Monday, December 28, 2009

The canonical Gospels are anti-Semitic

Greetings.

Jewish date:  11 Ṭeveth 5770 (Parashath Wayḥi).

Today’s holidays:  Holy Innocents’ Day (Roman Catholicism).

Worthy cause of the day:  “Tell Obama: Stop the Violence in Sudan - The Petition Site”.

Topic 1:  “Profiling”.  This is a Dry Bones cartoon on political correctness applied to airport security in the United States.

Topic 2:  I am currently going through the New Testament in the original Koinē Greek—right now in the middle of Mark 9, to be precise—and as such I have been slowing working my way through my collection of Gospel-related movies.  Last Thursday night I watched the musical Jesus Christ Superstar (the 1973 version, which is inferior to the 2000 version), and finishing it with some extra time before bedtime, I also watched an included interview with the man responsible for it, Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Among other things, Webber claimed that Jesus Christ Superstar is not anti-Semitic, noting that there are both good and bad Jewish characters.  I beg to disagree and will attempt to prove that any Gospel-based movie which sticks close enough to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John is anti-Semitic.  To do this, let us examine all of Jesus’s opponents in the Gospels:

1) Herod the Great.  Religion:  Allegedly Judaism, but probably not Jewish according to Jewish law and certainly not practicing Judaism.  He was an Idumean.  The Idumeans were forcibly converted by the Hasmoneans/Maccabees, the only instance of forced conversion to Judaism in Jewish history, and as such the conversion was invalid.  Herod was no friend of anybody, Jewish or non-Jewish, and the Gospels depict him as trying to kill Jesus as a baby.

2) Herod Antipas.  Religion: uncertain.  He is depicted by the Gospels as not really caring if Jesus lives or dies when Pilate sends Jesus to him.  Mention is also made of a group known as “Herodians” who ganged up with the Pharisees against Jesus.

3) Pontius Pilate.  Religion:  ancient Roman religion.  He is infamous for being bloodthirsty, except in the Gospels, in which he is depicted as being reluctant to execute Jesus.  Pilate, of course, has a lot of Roman underlings.

4) Judas Iscariot.  Religion:  Judaism.  The Gospels claim that he is originally a follower of Jesus, but later betrays him to the “chief priests” for 30 pieces of silver.

5) The “chief priests”.  Probably this refers to the High Priest (hakKohen hagGadhol) and those associated with him.  At this point the High Priests got into office by bribing the Romans, and the Gospels depict the High Priest Caiaphas and his cronies as one of the driving forces to have Jesus executed, whether or not there was it was actually legal to do so.  The Jewish priesthood (kohanim) still survives today.

6) The Sadducees (Ṣidduqim).  A Jewish priestly and aristocratic faction.  This faction was very Temple-centered, and they became extinct with the destruction of the Second Temple.

7) The Pharisees.  The Pharisees were a Jewish populist faction, and they dominated in the Sanhedhrin, the Jewish supreme court.  Pharisaism went on to become the formal version of Judaism and is now known as Orthodox Judaism.  (Yes, your humble blogger is a Pharisee.)  The Pharisees are frequently depicted arguing with Jesus over matters of Jewish law, though their side of the argument is incomplete at best and at worst distorted or omitted.  Pharisaic tradition has the Pharisees as being in conflict with the Sadducees, High Priests, and Herod the Great, but the Gospel has them ganging up with pretty much anyone against Jesus.  The scholars of the Pharisees, the Scribes (Soferim), are also explicitly mentioned as being in conflict with Jesus; today they are known as rabbis.

8) “The mob” (hē okhlos).  Religions frequently have both formal versions and folk versions, and Judaism is no exception.  Jews of the time who had not accepted upon themselves to be a member of any of the formal groups would belong here.  “The mob” is depicted as going gaga over Jesus until he is arrested, at which point they suddenly turn against him and demand his execution.

Now, whom do the Gospels blame for the death of Jesus?  At the time of the Crucifixion, Herod the Great is dead, so he cannot be held accountable.  Herod Antipas is sent Jesus by Pontius Pilate, but he refuses to do anything and sends him back.  Pontius Pilate does not want to execute Jesus, but succumbs to the pressure from those around him and washes his hands to absolve himself of culpability.  Though the Romans perform the actual execution, responsibility in cast upon the Jews.  Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus.  The “chief priests” push to have Jesus executed.  “The mob” cries for Jesus to be executed and take upon themselves and their children responsibility for his execution.  Add to this that the Pharisees and Scribes, who represent the formal Judaism that survives past the destruction of the Second Temple, are in constant conflict with Jesus.  The only major Jewish religious faction at the end of the Second Temple Period which is not attacked or blamed in some way in the Gospels is the Essenes, but they lived out in the middle of nowhere, away from the action.  The message is simple:  Judaism is in opposition to the teachings of Jesus, and the Jews are responsible for his death.  Reading it otherwise is at best very, very difficult.  I fully realize that many Christians have turned against the anti-Semitic attitudes of the Gospels as of late—the Gospels not being prophetic books, which allows a good deal of leeway in their interpretation and disagreement with them—but let us not pretend that the story as presented canonically is anything innocuous.

Topic 3:  To end on a lighter note, “ceiling cat?”:
funny pictures of cats with captions
Ceiling Cat is the LOLcat equivalent of God, and this picture reminds me of a naïve interpretation of deities.  Back when I was in kindergarten, I attended a Jewish school, and they taught us a little song about YHWH (AKA HashShem, God of Judaism):

HashShem is here.
HashShem is there.
HashShem is truly everywhere.


HashShem is here.
HashShem is there.
HashShem is truly everywhere.


Up, up, down, down,
Right, left, all around,
Here, there, everywhere,
That’s where He can be found.


Up, up, down, down,
Right, left, all around,
Here, there, everywhere,
That’s where He can be found.

Being only five years old and not very theologically sophisticated at the time, I did not have a clue what the song was about.  I envisioned a man who was around a lot rather than a panentheistic or transcendental deity.  The cat in this picture does not seem much better off, as he/she seems to think that his deity literally lives in the ceiling.

Peace.

Aaron
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