The Scandal of Joshua Ben Adam, Part 7
By Robert D. Brinsmead VERDICT, November 1998
Christians persecuted Jews for centuries in the name of the Christian Jesus but the historical Jesus (Joshua ben Adam) was a Jew rather than a Christian in his core beliefs about God, Man and Woman, Justice and Election. The Jesus of Incarnation, Trinity and Atonement by blood sacrifice has been an insurmountable barrier to Jews, Muslims and Atheists. Joshua ben Adam removed all religious barriers - religion never has and never will bear God's image and likeness; only humanity can do that.
God is the friend and inspiration of all who have a love for humanity despite their religion or lack of it.
The "son of man" did not come to destroy menís lives but to save them... (Luke 9:56)
This "son of man" saying is not well attested in the New Testament tradition. It is only recorded in some Lukan manuscripts. Yet the saying does appear to have an authentic Joshua ben Adam ring to it. It is another one of those sayings which breathes his same life-affirming and life-promoting spirit.
The context in which this saying appears is quite remarkable. A Samaritan village had treated Joshua ben Adam as persona non grata because it was religiously offended by Joshuaís intention to proceed to
- a rival religious centre. James and John were so offended by the religious snub that they wanted the Samaritans zapped with fire just as Elijah was reported to have done to some recalcitrants in his day. The apostles were not the first and certainly not the last ones to propose killing people who rejected their great Teacher. Jerusalem
Here were the Samaritans on one side and the apostles on the other side acting in a life threatening manner due to a religious barrier. But Joshua never allowed religion to colour or determine in the least degree the way he related to Samaritan, Roman or Syro-Phoenician pagan. He saw only too clearly that if religion is allowed to determine the way we relate to others it can all too easily end in religiously inspired violence.
This is amply illustrated in the history of Church. It often exhibited hostility toward those who rejected its message. As soon as it acquired the power, the Church became an instrument of violence toward "unbelievers" outside its ranks and to any voice of dissent within its ranks. It is a matter of historical fact that the Church made more martyrs than it produced from its own ranks.
For two millennia the Jews suffered at the hands of the Christian West. The church branded them as Christ-killers. They were victims of Pogroms, persecutions, banishments, scape-goating and an appalling amount of blood-letting which went on in bursts of religious frenzy century after dreary century. The seeds of anti-Semitism, watered and nurtured for so long within the bosom of Christian civilisation, bore at last the fruit of the Holocaust from which Christians recoiled in shock and horror.
There was a time in Christian history when Christian spokesmen used to seriously debate whether or not Jews had souls or were truly human. Jews were vilified, dehumanised and demonised for century after Christian century - all in the name of the Christian Jesus. It ought to be a matter of serious reflection among Christian people as to why their core teaching of Incarnation and Trinity seemed to inspire rather than subdue so much religiously inspired violence toward people who could not be persuaded that Jesus was God or that God was three persons rather than one.
No church which took the authentic history of Joshua ben Adam seriously could have engaged in the least approach to destroying human lives in his name. He related to people with compassion on the sole basis that God was their Father and he was their human brother. With him there were no religious barriers.
The Christian persecution of the Jews was a tragic irony because Joshua ben Adam had more in common with Judaism than he did with Christianity. To this astounding evidence we now turn.
In the first place ben Adam was a circumcised Jew who observed basic Jewish customs like attending the synagogue and reading scripture on Sabbath. For sure, he confronted
with a serious critique of some of its ways, but in doing this he was not doing anything different from the prophets before him. Israel
Furthermore, he had a significant Jewish following. He was not put to death in response to any popular demand but at the instigation of the priestly elite whose priestly forebears had also killed some of
ís greatest prophets. Israel
After Easter, Joshuaís Jewish following grew rather than diminished. It included a great company of Pharisees who were ardent believers in life after death through resurrection. The message of Joshuaís resurrection was seen as a confirmation of their tradition. This Jewish following, called Nazarenes, did not abandon their Jewish identity. Their leader was James, Joshuaís own brother. James and his group were widely respected in Jewish society. The priestly elite conspired to kill James about 30 years after they had killed Joshua. For this they earned intense resentment from a lot of ordinary Jewish people.
The real break between the synagogue and the Nazarenes was precipited by the disastrous Jewish-Roman war which led to the sack of
and its temple in 70AD. Because the followers of Joshua ben Adam did not take up arms against the Romans the Jewish patriots denounced them as traitors. But the point remains that Joshua would not have attracted a significant Jewish following if his life and teaching was incompatible with the core Jewish faith. Jerusalem
That core faith, embodied in the old Testament, was an inclusive or universal vision for the whole of humanity. That vision had been subverted by an exclusive or cultic religion which had gained the ascendancy in the Judaism of Joshuaís day.
There were four core aspects of this inclusive or universal vision: these were the Hebrew vision of God, Humanity, Justice and Election.
The foundation of the Hebrew faith was its uncompromising monotheism: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is OneÖ" This was the Jewsí great legacy to human history .
In the ancient world each tribe had their own gods. They were personifications of the powers of nature - wind, fire, storm, earthquake, changing seasons, sexuality and fertility, etc. Religion was nature worship in one form or another. This was humanly degrading and against human progress. To this day religion has continued to oppose social progress, human enlightenment or scientific achievement.
Monotheism alone has not stopped people slaughtering one another in the name of one God, but imagine what it must have been like where there was a polytheistic stew of tribal gods! The xenophobic tendencies of homo sapiens was aroused to the point of blood savagery by tribal deities demanding mayhem as a religious duty. The slaughter of other tribes was a means of demonstrating that the tribal god was superior to all the others.
If this religiously inspired violence was to cease, it had to start with a vision of one God who could unite humanity into a universal brotherhood*. Monotheism began as a faith among some desert tribesmen. To this polytheistic world which had sacralized nature in endless icons, altars, temples and rituals, the Hebrew faith must have appeared as austere as the desert environment from which it emerged. With Moses and the Hebrew prophets the process of desacralizing or demythologizing nature began. Joshua ben Adam carried this process to completion.
