Easter, Ostara, Cybele

We joined a church last November, but it’s Easter and we didn’t go to Church.  I typically love Easter.  It’s the celebration of resurrection, renewal,  reawakening, rejuvenation, regeneration, rebirth, return to life…

Did you know that Easter is derived from the Old English Eostre, which comes from the Old High German Ostara? Ostara was the Germanic Pagan goddess of fertility who had a two day festival celebrated in April. The Christian Easter celebration very likely has ties to Ostara.

The Christian tradition may be even more closely related with the Cybele Cult that existed in Rome on Vatican Hill in 200 B.C. (The name, Vatican Hill, existed prior to the existence of Christianity.) The cult worshipped the fertility goddess, Cybele, who had a lover, Attis. Attis was the god of ever reviving vegetation. Every year, he died and was resurrected. The cult had a festival that started as a day of blood and Attis’ death, and ended 3 days later with rejoicing Attis’ resurrection.

Some historians claim that the Attis resurrection story was added to the Jesus story as a way to make Christianity more palatable to the pagans. Do you think this is true? If it is true, does it lessen the importance of Jesus’ resurrection?

Cultures undergo resurrections and re-awakenings, too, and the stories must adjust to reflect these changes. But we seem to be kind of stuck on the old stories. Conservative Christians often refuse to acknowledge the evolutionary nature of their religion by continuing to insist on the literal truth of the stories. Progressive Christians may recognize the evolutionary nature of the religion but have a tendency to get stuck in historicity. And many atheists reject religion altogether as “fiction.”

It makes me think of Nietzsche’s madman who ran into the streets exclaiming “God is dead and it is we who killed him.” When he received blank stares, he told the people that it would be 300 years before they finally realized God was dead. He was speaking to atheists. Why would it be necessary to tell atheists, who don’t believe in God, that they don’t yet realize God is dead?  Because atheists adopted a theistic mindset by trading God for rationalism as the ultimate, absolute authority.  After addressing the atheists, Nietzsche’s madman ran into the churches saying, ”what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of God?” If you keep the stories alive, but don’t acknowledge their past or give them ample room in which to grow, you are nailing the coffin shut on God. Nobody, not the theists or the atheists, realize God is dead. Some mystics can see through it, however. I think Nietzsche was a mystic.

Why do we assume there is an absolute truth? And assuming there is an absolute truth, why do we assume it can be known? The fight over how it can be known gets old and is improvable, anyway. If you insist the Bible is the literal truth and thump the Bible to prove it, you are engaged in a circular argument. Likewise, if you insist that it is only the rational mind that can establish truth and thump Empiricism to prove it, you are engaged in the exact same circular argument (same form, different content). Maybe we should quit insisting that there is a knowable, absolute truth and move on?

Lent

The Ash Wednesday service we attended today was beautiful.  We each wrote upon a piece of paper what it is we want to let go.  (Or we twisted or folded the paper in some way that was symbolic of what it is we want to let go.)  All of these individual pieces of paper were burned and the ashes from each were combined and placed upon our foreheads, collectively, as a symbol of letting go.

I loved this ritual because, for me, Ash Wednesday is about giving up the belief that everything should be how we want it to be.  Let’s face it.  When things turn out to be other than how we want them to be, we feel angry or victimized.  Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our mortality and limitations.  It’s kind of like realizing that we aren’t God – the world isn’t required to behave how we think it should behave.  Once we figure this out, it’s much easier to quit feeling like we are a victims of circumstances and we are paradoxically better able to shape our lives.  All the moaning, complaining, blame or denial in the world is not going to change anything.  We have to be willing to accept our circumstances as they are before we can do anything about them.  Just wanting things to be different will simply keep us wanting.  It will change nothing. Acceptance, and subsequent responsibility (the ability to respond), on the other hand, changes everything.

Lent provides the practice.  By fasting during Lent (letting go of whatever it is we deem must be let go), we allow ourselves to experience hunger.  Unlike desire, hunger is basic and primal.  Most of the time, we don’t have a clue what it is we hunger for because we distract ourselves with petty desires.  Yet when we allow ourselves to genuinely feel hunger, we allow ourselves to come in touch with what is basic and primal to our individual lives.

