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6625.  Thu Mar 25, 2004 12:40 pm Reply with quote

The new Mel Gibson film, The Passion of the Christ, has sparked a lot of passion outside the world of movies. I have here a very interesting comment by Bishop John Shelby Spong, from whom many traditionalists recoil as they would from Lucifer himself, but whose Biblical scholarship seems pretty sound to me. He has written several columns about the film, going into the Biblical errors he sees in it, and I can post them if anybody's interested (there are four, all about as long as this one), but this final one is the one I thought best.

What Mel Gibson Does Not Understand About Biblical History

In the year 66 C.E. guerilla activities that had been festering in Galilee for more than 40 years broke out in a full-scale war. While that war was engaged in the mountains of Galilee, the Jewish 'freedom fighters,' familiar with those hills, acquitted themselves quite well. In response Rome decided to abandon the fight on that terrain and to attack the heart of their enemy. Massing its troops against Jerusalem, the Roman Army laid siege and finally breeched the walls of that city in the year 70. The carnage was total. Jerusalem with its magnificent Temple was destroyed, and the Jewish nation disappeared from the maps of human history, not to appear again until 1948 when the State of Israel was re-established.

The trauma embracing those Jews was intense. They had lost everything including their national pride. Bitterness and recriminations were rampant. A survival mentality that required conformity in all things developed. If one dared to step outside the parameters of what these survivors called the 'true faith,' they were quite sure their nation would fall into a bottomless pit.

In that fateful year, there was a movement within the synagogues called the 'Followers of the Way.' These people identified themselves as the disciples of a Jewish itinerant teacher called Yeshua, but written in Greek as Jesus, who had been crucified by the Romans on or about the year 30 C.E. They had opposed the war against the Romans as the work of religious fanatics, blaming it on the Orthodox party, who ruled the Temple. These 'revisionists,' as the Orthodox party called them, believed that the folly of the conservative Jews had made all Jews suffer. At the same time, the Orthodox party was becoming less and less tolerant of these revisionist Jews, whose very existence, they believed, weakened the unified front the Temple Rulers deemed necessary for Jewish survival. In the minds of these rulers, a pluralistic religious system had little hope of enduring this time of persecution. Survival, the believed, required a devotion on the part of the Jews that was single-mi! nded, certain and incapable of compromise. The religious lines among these newly conquered Jews were thus deeply hardened by this mutual hostility.

The 'Followers of the Way' had, since the death of Jesus, engaged themselves in the task of incorporating the life and teachings of Yeshua into the worship life of the synagogue. They had interpreted Jesus in terms of familiar Jewish symbols. He was the sacrificial lamb of the Day of Atonement, slaughtered for the sins of the people. He was the scapegoat of Yom Kippur, who carried away the sins of the people. It was, however, the association of the crucified Jesus with the Passover lamb that enabled them to place the passion of Jesus into the setting of the Passover. During the Passover celebration, which began at sundown on Nisan 14 (late March-early April) the Jews rehearsed the history of their nation's birth at the time of the Exodus. The followers of Jesus simply stretched that celebration, which normally lasted about three hours, into a 24-hour vigil. This enabled them to relive the last events in Jesus' life in a liturgy that began at sundown on Thursday and las! ted until sundown on Friday. While the Orthodox party was observing the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt and their 'baptism' in the Red Sea, the 'Followers of the Way' were observing the story of their 'exodus' from the slavery of sin, culminating in a Red Sea-like experience of Baptism into the new Christian community. In both observances the 'death of the lamb of God' was crucial to the liturgy.

With the fall of the their nation the tension between these two Jewish groups, one intent on preserving the past intact and the other intent on incorporating Jesus into that ancient faith tradition, grew bitter. Meanwhile, the Roman authorities hated all Jews and were bent on making them pay in every possible way for their insurrection. The Orthodox party endured this Roman persecution and in turn persecuted the 'Followers of the Way' as a group of heretical, revisionist Jews. The 'Revisionist Jews' in response, sought to separate themselves, in the minds of the Roman rulers, from the Orthodox party and its unwise war, and thus to escape both the wrath and the virulent anti-Semitism the Romans had loosed upon the land.

