Jesus: Christos, Chrestos or Messiah

 

What’s In A Name?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Christology is the study of the nature of Jesus Christ, specifically the relationship between his human and divine personalities. Most Christian Churches these days hold to the definition of the nature of Jesus that was set out in the First Council of Nicaea in 325, from which we get the Nicene Creed. This established the doctrine of the Trinity as the basis of Orthodox Christology and Jesus was declared both fully God and fully human. As the second person of the Trinity, Jesus is considered to be the Logos or Word of God, the Son of God – begotten not created. Jesus is known as the Christ, which is a Greek translation of Messiah from the Hebrew Moshiach), and literally means the ‘anointed one’. Christ is not his surname, but a title that proclaims he is the long awaited Messiah of the Old Testament.

 

 

This article is not concerned with the doctrine of the Trinity as such. Neither is it concerned with Jesus’ human ancestry per se. Instead, it considers the meaning of Jesus’ name and some of the titles that have been given to him. Most people are not aware that these do have quite specific meanings that go to the heart of just who the Church proclaims Jesus to be. However, an examination of them also reveals a great deal of other information that leads us to a reappraisal of their Orthodox meanings. 

 

 

The English Folk Church believes that there was a real human being on whom the Christian religion is based, but that a great deal of myth and allegory has been grafted on to this historical figure. From this study, it is hoped to learn more about the development of this myth and what deeper reality it is seeking to tell us. In doing this, we should bear in mind that myth is not simply stories that have been made up. Whilst we do not hold myth to be literally true, it is nevertheless the symbolic expression of an underlying truth. 

 

 

Jesus – the name

 

 

Only two of the four canonical Gospels have a nativity story; Mathew and Luke. In Mathew, God tells Joseph (Mary’s betrothed) that she has become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and the child must be called Jesus. This is because ‘he is the one to save his people from their sins’. Luke’s nativity story tells us that the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is to bear a son by the Holy Spirit and that she must name him Jesus. She is also told that he will be great and will be called the ‘Son of the Most High’.  So in both of these Gospels, God clearly instructs that the child conceived through the Holy Spirit should be called Jesus. Whilst a common name amongst the people of Judea of this era, the fact that these two Gospels tell us that God commanded him to be named Jesus must be significant. 

 

 

Jesus is an Anglicisation of the Latin Iesus, which comes from the Greek Iesous (Iesous). This Greek word can refer to two similar but separate Hebrew names; Yehoshua or Yeshua. Yehoshua is the oldest of these and appears to have been shortened to Yeshua (or sometimes to Yesu), during the second temple period (538 BC to 70 AD). Most references in the Old Testament are to Yeshua, although Yehoshua continued to be used as well. Thus the name ‘Jesus’ could stem from either Yehoshua or its shortened form Yeshua, although in practice these are the same names. 

 

 

The name Yehoshua has two possible meanings. The first is derived from the Hebrew personal name for their god, Yahweh (Jehovah), and the Hebrew word ‘shua’ which means a cry for help. Yehoshua would thus mean ‘a cry to God for help’. Another explanation is derived from Yahweh and the letters Yod, Shin and Ayin and which means to rescue or to deliver. In this case, the name Yehoshua would mean to be rescued or delivered by God or, put simply, Yahweh rescues or delivers. Furthermore, it is likely that the name Yehoshua was originally Hoshea, which means ‘he rescued’. At some point, it changed from Hoshea (he rescued) to Yehoshua (Yahweh rescues). This is evidenced by Yehoshua the son of Nun of the Old Testament, better known by the anglicised name of Joshua, who was originally known as Hoshea.

 

 

So we have here two possible meanings of the name ‘Jesus’; one implying a sense of someone who cries out to God for help or through whom we can cry out to God. Or, it could imply someone through whom we can be rescued or delivered by God. The former implies a sense of a conduit through whom we can reach out to God. The latter a sense of someone through whom God acts to rescue or deliver us. Interestingly, the name Yehoshua, from which Jesus is derived, is the same as Joshua – the Israelite prophet and warrior. Which, as we will see, is significant to the development of orthodox Christology.      