After the 6 weeks of Lenten practice, we will have experienced hunger and will therefore be prepared to go into the center of whatever it is we have a basic, primal need to change. During the Lenten season, we have been willing to accept things as they are, knowing fully that there will be consequences for the changes we are about to make, just as Jesus was aware of the consequences of his actions.  Like Jesus, we remain fully willing to accept the consequences. We will not run or change our minds.

Holy Thursday, we say a final fairwell to our old way of being – there is no turning back.

Good Friday, we die to our old way of being.

Holy Saturday, we unflinchingly face every uncomfortable reaction this death causes within us and with others.

Easter – we rise transformed.

(These are ideas I jotted down many moons ago.  I think they were inspired by Richard Rohr, but I’m not sure.)

Dying and Resurrecting

Originally posted by Blog of the Grateful Bear…

The Sufis are fond of saying, “Die before death and resurrect now.” We are all dying every moment, dying to our own fears, our own false concepts of ourselves, our own limitations. But we know this already, haven’t we been told? Let us die willingly and resurrect gloriously, spiraling into the future, consciously joining all those who believe and trust in the ultimate goodness of humanity, and serving with love and patience those who do not.~ Theresa King

Happy Easter!!

The Last Week – Happy Easter

My little family all went to San Antonio yesterday to be with my sister in-law for her baptism and confirmation into the Catholic Church. It’s been about 9 years since we left the Catholic Church and about that long since we’d been to a Holy Saturday celebration.

We were very active Catholics when we were Catholic, going to church most days of the week. I was in love with the priest who did the daily morning services because he was somewhat irreverent and his message always went slightly over my head. I’d have to go back the next day to try and figure out what it was he meant. It was such a great way to start the day. We also made it to all of the holy week celebrations.

This church was my first introduction to Catholicism and it rocked. It really did. The person who headed up the RCIA (for people coming into the Catholic Church or wanting to learn more about it) was a professor at the University of Dallas and she had no trouble pissing off the old Catholics – many of whom would walk out on her lectures. The church served as a training place for priests – most were Jesuit. And the lay people were extremely involved, many being well acquainted with the theology of Hans Kung and Thomas Merton. It was also home to an amazing ecumenical program that offered a monthly dinner to other religions willing to dialog. Very cool church.

I could have been Catholic forever had the church remained like that forever. But it didn’t. When the Monsignor died, he was replaced by a priest that was high up in the Dallas diocese administration to get everything back “under control”. Turns out he was involved in the major sex scandal cover-up that had occurred in the Dallas diocese. It changed the nature of the church but we ended up moving to California in the middle of all of the changes anyway and it wasn’t until we started trying out other Catholic churches that I realized how special that church had been. It seems I don’t make a particularly “good Catholic”, but you wouldn’t have known it considering my involvement in the church in Dallas.

I enjoyed the Holy Saturday service yesterday. But I agree with my son who claimed they talked about denouncing evil excessively. My son was shocked at how often they mentioned Satan. It did seem kind of strange. And after reading Borg and Crossan’s The Last Week, I can see how they take issue with how much of Christianity is presented. This church definitely presented the “sacrifice” of Jesus as a substitution for the punishment of our sins – over and over and over again throughout the ceremony.

Borg and Crossan claim it doesn’t matter what you believe about the Easter stories – whether they be absolutely true or absolutely false. Put your judgment aside for a moment and ask, “what do the stories mean?” If the stories are parables, which is very likely, then does it matter if they are true or not? Does anyone question the actual existence of the Samaritan in Jesus’ parables? Of course not. The existence or non-existence of the Good Samaritan and the Jew who has been left for dead has nothing to do with what the story means and it is what the story means that matters – not whether or not you believe it actually happened. And the only way to decide that Jesus as sacrificial lamb was being offered as a substitution for our sins is to read the New Testament into the Old Testament and it was the Old Testament that came first. The New Testament is not proof that Jesus was who the Old Testament had prophesized. Those who wrote the New Testament used scriptures from the older texts to give their story validity. That’s a very typical literary device, even in mainstream literature.

Crossan and Borg write: “So one should not think of history as “true” and parable as “fiction” (and therefore not nearly as important). Only since the Enlightenment of the seventeenth century have many people thought this way, for in the Enlightenment Western culture began to identify truth with “factuality”. Indeed, this identification is one of the central characteristics of modern Western culture. Both biblical literalists and people who reject the Bible completely do this; the former insist that the truth of the Bible depends on its literal factuality, and the latter see that the Bible cannot be literally and factually true and therefore don’t think it is true at all.”

