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. 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


Sometime during business hours of this day, Wednesday, 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 in 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, 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.

 So they 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 holy men must have had such a deal in mind already, the land spotted, the owner approached; there was a need for it after all: a city that large would have many unwanted bodies. This answers the question, then – maybe Judas hadn’t 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 350 years? – 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. What land or piece of land remains unpolluted by blood? The waters of the Flood cleansed the world by killing almost everyone.

 “Very early in the morning,” (Mk 15) before the chief priests got so busy rushing around closing real estate deals, they had been working to bring about another death. 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.

 At “daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together” (Lk 22) “and the whole Sanhedrin reached a decision” (Mk) “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 composite narrative. A writer may ignore some detail, without indicating its absence. This is not an error or a 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. 

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….

 To 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 – they would have stoned him, the proper death for a blasphemer – but, as they complained to Pilate, “we have no right to execute anyone.” (Jn 18) In any case, God wanted it to be crucifixion.

I wonder why. Not a Levitical death – a foreign death rather, gentile, of the nations. Something unclean, for “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” (Gal 3:13) Judas. Jesus. The Hebrew way 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.

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 didn’t 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 on trial for his life? Charles I. Louis XVI. Nicholas II. They act like men, with dignity. Their accusers, 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 up north, in Caesarea; he, like Herod, would have come south 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. 

This is Herod Antipas, who had John the Baptist beheaded because Salome danced so well; he was a son of that Herod the Great 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).

 “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. 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) Herod had a sense of humor.


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.


Monday, August 24, 2015


Communion. During the meal, this Passover before Passover, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and passed it out. “‘Take it and eat. This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to all of them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you.’” They all did. “This is the blood of the New Covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” And he said that he would not drink of the fruit of the vine “from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Mt 26, Mk 14, Lk 22)

The narrative is divided between the gospels, so the sequence of events is vague. It seems that Judas ate the bread of remembrance, or was offered it, but left before the passing of the cup of the New Covenant. What? – he looked backwards, to the curse and the law, but had no part in the Kingdom? A fleshly man unwashed by the Blood? I expect there’s significance in this, as there would be in the fact that remembrance is commanded only of the bread, not of the wine. The two rituals have since been combined. Nothing wrong with being practical. Jesus himself did not drink the wine – he did not take communion. He did not spill his blood for himself.

 When Judas had left, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in Himself, and glorify him immediately.” This is ecstatic speech, mystical and incomprehensible save on its own terms. The disciples didn’t understand it then, and we don’t understand it now. We can imagine meanings, as I just did about Judas and his communion, but it’s like interpreting prophecy: best done afterwards. Jesus calls them “little children,” says he is leaving, they cannot follow, love each other.

 Peter says, “Where are you going?” He cannot follow now, only later. “Lord, why can I not follow now? I will lay down my life for your sake!” “Will you lay down your life for my sake?” (Jn 13) “This very night you will all fall away on account of me…” “Even if all fall away, I never will!” (Mt 26) “Simon, Simon” – not the Rock, here – “Satan has asked for you all, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail…” (Lk) “Most assuredly, I say to you, the cock shall not crow till you have denied me three times.” “But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the other disciples said the same.” (Mt)

 Jesus then reminds them of how, before, they had been sent out to preach without purse, bag or sandals. “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag, and if you don’t have a sword sell your cloak and buy one.” “‘The disciples said, ‘See, Lord, here are two swords.’” “That is enough.” (Lk)

Let not your heart be troubled. Many mansions, a prepared place, “and where I go, you know, and the way you know.” Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, and how can we know the way?” (Thomas is my favorite.) And Jesus makes it clear, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. And from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” For Jesus to be this explicit is unusual. He must, must think he has been very clear already. Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and it is sufficient for us.” So very little time is left, and not one of the disciples seems truly to be understanding what he says, who he is. We might expect him to feel frustration, exasperation, but these don’t fit his image. We’re told of his anger, amazement, joy, compassion, zeal, indignation, mourning. He has just called them “little children” – that answers it: he’s feeling patience. (Jn 13)

“Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known me, Philip?” Is this the first time we hear Jesus address someone by their name? Jesus preaches to them, and says he will send the Holy Spirit to help their understanding. They seem not to have such a helper, now. “And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Well that’s a big promise. “Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word…’” He preaches again. He says, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in me. But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.” (Jn 14)

