Natty Dread and Planetary Resplendence Christianity's Apocalyptic Tragedy and the Immortal Tree of Life
Unveiling Apocalypse: Reflowering the Tree of Life
The resolution of the religious dilemma of apocalyptic conflict lies in coming of age and acting as the planetary guardians of the generations of the diversity of life.
This is the cosmological fulfillment of our meaning in life, in taking full responsibility for our actions in the world and their consequences for life as a whole.
8.1 Myth and History in the Gospels
Fig 8.1: Rylands fragment John 18:31-4 (Wilson I 30). This manuscript dating from c125 AD in Egypt confirms the gospel of John's existence by a date of perhaps 90 AD.
All of the gospels were written at least thirty years after Jesus' death, and cannot be relied upon for an accurate temporal account of Jesus' mission. The earliest works, Paul's epistles (c 48-55 AD) contain little information about Jesus except for his divine status.
There is no evidence the the four gospels were written by their alleged authors in the form they now stand.
It is now clear that Matthew and Luke are later works based on Mark (c 70 AD) as originally argued in 1835 by Lachmann and possibly also another synoptic sayings source "Q" with John coming even later (c 90 AD). It has been suggested by Carsten Thiede that fragments of Matthew held at Magdalen College Oxford date from c 70 AD, because of their archaic style of Greek which is otherwise confined to Qumran and sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum, destroyed by the eruption of 79 AD. However this dating is contested by other experts (Wilson I 1996 22-3).
Eusebius notes that Papias the second century bishop of Hierapolis said that "Mark was the interpreter of Peter and wrote down carefully what he remembered of what had been said or done by the Lord, but not in the right order" (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 219, Graves and Podro 37), quoting John the Elder (Fox R 127), presumably the disciple. He also notes "Matthew compiled the sayings in the Hebrew (Aramaic?) language and each one translated them as he could". These Sayings or 'oracles' could have included Old Testament prophecies (Schonfiled 234), or they could have been 'sayings', originally forming a work much like the Gospel of Thomas (Wilson I 44), which later became redacted to a story incorporating Mark's narrative. Papias believed Matthew to have written first which suggests his Matthew's work had been added to substantially (Fox R 127), otherwise Papias's statement is based on ignorance. Papias also notes Matthew being linked to an 'Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord' which may have been the five-fold Testimony Book (Schonfield 238). However John Mark appears as a companion of Paul, not Peter. (Ranke-Heinmann 1992 218-9).
According to Wilson (I 36) the connection with Peter cannot have been very close, for Mark is somewhat vague about the locations of Gerasenes and to a certain extent Sidon. He suggests Mark could have been written in Rome for gentile culture with only a partial knowledge of Jewish law on divorce, which did not exist for wives: 10:12 "And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery." This would explain to some degreee the generally anti-Jewish slant of the synoptic gospels and the relatively sympathetic treatment of the Romans. The difficulty is that this comment on divorce could equally have been a genuine statement by Jesus about Herodias' divorce of Herod Philip under Roman law (Hoehner 139). In "The Secret of Messiahship", Wrede, emphasizing that Mark had portrayed Jesus as concealing his messiahship and many of the disciples as not recognising him until after his death, highlights the extent to which even 'primitive' Mark is concerned to present a specific theological viewpoint rather than historical narrative (Wilson I 36-7).
Fig 9.1: Above a figure believed to be one of the earlist representations of Jesus discovered in 2014 in a buried undergrobd cryot in the ancient Egyptian city of Oxyrhyncus. Below: Second line right: karfos - karphos or 'mote' was the first word found by Arthur Hunt among the Oxyrhyncus papyri. In 1883 Flinders Petrie had seen Greek writing among disintegrating artefacts. In 1895 the Egypt Exploration Fund sponsored Bernard Greenfell and Arthur Hunt on an expedition to search for such material. This section of the Gospel of Thomas 26 became at the time the earliest documentary evidence for the existence of Jesus (Wilson I 21).
However Streeter has also suggested Matthew's gospel contains tradition from Antioch (Wilson I 40). "Many scholars think that Matthew lived outside of Palestine, perhaps in Antioch, the capital of Syria; he wrote as if he had been part of that thriving Jewish community and that Matthew's own group included both Jewish and Gentile believers." (Pagels 1995 75, 88). Luke is likewise placed in Antioch (Fox R 297). Elaine Pagels (1995 64-5) notes Krister Stendahl characterizing Matthew's gospel as a kind of community rule considerably more liberal than that of the Essenes, the Gospel of Luke, probably written by the only gentile author in the New Testament for a predominantly gentile community and the author of John, probably Jewish himself, writing possibly in Alexandria (8) or in Ephesus (Wilson I 41).
