Friday, January 21, 2011

Mark 12:25: You want to know what heaven is like? It's like not-being-married.

For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.
(Also Matt 22:30 and Luke 20:35)

In context, the Saducees, who are more interested in Temple sacrifice as a means of ensuring well-being in this life than interpreting the law of Moses to make sure you make it in to the next one, are trying to trip Jesus up with a catch-22 in the law. Essentially, the "Law of Moses" says that if a widow is left childless by her husband's death and there is an unmarried brother-in-law available, she and the brother-in-law are to marry. The Saducees concoct a hypothetical situation where there are seven such brothers, and each takes a turn marrying the woman and dying without offspring. The Saducees ask Jesus whose wife she'll be in the afterlife (presumably either the first or the last brother to marry her I guess, but you can see how they thought they had him good.) Jesus first insults them, asking more or less "Don't you know the law and the prophets or the power of God or [and I'm guessing here] are you just stupid?" He then ruins the plans of couples who plan to spend eternity together.

This is probably why the unpleasant "...'til Death do you part" corollary is inserted into the otherwise joyous wedding vows of most christian couples.

Nonetheless, this is more evidence that Jesus wasn't a big proponent of marriage. Neither was Paul in 1 Corrinthians. You don't hear this passage a lot from the American Family Association types, or from anyone whose financial well-being is based on the idea of familial regeneration to populate an organization from century to century. I guess you can't blame them for decontextualizing the Bible so often.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Matt 19:12:If you really want to go to heaven, DON'T get married and cut off your balls

10His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.11But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.12For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Any church that wants to last more than one generation is going to have a problem with this line. Indeed, the proto-orthodox church had to brand ascetic sects as heretical in order to continue receiving tithes after the initial converts were made. The greek for the word in question is εὐνοῦχος (eunouchos) and it is rooted in the word for bedroom, which makes sense in that men with large harems would use castrati to guard their women, thinking that the lack of testes would render these guards uninterested in sex with their charges. This evidently was not the case (see Ulpian in the Roman Digest of Law or Hammurabi's Code.) In any case, it's pretty clear that Jesus is talking about someone doing something painful or difficult to himself to make it hard or impossible to procreate. Even clearer is the message that it's better not to get involved with women at all, but it's undeniable here that he teaches that someone who is dedicated to the Kingdom of Heaven will not get married.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mark 7:27-Greek people are as lowly as Dogs so I won't heal your sick Syrophenician Daughter

25For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: 26The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. 27But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. 28And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs. 29And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.

It's easy to look past this fact, but the synoptic gospels pretty much make Jesus out as a bigot. Or at least as a nationalist, or a Jewish separatist. Now when you look at it, Jesus doesn't say he won't help the woman, just that she's low on his priority list apparently ("the Children" here are the nation of Israel, meaning both the Judeans in the south and anyone the disciples might find of the "lost tribes" of the North.) It's only when the woman says "You're right, I'm a dog," that Jesus relents and heals the little girl.

In any case, he wasn't a big fan of "greeks." Matt 15:21 says the woman is a Canaanite (which means if you insist on infallible Biblical literalism that this was a separate incident and that Jesus pulled this insult out of his bag of tricks at least twice.) He wasn't big on Samaritans (a group of Jews that broke away from the Jerusalem Temple in a disagreement over where sacrifices were supposed to take place, at least one of whom was decent in a parable of Jesus') or Gentiles either (Matt 10:5):

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7

Now in context, let's say you're a Jew of that era. Your people have spent the last 300 years under the thumb of the Greeks (since Alexander's conquest of the world) and now the Romans have pretty much bought out that franchise. In recent memory was the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, who tried to hellenize the Jewish people by outlawing the practice of circumcision. Currently, the Romans keep centurions stationed at the Antonia next to the temple (within mooning distance, anyway, according to Josephus.) Chances are, you aren't going to be too fond of these folks, so maybe we can understand Jesus as a human being here. Still, it's not hard to see why this incident doesn't get a lot of mention in the pulpits on Sunday morning.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mark 10:28-31:Peter, I'll reward you for leaving your family to fend for themselves!

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Ouch. First, you're supposed to leave your wife and family to fend for themselves to follow this guy, and then you're going to "trade up" as it were in kingdom come. Perhaps this is why there is so little shame in having a new "trophy wife" today among so many politicians who confess their allegiance to various charismatic groups.