 “When they had sung a hymn, Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.” (Mt 26, Mk 14, Lk 22) Perhaps they are walking and talking, because Jesus continues to preach, on the True Vine, love for one another, the hate of the world, the Helper … and so on. “Then some of his disciples said among themselves, ‘What is this he says to us? … What is this that he says? … We do not know what he is saying.’” Jesus heard them, and preaches some more. Sorrow will turn to joy, ask and you will receive. “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language, but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father….” “His disciples said to him, ‘See, now you are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech. Now we are sure you know all things, and have no need that anyone should question you. By this we believe that you came forth from God.’” (Jn 15,16) Well, that’s fine for them. It doesn’t seem any clearer to me. I’ve already said that Jesus’ logic depends on his authority. We have to suppose this is the best way to teach these subjects, but we can also see why there have been so many heresies. Then Jesus prays for himself, his disciples, and for all believers. (Jn 17)

“When he had finished praying Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley.” (Jn 18:1) Had they paused along the way, perhaps at the Temple courts? Or is it now that they sang a hymn and left the room? On the far side of Kidron they went to an olive grove, Gethsemane. “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter, James and John with him, “and he became deeply distressed, sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’” (Mt) This is his communion. “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

“He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them…” (Lk) He fell with his face to the ground and prayed. “Abba.” Daddy. “Everything is possible for you.” (Mk) “If it is your will, remove this cup from me.” A leper had used the same words, ‘If you are willing you can make me clean.’ ‘I am willing,’ replied Jesus, full of compassion. We must believe that the Father was filled with compassion, and we’re told here that it is possible. It has to be that God was not willing. Indeed: “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” If you ask that God’s will be done, every prayer is answered. “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” (Lk) Perhaps every prayer calls out an angel from heaven. “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” There’s another emotion.

 “When he arose from prayer and went back to the disciples he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.” (Lk) If the disciples were asleep, who saw the angel, and the sweat falling like blood? They were awake for that, but Jesus prayed for an hour. Which of the disciples provided the excuse, ‘exhausted from sorrow’? One of the mamma’s boys, no doubt. “‘Simon,’ he said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Could you not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak.’ Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back he found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say.” Maybe it was the other mamma’s boy who gave this excuse: heavy eyes. Jesus went and prayed the same prayer, a third time. This is what is meant, about praying persistently. Returning, he said, “Are you still resting and sleeping?” It would be funny, but, well…. 

“Enough. The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go. Here comes my betrayer.” (Mk 14)


Thursday, August 20, 2015


Walking away from the Temple, one of Jesus’ disciples commented on the splendor of what Herod had built. Magnificent buildings of beautiful massive stones! “As for what you see here,” responded Jesus, “the time will come when not one stone will be left on another.” (Lk 21) Later that day, “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us when will these things happen, and what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?’” (Mt 24, Mk 13)

Deceivers, war and rumors, quakes, famines, plagues, signs in the heavens, persecutions. “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, make up your hand not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. Just say what is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking but the Holy Spirit. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Hatred, betrayal, false prophets. “You will be betrayed by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. But not a hair of your head will perish.” Abomination of desolation, flight to the mountains, distress until the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled. (Lk 21) False Christs and false prophets, deceiving signs and wonders, dark sun, lightless moon, falling stars. Roaring seas and heavenly bodies shaken. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” (Mt 24)

The disciples, these four, had asked some big questions, and the answers were epic, epochal, eschatological, and outside our scope. We’re looking at Jesus and his life as a human being. Of course we cannot separate out his, uh, Christianity, so we’re facing it here. What does a prophet sound like when he’s teaching about the end of the world? Ranting? Sorrowful? Gentle? He’s teaching so that these four will teach. “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

 What did they hear, when he said ‘not a hair on your head will perish’? Christendom has more martyrs than saints, I think. And when we hear ‘this generation will not pass away…’, well, it’s been nigh on twenty centuries and that generation is dust so fine we’re breathing it now and not noticing. Many of these prophecies have happened many time; almost all of it, save maybe the shaking of heavenly bodies, and the angels with trumpets. But if we take the words literally, Jesus is obviously wrong.

