Monday, December 7, 2015

"Jesus as Human Being"

That only took six months!  Twenty-eight chapters.  Approx sixty thousand words.

As I  wrote it I went back and added and moved things around, etc.  I ended up following through with various thoughts, doing research as it pleased me.  So almost every chapter is significantly revised.  The Introduction, as it is now called, indicates this.

So, I will be removing these posts over the next few days and weeks, again as it pleases me to do so.  But the entire project is up, here:  "Jesus as Human Being".  The chapter numbering is the same, with some paragraphs moved, and it's been organized into chronological headings.

You may read it.  But the price is that you leave a brief comment if you spot a typo etc or have any brief factual material to briefly add.  I don't want to gossip.


Saturday, December 5, 2015


[Here, at XXVIII for the final version.]

John ends his account at the shore of Galilee, but others have a bit more to add. We haven’t heard from Matthew since Easter morning, when the soldiers were bribed and the women were told about going north. He takes up after quite a gap: “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.” (Mt 28) This is the first we’ve heard of any mountain. Just guessing, but maybe it was Mt Tabor, outside Nazareth, traditional site of the Transfiguration. Who knows how long they trekked north and waited in Galilee. Long enough to go fishing, as John has told us.

There, when “they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the end of the age.’”

And this is where Matthew ends. Not the end of the story. This is not the Ascension we all know about from Hollywood movies. It’s just a snippet of a missionary sermon. Why did they have to go to this specific mountain, in far off Galilee? Unknown. The obvious but incorrect assumption is that this was where Jesus ascended. No.

For our final details, we have to turn to Luke, his ‘Gospel’ and his ‘Acts’, and to First Corinthians, of Paul. Luke had left off with the believing, the conversion of Thomas. He resumes in the book of Acts, recounting that Jesus, after his suffering, gave the apostles commandments and “presented himself alive with many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1) Then he Ascended.

Paul recaps some of what we know: after the resurrection, Jesus “was seen by Cephus, then by the twelve.” (1 Cor 15) He ignores the seashore meeting that ends the Gospel of John, but gives us unique information from, most likely, around that very time and place: Jesus “was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that he was seen by James, then by all the apostles” – presumable at the Ascension. No other source informs us of the encounter with James, although James, if it is the same James, was on the shoreside with Peter and John. Finally, Paul includes himself: “Then last of all he was seen by me also, as one born out of time.”

Mark, and Luke in his Gospel and his Acts, give us the final details. Indeed, it may not be the author Mark, but a later scribe, etc. But nothing unique is given here in Mark.

No longer in Galilee, but Jerusalem now, Jesus “had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany” (Lk 24) and “being assembled together, he commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to ‘Wait for the promise of the Father, which you have heard from me. For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit, not many days from now.’ Therefore, when they had come together they asked him, ‘Lord, at this time will you restore the kingdom of Israel?’ ‘It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the father has put in his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.’ Now when he has spoken these things” (Acts 1) “he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them” (Lk) “while they watched, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight” (Acts) “into heaven and sat on the right hand of God the Father. (Mk 16)

Sorry for that clause-filled sentence. But you see that there is a harmony to it.

And while the apostles “looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you, will also come in like manner as you saw him go into heaven.’ (Acts) “Then they worshiped him and returned” (Lk) “from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey” (Acts), “with great joy. And they stayed at the Temple continually praising God.”(Lk)

And there we shall leave them, for there Luke, and our story, ends.

Where and when and what about this final forty days of ministry? Very few details. But it ended as early as Thurs, May 18 (forty days after Easter), and as late as Fri, May 26 (Pentecost). When does the clock start? Easter? Galilee? I would very much like the Ascension to have occurred early on the morning of Pentecost, the only holiday within this timeframe. The symbolism is supurb.

Pentecost is no longer, but it was, the Jewish holiday of Shavuot -- variously called the Feast of Weeks, of Reaping, of First Fruits. It occurs on the Sixth of Shivan, 50 days after Passover (Lev 23:15) – 49 days in-between.

Shavuot is the traditional day that Moses descended from Sinai with the first tablets – carved by God, broken by Moses (Ex 31). Recall that I have suggested Jesus started his ministry on Yom Kippur, the day Moses descended from Sinai with the second tablets, carved by Moses (Ex 34), fulfilled by Jesus.

Shavuot was also the time to make the First Fruits offering of the wheat harvest. Passover was the First Fruits offering of the barley harvest. Perhaps there is some Christological symbolism of the Sunday-after-Passover (Easter) wave-offering of barley (Lev 23:11) and the loaves offering of wheat on Shavuot (Pentecost).

The relevant verse is Acts 2:1: “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” ‘Day’ is hēmeran (‘daylight hours’), and ‘fully come’ is sumpléroó (‘fulfilled, ‘completed’, ‘accomplished’ – as a boat is ‘swamped’). The emphasis is on strong daylight, well through the day. Why this biblical stressing of bright noon or afternoon? Because early that morning Jesus had disappeared into the clouds.

It is not needful. But the symbolism, typology, is lovely. If so, the final forty days of ministry must have started not on Easter, but one week later, on Sunday, April 16 – the day Jesus came to save Thomas. So ... that sort of works. How nice.

Take it for what it’s worth: as I have it, Jesus started his ministry on the mandatory Feast of Booths (Succoth). He died as the Lamb of Passover. He rose on the mandatory first Feast of First Fruits. He ended his ministry on the mandatory second Feast of First Fruits (Shavuot). It would have been good if one of the Bible authors had pointed these things out. But if they wrote the evidence, then drew out the implications, they could be charged with faking the evidence. Better that the meaning be discovered independently. But why humanity had to wait 2000 years for me to make these observations is an imponderable. I’m smart, but not as smart as I think I am. Somebody else could have done this long, long ago.

Notice how John ends on the Galilean shore by a campfire, with all these further details ignored, as if they had no importance to him. Notice how far Matthew’s text jumped, from Easter to a mountain in Galilee, where he ended. John and Matthew disregard the Ascension as unimportant to their purpose. And they are correct: no one was saved by Jesus rising into heaven. It just seems like a stronger ending would make a better story.

Both Luke and Mark share the same major ellipse, in one sentence jumping from Easter in the Upper Room, where Jesus gives one of his commission sermons, to the Ascension at Olivet. A naïve (or, if you will, a natural) reading of Luke and Mark creates the strong impression that there is no time gap, moving rather from the Upper Room sermon to the Olivet ascension. Only by deliberately, laboriously, harmonizing the various accounts do we get a non-contradictory story. Turns out that study is necessary. First-reading skepticism is incompetent.

We are warned then not to impose our contemporary expectations on ancient historical forms. The authors had their purposes, if we try to discern them not with an intention to critique, but to understand. How shall I say – God is not modern. Scripture is much more equivocal and malleable than I, personally, approve. In documents that present the truth that can save a soul from eternal torment, I certainly do not want artistic ambiguity.

In some future universe that God may create, he should have me edit his next Bible. Thomas Jefferson undertook the task in this universe, and edited out the most important parts. He presented the Messiah as a sort of eunuch. I’ve stitched together here the sundry testimonies, uncovering what is in fact a fugue. (I know, a badly, no, an enthusiastically mixed metaphor – a bouillabaisse.)

Have we found Jesus, here? The man? He knew his unwavering purpose, and his destiny. He communed, at will it seems, with angels. He wept for the death of a friend, even as he raised that man from the dead. On the cross, he suffered not as a man only, but in his eternal nature, absorbing and expiating every sin ever committed by every person who ever lived. Jesus, in his eternal nature, is suffering eternally. Love and pain. That seems to be the meaning of creation.

When I am dead, if I ever die, and stand before God awaiting his final judgment, I suppose he will count the volume of these words as evidence against me. Because of suffering, I did not love God enough. Loving God is the purpose for which we were created.


Thursday, December 3, 2015


[Here for the final version]

It’s almost perverse, how careless Jesus has been, in how little he has allowed to pass into Scripture. The answer of course is that we are given what we need, only. Too bad if we want more. Any one of the merely-named of his followers could have written a book, and didn’t, or did and it is lost. Maybe there are libraries of other, true gospels, all swept away as if written by a finger in dust. I have said that Jesus must have been frustrated. I know I am. But this too has value: patience, humility, faith – they are learned and earned through facing our own insufficiency. Ultimately, knowing details is trivial. Somehow, faith encompasses the universe.

A week after that long Easter Sunday, the Disciples were in that same house, presumably the same room. “Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” (Jn 20) Thomas was there. We are told nothing of his dismay. Whatever other purposes Jesus had for this drop-in, we are told only of one. To Thomas he said, “‘Put your finger here. See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

Certainly he saw, and believed. But a finger into the hole in the hand? Certainly not. Not every commandment is meant to be obeyed. Stop doubting and believe? What an easy thing to do.

Judas was lost. Had he not been given enough chances? Thomas had resolved not to believe, yet he got a visitation. I suspect he would never have believed, otherwise. Jesus didn’t want to lose another sheep. The ‘Eleven’ sounds bad enough. The ‘Ten’ would sound like incompetence. Like that Oscar Wilde joke: to lose one parent is a tragedy; to lose two seems like carelessness. To believe is not in everyone. For some it is easier, perhaps better, to hang oneself. Others are not given that choice: evidence is forced upon them. The influence of Thomas converted half the world. It was worth the bother, for Jesus to pay this quick Sunday afternoon visit.

Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Not seeing is the only option available, nowadays. John adds, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ.” That’s John’s teaching in theology: ‘the Christ’ is ‘the Word’, which is God. We don’t get to see this fact, via these wonders – we have only books, many of which are in ungrammatical Greek, all of which omit to mention ‘many other miraculous signs’ – or even meaningful and dramatically useful detail. Of course, if the Pharisees wouldn’t believe even if Moses appeared to testify, no amount of skillful storytelling would make us believe. Thomas didn’t believe because he saw, but because it was in him to see.

“Afterwards Jesus appeared again to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberius” – the Sea of Galilee. (Jn 21) How long after? Not told. But they had gone, as directed, to Galilee. “Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus [the Twin]), Nathaniel from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.” “‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’” But “that night they caught nothing.” Apparently they fished at night. “Early in the morning Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you caught any fish?’” “No.” “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” They did, and the net was so full they couldn’t haul it in.

Then John, “the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’” Why do we suppose it was John who said this? There were only seven present, so it had to be one of them. The writer is avoiding use of the name, so it isn’t Peter, Thomas or Nathanial. James and John are the here-unnamed sons of Zebedee, so if we are to know who it is, it must be one of them. The ‘beloved’ was at the Last Supper, and at the Cross, and at the empty tomb. He is a fisherman. John never specifies his own actions by name in his book. (Neither do Matthew or Mark.) Maybe it is James. But tradition says John. Take it for what you will.

Peter “wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.” Maybe he thought he’d walk? Who puts on their clothes to go swimming? The others followed in the boat, towing the net, a hundred yards. On shore, Jesus had a fire going, cooking some fish – roasting, frying – and he had bread. “‘Bring some of the fish you just caught.’ Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, but even with so many the net was not torn.” So, Peter was a strong man. That’s just about the only physical detail we have, of any of these people. Zacchaeus was small. Anna was old. Lepers and the lame. This shoreside episode has a powerful feeling of memory to it.

“‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” That is actually not a statement that encourages confidence. Maybe it was somebody else? Impersonation or mistaken identity? Jesus seems so hard to recognize, what with this new body of his. But the point isn’t that they didn’t know who it was, but that they didn’t dare ask. Perhaps ‘presume’ rather than ‘dare’ would be a more clear translation? “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.” First time on Easter, in the Upper room; second time a week later, for Thomas; now. John is not counting Mary, or the women, or Peter alone, or Cleopas and his companion. “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of Jonah, do you truly love me more than these?’ ‘Yes Lord, you know that I love you.’ ‘Feed my lambs.’

“Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of Jonah, do you truly love me?’ ‘Yes Lord, you know that I love you.’ ‘Take care of my sheep.’

“The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of Jonah, do you love me?’” Simon’s feeling were hurt. “Lord, you know all things! You know that I love you!” “Feed my sheep.”

Peter had denied Jesus three times – well, more than three, but there it is. Three times in the account of John. How do you amend a betrayal? Faithful actions: feed the lambs, care for the sheep, feed the sheep, of the one you have betrayed. You can never undo a harm. You can only do good.

Jesus twice uses one word for love, agapas, selfless love, and Peter answers three times with another word, philo, friendship love. The third time, Jesus switches to ‘philo’. Likewise, Peter three times uses oidas, ‘you have seen,’ but the final ‘you know’ is ginoskeis, deeper, ‘you understand’. It seems certain that they were not speaking Greek, however, so Aramaic equivalents must have been used. What this means is a matter of interpretation.

Continues Jesus, “‘I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted. But when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you, and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” Well, the good news is that Peter was reassured that he would live to be old. Tradition has him crucified, upside-down, by Nero, about 64 AD – a few months after Nero’s Roman fire. So perhaps thirty years after this prophecy of Jesus. What these ‘stretched-out hands’ mean is debatable. He wouldn’t be crucified, hands out, and then dressed and led. Of course, this prophecy isn’t for us. It was for Peter.

Then Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.” Peter looked back and saw that John was following them. “When Peter saw him, he asked ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?’” Usually prophecy is opaque, but Jesus clarified this one, since they knew right at the time it was about Peter’s death. Maybe Jesus stretched out his own hands, as he said it. An absolutely unmistakable meaning. As we know, hardly anyone recognizes the signs of the times, no matter how redly they glow in the sky. The sky is often red.

As for Peter’s question about John’s fate, Jesus gives his usual answer: mind your own business. Because of the way Jesus phrased it, “the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die.” John brushes the rumor away. And with that, he finishes his story.

He concludes the book by referring to himself, the disciple who followed after Peter and Jesus: “This is the disciple who testifies to all these things, and wrote these things. And we know that his testimony is true.” Who is this ‘we’? We know that I speak the truth? Was the line added by a scribe, who knows John told the truth? Maybe it’s just a convention of modesty. Every once in a while John swears that what he says is true – as at the Cross.

His final sentence: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Quite beautiful. It almost excuses the missing details that I crave. But he had to stop somewhere. Of the writing of books there is no end.


Monday, November 30, 2015


Later “that same day” (Lk), Easter, Cleopas and another (unnamed) of the ‘followers’ were on the road to Emmaus, a village “about seven miles from Jerusalem”. The Hebrew name would probably be Hamath, ‘Warm Spring’ – perhaps modern Motza. Manuscripts of Luke’s gospel can differ about the “seven” – “sixty” stadia.

 They were talking about the events of the week, “when Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.” (Lk) He “appeared in a different form” (Mk) and said, “‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’ They stood still, their faces downcast.” (Lk) Then Cleopas answered, “Are you the only one living in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there in these days?”

 “What things?” asked Jesus. Let’s pause for a moment. This is unfathomable. It sounds like a childish fiction. Jesus, in existential disguise? To what end? He could have eavesdropped spiritually, so it wasn’t about gathering information. Did he have some teaching purpose? It couldn’t have been some anonymous angel? – it had to be him, with altered form? And, incidentally, what form? Nothing remarkable, since it isn’t remarked upon. The change of course need not have been in his own features, since they were ‘kept’ from recognizing him, and their eyes were ‘opened’ when finally they did so.

His question to Cleopas was just a conversation starter, and I imagine he said it with a slight smile playing across his transfigured lips. Say what you may, Jesus has a personality. God, in whichever of his Persons, is not a calculating machine, as the universe is not clockwork. The universe is quantum, and God is, or at least seems, playful and manipulative.

 “What things?” The men – let’s suppose it was Cleopas – answered quite competently: “About Jesus of Nazareth. He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

In terms of number of words spoken, Cleopas is one of the major characters of the gospels. And he is very clear. Too bad he didn’t write a gospel of his own, if he didn’t. When he said “it is the third day since all this took place”, he’s counting from the final detail of the tragedy, the Thursday placement of the guards at the tomb of the corpse. “Our women” must refer to the Marys, since Mary Magdalene went to fetch the “companions”, John and Peter. It would be pleasing if Mary of Clopas was included, and ‘Clopas’ is John’s spelling for Luke’s ‘Cleopas’ – making “our women” include his own wife. But the Bible was not written to be pleasing. The “him they did not see” confirms that the women reported they had seen Jesus alive.

 Jesus has heard, and now he speaks: “‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” A lesson given as they walked something under seven miles: perhaps a couple of hours of teaching?

Indeed. Foolish. There have been many deceivers, but none who had proved himself by working such public wonders, or who had so conscientiously fulfilled so many, or any, prophecies. The people of Jerusalem and Palestine, given such miracles and thus so encouraged to faith, were without excuse. The common man had little access to the very expensive scrolls of the holy books, but the scribes and rabbis purported to study them in exquisite detail, and should have recognized such fulfillments. The disciples’ deep confusion lay in the fact that the greatest miracle of the Christ would be the redemption of Israel, yet Jesus lay dead in a tomb. Prophecy was unfulfilled; this is the proof of a false prophet.

 As Jesus spoke, ‘their hearts burned within’ them has he ‘opened the Scriptures’ to them. When they approached Emmaus, “Jesus acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is almost evening, the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him. And he disappeared from their sight.” The familiar handling of the loaf was what sparked their awareness. Perhaps Mary Magdalen had also been “kept” from recognizing Jesus, eyes opened only at the familiar sound of her name.

It sounds like a wonder tale – Jesus as trickster. Sometimes he beguiles people. Is this how God acts? Well, yes. This is the God who presides over a heavenly court, who converses with Satan, who laughs his enemies to derision. This is the God who asked of Adam where he was, of Cain where his brother was, who repented himself that he had created mankind, who bargained with Abram over Sodom, who sent a deceiving spirit to the prophets of Ahab. This is the God who abrogates covenants when the terms are not met, who allowed Rachel the steal her ancestral teraphim but destroyed the Northern Kingdom because of public idolatry. It’s not that God is inconsistent; it’s that his purposes are his own.

 Who better than Cleopas, to impart the knowledge that Jesus just gave: he is clearly a skilled communicator. Jesus’ purpose was not to have these followers write a book, but to speak aloud, interact rather than pronounce, be tested with skepticism and meet it with calm confidence, and perhaps persecution and martyrdom. We have the lessons Jesus taught them, revealed in the rest of the New Testament – as in the book of Hebrews. Why then his, as it were, disguise? Because they would have been too hysterical to learn anything, confronted with the Risen Christ. Peter with his booths, Mary with her body-fetching … it’s hard to concentrate when you are amazed.

