FRAMING JESUS May 11, 2012Posted by wmmbb in Peace, Philosophy, Social Environment.
Jesus of Nazareth has an extraordinary story. The same is true of Buddha. Both narratives have been enhanced by mythical constructs, but that is the nature of story telling. The historical case for Buddha seems to have been better established.
Some of the elements of the Jewish story are intriguing. Here is a person who travels about 120 kilometres (80 miles) presumably by donkey to reach Jerusalem. Once he arrives there, he goes to the Temple and drives out the money changers who are profiting from animal sacrifice. He is also the bloke that counsels his followers to love your enemies, an injunction lost in translation due to its’ inherent difficulty in practice. Experience shows it is far easier to fire up the amygdala allowing it to hold sway with anger and fear. And then there is a subtle story about human sacrifice.
Howard Bess is a Baptist who is concerned with the role of the Christian Right in American politics. He contends that there religious doctrine is diametrically opposite to the teaching of the founder of Christianity. He looks to the historical and other research to understand the social and political context of the time.
The idea that Jesus was a universal sacrifice for the sins of the whole world was a theological construction of Paul, who never knew Jesus and had little knowledge of his life. Indeed, in Paul’s many writings, he never indicates any awareness of the life of Jesus or his teachings.
Instead, Paul said he had an experience of the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus, and he developed a theology to fit his experience and his background in Judaism (with its emphasis on sacrifice, not forgiveness).
Despite Paul’s lack of contact with Jesus during his days as a teacher (and Paul’s strained relationship with Jesus’s disciples), Paul became the early church’s theologian, a brilliant thinker with unbounded energy. He was literate and wrote voluminously.
By contrast, Jesus’s disciples were not writers and none of the gospel writings can be traced to them. The gospels that we have in the Bible are collections of oral traditions reduced to writing and enlarged by unknown writers two generations after the death of Jesus.
So who was the historical Jesus, the reputational rabbi who grew up in Galilee in Northern Palestine? We have few verifiable facts of his life and it was not until the early 20th Century that the search began in earnest when Albert Schweitzer wrote The Quest of the Historical Jesus.
Schweitzer acknowledged that his quest was unsuccessful, but it kicked off a search that has never stopped. We are now in the third wave of the quest of the historical Jesus, with new research tools that have allowed a clear picture of Jesus to emerge.
The methodology of the third wave is interdisciplinary. Historians, archaeologists, sociologists and anthropologists — along with Biblical scholars — have been enlisted in the effort to construct a context in which to understand Jesus. The context that has been developed includes politics, economics and social structures.
The First Century historian Josephus has been a bonanza of information that has helped construct this context for understanding Jesus as a person, someone who emerged from the advanced agrarian society in which he lived. Jesus was influenced by the growth of aristocratic empires in the First Century as well as the power and presence of Roman rule.
New attempts also are being made to understand the Judaism of the First Century and the complex relationship between Temple leaders and Roman rulers. The Temple practices of Jews were tolerated by Roman rulers as long as Temple leaders controlled their people. Though Temple leaders did control the Jews of southern Palestine, they were not able to control the Jews of Galilee, where Jesus lived.
Even the Romans could not control Galilee, which has always been a special place in the social, religious and economic life of Palestine. The Romans built Sepphoris and Tiberius to extend their power, but Galileans despised the two cities, which were known for the unjust rulers and greedy aristocrats who lived there.
Galileans avoided contact with the two cities and there is no record that Jesus ever went to either one, even though Nazareth was a mere four miles from Sepphoris.
Rural Galilee also was a hotbed of the Zealots, who made no secret of their contempt for Roman rule and advocated reestablishment of the nation of Israel through violent overthrow. They despised Jews who were cooperators with an evil empire.
The dominant influence of the Zealots among the poor of Galilee is a key part of the context for Jesus’s life. The gospels identify Peter as a Zealot, and a Zealot of Galilee was always armed with a weapon, typically a sharpened knife. By tradition, Jesus told Peter, “Put away your sword.”
There you have it. Of course, it depends on who gets to tell the story and what the song lines through which the narrative is refracted. But on this reckoning,Jesus was one of those benighted, weak people, those pacifists, who won’t fight, and who don’t believe in the redeeming inspiration of violence – and eating meat. So how come the Roman Consul sentenced him to death, yet his followers and his message survived, whereas the Black Block were rounded up in Masada to die heroically?
So does it matter whether or not, Jesus was a historical person, or a mythical story? John Dominic Crossan, a New Testament scholar, says it does. He is quoted by John Blake, The Jesus Debate: Man vs Myth (CNN):
Crossan says Jesus’ existence matters in the same way that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s existence mattered.
If King never existed, people would say his ideas are lovely, but they could never work in the real world, Crossan says.
It’s the same with an historical Jesus, Crossan writes in his latest book, “The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus.”
“The power of Jesus’ historical life challenges his followers by proving at least one human being could cooperate fully with God. And if one, why not others? If some, why not all?”
I suspect that when scientists and religious people are debating are at cross purposes, because they have not a common source of reference or practice. Then the idea of God is a very expansive concept. I am sticking to atheism, which unfortunately beyond materialism and tangible evidence, both direct and indirect, leaves each life meaningless, and in the long term worthless. So it seems that human consciousness will reach its epiphany by destroying itself and everything about it. At least it can be said we are tracking in the right direction, aided and abetted by organized and established religion and its absence.
Of course, politics is often underpinned by different constructs of meaning and violence often accompanies threats to meaning.John Dominic Crossan get down to the politics of the rabble rouser, Jesus Christ in the context of the Roman Empire:
Another account is provided by Michael Nagler.
- The Historical Jesus (pknatz.wordpress.com)
- I have a look at Ehrman’s new book on Jesus (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- The Archaeological Evidence For Jesus (frstephensmuts.wordpress.com)
- The Historical Jesus Again (choiceindying.com)
- Things You May Not Know About the Jewishness of Jesus (incisivereview.com)
- Jesus According To Sources Outside The Bible (learnthefaith.wordpress.com)
- The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth (religion.blogs.cnn.com)