Wednesday, April 01, 2015

10 Years After: 2006 -- The Other Jesus

In the service of fundraising and nostalgia, I am using the occasion of my 10th blogiversary to bring some stuff out of the archives -- probably a few representational samples from each year. 

One of the upsides of not having a boss is that I can write about whatever catches my eye.

Sometimes I write about theology...

It reads...

“Get your fucking hands off my son!”

(Actually it’s a photo of the Coptic script of the Gospel of Judas via National Geographic)

File this under: The Real, True Adventures of Jesus and his Kid.

OK, none of this is original to me.

Some I’d read, some I’ve picked up talking to Jesuits and much of it I got through a series of letters that a good friend of mine assembled several years ago when he was getting his thoughts on paper.

No, I have never read “The DaVinci Code” (I started it and found it to be similar-if-not-outright-derivative of things I’d already read, and the writing was, well, turgid) so if this is too overlapful of that, skip it.

First, by way of setup, this fascinating story from the Los Angeles Time:
Manuscript Indicates Jesus Urged Judas' Betrayal
From Associated Press

12:47 PM PDT, April 6, 2006

WASHINGTON — For 2,000 years Judas has been reviled for betraying Jesus. Now a newly translated ancient document seeks to tell his side of the story.

The "Gospel of Judas" tells a far different tale from the four gospels in the New Testament. It portrays Judas as a favored disciple who was given special knowledge by Jesus -- and who turned him in at Jesus' request.

"You will be cursed by the other generations -- and you will come to rule over them," Jesus tells Judas in the document made public today.

The text, one of several ancient documents found in the Egyptian desert in 1970, was preserved and translated by a team of scholars. It was made public in an English translation by the National Geographic Society.

Religious and lay readers alike will debate the meaning and truth of the manuscript.

But it does show the diversity of beliefs in early Christianity, said Marvin Meyer, professor of Bible studies at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.

The text, in the Coptic language, was dated to about the year 300 and is a copy of an earlier Greek version.

A "Gospel of Judas" was first mentioned around A.D. 180 by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon, in what is now France. The bishop denounced the manuscript as heresy because it differed from mainstream Christianity. The actual text had been thought lost until this discovery.

"Perhaps more now can be said," he commented. The document "implies that Judas only did what Jesus wanted him to do."

Christianity in the ancient world was much more diverse than it is now, with a number of gospels circulating in addition to the four that were finally collected into the New Testament, noted Bart Ehrman, chairman of religious studies at the University of North Carolina.

Eventually, one point of view prevailed and the others were declared heresy, he said, including the Gnostics who believed that salvation depended on secret knowledge that Jesus imparted, particularly to Judas.

"Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom," Jesus says to Judas, singling him out for special status. "Look, you have been told everything. Lift up your eyes and look at the cloud and the light within it and the stars surrounding it. The star that leads the way is your star."

The text ends with Judas turning Jesus over to the high priests and does not include any mention of the crucifixion or resurrection.
So you want to know the really-real story of Jesus?

Well, settle down and bring me a scotch and I will reveal all.

Now is this little story I'm about to tell true?

How the hell should I know? It is to my mind, however, no less riveting an explanation of the Jesus Story than the cartoons they pass off as genuine coin in Sunday School, or either the Abattoir Christianity or "JC, CEO" faiths that are pimped by various hucksters on the Right.

In other words: We Purport, You Decide.

So once upon a time…

The Kingdom of Judea was in upheaval as is had been for years. The Romans had conquered the region and had tried to bend in into becoming another distant province of their empire.

Their success was…mixed.

The Occupiers were militarily superior to the locals in every way, and there were a lot of advantages to being a client-state. And, yes, they had effectively co-opted many of the local elected officials, but everyone knew what the score was.

The Occupiers said “jump” and their proxy government said “how high.”

And the locals – who had been conquered and pillaged many times before and who would have found our modern notion of separating Church and State incomprehensible – existed in various of states of high-pissoffery.

The Occupiers were almost uniformly seen an affront to their God and despoilers of their holy places.