 Immediately, though it was night by now, they set off to return to Jerusalem. There, they reported what had happened to some followers, but as with the report of the women, “they did not believe them either.” (Mk) Then however – in what is generally thought to be the Upper Room (of the Last Supper) – “they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together,” who said, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon!” (Lk) Of this encounter we are told nothing. We don’t know if it occurred before or after the walk to Emmaus. We have no clue about what was said. You will be pope! I think not. But all that was needful will have been imparted as later New Testament teaching. Peter was not told everything that was needful, however, since Paul had to come along later and set some things straight. (Incidentally, Thomas stepped out at some point during this conversation, as we will see.)

“While they were still talking about this,” (Lk) “as they were eating” (Mk) and “with the doors locked for fear of the Jews” (Jn), “Jesus himself stood among them”. “They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.” Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” (Lk) Clearly he had not simply walked in through the doorway. Angels can travel on foot, as with Abram at Mamre or Lot at Sodom, but they can translate themselves as well: is it his Godhood, or a quality of the resurrection body, that gives Jesus this ability.

 He “rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.” (Mk) He said, “‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see. A ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’ When he had said this he showed them his hands and feet” (Lk) “and side.” (Jn) When “they still did not believe him, because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.” (Lk) The resurrection body eats, but it is not vegetarian. Jesus had disappeared before he could eat that bread in Emmaus. Was he hungry?

At last they saw not a ghost, but the Lord, and they were “overjoyed,” to which Jesus again said, “Pease be with you.” (Jn) Calm down. “‘This is what I told you when I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that was written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witness of these things. I am going to send you what my father has promised, but stay in the city until you have been clothed in Power from on high.’” (Lk) Jesus had earlier told the women on the road to “tell my brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see me.” (Mt) They see him now, and he’s telling them to stay put. ‘Go’, then, means ‘go eventually’. Not clear. That’s why we have to see the whole context, or as much as we are given to see.

“‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (Jn) “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. ” (Mk) “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (Jn) And this sign will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons; they will speak new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands; when they drink deadly poison it will not hurt them; they will place their hands on the sick and they will get well.” (Mk)

There’s room for very much false doctrine, here. Who but God can forgive, expiate, sin? The Holy Spirit, apparently. Jesus forgave the sins of the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof – thereby offending the Pharisees. Certainly a mere man cannot remove the sin of another man. That was the purpose of the blood spent at the Cross. By forgiving the sin of another, we remove its burden from our own souls. Likewise with all this Pentecostalism: those who are filled with the Holy Spirit may speak in tongues, but not all who speak in tongues are filled with the Holy Spirit. And handling snakes is usually more about animal-training-skills than holiness. And y’all don’t hear much about drinking truly deadly poison with zero ill effect. Dead men tell no tales. And there is so very much sickness, with so little healing. Is obesity an illness?

 Jesus could have been more clear. Or maybe he expects us to have discretion, along with faith. Which brings us quite naturally to Thomas. My favorite, Thomas. Strong tradition stresses his influence in founding Eastern Christianity – not just that of India, but of the Balkans and Eastern Europe, Asia Minor and Middle East, Africa and the Far East – throughout history the majority of the Christian population of the world. A third of Genghis Khan’s invading hoard was Christian. When we speak of Roman Catholicism, we speak of a minority sect. Did you know that?

“Now Thomas, called Didymus – one of the Twelve – was not with the disciples when Jesus came. When the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, he declared, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, I will not believe it!’” (Jn 20) We’ll have to wait to see if he ever believes. Oh, wait – I guess I gave it away. We’ll wait to see why he believes.

 All of this, on a single Sunday. Easter. A week ago, Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem, in triumph.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Thursday - PASSOVER

“The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while he was alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead! This last deception will be worse than the first!’” (Mt)

Matthew avoids specifying that it was Passover. Perhaps he’s sparing himself and us the observation that the Pharisees really do seem to be working, on this mega Sabbath – certainly they are not resting. Luke troubles himself to point out that the women “rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”

 The term “that deceiver” is used in the Talmud to refer to Jesus.

 “‘Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.” (Mt) “Guard” is one of those confusing plurals, like cannon or craft: there was more than one soldier involved. 'Take a watch...'   The seal was a good idea, since guards are corruptible and the stone could roll: the body would be stolen, the stone rolled back in place, and La! a miracle! If the seal was broken at least it would be obvious that the egress was physical.

Thursday was Passover, a Sabbath. Friday was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a Sabbath (Lev 23:7,39; Ex 12:16,18). Saturday was the weekly Sabbath. Three consecutive days of rest. Three days, and nights, that the body of Jesus lay undisturbed in the tomb (Mt 12:24). Matthew (28:1) says it explicitly: “Now after the SabbathS…” See? Oh, you checked it out? And in your Bible it says ‘Sabbath’, with no plural? That is not a literal translation. The Greek has the plural. Sadly, your Bible is in error.

 On Sunday morning – Easter – while it was still dark, “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.” (Mt 28) Maybe this is symbolic? Like the Holy Spirit looking like a dove, or the voice of God sounding like thunder? “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.” Well, it could still be figurative language. It sounds however very much like a radiant male figure garbed in white. “The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” They fainted.

 But why move the stone at all? Jesus didn’t walk out. He disappeared from inside. He was gone before the earthquake happened. Wouldn’t it have been even more mysterious and miraculous-seeming to find the sealed tomb empty? But that’s the point: it wasn’t meant to be a secret – not left to be discovered, but revealed. The angel was another kind of mystery, more public, more glorious. On this day, Jesus appears and disappears as he wills, but he doesn’t sneak. It’s about power, not stealth.

The women would have felt the earthquake on their way to the tomb, but only the Roman guards were witnesses. We have these details because they told this story. Maybe they got drunk, or slept, or were in some other way negligent, and invented a miracle when the body was indeed stolen? And the earthquake, which the whole region would have felt, was just a coincidence? And everyone was lying, about seeing Jesus alive, or someone was walking around seeming to be him – actually him, or an imposture. If a fake, well, that’s just stupid. If Jesus, either he was crippled from being nearly killed, or he was restored to such amazing vigor that it’s as great a miracle as resurrection. As for everyone just lying, yes, people certainly lie, and there is mass hallucination. But group phenomenological delusions are not sustained over days and weeks. We know that under torture even truth-tellers may recant; the early Christian martyrs did not recant. They died for what they knew was a lie, or they were not lying.

 These things need to be made explicit. All arguments, embarrassments, inconsistencies, contradictions, need to be faced. Every truth can be ridiculed, because every tragedy can be laughed at. Mockery is a light that shines backwards.

 “When the Sabbath was over Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought” (Mk:16) “and prepared spices and perfumes” (Lk) “that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.” (Mk) They would have done this at sundown, when evening commerce would again commence. “After the Sabbath, at dawn of the first day of the week” (Mt) “while it was still dark,” (Jn 20) “Mary Magdalen and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.” (Mt) Other women, and presumably Salome, would arrive later. The two Marys went to look, not yet to anoint the body, since they had made no provision to move the stone. But the stone was moved. Mary Magdalen ran off impulsively, without entering, to summon Peter and John, “the one Jesus loved”. (Jn) Mary the mother of James remained at the tomb.

Meanwhile, “just after sunrise” (Mk), several other of the other Galilean women arrived with their spices. Mark has indicated Salome’s involvement, and Luke (24:10) will shortly name Joanna (wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward) as among them, and “others”, perhaps Susanna (Lk 8:2) They found the tomb open, and “when they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” (Lk) Is this the first time he is called ‘Lord Jesus’? The women were confused, and “suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.” (Lk) Mark speaks of only one such man, young, sitting inside on the right – Matthew implies that this is the angel who moved the stone. He likes to sit. “In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground” (Lk). The angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.” (Mk) “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here! He has risen! Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee, ‘The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again!’” (Lk)

 Luke, or the angel, is paraphrasing. What Jesus had said was: “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and raised the third day.” (Lk 9:22) The angel is more specific, with the benefit of hindsight. Previously the term had been ‘lifted up’ rather than ‘crucified.’ And note that ‘sinful’ is used; character is confirmed only after the act is completed. Their fate is sealed. Or maybe they repented?

The angel continues, “Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.” (Mt) In Mark the angel names Peter specifically with the disciples. “There you will see him just as he told you.” (Mk) When did Jesus tell them? “Now I have told you.” (Mt) That last sounds like the discharging of a duty. This angel talks almost as much as Pilate. The women ran, fled, trembling and bewildered, fearful and joyful, telling no one but the disciples what they had seen, because they were afraid.

 When Mary Magdalen arrived to where Peter and John were, she said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him.’” (Jn) Peter “got up and ran” (Lk) – up from sitting, or up from sleeping? “Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.” (Jn) To enter the tomb one had to stoop. There was enough light in the tomb to see the winding cloths inside. Peter arrived, bent and entered, and “saw the strips of linen lying by themselves” (Lk), “as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.” (Jn)

 What is it that made John believe, what stunning and convincing sign? A jumble of unwrapped strips? That would simply mean the body had been unwrapped. An empty tomb? Bodies can be stolen. And if, by some miracle in itself, Jesus had not been killed on the cross, well, what a nightmare, for an unconscious victim to revive in a dark cold tomb, tendons in hands and feet torn, a dripping wound in the side, face swollen from beatings, back lacerated by flogging, arms bound to body by what amounts to ropes, which have been plastered with 75 pounds of resinous spices. It’s a horror story.

