Sunday, September 07, 2014

beyond the fringe

Baptism of a Pharoah from first century Egypt. Thoth baptizes a Roman emperor, Claudius or Nero. (Image stolen from the web, I happened upon the actual object in the Met last week)

This verse from Matthew 14 distracted me:
"After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word
throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, and begged
him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who
touched it were healed."

I read somewhere that the "fringe of his cloak" is the kind mentioned
in Numbers15:
"The Lord said to Moses:

"Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners
of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord
on the fringe at each corner.You have the fringe so that, when you see
it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them,
and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes.So you
shall remember and do all my commandments, and you shall be holy to
your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of
Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God."

Is it significant that crowds were touching the fringe of his robe, as
if they were touching the Law itself?

All four of the canonical gospels pull quotes from Hebrew scripture to
show, I had always been told, that Jesus was the messiah whose mission
was foreseen by the prophets, and is the Reality signified by ritual
law. Certain religious fundamentalists among the Pharisees of his time
lived in especially strict observance of the Torah and the rabbinical
tradition that interpreted it, but Jesus' criticism seems to go
beyond their orthodoxy to charge them with diverting funds from where
they are most needed:

"But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to
help their father or mother is 'devoted to God,' they are not to
'honor their father or mother' with it. Thus you nullify the word of
God for the sake of your tradition. "

Apparently Jesus was also observant (and even wore the fringe,
(Matthew 14:36). The Pharisees had popularity, while the Sadducees
were of the Jerusalem ruling class and ran the Temple under the
authority of Herod, King of the Jews, whose authority over the Jews
was granted by the Roman Emperor, whose authority superseded all
others, because he was a god. The Jews gave the Romans more trouble
than other conquered people because of their refusal to allow images
of the state religion in the Temple, or even in Jerusalem.
John may have been critical of the Pharisees of his time, but his
righteousness or observance of the Law was well known, according to
Josephus. His baptism was a symbolic purification and cleansing, and
Jesus also submitted to it "for righteousness' sake." What exactly was
the teaching of the Pharisees that Jesus was warning his disciples
about? And why does it come with the stories of the feeding of
multitudes? To emphasize the message of the feeding of the multitude,
Jesus did it again. But what is the message?
The message we always seem to find in the feeding of the multitudes is
something like "Give everything to Jesus and he will provide us with
more than enough." Or, "Hey man, its cool - I'm on it. Jesus is Top
Cat." It might be, "Give God her/his portion and God will give us what
we really need."
But let's not try to fix one meaning to it. Look at the image of Jesus
distributing the food as prefiguring the Eucharist, and the creation
of a messianic community in which everything was held in common, and
there was no private property. Christians later taught that Jesus
"fulfilled the Law," but Jesus was teaching that the Law is fulfilled
by the realization of the messianic kingdom of heaven. The sabbath
looks forward to this day of the Lord where there will be enough for
everybody and nobody will be exploited.
Jesus ( or the writers of the gospels) accuses the religious leaders
of using an obscure "tradition" to divert resources from caring for the
elderly and poor. Some of the gospel attacks on the Pharisees  might be a message to Jesus' later  followers to, for instance, let male Gentile converts forego circumcision, and other "observances"
that were especially burdensome or painful, and an obstacle to growing
the movement among non-Jews, or "dogs," as Jesus calls the Syro-Phoenician woman.

Jewish "atheism," the even suicidal refusal to recognize the state as
a god, spread to the other people under Roman rule. The empire
demanded submission of regional gods to the emperor. After Jerusalem
and the Temple were destroyed, the Jewish diaspora was scattering
Jewish ideas among pagans who could no longer worship the empire. The
main idea was the messianic idea which many pagans tended to think of
as a new god, or god of gods, or son of Zeus.
Jesus' followers identified with their leader to the point of
sacrificing themselves for a kingdom they believed would be realized
in their generation. This suicidal resistance movement, a mass
defiance of the empire and its god was underway at a time when the
Roman empire was in turmoil (Spoiler alert: 666 was Nero).
That this Jewish resistance movement evolved over the centuries into a
new state religion for a new empire and a new orthodoxy which excluded
Jews is a central problem in the study of the writings held canonical
by the new paganism called "Christianity."

The context of the passage in Isaiah quoted by Jesus is Jerusalem
under siege, which is also the analogical historical context of the
Jesus movement:

"Yet I will besiege Ariel;
she will mourn and lament,
she will be to me like an altar hearth
I will encamp against you on all sides;
I will encircle you with towers
and set up my siege works against you.
Brought low, you will speak from the ground;
your speech will mumble out of the dust.
Your voice will come ghostlike from the earth;
out of the dust your speech will whisper."


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