Matthew presents a combination of anti-Pharisaic polemic and a description of Jesus' teaching of fulfilling the law and the prophets in episodes such as the Sermon on the Mount, which can be seen as the work of a writer conscious of setting a competing tradition to the Pharisees, saying that the Christians are in effect the new hasidim in a similar vein to the polemic of the Essenes against the Jerusalem priesthood.
Since Mark did not write events in chronological order, we thus cannot rely on the order of the events in the synoptics (Mark, Luke, Matthew) which abound with inconsistencies with one another, nor in John, which disagrees with the others in significant ways all the way from the Baptism to the Crucifixion, such as placing the temple cleansing at the beginning of Jesus' mission, for any more than a spatial indication of where Jesus went and what he may have done. Many of the sayings in Luke and Matthew, including some in the Sermon on the Mount, appear in different parts of each gospel, so have been positioned later for narrative effect, rather than historical accuracy.
Jesus said to them, 'My wife ....'. 4th century Coptic fragment Currently controversial and claimed by some researchers to be a recent forgery although the papyrus dates to between 400BC and 700AD.
The synoptics' predominantly Galilean account, based on Mark, represents Jesus' mission as lasting approximately one year, beginning with a forty day sojurn in the desert, while John, which situates much of his action in Jerusalem cites three passovers (2:13, 6:4, 19:14) and has Jesus go to the wedding at Cana after the baptism. His year of birth veers fron 12 BC (Fox R 34) to 6 AD (Schonfield). The baptism is dated by Luke to the 15th year of Tiberius 29 AD (Wilson I 58). However according to Josephus Philip didn't die until 33 or 34. So John cound not have been beheaded before 34. The gospel accounts note the military commanders, placing it during the confrontation with Aretas. The estimated date of the crucifixion suggests AD 27, 30 or 33 or even 36 (Wilson I 58, Fox R 34, Schonfield 263) and Jesus' age at the time soars from thirty (Luke, Schonfield) through to fortysix (John, Fox R 35).
Critical analysis of the gospels began with a critical phase which eliminated large areas of the text as spurious. In 'On the Aims of Jesus and his Disciples', Hermann Reimarus, posthumously for his own protection argued that Jesus was a failed Jewish revolutionary whose body had been stolen from the tomb to concoct the resurrection myth. This was followed by David Friedrich Strauß's 'The Life of Jesus Critically Examined' arguing on the basis of parallel passage discrepancies that none of authors of the gospels could have been eyewitnesses, but must have been later writers constructing their material from possibly garbled tradtitions about Jesus in circulation in the early Church.
Albert Schweitzer put the dilemma succinctly "There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus .. who came forward publically as the Messiah ... and dies to give his work its final consecration, never has any existence ... this image ... has fallen to pieces cleft and istintegrated by the concrete historical problems which have come to the surface one after the other."
Bultzmann's form criticism however proved to be even more devastating. Bultzmann eliminated from historical consideration any miraculous passages on the grounds that they were inserted to establish Jesus' divinity and any passages reflecting Old Testamant sayings as an attempt to represent Jesus as fulfilling these prophecies. Likewise any statements which could alternatively be attributed to another contemporary such as Hillel in the case of 'do unto others' was eliminated as a derivative interpolation, and even Jesus' claim to forgive sins as in Mark 2:5 was eliminated as citing a Christian claim in the gospels. This stripped away virtually all material leaving Bultmann saying "I do indeed think that we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and often legendary." resorting himself simply to the 'Christ of faith'
A counter swing began with British theologians who discovered a variety of Aramaic sources within the gospels atesting to older traditions contained in them. A charming example is the Pharisees regarding only the outer forms of existence (the cup) 11:40 "Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you." This turns out to be inexpertly translated Aramaic 'zakkau' to give alms instead of 'dakkau' to cleanse, as is correctly done in Matt 23:26 "Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also." Some passages of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount liewise stand as Aramaic translations.
One of the clearest countercurrents emerges with the latest of the gospels, John, which as a result of the Rylands fragment cannot be dated later than 90 AD. Previously much of the gnostic light and darkness of John was thought to be Hellenistic invention, but with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it was realized that this very emphasis now looks particularly Essene. "The whole gospel is replete with phrases such as 'the spirit of truth' , 'the light of life', 'walking in the darkness', 'children of light' and 'eternal life'" paralleling of the Manual of Discipline, as is the style and content of many passages.
John's prologue 1:2:
is strikingly close to the Manual of Discipline 11:11:
Further historical credibility for John comes from the discovery of both the five porticos of the Pool of Siloam 9:7 and the 'Gabbatha' or pavement 19:13 where Pilate was said to have judged Jesus.
Aileen Guilding in The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship has also explained the three year period of John's mission of Jesus in terms of a three year cycle of the readings of the Torah for the cycle of Jewish festivals (Wilson I 48).