 An interesting possibility is that the strips were not unwrapped. Not unwrapped. In place, rather, like a husk, a shed skin – with a hollow space, demarking a missing body. As the angel had said, “Come and see the place where he lay.” The place was still, as it were, occupied. Indeed, Jesus did not walk out of the tomb. He was gone before the earthquake and the angel moved the stone. He was resurrected and translated at the same moment. He didn’t return to life in the tomb. In the arms of angels, rather, in paradise.

 It makes me smile. This would be such a sight to make a man believe. Peter went home, wondering what had happened. (Lk) John went to his own home, in wonder. (Jn)

 Mary Magdalen had come rushing after the men, arriving perhaps after they had left. She “stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb, and saw two angels in white seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.” (Jn) Angels come and go according to their own purposes. They are appearing only to women and to Roman guards – but not to the disciples. “Woman, why are you crying?” said an angel. “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.” To her, Jesus is just a corpse, to be put somewhere. She did not know what manner of being had addressed her.

Then “she turned around and saw Jesus standing there…” (Jn) As Mark says, “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.” We have not been given details of this exorcism. There is no scriptural hint that she was a harlot.   The Talmud (Gemera, Hagigah, 4b) in a relevant context mentions a woman named Miriam Megadla Se’ar, Mary Magdela Se’ar, which means “a grower of woman’s hear” – a hairdresser.

Mary “did not realize it was Jesus.” (Jn) She was befuddled. Tears were in her eyes. The light was at his back. And she knew Jesus was a corpse. It’s not hard to understand her failure. “‘Woman,’ he said, ‘why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Questions can serve so many functions. She thought he was the gardener. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.” Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration had foolishly offered to make booths for glorious Moses and Elijah. Now Mary makes these vapid statements. It must be hard to think clearly when heavenly beings draw near.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ – ‘Teacher!’ Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold onto me, for I have not yet returned to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (Jn) Why cannot Mary Magdalen touch him? Jesus gives a reason, involving his Father, but we don’t understand it. There are rules and priorities at work that are outside our current universe. It seems that our Father and his Father are the same, now, in a new way – but also that there is an ineffable difference. More of a Father-in-Law, then? Or by the repetition is he emphasizing the new, closer relationship, rather than the difference.

How they parted we are not given to know. But he reappears a short time later, “suddenly” to the other women on their way back from the tomb. “‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him and clasped his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see me.’” (Mt) 

Mary had not been allowed to touch him; in this short time, has he “returned to the Father”? Seems unlikely, but what is time? Later this same day, many people will have touched Jesus. Getting to Galilee appears to be important, but later this day Jesus will tell the disciples directly to remain for a time in Jerusalem. There were qualifiers in this present speech of Jesus that are not reported. Twice now Jesus has stressed a new family relationship – ‘Father,’ ‘brothers’. Ah. It’s that, as a human being all men had been Jesus’ brothers, but because of sin no man was truly a child of Jesus’ Father. Now, sin was wiped away, and mankind could finally be true children of God – brothers of the Son. 

“While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.” (Mt) Last we heard of the soldiers, they had dropped into a cold swoon – “like dead men.” What did they have to report? The angel, one or more, of course. The violent opening of the tomb. The missing body and more angels. The distress, amazement and belief of sundry Jews. More angels. Jesus. Depends when they woke up, and how long they remained at their post.

 “When the chief priests met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” (Mt)

Did the temple have a bribery fund? – for Judases, soldiers, etc? Of course it did, comprised of widows’ mites. The penalty for sleeping on duty was death by stoning or cudgeling in front of the mustered troops. Matthew intrudes on the narrative by saying “to this very day.” How long from these events? Conservative scholarship suggests the gospel was written about 30 years later – between the late 50s and the late 60s. I remember the Sixties.

 When the other women and Mary Magdalen arrived from the tomb they told their various stories to “the Eleven” and those followers “who were mourning and weeping.” (Mk) Mary said, “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn) “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (Lk)

There is no discernable plan in these various post-Resurrection apparitions, angelic and messianic. Jesus makes no attempt to help anyone understand a pattern in these actions. The grand purposes of princes and powers are none of our business. It’s like watching the king’s chariot charge across the plain: it’s not even our place to wonder where he’s going. We’re like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, peripheral and incidental, completely excluded from the grand purposes at work around them. But that’s like the Bible itself. Once we outgrow naive belief and apply our adult capacities – what we learned by eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – it is only grave study and fluidity of intellect that allows us finally to accept by faith what we cannot discern by reason. Jesus wanted us to have the faith of little children, as he wanted us to be perfect. But we can’t, regardless of how clear the command.

 Why can’t it all be that clear. Because God doesn’t like Pharisees.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015


So many events, details, pass unremarked at the time. Obscurity is the rule. Entire civilizations have been forgotten, disinterred only as potsherds and scattered stones. Only much later and after much consideration does neglect become regret. Then there is a racing backwards, an archeology of imagination, to collect relics and assign identities. Why a Holy Grail of the Last Supper, but no Holy Vinegar Jar, or Holy Sopping Sponge, or Holy Hyssop Stick? Slivers of the True Cross to fill a forest, enough Nails of the Crucifixion to armor a battalion. Shards of Mary’s broken alabaster perfume jar, and phials filled with Mary’s tears – some Mary. Variously in history there actually have been multiple relics of the foreskin of the Christ Child.

Yet we don’t even know who Mary of Clopas was. An aunt? sister-in-law? And, Clopas? A man? a place? Important enough to reference, but lost as a mere name in deepest obscurity. Centuries later someone will make up a story. Patterns in clouds. We need order and continuity; it’s like a religion. Thus a shoot of the Tree in the Garden engenders the Burning Bush and the Rod of Aaron and the beams of the Cross – like a scarlet cord binding all of history together.

 Of what can we be sure? Jesus died? Perhaps of old age, pulled down alive from the cross and gone to live out his days in the exile of some distant place? Perhaps never, and some other, twin, died in his place, while he looked on, a phantom too pure to comingle with vile matter? Perhaps there was no Jesus – a mere legend, fantasy, wish fulfillment, as there is no God? And if he died on a Roman cross, feckless victim of politics or of his own delusion, and his body grew cold and stiff and full of corruption until it returned to the anonymous reliquary of the elements? Then it is all a lie, as every religion is a lie, except atheism, or Docetism.

 We must find what is true, and believe it.

 At the moment that Jesus died, “the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” (Mt 27)

 As for the temple veil: it is said to have been about the thickness of a hand, some four inches – impossibly thick, to tear by mere happenstance. Said by whom? Well, repeated often, but the original source is not the Bible – the Mishnah, rather, that collection of early rabbinical oral traditions and teachings. Thus, “Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel says in the name of R Simeon son of the Prefect [Sagan]: The veil was one handbreadth thick…” (Misn. Sechalim, c.8, sect. 5; Simeon was nasi, prince or leader, of the Sanhedrin at the time of the destruction of the temple -- he was killed in that war; his father, Gamaliel, had held the same office and is mentioned in Acts 5:34ff -- Christian tradition supposes he converted to Christianity; before him was Shammai, who must have led the Sanhedrin in its persecution of Christ.) The veil referred to here is not that of Herod’s but of Solomon’s temple, almost a thousand years earlier; it seems reasonable that the rebuilt temple would embody authentic details; in some sects, tradition is as important as law. Point is, the rending of the veil must seem to the gospel writer an event as noteworthy as earthshocks and mass resurrections. The veil symbolized God’s separation from mankind – he was approachable only as through an impossibly thick yet manmade barrier. That dispensation ended with the death of a man.

Herod the Great was monstrous, but only typically so. He killed several of his own sons, and wives, so the massacre of the little boys of Bethlehem is not even worthy of note in the chronicles of his reign. History does not weep – mother’s do. From this run-of-the-mill tyrant we have a rebuilt temple reported to have been among the most magnificent buildings in the world. And, indeed, it was graced by the presence of the Lord. What inspired Herod to this undertaking? To rival Solomon? Purely political glory? Certainly. But rather than suppose the project came to him as a dream, might there have been some holy man, some prophet who came like Nathan before David and directed that it was the will of the Lord? We even have a name: old blind Simeon, who held the infant Jesus. No evidence – just precedent.

 The Bible has many earthquakes, some of them with miraculous timing. Continental plates, local fault lines, the collapse of the chambers of the deep – this catastrophe in Matthew may have been local, or broader. Records were not kept methodically, or at all; we know such thing only because someone wrote a book or scratched out a note on a potsherd.

 And the mass resurrections? We don’t even have legends. How could such a thing go unremarked – preserved in only the single source of the synoptic gospels? Well, whole libraries have been burned, so there’s that. We have to make suppositions. Was John the Baptist one of them? – Was his tomb near Jerusalem? Look, then, who can be saved. Jews. Most likely who had not followed or heard of Jesus. How greatly did things change, after the Crucifixion or the Resurrection? Dispensations, I feel urged to assert, overlap. I hope that’s not heretical.

