EDITED 8/3/2023 4:29pm Atlantic Canada Time by John MacDonald
Now, the conclusion:
- Trump on his indictments: “I’m doing it for our country to show how evil and sinister a place it has become.”
“Truly This Was The Son Of God” (Mark)
“Truly This Was An Innocent Man” (Luke)
One of the key takeaways I had from participating in prof Ehrman’s course was Jesus taught returning to the law rather than faith in Jesus’s death and resurrection that we would later see with Paul. This is a little difficult to understand because many Christianities today are all about belief, which perhaps was not the focus of the Judaism of the historical Jesus in antiquity. Jesus’s religion seems to be centered on behavior modification so people can enter the coming apocalyptic Kingdom. Ehrman thus points out for Jesus, faith in Jesus’s death and resurrection is irrelevant as long as you were being a good person and taking care of the needy. It makes sense this performance Judaism would arise in the apocalyptic wake of the destruction of the temple, and may have proceeded it with the apocalyptic temple destruction prophecy of Jesus – if he did (Ehrman thinks so) make such a prophecy. The midrash technique in which we find this theology in later Jewish sources also seem to be present with the Jesus materials. To understand this, let’s consider ancient Judaism. DANIEL SEPTIMUS comments:
- One might argue that belief in God was less central to Jews of the rabbinic era (the few centuries following the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE) than it was to Jews in the Middle Ages, not because God was less important, but because belief itself was. Though Jews tended to believe in certain shared concepts–e.g. one God who led them out of Egypt, the eventual messianic redemption–official beliefs or dogmas were not formulated until the Middle Ages. Rabbinic Judaism demanded action–the fulfillment of the commandments–not the assertion of specific beliefs. Perhaps the most striking example of this position is a commentary on the verse in Jeremiah, which states: “[They] have forsaken me and have not kept my Torah .” To which the Pesikta D’Rav Kahana, a 5th- to 7th-century midrash, glosses: “If only they had forsaken me and kept my Torah.” Rabbinic Judaism, as well as biblical Judaism, has a concept of belief, but not–many would argue– in the sense of affirming propositions, e.g. asserting that God exists. Scholar Menachem Kellner, for one, points out that the biblical word emunah, “belief” or “faith” connotes trust, belief in, as opposed to the affirmation of propositions. Of course, one might argue that trusting in something implies that that something exists, but the distinction between belief in and belief that helps in understanding the priorities and emphases of the rabbinic worldview… At the heart of [scholar] Wettstein’s article is a quote by Abraham Joshua Heschel that echoes the thoughts about the non-centrality of belief mentioned above. According to Heschel, “Awe rather than faith is the cardinal attitude of the religious Jew. In Biblical language, the religious man is not called ‘believer,’ as he is for example in Islam (mu’min) but yare hashem (one who stands in awe of God).” Working off of this notion, Wettstein claims that at the heart of the Jewish religious sensibility is a distinctive attitude toward life, a major component of which is awe. Various aspects of Jewish religious practice–prayer, Torah study, the rhythms of the Jewish calendar–are meant to facilitate this attitude. Wettstein acknowledges that the object of this awe is God. He does, however, propose that this awe–and the meaningful life it helps to create–is also available to a naturalist who rejects a supernatural God. To demonstrate this point, he compares this “religious naturalist” to a non-fundamentalist theist, one who believes in God and Judaism, but doesn’t understand every biblical story literally. Such a person does not believe that the creation story in Genesis reflects actual events. God didn’t necessarily create the world in six 24-hour periods nor did God actually rest on the seventh day. This, however, does not negate the meaning of the story. “The notion of Sabbath, as creative retreat from creative engagement with the world, as spiritual renewal,” writes Wettstein, “will be unaffected.” The imagery, religious resonances, and meaning of the story are available to this non-literalist even though she does not believe it to be factually true.
It is in this way we can understand Jesus as the specially favored son of God who was unjustly killed and so produced awe by un-covering (a-letheia) for the world it’s hidden sinful nature, in the Greek tradition of the wrongfully killed just man who deserved death by the standards of society, but this just shows society was wrong and had a hidden cancer that needs to be removed. People don’t know they’re evil, and so have to be shown it like the vicious death of the scapegoat in Judaism is an occasion to reflect on the unintended consequences of your sins. For instance we have Socrates give a prayer of thanksgiving to Asclepius for the poison/cure, and the ideal of the impaled just man in Plato’s Republic.
So, with Jesus, like Elisha becoming the successor and superior of Elijah in 2 Kings 2, we see the humiliating, tortuous death of Jesus far exceeds the humiliating death of John the Baptist (who Mark paints in the image of Elijah) in the obviously fictional dystopian satire context of the world’s response to God’s specially favored and chosen one Jesus, where his disciples denied (Peter), betrayed (Judas), failed (getting violent at the arrest), and abandoned (they fled at the arrest) him, while Pilate denied him justice, the Jewish supreme council conspired against him (eg HERE and HERE), and the crowd turned on him. And as a capstone (eg see Ehrman HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE), Jesus was denied a decent burial!