 

 

 

Jesus as Messiah

 

 

Christianity proclaims Jesus to be the long awaited Messiah of the Old Testament. It is often said that the times of Jesus were times of Messianic fervour when the Judeans of the day expected the Messiah at any time. But what was it that they were actually anticipating? What, or who, was the Messiah meant to be and how does this fit into orthodox Christian theology of Christ being God in human form? To answer this question, we need to delve a little bit into the history of ancient Israel and see how the concept of Messiah developed over time and what it meant just before and during the life of Jesus.

 

 

The golden days of ancient Israel were a very long time ago. King David ruled a united Israel approximately 3000 years ago in 1000 BC and his son Solomon began his rule in about 965 BC. After Solomon’s death, the Kingdom was ruled by his descendants until about 920 BC when it split into two kingdoms; Israel in the north and Judah in the south. In 722 BC, King Sargon of Assyria (roughly modern Iraq) completed a process of conquering the northern kingdom of Israel and the Old Testament records its people being taken into captivity. These Israelites were never heard of again, sparking off a myriad of theories about the ‘lost Tribes of Israel’ – which includes the ‘British Israel’ theory that they escaped into North Western Europe and became the ancestors of the Anglo Saxon and British peoples! Another important point is that the Assyrians settled non Israelitish peoples into the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel.

 

 

Some 150 years later, in 586 BC, the southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians (also broadly modern day Iraq). The Temple was destroyed and many of their people were carried out into exile in Babylon. It was in, and immediately after, this Babylonian captivity that the ancient Israelitish religion gave way to, or was refined into, what we could call proto-Judaism. This is the period that much of the Old Testament as we have it today was written down. It is also the point at which we could say that a biblical proto-Judaism emerged, strongly influenced by the prevalent Zoroastrian religion of the Babylonians. As with Israel, many people from elsewhere in the Babylonian empire were settled in the lands of Judah.

 

 

In 539 BC, Judahites (the Israelitish people of Judah) were allowed to return to Judah from Babylon by the Persian King Cyrus who had conquered the Babylonians. They immediately begin work in rebuilding the Temple which was completed by about 516 BC, and which became known as the second Temple. The 5th Century BC, in which the whole area came under Persian rule, saw a period of reformation and scholarship, including the institution of Synagogue prayer services and public reading of the Torah (first 5 books of the Old Testament or Pentateuch). Then in 331 BC, the Persian Empire was defeated by Alexander the Great and the land of Israel came under Greek rule. Following Alexander’s death in 323 BC, his Middle Eastern lands entered a period of instability and eventually split into an eastern part of Syria and Babylonia ruled by the Seleucids and a western part of Egypt ruled by the Ptolemies. Both the Seleucids and the Ptolemies were Hellenist (Greek) dynastic elites who ruled great swathes of lands populated by people with quite different backgrounds and religious systems. For much of the early part of this period, Israel was ruled by the Ptolemies. It was in this period that the schools of the Pharisees, Sadducees and the Essenes had their beginnings.    

 

 

By the second century BC, Israel had come under the wing of the Seleucid Greeks. Between 175 and 164 BC, the Seleucid Empire was ruled by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This was a troubled time for the Seleucids, as Greek power was beginning to give way to Roman. Different Greek dynasties were also regularly fighting each other and Antiochus spent much of his time fighting the Egyptian Ptolemies. It was during one of his Egyptian campaigns that a riot broke out in Jerusalem that forced him to return and quell in 167 BC. Following this, he decided to strengthen his hold over the Judahites by Hellenizing them and forcing them to worship Zeus as supreme God. They strongly resisted this, considering it the utmost sacrilege and rose up against the Greeks again. There was a terrible massacre in the Temple that is still commemorated to this day as the festival of Chanukah. The result was a full scale rebellion by a Judahite nationalist group called the Maccabees which defeated the Seleucid armies sent against them.

