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Jesus Before Christianity is an excellent text

Altar at our Cathedral in Reno Nevada
Altar at our Cathedral in Reno Nevada
Charles W. Gill II

Jesus Before Christianity


The text, “Jesus Before Christianity,” is a very interesting text, making excellent points. On the one hand, the writer, Albert Nolan, does not seem to have a very good grasp of the Sprachsgefiel of being a first Century Jew. He is not aware of the Four Carpenters and how this might have influenced the way the Pharisees would have interpreted Jesus, or how Jesus and the apostles would have interpreted Jesus as Messiah Ben Joseph.

Albert Nolan relates, “Herod could not afford to lose the support of his people especially in view of the political consequences of his re-marriage. In order to marry Herodias he had divorced the daughter of Aretas II, the ruler of the nearby kingdom of the Nabataeans. This would be viewed not only as a personal insult but also as a breach of a political alliance. As far as Herod was concerned John was only making matters worse for him by criticizing his divorce and re-marriage and by prophesying divine retribution. Some years later the Nabataeans attacked and defeated Herod, who had to call in the Romans to rescue him and his kingdom.

Albert Nolan might also have written of the three wise men, who came from Parthia to give gifts to the infant Jesus. Along the way they meet up with this same Herod and in essence ask where his replacement is. Josephus, quoted by Albert Nolan, points out how Herod had in the time of Joseph and Mary, parents of Jesus, waged war against these very Parthians. Now there representatives are coming and asking where Herod’s replacement was born. Herod could not help but be angry, and if these men were wise men, they would have known this. This is the cultural backdrop of Luke’s nativity.

Albert Nolan relates, “Most scholars have not given much attention to such texts as Mark 23:37-39/Luke 13:34-35; 11:49-51; 17:26-37). They are quite commonly dismissed as predictions inserted into the text after the event. Recent scholarly research has conclusively shown this is not so. C. H. Dodd first showed these passages could not have been written after the event because they are modeled on the scriptural references to the first fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. They make no allusion to the distinctive features of the fall in 70 C.E. Lloyd Gaston comes to much the same conclusions.

In English we have a couple of key terms which relate to chapter 3 of this text. “Vulgar,” and “Mean.” “Vulgar,” comes from the fancy Latin and means common. “Mean,” for the math buffs means “Average.” The mean people are the average people, the vulgar people. They are not educated, at least to the degree the proper people are educated. As a result, they are not refined in the sense the proper people are refined.

Albert Nolan refers to these people as, “The people to whom Jesus turned his attention are referred to in the gospels by a variety of terms: the poor, the blind, the lame, the crippled, the lepers, the hungry, the miserable (those who weep), sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, demoniacs (those possessed by unclean spirits), the persecuted, the downtrodden, the captives, all who labor and are overburdened, the rabble who know nothing of the law, the crowds, the little ones, the least, the last and the babes or the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

“The "sinners" were social outcasts. Anyone who for any reason deviated from Torah and traditional the middle class (the Pharisees, educated and the virtuous, the grammarians/Pharisees) was treated as inferior, as low class. They would have included those who had sinful or unclean professions: prostitutes, tax collectors (publicans), robbers, herdsmen, usurers and gamblers. Herdsmen were suspected of leading their herds onto other people's land and pilfering the produce of the herd, which was also no doubt often true.” Many who violated Torah did so because they did not know Torah, because their income group precluded their ability to learn Torah.

This is so much like today, where the middle class/established folk, support massive cuts in education, so they can accuse those without education of being vulgar/mean/common/the scrub cattle coarsely struggling to get by. The educated people told them that they were displeasing to God and "they ought to know." The result was a neurotic or near-neurotic guilt complex which led inevitably to fear and anxiety about the many kinds of divine punishment that might befall them. The poor and the oppressed have always been especially prone to disease. This was particularly true in the time of Jesus, not only because of the physical conditions in which they lived, but also and more significantly because of the psychological conditions.

Albert Nolan will go on to relate this to the healing of the Paralytic, by the demoniac boy, the Gerasene demoniac, and others related in the Gospel are examples of how gross income inequality leads to mental illness, and Psychosomatic illness, of which the Paralytic is a prime example. These people suffer from guilt, not sin. It is possible to feel guilt, and to have done nothing wrong. When this happens, only release from guilt will remove the suffering. Pharisees, the proper folk of Jesus’ day and ours prey upon people’s sense of guilt to keep them in their place.

Jesus, as Albert Nolan emphasizes, does the opposite. He forgives them of their errors, real and imagined. He also works to create the kingdom of God, where nobody is forced to do things they regret, just to survive. He calls upon us to do as Jesus did, working to create that society. For this, Albert Nolan writes an excellent work, well worth reading, “Jesus Before Christianity,”