email@example.com (Joe Dabrowski)
This is a chapter on Jesus taken from the book "Cows, Pigs, Wars, and
Witches - The Riddles of Culture" by Marvin Harris, 1974, Vintage Books
The Secret of the Prince of Peace
"The dreamwork of Western civilization is not fundamentally different
from the dreamworks of other peoples. Only a knowledge of practical
circumstances is needed to penetrate its mysteries.
In the case before us, there really are very few pratical options to
choose from. It would be most convenient if the dating of Jesus' ministry
was wrong - if it could be shown that Jesus had not begun to urge his
fellow Jews to love the Romans until after the fall of Jerusalem. But an
error of forty years in the conventional chronology of events such as Judas
of Galilee's tax revolt or Pontious Pilate's governorship is inconceivable.
Although we cannot be in error about when Jesus spoke, there are many
reasons to suppose that we are in error about what he spoke. A simple
practical solution to the questions raised at the close of the previous
chapter is that Jesus was not as peaceful as is commonly believed, and that
his actual teachings did not represent a fundamental break with the
tradition of Jewish military messianism. A strong pro-zealot-bandit and
anti-Roman bias probably pervaded his original ministry. The decisive break
with the Jewish messianic tradition probably came about only after the fall
of Jerusalem, when the original politico-military components in Jesus'
teachings were purged by Jewish Christians living in Rome (JWD's notes:
this is why the gospels speak so much about a "kingdom not of this world."
They didn't want the Roman Kingdom to feed them all to the lions ;-)))) )
and other cities of the empire as an adaptive response to the Roman
victory. That, at least in brief, is the argument that I shall employ now
in order to relate the paradoxes of peaceful messianism to the conduct of
practical human affairs."
Continuity between the original teachings of Jesus and the military-
messianic tradition is suggested by the close link that existed between
Jesus and John the Baptist. Dressed in animal skins and eating nothing but
locusts and wild honey, John the Baptist clearly corresponds to that genre
of holy men whom Josephus (JWDIII's notes: Josephus: Jewish historian who
spent his life writing books explaining why the Jews had revolted against
Rome, and why he himself defected to the Roman side. Hey, if you can't beat
them, join them.) describes as wandering about the badlands of the Jordan
Valley, stirring up the peasants and slaves and making trouble for the
Romans and their Jewish clients.
All four gospels agree that John the Baptist was the immediate
forerunner of Jesus. His mission was to perform the work of Isaiah, to go
into the wilderness-the bandit-infested backlands full of caves that echoed
with the memories of Jahweh's covenant-and cryout: "Prepare ye the ways of
the Lord; make his paths straight." (Repent for your sinfulness, recognize
your guilt,so that you maybe rewarded with the promised empire.) John
"baptized" Jews who confessed their guilt and were properly penitent,
bathing them in a river or spring to symbolically wash away their sins.
According to the gospels, Jesus was John the Baptist's most famous
penitent. Upon being washed in the Jordan River, Jesus embarked on the
climatic phase of his life - the period of active preaching that led to his
death on the cross.
John the Baptist's career replicates the pattern of desert oracles
described in the previous chapter (JWDIII's notes: The previous chapter is
named, "Messiahs." It explains the long history of the Jews struggle for
political independence.) When the crowds around him grew too big, he was
taken into custody by the nearest guardian of Roman law and order. This
happened to be the puppet king, Herod Antipas, ruler of the part of
Palestine east ofthe Jordan where the Baptist had been most active.
There is no hint in the gospels that John the Baptist might have been
arrested because his activities were regarded as a threat to law and order.
The entire politico-military dimension is absent. Instead we are told that
John the Baptist's arrest resulted from his criticism of the marriage
between Herod and Herodias, the divorced wife of one of Herod's brothers.
The story goes on to attribute John the Baptist's execution not to any
political motives but to Herodias's desire for revenge. Herodias gets her
daughter Salome to dance for King Herod. The king is so pleased with the
performance that he promises the dancer anything she wants. Salome
announces she wants John the Baptist's head on a platter, and Herod
complies. Herod is said to have been overcome with remorse, just as later
on Pontius Pilate is said to have been overcome with remorse at the
execution of Jesus. Considering what John the Baptist was telling the
crowds in the wilderness before he was arrested, the lack of political
references and the remorse attributed to Herod seem most inappropriate.
What John preached was a pure military-messianic threat:
One mightier than I cometh - He shall baptize you in spirit and fire;
his winnowing fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his
threshing-floor, and gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will
burn up with unquenchable fire.
