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Five candles

December 24, 2011

Nice or not nice?  You decide.

… The truth is, the Jesus story is the ultimate political drama. Imagine it: a radical firebrand, whom the powerful want to silence and shut down. But the threat is not only external. He also faces a hidden challenge from within his own inner circle, a traitor in his midst.

I admit that I brace myself when I come to hear the story told again, whether through radio drama, rock opera or, say, some BBC experimental production on the streets of Manchester. I worry: will this version blame the Romans or the Jews? Of course it’s always best when Pilate, the Roman occupier who gave the order, is the bad guy; certainly better than any suggestion, coded or otherwise, that it is the Jews who should bear the weight of guilt.

I like to think Jesus himself would understand this nervousness on my part. After all, and this is remembered less often than it might be, he was Jewish too.

Jonathan Freedland

(HT Tzvee)

Previous posts:  One candle, Two candles, Three candles, Four candles.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 24, 2011 9:14 pm

    Well Merry Christmas to everyone. This seems more like an Easter topic but continuing with the theme….

    I totally disagree Freeland. It is a theological imperative that the Jews ultimately crucified Jesus. He is the King of the Jews and the savior of the Jews. The story makes no sense if it is just the Romans getting rid of a random trouble maker “get the wood for crucifixion number 237-18.45” The same way the Aztecs had to crucify Quetzalcoatl, the Canannites had to crucify Tammuz, the Indians Krishna, the Thracians Zalmoxis and back to the beginning of time with Sumarians and Inanna. Of course the Jews are responsible for his death.

    Let me just quote John here:

    1:10-2He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

    Even in the earliest version he is arrested so that the scriptures may be fulfilled

    Just look at the Greek, Judas (Ioudas) while Jewish is (Ioudaios). He is crucified in place of Jesus Barabbas (Jesus the son of the father), creating a mirror. The Romans are effectively like the wood or the sun in terms of their role in this drama. That’s the whole point of Pilate

    It is this very betrayal that creates the irony for the savior diety. He is killed in the name of righteousness by those who believe are being secret, the king of hell thinks they are serving hell’s aims, but really the death is hell’s defeat. 1Cor 2:8 has wonderful word play from Paul where he is ambiguous about who killed Jesus, using a term that refer to human leaders and the demons that exist in the lower heavens. And that is the whole ambiguity that makes the story work. It is because the inheritors of the old covenant killed God’s son that the covenant is completely shattered.

    The death of Jesus being one of the absolutely perfect examples why the attempt to recast the New Testament as within the Jewish community in a mainstream sense is impossible. Judaism is Christianity’s food, Christianity eats Jewish mythos digests them and builds entirely new religious tissues from them. Jesus is not a Jew the way Jonathan Freedland is a Jew. I’d like to say to him, “John, you are a Jew, he is a god, when you die you become worm food; when he dies he redefines the very meaning of death”. So of course the Jews bear the weight, they stand in for the church in the synoptic gospel version of the myth. The Romans represent the secular or heathen. If the Romans were responsible the epistles would make no sense.

  2. December 24, 2011 9:50 pm

    CD, thanks as always for your comments. The goal of this brief “candles” series is make provocative posts, and I’m glad that they did, indeed, provoke a response!

    But, I’m not quite sure that you and I are reading Freedland’s comments in the same way.

    Jonathan Freedland is not a theologian. He is certainly not a Christian theologian. He is a political columnist for The Guardian. He is not talking here about theology, or history for that matter. Instead his column describes the weird fascination that non-Christians in the UK (and, for that matter, in most Western countries) have with Jesus. One might explain this as simply curiosity or interest in the dominant culture, and that certainly plays as part of Freedland’s story. But he here is saying that the story has inherent interest as a political drama.

    There is something else here too. Fear.


    Why did Freedland post his column at Christmastime, and not at Easter? Because Christmas is a much more important holiday culturally to us in 2011 than Easter. Christmas is the time when non-Christians come face-to-face with Christian beliefs. (How many creches are in your neighborhood this season? How does that compare with the number of crucifixes erected for Easter?)

    For better or worse, Christmas is when the world, in a great commercial rush, thinks about Jesus. That’s why The Guardian has a “Comment Advent Calendar” and not a “Comment Eastertide” or “Comment Holy Week.”


    Freedland’s post has nothing to teach us about Christianity. But it does have something to teach us about our culture; and how outsiders view the story of Jesus.

  3. December 24, 2011 10:32 pm

    I know the guardian. During the very dark years for the US media between 2001 and 2006 it was my primary paper. I understand the fascination with Jesus. Christianity is a hugely important part of the culture.

    But I guess what point were you looking to make with the nice / not nice and this quote?

  4. December 25, 2011 6:49 am

    Freeland, here a little more serious, reminds me of Benyamin Cohen, the Rabbi’s son.

    A few years ago, on Christmas eve, The Daily Beast published Cohen’s essay, “Jesus Made Me a Better Jew,” in which he confesses (provoking our laughter):

    A full-blown addict, last December arrived and I was knee-deep in Jesus.

  5. December 25, 2011 7:05 am

    Then there’s Regina Spektor singing,


    And all the
    Subway cars were hallelu-lelu-leluing
    Welcome back the baby king, the baby king
    All the believers they were smiling
    And winking at each other
    I could honestly say I was
    Scared for my life!

    They said:
    All the non-believers, they get to eat dirt
    And the believers get to spit on their graves
    All the non-believers, they get to eat dirt
    And the believers get to spit on their graves
    All non-believers
    All non-believers
    All non-believers
    All non-believers
    All non-believers
    All non-believers
    Believe, believe, believe!
    Believe, believe, believe!

    You know that statue
    That statue of baby Jesus
    In the window
    In the window of the 99 cent store

    When I woke up I ran and bought it
    And locked it in my closet
    With a little bread and water
    And a flashlight and a first-aid kit
    Till he grows


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