Leland Quarterly, Vol. 1 Issue 2, Winter 2007

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faith of Yeshua was worth holding, and that Yeshua was truly something special. Because of this it would make sense for the event to appear in all Christian accounts of the time. Yet none of the other canonical gospels record this event, an extremely puzzling omission if Matthew’s story were literally true. Additionally, an event of this uniquely unusual nature would certainly make it into the Roman annals of history, but neither Flavius Josephus nor Tacitus, Roman historians who do mention Yeshua’s life and his execution, record resurrection of Jesus or the mass resurrection mentioned in Matthew. The lack of corroboration from such critical sources should lead us to believe that Matthew’s story was a fabrication. What should be taken away from this account is not the belief that people physically rose from the dead, but rather the recognition that in a pre-modern society filled with myths and a complex pantheon of gods, such resurrection stories were often told and were readily accepted by the people. The inclusion of such a story in Matthew ultimately serves to underscore the efforts the gospel writers were making to try and justify the faith of Yeshua as being legitimate. John takes the process begun in Mark and furthered by Matthew and Luke to a whole new level. In John’s Gospel, written around 90CE, Yeshua is completely divine and existed with God before his earthly birth (John 1). The post-resurrection appearances in John are the most vivid and dramatic of all the gospel accounts; at this point they have become the centerpiece of a new faith based on the person of Yeshua and not his message. When Yeshua is arrested his voice alone has the power to cause a large group of Roman soldiers to fall trembling to their knees (John 18). On the cross, Yeshua does not so much die but willfully give up his spirit, in total control until the very end (John 19). It is in John that we truly begin to lose sight of Yeshua’s humanity in favor of a God-man who is in complete control. Having already passed through the interpretive frameworks of Paul, Mark, Matthew and Luke, the Yeshua that remains when John is through with his Gospel bears only passing resemblance to the Yeshua depicted in Thomas and the

Q Gospel. Over the course of a mere 60 years, Yeshua changed from a person just like you or I who risked his life for a vision of God’s Empire to God himself. Yeshua started out as a brave human being but wound up a supremely confident deity. He began as an empowering prophet drawing attention to the willful creation of God’s Empire, but ended as a transcendent being demanding worship and devotion. From a Yeshua who insisted that the focus of our lives should be on others and radical acceptance we get a Yeshua who insists that we focus on and radically accept him as divine and risen from the dead. At this point, one can see that the heart of Yeshua’s message was ultimately lost in the interpretation of his death. If Yeshua was a human being just like us, we must remember that he had faith in much the same way that we do. Like us, he had no guarantee that he was correct. He believed that the old system of cleanliness codes had been abolished and that the law of love and acceptance trumped the laws of judgment and exclusion. Yeshua’s faith was a radical faith that was going places; it was attempting to include more and more people in that category we call “us,” in the hopes that eventually there would be no more “them.” But at Yeshua’s abrupt death, a transformation occurred. His followers made Christianity not about Yeshua’s faith, but about Yeshua himself. Had the focus been on the faith of Yeshua, instead of faith in Yeshua, Christianity may have continued his project of the loving inclusion of more and more social outcasts. Instead, his faith was cut off where it stopped in favor of faith in him. What was a living, vibrant, and courageously held faith of progressive social activism became one with static dogmas and a redrawn clean/unclean divide. Yeshua was taking a risk with his life, the ultimate risk. He was staking his entire existence upon the belief that God was more interested in us loving each other than in defining who was righteous and who was not, who was going to ascend to heaven and who would be left behind. For us as it was for Paul, the meaning of “Jesus is alive” should be “Jesus was right.” Restoring the focus of Christianity from Yeshua’s physical resurrection, back to his life and practice of radical acceptance, would make at

least some of the disagreements between Christianity and the culture at large disappear. When beliefs about Yeshua’s physical resurrection no longer guarantee the inerrancy of the Bible and the political views derived from it, Evangelicals would be more open to new and different political stances. Christianity could become an Empire of God where homosexuals, exconvicts, homeless people and others who are “ritually unclean” would be welcome as equals at the table of fellowship. Yet even if modern Christians reject this view and a subsequent return to the roots of Christianity, this examination of the resurrection should draw attention to the humanly constructed nature of the Bible. Paul and his counterparts were interpreting the life of Yeshua, doing their best but ultimately making it up as they went along. Understanding this should offer Christians the freedom to reconsider the exclusionary doctrines in Christianity that reconstruct the ancient clean-unclean divide that Yeshua worked so hard to tear down. It is up to us to continue the heroic task of interpreting Yeshua’s life and faith that Paul began. Yet lest this essay seems to be demanding compromise only from the Evangelicals, I have a hope for the secular liberals as well. Those of us who do not find religion a useful way to find meaning in our lives must learn how to dialogue respectfully with those who do. We too must understand the difference between the person of Yeshua and the message now preached in his name. There are many valuable lessons we can learn from his life and teachings, and we should not reject religion outright simply because it has at times gone astray from its noble ideals. The insensitive polemics of Richard Dawkins and others like him will not help to further the cause of human solidarity. We must learn to understand and respect Christianity, arguing our points respectfully, effectively and without derision. In the end, armed with improved knowledge about the resurrection, Christians and secular liberals alike should feel free to develop new views on divisive sociopolitical issues such as homosexuality that will further the radical acceptance Yeshua preached as the Empire of God. L

LELAND QUARTERLY WINTER 2007

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