Was Herod Antipas blind to the connection between the desert oracles and
the zealot-bandits? A king whose reign was to last forty-three years and
who was the son of the tyrant bandit-killer Herod the Great could not have
been indifferent to the dangers involved in permitting people like John the
Baptist to attract large crowds in the desert. And how could an oracle
whose messiah was not related to the zealot-bandit cause attract such large
The Baptist's place in the military-messianic tradition has been
clarified as a result of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These
documents were found in a cave near the ruins of an ancient pre-Christian
community called Quamran, located in the region where John baptized Jesus.
Quamran itself was a religious commune dedicated, like John the Baptist, to
"clearing the path in the wilderness." According to the commune's rich and
previously unknown sacred literature, the history of the Jews was leading
toward an Armageddon in which the Roman Empire would meet its doom. Rome
was to be replaced by a new empire with its capital in Jerusalem, ruled
over by a military messiah descended from a branch of the House of David,
mightier than any Caesar yet seen on earth. Led by the "anointed one of
Israel," invincible general, commander in chief, the Jewish "Sons of Light"
were to go into battle against the Roman "Sons of Darkness." It would be a
war of annihilation. Twenty-eight thousand Jewish warriors and six thousand
charioteers were to strike against the Romans. They "will take up the
pursuit in order to exterminate the enemy in an eternal
annihilation...until he is wiped out." Victory was guaranteed because "as
thou has declared to us from old; 'a star shall come forth from Jacob, a
sceptre shall rise from Israel'" (the prophecy in the Book of Numbers that
was later applied to Bar Kochva). (JWDIII notes: Bar Kochva-"Son of a Star"
organized a force of 200,000 men and set up an independent Jewish state
that lasted 3 years.) Israel was to be victorious "because as in the past,
through thine annointed ones thou hast devoured evil like a blazing torch
in a swath of grain... for of old thou hast proclaimed that the
enemy...shall fall by a sword not of man, and a sword not of man shall
devour him." The Quamranites had the order of battle worked out down to the
last detail. They were even ready with a song of victory:
Arise, O Valiant One!
Lead away Thy captives, O glorious Man!
Do Thy plundering, O valorous One!
Set Thy hand upon the neck of Thine enemies And Thy foot upon the heap of
the slain! Strike the nations Thy enemies
And let Thy sword devour guilty flesh!
Fill the land with glory
And Thine inheritance with blessing!
A multitude of cattle in Thy pastures,
Silver and gold and precious stones in thy palaces!
O Zion, rejoice greatly!
Appear amid shouts of joy, O Jerusalem!
Show yourselves, O all you cities of Judah!
Open thy gates forever.
For the riches of the nations to enter in!
And let their kings serve thee
And let all thy oppressors bow down before thee
And let them lick the dust of thy feet!
We know the Quamranites sent missionaries to act as a vanguard for the
Annointed One. Like John the Baptist, these missionaries are said to have
eaten locusts and wild honey, and dressed in the skins of animals. Like
John the Baptist, their task was to make the children of Israel repent. It
can't be proved that they also practiced baptism, but at Quanram itself
archaeologists have uncovered extensive ritual bathing facilities. John's
ritual of baptism may very well have been introduced as an abbreviated form
of the more extensive ablutions and purificatory rites performed in the
commune's baths and which in one form or another were along part of Jewish
ideas about spiritual cleanliness.
I think a point that needs special emphasis here is that the existence
of this literature was not even hinted at in the writings of such people as
Josephus or the authors of the Christian gospels. Without the scrolls we
would know absolutely nothing about what these militant holy men were up
to, because Quamran was destroyed by the Romans in 68 A.D. The communards
sealed their sacred library in jars and hid them in nearby caves before the
"Sons of Darkness" swooped down and obliterated the commune. Because they
could not have been tampered with during the two thousand years their
existence was forgotten, the scrolls now constitute one of the great
manuscript sources of information about Judaism in the period immediately
prior to, during, and shortly after the time of Christ.
The Quamran scrolls make it extremely difficult to separate John the
Baptist's teachings as reported in the gospels from the mainstream of the
Jewish military-messianic tradition. In the ambience of the prolonged and
bloody guerilla war with Rome, the Baptist's metaphor of "chaff burned in
unquenchable fire" cannot reasonably be opposed to what the Quamranites
predict about a "blazing torch in a swath of grain." I don't propose to say
what was in John the Baptist's mind, but the earthly context in which his
behaviour should be judged can't be that of a religion as yet unborn. I can
only think of his reported sayings and actions in the context of a dusty,
surging ragtag mass of peasants, guerillas, tax evaders, and thieves, knee-
deep in the Jordan, burning with an unquenchable hatred for the Herodian
tyrants, puppet priests, arrogant Roman governors, and heathen soldiers who
farted in holy places.
