What’s this blog all about, anyway?

This blog is a marmalade – sweet and sour boiled together, both rind and juicy bits.

Jesus was not a pacifist.

  • It’s a blog for the ideas of my novel. The novel looks at Jesus in the context of the constant uprisings against the Roman Occupation that began 100 years before his preaching, and went on for 100 years afterwards… until the Romans finally leveled Jerusalem, and killed or enslaved and deported all the Jews, and banned them from the replacement city of Aelia Capitolina.
  • It lets you read Jesus’ words and actions with the awareness that his “greatest commandment” is to recite the Shema, the fundamental Jewish prayer (“Hear, O Israel,”) – and practicing Jews do it multiple times a day. It’s Judaism 101. Jesus wanted Israel to turn back to the Covenant with God, and get rid of the idolatrous, beard-shaving, pig-eating Westerners who were marching around the country without bothering to learn the language.
  • Yes, it makes comparisons with modern Western invasions and occupations.
  • So it carries all my grudges against the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Blair destruction of Iraq in the hope of oil money and imperial glory. 100 million of us around the world had protested and pointed out that it was going to lead to nothing but death, destruction and economic catastrophe at home and abroad. And here we are.
  • It also carries the ironies of the current Westernized Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the cynical and heavy-handed Israeli destruction of the people who have been indigenous there for the past 2,000 years… a repetition of how the Jews slaughtered all the Canaanites and others who had been living in the area before Moses came along.
  • So I think Moses was a genocidal barbarian (Deuteronomy 20: 16-18).
  • And Jesus was a Jew, and more in tune with Osama bin Laden than anyone else.
  • And St. Paul was an epileptic visionary who created Christianity out of a mishmash of Judaism, Mithraism, and bits of Egyptian and Roman mythologies and practices.
  • And I have no respect for any monotheist who believes the earth was created in the past 10,000 years, or thinks the tribal legends of illiterate herdsmen have relevance for government policy today.
  • Does anyone really believe the first chapter of Genesis, when it says that God created day and night on the first day… and then made the sun and moon on the fourth day? What I believe is that we live in a universe of a billion galaxies, each with a billion suns – and someone who can’t even figure out the relationship between daylight and sunshine is to be treated seriously?
  • As for what the creative force behind a billion galaxies looks like, who knows. Call it God if you want… but where did it come from? Why is there anything at all?
  • And I love polytheist mythologies, and they speak to the soul’s images and poetry and inner health – but they’re not literally true.
  • And I loathe people who use religion as nothing but a way to make money, or to grab power. And I loathe people who use politics in that way, too. So I doubly loathe hypocritical politicians who mouth religious crap.
  • But oh how I love it all, at the same time! What a planet! Unbelievable natural beauty and works of art, and the most appalling destruction and massacres, planet-wide pollution, and greed and ignorance. But what can you expect of a planet of 7 billion heavily-armed apes? Humans are simply mind-boggling, stumbling through the dark like reckless two-year-olds.

By the way, it’s also a blog for the novel itself. With links to the trade paperback and to the Kindle edition. But don’t expect to find all the blog’s ideas in the novel – it’s just a contrarian (realistic, commonsense) retelling of an old story from the point of view of, yes, the Western occupation. And yes, Jesus was crucified. No, he didn’t come back from the dead. So, do you want to see how he did all those miracles?

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Jesus and the Ultra-Orthodox Jew

In the news today, Israeli President Shimon Peres is calling on Israelis “to save the majority from the hands of a small minority”. Ultra-Orthodox Jews (who are exempt from military service and, rather than working, collect a government subsidy for religious studies) are increasingly resisting the secular nature of the Jewish state and trying to enforce ancient religious practices.

"Segregate women", the sign says. But surely the men are free to segregate themselves? At home? And veil themselves when they go out?

The Ultra-Orthodox demand strict gender segregation and “modest” dress for women. Recent incidents have seen schoolgirls harassed and spat at,  and women ordered to sit at the back of local buses or get off, despite court rulings that women can sit anywhere on a bus.

This issue resonates interestingly with the position of Muslim hardliners in other countries, and with the Jewish resistance to Roman rule 2,000 years ago.

Fanatics everywhere thrive on polarization. Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Al Qaeda are brothers with a common view of the universe, a view that their God, through His Infallible Book, has given them the divine duty to order the lives of entire 21st century nations in accordance with a subsistence-economy tribal past. They disagree as to which set of Semitic writings is the True Word of God, but they all loathe the Western tolerance of casual secular behavior. (Their leaders also understand that their power is increased by turning the Middle East into a religious battleground.)

