Saturday, August 25, 2012

Jesus, the political activist

I am blown away. Even tho I read frequently, it's been a while since I was blown away by a work of historical non-fiction. Although very informative, most are written in a dry, overly verbose fashion, stoically framed by a slew of dates and events that I can't relate to.
The last time I was blown away by a historical non-fiction, was in fact, after reading my fathers book, America Aflame (by David Goldfield).
In it, he puts forth religious extremism and its uncompromising ideological foundation as a major contributing factor to the start of the Civil War, on both sides.
It's interesting how quickly humans lose sight of humanity in the face of Gods.
Now, it may seem that I have an affinity for religious non-fiction, but you'd be wrong.
My latest foray had very little to do with Jesus the deified son of God, and everything to do with Jesus, the man...the political activist.

The Jesus Dynasty was actually written by a colleague of my fathers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), James Tabor. Not where you'd expect enlightened authors and historians to hang out, but hey, I guess the BBQ is good.
And speaking of BBQ, Jesus won't be having any. Not just because, as a human, he's been dead for 2000 years, but also because he was a devout follower of the Jewish faith.

In Tabor's book, he chronicles the life of Jesus, based on recovered texts, and historical (as opposed to theological) readings of the gospels and stories in the Bible. For example, he uses the writings of the Roman/Jewish historian and hagiographer, Josephus, who kept record of Jewish history in the later half of the 1st century A.D.
Through these pieced, parted and often partisan sources, Tabor constructs a rough outline of Jesus' life.

Big point number one: was in fact human. Had a human mother and a human...FATHER. Actually, evidence suggests his father was a Roman soldier...hope you're sitting down...named Pantera. Metal heads, rejoice!
Secondly: He preached the Torah. He had absolutely no interest in creating a new religion. His religious beliefs were firmly bound to Jewish tradition, and the teachings of the Torah. He wasn't interested in a kingdom of heaven. What he championed was peace and justice on earth - brought on by the apocalyptic Messianic movement that John the Baptizer started, and that Jesus was baptized into. Together, they were the TWO Messiahs prophesied to retake the throne of David and the priesthood of Aron, to rule together.
That was his vision of the Kingdom of God, because that was the Jewish vision of the Kingdom of God.  On earth, as it is in heaven - he was thinking about down here, not up there...

He and his followers thought of his "divinity" only so far as the prophesies aligned with his background, time of birth and his life of righteousness. They would never go so far as to suggest he was the son of God.
They accepted him as an earthly King, with real blood ties and therefore real claim to the throne of Israel.
And that was a HUGE deal back in the day; the act of claiming that throne meant greatly angering the colonizing Romans, whose preferred form of dispatch was - crucifixion.
Truth of the matter is - Jesus and John the Baptizer made the Romans very nervous. But it wasn't their religious preaching that got all those togas in a twist.
Preaching to live your life according to the Torah is no real cause for crucifixion.
It was the Messianic movement that heralded the coming of a King, from the line of David (Jesus), and the coming of a Priest, from the line of Aron (John) that irked the Romans so much.

Romans would have probably been almost happy to welcome a loon preaching a new religion. Anything to take away the simmering mutterings of a legitimate King overtaking their half Jew, Herod. 
But that wasn't the case.
Jesus was claiming a right to the throne of Israel, as a blood line heir of King David.
He was claiming a political post that would usurp the power of the Roman Empire.
Jews believed that once a King from the Davidic blood line, with a priest from the Aron blood line laid claim to the throne of Israel, the end of an age was at hand - the end, they thought, of an age of injustice and foreign rule.
They looked upon Jesus as King, and John as Priest.
And with this vast following of hopefuls, Jesus represented a political threat to Roman rule, not a religious one.
He was crucified not as a religious zealot, but as a political activist.
His brother (yes, brother) James carried on this legacy as the Messianic legacy, not a Christian one. Being of the same blood line as Jesus (different father, same mother), James was the natural successor to his brothers works, hence the name, Jesus Dyansty. It was crucial to maintain that Davidic blood line to keep the movement going.
That guy Paul - just named himself a thirteenth apostle - he was never invited into the inner circle, never knew Jesus, and was in fact scolded a few times for twisting the teachings of Jesus.
Not to mention, you only need 12 apostles - to rule over the 12 tribes of Israel.