What's interesting is that just 18 passages before this, Jesus makes the act of leaving your wife out as the one sin that might be seen as unforgivable (Mark 10:6-12. Oddly, this is the passage most often cited as objecting to homosexual activity and same sex marriage-but again, that's for another post at another time.)

This is one of those little gems that is almost word-for-word copied in Luke (18:28) and Matthew (19:27) so scholars tend to give it a lot of weight in terms of likelihood of having been a real exchange. In any case, it appears that to Jesus the sanctity of marriage is violable under some circumstances-namely, that you use following Jesus as an excuse for it. Conceivably, that means it would be perfectly acceptable to join a monastery or become an itinerant preacher if one got tired of providing for one's family.

Matt 10:34-I came to start a battle between the parents and children of a household

"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.35For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.36And a man's foes shall be they of his own household."

This is pretty straightforward "fightin' words." As J.D. Crossan (the charming grey-haired, bespectacled scholar you see in all the documentaries who makes you think "That guy should play the guy who runs the orphanage in every movie ever where the orphans are well treated" when you see him) points out, Jesus has a generational conflict in mind. If you look at who is against who (and take into account the norm that a woman would go live with her husband's family in that culture, thus exposing her explicitly to her mother-in-law) this becomes apparent.

This fits nicely into the apocalyptic context-the Messiah, after all, was supposed to be a great warrior-one who was anointed by God to lead the bitch-slapping the Roman overlords had coming to them (as opposed to the Isaiah 9:5 "Prince of Peace." And it's pretty clear that the "peace" expected in that passage was expected to come from a bloody victory-but that's another post.)

There's no indication that Jesus wants to come off as anything but a bad-ass here. He leads up to it with the language of judgement and follows it with the message to John the Baptizer, so he's pretty clearly in the apocalyptic vein when he says this.

What's probably most interesting is the way in which this appears to clash with the fifth commandment (Ex. 20:12):

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you."

I suppose you can be "at variance" with your father and still honor him, but given the ideal that Jesus appeared to preach that one should follow the spirit of the law and not just the word, again it seems that maybe to reconcile these ideas one has to make a few intellectual exceptions.

Luke 14:26-You must hate your family.

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple."

This is a good place to start-one of the most troubling lines in the Bible for modern apologists. It appears to fly in the face of the the idea of modern nuclear family values. Of course, the standard explanation is something along the lines of a comparison: "Jesus doesn't mean you really need to hate your family, he just means that next to your love for him, it should seem like you hate everything else." Even agnostic critical scholar Bart Ehrman has made the argument that this is a comparative statement, placing Jesus in the apocalyptic context and making the kingdom of heaven the thing that should receive the higher value.

The problem is, the text doesn't bear this out. There is no comparative term-not in the KJV, the Greek or the Vulgate-to lend support to this idea. The character Jesus in this gospel simply comes out and says to hate all these people you're related to, to bear your own burdens and follow him. It is preceded with the parable of the Bridegroom's banquet for strangers and is followed by the parable of the tower. There is no "next to me" or "compared to your love for me" anywhere, either as an idea or a statement.

In terms of synoptic parallel, this passage is often paired with Matt 10:37:
"Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. "

Fair enough, both end with the idea of taking up the cross. And the softening of the language is well explained by the "de-apocalypticising" of the Jesus movement over time due to the failure of the expectation of the son of man's imminent appearance. However, in Matthew the verse is preceded by an even more troubling line from the "Prince of Peace." (More on that in the next post.) Moreover in Matthew the Bridegroom's feast is found in a completely different place, and Matthew's comparative terms are followed by the report to John the Baptist, so a literalist's plea to Matthew to explain and soften the language are probably a little intellectually disingenuous.

Keep in mind, the purpose of this blog is not to judge what Jesus said, to verify the historical nature of the Bible, to proselytize, to cause doubt or to discover any deeper truth in the Bible. The purpose is to say what is obvious and muse in a (hopefully) amusing manner over that. And poke fun at people with laugh-out-loud-ha-ha-funny-viewpoints on the topic at hand.

Jesus NEVER said that... Did he?

I was raised in the United Church of Christ and confirmed into the Presbyterian church. Over this time, I liked a lot of the messages that I got about my heritage, my religion and this guy we called Jesus.