When Rome ruled Palestine, the same dynamics were in play. Rome wanted a live-and-let-live religious environment where anyone could worship any god, and temples to all of them were scattered about. The more secular of the Jews were happy with this – they enjoyed the peace and improved travel and trade that the Empire brought. But the more religious of the Jews wanted to cleanse Israel of the beardless, pig-eating, polytheist idolators, and they wanted all Jews to repent and return to the Law of Moses. To them, all Jews were one family and everyone else should be evicted from the Promised Land.

Jesus was only one of a stream of would-be Messiahs who, over a 200 year period, led uprising after failed uprising against the Westerners and got crucified for their pains. Osama Bin Laden was of that mindset and he too has been executed. Secularism is gradually replacing religion around the world in a several-generations process now speeded by mass media, mass travel and the Internet. But the Ultra-Orthodox may well have a decade or two of success ahead of them.

The same things are still happening, that have been going on for 2,000 years. The Westernization of Israel is still in question.

“Who is my neighbor?” and the Ten Commandments

I’ve previously posted about the key Jewish commandments, reviewed by Jesus to his followers, to obey the Shema (“Hear, O Israel…” Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and treat all “the children of thy people” well and “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). The two greatest commandments are to obey the tribe’s God, and to be good to the tribe’s people.

Even those famous Ten Commandments are not a prescription for the human race: they are a prescription for the success of the Jewish tribe, which success is often going to be at the expenses of other tribes.

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens has a lovely 8-minute video in which he reviews and and updates the Ten Commandments for our time. But Hitch missed the question of who is your ‘neighbor’ (“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house”, etc – “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”…) Neighbor means fellow Jews. It is all very tribal. That’s why it was fine for Moses to say “God says Thou shalt not kill” and then to go out slaughter the men, women and children of Palestine, now that God had given the Promised Land to the Children of Israel.

There are universal religions, and there are tribal religions. The Romans understood the former, and tried to draw in every local religion they conquered. Judaism, the religion of Moses and of Jesus, was and is tribal, and in the time of Jesus it was bitterly opposed to being swallowed up by Roman syncretism.

“Who is my Neighbor?” The Good Samaritan

Let’s assume that, as in the previous two blog posts, Jesus told his followers to obey the Shema (“Hear, O Israel…” Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and treat all “the children of thy people” well and “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18).

One question that arose was, Who is my neighbor? The uncertain boundary for Jesus appears to be the Samaritans – followers of a slightly different version of Mosaic Law, and without loyalties to Jerusalem or its Temple. Not Jews exactly, but almost… and living in the Jewish heartland, halfway between Jerusalem and Galilee, so that Jews and Samaritans inevitably went through each other’s territories.

Samaria, the region halfway between Galilee in the north and Jerusalem in the south

Although the Samaritans were not receptive to Jesus’ focus on the Temple at Jerusalem, he considered a charitable Samaritan to be closer to God than an uncharitable Jewish priest or Levite.

In some ways, the Samaritans appear to be in a very similar position to the Palestinians of today – monotheists, claiming descent from Abraham, respecting the Torah but following slightly different traditions, with their own non-Jewish holy sites, and with a historical right to live where they live, regardless of what Jewish fanatics think.

And in fact, some of the Palestinians of today are Samaritans. Some 700 live at Mount Gerizim and in Tel Aviv.

Mount Gerizem, West Bank, April 19, 2008. Samaritans gather around fire pits as sacrificed sheep smolder during a ritual of Passover, the annual Jewish holiday marking the liberation of Hebrews from slavery in ancient Egypt.

Jesus’ Message, 1: “Hear, O Israel -“

Jews traditionally identify 613 commandments from God in the Torah, from the initial commands to Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it”, through “Thou shalt not kill”, to the requirement that the congregation stone a blasphemer to death. No wonder that it is claimed that no one has ever been able to keep all 613 commandments!

When Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the most important he said “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”

Because these two sound so much more forceful and defined than the Ten Commandments, people brought up in the Christian tradition assume they are Jesus’ original developments to monotheism.

Yet for the first one, Jesus is merely affirming his Jewishness. He is quoting the fundamental prayer of Judaism:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thine house, and upon thy gates.”

A Mezuzah for holding the text of the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-9

For its opening words, this is known as the Shema Yisrael (or just the Shema). It is the most important prayer, recited twice daily by observant Jews, taught to children to recite before sleep, attempted as the last words of the dying.

When you enter the home of an observant Jew you will notice a small container, a couple of inches long, fixed to the door frame. This is a mezuzah, containing the Shema.

For Jesus, as for any observant Jew, it was the single most important commandment from God.