We’ve seen however how prophecy is fulfilled: unexpectedly, as with the colt, given a hundred colors by cloaks. And really, if we hear of a King being raised up, we wouldn’t expect it to be through crucifixion. So we might expect these endtime prophecies to be figuratively fulfilled literally. Grammar and symbolism. We have to understand ‘not a hair will perish’ to be spiritual, and not naturally physical – hair of the resurrection body; and ‘this generation’ must mean not that of the First Century AD, but the final generation of the endtime.  This generation of which I speak… When Jesus says ‘I tell you the truth’ – he is investing the statement with all of his credibility. He’s either completely right, or an antichrist.

 He speaks of suddenness and watchfulness, faithful servants, ten virgins with lamps awaiting the Bridegroom. He rephrases the parable of the departing master who gives his servants money to invest – not minas, but talents here. (Mt 25) Sheep from goats, and what is done to the least brother is done to the king. 

“When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, ‘As you know the Passover is two days away, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’” (Mt 26, Lk 22) Mark makes a distinction between “the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread...” (14:1) It’s Tuesday. Wednesday will be “the First Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it is customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb…” (Mk 14:12) This ‘First Day’ is not the same as “the Passover” or “the Feast” or the “Feast of Unleavened Bread”. Passover, the Feast of Passover, is Thursday. Friday is “Feast of Unleavened Bread.” The terms can be confusing, used almost interchangeably. Metonymy and synecdoche.

 If you look at Mk 14:12, or Mt 26:17, you’ll see it says, “on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread…” But it was not on that day. “On” is a Greek dative preposition, here meaning “toward” or “regarding”. Sorry, it’s a mistranslation. My Greek is worse than my French, but there are lexicons to help in such matters. John is clearest, or clearer, or clear.

Meanwhile, “the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the High Priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. ‘But not during the Feast,’ they said, ‘or there may be a riot among the people.’” (Mt 26)

 “Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover. …As you enter the city a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says: My time is near. Where is my guest room where I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready.’” (Lk 22, Mk 14, Mt 26) And so it occurred. “When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve.” (Mk 14:17) Word study shows it to be after dark. This, the Last Supper, is not the annual Passover meal: John says, “It was just before the Passover Feast. …The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.” (13:1,2)

 Don’t you suppose it should always say, not the Twelve, but the Eleven plus one? Maybe the point is that corruption is embedded in every system. Seems like it should be surprising, the fact that Jesus picked, picked Judas. By accident? On purpose. Sort of like picking someone to go to hell, a deepest part of hell. Would just any betrayer have done? – or did it take a uniquely depraved character. Our word character comes from the Greek, meaning inscribed. Who does the carving? We do it to ourselves. I think, in human terms, it was just another betrayal, and any betrayer would have done it.

Reclining at the table, Jesus said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you.” (Lk 22:15) Levitical law – or rather, tee hee, Numerical law (Num 9:11) – allows a time-displacement for those who cannot eat the meal on the appointed day. That’s the principle Jesus is using. He continues, “…I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” The real, the true Passover meal had to that point never been eaten.

 Yet again, “a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” (Lk 22:24) Well, James and John would have been at it (this must be what was meant by ‘sons of thunder’), and Peter saw himself as a leader. Andrew along with these other three asked about the end times, so he has an eye to the future. Is anyone else ever named in a way that points a finger at their ambition? Thomas seems too matter-of-fact to waste his time bickering about the future. Philip was a bean counter. Judas was already bought and paid for, but he still may have argued about his greatness – a double mind is what we should expect from him.

 Jesus “got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist.” (Jn 13) He washed the feet of all the disciples. Peter, from his humility and his pride, said, “No, you will never wash my feet!” “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” So Peter wanted his hands and head washed too. That’s pretty funny. Says Jesus, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” We can be sure that Jesus knelt before Judas and washed his feet, so they were clean. I expect Judas could hardly endure the touch of Jesus’ hands on his feet. No anger or resentment from Jesus. Jesus resumed his seat. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, and rightly so for that is what I am. … I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

“You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Lk 22:28-30) What twelve tribes? Ten of them never came back from their Assyrian captivity. Resurrected? Reconstituted? Called out from the nations by some allele in their genome? What kingdoms? Political states, with borders and ambassadors? Jesus’ kingdom is not of this earth. If theirs is conferred in “just” the same way, can they be earthly?