The basis of desacralizing and demythologizing nature was in the clear distinction made in the Hebrew faith between God and nature. Whilst it is true that the Hebrews borrowed the creation myth from their neighbours, they thoroughly exorcised every trace of pantheism or panentheism* from their re-worked story. In the Hebrew version, nature was not God nor any part of God. He was a transcendent person who was altogether separate, distinct and above anything that was made.
This strict monotheism with its equally strict distinction of the one transcendent, personal Creator and nature is the core of the Old Testament. This was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He was also the God of Joshua ben Adam.
Yet Old Testament theism has nothing to do with the concept of an absentee landlord which tended to develop in later Jewish apocalyptic or which resurfaced again in eighteenth century deism.
Old Testament monotheism is not only a vision of Godís transcendence (his distinction from creation) but also his immanence* (his presence within his creation). Like the mighty wind, he is represented as a spirit who is everywhere present. There is not a place anywhere in the universe where God is absent. (Psalm 139) The ruach (spirit) of God is said to sustain every living creature. If he withdraws his sustaining presence there is no such thing as life. God is the healing, life-giving presence within his creation. (See Job 27:3; 33:4; 34:14,15; Psalm 103:3-5).
Joshua ben Adamís proclamation of Godís kingdom near, among and within his people was an extrapolation of the Old Testament vision of Godís omni-presence. When
demanded a king like the other nations, Samuel the prophet complained that God was already present as the peopleís king. In response to his core Jewish tradition, Joshua saw God active everywhere in the world. He called on his generation to believe that Godís kingdom was already in the midst of his people. The Abba Father of Joshua ben Adam was present to feed the birds, care for the sparrows and to number the hairs of every human head. To him, faith was not like getting on a long distant telephone call to a God who was way "up there" or "out there", or to one who had to be contacted through a network of mediating priests, angels, Mary or even himself. For Joshua ben Adam, Godís immanence means that everybody may have an unbrokered access to Godís presence. As the Old Testament repeatedly says: Israel
Where can I flee from Thy presence? (Psalm 139:7), The Lord is near to all who call upon him. (Psalm 145:18). He heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds..... The Lord supports the afflicted..... He gives to the beast its food and to the young ravens which cry. (Psalm 147:3,6,9). The Lord is good to all, and his mercies are over all his works. (Psalm 145:9)
This authentic Hebrew vision of God was the stuff of Joshuaís spirituality and teaching.
Next to monotheism, the Hebrew vision of humanity being made in Godís image and likeness was itís greatest contribution to human thought. It represented an enormous break with nature worship because it set humanity above nature and provided a basis of human equality.
Humanity Above Nature - In a world given over to nature worship in one form or another, the arrival of this Hebrew faith must have sounded like a total blasphemy which threatened bountiful harvests, regular seasons, successful reproduction and all the bounties of "mother nature". This was not another religion to keep the nature gods in a generous mood. It declared that man was not the servant but the master of mother nature. (Genesis 1:27,28 & Psalm 8) Nothing was a sacred image and likeness of God except humanity.
Human Equality - This Hebrew vision of humanity also implies something very different to the natural vertical order of domination of the strong and the submission of the weak. It implies a new horizontal, on-the-same-level order of love and respect. Here is a view of humanity which transcends nationality, race, gender and culture. The image of God is neither Jew nor Gentile, African or Caucasian, black or white, male or female, old or young. That which invests humanity with dignity and value is not any racial, sexual, cultural and certainly not any religious identity. It is purely and simply the human identity which bears the signature of the Creator. No vision of an egalitarian society has ever been able to improve on this Old Testament foundation.
Joshua ben Adamís "son of man" consciousness (so basic to who he was and what he taught) had his roots in this creation Psalm: "When I consider thy heavens the work of thy fingers, The moon and the stars which thou has ordained, What is man that thou doest take thought of him, And the son of man (Hebrew: ben Adam) That thou doest care for him? Yet thou has made him a little lower than God, And has crowned him with glory and majesty, Thou doest make him to rule over the works of thy hands; Thou has put all things under his feet..." (Verses 3-6)
A "son of man" consciousness based on a Scripture like this was the reason why Joshua dared to go to the greatest religious regulation - the Sabbath itself - and put humanity above it instead of under it. (See Mark 2:27,28). Times, places, foods and anything else in the created order must serve humanity rather than being served by humanity.
In the Old Testament, justice is unquestionably the core attribute of God. (Psalm 89:14)
Contrary to what is often taken for granted, justice generally does not have any retributive connotation such as punish, anger, repay etc. Justice is Godís saving, even forgiving action of behalf of all that are oppressed. The best paradigm text for the meaning of justice is Psalm 103:6
The Lord executes justice and judgement for all that are oppressed. (See also Psalm 9:9; ; 72:4; 37:21; 146:7; 102:19,20)
The oppressed are variously identified as the afflicted, the poor, the strangers, the outcasts, the widows, the fatherless and others in need. It includes those in need of forgiveness. Godís forgiving mercy is his justice at work:
Bless the Lord O my soul.....Who pardons all your iniquities; Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit; The Lord performs acts of justice and judgements for all who are oppressed..... He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.....As far as the east is from the west, So far has he removed our transgressions from us.....For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. (Psalm 103:1-14)
In Christian theology, forgiveness is seen as something in tension with Godís justice, a tension which could be resolved only by atonement . But no such tension appears in the Old Testament passages linking justice and forgiveness. Justice is Godís saving action at work for all that are oppressed. So too when God judges, he saves, delivers, and rescues the oppressed:
Judge me O God and plead my cause..... deliver me..... (Psalm 43:1). Deliver me by your justice. (Psalm 71:2 See also 7:8; ; 51:4; 72:4)
The paradigm event of Godís saving justice in Hebrew Scripture was the Exodus. By an act of judgement and justice God delivered a weak and afflicted people from the hand of oppression.