The determining historical event for the ambiguities and indeed the entire tradition of the gospels appears to be the Jewish revolt of 66 AD and the sacking of Jerusalem in 70. Walter Kümmel thus see the inclusion of Mark 13:2 "And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (cf Luke 21:6, Matt 24:2) as evidence for an after the event prophecy of the fall. However Robinson cites the Temple tax demanded at Capernaum (Matt 17:24) and the faithful inclusion of Jesus' prophesies of his return in the first generation (Mark 13:30, Matt 24:34, Luke 21:32) as elements at least pre-dating the fall which are accepted as holding good at the time of writing of the final versions (Wilson I 49).
Thus while the gospels may contain theological and anti-Jewish polemic, they neverthelss 'would not be led by that fact to pervert and utterly destroy the historical kernel' .
They appear to have been constructed upon collections of older Aramaic sayings and as literature read as C. S. Lewis has noted very much in the manner of 'reportage' as opposed to romantic myth. Names such as Lazarus are in Galilean form rather than the Eleazar of Jerusalem (Wilson I 49, 70).
8.2 The Dilemma of the "Historical Yeshua"
A further feature of the recent historical debate is the idea that Paul has invented his own inauthentic brand of Christianity and that Jesus, was not a sacrifical figure but a Jewish zealot, who, at an extreme (Eisenman) was the martyred Zealot whose movement was responsible for the sea of Galilee running red with blood in the uprising of 66-8. This is inconsistent with many strands of historical and archaelogical evidence.
While it is acknowledged that the emphasis on the flesh and bood of the sacrament is a little more pagan in its style than that of the Essene sacred repast, the Essenes still had the sacred repast of bread and wine and a tradition of messianic atonement. The wording of the communion offering of bread and wine remains almost identical to the Jewish Kiddush. This difference is more subtle.
Although it is true that the first bishop of the Christian church was indeed James the Just, who was a very devout Jew, as well as leader of the Jerusalem church, this does not mean that Jesus is in any way a reflection of James. Jesus was clearly a charismatic innovator in a family of devout ones, who in the collision couse of his atonement mission gained deeper and more universal perspective on reality which has given his parables and mission its uniqueness to this day. His reported difference with his family indicate these difference of approach. It is true that there was considerable tensions between the circumcising Jewish Christians who followed the law and "Paul's" gentiles who made faith, rather than good works the key to their belief, but this does not mean that the historical Jesus can be stripped down to a humble Jewish peasant of no vision or originality.
Another approach illustrated by Crossan is to reject the integrity of the narrative stories while accepting the root sayings, particularly those of the Gospel of Thomas, as definitive. I embrace with unreserved love Crossan's analysis of the sayings, but reject the historical approach which denies the overall narrative because of obvious inconsistencies in how the sayings are stitched together. The parable of the mosaic is that the whole picture can be seen even if the pieces are mere patches which are misaligned in many places locally. While Pagels is correct in highlighting the social historical slant of the polemic in the gospels, and while one should look at certain episodes, particularly those concerning the relationships with James as being distorted or even factually embriodered, the general view of Christs' mission stands.
It should be noted that the Ebionite view of the spiritual illumination of Jesus is significantly different from that of the divine Son of God however, for they believed the adoptionist view that Jesus became divinely inspired at his baptism and that this inspiration departed again in the Crucifixion. This view places Jesus in the tradition of the secret Adam, the recurring spiritual archetype of the good or just visionary man.
8.3 The Son in the Flesh
The name Jesus, Yeshua or Joshua meaning 'god saves' was a common one. Four of the 28 high priests of the era were called Jesus. By contrast 'of Nazareth' remains doubtful because of the lack of firn historical corroboration before the 3rd century. The title Nazarene or Nazorean is consistent with the Greek texts. Capernaum however is attested to in a fertile region of Genessaret. Many of Jesus' sayings from the mustard seed to the a broody hen display knowledge of rural life, and from the mote to the corner-stone are consistent with his attribution to being a carpenter or carpenter's son (Wilson I 66-71). Jesus' personal reference to God as Abba - father, rather than Yhwh-Adonai is an Aramaic idiom which was also shared by the grandson of the first century nabi Honi the 'circle drawer' (Crossan 142).
In The Historial Evidence for Jesus, G. A. Wells argues that Jesus did not even exist as an historical person, citing Paul's lack of detail of his life, including the parables, the miracles, his trial, and Jerusalem as his place of execution, claiming Jesus is merely a figment of Paul's imagination. The gospels similarly lack and physical description and early depictions are diverse and probably incorrect as many are un-Jewishly beardless. However the aspects of Paul's writing can be explained by his lack of interest in the historical Jesus as opposed to the resurrected one who was about to return (Wilson I 51).
