Jesus: What He Really Said and Did

Overview

"The book you are about to read is a portrait of one of the most beautiful men who ever lived. He himself would probably not have considered himself beautiful or even special. He would have said that we are all beautiful, we are all special, because ? and he did say this ? we are all children of God. . . ."

"When you're able to look inside yourself deeply, you'll find that the teacher who taught Jesus will teach you."


About the Author
Stephen Mitchell attended Amherst, the ...

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Overview

"The book you are about to read is a portrait of one of the most beautiful men who ever lived. He himself would probably not have considered himself beautiful or even special. He would have said that we are all beautiful, we are all special, because — and he did say this — we are all children of God. . . ."

"When you're able to look inside yourself deeply, you'll find that the teacher who taught Jesus will teach you."


About the Author
Stephen Mitchell attended Amherst, the University of Paris, and Yale. His many books include The Book of Job, Tao Te Ching, Parables and Portraits, The Gospel According to Jesus, A Book of Psalms, Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, and Genesis.

Presents an account of the life of Jesus, using what the author considers to be the most authentic sources.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Did Jesus Christ really say all the things the Bible says he said? Stephen Mitchell, a well-known authority on religion and spirituality, gives the reader his perspective on the words atttibuted to Christ -- and how their meaning deeply affects we way we lead our lives.
Publishers Weekly
Mitchell taps into the questions of truth and faith so central to adolescence with this adaptation of his 1991 adult book, The Gospel According to Jesus. While his thesis that only some of the stories and only some of the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels are authentic will certainly engender discussion, readers from various traditions will identify with his doubts and his quests for answers. As a Jewish nine-year-old at a Protestant boarding school, the author recalls in his intimate introduction, he "didn't feel it was right to recite the [Lord's Prayer]," until an influential teacher told him that "the words of Jesus are for all people." This idea threads its way throughout the volume, as Mitchell draws parallels between Jesus and Buddha, Lao-Tzu and Sufi and Zen masters. The author's continuing struggle with biblical accounts of Jesus ("I didn't know if I believed the miracle stories, the walking on water, the loaves and fishes.... What I loved was his kindness and the beauty of his words and feelings") led him to bring modern textual scholarship and his "spiritual intuition" to scrutinizing the Gospels for accuracy. The faithful will be relieved to see The Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan touted as "deservedly the most famous and beloved of Jesus' parables"; the story of his death, however, seems somewhat glossed over here, and Mitchell goes so far as to call the Resurrection a "legend." Nevertheless, he treats his audience as intelligent individuals capable of coming to their own conclusions. By discussing his process, he models for readers the tools with which to begin an examination of their own beliefs and encourages seekers along their own paths. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
The author calls Jesus "one of the most beautiful men who ever lived." Chapter by chapter, he explains to readers who he believes Jesus was: a man, a healer, and a teacher. The author does not believe that Jesus was the Son of God in the "Christian" sense. He is clear about this in his introduction to the book: "Many people from traditional Christian backgrounds may find this book shocking and offensive." The author asserts that many words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels are inconsistent with the "real" Jesus and, therefore, false. His assertions are thought provoking, and certain to spark criticism among readers who believe otherwise. The author explains how he came to his own spiritual enlightenment and why the topic of Jesus' life compelled him to write a book. He encourages young people of all denominations to study the life of Jesus as one path to their own spiritual destiny. The text is well-written and easy to read; it simplifies many passages from the New Testament. The author includes a notes section at the back of the book for readers, parents, teachers and librarians. This section offers clarification from other sources for the author's opinions. 2003, Harper Tempest/HarperCollins, Ages 12 up.
—Jeanne K. Pettenati, J.D.
VOYA
An eminent scholar and translator, Mitchell is well known for his exciting translations of Tao Te Ching (HarperCollins, 1988) and Bhagavad Gita (Harmony Books, 2000). Here he attempts to uncover the authentic sayings and doings of Jesus. Following the example of Thomas Jefferson's The Jefferson Bible, he provides unique insights into Jesus-the man, his actions, miracles, and words. Examining commonly held beliefs such as whether the title "Son of God" was exclusive to Jesus (no); whether Jesus healed with miracles (heal yes, miracles no); and whether the Resurrection and Christmas stories happened (no-legendary and made up by followers), Mitchell admits his book will shock and offend many. He tells the reader, immediately, that he loves Jesus but does not believe what most churches say about him. Based on his previously published adult title, The Gospel According to Jesus (HarperCollins, 1991), this book and his suppositions will excite and upset many in a similar fashion. He gives the reader much to ponder, and one cannot argue his credentials. Mitchell informs readers that Jesus is not a divine being, "born of a virgin mother, surrounded by angels and wise men... Jesus was born in the same way as you or I." Followers of the Jesus Seminar and titles by Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong will want to read this discourse. Others will be furious and label the title blasphemous. Teens should read it and come to their own conclusions. VOYA CODES: 5Q 2P S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, HarperCollins, 176p,
— Allan O'Grady Cuseo
KLIATT
Mitchell wrote this for young people, basing it on his book for adults, The Gospel According to Jesus, which came out about 10 years ago. As he says in his introduction, "Many people from traditional Christian backgrounds may find this book shocking and offensive." Stephen Mitchell is a scholar and has written extensively on religions of the world. His own spiritual journey has taken him from Reform Judaism to Zen Buddhism; he has translated spiritual texts from various religious traditions. He loves Jesus, as he loves the Buddha and other great spiritual teachers, and he presents Jesus' life from translations of the New Testament Gospels. Like Thomas Jefferson (The Jefferson Bible) before him, he has omitted passages that he feels are not consistent with the enlightened teacher of most of the Gospel stories. By using stories of Jesus' life, how he healed people, what he said, Mitchell succeeds in presenting a highly attractive portrait of an enlightened teacher. Mitchell uses stories about Jesus' life and his death (from the Scriptures), and he tells the main parables, including the favorite stories of the Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan. He repeats the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus found in the Gospels. While he is right that many Christians might be offended by his belief that Jesus is not divine, that he was illegitimate (and in fact largely rejected by his own family during his ministry), that he did not return from the dead, it is also true that anyone interested in Jesus will be drawn to the essence of Jesus' charisma as described by Mitchell. Non-Christians will understand Jesus' teachings from Mitchell's presentation of the essential stories from theGospels. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2002, HarperCollins, Tempest, 145p. notes.,
— Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-An adaptation of the author's adult book, The Gospel According to Jesus (Perennial, 1994). Mitchell, a Jew, began questioning Christian tenets as a nine-year-old in private school when a teacher told him, "Oh-the words of Jesus are for all people." He studied the writings of the Buddha, Lao-tzu, and Jesus, only to discover many contradictions in the New Testament Gospels. Here, he presents his view of Jesus in 30 short chapters. Using his own translations of the four Gospels, he sees Jesus as a wise, loving teacher but not as a divine being. Chapters are short; some repeat the New Testament stories but lack the interpretations and meanings found in the original title. He agrees with law-oriented Calvinist Protestantism, which holds the book of James in high regard; most Lutherans and Episcopalians downplay its significance as not reflective of Jesus's love. Mitchell wants answers; he wants to know what Jesus meant, for example, in the cleansing of the temple. Faith has no part in his approach to Jesus as savior and Son of God. Readers seeking his perspectives should stick with his adult book in its entirety, not this abridgment.-Linda Beck, Indian Valley Public Library, Telford, PA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780066238364
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/1/2002
  • Edition description: FIRST ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 145
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.69 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Read an Excerpt