What happened many years after Jesus' death was a theological and overly fantastical rendition of life events.
He didn't rise on the third day, his body was moved.
The crown of thorns was placed upon his head as a mockery of his claim to the throne.
He would never have blessed the bread and wine at dinner as his flesh and blood. It was strictly forbidden in the Torah to drink blood. He would have blessed it in the traditional Jewish fashion.
His mother wasn't a virgin. She was adulterous. She became pregnant before she married Joseph, arguably from a Roman soldier.

The facts reach out from the book and grab at your mind like someone reaching for your hand. It's tactile, tangible - exciting and riveting. To understand that the most popular figure in the history of humanity, was in fact, a human.
It makes you appreciate the strength of mankind, the power of our own will.
I'm an atheist and I've never felt more intrigued by Jesus than after reading this book.
Because I now know him as human.
Gods, and giants are always capable of great feats, but if a human gives us all hope.
And hope that is based on our own abilities, not our faith in ethereal beings.

And of course, he was very religious, and his faith surely gave him strength to act - but he would arguably never have acted had his faith concerned itself with purely heavenly matters.
Jesus was all about his here and now - his teachings say nothing of after lives, resurrection or heavenly kingdoms.
He had faith in God, but also in his people. He had faith that justice would be carried out, on earth, in his lifetime. 
So - why? Why would we strip such an amazing human of his very humanity?
Is it, as Nietzsche says, so the weak can feel more comfortable knowing that no human is capable of such greatness?
Again, I have no problem with faith. I don't preach Atheism. I don't preach at all. I do my best to overcome my own varied superstitions in the face of truth and reality.
It's uncomfortable for many to think of Jesus as man.
But think about it! Would that not give you more faith?!
To realize that a human, someone just like you - was able to move a nation, no, an Empire, with his teachings and his beliefs. That is surely worthy of another chapter in the Bible.
Human strength and religion need not sit on opposite ends of the spectrum.
If you are a Christian, reading this, tell me - why would Jesus' humanity be a threat to his true legacy?

His true legacy - the one believed by his followers, his apostles and many people in Israel around that time:
that soon, oppression would be cast aside, dictators removed, injustices righted, on earth.
He represented that hope, in the flesh.

That makes him all the more impressive to me.
Because as a human, and a political activist - the change they wanted, is the change I want.

Wherever your bones lie, after all this time, through history's lens we can try, to reconstruct your life, your teachings, your legacy - so that you may in fact rise, as a hero - of the people, for the people and by the people.

For more on James Tabor and his work, please visit:


jdinflatables said...

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Rooftop Revolutionary said...

Thanks for reading! Glad you enjoyed it - check out James Tabor's blog as well - really fascinating!

Peter Fromm said...

Good essay! Enjoyed it. James Tabor has in the past recommended Joseph Raymond's website:

I think you'll find it introduces some more interesting details to what James has done. One has to see the life of Jesus on a continuum with the Maccabeans. It looks very much like his mother Mary (Marriamne) was the daughter of the last Maccabean King, Antigonus II Mattathais. Not only that, Raymond argues (per Robert Graves) that Herod's oldest son was Jesus' father--"Pantera" would have been the diminutive for his actual name, Antipater. As the crown prince, he was co-regent with Herod; you see the implications. The Romans did not want to kill Jesus because they probably knew this. Herod Antipas (cousin to both Jesus and John the Bapitizer??) bribed Pilate to kill Jesus because he knew jesus was a popular threat who had legitimacy. (!!)