John Allegro (1979) in a different twist, suggested Jesus was the eucharistic code word for a magic mushroom cult which shared the sacred repast of divine communion.
References to Jesus outside biblical sources remain scanty. Tacitus mentions somewhat later Christians put to death by Nero, whose 'originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius' reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate' but this is a much later reference. Suetonius' reference to Chrestus has also been interpreted as other Jewish Zealots seeking support (Wilson I 58).
Josephus' famous passage on Jesus (c 92 AD) is widely regarded as a Christian interpolation, however his later reference to the unjust execution in 62 AD of James 'the brother of Jesus called the Christ' sounds authentic. Origen (c250) expressed astonishment that Josephus while, disbelieving Jesus was the messiah, should speak so warmly of James, implying that Josephus did originally document the existence of Jesus (Wilson I 60-1).
Fig 8.3: Gravestone of Julius Abdes Pantera of Sidon (Wilson I)
However, despite their negative view of Jesus, early Jewish sources clearly treat him as an historical rather than a mythical character. Given their attitude, it is unlikely they would have given him such credence had they not firmly believed his historical existence was beyond dispute. The Mishnah (Baraitha and Tosefta) note the following passages (Wilson I 62-4):
· It has been taught: On the eve of the Passover they hanged Yeshu ... because he practised sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray ...
· Our Rabbis taught Yeshu had five disciples Mattai, Nakkai, Netzer, Buni, and Todah. (The five one of which is Matthew, may invoke the Testimony Book).
· Rabbi Elizah ben Damah is cited asking that Jacob came to heal him in the name of Yeshu[a] ben Pantera. He died being forbidden to do so.(A Roman gravestone has been found in Bingerbrück Germany for Julius Abdes Pantera an archer of Sidon, dating from the appropriate early Imperial period).
· A disciple of Yeshu the Nazarene is cited in Sepphoris capital of Galilee saying "It is written in your Torah 'Thou shalt not bring the hire of a harlot etc.' How about making it a privy for the high priest? Thus did Yeshu ... teach me 'For the hire of a harlot hath she gathered them, And unto the hire of a harlot shall they return', from the place of filth they come, and unto the place of filth they go"
The Lexicon Talmudicum and Talmud babli Sanhedrin 106b, 43a, 51a and the Toldoth Jeshu states (Graves 1946 6, 1953 23, 288):
Another Sanhedrin entry 103a by Rabbi Hisda comments on Psalm 91:10 "There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling" that "Thou shalt have neither a son nor a disciple who will publically let his food burn (forfeit his salvation in a public display) like did Jesus the Nazarene". Rabbi Abbahu taught "If a man say unto thee 'I am God' he lieth; if he saith 'I am the Son of Man' he will live to rue his words; and if he saith 'I ascend into Heaven' he will not bring to pass that which he saith". These early entries portray an antagonism which in itself explains the attitude in the gospels is not merely anti-Jewish polemic but genuinely records a spiritual tension that arose from the Crucifixion.
Luke's and Matthew's accounts of his birth remain in mythical territory. The historical events which follow the divine conception are contradictory with one another and are clearly designed to imbue his early life with the aura of a divine incarnation. As both his genealogies having a genetic break at Joseph, it is impossible to verify that he was a descendent of King David, who could, on this basis, claim to be a kingly Messiah.
The Christian accounts are paralleled by satirical descriptions in Jewish literature in which he is described as Yeshua ben Pantera, the son of a Roman with the name 'panther' suggestive of Dionysus. The discovery of this unusual name on a Roman monument in France lends credibility at least to the name in the tale being genuine. However, whether Jesus, who by the very existence of the myth of the divine birth has a dubious parentage, was actually born to a Roman, or a Greek as another derogatory story goes, remains equally speculative.
In Jewish commentary, Mary was also described as the 'braider' who may have woven the temple veil and similarly in the Protoevangelium as a kadesha or temple hierodule. The fact that Jewish and early Christian accounts are concordant here suggests a smoking gun. Jesus' brothers all appear to have been Nazoreans with leanings to an Essene way of life. The holy ones were partial celibates who had transitory relations with women purely to beget offspring. This raises the interesting possibility that the mystery surrounding Mary's pregnancy may stem from her relations to the holy ones. It is even quite conceivable that Jesus did have a Davidic descent which may even have been planned as part of an Essene design to fulfil the ancient prophecies. The lack of any personal history for Jesus before his mission is consistent with his having spent much of his early days in remote seclusion. However again this remains speculative.
8.4 And I Saw the Heavens Opened
The only accounts of the life of Jesus which can in any way be interpreted as having an historical basis begin with his baptism by John and end with the crucifixion. Details of his personal life are so lacking that he remains largely an enigma.