The Exodus not only exhibited Godís saving justice, but is became the model of how those who have been delivered were to image their God:
You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the
. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out loud, I will surely hear his cry; and my anger will be kindled.... for I am gracious..... (Exodus 22: 21-24). You shall not oppress one another. (Lev. 25:14). Escaped slaves must be given asylum and not be oppressed. (Det. 23:15,16) landof Egypt
Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. (Psalm 82:3)
Hebrew justice means loving the neighbour as oneself. (Lev ) It means being human and acting humanly. It is a social, humanitarian justice based on every personís entitlement to be accorded the dignity of being made in Godís image and likeness. Justice is the mark of the ideal King: He shall judge the people with justice, and your poor with judgement..... He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. (Psalm 72: 2, 4). Did not your father [the King]..... do judgment and justice. He judged the poor and needy. (Jeremiah 22: 15,16)
Above everything else, "justice and judgement" is required of the King. (see 1 Kings 10: 9; 1 Chronicles 18:4; 2 Chronicles 9:8; Daniel 4:27) The big complaint of the prophets is that the rulers do not mirror the saving event of the Exodus. They fail to exercise saving justice to the poor, the disadvantaged, and the oppressed. So the prophets begin to hope for an ideal King, a son of David who would "execute judgement and justice on the earth." (Jeremiah 23:5).
When Job was forced to defend his righteousness he did not appeal to his religious rectitude but to his humanitarian justice:
I delivered the poor who cried for help, the orphan who had no helper. The blessing of the one ready to perish came upon me, and I made the widowís heart sing for joy. I put on righteousness and it clothed me; My justice was like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy and I investigated the case which I did not know. And I broke the jaws of the wicked, and snatched the prey from his teeth. If I have despised the claim of my male or female slaves. When they filed complaint against me, What then could I do when God arises and calls me to account, what will I answer him? Did not he who made me in the womb make him. And the same one fashioned us in the womb. If I have kept the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone and the orphan has not shared it..... If I have seen anyone perish for want of clothing, or that the needy had no covering, if his loins have not thanked me, and if he has not been warmed with the fleece of my sheep, if I have lifted up my hand against the orphan, because I saw I had support in the gate. Let my shoulder fall from the socket and my arm broken off at the elbow..... Have I rejoiced at the destruction of my enemy, Or exalted when evil befell him? The alien has not lodged outside For I have opened my doors to the traveller..... (Job 29:12-17;31-22,29,32)
This brings us to the moral outrage of the Old Testament prophets and their running conflict with priestly religion. The prophets accused their nation of being deceived with religious lies. (Jeremiah 7) The people were trusting in religious institutions, sacrifices and rituals to save them while they failed to "practice justice between a man and his neighbour". They oppressed the alien, the orphan, and the widow. (Jeremiah 7:5,6)
In the prophets, being holy like God meant practising humanitarian justice modelled on the Exodus. But the priestly tradition taught that being holy like God meant strict adherence to a holiness code concerning separation from ritual uncleanliness, temple sacrifices, and religious festivals. Kingís, princes and people found this more congenial to practice than humanitarian justice. The prophets confronted a situation where religion was flourishing. It had become a "cop out", a palliative substitute for the sterner stuff of authentic justice.
For this reason the prophets railed against the offering of sacrifices and poured scorn on the religious festivals. They ridiculed the practice of religious fasting and called the holiness code of the priesthood into question. In short, they made war on
ís cultic, religious "righteousness", declaring it a putrid, heap of selfish lies. Israel
What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me? says the Lord. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams. And the fat of fed cattle, And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feastsÖ Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen Ö Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless; Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow Ö Your rulers are rebels And companions of thieves, Everyone loves a bribe. And chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan.
Nor does the widowís plea come before them. (Isaiah 1: 11-23)
I did not speak to your fathers, or command then in the day that I brought them out of the
concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. (Jeremiah 7:22) landof Egypt
I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them..... Take away from Me the noise of your songs..... But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness as an over-flowing stream. (Amos 8: 21-24)
With what shall I come to the Lord. And bow myself before God on high? Shall I come to him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? [note: this rejection of both animal and human sacrifice and the whole priestly concept of blood atonement] He has told you, O man, what is good, And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, and to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God. (Micah : 6-8)
Thou does not delight in sacrifice otherwise I would give it; Thou art not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart O God; thou wilt not despise. [note: God forgives in response to repentance, not any priestly blood atonement] (Psalm 51: 16,17). To do judgement and justice is desired by the Lord rather than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:3). For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; And the knowledge of God, more than burnt offering. (Hosea 6:6)
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness; to undo the heavy burdens, and let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and bring the poor which are cast out into your house, and that you hide not yourself from your own flesh. (Isaiah 58:5-7)
To understand this deeply humanitarian justice of the prophets is to understand the fire in the belly of Joshua ben Adam. His was the spirit of the Hebrew prophets. This too was his vision of justice, and these Old Testament passages were obviously his meat and drink.
Joshua confronted what the prophets confronted - a society caught up in a cultic, tribal "righteousness". The priestly tradition of strict adherence to purity codes and rituals had gained the ascendancy in Judaism. The more religious the culture became, the more unjust and inhuman it was. Righteousness or justice (the same word in Hebrew and Greek) had become confounded with religious rectitude or meticulous orthodoxy.
Joshua accused his opponents of grossly distorting the real spirit and intent of the Jewish Law. Whilst they religiously tithed even their garden herbs, they neglected justice, mercy and faith. (Matthew 23:23) He flung the words of the prophet at them "I will have mercy rather than sacrifice". "Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight." (Jeremiah 7:11; Mark ) Apparently borrowing the saying of the great Rabbi Hillel, Joshua said, "Whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them". But then he added this definitive comment, "This IS the Law and the prophets", that is to say, this is the whole spirit and intent of Scripture. (Matthew 7:23)
Joshua didnít want people calling him the Messiah. Yet he did the work of the Messiah. He executed justice and judgement on behalf of the oppressed. (Jeremiah 23:5; Luke 4:18) "He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed." (Acts )
Clearly Joshua ben Adam was moved by the authentic Hebrew vision of justice.