It doesn’t matter whether or not the resurrection actually occurred. What matters is what the story of the resurrection means. According to Borg and Crossan, Paul and the writers of the Gospels believed “that God’s transfiguration of this earth had already started, they also claimed that the general resurrection had begun with Jesus. That, of course, is why Paul must argue in 1 Corinthians that if there is no general resurrection, there is no Jesus resurrection, and if there is no Jesus resurrection, there is no general resurrection (15:12-16). They stand or fall together. That is why he can call Jesus’ resurrection “the firstfruits,” or start, of the general resurrection (15:20).”

The general resurrection is about a life for all that is fair, just and equitable: a world that doesn’t have a domination system. Jesus started this resurrection through his willingness to sacrifice his life for it. That he was killed by the domination system does not mean he didn’t overcome it. In fact, his willingness to “bare his cross” and die for “the Kingdom of God” (meaning a world where the poor are not oppressed by the powerful and wealthy) did overcome it – especially since his disciples carried on his message of hope after he was gone.

Borg and Crossan write: “Without an emphasis on Easter as God’s decisive reversal of the authorities’ verdict on jesus, the cross is simply pain, agony, and horror. It leads to a horrific theology: God’s judgment means that we all deserve to suffer like this, but Jesus died in our place. God can spare us because Jesus is the substitutionary sacrifice for our sins.”

Borg and Crossan quote Barbara Ehrenreich from her book Nickeled and Dimed [great book!!] about a meeting she attends of poor people where the preacher emphasizes going to heaven by believing in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus:

It would be nice if someone would read this sad-eyed crowd the Sermon on the Mount, accompanied by a rousing commentary on income inequality and the need for a hike in the minimum wage. But Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned,nor anything he ever had to say. Christ crucified rules, and it may be that the true business of modern Christianity is to crucify him again and again so that he can never get a word out of his mouth.

She concludes: “I get up to leave, timing my exit for when the preacher’s metronomic head movements have him looking the other way, and walk out to search for my car, half expecting to find Jesus out there in the dark, gagged and tethered to a tent pole.”

Borg and Crossan claim that there is an anti-imperial meaning to Good Friday and Easter. It is this message that is particularly challenging to American Christians since the U.S. is the world’s dominant imperial power. Empire is not just about geographic expansion. “It is about the use of military and economic globalization to shape the world in one’s perceived interest. Within this definition, we are the Roman Empire of our time, both in our foreign police and in the shape of economic globalization that we as a country vigorously advocate. About 20% of American Christians are very critical of American imperial policy and about 20 percent are strong supporters of it.” President Bush is one of the strong supporters.

Borg and Crossan ask: Which journey are we on? Which procession are we in according to the Palm Sunday procession? Jesus and the peasants procession? Or the imperial procession?

Last Week: Monday thru Saturday

Still reading Last Week. I have finished through Easter Sunday so will post Monday thru Saturday now. (Hopefully I will finish Easter Sunday by Easter Sunday!)

I got a lot out of reading about Palm Sunday, but to be honest, I’ve found the subsequent days somewhat tedious. A lot of it isn’t new information so that could be part of it. But there is something about Borg and Crossan that doesn’t quite settle with me all that well. I attended their conference on Mysticism and Activism last year and I felt the same way. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is because the information they provide is sound and I don’t disagree with it. I think it is something they are leaving out. But I just don’t quite know what that is. 

But, there is still a lot of good information here. I’ll try and keep each day as brief as possible – please know that Borg and Crossan pack in tons of information under each day that I’m not covering here. This is simply what I found to be important/interesting:

Monday

Jesus overturns the temple (Mark 11:12-19)

The term sacrifice derives from the Latin “sacrum facere”. Facere means “to make”; sacrum means “sacred”. In animal sacrifice, the animal is “made sacred” and given to God as a sacred gift or returned to the offerer as a sacred meal. It has nothing to do with suffering or substitution. (Sacrificial animals were killed swiftly and humanely and were not made to suffer).

During first century ACE, faithful Jews could be against the temple as it was at that time (under control of the Roman Empire), without in anyway being against the theory or the practice of the temple and the existence of high priests or animal blood sacrifices. What they were against was the corruption that was occurring within the temple at the time, not the idea of the temple or high priests.

