By Richard Edmondson
You could perhaps consider this a primer for Christian Zionists, although others, possibly even atheists, might find it interesting as well. Here is the question: If Jesus was a rebel, then who was he rebelling against? Jackson Browne, although his song is quite nice, doesn’t really give us an answer. Let us then examine the matter ourselves and see if we can reach a conclusion.
Was Jesus in revolt against Rome? This is something Jews often try and argue. Jesus, they tell us, was nothing more than a Jewish nationalist, who, like many other Jewish nationalists of the day, sought an end to the Roman occupation of Palestine (or the “land of Israel” as they now like to claim it). Some of these Jewish intellects have even gone so far as to hypothesize that Jesus practicedPharisaic Judaism himself! But of course the preponderance of evidence does not support these claims.
And Jesus, answering, said unto them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
The above quotation, from Mark 12:17, is one of the few statements from Jesus regarding Roman rule over Palestine that can be found in the canonized gospels, and it would suggest he had no strong grievances or objections to it. Of course, that’s only the canonized material. What of other early texts? What, say, of the Gnostic sources? Or the vast body of apocryphal writings? Is there anything in any of this material to support the notion that Jesus’ mission in life was setting up a Jewish state? The answer is little to none. Certainly there were a great many Jews who did have this ambition. One was Judas of Gamala, who often today is often referred to as Judas the Galilean. In 6 A.D., when Jesus was a child, Judas led a revolt against Rome. The Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote in the late first century, tells us a little bit about this revolt. He says Judas was joined by a Pharisee priest named Zadok, and that both of them exhorted the nation to rise up in response to Roman taxation and a census that was to be taken. Rising up against taxation sounds reasonable, right? No one, after all, wants to pay taxes, least of all to a foreign occupier. But Josephus goes on, in Book XVIII of his work Antiquities of the Jews, to tell us that Judas “was the author of the fourth branch of Jewish philosophy.” In the first century there were four main Jewish sects: The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots. Judas was the founder of the Zealots. Josephus goes on:
All sorts of misfortunes also sprang from these men, and the nation was infected with this doctrine to an incredible degree; one violent war came upon us after another, and we lost our friends which used to alleviate our pains; there were also very great robberies and murder of our principal men. This was done in pretense indeed for the public welfare, but in reality for the hopes of gain to themselves; whence arose seditions, and from them murders of men, which sometimes fell on those of their own people, (by the madness of these men towards one another, while their desire was that none of the adverse party might be left,) and sometimes on their enemies…
These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord. They also do not value dying any kinds of death, nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor can any such fear make them call any man lord.
What Josephus is telling us here is that the Zealots believed they should follow no laws other than what they perceived to be the laws of God. Moreover, they had no qualms about killing people. And after all, why should they? They were doing God’s work—or at any rate what they believed to be God’s work. In other words, the Zealots firmly held that the Jewish people were “chosen,” and it was their goal, as members of the fourth sect of Judaism, to convince the rest of the nation that Jews should recognize no law imposed by Rome…or any other earthly entity for that matter.
A Jewish state that recognizes no international laws. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
So did Jesus have anything in common with these people? In Matthew 10:4 we are told that one of his 12 disciples was a man named Simon, who was known as “the Zealot” (see also, Luke 6:15), and Jewish scholars today point to this as evidence of Jesus’ putative Jewish nationalism. Are they justified in doing so? We can probably conjecture that Simon did indeed at some point have some affiliation with the Zealot Party, but does this mean the teachings of Jesus and those of the Zealots were mutually compatible? Or is it possible Simon was a Zealot before he met Jesus? Was he perhaps in the audience that day Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and could he have been so inspired by what he heard, either then or on some other occasion, that he decided to leave the Zealots and become a follower of Jesus instead? We don’t know, and this is all speculative of course, but if Simon had been a Zealot for a long time, it is most likely he still would have been called by that name regardless. How many people today still retain titles for positions they no longer hold? I’ll bet Bill Clinton still gets called “Mr. President” at times.
The important question is not whether one of the disciples was or wasn’t a Zealot; the important question we must ask ourselves is this: was it Jesus’ goal to set up in Palestine a Jewish state, a that would adhere to no earthly code of law, that would savagely attack other states and peoples at will? Does any shred of evidence exist that would prove such a claim? Again the answer is no. Nothing. Nothing can be found, not in a single ancient text, either canonized or non-canonized, either Gnostic or Orthodox, that would suggest he longed for such a thing, or even, as we have seen, that he had any particular beef with Rome as the ruling power at all. So something else was driving this rebel, and indeed Jackson Browne has that part right—Jesus was indeed a rebel. But who or what was he rebelling against?