The election of
was often interpreted by the Jewish people to mean some kind of divine favouritism or the rejection of others. This misunderstanding of election, vehemently scorned by the prophets, led to a great deal of racial arrogance, national pride and contempt for other people. This conceit was no different to the "special people syndrome" found throughout history in tribes and nations all over the earth. What race or religious group has not conceived of itself as the first, the best and the chosen of God? Israel
This "better than the rest" attitude is distinctly out of harmony with the vision of one God, one humanity in his image and likeness, and one kind of justice for the whole human race. So God is represented as saying to Abraham, "In you shall all the nations of earth be blessed". (Genesis 12:3) This world-vision was often subverted by cultic pride, but it was never totally lost, certainly not whenever the prophets spoke. Their passion for justice went beyond national boundaries:
The Lord will make himself known to
, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord on that day.....he will respond to them and heal them..... saying, "Blessed is Egypt , my people, and Egypt Assyriathe work of my hands, and my inheritance". (Isaiah 19: 21-25) Israel
The Lord of hosts will prepare a banquet for all peoples on this mountain.....And on this mountain he will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples. Even the veil which is stretched over all nations. He will swallow up death for all time. The Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces. (Isaiah 25: 6-8)
And many nations will come and say, Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord And to the house of the God of Jacob That he may teach us about his ways, And that we may walk in his paths..... And he will judge between many peoples And render decisions for mighty distant nations, Then they will hammer their swords into ploughshares. And their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they train for war. (Micah 4: 2-3)
There is no doubt where Joshua ben Adam stood on this matter of election. He exhibited the inclusive, universal vision of the prophets. Along with John the Baptist, he taught that kinship of spirit rather than of blood made anyone a child of Abraham made anyone children of Abraham. (Matthew 3:9; Mark 3:35; John 8:39)
His home synagogue at
was enraged when he reminded them how God visited pagans rather than Jews in the days of Elisha. His parables depicted Gentiles sitting down at the banquet with Abraham, Issac, and Jacob whilst the "chosen people" were left outside. He offended national pride by declaring that the faith of a Samaritan, a Roman, or a Syro-Phonecian pagan was superior to anything he had encountered in Nazareth . He swept aside all racial, religious and gender barriers. He related to people with compassion on the sole basis that the one Father of all humanity demanded justice without discrimination. Israel
In conclusion, we have to say that judged by the core teaching of God, man, justice, and election drawn from Jewish Scripture, Joshua ben Adam was profoundly Jewish.
In the post-Easter church we can trace the progressive transformation of Joshua ben Adam from a very Jewish son of God to a Gentile "son of God". In the Jewish tradition, the term "son of God" could be applied to Adam to the nation of
or to the anointed King. (Luke 3:38; Hosea 11:1; Psalm 2:2,7,12) Applied to Joshua ben Adam, it simply meant he was the Messiah, the anointed King. Israel
In the earliest New Testament writing, ben Adam is said to be "son of God" by the resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:4) Next, Mark (author unknown) suggests Joshua was designated "son of God" by the anointing of the spirit at his baptism. Whether by resurrection, by baptism, or by both, the Christology of those first Jewish Christians was "Adoptionist", meaning that at a certain point of time God chose or adopted Joshua as his son.
When this Christian message got out into the Greek world, "son of God" was invested with the overtones of that culture. The Greeks had a plethora of divinities, many of them virgin born who suffered, died and returned to heaven. Each of these was called "son of God". Then there was the legend of Alexander the Great being virgin born and "son of God". Finally there was the cult of Caesar worship. The Roman Emperor too, was a divinity who was worshipped as both "Lord" and "son of God."
In about 80 AD "Matthew" and "Luke" (the authors are really unknown) introduced the unknown stories about Joshua becoming "son of God" by virtue of a virgin birth. The transformation of the Jewish ben Adam to the Christian Jesus, Ďson of the Virginí was well on its way. By the time the century ended "John" (also an unknown author) had pushed the beginnings of "son of God" back to the pre-existent Logos dwelling in the Nazarene teacher. But even "John" stops short of saying Joshua pre-existed, only that the Logos of God which dwelt in him pre-existed. (See John 1:1-14)
Nevertheless Gentile Christianity moved from a Jewish Adoptionist Christology toward an Incarnational Christology. It took several centuries before a full blown Incarnation dogma was established. In its final form the Christian Jesus, the son of the virgin, became God in the highest sense. The Incarnation dogma meant that Jesus was God in human flesh.
This kind of teaching was unthinkable to all Jews who were steeped in a strict and uncompromising monotheism. The first Christians, including the apostles, had no intention of being anything else but Jews who were faithful to their best scriptural tradition. According to the Hebrew shema God was one person. Joshua plainly spoke of God in terms of a person distinct from himself. Jewish Christians believed God had raised Joshua from the dead, but they did not blur that distinction between God and Joshua.
The vision of an Incarnation demanded a Trinity - the doctrine of God being three persons instead of one. The Trinity was an extremely intricate theology having subtle nuances never understood by 99.9% of Christians. It took several centuries to work out and consolidate as Christian orthodoxy. In the creeds of Athanasius, Nicea, and
(over four centuries of development) God became three and Christ became a hypostatic union of two natures in one person - again so intricately worked out in subtle Greek words and Greek philosophical concepts that it was never understood by 99.9% percent of Christians. Most clergy only pretend to understand Chalcedon ! Chalcedon
The Gentile dogma of Christ not only put up an insurmountable barrier between Judaism and Christianity, it put up an insurmountable barrier between Jewish and Gentile Christians. As a movement Jewish Christianity never did come to terms with Gentile Christianityís Incarnation and Trinity.
The apostle Paulís grand dream was that through Christ the barrier between Gentile and Jews would be broken down. (Ephesians 2:15) His hope of a united Church was never realised. Jewish and Gentile Christianity were never reconciled. This was the great tragedy of early Christianity.
In the Hebrew tradition, we derived our humanness from God. Humanness was Godís image and likeness. (Genesis 1:27, 28; Psalm 8)
The Christian tradition of an Incarnation turned this completely around. It said that God was born of a virgin and thereby derived his humanness from us.
