Monday, June 6, 2011


"But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me."


Of all the passages I've looked at so far, this is probably the one which is most disturbing. Aside from the one where Jesus looks like a pedophile:

(I'm trying to turn this image viral to piss off just about any- and everyone. Spread it around, but remember that you saw it here first.)

In any case, what's going on here is that Jesus has just given the "Parable of the Ten Minas," which is apparently about how good investors get into heaven, and "...them what's got, get." Then he turns around and drops this bomb.

Most of the surprising $#*! that comes out of Jesus' mouth in the gospels can be traced back to his apocalyptic nature-that is, you can kind of see where he's coming from in light of the fact that he's telling people in no uncertain terms that the end of the world is going to come in their lifetimes and they'd better be ready for judgement. This is really no different, though it seems to come from another angle-that being that Jesus himself is going to be the badass smack-down daddy of it all. Most of his other proclamations (turn the other cheek, don't try to get out of being a slave, don't get married and cut off your balls) come from the standpoint that there just isn't time to worry about petty stuff like indignation, freedom and child-rearing. This one is pure egotism on his part-"I AM IN CHARGE, DON'T QUESTION ME!"

I will point out that a charge leveled by many christians at the Islamic faith is that it seeks to spread " by the sword." No less a spokesman than the current Pope evidently made this assertion recently in fact. I needn't enumerate the lessons of history that indicate that perhaps this is a case of leaving the log in one's own eye.

I recently was engaged in a conversation about this and was called to task by someone with an apparently devotional bent:
Is it unclear that Jesus was not commanding his listeners in that passage? This was part of the story, the parable, of the nobleman. Those are the words of the nobleman, not Jesus.

He went on to admonish me:
You cannot just pick up the Bible and pretend to know all the meanings of any Aramaic/Greek/English text without some scholarship. However, you would think this was pretty clear as the punctuation quotes in current Bibles delineate who is speaking.
It took some gall to make a claim like that after asserting the need for "scholarship." In the Koine Greek manuscripts, there were no spaces between the words let alone punctuation, therefor no quotation marks. It is a myopic scholar who overlooks such an obvious contextual juxtaposition.

There are several other "scholarly" reasons to question his claim that Jesus was quoting a character in his story though. First and most telling is the fact that the story of the 10 Minas is found in Matthew as well, indicating that it was a part of what scholars call the Q source (for quelle, a German word for "sayings.") Most of the story, with a few edits, is a word-for-word match between the two gospels, yet Jesus doesn't demand the slaughter in Matthew. This would imply that Luke's use of it came from the "L" source and was inserted in this place for no particular reason. Keep in mind that the writers of the Bible weren't putting chapter and verse numbers in as they wrote (that part wasn't added until the 1500s by William Wittingham) so if this was a historically accurate attribution to Jesus, it may or may not have even been uttered on the same day as the preceding parable.

Further, it makes less sense for the character of the Master to say this than for the character of Jesus to (whether your perspective is devotional or historical.) The master is already in a position of power over these people-he doesn't need to aspire to be king over them and wouldn't care if they wanted him to be king or not. Jesus on the other hand at this point talks non-stop about the coming Kingdom and judgement and (especially in Luke) identifies himself as the "Son of Man," the true power player in the coming kingdom. (In Mark, he always puts the "Son of Man" in third person, as though it's someone else. By the time Matthew and Luke are writing, they decide to give Jesus the title and make the appropriate changes.)

Another scholarly aspect to consider in this case is the story in its context as a Lukan parable. Luke has Jesus giving lessons like this in a consistent manner: first he tells a strange narrative, then he kind of puts you down for being too stupid to understand it and finally he tells you what the he really meant or why he told it to you. That middle portion is always marked in the same way: with the phrase "I tell you" or in some translations "I say unto you" (Greek lego λεγω Strong's 3004.) The call to violence comes after this portion of the story, so if it is a part of the story it really needs to be considered as a part of the coda or explanation, not a rejoining of the dialog. In no other place in Luke does Jesus continue the quotation of a character after this point.

But let's say for a moment that I accepted (and I do not) that the writer of this gospel really intended for these words to be spoken by Jesus only as a quotation of a fictional character and not as his own command to the assembled audience-he's still not off the hook for the charge of inciting violence. Here's an extended portion of the pertinent passage:
20 “Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. 21 For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’
24 “And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’ 25 (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’) 26 ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 27 But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’”

Consider the point that Jesus is trying to make here-to use the language of the devotionally oriented here, ostensibly it seems that those who exercise spiritual austerity on earth will receive great spiritual gifts in heaven, and those who keep it to themselves will be punished-in any case, the "Master" is exercising judgements and doling out rewards and punishments. If the command to slay non-believers is that of a character in Jesus' story and not that of Jesus, then it is fair to ask who the "Master" in the story represents, and the answer is clear: he represents the Judge in the final judgement, the decision maker about the rewards of the Kingdom of Heaven, the son of man himself.

I'll agree with my accuser here: you can't just pick up the Bible and pretend to know all the meanings without some scholarship (which arguably is a fault of many modern churches in their attempts to reconcile their own existence with their biblical roots,) but you also can't make Jesus someone he wasn't in the context of the Bible just because it's uncomfortable or inconsistent with the picture the church has sold you ever since early Sunday School Classes and Davey and Goliath reruns. The Prince of Peace was apparently not very tolerant of people who wouldn't just fall into his program.

No comments:

Post a Comment