Immediately after the Baptist was captured-probably while he was still
awaiting trial in Herod Antipas' prison-Jesus began to preach among
precisely the same kind of people and under the same kind of conditions.
The resemblance in lifestyle was so great that among Jesus' first
disciples, at least two - the brothers Andrew and Simon Peter (St. Peter) -
were former followers of the Baptist. Herod Antipas later found so little
difference between Jesus and the Baptist that he is said to have remarked,
"It is John, whom I beheaded; he is risen from the dead." At first Jesus
did most of his preaching in the back country, performing miracles and
attracting large crowds. He was probably always only one jump ahead of the
police. Like John the Baptist and the messianic messengers discussed by
Josephus, Jesus was launched on a collision course that would end in his
arrest or in a cataclysmic insurrection.
The logic of his growing popularity drew Jesus forward into increasingly
dangerous exploits. Before long, he and his disciples set out to missionize
Jerusalem, the promised capital of the Holy Jewish Empire. Deliberately
invoking the messianic symbolism of the Book of Zechariah, Jesus rode
through the gates mounted on a donkey (or possibly a pony). Sunday School
teachers (JWDIII's notes: Sunday School teachers like Bob Rahe) claim that
Jesus did this because it signified an intention to "speak peace unto the
heathen." This ignores the overwhelmingly military-messianic significance
of everything else in Zechariah. For after Zechariah's messiah appears,
lowly and riding on an ass, the sons of Zion "devour and subdue"...and
become "mighty men which tread down their enemies in the mire of the
streets in battle... because the Lord is with them and the riders on horses
shall be confounded."
The lowly figure on the ass was not a peaceful messiah. It was the
messiah of a small nation and its apparently harmless prince of war, a
descendant of David, who also rose from apparent weakness to confound and
subdue the enemy's horsemen and charioteers. The heathen were to have
peacebut it was to be the peace of the long-awaited Holy Jewish Empire.
That at least is how the crowds who lined the way understood what was
happening, for as Jesus passed by, they shouted: "Hosanna! Blessed is he
that comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed be the Kingdom of our Father
David that is coming!"
Nor was there anything notably peaceful in what Jesus and his disciples
did after they entered the city. By choosing to invade Jerusalem just
before the beginning of Passover, they assured themselves the protection of
thousands of holiday pilgrims arriving from the countryside and from all
over the Mediterranean. Zealot-bandits, peasants, laborers, beggars and
other potentially volatile groups were all streaming into the city at the
same time. During the day Jesus went nowhere unless surrounded by
tumultuous and ecstatic crowds. When it became dark he slipped away from
the houses of friends, keeping his whereabouts hidden from all but the
inner core of his disciples.
Jesus and his disciples did nothing that would have distinguished them
from the members of an incipient military-messianic movement. They even
provoked at least one violent confrontation. They stormed into the
courtyard of the great temple and physically attacked the licensed
businessmen who changed currencies so that foreign pilgrims could purchase
sacrificied animals. Jesus himself used a whip during this incident.
The gospels recount how Caiaphas, the High Priest, "plotted" plotted to
arrest Jesus. Since Caiaphas had witnessed the violent attack against the
moneychangers, he could not have entertained any doubts about the legality
of putting Jesus in jail. What Caiaphas had to figure out was how to arrest
Jesus without provoking all the people who thought he was the messiah. Mobs
were extremely dangerous in those days before the invention of shotguns and
tear gas, especially if the people believed they had an invincible leader.
So Caiaphas instructed the people to take Jesus, but "not on the feast day,
lest there be an uproar of people."
The crowd surrounding Jesus certainly had not had time to adopt a non-
voilent lifestyle. Even his most intimate disciples were clearly not
prepared to "turn the other cheek." At least two of them had sobriquets
which suggest that they were linked with the militant activists. One was
Simon, called "The Zealot," and the other was Judas, called "Iscariot."
There is an uncanny resemblance between Iscariot and sicarii, the word used
by Josephus to identify the knife-wielding, homicidal, dagger men. And in
certain Old Latin manuscripts Judas is actually called Zelotes.
Two other disciples had warlike nicknames - James and John, the sons of
Zebedee. They were called "Boanerges," which Mark translates from Aramaic
as "Sons of Thunder" and which could also mean the "fierce, wrathful ones."
The sons of Zebedee deserved their reputation. At one point in the gospel
narrative they want to destroy an entire Samaritan village because the
people had not welcomed Jesus.
The gospels also indicate that some of the disciples carried swords and
were prepared to resist arrest. Just before being taken into custody, Jeus
said, "He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one." This
prompted the disciples to show him two swords - indicating that at least
two of them were not only habitually armed but had kept their swords
concealed under their clothes...like dagger men.
