Jesus as Faith Healer

I’ve never understood exactly what Jesus is trying to demonstrate, and to whom, with regard to the Christian view of his healing miracles.

How faith healing works

If he wanted to be effective and merciful, he should have healed thousands in a big city like Jerusalem, instead of just one person on any given occasion.

If he wanted to demonstrate God’s power to the world, he should have gone to a Greek or Roman place of healing in Caesarea, and healed all the difficult cases that the doctors were struggling with.

He didn’t seem to want to do either of those things – just as a faith healer never goes to a hospital to heal the people there.

It looks suspiciously like (the Christian, unhistorical) Jesus and the faith healer only work to cure you of your love of money – “the root of all evil”.

Maybe the answer is in the name, “faith healer” – all they can really heal is your faith!

Jesus’ Healing v. Greco-Roman Medicine

Here is Jesus healing in Mark 9: 20-27.  The father of an epileptic boy, believing that the problem is a demon inhabiting him, asks Jesus to heal him. The boy is summoned.

And when the spirit saw Jesus, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus  rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

Here is Greek healing, earlier than Jesus, from Wikipedia:

Ancient vaginal speculum

Another of Hippocrates’s major contributions may be found in his descriptions of the symptomatology, physical findings, surgical treatment and prognosis of thoracic empyema, i.e. suppuration of the lining of the chest cavity. His teachings remain relevant to present-day students of pulmonary medicine and surgery. Hippocrates was the first documented chest surgeon and his findings are still valid.

Hippocratic medicine was notable for its strict professionalism, discipline, and rigorous practice.The Hippocratic work On the Physician recommends that physicians always be well-kempt, honest, calm, understanding, and serious. The Hippocratic physician paid careful attention to all aspects of his practice: he followed detailed specifications for, “lighting, personnel, instruments, positioning of the patient, and techniques of bandaging and splinting” in the ancient operating room. He even kept his fingernails to a precise length.

The Romans, naturally, are better known for the engineering aspects:

The Romans invented numerous surgical instruments, including the first instruments unique to women (vaginal specula with a screw device which when turned forces a cross-bar to push the blades outward), as well as the surgical uses of forceps, scalpels, cautery, cross-bladed scissors, and the surgical needle. Romans also performed cataract surgery.

Jesus came to preach, to heal and to cast out demons;  this in the Roman Empire when it was discovering anesthetics and making major medical advances. Presumably if Jesus came to the United States today he would avoid places like Johns Hopkins and hang out with the snake handlers in the backwoods of the South.

This reduces the credibility of Jesus-as-God to zero. But it supports the idea that Jesus was a Jewish fundamentalist, working within the framework of Jewish law and tradition, and ignorant and hostile regarding all things Roman.

 

The Meanest Miracle – Cursing the Fig Tree

This is Jesus’ stupidest and most mean-spirited miracle, as reported in the gospels. Here’s the story:

He’s walking the four miles from Bethany to Jerusalem just before Passover (March/April). Here’s Mark: “Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. (Ooh, look, a bonus! Proof that Jesus isn’t omniscient, and therefore isn’t God!) When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. The next morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.”

Jesus curses a fig tree, and unwittingly sets up a joke.

So, he’s not omniscient, and he’s petty, and he’s vindictive, and he’s also not very bright – because in the spring there would be leaves but no fruit yet. So he curses it, and the next day it’s completely withered.

What’s the point? Christian apologists tie themselves in knots saying that he did it to symbolize that the Jewish religion, though outwardly in full leaf, is not productive and is destined to die from Jesus’ update to True Religion. But Jesus didn’t say anything about that. When the disciples said “Oh, wow!” he just told them that if they had unwavering faith that yonder mountain could be thrown into the sea, it would happen. (If any of them tried, it didn’t work.) The apologists draw their message out of thin air. They also don’t address Jesus’ hunger, ignorance, anger or stupidity.

It’s a typical Jesus miracle in these aspects:

1) It could be faked – all you have to do is have your friend Lazarus (living in Bethany) come by that evening and pull all the leaves off, and next day the disciples would be fooled into thinking that the tree had withered at Jesus’ command.

2) It’s not the sort of beneficial and glorious thing that you would have chosen if you were writing a story about a real miracle-worker. In that case, you would have Jesus bless the tree instead of curse it, and within 60 seconds it would have fruited and produced enough delicious out-of-season ripe figs to make everyone happy. (And then the apologists would say that he showed how the Jewish religion could be transformed by his blessing into something productive, etc etc.)

Somehow it’s always like that. He heals someone who says they’re lame, or blind, or suffering from devils… but does he ever regrow an amputated limb? Ha! He can restore to life a friend who says he was dead… but what about his spiritual teacher, the man who baptized him, John the Baptist? Why didn’t he put John’s head back on his shoulders, and restore him to life?

Jesus’ miracles are always street magic, designed to engage the audience while he preaches his message of repentance and the return to God… and, probably, while his followers collect contributions for the Zealot uprising.