Some people just wanted to be left alone. Some thought cooperation was the lesser of many evils; the only way to stave off something much worse. Many were seething with rage. And a few of them took up arms against the Occupiers and those they saw as collaborators.

And those who drew blood in their cause saw it as a sacred thing.

It was a cauldron of faith, politics, family, tribe, righteous fury, military power and insurgency, always gurgling away at a low boil and kept in check by compromise when possible, and massive shows of force when not.

And I don’t think it is exaggerating the situation by a whole lot by describing it as an on-again-off-again form of urban warfare taking place in the context of a low-grade civil war.

Say, does ANY of this sound familiar?

Does anyone fail to notice that if it were air strikes vs. carbombs instead of legions vs. daggers, this is exactly what the front page of the New York Times looks like every single day?

The reason I mention it is I am always surprised when devout Christians are oblivious to the context in which their central stories take place.

In a city in the grip of factional fighting that shuddered and bled for years before JC came along.

A city that was all but wiped off the map in the denouement of that Long War, 40 years after Jesus was supposed to have been killed.

So instead of the Disney Christ, existing outside of time and space in a Neverland of shepherds and parables, wise men and stock-character Romans, just imagine it as it really was.

In a city in the middle of a guerilla war, where leaders desperately rose up again and again only to be killed, again and again.

And then a young warrior-priest hit on a new strategy.

He is well-educated in both tactics and law. He is of royal blood, and like true royalty feels quite at home talking to people of every station in life. The Essenes know him, as do the Zealots. Even to the worshipers of Mithras he would not be a stranger.

He has developed what we would call a broad constituency, and he also has a duty. The same duty every Jewish lead bears in his turn: to drive the Romans out.

As a rabbi and a royal, he has also taken a wife. Seriously, who in those times would have trusted a wifeless, childless leader? They were married at Cana (you may have read about it), and had a son, then entering his teens.

The son is a royal and a rebel like his old man, but has fallen in with the armed, hard-core, “Revolution Now” crowd. His dad worries about him, but he’s a strong-willed and righteous kid who’s been listening to dad's anti-Roman kitchen-table-talk his whole life, so what can the old man really say?

The uprising Jesus had planned was, of course, both spiritual and political -- two concepts which would not be teased apart and thought of separately for millennia. To craft and trigger his rebellion he made an underdog's careful use of the agitpropic power of “prophecy fulfillment” to fill the streets with followers, perhaps using the radical idea that in the true fulfillment of Jewish Law the revolutionaries could literally love their enemies into making concessions to capture the imagination of the war-weary residents of Jerusalem.

Maybe the streets were too narrow?

Maybe the crowds were too large?

Whatever happened, at some point the wheels came off, and the massed power of the Roman military moved in. It was soon obvious that the uprising had failed, and seeing that the tide was turning and they were all now (or would soon be) wanted for capital crimes, Jesus and his team went into hiding.

Which leads to what I think of as one of the central, unanswered question of New Testament.

Why didn’t they just put their boogie shoes on and scram?

Live to fight another day?

C’mon, you’ve got a city full of followers presumably willing to hide you. Friends in high and low places. Pals among the Essennes down the coast. I mean, who the fuck plans a rebellion without an escape route?

Without a Plan B?

It's 106 miles to Chicago! You've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark and we're wearing sunglasses.

So hit it!

But they stayed.


Don’t think supernatural; don’t think stilted or scripted or Cecil B. DeMille.

Just think like a smart, compassionate leader of men during a time of war and ask yourself, "What would make me blow off my chance at retreat and regrouping?"

How about if the Romans had your kid?

Your child, who is not just your flesh and blood, but the heir to a royal line.

A teenaged boy who had been name after his father, and since people didn’t have last names in those days, he would have been called something like “Jesus, Son of the Master” or “Jesus, Son of the father”.

But where in the New Testament do you find a second man named Jesus?

Hey baby, you’re soaking in it!