We really have to stress the illegal nature of what is satirically presented as happening to Jesus with his trial and death, such as we see in The Illegal Trial of Jesus by Earle L Wingo. For instance we see the absurdity of presenting the Jewish Supreme Council meeting on Passover Eve to deal with Jesus. Moreover, when the Sanhedrin took Jesus before Pilate hoping for a death sentence to be carried out according to Roman law, they changed the charges from blasphemy to treason, such changing was illegal under the Law of Moses. Scholars estimate those conducting Jesus’ trial broke at least 18 of the Mosaic laws that were meant to protect the accused, characterizing it as an illegal trial where Jesus was fraudulently convicted:
• The testimony of an accomplice was not allowed. Therefore, Judas could not accuse or witness against Christ.
• The accused could not be questioned by a private individual. Christ was taken to Annas (Caiaphas’ father-in-law and the former high priest) and then Caiaphas.
• No legal proceedings could take place at night.
• The Sanhedrin (Jewish judges) could not bring charges. Witnesses had to do that. But indeed, the Sanhedrin brought charges. Then they sought for and brought in false witnesses.
• Capital offenses could not be tried on a preparation day for a Sabbath or high holy day and the Passover began the next evening.
• Capital trials had to last more than one day to allow for great consideration on the part of the judges.
• There had to be two or three agreeing witnesses and they had to cast the first stones at the criminal. If witnesses were untruthful, they were to receive the same punishment themselves.
• The accused had to have a “friend in court” to defend him. Jesus had none.
• No one can accuse himself. Jesus agreed that He was/is who He claimed to be.
• The high priest is not allowed to grandstand. Caiaphas rent his clothes and accused Christ of blasphemy.
• The accused must be given ample time to defend himself of any accusations.
• If with a capital crime the decision is unanimous against the accused, the case is actually thrown out. Any members of the Sanhedrin who may have defended Christ were not invited to this court session. The court found unanimously against Jesus, so He should have walked free.
• The trial was held at Caiaphas’ palace instead of at the proper court. The next morning part of the Sanhedrin convened at the proper place to make things look legal.
• Any sort of bribery disqualifies a member of the court. The court bribed Judas to turn on Christ.
• The judges are not allowed to assault the accused.
• When the Sanhedrin took Jesus before Pilate hoping for a death sentence to be carried out according to Roman law, they changed the charges from blasphemy to treason, illegal under the Law of Moses.
So, from a literary point of view why are the Gospel writers inventing these things?
As all critical scholars agree, our oldest Gospel Mark’s narrative details of the crucifixion are largely fiction, Mark simply inventing his narrative by creatively rewriting 2nd Isaiah and Psalms. Why is he doing this? What Mark seems to be doing is writing a homily on Paul’s following foundational claim that Paul presumably inherited from Peter, James and John that Paul repeated without explanatory details: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures (1 Cor 15:3),” analogous to how John’s prologue is a homily on Genesis. Mark’s argument seems to be trying to reconcile a tension in Paul’s letters that for Paul the overwhelming main point is the crucifixion (1 Cor 2:2), but Paul says this crucifixion was in fact meaningless if the resurrection is a fiction: “14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain and your faith is in vain (1 Cor 15:14).” The author of the gospel of Mark makes exactly the opposite point: The “cruci-fiction” narrative is invented and there are no resurrection appearances, yet the reader undergoes the same transfiguration as the roman soldier at the cross when we see ourselves in those who destroyed Jesus. After all, regarding the relative importance of belief, belief is good, but demons also believe without being saved (James 2:18-20). This is even more conspicuous with Luke’s soldier at the cross saying “Truly this was an innocent man” in reference to the crucified criminal Jesus. This reminds us of the ancient Greek notion of catharsis in art, and today we speak of catharsis in terms of the purification and purgation of thoughts and emotions, and to a resulting emotional state that results in renewal and restoration. First used in a mental sense by Aristotle, Greek Neoplatonists also used the term to refer to spiritual purification.
Looking up at Jesus on the cross, the scales come off the soldier’s eyes and he sees himself and his world as having wrongfully killed God’s specially favored just prophet Jesus. This is supposed to be a catalyst and invitation to repentance. This is also the light Trump was casting himself in with the video I linked to above: “I’m doing it for our country to show how evil and sinister a place it has become (Trump).” The Trump team is waging a very sophisticated “religion-ny” campaign where he subtly and not-so-subtly is being a catalyst for “religious arousal” in the religious voters, except Trump is supposed to be seen as the savior and the object of worship and conversion. In this way the soldier in Mark at the cross is in awe of Jesus’s obedience, following Gethsemane, to his “commanding officer” God, just as in Luke the soldier is in awe at the forgiveness of Jesus, or in Matthew the soldier is in awe at the anger of God, or in John the soldier pierces Jesus’s body (John 19:34) to inspire awe in the skeptic that Jesus actually did die and did not survive the cross to set up a false resurrection appearances hoax. Likewise, the Greeks said philosophy was born out of awe/wonder (thaumazein) where our trusted guiding perspective is unable to appropriate what it was made to appropriate, like the way the cherished traditional definition of marriage does violence to LGBTQ+ rights, and so the guiding perspective must be deconstructed and reconstructed in a more inclusive way (aporia – epekeina tēs ousias – idea tou agathou).
(1) For Previous Posts On Trump Religious Propaganda, see:
(2) For My Scriptures Study Index SEE
EDITED 8/3/2023 4:29pm Atlantic Canada Time by John MacDonald