Not all Jewish saints, but only those newly dead were raised, along the lines of Lazarus. But no dust reconstituted itself, bones regathered as in Ezekiel’s vision – dem bones, dem dry bones – rotted winding sheets replaced with radiant robes. This was a return to life of mortal bodies, to die again. How long did they live? Hezekiah got ten extra years – but in this is no principle. No matter. We are left unsatisfied. What a surprise. After the Resurrection they went into the city and preached. This suggests that they returned to life on Sunday, not three days earlier: what, they just sit around and made plans? – maybe rested for the Sabbaths? We like our miracles to be the least unlikely.

 All the comment we get on these phenomena is from the centurion at the cross. When he “and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake ” (Mt) “and heard his cry and saw how he died,” (Mk) “they were terrified and” (Mt) “praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man!’” (Lk) “Surely this was the Son of God!” (Mk) When the mocking spectators “saw what took place they beat their breasts and went away.” (Lk) No one mourned for the thieves.

Then we read of the Galilean women who were witnesses, who had cared for Jesus during his ministry: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, Salome the mother of Zebedee’s sons (mamma of her boys James and John.) “Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.” (Mk) This tells us that Jesus had a support structure. Foxes have holes and the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head, but he has caring women to wash his clothes and fix his meals. Here, at the end, they weep in the distance, but they do not deny him.

“Now it was the Day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath.” (Jn 19) Not Friday and Saturday, the normal, weekly Preparation and Sabbath. ‘Special’ here is ‘mega’. Passover. “Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.” Unable to support themselves, the condemned would die quickly. Death by crucifixion could take days. The soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves. Jesus was already dead, so “they did not break his legs. Instead one of the soldiers pierced Jesus side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” John sternly avers to the truth of what he saw: Jesus was actually and completely dead. He adds that these events fulfilled prophecy, “Not one of his bones will be broken” and “They will look upon the one they have pierced.”

“It was Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath. So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea – a prominent member of the Council,” (Mk) “a good and upright man who had not consented to their decision and action” (Lk) “who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God” (Mk) and “was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, because he feared the Jews,” (Jn) – “went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus was already dead. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Josephus. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, and took down the body.” (Mk)

 “He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.” (Jn) In Joseph’s “own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock,” (Mt) in a garden very near Golgotha because there was so little time, the two of them wrapped the body “with the spices in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial custom.” (Jn) Then Joseph “rolled a big stone in front of the entrance of the tomb and went away.” (Mt) The women observed this, “sitting there across from the tomb.” (Mt)

 The strips of linen are not the fabled Shroud, as of Turin – more along the lines of a mummy. So it had been with Lazarus when he emerged from his tomb. The custom was to leave a body exposed in a tomb for a year, after which family members would gather the bones into a stone box, an ossuary [see HERE for a related discussion]; thus, the risen saints we’ve discussed would rise, as it were, fresh, flesh, rather than from bones in a box. The spices were not for preserving a body, but to make the odors endurable.

 And then it was sundown, and Passover.


Sunday, November 15, 2015


The soldiers led Jesus away to be killed. He started out carrying his own cross. (Jn 19) Did they have a supply of them, stacked up just this side of Pilate’s judgment seat? The cross was the patibulum, the crossbar, like a yoke; the upright post would have been in place already, reusable. From this would arise the confusion of the Jehovah’s Witness cult, which supposes Jesus was killed on a stake, the Greek staros. (For an exuberant discussion on this matter, see "Cross or Stake".) The detail is doctrinally unimportant, but the disagreement does demonstrate who is approved, and who is not. Those who claim to be prophets must be true, or false.

For some reason, however, the soldiers conscripted a passerby to carry the cross: Simon of Cyrene, from the northern coast of Africa, father of Alexander and Rufus, who must have been known to the early Christians. (Mk 15) Simon had come in from doing nighttime fieldwork by the full moon. Was it mercy from the Romans, compassion, that lightened Jesus burden? Of this we may be certain it was not. They were pigs. Perhaps demons. Or maybe just human. Their actions allow it all. Jesus must have been unable to carry the cross. The beatings had been debilitating, and he was moving too slowly.

 The custom of executing prisoners at dawn must be very ancient. That which you would do, do quickly. “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.” (Lk 23) A crowd followed, with many wailing women. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. Weep for yourselves and for your children…” He does not curse, he prophesies.

 They brought Jesus “to the Place of the Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.” (Jn 19) “There they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but after tasting it he refused to drink.” (Mt 27) Gall, bitterness, was specifically myrrh. (Mk 15) It has a numbing effect, a nod perhaps to expedient mercy from the Romans – but maybe a weakening effect would expedite a quicker death, and so meant less guard duty for the soldiers. Jesus had said that he would not drink wine again until he did so with his disciples in God’s kingdom. Who knows when that was, or will be. But this is not the unadulterated wine he referred to, since later, at his last, he did sip from a sponge.

 “And they crucified him.” (Mk) He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk) Thieves also, one on his right, one on his left. Somehow, an honor -- right and left actually requested by John and James – place, not circumstance. “It was the third hour when they crucified him.” Mark keeps Jewish time: three hours after sunup. Nine in the morning.

 “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them.” (Jn) His “undergarment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. ‘Let’s not tear it. Let’s decide by lot who will get it.’” John editorializes here, saying “This happened that Scripture might be fulfilled which said: ‘They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.’” (Ps 22:18)

“Pilate had a notice prepared” of the charges, fastened on the cross above Jesus’ head, which read “‘This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, ‘Do not write “the King of the Jews,” but that this man “claimed” to be king of the Jews.’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’” (Jn)

 The soldiers sat and watched, with the crowd, and “the rulers even sneered at him.” (Lk) “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So, you who were going to destroy the temple and build it in three days! Save yourself! Come down from the cross if you are the Son of God!’ In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others but he cannot save himself!’” (Mt) Let this Christ of God, this Chosen One, “this king of Israel come down from the cross that we may see and believe!” (Mk, Lk) “He trusts in God! Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’!”

 I could have been much more sarcastic than any of this. They might have mocked his nakedness. But this is what mankind is. To those who say humanity is basically good, please observe that this crowd is a random sampling, and some seem good, and many seem otherwise. Public executions have been mass entertainment for longer than the record of history extends. Further, if humanity were basically good, what need of a universal atonement by Jesus on this very cross? Jesus as hapless victim of miscarried justice, and good teacher of mere morality, is a gospel other than that of any book or chapter or verse of the Bible. But who knows. Maybe they’re right. We don’t know that the planets will continue in their course. We just believe.

 The soldiers joined in the mockery, and offered Jesus vinegar to drink. This is not the palliative gall previously offered. Different soldiers? (Lk) One of the criminals – well, aren’t they all criminals, almost? – crucified beside him also mocked him. Incredible? You’d think he had other matters on his mind. “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself, and us!” Something wrong there. He should have said ‘me, save me’. “But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence?’” Death. “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

 This criminal has just preached the gospel of the universe. Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated. The Lord did not respect Cain and his offerings. Israel was Chosen because one man, Father Abraham, was obedient one time, in leaving Ur. God loves murderers, David, and idolaters, Solomon. If character and repentance saved us, than the good thief would be saved; if wicked deeds condemned us, who is saved? Everyone dies, regardless of their virtues or crimes, justice or guilt. Some are saved, but according to principles so … words fail me … vague elusive arbitrary intractable … so preordained that salvation might as well be random. 

No matter. It’s not our problem. God has to look after himself. Somehow, that’s what he’s doing, with the Cross. We just have to remember not to mock so much. Time does not separate us: we are all present at the Crucifixion. We don’t choose Jesus, we choose thieves.

 The lamb does not choose the shepherd.

 Then the thief said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This is only the second time anyone ever addresses Jesus by his name. The first was one of the ten lepers, begging from afar for healing. Desperation brings intimacy. “Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” (Lk)

John (19) tells us friends and family were present – Mary of Magdela, Mary wife of Clopas, Mary the mother of Jesus, and her sister. “Mary” means “bitterness”. John was there also, ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’, and Jesus “said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” Had she no other sons, to care for her? It must have been a poor family, that she had no household of her own. Perhaps she had sold all she owned, to support Jesus and his followers. John must not have.

 “It was now the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining.” Jewish time -- noon until three. What was the nature of the darkness? No eclipse is known. Cloud cover? Volcanic ash? Sunspots? Interplanetary dust? It says darkness in the whole land, not in all the world. Odd, how the salvation of the universe should give only local signs. When God plagued Egypt, all the world shook. If it were clear, it would be easy. Signs are wonders because they are not predictable.

 We’re talking about a spiritual darkness, made physical. On Monday at the temple after he had cleansed it, Jesus had spoken explicitly: “Now is the time for judgment on this world. Now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” ‘Now’ meant ‘forty-eight hours from now’. Somehow the prince of this world is being driven out, as darkness in Israel, over the span of at least three hours.

Or maybe it just got cloudy.

 “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi! Eloi! Lama sabachthani!’ which means, ‘My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!’” (Mt, Mk) It’s not a question. It’s pain. Here as much as anywhere I know, is the human Jesus. Welcome.

 Yes, he’s been here all along. But with him it is knowing, and with us it is faith. So it is not the same. Not until that cry is forced out of his lips – the one we might feel at any given moment of every single day. We are not a Trinity, constant comfort and communion of ourselves. Adam needed Eve, and people need fellowship, and Jesus in his darkness needs his father. Imagine, if you need to, how horrible it is to live life without any of these things.