One of the ways the 'Revisionists' did this was to make certain that the Romans knew that the Orthodox party was their enemy as much as it was Rome's. It was a case of "since your enemy is my enemy we ought to be friends." However, one fact that lay at the heart of the faith story of the Revisionist Jews was that Jesus of Nazareth, their doorway into the holy, had been executed by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, a man well known for his villainy. So a shift in the way they told the story of Jesus' death became essential. That was the catalyst that enabled a revisionist history to appear in the worship pattern of those emerging Christians. Increasingly the Roman government, symbolized by Pilate, was portrayed by these Christians as an ally in their struggle against the rigid, defiant Orthodox Jews, made up primarily of the Chief Priests, the Scribes and the Sadducees. The Orthodox Party was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, they said. Pilate actually trie! d to save him, they asserted. The central way, in which the story of the suffering of Jesus was told, began to reflect this shift. A traitor was introduced into the Christian tradition, whose name was Judas. Conveniently, that name was simply the Greek spelling of Judah, the name of the Jewish nation. He became the quintessential anti-hero of all things Christian. He was the Jew who had delivered Jesus to the Ruling Jews of Jerusalem, who ran the nation before the rebellion. The very people who had led the revolt against Rome were the same people who had crucified Jesus, they said. The Jews, who were among the 'Followers of the Way,' were, it was asserted, the natural allies of the Roman government against a common enemy. It was a unique shift that would echo throughout history as Jews, time after time, would be blamed for the death of Jesus. It was said by these 'Revisionists' that while Jesus suffered 'during' the reign of Pontius Pilate, that suffering was actu! ally 'at the hands of the Orthodox party.' They accomplished this tra nsition by portraying Pilate as a benign Roman leader, who, in the death of Jesus, was forced against his will to acquiesce to the anger of the Jewish mob. He washed his hands in public and proclaimed himself innocent of "the blood of this just man," while the Jewish crowd was made to shout, "His blood be upon us and upon our children."

With these innovations the Passion of Jesus, now crafted into the Christian liturgy of Passover, moved inexorably through a 24-hour vigil. The outlines of this vigil can still be found in the earliest passion story in the Gospel of Mark. It remains the form through which the death of Jesus is observed even today. Stripping the altar on Maundy Thursday to begin the watch and culminating in the three-hour observance of Good Friday are the vestigal remains of this ancient tradition. Mark began this passion account at 14:17, by citing a time reference, "And when it was evening," which means it was approximately 6:00 p.m. That was when Jesus and his disciples gathered for the Passover meal. That meal, with its ceremonies recalling of the moment of the nation's birth, ended with a closing hymn and the guests departed. We see that format reflected in verse 26. Jesus and his disciples left the upper room to go to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus took Peter, James and Jo! hn to 'watch with him' while he prayed. These disciples went to sleep. Jesus returned asking, "Could you not watch with me one hour (vs.37)?" This action was repeated two more times. These disciples could not watch one, two or three hours. The time was now midnight. The second segment of the 24-hour vigil was complete. The act of betrayal came at midnight in this liturgy. The darkest deed was set at the darkest moment of the night. That is dramatic, but it is not history. The vigil then moved to chronicle the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, which condemned him to die. This brings us to three o'clock in the morning.

The segment of the night from 3:00 to 6:00 a.m. was known as "cock crow," during which the story of Peter's three-fold denial was told (one denial for each hour?), after which the cock crowed. The text acknowledged the end of that watch with these words, "As soon as it was morning (15:1)," and the story moved to the trial before Pilate, which pitted his struggle to free Jesus against the objections of the Jewish leaders. Mark's narrative again noted the time by saying, "It was the third hour, (9 a.m.) when they crucified him (15:25)."

The Passion drama then moved on in its vigil format to verse 33, which announced that at the sixth hour, darkness covered the whole land. It was "darkness at noon," which lasted until the ninth hour (3:00 p.m.). That was the moment when Jesus cried, "My God, Why?" and died. He was buried before sundown to complete the 24-hour vigil.

The Passion story of Jesus was created to meet liturgical needs, not to be remembered history. It enabled worshipers in later generations to relive the death of Jesus as if they were eyewitnesses. Its real background was not 30 C.E. when his death actually occurred. It reflects rather a post 70 period of history when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Christians were shifting the blame for Jesus' death from the Romans to the Jews for the sake of their own survival.

Mel Gibson has told the story of Jesus' Passion as if it were an eyewitness account of what happened at the time of the crucifixion. All Christians should know better, but a literalized story, reenacted annually, becomes reality in the minds of the worshipers. In this film, as well as in the response of its defenders, ignorance and prejudice have scored again, and the Jews have become the victims. That is a dreadful way to observe the death of the one of whom believers say, he came because God so loved the world and that all might have life and have it abundantly.