 

 

The next 100 years or so saw the re-emergence of an independent Judahite state for the first time since the conquest of Judah in 586 BC. This dynasty, called the Hasmonean dynasty, was established by the Maccabees and lasted on and off until 37 BC. It was recognised by the Roman senate in about 139 BC, though the Romans then started to extend their own power into it. By 64 BC, the kingdom was incorporated as Iudaea province under the Roman governor of Syria. Rome’s hold on the Judean kingdom temporarily weakened as a result of wars to the east and the Hasmonean kingdom reasserted its independence for a while until 37 BC when it became a Roman client state. The Romans were content to rule indirectly through a Roman procurator and Judean Herodian kings under a system of local autonomy.

 

 

But there is another twist to the story. To the south of the kingdom of Judah, lay the non-Israelitish kingdom of Edom. The Edomites were the sworn enemies of the Israelites and Judahites and had helped the Babylonians defeat the southern kingdom of Judah in 586 BC. With the fall of Judah, the Edomites extended their power into its territory making Hebron their capital. But following the return of Judahites from Babylonian captivity in 539 BC and their growing military and political power under the Maccabees, the Edomites were driven back south-eastwards. Then, in 109 BC, the Edomites were completely defeated by the Judahite king John Hyrcanus and told that they would only be allowed to remain in their lands if they converted to the religion of Judah. This the Edomites did with various levels of enthusiasm, but began to extend their own power into the very heart of Judahite society. Gradually they became a majority of the population, observing the same religion but not being Israelites. They started to control the Government and religious institutions, particularly after 37 BC when the Romans established indirect rule and called the new state Judea – an amalgamation of Judah and Idumea – the Edomite’s kingdom. The Romans continued to rule through a Roman Procurator and local Herodian kings, but these kings were no longer true Judahites. They were Edomites who had usurped the Government and were despised by many ‘true’ Judahites. This is why the Bible emphasises that Jesus was of the true Judahite royal line of David and why Herod tried to kill him as a baby. Furthermore, the Pharisees also came to be dominated by Edomites, again explaining Jesus’ antipathy towards them. However, Judahite desire restoring their own position and for independent nationhood remained in the background, especially amongst the Zealots – a hard line nationalist group that opposed Roman rule.

 

 

This was the world that Jesus of Nazareth was born into.  One of Roman rule through proxy kings who were resented by the true Judahites and a ferment of nationalism that wanted to reassert the full independence of the Hasmonean period. The Judahites looked to a national saviour who would re-establish their independence from both the Romans and the Edomites amongst them.

 

 

As mentioned in the introduction, the term ‘Messiah’ means one who has been anointed with oil. This process of anointing with oil is a symbolic recognition that the person being anointed has been chosen by God to undertake some momentous task. The Torah (the Pentateuch or first five books of the Hebrew bible) uses the term to refer to Priests, Prophets and Kings. Elsewhere in there are prophecies referring to the Messiah as a descendent of King David who will be anointed as the leader (Moshiach). He was expected to usher in the Messianic age – which will be a golden age of peace and prosperity. At the time of Jesus, the Messiah was expected to be a military leader of the Royal line of David, who would overthrow Roman rule and replace it with an independent Israel.  

 

 

Orthodox Christians believe that prophecies in parts of the Hebrew Bible do point to the Messiah as a spiritual leader, indeed God in human form. Thus, Jesus does fulfil the requirements of Messiah as set out in scripture even though he did not fulfil the expectations of a military leader. There remains therefore a significant difference in interpretation between mainstream Judaism and Christianity as to what the Messiah would be.     

 

 

 

Joshua

 

 

The best known Joshua of the Old Testament is Joshua the son of Nun who succeeded Moses as leader of the Israelites. Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt towards the promised land of Israel, but was not permitted by Yahweh to enter that land himself. This task was to fall to Joshua who led the Israelite armies in their conquest of the land of Canaan. So Joshua was seen by later generations of Israelites as the warrior king who had conquered their land for them, effectively created their homeland of Israel out of the land of the Canaanites from whom the Edomites were descended. This he did with the guidance and blessing of the Israelites’ god Yahweh, but also with his active support in the battles. In his later years Joshua was also seen as a wise and humble man who exhorted his people not to forsake Yahweh and is still revered as a prophet. As mentioned earlier, his name was originally Hoshea, which means salvation. But this became Yehoshua which means Yahweh saves or delivers. Joshua was clearly a Messianic figure!  Indeed, it was a return of the warrior Joshua that the Zealots, were looking for as their Messiah. He would be the one to deliver them from Roman rule through the active involvement of Yahweh.    