 “I am not referring to all of you. I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’” (Jn 13:18; cf Ps 41:9) Jesus knew those he chose; he chose Judas: Jesus selected the character of his betrayer. Offences must come, but woe to them through whom they come. Having said this, Jesus “was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me – one who is eating with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him, but woe to that man who betrays him. It would be better if he had never been born.’” (Mk 14) That answers that questions: not every human life has value.

 The “hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.” (Lk 22) Did hands reflexively pull away? The disciple Jesus loved was at one hand; was Judas at the other? Did he occupy himself by grabbing some bread and sopping it in the bowl of wine? “His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant.” (Jn) They questioned among themselves. (Lk) “They were very sad and said to him, one after the other, ‘Surely not I, Lord!’ Jesus replied, ‘It is one of the Twelve. The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.’” (Mt) 

Greek has a definite article, and Matthew uses it – paints a picture: Judas, his hand suspended mid-way to his parted lips, a drop gathering to fall from the bread to the tabletop, drip, the hand moving again, slow chewing, silence. Jesus says Judas “is going to betray me.” Future tense – the deal had been made, the silver collected and heavy in his purse at his side, but there is time to back out. Peter motions to John, pssst!, and whispers, “Ask him which one he means!” “Leaning back against Jesus,” John asked, “Lord, who is it?” “It is he to whom I give this bread when I have dipped it.” (Jn) Judas. “Rabbi, is it I?” Did Judas ever call Jesus ‘Lord’? Even in his hypocrisy and playacting? Answered Jesus, “You have said it.” (Mt) “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered him. ‘What you do, do quickly,’ Jesus told him…. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. It was night.”

Jesus called this meal ‘the Passover.’ But there was no lamb. Bread and wine only. On the other hand, and this would be the point, there was a Lamb present, and its ‘body’ was eaten. That sopped bread Jesus handed to Judas was all the communion Judas got. He took the bread; did he eat it? When Satan entered him, what part was occupied? His heart, mind, entire being? His belly – his god in his belly, next to a blob of dough?

 “No one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor.” (Jn) No buying or selling during the Passover Sabbath, so it was  now, after sundown, Preparation Day, Wednesday, the day the lamb is to be slaughtered.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015


If I were somehow made to be a First Century Jew and found myself in the company of Jesus, I hope that I would follow him, but I expect I would argue with him. A fact is something that you can demonstrate, like Euclid. All those miracles would have to count as unanswerable proof that he had somehow access to the miraculous.  But he was teaching a new thing, that the Messiah was actually God Himself. Sure, the idea can be found, or can be made to be found, in the Hebrew Scriptures. For Jews, the Trinity must seem very much like a backstep away from monotheism, which itself was so forcefully drilled into their culture with very many painful lessons. So it would be confusing, this man with his claims and his proofs.

 I might split hairs and parse words, because that’s how I am, and it’s a rabbinical trait anyway, and I would have been a rabbi. I expect I’d be clever, but Jesus would brush the words aside and cut to the heart of it. I would question his claim to be the Son of God, and he would say that he who speaks to me is HE. I would question how God could be a man, and he would say “Before the world was, I AM.” I would fall back to the ground, but I would rise, as we will, and promptly forget the lesson of that experience, as Peter forgot walking on water, and Judas forgot the loaves and fishes. He would always show power and make declarative statements. I would watch, carefully, for the slightest hesitation or inconsistency. There is only one thing, in fact, that would mute my diligent skepticism, and that is love. I would only believe him, in him, if I loved him. This shows us how Judas was different than the other disciples.

 Tuesday, April 8, 32 AD. On their way back into Jerusalem that morning, they saw the fig tree was utterly withered, “from the roots.” (Mk 11) Peter remembered the curse and expressed amazement. Said Jesus, If you have faith without doubt, you can do not only this, but cast this mountain into the sea. Believe you have received and you shall. When you pray, be sure to have forgiven those you hold anything against. All this is no doubt true, and there is a sort of connection to it all, but the truth of the logic depends on the authority of Jesus. Is fig-tree withering a useful act of undoubting faith? Faith as herbicide? Getting a mountaintop to throw itself into the sea must have its uses, but no one in the Christian era has ever done such a thing. Yes, if we had faith – but it is a faithless age.