This Christian view of God acquiring our humanness had a disastrous effect on the Churchís humanity. It is no mystery why the church quickly became an expression of morbid world-hating asceticism, rigorous fasting, and given to cultic withdrawal from social and civic life. This is all too apparent in early Christian literature such as the Teachings of the Twelve Apostles, the Shepherd of Hermes, the Letters of Justin Martyr ( who had himself castrated) and the dreary Church Fathers. Reading their literature helps us to understand how Julian lamented the spread of Christianity in this renowned one-liner, "O pale Galillean, you have conquered".
Multitudes of women became perpetual virgins for the faith. Men rushed off to monasteries in droves, some to castrate themselves after the example of Justin, others to flagellate the flesh so as to conquer their natural impulses.
The New Testament book of Revelation had depicted the ideal community of humans as 144,000 celibate ascetics in the desert. Washed in the Lambís blood, they would spend their days supplicating Godís vengeance in the form of famine, disease and unspeakable torments upon the rest of humanity. (No hint here of Joshua ben Adamís spirit of saving menís lives, much less forgiving their enemies!)
For the present we shall leave alone the hair-splitting theological disputes among the hierarchy of Bishops (the laity had no say in the church) and concern ourselves with how early Christianity related to the real world. We will consider in particular the Churchís attitude to woman and human sexuality. This cannot be brushed off as an expression of a patriarchal culture, for Judaism too had a patriarchal culture, but it never exhibited the disgraceful denigration of women that went on for centuries in the church. It could only be called the blasphemy of Godís image in one half of the human race. Here is an example of the virulent misogyny which poured out of the Church fathers:
Origen (AD 185-254)
"What is seen with the eyes of the creator is masculine, and not feminine; for God does not stoop to look upon what is feminine and of the flesh."
"It is not proper for a woman to speak in church, however admirable or holy what she says may be, merely because it comes from female lips."
Chrysostom (AD 347-407)
"Should you reflect about what is contained in beautiful eyes, in a straight nose, in a mouth, in cheeks, you will see that bodily beauty is only a white-washed tombstone for inside it is full of filth."
Augustine (AD 354-430)
"A good Christian is found in one and the same women to love the creature of God whom he desires to be transformed and renewed, but to hate in her the corruptible and moral conjugal connection, sexual intercourse and all that pertains to her as a wife."
Ambrose (AD 339-397)
"Some of these conceptions of the soul are associated with the female sex, such as malice of thought, petulance, sensuality, self-indulgence, immodesty and other vices of that nature, which tend to enervate the traits associated with what is distinctively masculine. The distinctively masculine traits are the virtues of chastity, patience, wisdom, temperance, fortitude and justice, which make it possible for our minds and bodies to struggle with zeal and confidence in our pursuit of virtue. And these are the conceptions to which the prophet Isaiah referred in the words ĎWe have conceived and brought forth the spirit of salvationí. That is, the characteristic masculine traits, conceived and gave birth to the spirit of salvation."
Jerome (AD 342-420)
Although in my fear of hell I had consigned myself to this prison where I had no companions but scorpions and wild beasts, I often found myself amid bevies of girls. My face was pale and my frame chilled with fasting, yet my mind was burning with desire and the fires of lust kept bubbling up before me when my flesh was as good as dead.
To the Widowed Salvine
Never let pheasants be seen on your table . . . nor fancy that you eschew meat diet when you reject . . . the savory flesh of other quadrupeds. It is not the number of feet but the delicacy of flavor that makes the difference [i.e. fowl are also to be prohibited] . . . Let those who feed on flesh serve the flesh, whose bodies boil with desire, who are tied to their husbands and who set their hearts on having offspring. Let those whose wombs are burdened cram their stomachs with flesh. But you have buried every indulgence in your husbandís tomb . . . Let paleness and squalor be henceforth your jewels. Do not pamper your youthful limbs with bed or down or kindle your young blood with hot baths . . . Take no well curled steward to walk with you, no effeminate actor, no devilish singer of poisoned sweetness, no spruce and well shorn youth . . . Keep with you bands of widows and virgins . . . Let the divine Scriptures be always in your hands and give yourself frequently to prayer that such shafts of evil thoughts as ever assail the young may find thereby a shield to repel them.
Tertullian (2nd century AD)
If there existed upon earth a fate in proportion to the reward that faith will receive in heaven, no one of you, my beloved sisters, from the time when you came to know the living God and recognized your own state, that is the condition of being a woman, would have desired a too attractive garb and much less anything that seems too ostentatious. I think, rather, that you would have dressed in mourning garments, and even neglected your exterior, acting the part of mourning and repentant Eve in order to expiate more fully by all sorts of penitential garb that which woman derives from Eve. The ignominy, I mean, of original sin and the odium of being the cause of the fall of the human race. In sorrow and anxiety you will bring forth, O woman, and you are subject to your husband and he is your master. Do you not believe that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives on even in our times so it is necessary that the guilt should live on also. You are the one who opened the door to the devil. You are the one who first picked the fruit of the forbidden tree. You are the first who deserted the divine law. You are the one who persuaded him whom the devil was not strong to attack. All too easily you destroyed the image of God, man. Because of your desert, that is death, even the Son of God had to die.
It has to be remembered that these were the revered fathers of the Church who gave us the Cardinal Christian doctrines of Incarnation and Trinity. A New Testament author asks how can we possibly love God whom we have not seen if we do not love the brother whom we have seen. (1 John 4:20) So we may also ask, how could we trust these menís teachings about God (Incarnation and Trinity), whom they havenít seen if they canít discern Godís image in women whom they have seen?
Yet this sad spectacle of a dehumanizing misogyny was only indicative of their jaundiced view of the world and their life in general.
But we need to ask the question, where did this world-hating, life-denying asceticism spring from? It was the fruit of the veneration of the celibate son of a perpetual virgin. This ideal Christian humanity was more surreal than real. A virgin born God disguised as a human and dying on a cross to make blood atonement for sin was not history but an apocalyptic interpretation imposed on history. How could this Christian humanity of Jesus, so contrary to the real life of Joshua ben Adam, produce anything but a distortion of real human existence?
