Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chapter Three, Christian Insecurity, the Heart of Darkness

"...the very presence of the Jewish people in the world ... puts a great question against Christian belief in a new covenant made through Christ. The presence of this question, often buried deep in the Christian mind, could not fail to cause profound and gnawing anxiety. Anxiety usually leads to hostility."

William Nicholls, Christian Antisemitism: A History of Hate

"...we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and often legendary.; and other sources about Jesus do not exist."

Rudolf Bultmann.

Josephus on Jesus
The so called Testimonium Flavianum. This is the only direct discussion of Jesus to be found in the writings of Josephus. Unfortunately, the text as we have it in extant copies of Josephus' Antiquities appears to have been dramatically re-written from a Christian point of view. (The writings of Josephus were brought down to us from antiquity not by the Jewish community, but by the Christians). The second column contains an Arabic quotation of the Josephus passage that has a much less Christian flavor. Some scholars have argued that the Arabic version has a more likely claim to originality.

Although that is a strong possibility, it should be noted that even the Arabic version is a good deal kinder to Jesus than Josephus usually is to messianic claimants. In addition it is harder to see why the Christian scribe would feel so compelled to change it. It is possible that the original may have been much more insulting, in keeping with Josephus' normal pattern, and that the Greek and Arabic versions are simply two different recensions of a Christian rewrite. R. Eisler has made an effort to reconstruct an 'original' that might have, given Christian revision, served as a base for the version that survives in Greek. It is, of course, entirely hypothetical, and no textual evidence exists to support it, but it does fit in better with Josephus' usual pattern and language, as well as the general context of the passage.

On the other hand, it may be possible to 'save' the Arabic version. Particularly if we remove the last sentence (accordingly ...wonders) as a pious expansion, we are left with a non-committal report on the martyrdom at Roman hands of a pious Jew. This would not be at all inconsistent with Josephus' style, particularly if he discounted as later followers' embellishments the claims made by Christians that Jesus was the Messiah. This last suggestion is to some extent crippled by the less controversial reference in Antiquities 20 if it is genuine (see below).

The only usually undisputed allusion to Jesus in Josephus is actually only a passing reference in the context of the trial of James. James is identified, not as James son of ???? as one would normally expect but as brother of Jesus. While this passage is more likely to be authentic than the one above, it is not without problems. Origen knows and cites this passage, and is unaware of the 'Testimonium Flavianum' above, providing some evidence for its presence in the Antiquities before its Christian reworking. On the other hand, Origen's version contains the unlikely addition in which Josephus also says that it is as punishment for the execution of James that Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed. The possibility suggests itself that even Origen's Josephus has undergone Christian reworking, simply of a different variety, in which, perhaps, the insulting Testimonium has been expunged, and James has been introduced as a pious Jewish hero. Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1

Since Ananus was that kind of person, and because he perceived an opportunity with Festus having died and Albinus not yet arrived, he called a meeting of the Sanhedrin and brought James, the brother of Jesus (who is called 'Messiah') along with some others. He accused them of transgressing the law, and handed them over for stoning.

The Jewish Problem for Christianity emerged part and parcel with emergence of the new religion. Because unlike Judaism, whose roots lie in the remote mists of pre-history Christianity came into being and developed in first century Palestine, a time of historical record, and extensive record-keeping by the Roman occupiers. Two issues contributed to, and continue to haunt Christianity. The first is the problem of “rejection.” According to Christian scripture “the Jews” as a people, and Judaism as religion overwhelmingly rejected the messianic mission of Jesus. How reconcile that they for whom, according to scripture, God sent Jesus failed to recognize the gift? The second problem beginning with Paul and continuing down to the present is the absence of any non-scriptural evidence that the person of Jesus as described in the gospels and by Paul had actually existed.

At the time the Jesist movement emerged from Judaism messianic anticipation in Judea was intense. The Jews were caught up in a desperate struggle against the overwhelming power of Rome. Jewish insurgents were daily crucified outside the gates of Jerusalem and across the length of the country. There was hope and expectation that God would intervene on the side of the Jews to purge the holy land of the pagan pollution. It was a time of intense anticipation, the hope and expectation that God would send a leader, a messiah according to Jewish tradition, to lead Israel in victory against the pagan occupation. Once the land was rid of the occupation and cleansed of the pollution, victory would usher in the Kingdom of Heaven, one thousand years of peace where all mankind would join together as equals in worship of the one god.