There was an ancient prophetic tradition where God insisted not just on justice and worship, but justice over worship. In the OT, God repeatedly rejected worship that lacked justice, but he never rejected justice that lacked worship. (See: Amos 5:21-24; Hos. 6:6, Mic. 6:6-8, Isa. 1:11-17)

What will happen if worship in the house of God continues to be a substitute for justice in the land of God? According to Jeremiah 7:12-14, God will destroy the temple. Jeremiah was almost put to death by the authorities of his day for having said this. There is nothing wrong with prayer and sacrifice, but if worship lacks justice, God will destroy it. (In Jesus day it was the temple, in our day it is the church.)

It’s important to realize that the money changers and animal sellers were perfectly legitimate and an absolute necessity to the functioning of the temple. This is how the temple could be paid by the multitude of visitors in the appropriate coinage. Plus, the only way pilgrims would have an adequate sacrifice was by buying the animals at the temple. Jesus symbolically destroyed the temple in the same way someone might have poured blood on draft papers in a single draft office during the Vietnam War. Such an act doesn’t end the draft or the war. But it most definitely makes a statement.

This act by Jesus was pre-planned just as his entrance into Jerusalem on Sunday was pre-planned. He knew what he was doing. Jesus’ criticism is not only of violent domination, but any religious collaboration with it.

Tuesday

Jesus’ authority is challenged & Jesus challenges the authority through parables (Mark 11:27-33 to 12:1-27)

The authorities are pissed because Jesus has threatened the system. So, they question him hoping to trap him and arrest him. But Jesus has no trouble seeing through their games and manages to turn the trap back on his questioners. The guys a genius and extremely slippery. (And not necessarily all that sweet.)

Mark 15: 5-37 – “the little apocalypse”

(The big one being Revelation, of course)

Apocalyptic literature speaks of great suffering and deliverance from suffering. This apocalyptic message is about the destruction of the temple. Mark wrote his gospels after the temple had already been destroyed. Mark wasn’t being prophetic, he was placing his knowledge of the events in 66 CE in Jesus’ time. The Jews were suffering horribly during this time period. The temple was destroyed, the entire city of Jerusalem desecrated, and anyone not killed was enslaved or forced to flee their homes. Starvation and disease was rampant. The water supply was ruined. Food was scarce. It was horrible. Most apocalyptic literature occurs during times of great strife. This “little apocalypse”, like Revelation, mirrors David who wrote during the Babylonian exile – another horrible time for the Jews when all Jews were in exile and enslaved.

The message in Mark is that what has begun in Jesus (the actualization of the Kingdom of God – a Kingdom ruled by justice rather than domination) will triumph, despite the tumult and resistance of the world.

Wednesday

Why the need for a traitor? (Mark 14:1-11)

We typically think of it being a huge crowd of common Jews that cheers for the arrest of Jesus, but this makes no sense. Why would such a huge crowd of people that had been clearly pleased by Jesus’ teaching turn on him so suddenly? They wouldn’t. The crowd that loves Jesus is not the crowd that condemns him to death. If it was, then why would the high priest find it necessarily to arrest Jesus at night and in secret? He didn’t want to upset the crowds. And they didn’t want to let him go on teaching because the was drawing larger and larger crowds of Jewish peasants all the time and – horror of all horrors – making them feel empowered. To participate with Jesus is to negate the normalcy of civilization’s lust for domination and to deny the legitimacy of what lords and kings have always been and what nations and empires have always done. And anyone who wants society to remain as it has “always been” will do all in their power to destroy those who have the capacity to empower those upon whose backs the system is maintained. Jesus wasn’t against the Jews, he was against the domination system. Jesus was a Jew and he empowered those Jews oppressed by the domination system to envision a world beyond it. This is very dangerous stuff.

Thursday

The Last Supper (Mark 14:12 – 72)

“Yet not my will but thy will be done” does not mean that Jesus’ death is the will of God. The prayer reflects not a fatalistic resignation to the will of God, but a trusting in God in the midst of the most dire of circumstances.

