Sunday, October 23, 2005

Search for the Historical Jesus 5

This image was constructed by some anthropologists several years ago. It is an approximation of the appearance of a Jewish male peasant at the time of Jesus. Of course, this doesn't mean that Jesus, himself, looked like this. However, it gives us some idea of what men looked like at that time.

Continuing on with ideas from Crossan's book, Jesus, a Revolutionary Biography. (Quotations are from Crossan's book unless otherwise noted.)

Antropologist James C. Scott argues that peasant societies under the heel of political and/ or religious domination tend to be anticultures. Scott believes that their form of radical egalitarianism "...implies a society of brotherhood in which there will no rich and poor, in which no distinctions of rank and status...will exist. Where religious institutions are experienced as justifying inequities, the abolition of rank and status may well include the elimination of religious hierarchy in favor of communities of equal believers. Property is typically, though not always, to be held in common and shared. All unjust claims to taxes, tents, and tribute are to be nullified. The envisioned utopia may also include a self-yielding and abundant nature in which greed, envy and hatred will disappear." (Protest and Profanation: Agrarian Revolt and the Little Tradition (1977) 225-226)

Crossan believes that peasant attitudes in the Jewish homeland of Jesus' time were probably along these lines. As for me, I remembered that many Christian communities in the first century held their goods and property in common.

What about Jesus' healing? Crossan draws a distinction between curing a disease and healing an illness. I suppose looking at today's world, if one has a serious bacterial ailment when the physician prescribes the correct medicine, and you faithfully take it --- the disease has been cured. What about the second pair: healing an illness? If I understand Crossan correctly, today if a person would have an ailment or disease that could not be cured, e.g. a nerve disorder that made one's limbs at time jerk in an uncontrolable fashion.
This would be embarrassing. The person might feel socially unacceptable, even feel a personal inferiority. This would be the illness that might be healed if the individual would meet someone so convincing and authoritative who enabled him/her to accept his/her condition and --- not be harmed by imagined or not imagined social responses from others.

Personally, I believe that there are such things as miracles. Miracles can't be "pulled out a hat," but the configuration of time, place, and forces make, for me, a setting for a "miracle".

Were all Jesus's healings cures of disease or were some or most healing of illness? Crossan gives the example of Jesus' cures of lepers. First of all, prior to this book, I seem to have gained the idea there were many, many lepers in the time of Jesus. Probably, this is not true. The word for leprosy in those times was elephas. The words saranat or lepra were names for several diseases including psorias, eczema or any fungus infection of the skin.

Under the Jewish purity laws of the time --- any of the above conditions made one "unclean", and a social and religious outcast. Abandoned by society and the established religion, many sought Jesus. In some (all?) cases --- when Jesus touched them, told them they were healed and in some cases commanded that they show themselves to the temple priests to fulfill the appointed sacrifice for receiving God's favor-----they were healed of their illness, not cured of their disease. Jesus had accepted them into the "kingdom of God" regardless of what others, including the priests might say. Jesus, himself, by associating with these people and especially touching them had made himself unclean in the eyes of the religious hierarchy in power.