This site sums it up as well as any...
Now the gospels tell us the name (title) of the robber Pilate offered to the crowd for release in Jesus stead was "Barabbas" or Bar'Abba Mk 15:6-15, Mt 27:15-26, Lk 23:17-25, Jn 18:39-40.

(This is not a personal name. It's a title - in Aramaic it means "the Son of the Father"). Some ancient manuscripts of Matthew, confirmed by the writings of the church father, Origen (250ce), reveal the full name of the criminal as " Jesus Bar'Abbas " , just like the "Jesus Bar'Abbas" ( Son of the Father "God" ) that Christians worship .

The church father Origen was appalled by the use of "Jesus Barabbas" in the manuscripts he was familiar with because he held the conviction that no "sinner" should bare the name and title of "Jesus the Christ " .

"…scribes deleted the name Jesus from Jesus Barabbas out of reverence for Jesus Christ ." D. A. Carson, Matthew, in vol. 8 of The Expositor's Bible Commentary, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), p574.
This site covers the basics pretty well too...
In the Christian story of the passion of Jesus , Barabbas, actually Jesus bar-Abbas, (Aramaic Bar-abbâ, "son of the father"), was the insurrectionary murderer whom Pontius Pilate freed at the Passover…

"Jesus Barabbas"

According to the United Bible Societies' text, Matthew 27:17 reads: "...whom will ye that I release unto you? Jesus Barabbas [Greek: Iesous ton Barabbas] or Jesus which is called Christ [Greek: Iesous ton legomenon Christon]?"

Some early Greek manuscripts of Matthew present Barabbas' name twice as Jesus bar Abbas: manuscripts in the Caesarean group of texts, the Sinaitic Palimpsest, the Palestinian Syriac lectionaries and some of the manuscripts used by Origen in the 3rd century, all support the fact that Barabbas' name was originally Jesus Barabbas, though not all modern New Testament translations reflect this. Origen deliberately rejected the reading in the manuscript he was working with, and left out "Iesous" deliberately, for reverential considerations, certainly a strongly motivated omission. Early editors did not want the name Jesus associated with anyone who was a sinner.
So word gets back to you via intermediaries that the Romans have your son and have charged him with being a member of the sicarii (An armed, militant sect dedicated to overthrowing the Romans by force.)

He had committed a capital crime (Mark 15:7 says that he had committed a murder during an insurrection) and was soon to die…but the Romans would be willing to trade.

The Father for the Son, and the clock is ticking.

You see how with a little context we’ve moved this along from a child’s badly staged Sunday School pageant to an episode of “24”?

"My name is Jesus of Nazareth...and this is the longest day of my life!”

Your rebellion is fucked, your movement is in ashes and as you and your posse pack fast and get ready to blow town, word reaches you that your son and heir is rotting in a Roman prison awaiting execution.

What do you do?

Well if you read the story of the Last Supper without changing a single phrase -- only shifting the context and the emphasis -- according to scripture, you call an Emergency War Council.

You make some brutally hard decisions, share a Passover meal and a prayer with your dearest friends and loyal lieutenants -- men who have sworn to live and die by your word -- and then pick out two of them to do the hardest things they will ever be asked to do.

As their leader, you start issuing orders.

Mercy first, so with staunch-but-not-very-bright Peter, you keep it simple. You tell him to escape. To lie his ass off, deny he ever knew you, and get out of town.

Pete doesn’t want to -- in tears he says, “If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise” -- so you have to insist.

Then onto the shoulders of your ferociously loyal security chief, Judas Iscariot -- Judas of the Sicarii? -- you place the heaviest burden of all; the life of your child. Judas will handle the exchange, including personally turning you over to the authorities, and since the Roman offer came strings attached including an insistence on secrecy, he can never, ever breathe a word about the real story to anyone or the deal is off.

You know it'll destroy him and his good name for all time -- “The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." -- but you also know it has to be done, and only the strongest of your men can handle that burden.

"Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me."

For god’s sake, these aren’t prophecies. They’re final commands, given to a platoon whose heart had already been shattered once that day.

And then you lead your brothers in a prayer, and walk out into the night and into history.

To save your son.

No comments: