Jesus: a Cultic Pariah
- Hi Gordon,
You wrote on Saturday, December 14, 2002:
> As I wrote you in response awhile back... I don't shareGordon, I think that Jesus was certainly concerned about justice,
> 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.
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 andYou may be right. But I only ask you to suspend final judgment until I have
> 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.
presented my piece on Jesus encoding his own family conflict in the story of
> I read the sayings off of Jesus' lips in the late 20's inMy own position is that Jesus seeks to transcend Torah, go far beyond it 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.
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 aissues
> fascinating little snippet! Paul is all on about the cultic/ ritual
> in this letter... and I'd argue what the Pillars were on about iscontained
> 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