All four gospels record the fact that the disciples put up armed
resistance at the moment of Jesus' capture. After the Passover supper,
Jesus and his inner circle slipped away to a garden in Gethsemane where
they prepared to spend the night. Guided by Judas Iscariot, the High Priest
and his men burst in on them as Jesus was praying and the rest were
sleeping. The disciples drew their swords and a brief struggle ensued,
during which one of the temple policemen lostan ear. As soon as the police
grabbed Jesus, the disciples stopped fighting and ran away into the night.
According to Mathew, Jesus told one of his disciples to sheath his sword, a
command which the disciple obeyed but was obviously unprepared to hear,
since he immediately deserted.
In the gospel narrative, the price given to Judas resembles Herodias'
denunciation of John the Baptist. If Judas was in fact Zelotes - a zealot
bandit - he might have betrayed Jesus for any number of tactical or
strategic reasons, but never simply for money. (One theory is that Jesus
wasn't being militant enough.) By identifying Judas' motivation as pure
greed, the gospels may simply have repeated the kind of distortion that
Josephus and the Romans automatically employed with respect to all zealot-
bandits. But zealot-bandits were prepared to kill without getting paid -
that at least should be clear from the events described in the previous
chapter (JWDIII notes: Previous chapter is about the Jews' messianic
Why did the disciples all run away, and why did Simon Peter deny Jesus
three times before the night was over? Because as Jews they shared with
Caiaphas the lifestyle consciousness of their ancestors and understood that
the messiah was to be an invincible, wonder-working military prince.
All this leads to one conclusion: The lifestyle consciousness shared by
Jesus and his inner circle of disciples was not the lifestyle consciousness
of a peaceful messiah. Although the gospels clearly intend to deny Jesus
the capacity to carry out violent political acts, they preserve what seems
to be an undercurrent of contradictory events and sayings which link John
the Baptist and Jesus to the military-messianic tradition and implicate
them in the guerilla warfare. The reason for this is that by the time the
first gospel was written, nonpeaceful events and sayings which had been
attributed to Jesus by eyewitnesses and by unimpeachable apostolic sources
were widely known among the faithful.The writers of the gospels shifted the
balance of the Jesus cult's lifestyle consciousness in the direction of a
peaceful messiah, but they could not entirely expunge the traces of
continuity with the military messianic tradition. The ambiguity of the
gospels in this regard is best demonstrated by arranging some of Jesus'
most peaceful statements in one column and the unexpected negations in
Blessed are the peacemakers. Think not that I am come to send peace
(Matthew 5:9) on earth, I come not to send peace but
a sword. (Matthew 10:34)
Whosoever shall smite thee on Suppose ye that I come to give peace
thy right cheek, turn to him on earth? I will tell you nay, but
the other also. rather division.
(Matthew 5:39) (Luke 12:51)
All that take the sword shall He that hath no sword, let him sell
perish with the sword. his garments and buy one.
(Matthew 26:52) (Luke 22:36)
Love thine enemies; do good to And when he had made a scourge of
to them that hate you. cords, he drove them out of the
(Luke 6:27) temple...and poured out the changer's
money and overthrew the tables.
I should also note at this point the obviously false construction
traditionally given to what Jesus said when asked if Jews ought to pay
taxes to the Romans: "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto
God what is God's." This could mean only one thing to the Galileans who had
participated in Judas of Galilee's tax revolt - namely, "Don't pay." For
Judas of Galilee had said that everything in Palestine belonged to God (
JWDIII notes: Now does that explain why the Arabs and Jews are still
fighting in Palestine??? Einstein was right -- time is relative. 2000 years
of misinterpretation reduced to the above. Sheesh). But the authors of the
Gospels and their readers probably knew nothing about Judas of Galilee, so
they preserved Jesus' highly provocative response on the mistaken
assumption that it showed a genuinely conciliatory attitude toward the
After they had captured him, the Romans and their Jewish clients
continued to treat Jesus as if he were the leader ofan actual or intended
military-messianic uprising. (JWDIII notes: Jesus was kinda like a Jewish
Rodney King <-- King of the Jews Haahaaha...Sorry) The Jewish high court
put him on trial for having made blasphemous and false prophecies. He was
quickly found guilty and turned over to Pontius Pilate for a second trial
on secular charges. The reason for this seems clear. As I showed in the
chapter on cargo, (JWDIII notes: natives on islands often believe traders
and missionaries who bring cargo are the natives' ancestors returning from
the dead to reward the natives with cargo - beans, light bulbs, radios,
comic books, etc...) popular messiahs in colonial contexts are always
guilty of a politico-religious crime, never merely a religious one. The
Romans had no interest in Jesus' violation of the natives' religious codes,
but they were vitally concerned with his threat to destroy the colonial
Caiaphas' predictions about how the crowd would react once Jesus was
shown to be helpless was soon fully vindicated. Pilate publicly exhibited
the condemned man and not a voice was lifted in protest. Pilate even went
so far as to offer to free Jesus, if the mob wanted him back. The gospels
claim that Pilate made this offer because he himself believed that Jesus
was innocent. But Pilate, you will recall, was a tricky, heavy-fisted
military hard-liner who kept having trouble with the Jerusalem mob.