After confirmation, like many people, I went to college instead of church, but didn't really lose my interest or my "faith." As my life progressed, I met many people with many viewpoints-from the moderate to the extreme. I encountered King-James-Only-literalists who believed that God magically protects the words of that particular version of the Bible (but presumably not the little girls getting raped who pray for his help in stopping that crime.) I met liberation theologians who seemed to cast Jesus in a roll that was as non-confrontational as Ghandi but as revolutionary as Che Guevara. I met "gospel of wealth" types who drove Lexuses and Hummers to church on Sunday, but never through the eye of a needle. I met people with laugh-out-loud views on the Bible (okay I'll just say it-I mean Mormons and Snake Handlers.)

During all that time, I think my biggest struggle was, as with most young men in the church, the teachings on sex. I had a lot of gay friends who I didn't think deserved to burn in hell the way the Falwells of the world said they would. I liked nookie and wasn't ready to get married, but always from the back of my head the word "FORNICATION" shot as though I were being accused by a shakey-legged tent-revivalist from Alabama. So I began to try to resolve my issues with the faith.

I hadn't considered up until this point the actual role of the bible in my life. I had a couple of friends who were very fundamentalist in their views, telling me it was the ultimate authority on everything, that every word was protected from corruption, that it had only one author, God, who dictated it to numerous secretaries. I had Catholic friends who told me not to worry about the Bible either way because I was going to hell for not being Catholic.

I also was introduced at intervals to the ideas we would consider "Neo-Platonism." I knew a little about Biblical history in context and became fascinated with that world at some point after college. I have had a fascination with ancient cultures-Egypt, Rome, Macedonia, Persia, etc.-since early childhood, and ancient Israel really piqued my imagination. I read Goodspeed and Barthels on the history of the Bible and the world that contextualized it. I read the "Lost" Gospels, so I knew about some of the non-canonical stories floating around about Jesus, things like making clay birds fly and killing and raising his playmates in Nazareth, and came to understand (wrongly) like many people that the Gospel of Thomas was the source for a lot of Matthew and Luke.

I started in my mid thirties to suspect God wasn't quite what we'd always had him sold to us as, or maybe it was that Christianity wasn't quite what I thought it was, but nothing really manifested.

I prayed a simple prayer of thanks every night as a child ("Thank you God for the world so sweet..." and the Lord's Prayer ("Our Father , who art in Heaven...") every night of my adult life. I couldn't sleep unless I'd done so. I always included special pleas a the end including a plea to be blessed and kept well.

Then, at the age of 38, I developed some serious health problems that left me asking "Why me, God?" Scoff if you will at the cliché nature of the "why do bad things happen to good people" or "why is there suffering refrains." The sufferer cannot belittle the problems of his life by stepping back and getting academic.

So I went looking for God, and the obvious place to look was the Bible. It's the common denominator of the denominations. Even Catholics, who believe ultimately authority comes from apostolic succession (thus leading to the inescapable conclusion that God and Jesus wanted all those child molesters put in places of power over helpless children) have the scripture at the center of worship. (In fact, they have an expanded version of it.) I bought version after version of the Bible-NSV, KJV, Amplified, parallel gospels, the "Scholar's version," the KJV "Designed to be read as Living Literature" (meaning it had chapter and verse headings removed, used only one column per page and it didn't repeat itself in the places where material was repeated from previous books.)

I consulted the writings of all the "Popular Scholars" you see on the History Channel at Christmas and Easter, guys like John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman, James Tabor, David Volpe, the Meyers, Shaye Cohen, James Strange... the list was endless, and included believers (the majority) and agnostics/atheists alike. I purchased or downloaded every documentary and lecture I could find on the subjects of Biblical history, Biblical archaeology and Biblical textual criticism. I would find answers.

What I determined is that the God I'd come to know and love was not in that Bible. I started to believe that the purpose of the Bible was man's attempt to blame his misbehavior on the diety.

The Old Testament read like a "Peanuts" cartoon, where the Jews were Charlie Brown hoping to kick the football of divine favor out of the hands of Lucy (played by Yaweh) and telling themselves "It will be different this time. He'll leave the football there long enough and we won't get enslaved by anyone this go-round." And Lucy always still managed to yank that football away. You can see them going from "we're being punished for not being Jewish enough" to "it must be because God's enemy is in charge right now and he'll make even the score eventually" in the space of about ten books.

