one thing is for sure. He must have been an incredibly inspiring person. He must have been one hell of an interesting dude to be around. Only a hundred years later, he was hailed as Christ, the Son of God, and two-thousand years later he is, to this day, still the most famous and written about person on the face of our planet. You do not create that level of attraction or end up with that kind of following without mad communication skills. He must have been a public speaker, second only to divinity. He might even have been a better motivational speaker than Tony Robbins. He must have been able to tell a story that would keep the listeners spellbound. He must have had a heart and a compassion for the people around him, that would make them follow him to the end of the world.

Jesus was the son, but also the messenger; the one going out in public; up on the stage to deliver the message. He was the one, who had to be personal and authentic to gain the trust of the disciples.

In the light of the context of my line of work with communication and writing, it is interesting to ask what part Jesus played not only in the new testament but also in the later defined Holy Trinity. What was his role in the delivery of the message? Was he the ethos, the pathos, or the logos? Well, he was not ethos, because the identity of the message itself was God. God was the author and the credibility behind the message. Of course you could argue that he had ethos as the one people chose to see credibility in, but that credibility also rested in their belief in him being sent by God. He was also not the logos, although John (the apostle) would phrase him as such in his testament. The Logos from Aristotle’s perspective was the message of God. The message of love. Jesus was the pathos. He was the emotional connection between the credibility of the message and the recipients of the message. The listeners. The audience. Jesus was the narrative, the really good story of great virtue, making his followers as well as readers of the scriptures for years to come, want to listen to him, because they got emotionally invested in him. He told the stories, toured from village to village, did the good deeds and met the people in person. He was the one they looked in the eye. He was the one they chose to trust, and this is the power of the personal story and the pathos of rhetoric.

It is not a coincidence that the bible has become the best-selling book of all times, and not only selling above and beyond, but as of the year 2015, making over 2,4 billion people worldwide choose to believe the message conveyed by this book. Why? Because it’s a really good story told really well and with great pathos. And if you are not happy with my argument of Jesus being a really good story, just from the book sales and the fact that you recognise his name, the reason it is such a good story is, because the story of Jesus dying on the cross is the most fundamental of archetypal stories seen through the history of myth and literature. The man getting punished in the most humiliating of ways, for having the best possible virtues, and preaching nothing but love and kindness. There is nothing more unfair and heart-wrenching than that, which is why it is such a commercial success. It has broad-spectrum appeal. A modern-day story with equal commercial success is that of Harry Potter. The orphaned, extraordinary wonder-child, living with ordinary muggle-stepparents, who praise their own muggle-son, Dudley, for being an arrogant little brat, while punishing Harry for his virtues. So, Harry must go off in search of a place where his extraordinary virtues are acknowledged and appreciated. Punished for being kind. Same story. Same success.

Thank you for reading. Have a lovely day.

Sincerely yours,

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