So I went to Israel, to Galilee, to take in the sights and sounds that might bring me closer to the real Jesus. At the end of two weeks I was baffled. There were interesting places like the ruins of Capernaum, where Jesus lived for a while; there were places that were hideous, like the garish modern church on the supposed site of the Sermon on the Mount. But nothing seemed to have anything to do with Jesus. Nothing resonated that way for me. I couldn't understand why I was there.

When there was nothing left to visit in Galilee, Shahar, my Israeli guide, persuaded me to accompany him to the Sinai desert for five days. He had lived in the Sinai through most of the seventies, until it was returned to Egypt as part of the Camp David agreement; he had a passionate love for the land and for the Bedouin, and his enthusiasm was contagious. So I said yes. And like a reverse Moses, he led me into the land of Egypt.

I soon discovered that the real reason I had gone to Israel this time was to meet Musa, the Bedouin guide we hired to take us into the wilderness. Musa was a true patriarch, and his world was still, in its essence, the world of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I met him in the village of Santa Katerina. He was wearing the white Arab headdress called kaffiyeh, a frayed navy blue Western suit jacket over a tan robe with white pants underneath, cheap plastic sandals, and, on his back, an old khaki knapsack fastened with rope. He was a handsome man, in his mid forties, and looked like Omar Sharif's thinner brother. Like most male Bedouin, he had teeth stained yellow by tobacco and strong tea.