According to Josephus, Pilate once lured several thousand people into the
Jerusalem stadium, surrounded them with soldiers, and threatened to cut
their heads off. On another occasion his men infiltrated the mob by wearing
civilian clothes over their armor and on a given signal clubbed everybody
in sight. In presenting Jesus to the rabble that had only yesterday adored
and protected him, Pilate was making use of the inexorable logic of the
military-messianic tradition to impress the natives with their own
stupidity. There stood their supposedly divine liberator, King of the Holy
Jewish Empire, utterly helpless against a few Roman soldiers. The crowd may
very well have responded by demanding that Jesus be killed as a religious
imposter, but Pilate was not interested in crucifying religious charlatans.
To the Romans, Jesus was just another subversive who deserved the same fate
as all the other rabble-rousing bandits and revolutionaries who kept
crawling out of the desert. That was why the title on Jesus' cross read
"King of the Jews."
S. G. F. Brandon, a former dean of the School of Theology of the
University of Manchester, reminds us that Jesus was not crucified alone;
the gospels report that his fate was shared by two other convicted
criminals. What was the crime for which Jesus' companions were put to
death? In English language versions of the gospels, the two are said to be
"thieves." But the original Greek manuscript term for them was lestai,
precisely the same term that Josephus used when he wanted to refer to the
zealot-bandits. Brandon believes that we can even be more specific about
who these "bandits" actually were. Mark states that at the time of Jesus'
trial, the Jerusalem jail contained a number of prisoners "that had made
insurrection." If Jesus' companions were drawn from these insurrections,
the grisly scene at Golgotha obtains a unity otherwise lacking: the
supposed messianic King of the Jews at the center, flanked by two zealot-
bandits - a scene compatible with everything that we know about the
mentality of colonial officers intent on teaching law and order to
All four gospels converge on the somber spectacle of Jesus suffering on
the cross with the disciples nowhere in sight. The disciples could not
believe that a messiah would permit himself to be crucified. They did not
as yet have the slightest inkling that the Jesus cult was to be the cult of
a peaceful rather than a vengeful savior. In fact, as Brandon points out,
the gospel of Mark gains its dramatic thrust from the failure of the
disciples to grasp the reason why their messiah will not destroy his
enemies and will not save himself from being killed.
It was only after the disappearance of Jesus' body from the tomb that
his apparent lack of messianic power came to be understood. A number of
disciples began to have visions, which made them realize that the usual
test of messiahship - victory - did not apply to Jesus. Inspired by their
visions, they took the important but not entirely unprecedented step of
arguing that Jesus' death didn't prove he was another false messiah;
rather, it proved that God had provided the Jews with another climatic
opportunity to show themselves worthy of the covenant. Jesus would return
if people repented for doubting him and asked God's forgiveness.
There is no reason to suppose that this reinterpretation of the
significance ofJesus' death led at once to a rejection of the military and
political import of his messiahship. Much evidence supports the view argued
persuasively by Professor Brandon, that most of the Jews who awaited Jesus'
return in the period between his crucifixion and the fall of Jerusalem
continued to expect a messiah who would overthrow Rome and make Jerusalem
the capital of the Holy Jewish Empire. At the outset of the Acts of the
Apostles, which is Luke's account of what happened after Jesus was killed,
the political significance of Jesus' return is uppermost in the minds of
the apostles. The first question they put to the risen Jesus is: "Lord,
wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" Another New
Testament source, the Book of Revelation, depicts the returning Jesus as a
many-crowned rider on a white horse who judges and makes war, who has eyes
as "a flame of fire," wears a garment "dipped in blood," and rules the
nations with "a rod of iron," and who returns to "tread the winepress of
the fury of the wrath of God Almighty."
There is also some convergent evidence on this point from the Dead Sea
Scrolls. I said a moment ago that the idea of a messiah returning from the
dead was not unprecedented. The Dead Sea Scrolls refer to a "teacher of
righteousness" who is killed by his enemies but returns to fulfill the
messianic task. Like the Quamranites, the first Jewish Christians organized
themselves into a commune while awaiting the return of their "teacher of
The Acts of the Apostles states:
All that believed were together and had all things in common,and sold
their possessions and goods, and parted them among all, according as any
man had need. . . . Neither was there any among them that lacked, for as
many were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices
of the things sold and laid them down at the apostless' feet.
