Friday, June 27, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 6/26 Post

I have no quarrel with any of this, Mike. One way to understand the different Judaisms under Roman occupation is to see them as different ways of dealing with that occupation.

The Sadducees, the wealthy and priestly classes, collaborated with Rome, both or personal gain and to keep the people from further persecution. The Romans murdered thousands of Jews, and violently repressed dissent of any kind. Crucifixion was commonplace, and was used to keep the people from resisting, so collaborating with Roman in order to minimize their violence made sense to many.

The Essenes were separatists who, as you say, awaited the coming War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness. This was, no doubt, the prototype of John of Atmos’ Book of Revelation.

The Zealots wanted war as well, but had no desire to wait for God to start it. They ambushed the Romans whenever possible, and saw themselves as freedom fighters while the Romans no doubt saw them as terrorists. The Jewish Wars of 66 to 70 and from 132 to 135 should the passion of the people for freedom and their inability to wrest it from Rome.

The Pharisees walked a middle way, collaborating when forced to do so, and creating a home-based Judaism alongside the Temple. Jesus, I believe, was a Pharisee, which is why much of the Gospel writers’ wrath is directed against Pharisees as a way of distinguishing Jesus from his colleagues.

Yet Jesus was unique as well, however. I believe he offered a fifth way to deal with Rome: nonviolent confrontation. He didn’t disengage from everyday life, nor did he collaborate with the occupiers or their minions. His teachings about turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, and giving even one’s underwear to the debtor courts are, when understood in the context of the time brilliant acts of nonviolence resistance. These texts aren’t part of our conversation, so I won’t go into them here, but I would suggest anyone interested in this aspect of Jesus should read Dominic Crossan and Walter Wink, especially Wink.

Jesus was also a globalist. Judaism was (and still is) a tribal religion. Of all the world’s religions only Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam see themselves as global faiths. Hinduism and Judaism, for example, are regional religions, spreading only because of the migration of their followers not because of any internal dynamic of their own.

Jesus saw spirituality beyond tribalism. I think this is clear in his conversation with the Samaritan woman who asks him which people, the Jews or the Samaritans worship, on the right mountain. Jesus replies that while the Jews have the right mountain a time is coming when mountains (and hence tribal divisions) won’t matter, and people will worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). This and other statements turn the tribalism of Judaism on its head.

Jesus is no less radical today, though he was been domesticated by his followers who choose to worship him rather than follow him. People are no less tribal today than two thousand years ago. Today’s tribes are not necessarily rooted in geography, but also creed, denomination, class, race, and ethnicity. But the mentality is the same: us versus them, winners and losers, the saved and the damned.

The Jesus I love would have nothing to do with this. But then the Jesus I love died on the Cross.

Ready for the next beatitude?

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