Friday, 1 February 2013

God Hates Figs!

The Accursed Fig Tree, James Tissot (1836-1902)
Here's a strange tale from the Bible in which Jesus shows himself to not only not be an all-knowing god but to be a petty, vindictive tyrant and a braggart too. Perhaps Christians can explain it and discern a moral in the story.
And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest. And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve.

And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.

And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.
So, having been greeted by a multitude on his 'triumphal entry' into Jerusalem, Jesus can't find anyone to stump up a decent meal and has to go out hunter-gathering. But, even though he is allegedly the earthly form of an omniscient creator god he has to walk over to a fig tree to see if it has any figs.

On finding both the fig tree and his journey fruitless, and even though he has a reputation for being able to conjure up food for five thousand men plus their attendant women and children, and had, as God, at one time allegedly magicked up enough food and water to sustain three million Israelites for forty years in a desert, he can neither conjure up food for himself, nor make a fig tree bear fruit, so in a fit of peak he curses the fig tree and kills it, like a spoiled child having a tantrum.

Then, presumably still hungry and tetchy he goes back into Jerusalem and starts a riot in the temple for reasons which are not at all clear unless it was to make some obscure political point about socio-economic systems, ownership of capital or simply about trade and traders in general of which his adopted father was one. (See Was Jesus Against Capitalism?)

But it gets worse:
And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.

And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
Then they go back to Jerusalem to see the aftermath of the riots from the day before.

So, having gone without food the previous day and caused a riot in Jerusalem, Jesus and his gang spend the following morning walking back to Bethany, apparently just to see if the curse has worked on the fig tree.

When it clearly has, Jesus starts bragging about how he can do these things because he believes he can and how he could even throw a mountain into the sea if he wanted to. Apparently, you can have anything you want if you just have enough faith in God and believe your wishes come true.

So there you are: when God doesn't answer your prayers by doing whatever you want, it is your fault for not being faithful enough. Must pray harder and give more money to the priests...

Curiously though, none of his gang think to ask Jesus why, if he can kill a fig tree with words, and throw mountains about, he can't make a tree bear fruit or think up a loaf of bread.

Then, having had to listen to Jesus bragging about his magic powers and what he could do if he wanted to, they all trot off back to Jerusalem to face the music for the previous day's behaviour. We are never told whether Jesus and his hapless band ever managed to find any food.

Matthew tells a different version of this same tale. For Matthew the entire thing happened much more economically. None of that walking out the day before to find food and cursing the fig tree, then having to go back the next morning to see if the curse has worked. This all takes place the day after that spot of bother in Jerusalem and the beating up of the traders. Presumably, this Jesus and his gang had been suitably fed and watered that night by the jubilant multitude.
Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.

And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
In this version, the most impressive thing from the gang members' point of view is the speed at which the tree was killed. For those in Mark's version, taking a day to work was taken for granted; what mattered was that Jesus had such marvellous powers - as though they were still not fully convinced by the other demonstrations of power.

Strange how two different 'eye-witness' accounts can differ so greatly in detail where they can't agree even on when in the day it happened and how many times they went to the fig tree. But there is that same assurance that you can have and do anything you want if you just pray hard enough and believe what the priests say, and if if doesn't work, you only have yourself to blame.

But then, if you believe any of that, I have this bridge for sale...

(Credit for the inspired title goes to @skeppy4eyes)


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4 comments :

  1. Considering that Mark's version is the original, earlier version, I suspect Jesus or one of his pals went to the fig tree in the middle of the night and poisoned it.

    The Temple incident is the most believable story in the gospels, in my opinion, because a religious zealot could indeed be upset by money-lending in the holiest place of his religion, especially since handling money on the Sabbath is verboten. It would also explain anger against him and be an offense punishable by death, especially with monied people as his new enemies, who might have had clout with the Romans.

    The gospels weren't eye-witness accounts, but you can't tell Christians that. They were anonymous writings passed down for about 250 years without attribution until the Council of Nicea in 325.

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    1. >because a religious zealot could indeed be upset by money-lending in the holiest place of his religion<

      They're often referred to as money-lenders but the KJV always talks of money-changers and Luke only refers to buyers and sellers. Money changing was necessary, apparently, because it was considered blasphemous to use Roman coins which had the (graven) image of Caesar on them and, as Caesar was officially a god in the Empire, so depicted a pagan god. Roman coins were changed into Temple Money which could be accepted by the temple authorities. In fact, the money-changers were filling a necessary role as the interface between the secular Roman state and the Jewish Temple, necessitated by the Laws of Moses that Jesus was supposedly defending.

      I could be wrong but I don't think we can assume it was on the Sabbath either as that's not stated.

      Personally, I find it hard to see what point was being made with this story unless Jesus was against trade of any kind. (See Was Jesus Against Capitalism?)

      Delete
  2. "and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet."

    You'd think the creator of the universe would know when fig season is... what an idiot.

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    1. The interesting thing is how 'Mark' clearly isn't writing about Jesus as God in human form. 'Matthew', who copied large chunks of Mark verbatim, only changing it to present Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, didn't see any problem with this either. In fact, the original Matthew may well have been a gospel of the Nazarene messianic apocalyptic Jewish sect led by 'James the brother of Jesus', altered and amended with large chunks of Mark to bring it into line with other local proto-Christian sects.

      The idea that Jesus was God only developed later with appropriate bits being inserted into the gospels as needed. Unfortunately, there was poor editorial control of the process so bits like this strange tale were left in, probably because of the claim that you can do anything if you just believe enough - and if you can't, it's your fault, so don't blame the priests for selling you a pig in a poke.

      Delete

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