The New Testament is no better-a mishmash of biographies with different viewpoints and out and out contradictions, letters from a guy who never met Jesus before the crucifixion, letters from other guys pretending to be that guy 200 or so years after he'd died, sermons that got mislabeled as letters and more letters from people who had names like the names in the lists of apostles. These letters, mind you, in no way present any continuous or consistent viewpoints on almost any subject. In the early ones, women are seen as equal partners. Later, they are to be kept barefoot, pregnant and silent. The letter writers' views on how you go to heaven are at odds with what Jesus says about it.

Most shocking to me was what I didn't find in the Bible. It turns out that no where is it even hinted at that when you die, your "soul" splits off from your body and goes to heaven. What it says about the "resurrection" is quite different. Jesus sometimes claims he isn't God (or even a decent human being.) He doesn't know that to get to heaven all you have to do is believe he died and was resurrected. He doesn't know when the end of the world will be exactly, but he guarantees people who hear his words will be alive to hear it (incidentally, if anyone knows any 2000-year-old Palestinians present at the Sermon on the Mount, I'd give a chunk of my brain to meat them.) Jesus never breathes a word about homosexuality. He never says to anyone that it's better to settle down and have kids than to remain a bachelor. Mary Magdalene is never identified as a prostitute. We don't know who all the 12 disciples were.

When I really got into it, the text revealed itself to be highly flawed. Judas seems to have died in two different ways. Jesus is said to have died on two different days, and his attitude towards his death varies from telling to telling so much that he appears to be schizoid. Joseph and Mary are said to have been in Bethlehem for two different reasons, and Jesus' lineage is given twice, both times to prove he descended from the line of David, but the order and number and names of his ancestors are completely at odds with one another. Paul tells the story of his conversion like a big-fish story, adding more and more details each time that don't appear to be consistent with the previous tellings, and he doesn't appear to know more than two or three of the things Jesus taught. If this was dictated to multiple people by a deity, it was a highly forgetful deity.

Despite all this, I remain a believer. Maybe that's not right-it's more that I'm highly suspicious that there is a God, but I know for damn sure it's not the one(s) described in the pages of that book. And possibly surprisingly after all I've said here, I still believe the Holy Bible in all its forms is the greatest book ever written (followed closely by "The Satanic Verses" by Salmon Rushdie. The irony there is only apparent, not real.)

So to amuse myself and put that hobby to good use, I've decided to write this blog. I'm not here to win converts to the faith, obviously. Neither would I wish-EVER-to try to convince someone that their faith tradition is flawed and that they are wrong to belong to it. All I hope to do is to point out some of the more surprising aspects of the scripture, things that are misunderstood, ignored, avoided, explained away or just plain lied about by the orthodox faiths, and to muse about them in a snarky, hopefully funny way.

Please note the following intentions:
First, though the blog is called $#*! that Jesus Said, I have no intention of limiting myself to the words that Jesus uttered. The prophets, "Moses," Paul and the authors of the other epistles all had some memorable lines.
Second, everyone is encouraged to leave whatever comments they like. I have no intention of ever responding to even one of them. If you go trolling here, it won't be my strings you're pulling. I will however remove patently offensive content as soon as I identify it.
Third, I don't intend to set a schedule of any kind for myself. I don't want to get a certain number of posts in before the end of the year, or to commit to an entry a week or anything like that.
Fourth, if you have a suggestion for an entry, I won't commit to giving you credit if you email it to me. But go ahead and email it to me.

To paraphrase Paul, ("I am neither a prophet or the son of a prophet,") I am neither a historian or the son of a historian. (Okay, technically my dad's degree is in History, but he works for an Ag Services company, so I can comfortably say that. Don't get me wrong-the man is brilliant and still has an interest in history, as well as several other intellectual pursuits.) I'm not a professional scholar in other words, nor do I have very much formal schooling in this. (I am however an ordained Reverend in one of those churches you used to get your ordination from out of the back of magazines. As far as seminary goes, I can only claim to have attended the same one as St. Paul himself-which is to say, none, ever.) So take what I write with a grain of salt.

I probably do have a "point" to make, an axe to grind with my own traditions. I kind of feel like I got the sleazy used car salesman speeches for my whole life, so in a way, this is taking them to court. Still, I won't be dishonest about the scripture. I'll try to recognize and (to an extent) respect the views of "believers" as well as scholars and out-and-out atheists alike.

But mostly, I just want to surprise you with a lot of things you probably have read, but didn't realize you knew.