By Jim Jester
Complete series available in book format: Will the Real Israel Please Stand Up?
Does it not seem odd that very little is known about most of Jesus’ life (the central figure of the New Testament)? The Bible tells us a little about his first twelve years, a lot about his last three and a half years, but nothing about an eighteen year span between ages twelve and thirty. This is the rest of the story.
The Early Years of Jesus
Luke 2:46-52, “And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, how is it that ye sought me; wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
The Bible does not tell us much about the early years of Jesus Christ, but there are enough hints given by the Gospel writers to make us ask a few questions, and come to some probable conclusions. First of all, it is evident from Luke that the Holy Spirit was working in the life of the 12 year old Son of God by the fact that He was in the temple speaking with the teachers and answering their questions. Secondly, Jesus response, “Do you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” or “I must be about my Father’s business” certainly shows us that carpentry was not on his mind. The Bible nowhere tells us Jesus was a carpenter but only a carpenter’s son. Thirdly, Luke tells us Jesus “was subject” to his parents as any well mannered child would be, for he went with them. This account helps explain what became of the “missing eighteen years” (age 12-30) of Jesus’ life from the Biblical account. Perhaps this was the turning point where He was about to leave his childhood home.
Luke (1:2) tells us that the gospel narratives of Jesus’ life were eyewitness accounts, so the writers had not seen Jesus’ adult life until about age thirty. This is significant and implies that Jesus was not even in Palestine! If such a youth who amazed the teachers with his wisdom and was worshipped by the Parthian nobility (the Magi) at His birth had been living in the area, surely everyone would have known him. And did the spiritual power manifesting itself at the temple lie dormant for all this time? Would the Son of God “quench the Spirit” and live as an obscure carpenter for eighteen years? Not likely!
Matthew (13:54-56) shows us that after this eighteen year period, Jesus was scarcely remembered in his own home town. The very child who they were all amazed with at the time in the temple, now ask, “Where did this man get his wisdom?” If this man of such wisdom had been present in Nazareth for those eighteen years, they would not be asking such a ludicrous question. The crowd is struggling to remember by quizzing themselves, “Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary; and his brethren, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters are they not all with us?” The fact that they could name off all the immediate family members indicates that Jesus had not been “with them.” If Jesus had been a hard working carpenter in Nazareth all his life they would have easily recognized him.
It appears evident that sometime in this eighteen year period of Jesus’ life his father, Joseph had died. There is no mention of him since the time they found Jesus in the temple and when his home town crowd named off his close relatives Joseph was not among them. It appears that during this time Joseph of Arimathea became his guardian for it was he, later, who claimed the body of Jesus by going straight to governor Pilate.
Just as the crowd had a hard time identifying Jesus, so today most people have difficulty identifying the Israelites. Most are conditioned and propagandized to believe that the ancient tribes of Israel were lost to history, but we who know the basic Biblical principle of “kind after kind” have no problem identifying Israel today. There is a popular bumper sticker that says, “My boss is a Jewish carpenter.” This is very deceptive, for Jesus was not a “Jew” or a “carpenter.” The only sense that Jesus and his whole family were “Jewish” was if Jewish means of the racial descent of Judah. Those called Jews today are not descended from the tribe of Judah, they are a mixed race from Esau and they practice a perverted religion of Babylon. Jesus was not “Jewish” in any religious sense at all as it means today to be Jewish. Certainly he supported the Torah, God’s Law, but not the Talmud (the traditions) for He was always in trouble with the Pharisees. Jesus was not a Jew, he was an Israelite; and this is the term He used in John 1:47, “…Behold an Israelite indeed, in who is no guile!” Paul also used this term in Rom. 11:1. The word “Jew”/”Jewish” should be dropped from our vocabulary, unless it is made clear to the hearer what is meant by it. It is true that the term “Jew” is used often in the New Testament but it is misleading because it means something different today than it did then. [I made a brief study of this in Part 2 of this series.] It is the manipulation of words and their meanings that cause us to misidentify Israel today.
Travels of Joseph and Jesus
The Gospel writers were eyewitness accounts of Jesus in Judea. To find any other information on Jesus we must turn to other sources. In The Traditions of Glastonbury (p. 22), E. Raymond Capt gives evidence that Joseph of Arimathea was an international merchant working for the Roman Empire. This would certainly explain why he had such direct access to Pilate concerning the body of Jesus. Certainly the Romans must have already known him to allow him such quick access at such a critical time. For Pilate to immediately order the body of Jesus delivered also indicates Joseph was a close relative. Roman law required that the bodies of criminals were disposed of in common pits with all memory of them removed, unless the body was promptly claimed by a relative.