We took off into the mountains. The first time Musa stopped to pray (devoutMuslims pray five times a day, bowing to the ground with their whole bodies), I noticed something in his bowing that made me catch my breath. The quality of surrender was extraordinary. It seemed to flow through him from the inside out, out to his toes and fingertips. He was praying with his whole body. His purity of heart was so visible that I felt tears rising in my throat. I wanted to get up and start bowing alongside him, but I thought it would freak him out, and freak out my Israeli friend even more. A Jew bowing to Allah? Too far outside their definitions. So I bowed alongside him in my mind.

The next day we climbed Mount Abbas Pasha and looked out at Jebel Musa (Mount Sinai) and down onto the Plain of Er-Raha (the Rest), where according to tradition the Israelites waited for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai. Late in the afternoon we hiked across Jebel Sumera to Wadi Jebal (the Wadi of the Mountains), a wide granite valley where Musa took us to his garden. It was astonishingly lush: apple trees, apricots, figs, almonds, grapes, olives, pomegranates, quince, plums, and wild peaches. After a few minutes his five children entered. They were dressed in dirty, torn clothing, but their faces were beautiful.

This was the first time I had seen a patriarch in the flesh, and I was astonished. It was as if the word patriarch, with all its currently offensive associations, were a photographic negative and had just been printed into its positive form. I felt I was in the presence of an ancient father-king, through whom all the gifts of the earth were being bestowed on his children.

He was a huge presence for them: pure generosity, pure creativity, the power that blesses and keeps and makes its face to shine upon all its children. The reverence these children showed Musa was an emotion I had never seen in Western children, and it didn't exclude great affection and good humor between them. As I watched this patriarch with his adoring children, a voice inside me said, “Aha!” This was what Jesus meant by abba (father). This was what I needed to understand. At that moment, I knew that as soon as I returned to America I could begin writing.

The book you are about to read is based on the book I wrote then, The Gospel According to Jesus. It is a portrait of one of the most beautiful men who ever lived. He himself would probably not have considered himself beautiful or even special. He would have said that we all are beautiful, we all are special, because — and he did say this — we are all children of God.

Jesus. Copyright © by Stephen Mitchell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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First Chapter

One

Many people from traditional Christian backgrounds may find this book shocking and offensive. That is understandable. The traditional portrait of Jesus as the son of God, who died to redeem humankind from eternal damnation, holds their whole world together. The world wouldn't make sense without it, they think. I have no quarrel with anyone's religious beliefs.

If beliefs about Jesus can help make people kinder human beings, I am in favor of them. My advice to people who think they may be offended by this book is to close it immediately, or better yet, don't open it in the first place.

Other people from Christian backgrounds will find the book shocking but not at all offensive. There is a good kind of shock, which feels like a palmful of cold water on your face when you wake up in the morning. After The Gospel According to Jesus (written for adults) was published in 1991, many Christians, and many Jews as well, wrote to tell me how exciting and invigorating my portrait of Jesus seemed. Many of them said that it changed their lives. I was happy for them, happy that they had taken the book in so deeply. I felt we had shared a love for the presence that shines through Jesus' words.

Many people also wrote to ask me how I, a Jew, had come to write about Jesus. I sometimes had to explain that I was not one of the "Jews for Jesus" (Jews who have converted to fundamentalist Christianity). I love Jesus, but I don't believe what most churches say about him, and I don't respect some things that are taught in his name. I love Jesus, but I love the Buddha just as much, and Lao-tzu, and the wisest men and women from all the great spiritual traditions. Here are a few stories that may help you understand why I wrote that book, and now this one.

Two

In September 1952, when I was nine, my parents sent me to a new school. I had been happy at my public school, but my parents wanted to give me a better education. The new school was a private school for boys.

I was a middle-class kid, with a mind full of ordinary nine-year-old things: the New York Giants (not a popular choice in Brooklyn, but my father was a Giants fan), books, comic books, TV, drawing, carving, sleds and ice skates in the winter, animals of all kinds, music. But at my new school something out of the ordinary happened that changed my life. Not outwardly -- my parents never knew that there was a change. Something happened inside me.

Every Tuesday morning, all the students, from the fifth grade up through the twelfth, attended a Protestant service in the school chapel. We didn't have a choice; attendance was compulsory. I had never been inside a church or chapel before. My parents were Reform Jews. We went to synagogue a few times a year, but the rituals meant nothing to me, and the incomprehensible Hebrew of the prayers and songs sometimes stirred up in my younger brother and me, as we secretly glanced at each other, a surge of giggles that we could barely hold in.

