SYRACUSE, N.Y. ó As we approach the 2012 presidential election, the issue of religion co-mingling with politics has become central. Momentarily, though, let’s set that debate aside and accept, for better or worse, this is the way things currently work.|MCT FORUM, By Douglas Brode
The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)
SYRACUSE, N.Y. ó As we approach the 2012 presidential election, the issue of religion co-mingling with politics has become central. Momentarily, though, let’s set that debate aside and accept, for better or worse, this is the way things currently work.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has, early in his candidacy, outrun all other contenders for the Republican nomination when it comes to drawing Christianity into the mix. “Many,” Perry claimed in 2008, “want to recognize Jesus as a good teacher, but nothing more. But why call him ‘good’ if he has lied about his claims of deity?”
The “many” Perry specifically referred to are secular humanists, a group Christian conservatives openly despise. Most likely Perry did not consciously intend to spit figuratively in the collective face of Jews ó including conservative Jewish people whom other Republicans, notably U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, with her ardent support of Israel, hope to win over.
The greater problem here is that Perry doesn’t know didley-squat about the Bible. His argument is based on a common misconception that Jesus claimed to be “The Messiah.” Current biblical modernizations (rewrites in colloquial English) aside, in its original form that simply isn’t the case in any of the four canonical gospels that constitute the New Testament.
As end-game neared, Jesus was forced to stand before Pilate, who asked: “Are you the son of God?”
“I am the son of man,” Jesus responded, tantamount to denying divinity.
Clearly, Jesus did perceive himself as “a messiah.” The Bible tells us that, 31 years earlier, a messiah had been born in Bethlehem. The idea, which as a Jew Jesus embraced, held that a hero would emerge during times of strife.
The idea of the Messiah ó as in the one and only ó was invented not by Christ (Jesus never brought the issue up) but by several key followers. This likely occurred during the Passover celebration that witnessed an abrupt end of Jesus’ ministry. The fanning of an extreme new ideology by true believers would explain the turning against Jesus by many Hebrews who had recently welcomed him to Jerusalem.
Some Hebrews did accept that notion. They would be among the first Christians. Other Hebrews did not. They constituted the continuing Jewish people.
Luke, apparently a Greco-Roman physician, seems to have concentrated on the ever-more ambitious concept of The Mission: presenting Jesus to the larger, greater world as an Apollo-like sun-surrounded Son of God, with the Hebrews’ Yahweh now, and for the first time, modeled on aged Zeus with his high forehead, stern countenance, and mane of wild white hair. Luke’s “fellow worker,” Paul (previously Saul of Tarsus), both a Hebrew and a Roman citizen, following his own conversion embarked on a mission (perhaps accompanied by Luke) to present Jesus as the Messiah to gentiles in Greece and Asia Minor.
As for its relevance today, any understanding of the true genius of Jesus reveals it to have favored the opposite of that alliance between religion and politics that Perry and like-minded Christian conservatives endorse. In fact, Jesus invented the then-radical concept of separating church and state.
Many citizens of occupied Israel, Zealots, wanted to fight to the death in hopes of driving out the Romans. Jesus preached the reverse. Unlike previous conquerors, the Romans granted Jews freedom of religion, insisting only on payment of taxes. Despite the irony of Jesus being tried for treason, he preached acceptance of Roman domination: “Render unto Caesar that which art Caesar’s” (financial obligations) “and unto Yahweh that which art Yahweh’s” (spiritual devotion).
Make the two separate and we as a people will survive!
If Perry has read the Bible, it’s in some contemporary form that mangles this ideology. Some such versions have Yahweh whisper to Jesus that “You are my son.” In the original Aramaic, the words God intoned were “You are my chosen servant.” That same phrase God earlier spoke to Abram/Abraham, Moses, and David.
And ó according to some Jews ó to such modern saviors as Oskar Schindler during World War II. In fact, you do not have to be born a Jew to be “a” messiah. Cyrus the Great, who freed Hebrews from bondage in Babylonia, circa 539 BCE, is in Isaiah 44.28; 45.1 cited as one.
In answer, then, to Perry: Jesus didn’t lie in his claims of deity because Jesus never made any such claims. They were proffered by others about Jesus. Perhaps someone who posits himself as the Heaven-sent candidate ought to, before proceeding further, learn a helluva lot more about the Bible, and what Jesus actually said.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Douglas Brode, who teaches at the Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University, wrote this commentary for The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.