From its earliest beginnings Christianity has struggled with the continuing existence of Judaism, the parent religion it believed it was supposed to have replaced. According to Christian theology Jesus the messiah was sent by God to the Jews, not the pagans. How then understand that Jesus’ own people failed to recognize and accept the gift?

Israel was engaged in a life and death struggle against the far superior forces of pagan Rome, thousands of rebels put to death by crucifixion. They knew such a war could not be won without divine intervention, God entering the conflict on their side. In the past, according to tradition, in such times God would provide a messiah, someone to lead the Jews to victory. The war was a time of high messianic anticipation, many temporarily victorious against the legions thought to be God’s messenger. Seventy years after the destruction of the temple and fall of Jerusalem, one hundred years after the assumed date of Jesus’ crucifixion messianic anticipation continued and no less a rabbinic luminary than Rabbi Akiva proclaimed the final Jewish general in the war against Rome, Shimon bar-Kochba as messiah. So the described rejection of Jesus as messiah was not due to disbelief in the possibility of God sending a messiah, but the fact that Jesus mission as described failed to fit Jewish tradition and expectation.

A messiah sent by God to be executed and fulfill a salvational mission in the afterlife simply has no place in Jewish tradition and, in the midst of a war for survival, such a mission would have made no sense. But the fact of the Rejection poses a significant problem for Christianity, one that has not diminished over the centuries. Augustine was the first to explain the continuing existence of Judaism and Jewry after the emergence of Christianity. His explanation, while providing for the continuing survival in poverty, debased and stateless of at least some Jews in Christendom was described as God’s punishment for their blindness and crimes. But their survival also served Christianity as theology: the Jews were witness to the truth of Christianity, “[b]y their own Scriptures a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ.” I suggest that this need for affirmation regarding possible forgery is the result of unconscious doubt residing in the very heart of the religion.

But evidence for doubt and insecurity within the community of believers can be traced back to the very dawn of the messianic movement. While we do not have a record of what inspired Paul’s response, in his first letter to the Corinthians Paul is found defending the concept of the risen Christ: “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain (1 Cor. 17).” And doubt, as Bishop Nichols correctly observes, creates anxiety, and “anxiety usually leads to hostility.”

So it comes as no surprise that the Jews are not presented favorably in the gospels. But before we return to the gospels it is important to understand that the first of the four adopted by the Church was not written until after the fall of Jerusalem, approximately forty years after the suggested execution of Jesus. This was a period of trauma for the Jews, a period favoring consolation, the idea of a salvational messiah. And the sect appears to have found fertile ground in the Diaspora, and particularly among those called god fearers, pagans adopting Jewish customs and practice, but not committing to full conversion. The new sect was struggling for survival, competed with Judaism for identity and acceptance. This is one credible explanation for, as an example, Matthew blaming the Jews and not the Romans for the crucifixion. Christianity existed in Rome and its provinces, not Judea. Praise, not provocation, ensures a welcome. And while this explanation provides the setting for the anti-Jewish references which comprise the gospels, still gospel anti-Judaism is a major reason for Christian animus for the next two millennia, the reason why, according to Irving J. Borowsky, "In the past thousand years one out of every two Jews born into the world has been murdered."

The two gospels which would prove to be most responsible for future anti-Judaism and, eventually its secular variant antisemitism were those of Matthew and John. As we saw Matthew provides a particularly graphic and dramatic description of “the Jews” not merely rejecting Jesus, but demanding of a reluctant Pontius Pilate who protested Jesus’ innocence, that Jesus be put to death. History in fact paints a very different picture of this Roman governor who was recalled from his appointment due to excessive cruelty, for provoking unrest in Judea.

The Johannine gospel, appearing several decades after Matthew, describes the Jews as serving the antichrist, themselves the children of Satan. This too would become a theme that was to haunt the Jews and inspire endless bloodshed for millennia.

The most prominent bishop of the second century, John Chrysostom, would take up and embellish the Johannine charge of Jews as antichrist, describing the synagogue as a house of prostitution and demons. And 1200 years later the father of Protestantism, Martin Luther, disappointed in his belief that the only barrier to Jews recognizing Jesus as messiah was the oppression by the Church, returned to the common anti-Jewish themes originating with the John gospel and demanded of the princes that Jewish houses of worship be burned, that rabbis be put to death.