Chapel was different. I liked the hymns. I liked the silences. I didn't understand the Gospel stories and parables, which were read in a dignified, stuffy voice by our headmaster, J. Folwell Scull, Jr., a man for whom I had an instinctive respect and whose name seemed to me a kind of weird poem that contained all the mystery of upper-class WASP America. But the readings touched me. They made me wonder about this Jesus.

They also made me feel guilty. I knew I was Jewish (whatever that was), and I suspected that my response to these stories was some kind of disloyalty to my family. So I made a deal with God, or with myself. The deal went like this: It was all right for me to be attracted to Jesus, as long as I didn't recite the words of the Lord's Prayer along with the other boys. If I kept silent, I wasn't really betraying my family.

The deal worked, for five or six weeks. Then one Tuesday morning after chapel -- it must have been toward the middle of October -- my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Commins, took me aside. (Mrs. Commins was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, and I was in love with her.) She said she had been watching me in chapel during the recitation of the Lord's Prayer. She had noticed that I kept my mouth closed, and she wondered why. I told her that I didn't feel it was right for me to recite the prayer, because I was Jewish. "Oh," she said, "but the words of Jesus are for all people."

At that moment something opened in my heart. I felt that I had been given permission, by someone I loved and trusted, to listen to Jesus. I wasn't being disloyal to my family at all, and it was perfectly all right for me to be Jewish as I listened.

Still, there was a lot in the Gospel passages I heard on those Tuesday mornings that confused me or left me cold. I didn't know if I believed the miracle stories, the walking on water, the loaves and fishes. When I thought about them, my reaction was: "Is this possible? Maybe, but so what?" Of course, it would be cool to learn how to walk on water, but it would also be cool to learn how to water-ski. Anyway, the miracle stories weren't what attracted me to Jesus. What I loved was his kindness and the beauty of his words.

I was more bothered by other things. For example, Jesus talked about forgiveness and loving your enemies. But many of his speeches seemed to be the words of a very angry man, condemning his enemies in violent terms. Then there was the question of heaven and hell. If, as Jesus said, God loves everyone, even the wicked, how could God send anyone to a horrible punishment that would never end? And what was all this stuff about Jesus' being "the only-begotten Son of God"? What did that mean? Did it mean that God had had sex with Jesus' mother? And why did it matter whether I believed anything about Jesus? How could God reward or punish me for what I believed?

In short, some of the Gospel teachings seemed very beautiful, even when I didn't understand them. Others seemed kind of awful. It was all very confusing.

Jesus. Copyright © by Stephen Mitchell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 21, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent reading, must have for your shelf.

    Honest, open account. Anyone that has put in the effort to educate themselves on religions in general, will find this book interesting and a refreshing read. Close minded souls, who have no interest of reading anything beyond what they are allowed to read will not enjoy this book and will testify to the fact that it is garbage.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2002

    Not Literally

    Thanks to the review by *A Soldier of Christ* I will, indeed read this book. I do not buy into the literal translation of the Bible but consider it a great work of literature that was written to teach principles, not be taken as (forgive me) gospel. Thankfully, Mr. Mitchell is more open minded than many. Teri, Spiritual Nomad

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2002

    Wholly Inaccurate

    If you want a scholarly book that brilliantly deals with who Jesus was, read Ravi Zacharias's 'Jesus Among Other Gods.' There is an adult as well as a teen version of Zacharias's book. It contains the answers you seek. Mitchell's book, however, lacks substance, adequate research, and fair analysis. I challenge Mitchell to read Zacharias's book as well and see if he still holds to the theories he puts forth here. It'll be tough -- Zacharias is a brilliant theologian who makes his case beautifully and thoroughly in 'Jesus Among Other Gods.' If Mitchell can come up with a substantial refutation of Zacharias's arguments, I'd like to see it (yes, Mr. Mitchell, that's a challenge to you.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2002

    Read With Caution

    I find this book to be very dangerous with the potential to lead many young people down the wrong path. Mitchell has made the mistake that many have, and that is to interpret Jesus¿s words as being literal, and to exclude from the teachings of Jesus what is not comfortable and this is a grave mistake. This book lowers Jesus to a mere man and scoffs at the resurrection and virgin birth of Our Lord. Jesus: What He Really Said and Did presents Christ as some kind of `born-again¿ charismatic teacher instead of the incarnation of God in human form.

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