But there is a deeper reason why a theology of Incarnation Ė God deriving his humanness from us Ė had a disastrous effect on the Churchís humanity. If this is how God became "the supremely human one", then it implies that before this Incarnation God was not a supremely human reality as our being made in his image and likeness would indicate. Does the reality of an inhuman God stand behind the surreal humanity of Jesus? We say "surreal", because a man who was virgin born and God in disguise was not really human after all despite the affirmation of
to the contrary! When the twin doctrines of Atonement by bloody sacrifice and Hell fire are added to this Incarnation, this ideal humanness of Jesus is lost because it is redefined by an inhuman reality called "God". Chalcedon
Anyhow, this new heavenly humanity ruled the Church through the frightful vertical authority of a celibate hierarchy. Who else could fitly represent the God who became the celibate son of Godís virginal mother? Joseph Campbell and a host of other scholars have marshalled irrefutable evidence that these Christian claims were in fact old pagan myths which had been recycled for thousands of years.
We can confidently say that Joshua ben Adam didnít have an ascetic bone in his body. This very social Ďeating and drinkingí man sometimes outraged his male company by his egalitarian interactions with women. There is some evidence, although not conclusive, that Mary Magnalene was either his wife or lover. But even if that cannot be established one thing is certain: Joshuaís view of the essential goodness of the created order was profoundly in the best Jewish tradition. Judaism, it must be remembered was never an ascetical religion which advocated abstinence from "wine, women and song".
There is an old Rabbinical saying that God will ask us at the end of life, "did you enjoy all the good things the world gave you to enjoy". It would be too bad if we had to answer, "I was too pre-occupied getting my soul to heaven to notice".
It is quite amusing to compare the old Christian commentaries on the Song of Solomon with the Jewish ones. Thankfully the Church has made progress in its attitudes to the essential goodness of life. Modern Christian commentaries now acknowledge that the Old Testament Song of Solomon is nothing but a celebration of sexual love, something that would have appeared almost pornographic to the poor Jerome, fighting back the tormenting images of dancing virgins during his desert solitude.
The conclusion we are forced to draw, of course, is that Joshua ben Adam was far more Jewish than Christian in his view of human existence.
How can we possibly love God whom we have not seen if we do not love the brother whom we have seen. (1 John 4:20)
The Incarnation and the death of Christ as an atonement for sin is the heart of Christian theology. Christ is said to have endured Godís wrath against sin, making it possible for God to forgive us. A blood atonement is considered necessary to satisfy Godís justice.
Forgiveness and salvation is now offered on the basis that justice is satisfied. We escape from eternal punishment only because our debt has been paid - in blood!
In Christian teaching, Godís justice is equated with Godís wrath, the terrors of Judgment Day and the blood payment for sin carried out on the cross. All this redefined the meaning of Justice to something punitive.
Consequently, Christian people became preoccupied with atonement for guilt through Christís suffering. ("Hangmanís theology") The central issue became "How can I be just before God?" How can I escape from justice and get to heaven?
So developed what Krister Stendahl called "the introspective conscience of the west". The monk Martin Luther epitomized the Christian of the Middle Ages, terrified of Godís justice and never able to get rid of guilt, never able to stand before God with an easy conscience.
Luther wondered what Paul meant when he said this about the gospel, "For in it the justice of God is revealed". (Romans 1:17) At first he complained bitterly that God was not content to torment him with the justice of his Law, but he added to that the terrors of the justice of the gospel.
Then he had what was called his "tower experience". Hartmann Grisar*, a Lutheran scholar, tarnished this hallowed legend somewhat when he proved it actually took place on the toilet. (Luther suffered from chronic constipation and spent a lot of time there). Anyway, he put the time spent there to good use mulling over the meaning of justice in Romans 1:17. Suddenly the insight struck him that this was a saving, forgiving justice. Luther was like Archemedes springing out of the bathtub saying "
, Eureka ". The Protestant Reformation was born! Eureka
Luther had simply re-discovered the authentic Hebrew meaning of justice as Godís loving kindness in action on behalf of all that are oppressed. Luther was certainly oppressed by this troubled conscience brought about by all the religious legalism of the Church. He was liberated through Ďjustification by faith alone".
The problem was that neither Luther nor the Protestant Reformation was able to carry this vision of Godís saving justice very far because they were still stuck with the Hangmanís theology of blood atonement i.e. punitive pay-back justice). In fact, in Protestant orthodoxy, this pay-back justice of God, called the penal theory of atonement, became the center piece of theology. If the saving aspect of justice ever broke through the dark cloud of retributive justice it was for "my forgiveness", "my salvation" and "my finding a gracious God".
The social, humanitarian meaning of Old Testament (Jewish) justice never did manage to break through in the Protestant Reformation. It was at best truncated by the pre-occupation with the salvation of me, me, me.
Tragically, Luther deserted the peasants in their revolt against oppression. He ended up calling for their slaughter instead of their liberation. In the same vein he railed on the Jews and added to their intolerable oppressions.
It has been said that John Wesley was far more concerned about the blasphemy of Godís name than the blasphemy of Godís children. He had little to say about the social injustices of Charles Dickensí
In John Bunyanís Pilgrimís Progress, which for a long time was like a second Bible in English speaking Christianity, the hero "Christian" never did anything except get himself to Heaven.
In this brief overview it would be all too easy to distort the picture by failing to acknowledge examples of social justice within Christianity. Much of this has been motivated by the influence of the historical Joshua ben Adam which the Church has always borne witness to in spite of a theology which has a tendency to push his history into the background. Yet it remains that classical Christian theology is focused on personal salvation through blood atonement. Godís punitive justice and saving the soul for the life hereafter holds centre stage. It is for this reason that Walter Kaufmann (The Faith of a Heretic) criticizes historic Christianity for seriously falling short of the moral righteousness of the Old Testament prophets.