-- John Shelby Spong

7539.  Wed Jun 09, 2004 3:45 pm Reply with quote

OK - you're all going to hate me for this enormous long cut'n'paste, but there isn't a link to it afaik, and it came in an email. However, it's written by a bishop (Spong) if that matters. It seems to throw a new light on the exploding/hanged/disembowelled Judas question by suggesting that the disciple in question was fictional:

The Ultimate Source of Anti-Semitism - The Circumstances That Brought Judas Into the Jesus Story

I return today to a subject that I have covered before. It is essential however, to this series on the sources of anti-Semitism, so I ask my reader's indulgence while I once again bring Judas into focus. My request to you is a simple one. Suspend for a moment your critical faculties, as well as your traditional presuppositions, and assume with me that the story of Judas Iscariot was a late-developing, contrived story and not a remembered bit of objective history. If this speculation is correct, as I think it is, then I must deal with two additional questions. The first one is: where did the gospel writers get the content that they wove into the Judas story? If it has all been borrowed, as I think I can demonstrate, then is any part of that story history?

I find it fascinating that every detail that has been written into the story of Judas has been lifted almost directly out of other betrayal stories in the Hebrew Scriptures. The very words "handed over," which we somewhat loosely translated "betrayed" when Paul first used it (I Cor. 11), was lifted out of the story of Joseph and his brothers (Gen. 37). Rather than kill Joseph, the brothers agreed to hand him over for money. Of particular note is the fact that the brother who proposed that they secure this payment for their act of treachery was Judah. If written in Greek, it would be Judas!

Second, a story in the book of Zechariah has the shepherd King of Israel being betrayed for thirty pieces of silver. This money says Zechariah was thrown back into the Temple treasury, which is exactly what Matthew, who is the only gospel writer to mention 'thirty pieces of silver,' says Judas did with his money when he repented (compare Zech. 11:12-13 with Mt. 27:5). This shepherd King in the book of Zechariah was betrayed, interestingly enough, to those who bought and sold animals in the Temple (11:15)!

Third, there is a narrative in the David saga of stories in which a royal advisor named Ahithophel, who even though he ate at the table of the King, nonetheless raised his hand in betrayal against "the Lord's anointed," as King David was called. When this treachery backfired, he went out and hanged himself. It is this episode, cited by the book of Psalms (41.9), that John quotes to demonstrate that when Jesus identified Judas at the Last Supper as the traitor, the expectations of the prophets were being fulfilled.

Next we are told that Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. A similar act is also found once again in the David cycle of stories. David, after putting down a rebellion led by his son Absalom, felt he could no longer trust his former military chief Joab, so he replaced him with a man named Amasa. Joab, under the guise of wanting to congratulate his successor, sought out and found Amasa. Drawing Amasa's face by the beard to his own, in order to extend to Amasa the kiss of friendship, Joab disemboweled him with a dagger (II Sam. 20:5ff). That was the content of the phrase 'the kiss of the traitor' before the story of Judas entered the tradition. Perhaps this story about Joab and Amasa also colored Luke's account in the book of Acts in which it was suggested that Judas died with all his bowels gushing out (Acts 1: 18).

My point in this first exercise is to show that every detail of the Judas story has been lifted directly out of the Hebrew Scriptures, where it was originally part of a narrative about other traitors in Jewish history. This causes me to wonder if any part of the Judas story is history.

The second question I wish to raise is: What was going on at that time in history that might have made it convenient or even necessary to create the Judas story? This leads me into an exploration of the world of the Middle East after the year 70 C.E. when the gospels were being written. One of the more obvious themes in the earliest passion narratives is the shifting of the blame for Jesus' death from the Romans to the Jews, for that is what the story of Judas seems to accomplish. Let me set that stage for you.

From the time of Jesus on (30 C.E.), Jewish guerilla fighters had roamed the hills of Galilee doing hit and run attacks on the occupying Roman army. To the Jews, these guerillas were heroic freedom fighters. To the Romans, they were terrorists and killers. These guerillas were called Zealots. The fact that one of Jesus' disciples was known as Simon the Zealot (Lk.6: 15), may indicate a closer connection between these guerillas and Jesus than Christians have yet been willing to admit.

In the year 66 C.E., this guerilla activity escalated into a full scale Galilean war between the Romans and the Jews that finally ended at Masada in 73 C.E. in total Jewish defeat. The climax of the war, however, occurred when the Romans decided they could not defeat the guerillas unless they destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish state. Led first by a general named Vespasian, and later by his son Titus, the Romans moved into siege positions around the Holy City and pounded it until Jerusalem fell in 70 C.E. The Romans moved in, smashing its walls, razing its buildings and demolishing the Temple. The Jewish state disappeared from the maps of history, and did not re-appear again until 1948 when the United Nations brought into being the State of Israel under the authority of the Balfour Declaration.