 Of the three items, figs and mountains and forgiveness, only forgiveness in our hearts seems doable. I think that takes as great a faith as these others. The first mountain to move is within ourselves; the first root to kill, likewise. Jesus speaks often enough about forgiveness for us not to complain that he doesn’t here start his reply with it, instead of tree roots. Then again, he knows how dim and dull we are, yet doesn’t make it easy, or even clear. Meditation, reflection, is a demand, then, unspoken. Indeed, the lessons we figure out are the ones we remember.

Jesus arrived in the Temple courts and yet again preached the gospel, and the chief priests, teachers of the law, elders, once more demanded by what authority he did so. (Lk 20) “I will also ask you one question. If you answer, so will I. John’s baptism, was it from heaven or from men?” They puzzle over this – if it was from heaven, why didn’t they follow him? – if it was from men, they’d be stoned by the crowd, who loved John. “We don’t know where it was from.” A truthful answer. But how then, or why, are they leaders, if they cannot discern or be decisive? They are called leaders; in reality, they were merely powerful. Jesus answered them in kind – not at all, but instead teaches them parables.

A son says he will not work, but does; the other son says he will, but does not – who was obedient? (Mt 21) “The first,” answered the powers. “The tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” They believed John and repented, and the leaders did not, even having seen such repentance. A landowner rents out his vineyard, but the tenants beat his first messenger, club the second, wound the third, kill the forth; still more messengers, and yet more of the same. The son was sent – surely they will respect him? No – ‘let’s kill him and the inheritance will be ours!’ You may think people are not that stupid. The landowner will bring the wretches to a wretched end, and rent the vineyard to other, less-stupid and -wicked tenants. “When the people heard this they said, ‘May this never be!’ Jesus looked directly at them and asked, ‘Then what is the meaning of that which is written…’” and he quotes of the capstone, rejected. “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to people who will produce its fruit.” (Mt 21) The leaders understood this, were offended, wanted to arrest him, were afraid of the people.

 Another, similar parable: A king invites guests to his son’s wedding feast – they refused, abused and killed the messengers; the king was enraged and destroyed their city, then had his messengers invite anyone they could find; at the feast the king “noticed a man who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are invited but few are chosen.” Only those who are suited to the occasion. Judgment comes not only upon murder, but upon negligence.

 Meantime “the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.” (Mt 22) “Spies” Luke (20) calls them, and Herodians, looking to “hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.” Pilate. Up they sidle, lips dripping flattery (Mk 12): “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity! You aren’t swayed by men! Because you pay no attention to who they are! But you speak and teach what is right! And you teach the way of God! In accordance with the truth!” Upshot: should we pay taxes or not? “But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, duplicity, said, ‘You hypocrites! Why are you trying to trap me?’” A coin, and the reply, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s. Amazed, astonished, they fell silent and went away.

This is what people do, when they want to argue with Jesus. Baffled, befuddled, dumbfounded, then departed. What Jesus does is insult them with the truth, then give some Socratic koan that almost nobody understood, or wished they didn’t. Not Jesus as Trickster, but engendering the same discomfiture. We think we’re emperors in extravagant finery, but we’re naked in public.

 “That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.” The eldest of seven brothers dies without a child, so the next brother marries the widow to provide an heir for the first. It’s Mosaic law. The second brother promptly dies, without issue, and so on, for all seven brothers. “Now at the resurrection whose wife will the woman be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” This must have been a hot topic for debate, a set piece of rhetoric, a sort of how-many-angels-can-dance-on-a-pin to a later age of theorists.  To-be-or-not-to-be was a debate topic among Elizabethan university students. Exactly the sort of thing Jesus knows how to deal with.

Sadducees are not called atheists merely as a courtesy. Secular Jews. As if Jewishness were a race, or a culture. It is both, but only in relation to God. I suppose disrespect, or disbelief, is a kind of relationship. Like adultery is a kind of marriage. What is ‘marriage’? Just as with ‘baby’, it is whatever the Sanhedrin instructs us that it is. In First Century Israel, there were three sorts of Jew: legalists, atheists, and potential Christians – Pharisees, Sadducees, and seekers.