 Some nearby supposed Jesus was calling for the prophet Elijah. Maybe later someone asked him: Were you calling for Elijah? After he had cried out, “Immediately”(Mt), and “knowing that all was now completed, and so that the scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’” (Jn) One of the bystanders “ran and got a sponge.” (Mt) “A jar of wine-vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put a sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.” (Jn) Said that man, “Leave him alone now. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.” (Mk) “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’” (Jn) The final of his scriptural obligations. Then he “called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ When he had said this he breathed his last” (Lk), “bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (Jn)


Friday, October 30, 2015


Customer Review 
 9 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
*****Strauss is my Hero of Christion Scholarship, December 5, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Strauss Life of Jesus: From George Eliot VOLUME 1 (Paperback)

My Hero of Christian Theolgy
I have read many books about Bible and Jesus ranging from missionary works to the works of scholars such as Prof. B. Metzger. Never have I come across a Book such as Strauss' Life of Jesus. About 1000 pages (in English)of rigorous and detailed analysis of the Life of Jesus in the four Gospels without bias (as far as I can tell).It is a big loss to the humanity that Strauss not only was denied teaching positions (for which he was overqualified: knowing Hebrew, Greek, Latin as well as German and having a genius' intelligence) also his marvelous work(s) were suppressed and kept away from the humanity. I hope and pray that many more Christians will have the opportunity to read this enlightening book of Strauss and learn some of the facts about their scriptures and Faith which are kept away from the believers by the Church for millennia. (My use of millennia about one month before 2000 may sound inaccurate, how ever if we take Matthew's word that Jesus was born in the Days of Herod (not paying attention to the fact that Luke assigns birth of Jesus to the time when Quarinius was Governor of Syria which didn't take place until a decade after the death of Herod the Great(Strauss' Life of Jesus & Westminster Dictionary of the Bible))and knowing that Herod died around 4 BC. (Westminster Dictionary of the Bible) also considering the two year(from the killing of children under two year of age) stay of Jesus and His Mother and Joseph in Egypt (Only in Matthew, no other Evangelist noticed this incident including Josephus who recorded detailed life of Herod (Staruss' Life of Jesus)) before Herod died, Jesus must have been born around 6 BC so that for those faithful to Matthew (rather than Luke) true second millennium was 1994. Therefore we are already in the second millennium. TOO BAD WEE MISSED THE 2ND MILLENIAL CELEBRATIONS.)
In concluding, Strauss is a forgatton hero among Christian Scholarsip
My God Have Mercy on Strauss.

 Jack H says:

 One appreciates your faith, even fervor, for your, um, daring skepticism. One cannot argue with it -- faith is the evidence of things unseen. But, if details actually matter to you, consider that Luke is using Greek, not Latin; 'hegmoneuontos' is generally translated as 'governor', but it's not specific to the Latin title of 'Legate', the actual position of Quirinius in Syria. 'Hegmoneuontos' can be rendered as Legate or Propraetor or Procurator or Quaestor  or Praefectus, or perhaps even Censor, cf Cato the Elder. Further, Tacitus records Pontius Pilate's title in Judea as 'Procurator' (a sort of military CFO), while the Pilate Stone has it as "Prefect" -- see?

Further, the correct title for the Governor of Syria could not be legatus Augusti pro praetore, which was used only for the  senatorial provinces, and always filled by a Senator.  "Legate" as a term means a general who is a senator.  Sentius Saturninus 'governed' Syria 9-7 BC, and Josephus tells us that Quinctilius Varus succeeded him in the time of Herod.  This does not exclude Quirinius from coeval titled responsibilities in that region.  Surely you see how loosely titles can be used.

Further, one of the grand old men of archaeology, W. Ramsay, discovered several inscriptions that showed Q to be "governor" of Syria twice, at least.

Further, for at least three centuries the empire required a census about every 14 years. The date of proclamation and the date of completion are, as you might see, necessarily not the same -- it would take years. The Q census of 5-6 AD is the official announcement. The movement of peoples to their home towns would be even later. See? The first census, announced prior to Herod's death, would have been announced c. 8 BC, and completed locally as circumstances allowed. Too vague? Only to those unfamiliar with the raw data of history.

Further, Greek, like everything, can be ambiguous. Luke, here, can be fairly translated as: "This census was before that made when Quirinius was governor of Syria."

Re your dismay or glee that Dionysius the Inadequate was off by a few years, well, he was off by a few years, therefore Luke, the Bible, and Christianity are wrong and false. QED.  Hurrah.

 Bothersome, what?

 Dogma, sir or madam, bites.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, and Herod sent him back to Pilate. The journey would not have been to the Herodium, 12 miles to the south. Herod would have a palace in the city, as Pilate had his Praetorium. Both would be in the good part of town, so it wasn’t a long trip. The sun was above the horizon; all that follows here took place before 6 a.m.

At the governor’s palace, Pilate reconvened the accusers. “While Pilate was sitting in the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: ‘Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.’” (Mt 27) So, a prophetic dream, which came to a pagan personage. Pilate’s wife must be above suspicion. Since it was a bad dream, she was motivated by fear. Or she may have been a sensitive woman, of conscience, who sought justice for an innocent man. If so, and given the wonders that would follow, perhaps she investigated further into the case and teachings of Jesus. It is reasonable that she should later be a convert to Christianity.

Pilate acted as if he listened to his wife. “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for a charge against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. As you can see, he has done nothing deserving of death. Therefore I will punish him and release him.” (Lk 23) Not “worthy of death” is different than “innocent”. Coming into disfavor is a punishable offence, as is causing unrest. If Jewish law were paramount, Jesus would either be rightly executed as a blasphemer, or a true prophet. But Roman law decided capital cases, and in this instance at least, Pilate was being punctilious. Such mercy, or justice, Roman though it was, was displeasing to the accusers. There would have been a great clamor, which is how riots start. And the city was overflowing with holiday visitors. Pilate was in a pickle.

“Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At the time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.” (Mt) Son of the Father. He had been a part of “the insurrection,” and was a murderer. “The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.” (Mk 15) Pilate was a high-ranking officer of the empire, and therefore a capable man. Here was his loophole.

“‘Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ’ ‘the king of the Jews?’ asked Pilate, knowing that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.” Even a wicked man doesn’t want to be coerced into doing evil. Notice, the gospel writer does not say the Jews acted out of envy, but rather that this is what Pilate knew. Perhaps Pilate was wrong, and they acted out of some other motive. What specifically about Jesus could they envy? Not his popularity, which was manifestly fleeting. Only his relationship with God, and given their hypocrisy, one wonders if they actually wanted such a relationship. I suspect it was spite, not envy.

“But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.” (Mt) “With one voice they cried out, ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ …Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again,” (Lk) “What shall I do with the one you call the king of the Jews?” (Mk) “But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ For the third time he spoke to them: ‘Why? What crime has he committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I shall have him punished and then release him.’ But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.” (Lk) Three times Pilate spoke, with a question, “which,” “what,” and “why”.

“When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but instead that an uproar was starting,” (Mt) “he decided to grant their demand.” (Lk) He “took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility.’” Well, yes and no. “All the people answered, ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children.’” (Mt) An intemperate response, but we find no need for an anti-Semitic blood-guilt here, like that curse on the descendants of Ham or Esau: ‘on us and on our children’ is two generations, punished in 70 AD with the horrifically brutal destruction of Jerusalem.

“Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace, (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers.” (Mk) “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then wove a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him.” (Mt) Again and again they said, “‘Hail, O King of the Jews!’ And they struck in him the face.” (Jn 19) “Again and again they stuck him on the head with a staff and spit on him.” (Mk) 

During this time Pilate was fretting or brooding within his palace. Having decided to crucify Jesus, he changes his mind. He went again out to the dignitaries. “‘Look! I am bringing him out to you to let you know I find no basis for a charge against him.’ When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, ‘Behold, the man.’” Ecce homo. Has he been speaking Latin all the while? Or was the sight fearful enough to make him lapse into his native tongue. If so it must have been dread indeed, since he had ordered the beating, and cannot have been squeamish. “As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him they shouted, ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ But Pilate answered, ‘You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.’” (Jn) No, Pilate does not care for justice. He just doesn’t want this particular responsibility. 

“The Jews insisted: ‘We have a law and according to that law he must die! Because he claimed to be the Son of God!’ When Pilate heard this he was even more afraid, and he went back into the palace. ‘Where do you come from?’ he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. ‘Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you realize I have the power either to free you or to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’” The one. Which one? Satan? Caiaphas? Herod? Whoever, more guilty because his power was not given from above. (Jn 19) Note: Pilate was afraid. He asked, “Where do you come from?” – Galilee? God? His wife put a fear in him, with her dream: Romans believed in portents.

“From then on” – as before, but with his final resolve, such as it was – “Pilate tried to have Jesus freed, but the Jews kept shouting, ‘If you let this man go you are no friend to Caesar! Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.’” Well, technically, no. Many kings served Rome. Perhaps they meant, ‘who falsely claims’. As for Pilate, he’d just said he had the power to free or to crucify, so his effort to free Jesus had impediments he could have overcome had he so wished. John has an agenda here, to lighten the culpability of Pilate, and so of Rome, and to highlight the guilt of the ‘Jews’ – which term he uses in preference to such elocutions as ‘chief priests’ or ‘elders’. John, the disciple of love, is complicated.