In that war against Rome, the Jews lost everything they had: their nation, their holy city, their temple, and their priesthood. Jewish identity thus came to be attached to their sacred scriptures, which was all they had left. They invested these scriptures with both an absolute authority and a literal accuracy. The whole truth is in the Torah, they asserted. Nothing more is essential, or necessary. The Jews thus became increasingly rigid, fundamentalist and doctrinaire about their Bible. That always occurs when survival is at stake.

In that same tragedy the followers of Jesus, who were still predominantly Jews, found themselves suffering the fate of all Jews at the hands of their Roman conquerors. Seeking to separate themselves from the Orthodox Party of the Jews, whom they blamed for starting that destructive war, the followers of Jesus sought to make the case that they should not be punished for the foolishness of the Jewish fanatics who constituted the Orthodox Party. It was a difficult case for them to make, however, since Jesus, the one they followed, had also been executed by the Romans.

But suppose, they said to the Roman authorities, that the Romans only crucified Jesus at the behest of the Orthodox Party of the Jews, who sought to get rid of his threatening teaching by portraying Jesus as a political revolutionary, who wanted to set up a rival Kingdom. Recall the sign that Pilate ordered to be placed over the cross: 'This is Jesus the King of the Jews.' The Orthodox Party had twisted his message, they contended to the Romans, since the Kingdom of which Jesus spoke was not of this world. The same religious fanatics, they argued, who started the Roman war had earlier been instrumental in the death of our leader. It was a skillful use of that old adage: 'we should be friends since we have a common enemy.' Your wrath, they wanted the authorities representing Rome after that war to know, should not fall indiscriminately on all Jews.

How better could they accomplish that purpose than to tell the Christ story with the chief person responsible for the death of Jesus bearing the name of the entire Jewish nation?

How better could they seek Roman favor than by whitewashing the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate, in their narrative of Jesus' final days, exonerating him of any blame in his death?

So Pilate, in the developing gospel story, was portrayed as washing his hands, claiming his innocence and referring to Jesus as "this just man in whom I find no fault." The Jewish crowd was portrayed as accepting the blame, by saying: "His blood be upon us and upon our children." The shift in blame was complete. The Jews did it. Judah/Judas did it. They are the enemy. He is the enemy. Pilate and the Romans are our friends.

So the deed was done. That is the ultimate seed out of which this Christian prejudice of anti-Semitism has grown. That is the source out of which all the hostility toward the Jews has flowed. That is what allowed Christians to tolerate and even to celebrate a violent, killing anti-Jewish undercurrent that would emerge in chilling horror in the writings of the Church Fathers, in the Crusades, in the Inquisition, in the response to the Bubonic plague, in the writings of reformers like Luther and in the Holocaust. Judas is our clue. Christians took the life of one disciple who bore the name of the entire Jewish nation and made him the anti-Christ, thereby avoiding their own persecution as Jews by the conquering Romans and in that act, anti-Semitism was transformed into a virtue in Christian history.

The only purpose in raising the sources of our prejudice into consciousness is to enable us to expel them. The biblical texts that we Christians have used for centuries to justify our hostility toward the Jews need to be banished forever from the sacred writings of the Christian Church. The way to begin I believe is to return to the Christ consciousness that caused the early Christians to assert, as Luke does in the Pentecost story, that to be filled with the Spirit is to transcend all tribal boundaries and to speak the universal language of love (Acts 2). It is to recover the power in Paul's words to the Galatians, that "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek but a New Creation" (Gal 3:28).

To enter that new creation may well be what is required if the human race is to survive.

10657.  Sun Nov 14, 2004 4:55 am Reply with quote

Yes, well. How do you follow that?

11554.  Tue Nov 30, 2004 1:21 pm Reply with quote

free will to all men?

Why then did Jesus know Judas would betray him?

Suggets are fates are already foreseen.

11555.  Tue Nov 30, 2004 1:22 pm Reply with quote

*suggests our fates are foressen (yes fate would imply a future back affecting the present, ok)

720080.  Wed Jun 16, 2010 9:32 am Reply with quote

Quick questions:

Doesn't 'Do Not Lie' come under the heading of 'Do Not Bear False Witness'?

Also, my understanding was always that the real commandement was 'Thou Shalt Not Murder', and that it kept getting misquoted. Considering the number of wars the bible records after this event, it would be a bit tricky.

720088.  Wed Jun 16, 2010 10:13 am Reply with quote

On the first question, yes. That is the Eighth Commandment is one is a Roman Catholic, or the Ninth if one is a Protestant.

The second question is one about which there has been a great deal of debate. Protestants tend to take it as "murder" (and some Americans use this to defend the existence of the death penalty), while RCs generally take it as "kill" (and are therefore opposed to the death penalty).

We discussed this issue, among others, in a thread which starts at post 387161.


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