It is of considerable interest that the Dead Sea Scrolls contain
prescriptions for establishing communities of penitent Jews in the cities
to be organized along the same communistic lines (JWDIII notes: Christ, the
goddamn Christians were Communists!). This is additional evidence that
Quamran militants and the Jewish Christians were either responding in
similar ways to similar conditions or were actually aspects or branches of
one and the same military-messianic movement.
As I indicated at the beginning of this chapter, the image of Jesus as
the peaceful messiah was probably not perfected until after the fall of
Jerusalem (JWDIII notes: Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D.) During the interval
between Jesus' death and the writing of the first gospel, the groundwork
for a peaceful messianism was laid by Paul. But those for whom Jesus was
primarily a Jewish military-messianic redeemer dominated the movement
throughout the period of expanding guerilla activity leading up to the
confrontation of 68 A.D. The practical setting in which the gospels were
written -- gospels which depict a purely peaceful and universal messiah --
was the aftermath of the unsuccessful Jewish war against Rome. A purely
peaceful messiah became a practical necessity when the generals who had
just defeated the Jewish messianic revolutionaries -- Vespasian and Titus -
- became the rulers of the Roman Empire. Before the defeat, it had been a
practical necessity for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem to remain loyal
to Judaism. After that defeat, the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem could no
longer dominate the Christian communities in other parts of the empire,
least of all those Christians who lived in Rome at the sufferance of
Vespasian and Titus. In the aftermath of the unsuccessful messianic war, it
quickly became a practical necessity for Christians to deny that their cult
had arisen out of the Jewish belief in a messiah who was going to topple
the Roman Empire.
The Jerusalem commune was led by a triumvirate called "the pillars" in
the Acts of the Apostles, consisting of James, Peter, and John. Among
these, James, identified by Paul as "the Lord's Brother" (precise
genealogical connection unknown), soon emerged as the preeminent figure. It
was James who led the struggle against Paul's attempt to obscure the Jewish
military-messianic origins of the Jesus movement.
Although Jerusalem remained the center of Christianity until 70 A.D.,
the new cult soon spread beyond Palestine to many of the communities of
Jewish merchants, artisans, and scholars found in every major city and town
of the Roman Empire. The overseas Jews learned about Jesus from
missionaries who toured the foreign synagogues. Paul, the most important of
these missionaries, was born Saul of Tarsus, a Greek-speaking Jew whose
father had acquired Roman citizenship for himself and his family. Paul
insisted that he had become an apostle of Jesus by the authority of
revelation and without any direct contact with the original apostles in
Jerusalem. In his letters to the Galatians, written sometime between 49 and
57 A.D., Paul said that he had been missionizing Arabia and Damascus for
three years and had never talked to any of the original apostles. The
letter states that at the time he visited briefly with Simon Peter and
talked with James, "the Lord's Brother."
For the next fifteen years Paul was on the road again, travelling from
city to city. His first converts were almost invariably Jews. This had to
be the case because it was the Jews who were most familar with the
prophetic lineage that Paul claimed Jesus fulfilled. Even if Paul had not
studied with rabbis, had not spoken Hebrew, and had not considered himself
a Jew, he would still have found Jews scattered throughout the eastern
portion of the Roman Empire the people most likely to respond to the appeal
of the Jesus cult. Not only were the Jews one of the largest groups of
displaced persons in the empire, but they were among the most influential
and up to 70 A.D. enjoyed many privileges which were denied to other
ethnics. Paul had between three and six million Jews to proselytize outside
of Palestine -- more than twice as many as James had to proselytize within
Palestine -- and virtually every one ofthe foreign Jews lived in a city or
Paul made a special effort to recruit among non-Jews whenever he was
rebuffed by an overseas Jewish community. But this in itself was no
novelty. Attracted by the social and economic advantages which Jews enjoyed
as a result of their long experience in cosmopolitan settings, there always
had been a steady stream of converts to Judaism. Male converts were welcome
as Jews as long as they were willing to obey the commandments and be
circumcised. The greatest novelty associated with Paul's proselytizing was
not his messianic message, but his willingness to baptize non-Jews as
Jewish Christians without bothering to have them circumcised or certified
The Acts of the Apostles states that Paul returned to Jerusalem after a
prolonged absence, and pleaded with James and the Jerusalem elders not to
interfere with his efforts at converting non-Jews to Christianity. James's
verdict was that non-Jews could become Christians without submitting to
circumcision provided they renounced idolatry, fornication, and meat that
was strangled or bloody. But James and the Jerusalem communards insisted
that uncircumcised Christians were inferior to Jewish Christians. Paul
reports that when Simon Peter visited him in Antioch, all the Christians
ate together. But with the arrival of a commission of inquiry sent out by
James, Simon Peter immediately stopped eating with uncircumcised
Christians, "fearing them that were of the Circumcision" - that is, fearing
that the Jewish Christian commissioners would tell James.