Conclusion: Joshua ben Adamís vision of justice was essentially Jewish rather than Christian.
If Judaism was ever exclusive and contemptuous of the goyim (outsiders), we need to remember two things: first, this cultic tendency was an aberration, a failure to remain true to the inclusive and universal vision of Moses and the prophets; and second, the Jews havenít had a monopoly on exclusiveness and disrespect for outsiders.
The Christian doctrines of Incarnation and salvation only by Christ locked historical Christianity into an exclusiveness which went way beyond anything known in Judaism. The Incarnation means that the son of the virgin was God himself. Christ is the only way of salvation. Outside of the Christian revelation is only darkness, superstition and ignorance.
So the Church proclaimed that all who believe this Christian message would be saved and all those who did not believe would be damned. It was only a matter of time before the Church used its power to have those who failed to obey its teaching persecuted, banished, tortured and killed.
The Roman Catholic Church decreed there was no salvation outside the Church. This was re-enforced by the doctrine of "original sin", meaning that every descendant of Adam bears the guilt and condemnation of the Fall. This means that the whole mass of humanity are already under Godís curse and wrath and are on their way to eternal damnation. The only way to overcome the estrangement from God is through the door of Christ and his Church. The rest are already lost!
The Protestant Reformation did not discard this stance of "no salvation outside the Church". It just broadened the boundaries of the Church to include itself! It is only one step from believing all outside the Christian ranks are subjects of Godís wrath to treating them as lesser human beings. It became all too easy to accept the idea that non-Christian nations ought to subjugate and if possible (sometimes by the edge of the sword) converted to the higher culture of the Christian West. Christians even justified enslaving people of the black race because by this means they baptized them into the Church whereby their souls would be eternally saved.
In more recent times the Christian Church has become very uneasy, even embarrassed about its historic exclusiveness. Such breathtaking arrogance is not compatible with an advanced human consciousness and a modern world-view. It doesnít fit into a global village and a multi-cultural society where we have to rub shoulders with neighbours of other culture and other religion. We know the old attitudes are not conducive to peace and harmony.
There is also something else. There is an awakening to the realization that the world mission of Christianity has failed. Whilst Christians have been successful in converting people to Christianity from more primitive, disintegrating cultures, it is a different story with the great world religions. Large scale conversions to Christianity from Islam and Judaism, for instance, is never going to take place, even in this age where there is such a free exchange of ideas and information.
The religion of millions is an accident of birth just as nationality is an accident of birth. Changing peopleís religions is almost as impossible as changing their race. It is no longer appropriate to call people culpably blind or obdurate because they fail to accept our religious prejudices.
It is almost amusing to see Catholics like Karl Rayner re-interpret the Churchís doctrine of no salvation outside the Church. He acknowledges that many non-Christians exhibit the spirit of Christ. They are anonymous Christians, he says, really belonging to the Church without knowing it. Very patronising! Would these "anonymous Christians" be impressed with this charitable arrogance?
But some still persist in the old ways. A few years ago, a leading American Evangelical Christian flatly declared, "God does not hear the prayer of a Jew". There was a cry of protest from Christian spokesmen wanting to disassociate themselves from such religious bigotry? Few of them were candid enough to acknowledge that the offensive statement was a fair statement of historical Christian orthodoxy.
At this point the exclusive arrogance of the Jews doesnít look so bad. Mainstream Judaism, ancient or modern, never excluded non-Jews from salvation. As one Rabbinical authority put it, "Judaism believes that a gentile who obeys the Noachide commandments [universal human moral imperatives] has a place in the world to come". (David Berger and Michael Wychogrod, Jews and Jewish Christianity, pp. 60-63)
Where does Joshua ben Adam stand in relation to all this religious exclusiveness? In his day he had no problem relating to people outside the fold. He confounded even his own supporters by declaring that the faith of some non-Jews was superior to anything in
. His God transcended all these religious boundaries. He had plenty of Jewish Scripture to support his stance. Israel
"The Lord is good to all, And his mercy is upon all his works." (Psalm 145:9)
The God of Joshua ben Adam transcended all religious barriers. His God was not a Jew, Christian or Muslim. He was not Anglo-Saxon, African or Oriental. His saving justice knew no barriers. To be human was enough. Nothing more was needed to be a recipient of his unconditional love.
Conclusion: Even in this matter of election, Joshua ben Adam was more Jew than Christian. He didnít teach Christianityís Incarnation and blood Atonement which demand exclusiveness.
There are now about one billion Muslims in the world - one billion children of God who cannot, by any means that Christians have been able to devise, be penetrated with the Christian message.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam share a common Semitic heritage in the one God of Abraham, Moses, Joshua ben Adam and Mohammed. Christians have been less successful in converting Muslims than they have been in converting Jews. There are about as many conversions away from Christianity, but in any case the inroads in either direction are insignificant. Both sides have tried killing each other or convincing each other, but fifteen centuries has been enough time to prove that nothing has been accomplished either way. Even in this information age, Christians are not about to witness any breakthrough with Islam, or vice versa.
Thankfully, there is now some dialogue resulting in progress in mutual understanding and respect, but each side competes for converts from disintegrating pagan cultures (such as in
Africa). The allegiance of these people is largely determined by whether Islam or Christianity gets to them first. Once they are locked into either religious tradition further conversion is well nigh impossible.
It has been all to easy for Christians to sit in an isolated Christian culture subscribing to the old orthodoxy of no salvation except by conversion to Christianity. We send out missionaries to convert the heathen, but now right next door to us in our global village we are confronted with another religious community who have been just as successful in converting the heathen as Christians have been.