So if Jesus was not in Palestine for eighteen years, then where was he? Legends and traditions are our only source of finding out, but they are buttressed by the Bible’s implication that Jesus was missing for a prolonged period of time. If Jesus were under Joseph’s tutelage at this time he likely did lots of traveling since Joseph’s job would have required it. It is also likely that Jesus was a business partner as well. He would have been welcome anywhere in the Parthian Empire as well as the Roman Empire. Not only would Joseph and Jesus have access to all the trading routes but Jesus was even eligible to be king in Parthia. The Parthian royalty had visited him and gave lavish gifts at his birth because Jesus was an Arsacid—a relative of the Parthian kings being descended from Phares and David.
Many traditions assert that Joseph and Jesus had homes in the area of Glastonbury, England. Capt cites a fifteenth century document that Joseph of Arimathea converted King Arviragus of first century A.D. Britain to the Christian religion, and that the king gave Joseph and his party twelve portions of tax-free land in the area of Glastonbury. This land is confirmed in the “Domesday Book” of early English history under the title “Domus Dei” (Ibid, pp. 39-41).
Another fact given by Capt is that the Druids worshipped a trinity of gods “known as ‘Beli,’ the Creator as regards the past; ‘Taran,’ the controlling providence of the present, and ‘Yesu,’ the coming saviour of the future.” The name “Beli” preserves a Hebrew word for “Lord”, and in its expectation of a coming “Yesu” savior, “Druidism thus anticipated Christianity and pointed to the coming saviour under the very name by which Christ was called” (Ibid, p. 9). The presence of Hebrew words in Druidism indicates that it had some roots in the religion of the ancient Israelites in Britain throughout the first millennium B.C.
Other ancient legends say that Jesus went as far east as India and Nepal; which happens to be the eastern edge of Parthia (Ibid, p. 7). There is a Biblical basis for all of this for Jesus said (Matthew 15:24), “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” As we have seen in this series of articles, the ten tribes of Israel had been scattered over a large area of the globe. Many ancient Israelites were identified as Britons, the Carthaginians, the Sacae/Saka Scythians and the Parthians in Asia. Jesus may have even gone as far west as North America since there was a Punic colony there until about 500 A.D. Since Jesus said he was “sent” to those ten tribes then it is logical he actually did go to where the various tribes were located in the first century A.D.
In Voyages to the New World (p. 125-126), Nigel Davies includes a collection of Quetzalcoatl legends. These legends include the assertion that Quetzalcoatl “had white skin and… was traditionally expected to return… but once only, in human form,” that “amid the lamentations of his people, Quetzalcoatl thereafter set out on his long journey to the place in the East where he was destined to meet his end,” that “he rose to heaven and entered therein,” and that “he remained four days in the land of the dead and, on the eighth day, reappeared as the Morning Star.” Davies also comments that Quetzalcoatl is depicted as a “god in human form” and that he was the “creator God” (Ibid, p. 131). Quetzalcoatl is usually depicted as a serpent god. It is significant that the humanized Quetzalcoatl legends appear only during the Christian era, where he is depicted as a benevolent figure traveling from place to place, “preaching repentance and performing miracles” (Ibid, p. 136; Emphasis added). Charles Boland’s book, They All Discovered America (p. 303), adds that “the first Quetzalcoatl is said to have sprung from a virgin birth.”
Christian inscriptions were found in the Mayan ruins dating from the first to the third century A.D., indicating that Christianity existed in the New World soon after the life of Jesus Christ. At one time Christianity was well founded but had degenerated into practices of sun-worship by the native populations found by the Spaniards. Is it not the same today with pagan sun customs blended into contemporary Christianity? Sure it is.
Consider the following from “The Cross of the Inca”, Stender, Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications, Vol. 17, 1988, p. 179:
“Many of the Catholic rituals taught to the Maya were already familiar to them, to the great surprise of the early missionaries. The Maya practiced baptism in water, confirmation, fasting… The cross was a familiar icon… When the friars explained that the cross was the sign of God, who had died on the Tree of Good and Evil and now lives in the heavens, the Maya accepted it as another version of a story they already knew.”
The cross was a well-known symbol in the New World, especially among the ruling class. Walter Stender also wrote (Ibid, pp. 179-183):
“When the Spaniards conquered Peru, they were astonished and puzzled to find crosses in the temples and palaces of the royal Inca family… For the Incas the use of the cross was a continuance from preceding cultures… it becomes evident that the cross had a religious significance. Legends exist from various sites in South America that white men came to the natives to teach them a better way of social life. …all these white men… were bearded, and another feature is particularly remarkable: the garments of these white visitors have been decorated with white and black crosses… At the time of the Spanish conquest there was a broad awareness in South America of an early presence of white residents…”
Matthew (8:24) gives us a clue that Jesus was used to travel; “And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.” We must remember that Jesus was flesh and blood like us, and should have had “sea sickness” like the rest of them. But here he was, just fine, and asleep. He must have been used to ocean travel where storms were even worse than on this smaller body of water. Jesus himself said he was “sent” so why wouldn’t he go?