The view of the synoptics is that Jesus was baptised by John and the heavens opened and the spirit of God descended like a dove upon him, either subjectively, as in Mark or objectively as in John. We can thus surmise that John's baptism in some way precipitated Jesus' mission. Although John is systematically diminished in the Christian gospels, this suggests it was John's empowerment which precipitated Jesus' mission.
Whether Jesus retreated for forty days in a replay of Moses on the mountain is specuous. Both Jesus and John appear to have been raised in the Way of the Wilderness and known the Essene, or Nazarean prophecies of the Last Days and the idea of the Messiah as Suffering Servant intimately. Since John's imprisonment immediately pronounces Jesus' mission (Mark 1:14) there a possibility that the two are linked and that having empowered Jesus and possibly having anointed him during his sojurn in the desert, John then set an example of the Suffering Servant by preaching against Herodias, leading to his imprisonment. This is also consistent with Jesus spending some time in retreat coming to terms with the difficult agenda of the suffering messiah - his temptation to avoid a painful fate. On the other hand, Jesus' mission may have been an independent movement which picked up popularity and significance as a result of John's imprisonment. We later have both Luke 7:19 and Matthew 11:3 saying John sent two disciples to see if Jesus was 'he that should come' suggesting there was no immediate recognition of Jesus as a messiah by John at the time of the Baptism. Nevertheless Jesus is now certain of his intentions.
Schonfield (41) notes : We have to accept the absolute sincerity of Jesus. No one could be more sure of his vocation than was Jesus, and not even the threat of imminent death by the horrible torture of crucifixion could make him deny his messiahship. But this does not require us to think of him as omniscient and infallible. It is possible to hold that the Messianic Hope was not only a justifiable but indeed an inspired conception, and yet in many respects the predictions and expectations of the interpreters of the Scriptures could be quite wrong. It is one thing to see visions and dream dreams, and quite another when it is demanded that such visions and dreams be acted out on the plane of history in all their apocalyptic grandeur. But he liad no control over what lay beyond, and in much that he anticipated he was mistaken. The Church had to face before very long the acute problem of the postponement of his expectations, and dealt with it rather lamely and unconvin- cingly by largely spiritualising them.
Jesus then establishes his mission, which is clearly in style and spirit of the Northern Kingdom, rather than Jerusalem, and centered on Galilee. He does this as one of the theraputae who performs faith healing, and through preaching, in the synagogues and in areas round the shores of Galilee. He is a charismatic figure with a keen reputation as a healer, drawing hysterical crowds and possessing a direct knowledge of the scriptures, combined with prophetic gnosis "and he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes" (Mark 1:22). The same was true in Jerusalem John 7:15 "And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" These reports attest to the likelihood that he had considerable early training with the 'Holy Ones' both in the prophetic interpretation of scripture and in spiritual healing. His first healing in Mark attests as much: "I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God" - A Nazarean prophet, or nabi preaching in a Pharisaic synagogue.
It is clear however that although John fasted and led a life of renunciation he was no Essene, for he baptised publicans and sinners. Jesus, took this even further than John, who lived in camel hair and eat locusts and wild honey, for Jesus ate with publicans and sinners in sumptuous style which aroused disapproval of the Pharisees. This picture is consistent with people who are familiar with Essene tradition and follow the Way of the Wilderness and are applying Last Days eschatology in the same way, but to all sinners rather than the elect remnant of Israel alone. In this perspective, Jesus' teaching is an extension of the trend already seen in John.
The explanation of the parable of Jesus' mission is as follows: Jesus had an early exposure to the prophetic gnosis of the "Holy Ones" of the Northern Tradition, not necessarily the institutional Essenes, who were devoted to an elect remnant, but a wider group, who also shared the Last Days eschatology and devotion to scriptural prophecy, but in an encompassing renewal. He was thus familiar with the second Isaiah, Daniel, Zechariah and the way these books portrayed the Messiah as a suffering figure of redemption in association with the Psalms, many of which came from the older Northern tradition. Central to the messianic agenda was the fulfillment of the idea of a Jewish leader who would be a light to the gentiles, a global inspiration to all humankind, but through Jewish spiritual leadership.
8.5 The Shepherd of Belial
So Jesus then adopted his charismatic mission of controversy as an atonement for the confusion of the people's own vision. To make himself popular as a healer in both Jewish and Gentile lands, while preaching salvation to the lost sheep of Israel. To represent himself as the Son of Light who ends the rule of Belial or Satan, while in practice promoting chaos and discord in the style of the Foolish Shepherd of Zechariah. While it might seem inconsistent to act as the Lord of Chaos while pretending to the Divine Order, this is merely the paradox of the Suffering Servant who must draw upon himself the entire sins and "die for the people, ... that the whole nation perish not." (John 11:49).
