Easter in Jerusalem

studdard-james

James Studdard is a local attorney and is one of the few remaining among us who still believes in the Easter Bunny. He may be reached for comment, if absolutely necessary, at studlaw2000@yahoo.com.

Jesus and his followers fit the anachronistic description of pacifist hippies in a world of Augustan yuppies, Greco-Roman cynics, and Caesar wannabes, whose interests were concentrated more on the urban marketplace and Pax Romano rather than peasant myths, movements and pseudo-messiahs. The historical Jesus, as painted with a first century brush, was a Jewish peasant from lower Galilee who got himself entangled in the dangerous arena of Greco-Roman politics. He confronted, probably unnecessarily, the holiest of holy temples in Jerusalem and threatened to destroy it. During Jesus’ lifetime, the temple was a a place of perfectly legitimate brokerage functions, i.e., trading and trafficking in fungible goods, e.g., selling birds, exchanging coins, and other commercial activities which satisfied the Jewish patrons and lined the pockets of the sellers. Moreover, he displayed his anger toward the temple during a very volatile time of Passover. In the eyes of the high priests of Judea, attack on the temple, standing alone, was grounds for crucifixion.
To put the first Easter/temple event in its proper historical context, one has to understand the demographics of the people who lived in the first century countryside governed by an all powerful, and equally cruel Emperor. Society consisted of two classes, the upper classes and everybody else. The norm was domination by the upper classes over the lower classes. Among the lower, or peasant class, from whence Jesus came, about 95 percent could neither read nor write. It is altogether possible that Jesus’ ministry among the illiterate classes would have died out under its own weight within a generation or two and just be thought of, if at all, as a regional phenomenon that was fairly rampant in first century Judea, had not some of the literate leadership showed interest in the cause.
It is critical to understand the distinction between the illiterate peasant class and the literate upper echelon class. Peasants learned the basic stories about Jesus by word of mouth communication (oral tradition). They could easily recount the story of David and Goliath but they could not know, nor could they find, nor read, the actual story in 1 Samuel 17. In essence, they knew how to tell the story but could not have read the source as that would require literate, scribal and exegetical skills.
That sort of scholarly activity of telling the biblical story of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, aka, Easter, would have come, as it eventually did, in the form of the synoptic Gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke, written some 70 to a hundred years after Jesus’ death in the document we now know as the New Testament. The peasants in Jesus’ time were too busy eking out a bare existence in the harsh world of Roman dictatorship to bother with the pursuit of arguments with which to defend the life, death and resurrection story of Jesus.
It was not until St Paul and some of the Apostles living in mid-first century began to ask questions like most do about the here and the hereafter, questions such as: Did God really intend to have Jesus killed? And if so, what was the vindication obtained? How do I stand with God? How can I live after death? Must I be circumcised to get in to heaven? Then somewhere, sometime, somebody searched the Old Testament (the New Testament had not yet been written) to find the (critical to foundational Christianity) foretelling of the passion/vindication. These researchers and scriveners of the New Testament used dozens of Old Testament prophetic scriptures to create a coherent and believable story of the passion. This is known as “historicizing” i.e, using New Testament storytelling so as to align New Testament proof texts with Old Testament prophecy.
Your beliefs or disbeliefs in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are yours to keep, but I think it is necessary to the understanding of the historical realities of Jesus’ time to separate fantasy from fact. The religious apologist John Dominic Crosson aptly sums it up, “Jesus lived his life against the systemic injustice and domination brutality of the Roman occupiers, high priests on the take, and betrayers at every turn. Jesus could easily have shunned his ‘open to anyone’ lifestyle of healing, sharing, radical itinerancy, asceticism and fundamental egalitarianism without discrimination to any human being.” To his credit, and benefit to some believers, he didn’t.
Jesus believed that the Kingdom of God meant just that; a religious vision coupled with a religious program, however; Jesus, incarnated that belief rather than separating it from the social, political and economic realities of his day. Even though he never claimed to be King of the Jews; he did nothing to deny it. He died for that mistake.

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