Could it have been the rich? We are perhaps getting closer here, for certainly we have statements on record, such as Luke 18:25, in which Jesus clearly seems to take a dim view of great wealth and those who devote themselves to amassing it:
How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
So yes, we have this and other similar statements, but at the same time, we should also remember that one of Jesus’ especially devoted followers was Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man who is mentioned in all four canonized gospels and who most likely was even a member of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. It was in a prepared tomb belonging to Joseph that Jesus’ body was laid after the crucifixion. Mark 15:43 describes Joseph as an “honorable counselor” who “waited for the kingdom of God”—from which we can probably conclude that Jesus’ statements on the rich were never intended as blanket condemnations of all rich people per se. So once again it seems we must look elsewhere.
To try and answer our question once and for all, let us revisit the subject of the Zealots. In his book Revolution in Judea, the Jewish author Hyam Maccoby tells us the Zealots took their name from Phinehas, who in the Old Testament book of Numbers is described as having been “zealous” for his God. If we look at the story of Phinehas we find not only that he was a Jewish nationalist, but also a Jewish supremacist who was opposed—violentlyso—to interracial marriage and dating. The following comes from Numbers 25, beginning with verse 1:
While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to engage in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshipping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.
The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them, and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.”
So Moses said to Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshipping the Baal of Peor.
Then an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear through both of them—through the Israelite and into the woman’s body. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.
Bloody as it is, we have here an interesting story—and a revealing one as well, for at this point, the Old Testament writer tells us how pleased God was with Phinehas’ double murder:
The Lord said to Moses, “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.
The story of Phinehas seems to have been a case of Jewish racism run wild. And thisis the man after whom the Zealots modeled themselves? How would Jesus have viewed such people? Consider his words to a group of Jews in the Temple, as recorded in John 8:43-44:
Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Jews have long pointed to this passage from John and blamed it for a host of their troubles down through the centuries. Many people today are under the mistaken belief that Christianity’s narrative of the Jews killing Christ caused the rise of anti-Semitism, but as I wrote in a previous post, anti-Semitism predated Christianity by at least 400 years. Moreover, since most if not all of his own followers were Jews, it is obvious that in John 8:44 Jesus is not speaking of all Jews. So which Jews was he referring to? When he said, “You belong to your father, the devil,” who did he mean? Perhaps if we put the quote in its proper context it will become clear.
Eleven verses prior to this, in John 8:33, we have the same group of Jews boasting to Jesus that they are children of Abraham. And then in verse 39 they again reiterate, “Abraham is our father.” It is obvious that for these Jews, being children of Abraham makes them, in their own eyes, divinely “chosen.” We should also keep in mind that the temple, where the entire exchange is taking place, had an official policy of exclusion of Gentiles. Those ascending the steps of the temple came initially to an outer court where Gentiles wereallowed, and which was in fact called the Court of the Gentiles, but beyond this, Gentiles were forbidden from entering, under penalty of death. It would be worth remembering, too, that there were strict Jewish laws governing purity and which attempted to discourage contact with Gentiles. Under these laws, Gentiles were often regarded as unclean.
So what does all this tell us?
Could it possibly mean that Jesus was a rebel against Jewish supremacy?
It is beginning to appear that way.
If we jump to Matthew chapter 23, we again find Jesus in heated discussion with a group of Jews, who, this time, are clearly identified as Pharisees. Keep in mind what Josephus told us about the Pharisees and the Zealots being closely aligned with one another. Much of Matthew 23 is filled with Jesus venting his anger at the Pharisees. I won’t quote the whole thing, but here is an interesting excerpt:
Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are…
Woe to you, blind guides! You say, “If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath. You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, “If anyone swears by the alter, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath. You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the alter that makes the gift sacred?
Notice what Jesus is saying here about the tendency of the Pharisees to twist and turn oaths, or, as it were, legal regulations, to their own advantage. The Pharisees were proponents of a vast body of decrees which were then known as the “oral law”—rabbinical pronouncements that later, starting in the third century, were meticulously compiled and written down. Today we now know that body of writing as—the Talmud.