Jesus' disciples are all Israelites. Simon the Canaanite is really Zealotes. James and John are Sons of Thunder. Judas is Iscariot, one interpretation of which is a dagger-wielding Zealot. Galilee was the centre of the Jewish independence movement. "Had he been a mere guerilla leader, as some contend, he would have seized upon the wave of popular support, and then drawn up plans for a rebellion. But whatever John's baptism had instilled in him, it was not of this order (Wilson I 88-9).
Jesus according to Matthew commisions his disciples to follow the direction of a Jewish leader 10:5 "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." However this appears only in Matthew.
It was essential for Jesus to be able to be believed in by his immediate followers as the kingly Messiah. He does mention casting fire on earth Luke 12:49 "I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?" However when this is viewed in Thomas 10 it means future illumination, rather than present immolation. Jesus said, "I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes."
His statements about violence lead to immediate paradox. When he does say Matt 10:34 "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." it is merely to announce he is going to wreak social chaos not victory "For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household." This is clearly the message of Zechariah's foolish or worthless Shepherd of Belial, not spiritual victory for the Nation of Israel. Jesus most definitive statment is clearly to love one's enemies (Matt 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;).
Chaos is strongly hinted at by Luke's possibly midrashic attribution 11:23 "He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth."
Jesus admits as much in the Gospel of Thomas 28 "I took my place in the midst of the world, and I appeared to them in flesh. I found all of them intoxicated; found none of them thirsty. And my soul became afflicted for the sons of men, because they are blind in their hearts and do not have sight; for empty they came into the world, and empty too they seek to leave the world. But for the moment they are intoxicated. When they shake off their wine, then they will repent."
When they are not well received by a Samaritan village in Luke 9:54 James and John said "Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?" But Jesus rebuked them, and said, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." They went to another village, presumably also Samaritan. Jesus thus does not play a militant role against Roman or Samaritan.
A singular indication of Jesus' abrogation of the existing order is his assuming the personal power to forgive sins. This is in Jewish terms assuming the power which God alone has and shortcircuiting the justice of destiny: Mark 2:5 "When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. But there was certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?"
It is one thing to challenge how the Sabbath is used by the Pharisees by staging a spectacle of gleaning in the fields with his disciples (Mark 2:23), or healing 'in anger' right in the synagogue (Mark 3:1) to provoke his own undoing "And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him", but it is not merely his casual name-dropping of David ans the shrewbread, but the indulgent way Jesus is represented as describing his personal transcendence which is the greatest challenge to Jewish morality Mark 2:27 "And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath." But this flies in the face of Isaiah 58:13 "If thou ... call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable ... I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth" mocks the Pharisees desire to preserve the sacred way of Israel from the profane. However one should be careful: Thomas 27 says: "If you do not fast as regards the world, you will not find the kingdom. ' If you do not observe the Sabbath as a Sabbath, you will not see the father." More paradox.
Who is the Lord of the Sabbath but the Prince of Chaos? He was provoking such controversy, his friends tried to rescue him as one possessed, from the insanity he was bringing down upon himself: Mark 3:20 "And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself. And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils. And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand." This comment of Jesus is captivating. It is Jesus who is promoting the division. The Pharisees with some justification claim he is possessed by Ba'al Zebul, for playing the Shepherd of Belial to the hilt, he tells them that the very division he is causing is really their own evil. Thomas 61 notes "I am he who exists from the undivided. I was given some of the things of my father. ... I am your disciple. ... Therefore I say, if he is destroyed he will be filled with light, but if he is divided, he will be filled with darkness."
Part and parcel of this approach is a very controversial style which not only challenges Sabbath rules, but the moral integrity of many God-faring people. When Jesus spends his time in disreputable company with a great many publicans (reviled tax-gatherers) and sinners, the scribes an Pharisees protest (Mark 2:16). Even John's disciples comment about his failure to fast. His response is to demure like a Syrian Adonis "Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?" When John disciples come to question him, he again acts like a performer in a sacred drama. He portrays the people as demanding the performance of the weeping and dying hero: Luke 7:32 Matt 11:17 "They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept." and notes that they claim straight-laced John has a devil and he is doing worse "The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children."
It is at this point that in Matthew, Jesus rebukes the very cities of his home region of Galilee, because they have not heeded him, despite his hysterial following: 11:20 "Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee."
It is in this context that Jesus does begin to sound like a Zealot, at least a Zealot for the Day of Judgement. Matt 13:41 "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth."
These diatribes indicate that, despite much adulation from the mobs of followers, Jesus' mission is an uneven affair, full of countercurrents of hysterical devotion from some and antagonistic scepticism or even offence from many others. These difficulties only compound themselves when Jesus comes to give a sermon in the synagogue or Temple.