Confronted with the reality that a billion people are certain to live and die outside the Christian tradition, a lot of Christians have been moved to re-appraise their view of how God relates to people in another religious tradition. Christians who have inherited a Lutheran or Calvinist position on the Supper rarely accept their close neighboursí point of view on their little difference. But we are grappling here with a problem of communicating with people who, religiously speaking, live in another universe. There are cases of Christian missionaries working in a Muslim culture for several generations without making a single convert.
likened religious tradition to a dividing wall of hostility which his Christ had come to abolish. (Ephesians 1:15) But the Christ of Incarnation, Trinity and blood Atonement has become an insurmountable Berlin Wall to both Jews and Muslims. It required more centuries to build this Christian tradition than it took to build the Saint Paul Great Wall of China. It was a long way from the diverse and fragmentary New Testament documents to the Councils of Nicea (325 AD) and (451 AD) which established the tradition of Incarnation and Trinity, to say nothing of how many more centuries to Anselm and Calvin to establish the penal theory of Atonement. Those who are naive enough to think this very complex theological edifice is all simply and clearly spelt out in the New Testament need to give more credit to the magical power of the religious spectacles (and prejudices) that they have inherited! Chalcedon
Given their strict and uncompromising monotheism (meaning God is one), Muslims have not been able to come to terms with the Christian Incarnation and Trinity (meaning God is Three). Neither have they been able to come to terms with divine forgiveness through blood atonement. If the Gentile Christians couldnít convert even their fellow Jewish Christians to Incarnation and Trinity, what hope is there to surmount this barrier with Jews and Muslims? As for divine forgiveness, Jews and Muslims say their God forgives simply on response to repentance.
For this they not only have ample support in Jewish Scripture (Psalm 57:16-18; 86:5; 103:3-14; Isaiah 55:7; Hosea 14:1-4; Micah 7:18 etc.) but from Joshua ben Adam as well. He called on people to reject the principle of pay-back justice (atonement) and to exhibit the spirit of never-ending forgiveness, after the example of God.
The prophet Micah said that the only thing God requires of humanity is to deal justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly. A good place to begin with humility is in this matter of religious exclusiveness. The long held attitude that people must believe what the Church believes or be damned (stated all through the Decrees of the Council of Trent, for instance) is arrogant, insensitive and inhuman. As the old Testament parable of Jonah brilliantly shows, one cannot start out insisting people are doomed without ending up wishing they are doomed!
Islam arose soon after the Trinitarian and Christological controversies had been settled in the great Church Councils. As we have already pointed out, these were highly complex dogmas based on hair splitting definitions of Greek and Latin words as well as arguments drawn from Greek philosophy. For example, no one really understands the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity unless he appreciated the subtle difference between the Latin persona and the Germanic person.
Religions donít develop in a vacuum or drop out of the sky like a rock. Islam arose as a simple desert faith which had an appeal unmatched by the abstractions of Western Christianity. Some features of Islam, remarkably like the remnants of Jewish Christianity, suggest some Jewish and Christian influences at work in Mohammedís background.
As the Christian West was heading toward its Dark Ages, Islam revitalized culture and learning. Whilst Christian Europe stagnated in one of the most dreadful periods of human history, the Arabs were the first to create hospitals as well as universities which kept learning alive. The Renaissance, indebted to this Arab influence, gave birth to the Enlightenment and the age of Science. Islam has felt the impact of these developments and like Christianity will have to deal with the issues of scientific literary criticism, religious freedom and the inhuman face of Fundamentalism.
Whilst the Jesus of Christian faith is an insurmountable barrier to Muslims, the same thing canít be said of Joshua Ben Adam. Islam already accepts him as a prophet and a Messiah. Dare we say that when it comes to what is often considered the cardinal things of the Christian tradition (Incarnation, Trinity and Atonement), Joshua stands closer to the Muslim tradition? But if we were to put to Joshua the question as to which tradition was right, he would surely answer us like he answered the Samaritan women who asked him to settle a religious dispute in his day. (See John 4) He would give us one of his classic wisdom sayings which transcends religious disputes. He would show us that religion should have nothing to do with determining the way we relate to one another because religion has absolutely nothing to do with determining the way God relates to us.
When Joshua Ben Adam encountered Samaritans, Romans or Syro-Phoniceans he was oblivious to the fact that they were outside his own religious community. He acted as one who believed that there were no barriers to Godís unconditional love.
God is neither a Jew, Christian or Muslim. It is not religion which bears Godís image but humanity. Wherever the spirit of authentic humanness is manifested, there is the evidence of Godís living presence. The human spirit too obviously transcends all religious barriers.
For long ages it was a capital crime to be an atheist in a Christian society. It is still punishable by death in some Islamic societies. Hopefully all of humanity will one day learn that killing people in Godís name is a manifestation of neither a divine or human spirit.
The earth would be a lot poorer without the honest, forthright thinking, philosophy and scientific research of atheists. They have been courageous enough to look at the empirical evidence on things like the origins of life and the age of the earth. They have called the oppressive Sky-God into question. Thomas Jefferson once said that "it would be more pardonable to believe in no God at all than to believe the atrocious writings of the theologians". George Washington, James Madison and Abraham Lincoln all said similar things. Of course the world would be a much poorer place if it was left in the hands of the devoutly religious.
How can we blame intelligent humans for not believing in the Celestial Dictator - the God of the Fall, original sin, pay-back justice through bloody sacrifice and that sadistic nonsense of Hell?
recently witnessed the passing of one of its really great humanitarian sons - the late Dr. Fred Hollows. His friend, national television presenter Ray Martin, said in a eulogy at his death that Fred Hollows worked too much, swore too much and drank too much. But none could doubt his love for people and his dedication to so many in desperate need of medical attention in remote areas of the world, including places in Australia . The whole nation, including the Christian community, was moved at his passing and rose to salute his reckless, self-giving to the visually impaired in far off places. His spirit of self-giving for people lives on in humanitarian work now done in his memory. Australia
Fred Hollows did not believe in God, at least not the kind that was ever presented to him. Yet his dedication to his fellow humans wasnít natural. In the face of this larrikin rebel we glimpsed the face of God, the ubiquitous, transcendent spirit of him who inspires all that is truly human. Surely we can say that he is in solidarity with all who are human, and that he is the friend of all who are a Samaritan neighbour. We canít say it better than this:
"He who loves lives in God and God lives in him." (1 John 4:16)
"In as much as you have done it unto the least of those my brothers, you have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40)