 Hearing their veiled accusation, of opposing Caesar, Pilate brought out Jesus and sat down again in the ‘judge’s seat.’ “It was the Day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.” Six a.m., Wednesday morning. John keeps Roman time. “Here is you king!” said Pilate. They responded, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” “We have no king but Caesar!” replied the chief priests. “Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.” (Jn) Luke says Pilate “surrendered Jesus to their will.” More like, he surrendered himself to their will. At some point, the mocking had to come to an end, and “they”, the Romans, “took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him, then they led him out to crucify him.” (Mk)

 So much for Pilate. Some commentators call him a stoic. I don’t see that here. I know of no extra-biblical source that demonstrates the claim. Cato. Cicero, Seneca – but not all Romans – were stoics. Pilate was vacillating, which is very unphilosphical. But he was pragmatic, and that’s a sort of philosophy. Some commentators suppose that Jesus also was a stoic, which is to miss that being stoical is not the same as being a stoic. Accepting fate is not the same as meeting a destiny.

 I’ve slowed down in this project. Not far to go, but I feel the intensity. Gabbing about parables and miracles is one thing. Reflecting on this onslaught of brutality is quite another.


Thursday, October 15, 2015


Wednesday. So much for Peter. Jesus had many betrayers. Which brings us to Judas. Sometime during business hours of this day, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, Judas “was seized with remorse.” What to do, what to do. He’d been treasuring his thirty pieces of silver in his purse and his heart since Saturday, but the savor was lost. What to do. He returned his reward to his benefactors, his corruptors, his co-conspirators, “the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood!’ ‘What is this to us? That’s your responsibility.’ So Judas threw the money into the Temple and left. Then he went and hanged himself.” (Mt 27)

Remorse, then, does not merit forgiveness. It seems a safe assumption that what God calls us, we are. Devil, thief, traitor, unclean, betrayer; we never hear of Judas the Forgiven, Judas the Redeemed. Son of Perdition, rather. John seems really to hate him.

“The chief priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.’” The price of blood. In order to pay Judas in the first place, had they taken up a collection, passed the hat so to speak, as for some charitable action, a mitzvah? Or had they extracted the price from the treasury. Is it lawful to withdraw blood money but not deposit it? They seem here to be parsing Deut 23:18, which forbids accepting a money-offering earned by a harlot, female or male. Something about straining at a gnat but swallowing a camel. And it must say something about how they regarded Judas. Add that to the list of his descriptors: whore.

So after the chief priests had fulfilled their roles as justices of the Supreme Court, they ogt closing a real estate deal. When did they sleep? Highly motivated. Or maybe it was a second shift of chief priests. Were there any priests other than chief priests? Priests were in charge of sacrifices; chief priests must have been in charge of blood.

The holy men used the coins to buy a potter’s field, as a graveyard for strangers. Useless land, dug out for its clay, riddled with holes like wormwood. The priests must have had such a deal in mind already, the land spotted, the owner approached; there surely was a need for it: such a large would have many unwanted bodies. This answers the question, then – maybe Judas had not known it, but his thirty pieces of silver was for real estate. Perhaps his was the first body to be buried there, in the Field of Blood. Jerome, Latin translator of the Bible, c. 400 AD, records that he saw this cemetery, south of Mt Zion. Is it likely that such a place could be identified after three and a half centuries? – given the diaspora of the Jews by Hadrian in 135 AD? Judea was depopulated and Jerusalem was colonized as a pagan city, renamed Aelia Capitolina. No matter. Place names last a long time. And what land or piece of land remains unpolluted by blood? The fountains of the deep cleansed the world by killing almost everyone.

After Mt, Mk and Lk give the details of Peter’s denials and of the death of Judas, they remind their listeners about the trial. Without notice, they ignore details and present information without regard to order and sequence. This is not error or contradiction. It is the nature of testimony to say what is judged important.

See? There is room for judgment. Scripture is God-breathed, not God-dictated. To be enthused is to be inspired. This, in contradistinction with the Koran, which is the literal utterance of Allah in Arabic. Purportedly. God, on the other hand, is polyglot, the true Lord of Babel. This, upon casual consideration, may not seem like a good thing. What it means though is that we may not understand him, but he understands us. Meaning is more important than words.

This synoptic summary of the trial can cause confusion: it is not a second trial. It’s a courtesy to the audience, and it shows how these gospels were meant to be used: not read alone in the dark by lamplight. Aloud, to a group. With interruptions and discussions. So the whole trial is recapped: “Very early in the morning,” (Mk 15) at “daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together”. (Lk 22 ) The “whole Sanhedrin reached a decision” (Mk 15) “to put Jesus to death. They bound him” (Mt 27) “and Jesus was led before them. ‘If you are the Christ, tell us.’ ‘If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the Mighty God.’ They all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God?’ ‘You are right in saying I am.’ ‘Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips!’ Then the whole assembly rose and” (Lk) “led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor” (Jn 18) “and handed him over to Pilate.” (Mk) “By now it was early morning” (Jn). A summary and a rephrasing, via my composite narrative.

To enter the home of a gentile would render the assembled dignitaries ceremonially unclean, unable to partake of that evening’s Passover meal. “So Pilate came out to them and asked, ‘What charges do you bring against this man?’” The elders had been up all night, but Pilate would have been roused out of bed. “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you!” (Jn) “We have found this man subverting our nation! He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king!” (Lk) Opposes taxes, claims to be king: one lie and one truth. As for “subverting” their nation, we’d have to say it’s true … subvert, redeem….

Of Jesus, Pilate asks, “‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘As you say.’ When he was accused by the chief priests and elders he gave no answer, and Pilate asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to answer? Don’t you hear how many things they are accusing you of?’ But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge, to the great amazement of the governor.” (Mt, Mk) To the dignitaries Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” They had spent all night doing just that, but as they complained to Pilate, “we have no right to execute anyone.” (Jn 18) In any case, God wanted it to be crucifixion – hanging, to indicate a curse, not stoning, the proper death for a blasphemer.

Crucifixion was not a Levitical death – foreign rather, gentile, of the nations. Something unclean, for “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” (Gal 3:13) Judas. Jesus. Hanged, by neck and by arms. The Hebrew custom was to stone, then hang the body as a shaming display; not to be left overnight, “so that you do not defile the land.” (Deut 21:23) How long did Judas hang? Jesus was removed from the cross before sundown. But the land was defiled. Unlike stoning or hanging or beheading, crucifixion is a process, six hours for Jeus, giving very much time for observation and interaction. Thus, the seven utterances from the cross, known only by examining all four gospels. It could be that during those long many other things were spoken, but however edifying, they are not essential.

Pilate must have grown impatient, standing in the cold dawn air before this crowd of implacable Jews. He “went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’” What language are they speaking? Latin, Greek or Aramaic – via a translator? Neither Jesus nor Pilate give direct answers. Replies Jesus, “‘Is this your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?’ ‘Do you think I am a Jew? It is your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’ ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is of another place.’ ‘You are a king then!’ ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact for this reason I was born and for this I came into the world: to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ ‘What is truth?’” Pilate asked.

We are told that angels may walk among us, unrecognized. How much more strange, that we can argue with God and not know it. Pilate will be thinking that Jesus is yet another fanatical rabbi, a harmless delusional zealot, a feckless false prophet caught up in the consequences of his impertinence. Here, at least, Pilate is not brutal, but indifferent, or annoyed yet amused, or mildly curious. Some of what he says is unserious: Am I a Jew? Some may be sincere: What is truth? But he did not wait for an answer. Or rather, he didn’t recognize that his question had just been answered: truth is what makes you listen to Jesus.

How does a king act when in peril of his life? Charles I. Louis XVI. Nicholas II. They act like men, with dignity. Their killers, coincidentally, all, shame themselves. This must say something about Pilate, who wanted no part in the matter. History, per Philo and Josephus, depicts Pilate as cruel and corrupt. The early church had him to be a sympathetic character, a convert to Christianity, and a canonized saint of the Orthodox Ethiopian Church. Maybe both views are true.

Pilate “went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man.’” Faced with such a lack of cooperation, the chief priests insisted, “‘He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching! He started in Galilee and has come all the way here!’ On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.” (Lk 23) Problem solved. Pilate’s main residence was north, in Caesarea; he, like Herod, would have come to Jerusalem for the Passover – Herod ceremonially, Pilate because this is where trouble would be, if there were trouble. It seems most likely that Pilate was correct: Jesus was not a Roman citizen, so Herod was the proper, legal judge.

Herod This is Herod Antipas, who had John the Baptist beheaded because young Salome danced so well; he was a son of that Great Herod who rebuilt the Temple and slaughtered the children of Bethlehem; Antipas was banished in 39 AD to Gaul by Caligula, denounced by Herod Agrippa, his nephew and successor as king – Agrippa died eaten by worms (Acts 12).