All the gospels indicate Jesus was received with scepticism in his home town of Nazareth, and that no one really accepted Mary's boy as the messiah. However Luke 4:17 describes an engaging confrontation in the synagogue, which although it could be an ornamentation, has a consistency and extremisn which rings of truth. Jesus first reads out a key passage of Isaiah 61 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach ... the acceptable year of the Lord", he then follows this with "This day the scripture is fulfilled in your ears" ... and then proceeds to go much further. Despite admitting they will say "Physician heal thyself" he accuses Elijah and Elisha of having only a few singular healings by comparison with himself. As in many other situations, the people are in turmoil. A crowd tries to throw him over a cliff, but in the conflict he escapes.
In John 6:52 at the synagogue at Capernaum, he saddles them with eating himself as a Dionysian god in Arabian style. "The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. ... These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum." This episode was such an offensive and hard saying that many of his disciples left him and the twelve only remained because they had no other to turn to.
When Jesus goes down to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, it is clear there is division: John 7:11 "Then the Jews sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he? And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people." His message is that he is a conduit for a God they know not in a way even more personal than the prophets. "Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught, saying, Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not. But I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me. Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come."
When he speaks as the source, Judeans question his Galilean origins: "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. ... Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet. Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? So there was a division among the people because of him. And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him"
He then intimates his own destruction as the Worthless Shepherd "Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come. Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come." But it is when he claims to predate the Jewish nation that the stones are picked up: "Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by."
All of these situations are carefully planned by Jesus with one aim in mind - to gather a strong following as a prophet, but at the same time to stir up exactly the degree of controversy required to precipitate a combined reaction from all the forces he is challenging, the high priests, the Herodians encouraged by irritated Pharises and the Romans, who in acting against insurrection will give him the status of a nationalist. Jesus is not Beelzebub but the Worthless Shepherd, who will only reveal the 'whole truth' when the Last Days moment comes with his death as prophesied in Zechariah - the new age in which he sits at the right hand of power, firmly believing that to this end was he born, and for this cause came he into the world.
8.6 Not Letting the Left Hand Know
The role of the Samaritans can be used as an acid test for how narrowly Jesus can be slotted into the role of a Jewish Zealot. Many Judeans, particularly from Jerusalem perceived Samaritans to be heretics, despite the fact that they regarded themselves the true believers who still founded their beilief on the Pentateuch. They even accused Jesus of being one: John 8:48 "Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?" However the Samaritans are the descendents of Samaria the capital of the old Northern Kingdom of Israel. Thus the Samaritans form a movement like the Galilean 'holy ones'. Pilate was in fact deposed because a deputation protested to the emperor about the way he had decimated the followers of a Samaritan messiah who was ascending their sacred Mount Gerazim to locate their scrolls.
Now in the several places where Samaritans are mentioned in the gospels, the message is almost universally positive. At Luke 10:33 we have the parable of the good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite fail to care for the wounded traveller, but the Samaritan does. Jesus says "Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him?" specifically in response to the question "Who is my neighbour?" in the commandment to love thy neighbout as thyself. Clearly the Samaritan is a beloved neighbour of the Galilean prophet. Once again at Luke 17:12, we find that of ten lepers he cures, only the Samaritan comes back to worship him.
We likewise have the Samaritan woman by the well of John 4:5 "Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob's well was there. ... There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. ... Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans." Jesus is more than happy to offer her the living waters of eternal life, prophesies she has had five husbands and spends the day performing a mission to the Samaritans. The Jews who do not deal with Samaritans are specifically the Judeans. Note that Jesus is making a visit to the ground of Joseph, key to his Northern tradition mission as Josephic messiah.
Matthew describes his popularity by region as follows 4:23 "And Jesus went about all Galilee ... And his fame went throughout all Syria: ... and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan." The coasts of Caesarea Philippi, Pilate's Roman centre, where ironically Jesus was named messiah by Peter, are included (Mark 7:24) and even the Phoenician coasts of Tyre and up to Sidon in the north as well as Idumaea (Mark 3:7, 8:27). These places form a cultural mosaic centered on Galilee spreading on the left hand to Jerusalem and on the right to Decapolis and all Syria, probably also including parts of Edomite Nabataea, as the Talmud refers to Jesus by way of Edom. The Gospel of Thomas notes 62 "It is to those who are worthy that I tell my mysteries. Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."
Jesus specifically made a mission to the coasts of Phoenicia. Mark 7:24 "And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and a certain woman, ... a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter." Jesus makes the traditional response of a healer who is supposed to be the redeemer of the Jewish nation "Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs." Now she, parries this with an appropriate gesture of faith "Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs." which he fully appreciates and respects "For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter."
