Stop Forcing Ancient Figures to Fit your Ideological Perspectives

There is a word for trying to force false theological meanings upon ancient texts; it’s call eisegesis.  So when you tie a figure like Jesus to a political or ideological message, you’re committing the same error.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a Tea Party supporter who believes in a pro-war, white-majority Jesus or  you’re a democrat trying to make Jesus into some sort of free-health-care supporting, dove-like hippie.  This goes especially for those bloggers who so adamantly discourage those on one side of the fence from doing it; don’t in turn pick up the banner, in the same facet, by posting a sign like this:

First, stop trying to make a point by saying Jesus wasn’t white.  Art History will show you quite clearly that Jesus was whatever the demographic wanted him to be; he has been a Greek, a white Roman with curly hair and no beard, a Jew holding a magic wand, a man of African descent, a olive-toned individual, and he’s even been made of chocolate.  So it is unfair to deny one part of his ancient heritage tradition.  Still, he was not an average white American.   That is not the same thing as saying Jesus wasn’t white.  If such a figure existed historically, we don’t have any archaeological evidence to base a study on to determine his color.  Also, Obama is an African-American; your sign makes it seem like he isn’t.

Second, Jesus wasn’t anti-war.  He might have dissuaded his disciples from committing a violent crime on occasion, but this was done to preserve his ability to do what he needed to do: die and become resurrected.  The theological value of the scene where he stays the hands of his disciple from killing a soldier come to bring him back to the Sanhedrin, is that had a fight broken out Jesus might have been killed prematurely, before the planned time–at the passion.  But Jesus was certainly violence-minded.    He turned over the money-changers tables at the temple and drove out those who were there.  In Luke 19:25-27, Jesus says, “And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.'” Jesus is speaking in parable yes, but he is portrayed as the one who created the parable and he is speaking of the parable favorably! I don’t think one can say Jesus was ‘anti-War’ or ‘anti-violence.’  After all, he did not come to bring peace, “but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34)  That doesn’t mean Jesus was ‘pro-war’, but he certainly wasn’t portrayed as ‘anti-war’.  The figure of Jesus, as portrayed in the Gospel narratives, is one who comes after the first Jewish War, after the temple is already destroyed.  There is a strong contextual meaning to these passages and those passages which seem to imply he was ‘anti-war.’   By making Jesus into an ideologue who fits into your modern political ideology you destroy this context and greatly take for granted the words of Jesus.

The same is true for free healthcare.  I challenge anyone to find a verse which promotes free healthcare.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that anyone would be hardpressed to find a verse like this, since ‘healthcare’ didn’t exist in antiquity.  Jesus healed the sick, but only those who believed and followed him.  In almost every case, Jesus only healed those who proved they were worthy of the Kingdom and believed in who he was; seldom is he ever portrayed as just helping anyone.  Jim West is absolutely correct in his understanding of the early Church and their devaluation (for lack of a better word) of those outside the fold.

Applying modern politics to Jesus is an anachronistic way of destroying the message of the Gospels.  If you are someone who values their theological message, then you probably don’t want to damage its meaning.  Every time you tie a verse to ideology, you are creating a whole new Gospel account.  You are fabricating a completely new message.  That’s fine if that is what you want to do, but don’t then claim that these are Jesus’ perspectives, or Jesus’ views.  They aren’t.  And they weren’t.

6 Responses

  1. And so often Jesus’ healings seemed to have been aimed at of restoration of the sick to the community of faith, since the Law excluded numerous diseased persons from participation in the rituals of Judaism.

    People who use Jesus as an example of socialism or welfare forget that he was apparently helped by a group of well-to-do people including women and that Judas famously complained the oil used to anoint Jesus should have been sold and the profits given to the poor. He was hardly wealthy enough to toss actual money around.

    Put simply, most things Jesus did that seem so openly generous in fact have a religious agenda behind them. All too often we misread the stories.

  2. For someone who denies historicity, you seem to be veering very close to it in this post.
    Also, your post on Jim West’s blog (as a Protestant Pastor, he has his own agenda, ie, very sectarian), you speak of the Essenes and Theraputae as if we do actually know anything about them. The Dead Sea Scrolls are no more use for historical reconstruction than the Old Testament or the Gospels and Acts.

  3. (1) I do not deny historicity. Where have you been? Get reacquainted with things I’ve said recently, not four years ago. Try to keep up.
    (2) Jim West’s religious affiliation is not on trial here. He’s an excellent scholar.
    (3) We do know a lot about the Essenes, since we have four different attestations to them, some contemporary. And it is the opinion of some scholars that the Theraputae are the same thing as the Essenes but just wayward sect of them that changed minor sect laws. You might argue that what we know of them isn’t reliable, or that the independent witnesses weren’t independent, or they were just wrong. So be it. Go do so. I personally believe the Theraputae might even just be fictions of Philo’s imagination; his ideal sect. The Essenes are difficult to push aside the same way, but friends of mine do argue for it. That doesn’t change the fact that ancient authors encapsulated these ideals in these sects and wrote about them, whether they existed or not. The idea is what is important here. And I’m not sure why you’re bringing up these sects since I don’t discuss them at all in this post.
    (4) I would agree which is why nobody, certainly not I, was using the Dead Sea Scrolls to reconstruct the New Testament or Acts. And again I didn’t bring them up, so not sure where you’ll pulling this from.

    Nearly none of this had anything to do with the post you commented on. Next time, try to stay on topic.

  4. Erm, you really an arrogant little shit like your internet reputation says.
    I was commenting about your comments on Jim West;s site, but don’t worry, I won’t bother engaging someone like you again. Keep on making up stuff about yourself.

  5. I’m sorry you are foolish enough to believe in ‘internet reputations’; hopefully one day you won’t be so gullible. If you feel I was being an ‘arrogant little shit’ so be it. Lest you don’t realize it, you were unclear, rude, and presumptuous in your very first post. If your posts on this blog are evidence of your character, I have no trouble trashing any further comments you make here. Good riddance.

  6. Well said, Tom.

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