The Talmud tells us, among other things, that “when a Jew murders a gentile, there will be no death penalty. What a Jew steals from a gentile he may keep.” It is a voluminous body of writing that regards non-Jews as subhuman, and much of it seems particularly intended to incite hatred for Gentiles among Jews. Is it possible that Jesus—2,000 years ago—recognized the danger such an ideology poses to humanity? I would submit that the answer to our question, then, is that Jesus was rebelling against his own people, or, more specifically, against that predominant strain among them that causes large numbers of them to view themselves as chosen and therefore superior to others. Many Jews today,including Jewish scholars, would say no, you’ve got it all wrong. Jesus was a Jewish nationalist. But they should take their cue from the writers of the Talmud, who were under no illusion about the matter. In the Talmud, Jesus is depicted as boiling in excrement in hell for his “idolatry.” Christianity, under rabbinical teaching, is considered an idolatrous religion, and its founder’s execution is regarded as justified. Here is what Israel Shahak says on the matter in his book, Jewish History, Jewish Religion:
According to the Talmud, Jesus was executed by a proper rabbinical court for idolatry, inciting other Jews to idolatry, and contempt of rabbinical authority. All classical Jewish sources which mention his execution are quite happy to take responsibility for it; in the talmudic account the Romans are not even mentioned.
So where does this all of this leave us today? Last year, a group of Israelis held a protestagainst interracial dating, or specifically against Jewish girls dating Arab men. The protest took place in the city of Bat Yam and was organized by a group calling itself Jews for a Jewish Bat Yam. Sounds a lot like Phinehas, doesn’t it? I’ll bet if he were alive today he would have attended the protest. We also have in Israel an organization called Lehava, whose main purpose is opposing marriages between Jewish women and non-Jewish men. Recently the group circulated a letter, signed onto by the wives of 27 prominent rabbis, calling on Jewish women not to date Arabs, not to work in places where Arabs are employed, or to volunteer for national service with them.
If Jews were an insignificant fringe minority, and if Israel did not have nuclear weapons, all of this would perhaps be of no great import. But Jews today stand at the pinnacle of world power. This is apparent to all but the most purposefully blind. Their pro-Israel lobbies, in one Western country after another, have gained control over decision-making to an astonishing degree. Consider the fact that in Psalm 110 we can read of God promising to make the Gentile nations into “footstools” for the Jews. Today we see that the U.S., Canada, France, Britain, Germany, and a great many other nations besides, have in fact become just that—footstools for the leaders of Israel.
A lot of people today are fond of comparing America with ancient Rome. The power that America holds over other countries is indeed somewhat comparable to that exerted by the Romans over the many lands and peoples they conquered and occupied two millennia ago. But there is one very major difference between these two empires: in ancient Rome, Jews did not hold power anywhere near commensurate to that which they presently exert over America. Nowhere near it. As I say, Jews have reached a sort of pinnacle or apex on the global stage. The level of influence they have accrued is unprecedented. Hardly any wonder, then, that so many individual Jews have adopted the supremacist beliefs of the Chabad Lubavitch organization, coming to view themselves in the process, either consciously or subconsciously, as members of a superior, more intelligent species of life. The extent of Jewish dominion in the world today would almost defy any other explanation. The question the rest of us need to consider is just what is the explanation. How did such a tiny group of people come to have such ascendancy over a huge and apparently growing swath of humanity? What accounts for the phenomenon?
The rebel Jesus maybe knew the answer to that, and we can perhaps read his words for hints, some more explicit than others. Whatever the answer may be, it is ancient. It did not begin in 1948 with the establishment of the state of Israel, or in 1897 with the first Zionist congress. The explanation, I have a feeling, is much older. How does Christianity figure into all this? It’s perhaps an interesting, nay even crucial, question. Jewish attacks on Christianity in the modern era have obviously taken a very different form from their attacks against Islam—but they have, in their own way, been just as persistent and ongoing. We see Christians and their faith ridiculed and demeaned in Hollywood movies, TV shows, and music videos. In fact, about the only Christians who don’t get mocked and caricatured in US mainstream media are those of the Middle East, who are of course routinely portrayed as victims of Muslim persecution.
The hows and the whys of all this are perhaps many and varied, but what it says to me, and what I believe in my heart to be true, is that Jesus, though he lived 2,000 years ago, remains a major thorn, obstacle and stumbling block for a great many modern-day Jews. And that no matter how many police state laws our AIPAC-vetted congress may enact, no matter how many of us they may round up and put into FEMA camps or some other detention facility, no matter how many wars they may start, no matter how many innocents they slaughter—no matter all of this, as long as there remain on this earth those who exalt this rebel, who follow his teachings, and who celebrate his birth each year, their control over humanity will never—never—be complete or total. And this they know.