It was to Paul's advantage, given his overseas constituency, to
underplay the privileged role to be allocated to the children of Israel in
the Holy Jewish Empire. It was also to his advantage to ignore the worldly
military and political components in Jesus' messianic mission. But Paul's
ecumenical innovations created a strategic problem he was never able to
solve. Inevitable it brought him into deeper conflict with James and the
Jerusalem communards, since the survival of the Jerusalem Christians
depended on their ability to maintain their standing as bona-fide Jewish
patriots. In order to survive amid the various factions involved in the
escalating war with Rome, it was essential that James continue to worship
in the Jerusalem temple and that his followers maintain an image of
devotion to Jewish law. Their faith in Jahweh's covenant had been
increased, not diminished by their belief that Jesus would soon reappear.
Paul was accused of urging Jews in foreign cities to disregard the laws
of Judaism and of treating Jew and non-Jew as if there were no difference
between them - as if Jew and gentile were equally entitled to the blessings
of the forthcoming messianic redemption. If such an interpretation of the
Jesus cult were to ever spread to Jerusalem, James and his followers were
doomed. In Brandon's words: "From the Jewish point of view, such a
presentation was not only theologically outrageous, it amounted to apostasy
of the most shocking kind, involving both race and religion."
The preserved evidence of Jesus' reported actions and sayings provide no
support for Paul's attempt to scrap the distinction between Jew and non-Jew
in the overseas communes. In the Gospel according to Mark, for example, a
Syrian Greek woman falls at Jesus' feet and begs him to drive out the
devils from her daughter. Jesus refuses: "Let the children first be filled:
for it is not meant to take the children's bread and to cast it to he
dogs." The Syrian Greek woman argues back, saying: "The dogs under the
table eat the childrens' crumbs," whereupon Jesus relents and cures the
woman's daughter. "Children" here can only mean "children of Israel" and
"dogs" can only mean non-Jews, especially enemies like the Syrian Greeks.
Incidents and sayings of this sort were preserved in Mark and the other
gospels for the same reason that the other vengeful and ethnocentric
sayings and actions could not be entirely expunged. There were lively oral
traditions upon which the gospels were based. Too many eyewitnesses like
James, Peter, and John were still active, eyewitnesses who insisted on the
authenticity of the military-messianic and ethnocentric themes. Besides,
Mark was Jewish by birth and therefore was probably never entirely free
from some degree of ambivalence about the ethnic distinctions that had
formerly been insisted upon by founders of the Jerusalem mother "church."
To protect the Jerusalem commune, James dispatched rival missionaries
instructed to preserve the Judaic significance of Christianity; they were
not above jeopardizing Paul's following by impugning his credentials.
(JWDIII notes: sound like a bunch of Republicans) Paul was vulnerable to
these attacks because he admitted that he had never seen Jesus except in a
vision. Moreover, he continued to need the support of the foreign
synagogues. So, in 59 A.D., despite forebodings and oracular warnings, Paul
decided to return to Jerusalem and have it out with his accusers.
Paul appeared before James as an accused person appears before a judge.
James admonished Paul by noting that there were thousands of Jews in
Jerusalem who believed in Jesus, yet they were all "zealous of the law." He
then ordered Paul to demonstrate that he was a loyal Jew and that the
charges against him were unfounded - to demonstrate "that thou walkest
orderly and keepest the law." He demanded that Paul submit to seven days of
purificatory rites in the Jerusalem temple. Paul accepted these demands,
proving: (1) James, the Lord's Brother, was the supreme leader of
Christendom at the time; (2) James and the Jewish Christians still
worshipped in the temple - they had no separate "church"; (3) the Jewish
Christians believed that Jesus would return to fulfill the Davidic
convenant by making Jerusalem the center of the Holy Jewish Empire; (4) all
baptized penitent believers in Jesus and Jahweh would be redeemed, but
Jewish Christians would be redeemed more than the rest (JWDII notes: just
like our resident WACO believes he's better than the rest.)
Paul's attempt to reaffirm his loyalty to the Jewish national ideal was
cut short, undoubtedly by treachery. A group of pilgrims from Asia dragged
him from the temple, and started to beat him to death. Only the timely
intervention of the Roman captain of the guard saved Paul on that occasion.