As far as Jesus’ interrogation by the high priest goes, it is very likely that neither Mark nor any of the other gospel writers knows what happened. We can be fairly certain the trial scene represents a post-Easter construction and not history remembered. This is the way Mark tells the story around 70 ACE. Mark is writing for those Christians who have undergone lethal persecution in the Jewish homeland during the great rebellion of 66-74 CE. The depiction of the betrayal of the disciples is meant to offer comfort. Just because you lose your nerve doesn’t mean you lose your faith. Yes Peter betrayed Jesus, but there is hope, repentance and forgiveness. If you start running, that’s OK. Just don’t keep running. The worst sin is despair.

Good Friday

The Crucifixion

Our understanding of Mark’s story of Friday is often clouded by a pre-understanding that gets in the way of what it is Mark is saying. This pre-understanding is that the real reason for Jesus death is as a substitution for our sins. (Jesus died for my sins). This idea came into being through St. Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, in 1097. It took more than a thousand years to take hold. But to understand Jesus’ sacrifice in terms of substitution is to not understand it. The substitutionary sacrificial understanding of Jesus’s death is not present in the Gospel of Mark at all.

In Mark, Jesus’s death is the domination system’s “no” to Jesus (and God). Jesus didn’t die as a substitute for our sins, he died because most people do not have the courage to go up against the system. They’d rather kill the “righteous” than face the reality of the system in which they live. Dying for our sins means he died because of them, not as a sacrificial substitute for them.

Back to the crowd that condemns Jesus… The crowd that is jeering Jesus and calling for his death are in Herod’s palace. Jesus primarily taught the peasants and peasants are not going to be in Herod’s palace. The people in Herod’s palace are the aristocrats and high priests – those who have good reason to maintain the system because they are in cahoots with the Roman leaders. Of course they are going to want Jesus killed. He’s a nuisance as far as they are concerned because he empowers the peasants. It’s not the Jews who killed Jesus. It was a corrupt power structure.

Jesus knew what he was doing when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and overturned the money changers. He knew this would likely get him killed. He was willing to sacrifice his life for a cause. A soldier will sacrifice his life for his country. Martin Luther King Jr. knew he would probably get killed yet continued to preach a message of equality. Jesus was willing to sacrifice his life for the kingdom of God.

To say Jesus gave “his life as ransom for many” means he gave his life as a means of liberation from bondage. Ransom sounds like sacrificial language, but in Mark, ransom is translated from the Greek lutron. Lutron is a means of liberation from bondage, not a substitution. In contrast to the rules of this world, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a lutron – a means of liberation – for many.” And this is a path for his followers to imitate; so it shall be “among you”.

That people believe the Old Testament prophecizes the New Testament is silly. The reason the New Testament makes so many references to the Old Testament is to give the events in the New Testament credibility. It is prophecy historicized which means an older passage in a newer story is used in an attempt to connect that newer story to the earlier tradition (with which most were familiar), and lend credibility to it.

The execution of Jesus was virtually inevitable. It happened to John the Baptist before him and Paul, Peter and James after him. Jesus was not an unfortunate victim of the domination system, he was a man who was passionate about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of God has no place in a domination system. Good Friday was the collision of the normalcy of civilization and the passion of Jesus.

It’s important to realize that no one is saying that the high priests and aristocracy were inherently evil. The problem was the system they upheld.

Saturday

The Descent into Hell

No real notes on this. The descent into hell doesn’t exist in Mark at all. When I was Catholic, we included it in the Apostles Creed. But I grew up Methodist and Saturday didn’t show up in the Creed. We went straight from Good Friday to Easter Sunday and skipped the Sabbath altogether.

My understanding of the descent into Hell is purely mythological. I’ve never come at it any other way – not even in my more fundamentalist days. Borg & Crossan try to show how well this descent fits into the poetic parts of the Bible and how awkward they are in the narratives. It’s myth and myths always lend themselves better to poetry than to narratives.

The Last Week: Sunday

Started reading a very interesting little book just in time for Easter called The Last Week: A Day by Day Account of Jesus Last Week in Jerusalem by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. 

A couple of notes from the intro:

“Passion” is from the Latin noun passio which means suffering. In every day English, we also use “passion” for any consuming interest, dedicated enthusiasm, or concentrated commitment. It is Jesus’ passion in the later sense that leads to his passion in the first sense. The passion of Jesus was to incarnate the justice of God by demanding a fair share for all and a world belonging to and ruled by the conventional God of Israel: the kingdom of God. It is his passion for the kingdom of God that leads to the passion of his execution. Borg and Crossan have chosen the gospel of Mark to focus on Jesus’ passion because a) it is the earliest gospel (it tells us how the story was told around 70 A.D.) and scholars fairly unanimously agree that both Matthew and Luke used it as a major source for their gospels. It is also likely that John used it as well; and b) Mark alone went out of his way to chronicle Jesus’ last week on a day-by-day basis.