 

 

Much is made in modern Judaism about how Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah, since he will be a human leader and not God in human form. However, there is a growing view that some forms of the Hebrew religion around the time of Jesus did see the Messiah as divine. For instance, Philo of Alexandria (BC20 – AD50) sought to harmonise Greek Pagan Philosophy with the Hebrew religion of his day. He tells us of the Therapeutae, who practiced a form of mysticism based on an allegorical interpretation of the myths of Moses and Joshua. Indeed, they interpreted much of the Hebrew Bible as myth and allegory rather than literal fact as did other Hebrew sects such as the Pharisees. The Therapeutae were also followers of the Greek pagan philosopher Pythagoras. Philo himself was also known as both ‘Philo the Hebrew’ and ‘Philo the Pythagorean’. Early Christians were very interested in Philo’s ideas, many of them seeing him as a herald of Christianity.

 

 

It is interesting to note that St Paul was also a Hellenised Hebrew. The author William Smith wrote in 1911, ““The doctrine concerning Jesus was a pre-Christian one, a cult which at the meeting of the centuries (BC100 to AD100) was widespread among the Hebrews and especially among the Hellenists”. This divine leader was called Joshua (Yehoshua or Yeshua) as that name symbolised someone through whom God spoke and redeemed. It is thought that this cult emerged after the Judahites returned from Babylonian captivity, where their religion had been influenced by the ancient Aryan religion of Zoroastrianism. The Old Testament was written down during the Babylonian exile and was influenced by the prevailing Zoroastrian religion of their captors. When the Judahites returned to Jerusalem, they brought with them a revised version of the old Israelite faith, one that included Zoroastrian dualism, such as Satan as the force of evil opposing God. It is also thought by some scholars, that a cult grew up around a redeemer figure called Joshua based on the Zoroastrian Saoshyant. In Zoroastrianism, Saoshyant means ‘one who brings benefits’ and is associated with bringing about the final renovation of the world, the completion and perfection of the process of creation. This was a different kind of Joshua, one that emphasised his later life as a wise prophet rather than a military leader. He was a saviour of a different kind.

 

 

And so we have the story of the gentle Jesus (Joshua) of the New Testament who is very different to Joshua the warrior of the Old Testament. He preaches peace and compassion rather than an eye for an eye and criticises much of the religion and religious teachers around him. He preaches the message of Socrates that we should love our enemies. He embodies much of the Aryan folk religion expressed through the Greek mystery religions and the underlying natural law of God. This is why so much of what he teaches us resonates with our Indo European or Aryan culture and identity. 

 

 

 

Christos and Chrestos

 

 

The term Messiah was translated into Greek as Christos (Cristos), from which we get our English word ‘Christ’. Both mean to anoint with oil and both are titles rather than names. Before exploring the origins of the term Christos, it is interesting to note that the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible or the Septuagint (which is roughly the same as the Old Testament), which was completed before the time of Jesus, translates all references to Messiah as Christos. In other words, the use of the word Christos to translate the word Messiah was not unique to Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, the context of its usage was often in respect of Israelite Kings and Priests who would have been anointed with oil. Christos was therefore considered to be an appropriate translation for entirely human, albeit exalted, people. However, orthodox Christianity understands Jesus as Messiah very differently to orthodox Judaism. Using various prophecies of the Old Testament (especially Daniel and Isaiah), orthodox Christians see the Messiah as God in human form, who suffered death on the cross to redeem the sins of human kind. This Messiah will rule over the earth in peace and justice for a long period of time. His kingdom is the kingdom of heaven, not of earth.

