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Jesus: a Cultic Pariah

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  • Ted Weeden
    Hi Gordon, You wrote on Saturday, December 14, 2002: (snip) ... Gordon, I think that Jesus was certainly concerned about justice, loving-kindness, shalom and
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 20, 2002
      Hi Gordon,

      You wrote on Saturday, December 14, 2002:


      > As I wrote you in response awhile back... I don't share
      > your view of the distance that Jesus had over "the Judean cult" per se.
      > Yes, with the current leadership of it. Yes, as a sage he would use
      > aspects > of ritual practice as lampoon points! But I see that as
      > peripheral to get to the real matters of justice, loving-kindness,
      > shalom and wisdom. Such as > the prophets will lampoon pietistical
      > practice (think Amos... "I hate your > feasts...) ... and even David
      > is given to say what he does in Psalm 51:16-17.

      Gordon, I think that Jesus was certainly concerned about justice,
      loving-kindness, shalom and wisdom, but to state that, in my view, does not
      get to the depth of what Jesus was about. Jesus' cause celebre, as I see
      it, was against the oppression and dehumanizing injustice of the Judean
      cult and its establishment. And here we apparently see things differently.
      But permit me to begin to make my case.

      The *historical* Jesus, in my understanding of him, vehemently opposed the
      Judean cult's marginalizing and ostracizing of those it considered
      cultically unclean and, thus, unacceptable to and unworthy of God. In
      opposition to the cult, Jesus advanced a vision of radical but, somewhat
      limited (women not treated as equal to men [so convincingly argued by
      Kathleen Corley, _Women and the Historical Jesus_] and Gentiles not included
      at all, at least not in the authentic sayings that we have), egalitarianism
      in which persons are fully accepted and loved by God, without consideration
      of how faithfully they have observed Torah or observed purity codes and the
      like. I think Jesus' message transcended both the Judean cult and the
      remnant of the ancient Israelite cultic orientation still followed in some
      form in some Galilean villages, particularly north of the northern rim of
      the Sea of Galilee. I submit that Jesus' opposition to the oppressive,
      exploitative character of the cult made him a *cultic pariah*. He became, in
      the view of many, particularly in the eyes of the religious establishment
      and his family, a cultic prodigal son. I plan to present my complete
      profile of Jesus sometime in the near future and will fully develop and try
      to provide evidentiary support, but let me cite now and briefly the evidence
      for this thesis.

      (1) The historical Jesus, in my reconstructed profile, attacked or dismissed
      at least four ethno-religious indicators of the Judean cult, namely:
      kashruth (GTh. 14:4//Q 10:8; 14:5// Mk. 7:14), secondary burial in ossuaries
      (Q 9:62; see Byron R. McCane, "'Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead':
      Secondary Burial and Matt 8:21-22," _HTR_, 1990: 31-43), ritual washing of
      hands (Mk.7:1-2, 5), and ritual washing of vessels (GTh. 89:1-2//Q
      11:39-41). And, with regard to the "mother of all" Judean ethno-religious
      indicators, I think it is *possible* (a thesis I will develop soon) that
      Jesus *may well* have dismissed or at least discredited the salvific
      importance of the Judean cult's practice of circumcision (cf. GTh. 53: 1-2).
      In addition, Jesus and his disciples, apparently did not practice fasting,
      as "holy people," according to the Judean cult, were expected to do (cf.
      Mk. 2:18). Contrary to the Judean cult, Jesus likely did not consider
      fasting as an indispensable practice of pietistic holiness in God's eyes
      (cf. GTh. 6:1 vis-a-vis GTh. 14:1).

      (2) With respect to Jesus view vis-a-vis the cult's view on "clean" vs.
      "unclean" and "holy" vs. "unholy," Jesus told five parables in which the
      unclean or unholy is cast in a positive rather than negative light, as the
      unclean or unholy was characteristically cast in Judean cultic prescriptions
      and proscriptions. The unclean or unholy which was cast in a positive
      light in Jesus' parables are (a) the anti-hero, the prodigal son, (b) a
      Samaritan, (c) the unclean riffraff of the highways and by-ways who were
      commandeered into filling the empty guest seats at a banquet (the Parable of
      the Great Feast), (d) the leaven in the Parable of the Leaven (parabolically
      leaven=the realm of God) and (e) a tax collector (the anti-hero of the
      Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector).

      (3) With respect to the Torah's Decalogue and the citing of Torah generally,
      Jesus subverted two of the ten commandments, namely the fourth (the Sabbath:
      Mk. 2:27f.), and the fifth (honoring parents: see GTh. 55:1// Lk. 14:26; Q
      10:8; GTh. 99//Mk. 3:31-35). And surprisingly, I do not find the
      historical Jesus citing Torah positively (a thesis I will present in an
      essay-post, "Did Jesus Quote Scripture?").