In his study of the birth of Christianity* Robert Eisenman, a leading Dead Sea Scrolls scholar recognized that there is no direct evidence for the historical Jesus, “Where the man ‘Jesus’ is concerned- as opposed to the redeemer figure Christ”… we have mainly the remains of Hellenistic romance and mythologizing.” In the absence of direct historical evidence, Eisenman suggests, “[t]he brother relationship may turn out to be one of the early confirmations that there ever was a historical Jesus,” (my italics, Eisenman, 1999?, p. xxiii. But if this is the only evidence, and if, as is possible, members of the tiny Jerusalem community referred to one-another as “brother” or “sister,” a possibly early tradition continued into the present, then the assertion of the “brother” relationship between Jesus and James, tenuous as “evidence” as that relationship already is, is yet one more cause for insecurity in the historical existence of Jesus.

James, the Brother of Jesus

As noted the Quest for the Historical Jesus, while not finding direct evidence for the object of the search did focus on the setting in which Jesus would have lived and preached in Judea. It also explored the pagan religions of the time. Death and resurrection was common among the Hellenic religions. It was not a feature of Judaism. Early converts from paganism recognized the parallels, indeed this is one likely explanation for the easy transition to the new religion for a population already impressed by monotheistic Judaism. Justin Martyr, an important early Christian theologian and missionary, appealing to his pagan audience wrote, “when we say … Jesus Christ, our teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propose nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you consider sons of Zeus.” (1 Apol. 21).

Before turning to the 17th century Enlightenment and the move from Christian theocracy to modern secularism one further element inspiring a future final solution to the Jewish problem must be noted. It is widely recognized that Nazi Germany borrowed extensively from the past in initiating the Holocaust. The ghetto was an Italian invention, distinctive clothing, such as the Jude armband introduced in the Middle Ages. That Jews are by blood, that is biologically distinct from Christians is generally considered a recent contribution to antisemitism. In fact this also has a long history, going back to the Spanish Inquisition. The first statute relating to purity of blood, was not enacted in 1932 Germany, but in 1449 Spain. Having forced the conversions of thousands of Spanish Jews local inquisitors were suspicious of the sincerity of the converts, several of whom had even risen in church bureaucracy. Limpieza de Sangre required all aspirants to the priesthood provide a pedigree back generations attesting to the absence of any Jews in their lineage. In 1932 German law would define as “Jew” anyone with a single Jewish grandparent, converted Christian or not.

With the dawn of the age of Reason and the secularization of Christian society the Christian doubt led to the Quest for the Historical Jesus, a two hundred year long search for evidence for the physical existence of the Jesus of faith. And while the quest has resulted in hundreds of volumes describing first century Jewish religious practice, the livelihood of peasant and priest, king and messianic pretenders, the collective efforts of some of the finest minds in history and theology have yet to uncover a single credible non-scriptural reference to the man, with a single exception. In one work by Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, one short passage does refer to Jesus. But that passage is described as unrelated to material preceding and following it and is widely considered a later insertion, perhaps by a monk charged transcribing the material as a way of preservation

Historical evidence for the man Jesus is unnecessary to inspire belief in the heavenly figure of Christ. That Paul understood this as clear from his letter to his Corinthian doubters. The problem for Christian theology is that the gospels are held to be descriptions of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth, and are regarded to be the inerrant word of God. Where in the past theologians were able to assuage doubt, with the Age of Reason came the “scientific” search for the man behind the Christ. So began the two hundred year long Quest for the Historical Jesus, a quest that continues today. That the quest has failed to uncover any credible evidence for the person whose life and exploits are described in Christian scripture, and since those descriptions of Jesus as transcribed are considered directly inspired by God, the lack of evidence by scientific by two centuries of historical search only confirms doubt for the very foundations of Christianity. What began as doubt inspired by the inexplicable survival of Judaism in the Age of Christianity has become, in the Age of Science, the unverifiable existence of the historical figure at the very heart of that religion. And while Jewish existence cannot be directly blamed for this source of contemporary Christian doubt, still the doubt continues to provoke angst, and angst, as Bishop Nichols suggests, seeks a target. And the traditional target for Christian angst over the centuries has always been close at hand. With the evolution and transformation of religious anti-Judaism into secular antisemitism, with the disappearance of the option to convert, the Diaspora entered a new and even more dangerous threat to Jewish survival. Membership within the secular nation-state is determined by state law. And, as the Holocaust demonstrates, whole categories of humanity can be excluded by a demagogue as leader. That within secular Christendom Jews are defined, back to a single grandparent, convenient targets, the religious escape through conversion not longer an option.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Chapter Three, Christian Insecurity: The Heart of Darkness

