Wednesday, October 18, 2006

anti Jewish "Good News"

Hear another parable.

There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way.

Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, 'They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.' They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?" They answered him, "He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times."

Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the scriptures: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes'? Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit. (The one who falls on this stone will be dashed to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.)"

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them. And although they were attempting to arrest him, they feared the crowds, for they regarded him as a prophet.
--Gospel of Matthew 21:26-46

Some analysis. This story is a powerful tale, easily remembered, and brutal. But what function (form) did it serve?

The reference to a Landowner planting a vineyard is a reference to God (Owner) and Israel (vineyard) in the Prophet Isaiah. God called a people and planted them in the land of Canaan. The tenants then the Jews.

The Owner (God) sends an initial batch of servants whom they reject. These are the so-called major prophets of Jewish-Christian history: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah. The second batch of servants are the Minor Prophets (Amos, Hosea, Zechariah, etc.). Notice the reference to the second group being more numerous (12 Minor Prophets in the OT).

Jesus then of course is the Son of the Owner. Right here we know this is a later Christian interpretation being placed back in the mouth of Jesus. Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man (not Son of God--that is a later Christian belief).

The tenants kill the Landowner's son. The implication then is quite clear: the Jews killed Jesus. Because of their sin, God will abandon them to their fate and lease the land (revelation) to another people who will bring the fruit of redemption--that is the Gentiles or at least Christians.

And as Matthew would say, all of this was to fulfill what was written: "Have you not read that the rejected one is to become the cornerstone?" Jesus is here quoting the Psalms. The community of Matthew uses this quotation to argue that it is true representative of Judaism. Jesus' crucifixion was a sign of God's work. Though paradoxical, and even shameful in nature, God has redeemed (died for your sins) the people through this act.

Matthew's community consisted of Jewish-Christians....Jews who saw Jesus as the Messiah. Their message was not widely accepted by the Jewish community of the day. That is why Matthew says the priests and Pharisees knew that Jesus was speaking about them.

The Gospel of Matthew is the only gospel that records the crowds yelling to Pilate that "his blood be upon us and our children forever." Matthew's gospel, being perhaps the most Jewish in origin, is actually the most anti-jewish in nature (along with John, the other most deeply Jewish of the Gospels).

When that original context was forgotten. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and the religion of Gentiles, it is no longer a story about a fight within Judaism, but between Judaism and Christianity.

His blood is upon us was taking literally and is the basis for the charge (through the Middle Ages up until today in some circles sadly) that all Jews are "Christ-killers." It laid the groundwork in European psyche for later anti-Semitism (racism) and the gas chambers.

The Gospels, as opposed to Paul's letters are narrative versions of the kerygma--not biographies of Jesus. Christ died for your sins, in accordance with the Scriptures (Matthew quotes the Hebrew Bible as justification for his views). He was buried, rose, and appeared.

Historically Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the Romans. There was no historical trial before Pilate. No crowds shouting to crucify him. He would have just been executed like any other criminal according to the Romans. His body would not have been taken down by Joseph of Arimathea (who is a literary creation), but rather would have been thrown on a heap of corpses, like Holocaust/Iraqi mass graves. Hyenas, vultures, and dogs would have eaten the corpse.

No literal tomb and women rushing to it to prepare a body. All of that is a literary creation to convey the meaning of the kerygma: Christ died for your sins in accordance with the Scriptures, rose, and appeared....

The Gospels put the blame on the Jews--one out of anger for their not accepting the message, two for fear of the Romans. The Gospels scapegoat the Jewish people as truly as the Goat at Yom Kippur. As a result, the Jews became the sacrificial offering in the Shoah for the sins of humanity.

If one is struggling to find meaning beyond the literal with the NT in this day and age, one must wrestle with this issue. Can revelation come through texts with such vicous hatred? What does it mean to present in narrative-mythic form, religious beliefs?


At 8:54 PM, Blogger Jon said...

Your closing question really hits the mark. "What does it mean to present in narrative-mythic form, religious beliefs?"

One of the main surprises for me when I began reading Scriptures such as the Tao Te Ching, Dhammapada, Upanishads, Ashtvakra Gita, etc. was that for the the most part, the narrative was either absent, or just a small part of the text, with the emphasis on teaching clearly paramount.

On the other hand, the narratives of the Bible, Koran, and Hindu writings such as the Mahabharata (including the BG), beg to be taken literally, and taking them literally has at times been enforced by at least the religions of the first two.

Getting beyond the mythos not only takes an environment that encourages sincere personal engagement with the scriptures (including doubt), but also require the believer to have a higher-than average intellect and education.

Hence, mysticism has been usually an inner path for initiates and "the religious" who have the time, intelligence, and environment for going beyond the surface of the stories. And the same is true even for popular Buddhism and Taoism, which have developed reams of mythologies in their native cultures.


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