The Later Years of Jesus
Luke 4:16 “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read.” Notice that Luke did not say Nazareth was “where He lived.” Jesus had returned from his “missionary” journeys to the Israelites scattered abroad in Asia, Europe and the New World. He now goes to the synagogue of his boyhood home town and begins to read from Isaiah 61 but stops after the two opening verses. The reason He stopped short was because he was not there to fulfill the messianic prophecies of the coming kingdom of heaven, but was about to bring a spiritual deliverance from the sins of Israel thus establishing the New Covenant with them.
It appears that many in Judea were expecting a deliverance from Rome. They referred to him as “son of David”, and didn’t Jesus say “I come to bring a sword, not peace.” The disciples even quarreled about who would be the greatest in the kingdom which Jesus would rule. But no, this was to be a spiritual deliverance, not a physical one. Collins, in his book, “The Lost Ten Tribes of Israel Found” (p. 302), gives us this picture:
“It is possible that some Jewish leaders of the day, not realizing that Christ’s first coming was to bring spiritual salvation instead of physical salvation from Rome, felt thy had to “assist” or “push” Jesus into confronting Rome in order to fulfill all the Messianic prophecies at that time. After all, did not Ezekiel 37:15-28 prophesy that the House of Israel and House of Judah would be united under “David” their King? Since Jesus was a direct descendant of David, and was a relative of the Parthian kings, and had already been worshipped by some of the Parthian nobility that picked Parthian kings, the Jews could easily assume that Jesus was poised to fulfill this prophecy by uniting Parthia (the House of Israel) and the Jews (the House of Judah) in a war against Rome! Those expecting (and wanting) such a war must have been very frustrated and disgusted at what they perceived to be a “cozy” relationship between Jesus and the Romans.
Rome was a despotic empire which tightly controlled its subjects. Yet the entire life of Jesus exhibited a lack of Roman control over his activities. He could travel where he wanted, when he wanted and with whom he wanted without the supervision or permission of Roman authorities. This freedom was permitted by the Romans in spite of the fact that Jesus was drawing huge crowds and talking about a new “kingdom,” a message that Rome could easily have seen as encouraging a Jewish revolt. Why did the Romans allow freedoms to Jesus that they regularly denied to others?”
Probably the main reason was Roman – Parthian relations. At this time period there was peace between the two world super-powers. Caesar had decreed that this relationship was not to be disturbed. The Roman rulers of Judea risked Caesar’s wrath if they provoked a war with the Parthians that Caesar didn’t want. Couple this with the fact that Jesus was a relative of Parthia’s emperor (an Arsacid) because of the widespread knowledge he was of the seed of David. Not only did the Magi from Parthia pay him homage at his birth, but there is also evidence that they maintained a good relationship. There is even record of a correspondence between Jesus and one of the vassal kings of Parthia.
The Greek historian, Eusebius, in “The History of the Church” (I, 13) tells us that King Abgar of Edessa was dying from some kind of incurable disease and he wrote a letter begging Jesus to come and heal him. He also offered Jesus refuge; “…I understand the Jews are treating you with contempt and desire to injure you; my city is very small, but highly esteemed, adequate for both of us.” (Ibid, I, 13) This is an amazing record that Eusebius has preserved for us, that Jesus was given an official offer of sanctuary in Parthian territory from the dangers in Jerusalem. He also gives us the letter, attributed to Jesus, in response:
“Happy are you who believed in me without having seen me! For it is written of me that those who have seen me will not believe in me, and those who have not seen me will believe and live. As to your request that I should come to you, I must complete all that I was sent to do here, and on completing it must at once be taken up to the One who sent me. When I have been taken up I will send you one of my disciples to cure your disorder and bring life to you and those with you.” (Ibid, I, 13)
This document would have been about 300 years old when Eusebius read it in the Royal Records of Edessa. It is completely compatible with what we know about Jesus from the eyewitness gospel accounts. It also expresses the imminence of his crucifixion. We know of Jesus reluctance to heal non-Israelites (Matthew 15:21-28), yet we see complete willingness to heal King Abgar, and more. If Jesus had traveled to Parthia during his missing eighteen years, he would have known them to be of the ten tribes of Israel.
