This Friday is Good Friday, so guess what I decided to do instead.
You got it, we're looking at the last 24 hours of the pre-Mortem life of Jesus of Nazareth...
Yes, pre-mortem, as opposed to the postmortem life. Back when I started these Snarky Theology blogs, I told you I had lived in a strange sort of rabbit hole.
This one is going to be blogged more or less by random trivia I've had kicking around in the back of my head for a while now, so forgive me if there are any minor mistakes. I would hope no one would try to use me for a footnote on a historical paper. And, once again, this is my attempt to translate, to the best of my ability, Catholic theology into plain English. If I thought Catholic education was worth a darn as far as educating Catholics in their own religion, I probably wouldn't bother. But I don't, so, here we are.
Now, as far as Good Friday is concerned, that particular story has gotten a bad rap in the last few years, thanks to one particular film.
Does anyone remember when the film The Passion was released by oddball, drug addict, and possible nutcase Mel Gibson? Before the movie even premiered, people kvetched. They talked about “passion plays,” they discussed pogroms, they whipped out everything that tried to say that the film was anti-Semitic. There are even a few idiots out there who try to say that Christianity, by its very nature, is anti-Semitic.
I saw The Passion with my friend Jason Bieber, who is an observant Jew. When he saw the film, his commentary focused more on the bad acting of all the Romans, and was full of trivia about everything that had ever happened to actor James Caviezel during the filming of the movie (arm dislocated, flayed, struck by lightning).
Now, Professor Jason Bieber, currently of Florida State University's London Study Center, gave his evaluation of the history of anti-Semitism, which I think could be summed up as "It's not Catholic doctrine; the Popes tried protect Jews against anti-Semitic mobs. But people are stupid."
Anyway, so, just to clear away a lot of the stupidity, what exactly happened on Good Friday?
Believe it or not, a lot is explained by The Passion … only if you read the scholarship around the events, and if you have a very, very good editor. Start by cutting out the boring parts with Judas and the hermaphrodite devil, and you have a start ...
In the film, if you blink, you miss dialogue that explains a lot (darned foreign-language films). If you saw The Passion, you might have noticed that, after Jesus was brought in the temple, the temple guards were shoving out a whole bunch of people. These people were shouting “Why are you meeting in the dead of night? Why isn't the full council here!”
The word used, if you listen closely, is “cabal,” implying a small clique was involved.
Something the film didn't mention, and would make the first half-hour make more sense, is what happened earlier that week. Even if you've never been ten feet near a bible, you might vaguely recall that there is a story about Jesus going into the temple of Jerusalem, kicking over some tables, and driving out merchants with a whip, because they're trying to make money off of the religious pilgrims passing through Jerusalem for Passover.
One of those people Jesus drove out was the son of the elders who turn Jesus over to the Roman authorities. Guess what, it's personal. Hence Mel Gibson's council of elders being of about six guys.
Another factor, also touched on in The Passion, but from the political side, was best looked at in, of all things, Jesus Christ, Superstar. The Romans had come eleven times into Israel in a period of ten years, in order to quell riots. And now, all of a sudden, they have this moron, a carpenter with his own little cult of followers, coming into the holy city to the sound of trumpets, his way lined by hordes of people...
From a government point of view, "This cannot end well. This is bad politics, and cannot be good for business."
Pontius Pilot, Roman Governor of the State of Israel, was also in the movie The Passion. Mel Gibson says he tried to design him as this gray little man, this average, ordinary schlub. It sounds like he tried to design Pilate on Eichmann, who was also a gray little man ... Given how screwed up Mel was, is, and may always be, I wouldn't be 100% sure that it was his idea. He was responsible for keeping the peace. And eleven invasions in ten years is a fairly cruddy track record.
Anyway, only the Roman authority in Israel could authorize an execution. Bringing Jesus to Pilot, and viewing it in context, the argument for putting down Jesus could be read as “this annoying carpenter is trying to stir up rebellion against Rome, put down the little prick so we can get on with business.”
From the side of Pilot, it has to look odd – this Jesus twit is Jewish, the Rabbis handing him over are Jewish, and it looks like Pilate's being dragged into the middle of a civil war within a religion. In standard bureaucratic fashion, Pilot tries passing the buck, twice, once by kicking it up the chain of command, and again by offering up Barabbas, another troublemaker, as part of his annual clemency.