 

 

But the title Christos has its origins in Greek paganism and not Jewish Messianism. The classical Greek word, Cristos,  predates both the New Testament and the Septuagint by centuries. It is thought to derive from a proto Indo-European root ‘ghrei’ which means ‘to rub’. For instance, Homer uses the word ‘Christos’ to refer to rubbing one’s body with oil after bathing.  There is an old belief that the Erythrean Sybil wrote down a poem in which the first line of each sentence formed a prophecy that read, “IESOUS CHREISTOS THEOU HUIOS SOTER STAURUS”. This literally means “Iesus, Christos, God, Son, Saviour, Cross”.  This is quite weird when you think that it was made by a Pagan oracle several hundred years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth!  It is thought to refer to the coming down to earth of the Spirit of Truth (the Christos) who will usher in a golden age in which God is revealed to humankind. The similarity with the Indo European Zoroastrian figure of Saoshyant is striking.

 

 

In the mystery religions of ancient Greece, the act of anointing with oil was a symbol of initiation. It was an outward sign of a person having achieved spiritual enlightenment or union with the inner dwelling Spirit of Truth – the Christos. The person thus became a Christos following a long period of study and ascetic practice.  We could say that a Christos is someone who has obtained Gnosis, knowledge of God and of themselves, spiritual enlightenment.  A Christos is therefore someone who has fully joined with the Spirit of Truth through a process of subordinating the flesh to the spirit which perhaps is symbolised by the crucifixion. In esoteric Christian terms, this can be seen as an expression of the human Jesus being fully united with the Spirit of God.  Through Jesus, God came amongst us (Emmanuel). 

 

 

Another title that dates back to classical Greece is Chrestos  (Crhstos).  Cristos and Crhstos differ from each other only in the third vowel, both of which would have been pronounced similarly – ee – as in Hreestos with a soft ‘ch’ at the beginning.  They are clearly related as Greek typically uses permutations of common root words to express subtlety different aspects of the same or similar concept. By the time of Jesus, though, Chrestos had acquired an outward meaning of a kind, good or honourable man – a title that would precede a person’s name much like ‘the honourable …’ in modern English.  Chrestos continues to mean ‘honourable, upright or virtuous’ in modern demotic Greek.   

 

 

But, in earlier antiquity and within the mystery religions, the term Chrestos had a deeper meaning than simply a good man. It referred to a disciple of the religion, someone who was actively seeking the Truth. As noted above, when he had achieved this he was anointed with oil to signify his change of status into a Christos. As a disciple of the Spirit of Truth, a Chrestos was associated with the Temple of the Oracle as Priest and Prophet or interpreter of the Word or Oracle. A Chrestes was the one who explained the oracle, a priest, prophet or soothsayer and a Chresterios the one who belongs to, or is in the service of, an oracle, god or master. It could also refer to the word of God itself. For instance, in 470 BC, the Aeschylus refers to ‘pythochresta’ or oracles delivered by a Pythian god through a priestess or Pythoness. In 460 BC the words ‘Chresten Oikistera’ are found in Pindar, meaning ‘the oracle proclaimed him the coloniser’. Such a man was known as a Chrestos. In 420 BC, Herodotus explains the word ‘Chreon’ as that which an oracle proclaims, the prophecy or word of God. In classical Greek, the word ‘Chraomai’, meaning consulting an oracle, also implied being fated by an oracle. A ‘Chresterion’ was not only the seat of an oracle, but also an offering to or for the oracle. There was therefore a sacrificial element to the term. 

 

 

The title Chrestos was also used to refer to gods themselves. There is, for example, evidence that the Egyptian sun god Osiris was called Chrestos, whilst the word Chrestos can be seen on a Mithraic relief in the Vatican. Mithras was a sun god popular in Rome around the time of Jesus, many aspects of whose cult (including his birthday of 25 December) were absorbed into Roman Christianity. In this sense, the title Chrestos was linked to the god as a saviour figure or Soter. This is reflected in the prophecy of the Erythrean Sybil mentioned above (“IESOUS CHREISTOS THEOU HUIOS SOTER STAURUS”). It is also evident in the name Jesus itself, rescued or saved by God. Jesus is in effect a title as much as Christ.