Anti-Judaism is too deeply embedded in the foundations of Christianity to be rooted out entirely without destroying the whole structure,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 94) It is commonly accepted by scholars of the period that a major contributor to early Christian anti-Judaism was the need for the new sect to distinguish itself from the parent religion while retaining Judaism as precedent. While the pagans generally viewed Judaism as atheistic for its invisible and single god, it was still respected for its long history. Nascent Christianity needed this history to compete with Judaism for converts. Among the many “Christian” sects to emerge from exilic Judaism, the one descendent directly from Paul’s mission both saw themselves as inheritor and fulfillment of Judaism, the “new” Israel. Marcion, for example, offered an alternative path, that Christianity represented a wholly new and separate religion from Judaism. According to Bishop Nichols, “Marcion’s views were extremely popular, gaining the allegiance of substantial proportions of Christians… If, like Marcion, the church had dispense[d] with the Jewish Scriptures, it would not have been necessary … to adopt a position so opposed to the Jewish people.” According to the bishop even today “voices are occasionally heard suggesting that [the Jewish Scriptures] should now be dropped altogether.” But Jesus as a Jewish messiah presented several problems to Christianity’s claim as the “new” Israel. According to Jewish tradition a messiah is a person inspired by God to lead the people in times of crisis. Certainly the Roman occupation was a time of crisis for the Jews, and many longed for, hopelessly fought the Romans in order to bring about, perhaps to force God to provide a deliverer. But Jesus-as-messiah represented several problems. Within the pagan religions of the time it was not uncommon for gods to be born of women, but that definitely was not a Jewish concept. Another common pagan belief, also alien to Judaism, was that gods could die and resurrect. By importing the Jewish Scriptures as the “Old Testament,” Christianity imported also very significant problems in identity and credibility. For example, how explain that Jesus, the son of God, was sent as savior by god the Father to the Jews, only to have His “gift” rejected? How explain that God, all-knowing, failed to appreciate and foresee that His people, the Jews, fighting for their lives, temple and independence would not recognize a salvational messiah, one who offered the consolation of victory of life after death, instead of victory over the Roman oppressors, of life on earth? Not only would such a “gift” be inappropriate and completely outside of expectation, under the circumstances it would have been mean-spirited and so unrecognizable. Having adopted the Jewish Scriptures for historical and theological foundation, as the “new” Israel Christianity had then to explain the inconsistencies between the old and the new. If, for example, Jesus was a man born of woman, son of God spreading a revolutionary message, why is there no historical record of his mission, why no contemporary reference to the man? Certainly the Romans were meticulous record keepers and would have noted someone so visible as to he crucified as “king of the Jews.” Pontius Pilate was said to have sat in judgment of the man, yet not even this appears in contemporary historical record. (Are there Roman records of such trials?) The single non-theological reference to Jesus as Christ appears in Josephus, who was writing as historian in Rome after the fall of Jerusalem, forty years or more after the crucifixion. And even this reference is widely recognized as a much later insertion due to its lack of continuity to what precedes and follows the reference. Linguistically also it is not Josephus, and is assumed the product of a forth century monk tasked with transcribing the document (Eisenman, etc.). In response to apparent doubts regarding Jesus as Christ, as the resurrected messiah, Paul writes, “Now if Christ be preached, that he arose again from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?... And if Christ is not risen again then is our preaching in vain, and your faith also is in vain.” (Corinthians 15:12, 15:17). Nor is it established that Jesus was an existing man who walked the earth; that there was a historical Jesus. According to Christianity Jesus lived and died and ascended to heaven. Considering his impact on events of the time he should appear somewhere in the historical record. Certainly the Romans kept meticulous records, were important historians. But no contemporary record exists. The earliest written documents are by Paul, are recorded in and the gospels. And Paul, the earlier source, only appeared decades after the fact. Both Paul and the gospels are recipients of an oral, not written tradition. How explain that the only written reference to the Jesus of Christian tradition appears in Josephus, a transparent insertion by a much later, likely a monk of the 4th century tasked with transcribing the document. As with Paul three hundred years earlier, Augustine also had to respond to doubts among the believers. But Augustine senses that Christianity stands only on the insecure foundation of faith, absent materiality. And, as Paul sought to reassure the Galatians so Augustine sought to reassure the doubters within his flock. St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) was a relative “moderate” in the struggle to define and protect Christianity from the parent religion. While Christianity was the true inheritor of Judaism, the “new Israel,” he argued that the Jews should be preserved as witnesses to the true faith. The conversion of the Jews, according to the evolving theology, those for whom it was God’s mission to save, was a necessary precondition to the second