Brought to trial by the high priests, he again narrowly escaped death. More
plots were laid against him, but he finally managed to escape from
Palestine by invoking his Roman citizenship and demanding that he be tried
by Romans, not by Jews. He was sent to Rome and kept under house arrest,
but what happened to him afterwards is not definately known. What probably
happened to him is that he was martyred in 64 A.D., when the Emperor Nero
decided to blame a huge fire in Rome - which his enemies said he himself
had set to clear out the slums near his palace - on a convenient new blood-
thirsty sect that had arisen among the Jews, members of which were "enemies
Too late for Paul, the outbreak of full-scale war in Palestine
drastically altered the political context of his aborted mission. By 70
A.D. the Jewish Christian mother "church" in Jerusalem no longer held the
upper hand over the overseas Christian communities. It ceased to be a
significant force, if it can be said in any sense to have survived the fall
of Jerusalem. The protracted revolution of 68-73 thoroughly embittered
relationships between overseas Jews and the Romans. Also, it catapulted the
very persons responsible for the defeat of the Jews into control of the
empire. In 71 A.D. Vespasian and his son Titus held a stupendous triumphal
procession-commemorated on the Arch of Titus in Rome during which Jewish
prisoners and spoils were marched through the streets while the last
zealot-bandit commander of Jerusalem, Simon ben Gioras, was strangled in
the Forum. Vespasian thereafter dealt harshly with the Jews in the empire,
restricting their liberties and diverting their temple tax to the treasury
of Saturn. During the remainder of the first century A.D., anti-Semitism
became an established feature of Roman life and letters; it was met with
smoldering defiance, insurrection, and intensified repressions that led to
the second Armageddon of Bar Kochva in 135 A.D.
From the stress placed by Mark upon the destruction of the temple in
Jerusalem as a punishment for the killers of Jesus, Brandon infers that
this gospel-the first to be composed and the model for the others-was
written in Rome after the fall of Jerusalem. As Brandon says, it was
probably written in direct response to the great victory celebration of 71
The appropriate conditions for the spread of the cult of the peaceful
messiah were at last present in full force. Jewish Christians now readily
joined with gentile converts to convince Rome that their messiah was
different from the zealot-bandit messiahs who had caused the war and who
were continuing to make trouble: Christians, unlike Jews, were harmless
pacifists with no secular ambitions. The Christian Kingdom of God was not
of this world; Christian salvation lay in eternal life beyond the grave;
the Christian messiah had died to bring eternal life to all mankind; his
teaching posed no threat to the Romans, only to the Jews; the Romans were
absolved of any guilt in Jesus' death; the Jews alone had killed him while
Pontius Pilate stood by, helplessly unable to prevent it.
The secret of the peaceful messiah lay on the battlefields and in the
aftermath of two earthly Armageddons. The cult of the peaceful messiah as
we know it would not have prospered had the course of battle gone against
the "Sons of Darkness."
The primary source of converts to this new religion - if not in number,
certainly in influence - continued to be urban Jews scattered all over the
eastern Mediterranean. Contrary to legend, Christianity made no headway at
all among the great mass of peasants and slaves who constituted the bulk of
the population of the empire. As the historian Salo W. Baron points out,
paganus, the Latin word for "peasant," became for the Christians a synonym
for "heathen." Christianity was eminently the religion of the displaced
ethnic urbanites. "In cities where Jews had often amounted to one third of
the population and more, this, so to speak, new variety of Judaism marched
Jews who remained Jews were far more the victims of Roman persecution
than Jews who became Christians. The age of full-scale persecution of
Christians did not begin with Nero, but much later - after 150 A.D. By that
time, because they were concentrated in the urban centers, had inflitrated
the Roman upper class, maintained effective social welfare programs, and
were building a fiscally independent, international corporation led by
skilled administrators, the Christian churches had once again become a
political threat to Roman law and order. They had become a "state within a
I shall have to refrain from following out the chain of worldly events
that eventually led to the establishment of Christianity as the religion of
the Roman Empire. But this much should be said: When the Emperor
Constantine took that momentous initiative, Christianity was no longer the
cult of the peaceful messiah. Constantine's conversion took place in 311
A.D. as he led a small army across the Alps. Wearily approaching Rome he
saw a vision of the cross standing above the sun, and on the cross he saw
the words IN HOC SIGNO VINCES-"By this sign you will conquer." Jesus
appeared to Constantine and directed him to emblazon his military standard
with the cross. Under this strange new banner, Constantine's soldiers went
on to win a decisive victory. They regained the empire and thereby
guaranteed that the cross of the peaceful messiah would preside over the
deaths of untold millions of Christian soldiers and their enemies down to
the present day.
Waco, Pensacola, The World Trade Center, The Spanish Inquisition...
Don't the Religious Right just wanna' kill ya'?
firstname.lastname@example.org (Joe W. Dabrowski III)