Knowing as we do how Herod loved his dancing girls, he may have been up all night. “When Herod saw Jesus he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him.” He had wanted to see John the Baptist too, and was intrigued by his teachings, in prison. Bound and bloody prisoners were common to him, but how could this sight have been pleasing? He hoped to see some miracle. The accusers made vehement accusations, and Herod “plied him with many question, but Jesus gave him no answer.” “Then Herod and his soldier ridiculed and mocked him.” Herod had a sense of humor. He may have wished to savor the opportunity, and how long would that take? An hour? Some people spend a lifetime mocking God. “Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends – before this they had been enemies.” (Lk 23)


Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Betrayal. The exact opposite of  faithfulness. As darkness is not the opposite of light, nor cold of heat –  'absence' does not make an opposite – 'negation', rather. What an awkward word, faithfulness. Needs two suffixes, full, ness, to mean what it means. Would loyalty be better? By loyalty you are saved, and this not of yourself…? Betrayal needs only a single act; faithfulness requires a lifetime. Betrayal as an act is even more a culmination, consummation, confirmation of character. Like the rebellion of angels, it reveals the truth of one’s nature. But maybe it’s faith, not faithfulness – an infinite string of instantaneous affirmative acts. Faith fullness.

 Judas knew this favorite place of Jesus. He brought an entourage – officials, chief priests, teachers of the law, elders, Pharisees, officers of the temple guard, a detachment of soldiers – “a large crowd” (Mt 26) with “torches, lanterns and weapons” (Jn 18) – swords and clubs. The soldiers would have had swords; the dignitaries must have had the clubs. “Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man. Arrest him and lead him away under guard.’” (Mt 26, Mk 14) Judas the Disciple learned how to lead – he’s giving the orders. This is his finest hour.

We have to harmonize the timing. Each gospel preserves its own details and emphases. First, perhaps, Judas goes into the garden. “Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, rabbi,’ and kissed him.” (Mt) Jesus would then have said, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Lk 22)

Then, perhaps, Jesus “went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘I am he.’” Hearing this, “they drew back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ And again they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’” It has the repetition of ritual, of confirmation, of their error not his identity, of opportunity so tragically missed. When Jesus says “I am…”, power flows. The Word, speaking. “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, let these men go.” Very linear logic here, and authority. “And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.” (Jn 18)

Then Jesus would have said, “‘Friend, do what you came for.’ Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.” (Mt) Whom is he calling friend? Judas? A soldier? “When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’” (Lk) All four gospels relate the following: “Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)” Luke the doctor, and John, note that it was the right ear; John names Peter and Malchus. Said Jesus, “‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.” (Lk) Healed him how? Formed a scar? Regrew a new ear? Attached the severed ear? Jesus was arrested but not bound. He did not want any more indignity than was necessary to the occasion.

 He says, who lives by the sword dies by it. “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and at once put at my disposal more than 12 legions of angels? But how would the Scripture be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Mt) “Shall I not drink of this cup the Father has given me?” (Jn) To the crowd of enemies he says, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching and you did not lay a hand on me.” (Mt) “But this is your hour, when darkness reigns.” (Lk) Am I wrong to hear scorn in his tone? They come with … clubs? Perhaps it’s not as barbaric as it sounds.

“Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.” This detail from Mark – tradition says he is speaking of himself. Jesus had said to leave his disciples alone, but the violence must have abrogated that directive. In any case, none of his sheep were lost, now. Later, countless. But everything in its time.

 “Then seizing him they took him away…” (Lk) – bound, to former-high-priest Annas, father-in-law of current high-priest Caiaphas. (Jn 18) At a distance, “Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple … came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in. ‘Surely you are not another of this man’s disciples?’” the girl asked. The first denial: “I am not.” A lie. Or perhaps it was true, at the time. Faithfulness is an unbroken train of contiguous instances, each pulling another along; betrayal is a single severing act. Forgiveness is like getting your severed ear rejoined. Only John records this first denial. Is he the unnamed witness? In any case, he would have been known as a disciple, “another,” in the girl’s word; had this disciple been asked, he would have affirmed that he was a disciple. The denial was unnecessary. It was cold, and guards were sitting and standing around a warming fire. Peter joined them, standing and sitting.

Inside the house at that time, Annas questioned Jesus about his teachings and disciples. Did he want names named? “I have spoken openly to the world. I always taught at the synagogues or the Temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” (Jn 18) Well, no. Yes and no. Jesus knows perfectly well that people do not understand his teachings. And while perhaps not secret, he did have private teachings. He is not cooperating, as one under authority. He is setting his own agenda.

“When Jesus said this, one of the officers who stood by struck him with the palm of his hand. ‘Do you answer the High Priest like that?’” This slap in the face is the first time Jesus was ever struck. Were there no rules to govern how accused were to be treated? Is Jesus bleeding, yet? The official’s name, somehow, is not recorded for posterity. It would be the most common name in the world. ‘Mohammad’? The Spanish pronunciation of ‘Jesus’? Because almost everyone spits in God’s eye and thinks himself blessed. “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil. But if well, why did you strike me?” The first time I noticed that answer, many years ago, I was amazed. It is perfect.

 “Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.” (Jn 18) It would have been at his home, not at the official meeting place of the Sanhedrin. There “all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together.” (Mk 14) The “whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.” (Mt 26) Their “statements did not agree.” (Mk) Finally two “stood up and gave this false testimony against him: ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man."'  Yet even their testimony did not agree.”

 Recall back to when Jesus said to Annas: “Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” He was being rhetorical. Surely they do not know what he said. If truth is not a defense, then perhaps the confusion of the enemy will have to do, in their contradictions. To liars, yes is not yes, and no is not no. Thus, Caiaphas “the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.”

King Ahab, in 1K 21, coveted the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite. To steal it, a couple of false witnesses were recruited. They are called “scoundrels,” “worthless men.” (v. 13) Do all human lives have worth, then? Dante, somewhere in his Inferno, tells of a sinner so corrupt that his soul was removed from his body and sent to hell while his body still lived, soul replaced by the spirit of a demon. Just a story, but it might as well be true, for the corruption of those in power.

“Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’” (Mk 14) After all this trouble with Jesus, and after the temple was destroyed, the rabbis crafted a new religion, Judaism, by which the Jews utterly abandoned the divine Messiah, casting him rather as a most holy but mere man – a super rabbi.

 Jesus would have remained silent. Then (Matthew tells us) Caiaphas in his office as High Priest makes an answer mandatory: “I charge you under oath by the Living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” (Mt 26) There should be an exclamation point; there could be no higher compulsion, and Jesus must fulfill all righteousness. “It is as you say.” “I am,” adds Mark – no doubt as a paraphrase: nobody fell backwards. “And I say to you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven!” Caiaphas is apoplectic. Jesus, however righteous and courageous and authoritative, is bound and perhaps bleeding. The Sanhedrin does not perceive power in him. “Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look! Now you have heard the blasphemy! What do you think!’ They all condemned him as worthy of death.” One hardly supposes they needed witnesses. The verdict was predetermined, not only by prophecy, but politics. Incidentally, it was unlawful for the high priest to tear his clothes (Lev 21:10).

 Now it starts. The guards took him and beat him and mocked him and spit in his face; they blindfolded him and slapped him and struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ! Who struck you?” This would not have been done before the assembled dignitaries. Outside, in the courtyard or the street, with laughter. Just up the road from the house of Annas.

 Meanwhile, Peter had been waiting and warming himself by the fire. He has already denied Jesus once, to the girl who kept the gate. Another servant girl walked by and saw him “seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, ‘This man was with him! You were with that Nazarene, Jesus of Galilee!’ But he denied it before them all: ‘I am not! Woman, I don’t know him! I don’t know or understand what you are talking about!’ he said, and went out into the entryway.” (Mt 26, Mk 14, Lk 22, Jn 18) This is the second denial.

“A little later” (Lk 22), at the gate another servant girl, probably the gatekeeper again, saw him “and said again to the people standing around, ‘This fellow is one of them, with Jesus of Nazareth!’ He denied it again, with an oath: ‘I don’t know the man!’” (Mk, Mt) Luke has it: “Man, I am not!” A girl is not a man. We resolve the gender contradiction by supposing she accused, but Peter made this third denial to some dangerous-looking man. We have already been told expressly that there were guards at the fire and “people standing around” at the entrance.

 “About an hour later” (Lk) “One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, ‘Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?’” Peter denied it, a fourth time. (Jn) “Another standing nearby went up to Peter and asserted, ‘Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean – your accent gives you away!’ But Peter replied, ‘Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!’” (Lk) A fifth denial. “Then he began calling curses down upon himself and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know this man you are talking about!’” (Mt, Mk) A sixth denial.

 “Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.” Some early manuscripts say it was the second cock-crow. “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” (Lk 22) So we know where the guards took Jesus, to beat him – into the street, one gate up from that of Annas. Perhaps the guards beat Jesus in the courtyard, then moved him into the street, for reasons known to themselves. Well, so that Jesus could look into Peter’s eyes. The tormentors will have removed the blindfold – the game having grown tiresome. The concept of ‘sadism’ did not yet exist, but the phenomenon is more ancient than Sodom.

 “Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the cock crows today you will disown me three times.’” Perhaps it is “crows twice”, per manuscript variants. And notice there are four, even five and six, denials. But they are part of three timeframes: the girl at the gate, then by the fire and at the entrance again, and then among those of an hour later. Since the gospel writers could count, we have to assume this is probably how they reckoned the denials as three.

 Remembering, Peter “broke down and went outside and wept, bitterly.” (Mt, Mk, Lk) Poor Simon Peter. Not a rock, yet. First oaths, then curses. Then tears. We are not told what oaths he made, what curses. He broke his oaths. Maybe his curses came to pass. But not every betrayal is damnable. It just feels that way.