      (4) With respect to the Judean Temple establishment itself, I find that
      Jesus attacked the Judean Temple establishment and its cultic practices via
      both provocative words and provocative acts. With regard to provocative
      words, Jesus at one point (perhaps in the notorious so-called incident of
      his "cleansing of the Temple") may well have declared, with respect to the
      Temple establishment, "I will destroy this house" (see GTh. 71a and cf. Mk.
      14:58]). He certainly provocatively denounced the Temple authorities'
      retainers, the scribes and the Pharisees. He castigated the scribes "who
      like to parade around in long robes, and insist on being addressed properly
      in marketplaces, and prefer important seats in the synagogues and the best
      couches at banquets" (Mk. 12:38). He lambasted the Pharisees for similar
      offensive flaunting of their cultic status (Lk. 11:43). He excoriated both
      Pharisees and scribes because "they have taken the keys of knowledge and
      have hidden them. They have not entered, and have not allowed those who
      want to enter to do so" (GTh. 39:1-2//Q 11:52). And, in what I believe is
      nothing less than a provocative parabolic "slam" against the Pharisees, he
      made an impeccably righteous and "holy" Pharisee a negative foil to a
      repentant, but cultically perceived as "unclean," tax collector, his
      anti-hero in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (18:10-14).

      With regard to provocative acts against the Temple establishment, Jesus'
      ministry of healing and exorcism could only have been viewed by the Temple
      establishment as Jesus taking upon himself, even usurping, the
      Torah-designated function and role of the priesthood (cf. Jonathan Z. Smith,
      "The Temple and Magician," in _God's Christ and His People_, 233-247). And
      in a ultimate provocative act, which triggered his arrest and led to his
      death--- (but to the contrary, e: Burton Mack, _Myth of Innocence_, 291-292,
      and Bill Arnal, "Major Episodes in the Biography of Jesus," _Toronto Journal
      of Theology_, 13/2, 1997:206-209)---- Jesus staged an assault on the Temple
      establishment's cultic practices in an incident terribly misnomered, given
      the anti-cultic ramification of the incident, as "the cleansing of the
      (5) In all the above, it is clear to me that Jesus was a champion of social
      justice against the Judean cultic establishment on behalf of those who were
      oppressed, exploited and ostracized by that establishment. But that seems
      to have been the primary, even the only, focus of his social justice thrust,
      despite the fact that, besides the Judean Temple establishment, there were
      other oppressors and exploiters of the disenfranchised, the poor, the
      destitute, the socially expendable in Galilee in his time. It is obvious
      that the disenfranchised, the poor, the destitute, and the socially
      expendable of Galilee were also oppressed and exploited by the Roman
      occupation and by its client king Herod the Great and his son, the tetrach,
      Herold Antipas. But there is no evidence that Jesus ever directly "took
      on" the Romans or the Herodians. In the one saying in which Roman
      exploitation is addressed as an issue, namely, the obligation to pay taxes
      to Caesar, Jesus sidestepped the issue (GTh.100//Mk. 12:14-17)..

      Dom Crossan argues (_The Birth of Christianity_) that the issue that
      propelled Jesus into and on his itinerant ministry was his awakened
      social-justice consciousness that became aware of helpless peasants were
      being economically marginalized and driven to destitution by the oppressive
      and exploitative commercialization of the Roman Empire and the greedy
      Galilean and Judean land-grabbing elite. But I am unconvinced that the
      social injustice perpetrated by Roman commercialization and greedy elite
      landowners, as oppressive and exploitative as they were, constituted the
      primary and specific focus of Jesus' social-justice critique or condemnatory
      thrust. I just do not find either the teaching or acts of the historical
      Jesus providing supportive evidence for such a thesis. Even among the
      sayings/parables which Dom attributes to the historical Jesus in his _The
      Historical Jesus_ (xiii-xxvi), there is nothing which would implicitly, much
      less explicitly, suggest that Roman commercialization or elite landowners
      are being addressed and condemned for oppressing and exploiting peasants
      (both landed and landless). There is no question that such oppression and
      exploitation of peasants took place and had taken place in Jesus' day. But
      nothing in Jesus' teaching, that I can find, deals indisputably, on the one
      hand, with Roman commercialization. As I noted above, Jesus even avoided
      dealing with the oppressive issue of Roman taxation.

      On the other hand, with respect to the oppression and exploitation of
      peasants by wealthy landowners, there is virtually nothing in the
      "authentic" teaching of the historical Jesus that focuses on Galilean of
      Judean aristocratic landowners as the cause of the plight of the poor, their
      marginalization and oppression in Galilean society. In no saying of the
      historical Jesus is a wealthy landowner cast, much less referred to or
      alluded to, as an oppressor or exploiter of peasants or the impoverished.
      Wealthy landowners are featured in five of Jesus' parables: the Parable of
      the Wicked Tenants (Mk. 12:1-8), the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Mt.
      18:23-34), the Parable of the Vineyard Workers (Mt. 20:1-16), the Parable of
      the Rich Fool (Lk. 12:13-20), and, perhaps, the Parable of the Barren Fig
      Tree (Lk.13:6-9). A rich man is also featured in four other parables of
      Jesus, the Parable of the Talents (Mt. 25:14-28), the Parable of the Great
      Feast (14:16-23), the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Lk. 16:1-8), and the
      Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31). But the rich men cited
      respectively in each of these parables are not identified in any way as

      In none of the five parables, in which a wealthy landowner serves as
      principal subject, is that landowner depicted as a "land grabbing" oppressor
      and exploiter of peasant smallholders. In one of the parables (the Parable
      of the Vineyard Workers), a wealthy landowner is actually depicted as
      showing unexpected generosity to a hired worker. And, furthermore, I do
      not find Jesus in any of his sayings or parables polemicizing against the
      rich, whether landowners or not, as oppressors and exploiters of the poor.