coming. Augustine argued that God allowed the Jews to survive, debased and in dispersion, as a warning to Christians: they “bear the guilt for the death of the Savior, for through their fathers they have killed Christ.” (St. Augustine) 20. “The Jews who slew Him, and would not believe in Him,” were punished by God, their temple destroyed, Jerusalem leveled. “By their own Scriptures [Jewish survival is] a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ.” Augustine’s use of the word “forged” is interesting. It throws a bright light on what was and remains a serious problem, Christian insecurity regarding its interpretation of Jewish Scriptures in light of the rejection by the Jews, by whom his mission is defined, of Jesus as messiah. But the problem of legitimacy goes even deeper, questioning whether the figure around whom the religion grew ever took human form. The only evidence for Jesus ever having a physical existence rests on interpretation of prophesy adduced by the faithful from the Jewish bible as described above. Nobody, including Paul writing only thirty years after the presumed crucifixion, could provide first-hand experience of the person who was sent to save the Jews, Jesus the Messiah. Seventeen hundred years after Augustine, even with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the gospels and other documents from Nag Hamadi, with but a single questionable reference to Jesus Christ in Josephus, nowhere is contemporary reference to the man to be found. And this, was and remains a source of doubt, of insecurity for Christianity, the heart of the two-hundred year long search for the Historical Jesus. And the question of existence throw into doubt also the “truth” and “promises” of Christianity. Christianity’s insistence that Jesus the Jew was the messiah sent by God to save the Jews; that their interpretation of Jewish Scripture as prophesying Jesus as messiah; Christianity’s insistence on being the “new Israel” requires Jewish acceptance The failure of Judaism to accept the Christian interpretation of Jewish Scripture acceptance and conversion in order to validate the claims. Minus this Christian claims are in doubt, and the Jews are the cause of Christian insecurity, the major source for Christian anti-Judaism. For Augustine the Jews, despite their “crimes,” must be preserved as witness to Christianity’s truth. With the secularization of Europe steeped in and recipient of two thousand years of religious anti-Judaism, the need to preserve the Jews, a source of Christianity’s millennia-long Jewish Problem, lost its meaning. This opened a whole new era of persecution for the Jews. Now merely outsiders, Other, by nationality or race, Christendom could now arrive at its final solution to its Jewish Problem. “Where the man “Jesus” is concerned-as opposed to the redeemer figure “Christ”….we have mainly the remains of Hellenistic romance and mythologizing. The brother relationship (James) may turn out to be one of the early confirmations that there ever was a historical Jesus. (Eisenman, Robert, in James, the Brother of Jesus, 1999, p. xxiii) Reuther, Rosemary Radford, Faith and Fratricide, The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism, 1974, The Seabury Press, New York “The anti-Judaic tradition in Christianity grew as a negative and alienated expression of a need… to legitimate its [interpretation] of Jewish Scriptures... As long as “the Jews” continue to reject this interpretation, the validity of the Christian view is in question,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 94) “Until Jewish religious tradition itself accepts this [Christian interpretation of Jewish Scriptures] as the ‘real meaning’ of its own Scriptures, ‘the Jews’ must be kept in the status of the ‘enemies of God,’ in order to ward off that unthinkable alternative, suppressed at the very beginning, by the decision of faith upon which Christianity was founded[interpretation] of Jewish Scriptures,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 95) “The most fundamental affirmation of Christian faith is the belief that Jesus is the Christ. He is that Messiah whom the prophets “foretold” and the Jews ‘awaited.’ On this affirmation, everything else in Christian theology is built. To ask about this affirmation is to ask about the keystone of Christian faith. For Judaism, however, there is no possibility of talking about the Messiah having already come, much less having come two thousand years ago, with all the evil history that has reigned from that time to this (much of it having been done in Christ’s name!), When the Reign of God has not come. For Israel, the coming of the Messiah and the coming of the Messianic Age are inseparable. They are, in fact, one and the same thing,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 247) “Anti-Judaism was originally more than social polemic. It was an expression of Christian self-affirmation,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 228) “…we must analyze the psychopathology represented by Christian anti-Judaism,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 245) “The Jews represent that which Christianity must repress in itself, namely the recognition of history and Christian existence as unredeamed,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 245) “…Christian anti-Judaism is the suppression of the unredeemed side of itself,” (Reuther, 1974, p. 245) *William Nicholls wrote in his book Christian Antisemitism: A History of Hate: "...the very presence of the Jewish people in the world, continuing to believe in the faithfulness of God to the original covenant ... puts a great question against Christian belief in a new covenant made through Christ. The presence of this question, often buried deep in the Christian mind, could not fail to cause profound and gnawing anxiety. Anxiety usually leads to hostility."[1]