However, something that wasn't covered in The Passion, and maybe not in your bible, unless you have some kick ass footnotes: Barabbas was a “murderer” because he was a rebel against the Roman Empire. It became a matter of “So, you're threatening me with a riot? Fine, how about I make you choose between a certified political nuisance, or this moron you want me to put down?”
Barabbas was only a threat to Rome. He wasn't a rebel against the elders, and he didn't attack one of their sons.
Barabbas wins, fatality.
So, any time I hear someone, at some time, mention “the Jews killed Jesus,” I want to tell them “Jews didn't kill Jesus, politics did!”
Theologically (you know theology had to come in somewhere), Jesus died for the sins of all people.
Think about it from a religious point of view. Humans screw up, offend laws of man, nature, and God—which have been the same thing for most of human experience. The magnitude of the offense is dictated by the magnitude of the offended.....
Right now, you're wondering what I'm talking about, aren't you?
Example: If you take a shot at some random idiot on the street, you may get a few years for assault with a deadly weapon. If you shoot at the President of the United States, you will probably disappear into the darkest hole they can find for you.
In this case, the offended is God … yeah, what gift can a human provide that can atone for offending against an all-power, enternal Being?
Previous generations used scapegoats. Literal scapegoats. They would write down sins, strap it to the goat's neck, and send it out into the desert, carrying the sins with it. However, the goat doesn't really measure up. It is a finite sacrifice trying to pay down an Infinite debt. Sort of like trying to pay just the interest on a loan without ever paying the primary. So, the answer is ....
So, you sacrifice something on par with God … but there's only one thing on par with God, and that's ... God.
Enter Jesus, "Son of God." No, he's not direct offspring, and we're not going into Zeus here. And I had considered doing a post on the trinity, but I ran out of Lent.... For simplicity's sake, imagine the Trinity, defined as "Son, Father, Holy Spirit," and then think of steam, liquid, and ice -- they're all water, aren't they? Well, Father, Son and Spirit are all God. Long story. See the Trinity and Augustine if you're really interested.
That is why, in the Catholic creed, you get the line that Jesus “died for us men and for our salvation.” Not Christians, not Catholics, men, period … and before someone gets pissed-off, it's men as in mankind, and not the pro-wrestler.
And as far as the historical elements of Jesus, the whole thing is well documented. There is actually more, and better historical documentation for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, historical figure, than for the warrior Hannibal ... of Carthage, not "The Cannibal". (Hannibal is best known for trying to march on the Roman Empire with war elephants.) All evidence of Hannibal's existence comes from sources a hundred years after the fact. Jesus has the historians Josephus and Tacitus -- one is a Jewish Roman citizen, the other is a Roman soldier, so you don't get more neutral as far as outside observers go. And both historians swrote their histories within a generation of Jesus' crucifixion They noted that Jesus existed, and that there was a potential for an uprising, and that Jesus was put down.
Sad thing is, that's still more primary document evidence than Hannibal has.
Now, as I mentioned above, The Passion came out, so did claims of anti-Semitism. The anti-Semitism in Christian groups comes from some very strange places, mostly through stupidity. As Professor Bieber himself has noted to me, Popes tried to protect Jews from Catholics everytime the Catholic populace did something stupid. Every hundred years or so, it looks like a Pope issues a new Papal message on Jews within Christian theology.
The message can usually be summed up as
"Salvation comes from the Jews, for we are merely an extension of the covenant that God made with Abraham. God made a covenant with the Jews, and God does not reneg on His deals. In short: leave the Jews alone, you frigging morons!"Yes, I always thought of any Pope who issued that particular statement did so while leaping up and down, screaming, and pulling his hair out.
Anyway, I'm going to conclude with three quotes.
Maimonides: “Jesus of Nazareth interpreted the Torah and its precepts in such a fashion as to lead to their total annulment. The sages, of blessed memory, having become aware of his plans before his reputation spread among our people, meted out fitting punishment to him.” This actually makes me wonder what inter-office memos he recieved on the matter ....
"Spiritually, we are all Semites." Pius XI
Vox Day: “My philosophy is that if a guy comes back from the dead, no harm no foul applies.”