Both Luke 7:2 and Matthew 8:5 mention the Roman centurion "And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven."
Telling here is his likening his mission, especially the three days of darkness, to that of Jonah, who rather than preaching to the Jews took the message to the Assyrians: Matt 12:41 "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here."
The ultimate statement is from Luke as Pagels (1995 90) has noted which is the very Nazareth reading of Isaiah 61 in his home synagogue where he makes a position statment in terms of gentile recognition. This is the last statement which caused them reputedly to nearly throw him off a cliff. First he declares himself messiah in this day the scripture is fulfilled of the Lord's anionting: "And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian. And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong" (Luke 4:24). He then escapes.
There is no logic in the notion that all these are entirely Christian interpolations to portray a Jewish leader falsely as having a mission to te gentiles. The statement at Nazareth is just the astute use of key scripture to make a very innovative point which Jesus teachings are renowned for. The key Old Testament writings of the messiah portray a light to lighten the gentiles - a Jewish light but one which will illuminate the gentile spirit. These passages clearly express sympathy with the Samaritans as a follower of the Northern tradition and as they stand show the greater light shining from a Jewish source as expected of the healing messiah. This wider mission is consistent with later apocalyptic writings such as the book of Enoch, which reach further back, before Abraham, to the patriarch Enoch and to Adam the father of all humankind in their inspiration. It is thus apparent that Jesus set out on a two-fold agenda, knowing his mission was one identifiable with both Tammuz and the Suffering Servant. He made sure his fame spread both the the gentiles and to the Israelites. The body was Galilee, the left hand Judea, the crucible of the Passion, and the right hand Syria, the Decapolis and beyond the Jordan.
One thing that is singular about Jesus, despite having twelve male disciples is the fact that he is exclusively supported by a group of women of diverse origin. No males whatever are mentioned as having supported his mission, except for the posthumous spices and aloes John (19:38). "And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance." ( Luke 8:1) Given the patriarchal nature of Jewish society and the exclusively male-oriented nature of the Essenes, this comlete financial dependence upon a diverse group of women, given the leanings of the Bridegroom towards the death of Adonis, which these women all later travelled to Jerusalem to witness, wail for and announce the ressurection of, opens a veritable belly of living waters of conjecture.
8.7 The Foxes Have Their Holes
But this brief life is strenuous, with no place called home and vulnerable: Thomas 86 "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head and rest." Sometimes people wanted to stone him (John 8:59, 10:31) other times they would crown him: John 6:15 "When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone." Luke 1:42 "the leprosy departed from him ... But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter."
It is clear, as his mission matures, that he has become unsafe in Judea: John 7:1 "After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him." and also in the Tetrarchy of Galilee and Peraea, where the irritation of the Pharisees and the interest of the Herodians has become a threat: Mark 9:30 "And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him." He passes finally into Judea indirectly, Mark 10:1 "And he arose from [Capernaum], and cometh into the coasts of Judaea by the farther side of Jordan", passing through Jericho, where the blind man cries out to him as Jesus thou Son of David, entering Bethany and then Jerusalem on his 'last ride' on Zechariah's ass.
We witness the final elements of doom emerge in a variety of forms, each of them intimately involving women. In Mark 14:3 (Matt 26:6), while in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, he is anointed on the head by a woman. Several murmur against Jesus for accepting this advance because of the waste when it could have been given to the poor. "And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. ... She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying." This provokes Judas to approach the chief priests.
In John, Jesus dooms himself publically in a ritual display of recussitating Lazarus. This causes the Pharisees to consult with the chief priests concerning sorcery and evokes a clear reaction that Jesus is to become the atonement king: 11:50 "Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." Mary of Bethany then anoints Jesus feet and wipes them with her hair. Judas in particular is then offended.
Jesus makes quite clear this has been his direction throughout: John 12:27 "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. ... now shall the prince of this world be cast out."
Having entered Jerusalem in triumph on the ass as Zechariah's fertility king of Jerusalem, declaring "Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord", something which could carry the accusation of political insurrection against Rome, he now proceeds to set up one last conflict in the midst of the festival preparations, which is sure to gain enough ire to prokoke the high priests against him: Mark 11:15 "And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine." Thus Jesus, who had practised healing on the sabbath in the synagogue chose, to disrupt the money-changers whose job it was to provide change to ensure Roman coins did not defile the Temple as offerings. Although their rates may well have been high and were sometimes the subject of initiatives by well-minded Pharisees, to offer coins with the deified Roman emperor to Yahweh was sacrilege.
Completing this picture, again in the shadow of Zechariah, he meets the arresting party with swords and commits a symbolic act of violent resistance, before volunteering himself as ring-leader in exchange for the sheep of the disciples being scattered.