 “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” The two revelations, from prophets, and from creation itself. The heavens declare it, as do mustard seeds – cosmology and genetics, screaming power, yet so hard to hear. Jesus teaches the Sadducees that the dead, like the angels in heaven, do not marry. (Angels fallen from heaven do.) Then Jesus says that God told Moses, “I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob” – not I WAS. Therefore these patriarchs are not dead. Jesus is giving weight to the exact meaning of the words beyond that which normal usage would justify – they require special, shall we say, insight. We cannot complain about this, because his exactitude bears more weight than our generalities. To the Sadducees he then says, “You are badly mistaken!” There was general astonishment, and some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” Is this the first, and only, time Jesus is complimented? And no one dared ask any more questions.

 “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.” (Mt 22) One of them, an expert in the law (Mk 12), “heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer he tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?’” First, love God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength. Second, love your neighbor as yourself. “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. There is no commandment greater than these.” ‘Law and Prophets’ means ‘Scripture’. Where had this particular teacher of the law been, all this time? Is he just now hearing about Jesus? Clearly he did not pay attention to what crowds were doing. This is a man who kept lamps lit in the daytime. Studying. “Well said, teacher!” And Jesus replied, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” So this is a second compliment. And no one dared ask him any more questions.

But we’ve heard that before. No one of that group asked, at that time. Some new clique is always moving in. There will have been any number of Pharisee schools, the faculty of which would push forward to confront the Galilean. That’s how reputations are made, and one faction rises above another. Cobra Kai. Just because someone argues well doesn’t mean they’re wise. And innumerable wise men still believe lies. Aristotle said wisdom is knowledge of the things that do not change. But Aristotle believed that lead ingots would melt in extreme cold as well as heat. Wisdom is not false knowledge, or knowledge of false things, or of things that do not exist. The danger of being the best arguer around is that there’s no one to correct you.

 Those other debating-together Pharisees who dared ask no more questions were then questioned by Jesus. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” “The Son of David!” Jesus then made what would seem an abstruse observation from Psalms, where David calls the Messiah ‘Lord’: “How then can He be his son?” Luke has said it, Mark has said it, and now Matthew says it (22): “No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.” Indeed, this is Jesus’ last day of preaching. He was crucified on a Wednesday. His accusers ask him questions, but by now we understand how the gospel writers use language: generally, except for Jesus, who uses it with exquisite precision. As for his point, indeed, how the Son of David could be the Lord of David boggles conception. Why do the good suffer? How can we be free yet have a fate? How can a particle be a wave? Samson had a riddle, the Sphinx had a riddle, and Jesus does too: “How then can He be his son?” I think I know how Jesus would answer his riddle: “I AM.”

“The large crowd listened to him with delight.” (Mk 12) Jesus warns them about pharisaic hypocrisy. (Mt 23) “They sit in Moses’ seat, so you must do everything they tell you.” He’s saying he is no revolutionary, very conservative, in fact, even to paying taxes he doesn’t need to pay; he’s saying even leaders who are hypocrites must be obeyed, with regard to being under lawful law. “But do not do what they do. …Everything they do is for the eyes of men.” Long tassels and flowing robes and seats of honor, devouring widows’ houses while declaiming long prayers. “Such men will be punished most severely.” He pronounces many woes upon them – blind guides, whited sepulchers. “You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers.”

 I wonder what Thomas Jefferson did with all this. Leave it in? – snip it out? Jesus sends prophets to blind guides – perhaps they will escape hell? “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings, but you were not willing. Look, for your house is left to you desolate, for you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Jesus sends prophets to those who kill prophets. They stone the messengers – perhaps they won’t kill the Son?

Then Jesus sat down and observed people making offerings into the treasury. The widow and her mite gain great praise from him. (Lk 21) Then he left the Temple. (Mk 13) This widow’s great sacrifice, then – after so much condemnation of the hypocrites – is the last thing, the very last thing he teaches about in the courts of the Temple.

 “Each day Jesus was teaching at the Temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives. And all the people came out early to hear him at the Temple.” (Lk 21) Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Bethany is on the southeastern slope of that hill. It had been a long day. He will spend some of the long night on the Mount, but he will never sleep again, in a body of flesh and blood.