According to Eusebius, the archives of Edessa recorded that after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Thaddeus was sent by the Apostle Thomas to Edessa. He healed King Abgar and many of his subjects. The king also ordered his subjects to assemble and hear the preaching of Thaddeus and offered him silver and gold, which he refused. King Abgar is quoted as saying:
“I believed in Him (Jesus) so strongly that I wanted to take an army and destroy the Jews who crucified Him, if I had not been prevented by the imperial power of Rome from doing so.” (Ibid, I, 13)
Remarkable! Here is a record of a Parthian vassal king wishing to mount a military campaign to punish those responsible for crucifying Jesus Christ. This account confirms that Jesus had strong supporters in the Parthian Empire, justifying Rome’s reluctance to interfere with his life.
A second reason for the good relationship between Jesus and the Romans is that they knew him well. If he had participated in the business transactions of Joseph he would have traveled all over the Roman Empire and come in contact with Roman officials many times. It is likely, since Joseph was a Roman citizen (as was Paul), so Jesus may have obtained Roman citizenship. Many in the Jewish community avoided the Romans as “unclean gentiles,” yet Jesus was not reluctant to heal a Roman centurion’s servant (Mat. 8).
A third reason is that Jesus was able to travel as he pleased was that he was wealthy. The Parthian Magi had given “gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” We are not told how much, but it was likely substantial since Jesus was royalty and since an angel had directed them there. Matthew 2:9 says, “…the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.” It is more likely that this “star” was actually an angel (messenger) of God directing them. A celestial body would not be able to stand directly over a city, or a house. This angel must have had a glory (or glow) that appeared as a star. From other scriptures we can see that the word “star” is sometimes used to represent an angel. (See Job 38:7, Rev. 1:20) Also, the context of Matthew (2:2) indicates that no one else saw this “star.” In verse 7 Herod is asking the Magi when “the star” appeared, indicating that no one in Judea was aware of any such phenomena. If there had been some unusual celestial body then Herod and his astrologers would already have known the exact date that it appeared. After the angel had led the Parthians to Judea, the angel vanished, forcing them to ask Herod for directions. After they left Herod, the angel appeared again to lead them to the house of the child. This reminds me of the earlier time when a pillar of fire led a group of Israelites out of Egypt.
We should also consider that Jesus would have had access to wealth from Joseph. He and his band of disciples never asked for donations, yet they regularly gave to the poor (John 12:5). Judas felt there was enough in the bag that it would not be noticed if he took some (John 12:6). With this in mind, Paul’s comment (2 Cor. 8:9) takes on more meaning; “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”
A fourth reason Rome allowed Jesus to speak is that part of his message actually served Roman interests. When the Pharisees wanted to entangle Jesus on the issue of Roman taxes (Mat. 22:15-22) he chose a non-confrontational response. When the Jewish leaders urged Pilate to crucify Jesus some of them may have seen it as a final attempt to make Jesus use his divine powers against Rome to save himself. Perhaps this is what Judas thought as well. The action he took after Jesus allowed himself to be crucified was such an unexpected shock that he killed himself (Mat. 27:3-5).
The tendency is to blame Rome for killing Jesus Christ, but Pilate took many opportunities to avoid killing a just man. Pilate could have wondered whether the Jews were plotting with the Parthians to provoke an incident (killing an Arsacid) which could bring about a Parthian-Jewish war against Rome, so he had to avoid that possibility at all costs; after all it was Passover and many Parthian/Israelites were present in Jerusalem for this holiday.
Pilate wanted any kind of sign from Jesus defending himself. Jesus, knowing why He was there, kept silent. The implication is that if Jesus had made any effort at all to defend himself, Pilate would have set him free. Pilate even offered a trade off to try and keep Jesus alive, but the “deck was stacked” by the Sanhedrin with their own followers in the crowd. His wife even warned him. Running out of options Pilate told the crowd and leaders (Luke 23:4), “I find no fault in this man.” Next he began a public defense (Mat. 27:23), “Why, what evil has he done?” He even tried a delaying tactic by sending him to Herod (Luke 23:5-11). Rome could execute whoever they wanted and cared nothing about any “due process” but here we have a Roman governor doing all he could to save Jesus’ life. Finally he was out of options. It was about to be a riot, which could easily turn into a revolution at that time. Washing his hands he proclaimed himself “innocent of the blood of this just person.” (Mat. 27:24) In so doing, Pilate was disassociating Rome from the killing of a popular celebrity of the Parthians. He wanted it publicly obvious that the responsibility for this crucifixion lay with the Jewish hierarchy, not with Rome.
John 21:25 “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”
Keep in mind that the eyewitness accounts of the Gospel writers were only what took place in Judea (the “House of Judah”) during the last three and a half years of Jesus’ life. What took place in the other parts of the world, as implied in this verse, was his ministry to the “House of Israel” during the missing eighteen years of his life. No wonder that information could fill so many books. Now we know why Jesus said in John 10:16,“And other sheep (Israel) I have, which are not of this fold (Judah): them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”