 

 

These concepts passed into New Testament times and the development of Christian theology. For instance, in 10 AD, Philo of Alexandria speaks of ‘Theochrestos’, which means ‘God-declared’ or one who is declared by God. He also refers to the ‘Logia Theochresta’, meaning “sayings delivered by God”. There is here a clear connection between the words ‘Logos’, the Greek Pagan title for the communicating mind of God, and the title Chrestos, the one through whom God communicates. This connection precedes those famous opening lines of St John’s Gospel ‘in the beginning was the Word’ by almost a century.     

 

 

Many early Christians, including some of the Church fathers such as Justin Martyr, actually called themselves Chrestians rather than Christians. Marcionites referred not to Jesus Christ, but to Isu Chrestos. The oldest known Christian inscription, dating from 318 AD, was found over the doorway to a Marcionite Church and read, “The Lord and Saviour Jesus the Good” – the title Chrestos being used rather than Christos. According to Lactantius, another early Christian writer, “it is only through ignorance that men call themselves Christians instead of Chréstians." 

 

 

The title ‘Chrestos’ is used in the New Testament in its mundane meaning of simply a ‘good man’. For instance, Luke (vi: 35), where it means kind and merciful, ‘chrestos estin epi tou’. Also, in I Peter (ii: 3), where it is said, "Kind is the Lord," ‘Chrestos o Kurios’. It is used by Clement of Alexandria as simply meaning a good man; "All who believe in Chrest (a good man) both are, and are called Chrestians, that is good men." However, its more esoteric meaning is also hinted at. Clement was originally a Platonist and this no doubt influenced his thinking and use of language. As a former Platonist and student of the mystery schools, he would have known that a Christos was the glorified Spirit of Truth whilst a Chrestos was a disciple seeking that truth. St Paul also knew this. In Galatians  iv: 19 and 20, he says “I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you” (palin odino, achris ou morphothei Christos). The deeper, esoteric meaning of this is ‘until you find the Christos (Spirit of Truth) within yourselves’. 

 

 

We see here a way of understanding the gospel stories handed down to us as myth and allegory rather than literal fact. But the myth is in practice only telling us at a deeper level what the literal story purports to. You do not have to believe in the literal truth of the Virgin Birth or that Jesus Christ had two natures, one human the other divine, to believe that God came amongst us in Him. But the esoteric understanding goes further. It explains that the Christos dwells within us and that our search for divine truth is as much a search within ourselves as any external religion. It tells us that we can join to the Christos and become Christ like ourselves. Indeed, this is our ultimate goal, the achievement of Gnosis or enlightenment. The esoteric Christ story does not just tell us how God came amongst us and taught us. It tells us that we ordinary mortal human beings can become Christ like or sons of God. Indeed it is showing us precisely the path we should seek to follow. This is the esoteric meaning of the resurrection, a rebirth not just into another life or the heavenly realm, but a rebirth into union with God.

 

 

There is an interesting parallel between this esoteric view of Jesus as Christos and that of Woden seeking knowledge and finding it deep inside the Irminsul in the form of Runes. One of Woden’s many names is Grim. This name is usually associated with Woden as the hidden one or masked one. But the word Grim actually has a common origin with the root word of Christos, both come from the Indo European word Ghrei – meaning to rub. Our word Grim has become more associated with grime than with anointing, but they do share a common origin. We know that Woden is strongly associated with esoteric wisdom and the search for knowledge – or Gnosis. This he finds through the Holy Runes in the depths of the World Tree or Irminsul. This is an esoteric expression that the root of all knowledge lies at the heart of the cosmos which is as much within us as around us and beyond us.  It is in the Christos, the Spirit of Truth. Thus there is a strong connection between Woden’s search for Gnosis and the Christos which is the source of that Gnosis. 

 

 

The connections between Woden and the Christos are an important element in understanding the deep connectivity between esoteric Christianity and our ancient folk faith. For instance, Woden is the Grim Reaper. But Grim in this sense does not simply mean death. As with our goddess Hel, death is followed by rebirth. We can see the Grim Reaper as calling us out of this world, but we can also see him taking us to the next world. These will be explored in further articles.

 

 

 

 

 

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