So – here is a synopsis of Sunday. I’ll have to catch up with Monday and Tuesday tomorrow…

Sunday

On Sunday, Jesus made his way into Jerusalem. Jerusalem was associated with Israel’s hope of a future glory involving justice and peace as much or more than it involved power. The hoped for deliverer of this glory would be a new David, but greater than David. It is this new David that would rule the restored kingdom of Jerusalem as a kingdom of justice and peace. The temple mediated access to God so Jerusalem therefore engendered yearning and joy as the city of God. But it also held negative associations because it became the center of a “domination system”. This was the most common form of social systems in preindustrial agrarian societies.

A domination system consisted of 1) political oppression; 2) economic exploitation; 3) religious legitimation (and where secular, the idea that “this is the way things are and the best way they can be”). Kings ruled by divine right. It was the political and economic domination of the many by a few and the use of religious claims to justify it. This system was seen as normal – not unusual or abnormal. According to Jewish prophets, however, Jerusalem had become the center of injustice and betrayal of God’s covenant because God’s passion for justice had been replaced by human injustice.

This became especially true under Herod, whose family was Indumean and had only recently converted to Judaism slightly before Herod was made king of the Jews by the Romans. When Herod died in 4 BCE – revolts erupted throughout Jerusalem. It was so bad that Roman legions had to be brought south from Syria to keep them under control. The Romans burned the city of Sepphoris in Galilee (Sepphoris was 4 miles from Nazareth). The Jews they didn’t kill they sold into slavery. Once they managed to regain their stronghold on Jerusalem, they killed thousands of Jews trying to defend it against the Romans.

After Herod died, Rome had divided Israel into three kingdoms, each being ruled by one of Herod’s sons. But in 6 CE, they removed Archelaus who ruled from Jerusalem and replaced him with Roman governors.

The Temple was now at the center of Roman collaboration. Jerusalem had become a two-layer domination system. The local Jewish domination center was subsumed under the imperial domination system which meant that tribute ( both taxes and loyalty) had to be paid to the Roman emperor. The few it was ruled by at the local system were the temple authorities and members of aristocratic society.

Wealth was a product of land ownership. Traditionally, priests were not allowed to own land, but they changed the interpretation of this law and claimed that priests were not allowed to work on the land. Jewish law said that agricultural land could not be bought or sold as a means to allow each family to have a portion of land in perpetuity. But land could be acquired by confiscation by the king or if people did not pay their debts. Herod had huge royal estates and gave land to new elites. This land was confiscated for his personal use. The wealthy could easily confiscate land from struggling peasants who had a bad year of crops. Then instead of being able to work their own land and use it as a means of subsistence, they were forced to become somebody elses laborer where they had no means of subsistence. Being a peasant had never been glamorous, but it always provided enough. After Herod, many peasants no longer had enough.

The wealthy and powerful can be “good” people – hard working, responsible, loyal to their friends and family, interesting, charming, good hearted. At issue is not individual virtue. What is at issue is their role in the domination system.

The high priest and the temple authorities had a difficult task because they had to strike a balance between keeping Rome happy and keeping the Jewish people happy. It is obvious that Caiphas, the high priest during Jesus time was particularly effective at keeping Rome happy because he had a much longer reign than most high priests under Roman rule.

It is important to note that the gospel of Mark was written very near the destruction of the Jewish temple by the Romans in 66CE. It is most likely that it was written after it’s destruction, but even if it was written before, the destruction was imminent. Mark is a “wartime gospel”, and Jerusalem is central within it.

It is also important to note that in Mark, Jesus’ message is not about himself – not about him being the lamb of God, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Light of the World, etc. He never once refers to himself in this way in Mark. Voices from the spirit world make the reference. Jesus’ message is about the Kingdom of God (which is not a kingdom under the domination system) and the way.

Jesus says, “Repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). Repent means to embark upon a way that goes beyond the mind that you have (which is a much deeper understanding than simply giving up bad habits.) Belief does not mean accepting a set of statements or doctrines as true. It means to trust in the news that the kingdom of God is near and to commit to that kingdom.

