Sunday, 15 February 2015

Was Jesus a Fundamentalist Extremist?

Expulsion of the Moneychangers from the Temple,
Luca Giordano (1632–1705)
Reading all three so-called 'Synoptic Gospels', Matthew, Mark and Luke, they all agree that Jesus' arrest, trial and crucifixion followed closely after the 'cleansing of the temple' when Jesus allegedly drove the moneychangers out of the temple. Was this in fact the violent terrorist act of an extremist leading a bunch of dissidents in an attack on the Jewish authorities who ran Judea under Roman suzerainty and who were de facto the local government of the day?

There is no hard evidence that Jesus ever existed at all, and certainly no contemporaneous eye-witness accounts of anything associated with his life and death exist and even the two historians living and writing at the time (Philo-Judeus and Justus of Tiberius) are entirely silent on the matter, so it's hard to make a case for the stories of Jesus being based on a real person at all, let alone actually happening. Never-the-less, some people, notably the Atheist writer and Bible scholar, Bart D. Ehrman, have argued that the myth was founded on a real person and there is a case to be made that Jesus was leader of a small band of apocalyptic dissident Jews, possibly the former followers of John the Baptist and maybe ancestral to the Ebionite sect.

The Ebionites were probably led by James 'The Brother of Jesus' who became the first Christian 'bishop of Jerusalem' - in those times the leader of a small messianic 'Christian' sect. So, we have stories of a leader of a small ultra-orthodox Jewish cult being tried and executed by the religious authorities he supposedly challenged for an attack on the seat of their power and authority, the Temple in Jerusalem.

It's hard to see the supposed corruption of the moneychangers as the real reason for the attack because they were filling an important role made necessary by Jewish orthodoxies in the first place. It was essential for people to buy sacrificial doves and other animals because Jewish law demanded their sacrifice, and it was blasphemous to use Roman money to buy them with in the Temple because it bore the graven image of the god/emperor.

Christ Driving the Money Changers out of the Temple,
Velentin du Boulogne (1591-1632)
The only recourse was to exchange change Roman coins for Temple money and competition between the traders should have kept the exchange rate as low as the market could bear. Similarly, the sale of sacrificial animals would have been kept low by market forces and the fact that, if they were too expensive, there was nothing to prevent people bringing their own or ones bought elsewhere. Clearly then, the attack on the Temple was not an attack on the moneychangers but on the power and authority of the religious authorities themselves, unless of course, Jesus' band had some fundamental objection to the very idea of capitalism, but, since nothing more is mentioned on this subject, this seems unlikely to have been a central tenet of their cult.

The curiosity is that the Gospel of John, the author of which is normally regarded as the most anti-Semitic of the Gospel writers, only mentioning the attack on the Temple as taking place early in Jesus's three-year career (John 2:13-17) and certainly doesn't make it central to the arrest and crucifixion narrative. In his version, the big crime Jesus committed according the the Jews was the trivial offence of telling a man to carry his bed on the Sabbath in contravention of the Mosaic Laws (John 5:10-16) but then claiming to be exempt from these Laws by virtue of his God-given right to make up the rules because he was God's son (John 5:17-18), so de facto claiming to be God. The challenge to the Jewish religious authorities of John's version of Jesus was in trying to destroy their moral authority rather than the physical symbol of it, because, to the author of John, the Jews were morally reprehensible and had no moral authority to govern in the first place.

But with either version, we arrive at Jesus as a leader of a radical, ultra-orthodox Jewish cult intent on overthrowing the religious authorities in Judea and three of them make this attack on the Temple an important part of the narrative.

Now, translate this into modern times to a scenario where a bunch of dissident fundamentalist religious radicals launches an attack on a major religious centre such as a Christian cathedral, or, say, the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the Kaaba in Mecca or the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, citing the sale of tourist souvenirs or tea and cakes in the basement as the pretext, or even on a major symbol of Western capitalism such as the former World Trade Centre, New York. In what way would these radicals not be considered extremists or 'Jihadists/Crusaders' in the broader meaning of the term?

So, if the man on whom the Jesus myths are founded existed at all, it seem likely that he was a leader of an violent, apocalyptic cult of radical, fundamentalist extremists or 'Jihadists', as they would be called if they were Muslims, or religious nut-jobs as normal people would call them.

Note: It's with some trepidation that I wrote this blog given the credulous and impressionable nature of so many Christian fundamentalists and the eagerness with which they latch on to 'religious' excuses for their behaviour. I'm hoping that even they will read the above as a reason not to take the Jesus myths seriously, or at least to see them in the context of possibly being based on a deluded religious nut-job, and not see it as an excuse to 'live the life of Jesus' and start violently attacking symbols of government, symbols of religious authority and small traders, hoping to either get themselves martyred or becoming Supreme Ruler of an extremist, Taliban-like, violently repressive theocracy.


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1 comment :

  1. Hi,
    Thanks for your article. I was brought up in a religious family (my dad was an Episcopalian priest)and have been a sort of hot and cold Christian all my life (I'm 46). I started going to Bible study class at church this year and funnily enough IT has made me turn my back on my religion. The O.T was bad enough, but knowing a lot about Christianity that didn't surprise me, but for some reason this year I've looked at the N.T with more open eyes - and I realised I didn't agree with what Jesus was teaching at all, which scared me for being sacreligious, which then annoyed myself cos why shouldn't I think what I like??? The more I thought about it, the more I realised what an extremist, a fundamentalist he seems to me. Yet it's still hard letting go. But I feel duped and brain-washed and rather stupid.
    So thanks, I do appreciate your website.
    Ruth
    March 2016

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