      There is virtually no evidence in any of the historical Jesus' teachings
      that he engaged in the rhetoric of socio-economic class "warfare" on behalf
      of the socio-economically disadvantaged and dispossessed against Galilean
      aristocratic landowners or, for that matter, Roman imperial authorities and
      their client Galilean ruler, Herod Antipas. In fact, as far as I can
      tell, the only elite oppressors and marginalizers of the non-elite whom
      Jesus polemicized against were, as I have stated, the Judean cultic
      authorities, the Pharisees and scribes (see GTh. 39:1-2//Q 11:52; Mk. 12:38;
      Lk. 11:43). Perhaps, the singular, most symbolic act of protest against
      the existing Galilean social order, as well as demonstration of a new social
      order, which Jesus regularly practiced was the radical egalitarian
      commensuality of his table fellowship (see Crossan, _Historical Jesus_).
      Those table-fellowship demonstrations were not initiated by him as a protest
      or attack against aristocratic landowners or Roman rule, but, in my
      judgment, against the discriminatory ideology and practices of the Judean
      cultic hegemony that defined who was acceptable and unacceptable in that
      society, and ultimately to God, based upon cultic purity codes.

      > And again, I think you and Mahlon are stretching and
      > personalizing the Prodigal.
      > And lastly, I just don't read those aphorisms
      > about "hating family" as rooted in his own family dynamics.
      > Yes, the Gospel > narratives are going to frame them that way...
      > but I read those framings in relation to the authors theological/
      > ecclesiastical agendas.

      You may be right. But I only ask you to suspend final judgment until I have
      presented my piece on Jesus encoding his own family conflict in the story of
      the prodigal.

      > I read the sayings off of Jesus' lips in the late 20's in
      > relation to that central concern about the heart of the
      > meaning of the Torah. If one will line those sayings up
      > with... "no one can serve two masters... "no one can ride
      > two horses, string two bows...," and keep the issues of
      > justice, kindness, > shalom and wisdom front and
      > center... then the sayings are indeed **sharp**
      > parabolic swipes at the issue of where one's central
      > devotion lies.

      My own position is that Jesus seeks to transcend Torah, go far beyond it in
      a radical, transvaluative, "supersecessionist" way. For example, I do not
      think that any of the antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount are sayings of
      the historical Jesus. I think that Matthew or perhaps, following Betz, a
      pre-Matthean source has "pedestrianized" Jesus in those sayings in an
      attempt to bring him into conformity to Torah and a hermeneutic of its
      "higher" moral fulfillment (Mt. 5:17-20. It is my view that the most
      radical saying that we have from Jesus is "love your enemies." It is so
      radical that it makes "love your neighbor as yourself" sound, or should I
      say taste, like middle-class American pablum.

      I am going to present a piece on the radicality of Jesus' love-command and
      suggest among other things that Jesus presented it as an intentional foil to
      and radical supersession of the mere loving of the neighbor. To speak to
      this briefly, this love-command is radically countercultural and countercult
      (both Judean and Greco-Roman cultures and/or cults). This radical
      love-command challenges, even controverts in some ways, the conventional
      wisdom of both Torah and the best of Greco-Roman ethics. This love-command
      is absolute and unqualified. Jesus does not qualify it as "love your
      enemies as yourself," as is the case of the OT loving-neighbor command or
      the conventional morality of the Golden Rule, which was often cited in its
      negative and positive version in Judean and Greco-Roman culture of the time.
      I think that this love-command was so radical, "so hot to handle," that the
      only way that the early Jesus movement(s) could safely pass it on was by
      encasing it in the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain, where it
      is sanitized and "dumb-down" into conventional Greco-Roman morality (the
      Sermon on the Plain) or made into another exemplification or tag-on to
      loving the neighbor and, admittedly, the higher moral interpretation of the
      Torah expressed in the antitheses (the Sermon on the Mount), antheses which
      were especially created for the express purpose of reducing the radical
      character and inescapable impact and ramifications of the love-enemies
      command when cited untempered by being clustered amongst other moral
      sayings. I will present this argument in full in a post I have promised to
      Patrick Paulsen in which I will argue that Jesus does not quote scripture.

      > I want you to read Galatians 2:10:)! This is a
      > fascinating little snippet! Paul is all on about the cultic/ ritual
      > in this letter... and I'd argue what the Pillars were on about is
      > in that little "Paul saying, oh yeah, that, too."

      Gordon, because my response to your post so far has become quite lengthy,
      and because you now have turned from the focus on Jesus to address the issue
      of Paul, his relationship to the so-called pillars (James, Peter and John),
      as well as other related matters, I will end this post now and pick up the
      discussion in a following post.

      Thank you very much for engaging in discussion with me on these important

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