Jesus primarily preached to the peasants.

Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34). This wasn’t like today’s idea of “the cross I’ve been given to bear”. It meant being willing to risk imperial retribution (crucifixion was a typical form or retribution at that time.)

Genuine discipleship meant 1) confrontation with the domination system; and 2) death and resurrection. These are the themes of Holy Week.

It’s also important to understand Jesus within Judaism, not against it. Jesus was a part of Judaism, not apart from it. It is the domination system that the temple had fallen under that had become problematic, not Judaism itself.

The Last Supper

Today The Mysteries of the Bible series talks abut The Last Supper…

The Last Supper occurs during the time of Julius Caesar. The Romans allowed the Jews to celebrate Passover, a Jewish holiday that represented freedom over oppression (the Exodus), but it was done under the watchful eye of Roman soldiers who were a reminder to the Jews that they weren’t an independent/free people. People celebrating freedom from imperial bondage while under imperial bondage makes for a very rowdy crowd. One disruption could potentially create a huge riot.

Jesus visits the center during this volatile time and drives out all of the people who are buying and selling and overturns the money changers exclaiming that the temple is supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations, but that it has been turned into a den of thieves. (Mark 11:15). This threatens the existing order which makes him known as a dangerous political insurgent. He is not arrested during the Passover festival for fear of a riot among the Jews. (Mark 14:2).

Jesus knows he is in trouble. People who do anything to upset the political stability in Jerusalem are typically arrested and executed.

It is possible the Last Supper was eaten at the house of John Mark’s mother. A building on Mount Zion is thought to be the site of her house (this isn’t in the film, but according to archaeological evidence, this area was once home to a large community of Essenes.)

Leonardo’s depiction of the Last Supper is probably very wrong. According to Jewish tradition, people would eat in a reclining position (not an upright one), and the table would have been U shaped. Also, women would have been present. There were females who were among the inner circle of disciples so it doesn’t make sense that there would only be males. The number 12 was probably used as a literary device for it’s symbolic meaning – 12 tribes of Israel – symbolic of the new people of God.

Some Jewish scholars don’t think the Last Supper was actually Passover. None of the traditions of Passover are present and this would have meant Jesus was crucified on a Jewish holiday which is almost impossible to believe. The gospels themselves disagree. Matthew and Mark say the Last Supper is on Passover. John says it is the night before meaning Jesus is sacrificed on the Passover. John says this because symbolically this makes Jesus the Passover lamb.

The gospels all agree that Jesus is betrayed by Judas and Jesus seems to know who his betrayer will be before it happens. In Jesus’ time, Judas’ act of betrayal would have been severely punished. Loyalty is the highest value in the social structure of the first century. (Of course, since this film came out, the Gospel of Judas has been all the rage. It claims that Judas did not betray Jesus – Judas carried out Jesus’ wishes because Judas was the only disciple he could trust to do so. That makes way more sense to me. Why would Judas betray Jesus for 30 coins? Even if he was disgruntled with Jesus, it doesn’t make sense.) The Jesus movement made a statement that the loyalty they had for one another was beyond family loyalty.

The story of the last supper in John’s gospel does not record the breaking of the body and drinking of the blood. But it does talk about another symbolic act: Jesus gets down on his knees like a female slave and washes the feet of his disciples. This is likely symbolic of the passing on of leadership, or it could mean that to be leaders means to be servants. This act isn’t in any of the other gospels.

In Jesus final days, he never says he is the King of the Jews, yet this is what he is arrested and sentenced to death for. (Strange because blasphemy was not something the Romans considered a crucifiable offense.)

Evidence is that the male disciples ran. This doesn’t mean they lost their faith. They just lost their nerve. They didn’t keep running. The gospels claim that Judas hung himself. The loss of honor was considered catastrophic and the only way to redeem it was through suicide.

The earliest places of worship were in the homes of people and the Eucharistic meal was a meal. (Eucharist means thanksgiving). Because homes were part of the domestic sphere assigned to women, women played a large role in presiding over the Eucharistic meal. Of course, this created a power struggle later and by the 100s, women were silenced and a high level of authority became attached to the person presiding over the meal which set this person apart from the rest of the people. But this wasn’t how it was first practiced by people within the Jesus movement.