The Messiah, Ironically

Recently, I recommended the book Christ:  A Crisis in the Life of God by Jack Miles to a friend.  The truth is, I had never read it, but had read the first book in this two part series, God:  A Biography by the same author.   I knew that Christ would at the very least equal Miles’ first book in quality.  Having given the friend the recommendation (this friend was interested in modern biblical scholarship) I decided to give Christ a read for myself.  For those unfamiliar with Miles’ work, Miles studies the Bible quite differently from many theologians who come at it from a pastoral perspective or from biblical scholars who approach the Biblical text historically.  Miles is far more interested in analyzing the Bible as we would any other work or art or literature, from the creative perspective.  The conclusions he comes to in taking on an artistic and literary analysis of the biblical texts would be quite startling to many orthodox believers.  Since I have never claimed to be an orthodox person of faith, I’m not particularly bothered by them.

So far, I’m only about half way through the first chapter, but I am very impressed.  In chapter one, titled “The Messiah, Ironically” Miles explores the many ironies of the New Testament’s account of the life of Jesus Christ.  The chapter headings alone are worth reading and include:  

“He talks, but to himself, of God as illness and remedy.”
“He speaks of a new creation, but privately.”
“He admits, but to a heretic, that he is the Messiah.” 

Of course, each of these headings is followed by an in depth explanation of what is meant, but that isn’t my purpose in writing this tonight.  As some of you reading may recall, my last blog was focused on the issue of Appalachian poverty and why I have decided, at least for the time being, to attempt to stay in the region and make a life for myself and my wife here.  Poverty and economic and social justice are two issues which are frequently on my mind in part due to some of my own financial strain for the time being and also due to the hardships I have seen poverty and lack of resources cause many of those around me.  

Furthermore, we can look globally and see a world where powerful interests seek to bend the human spirit to the profit motive of the invisible hand.  Those who find themselves unable to adapt to these powerful interests are often chewed, swallowed, and vomited out of the belly of a great beast we have deemed “the market,” acting as if this Market is a type of God, an ultimate and transcendent being, that is benevolent, omniscient, and utterly beyond our control.  This Market has become modernity’s Golden Calf, and like all idols, it must one day yield to that which is truly Ultimate.

We see a world where children are born and die in such abject poverty that it baffles the imagination that this can be allowed to go on, and yet at the same time, there is a “captain of industry” who owns a private yacht and five luxury vacation homes.  Some will accuse me of making an emotional argument for wealth redistribution of some kind.  I can only reply, if there is one issue in the world that is worth getting emotional about, isn’t it the suffering of our fellow human beings?

Truth is, I don’t have a solution, I can only look at the world in its current state and conclude that there is something wrong, very, gravely wrong, with a global society that allows this to happen.  We should be rioting in the streets until every child is fed and well nourished, until every homeless person has a home, dare I say it, until every human being has access to health care that doesn’t put them at risk of bankruptcy.  But we don’t, including myself, because we are cowards, and at the core of our being, we feel that maybe, perhaps one day, if we work hard enough we will be the man on the yacht.  The man with the five homes.  The man who has it all.  Because we are hypocrites.  And in the words of Saint Paul the Apostle, “I am chief among sinners.”  So, instead, I sigh, and moan, and write my blog, and post to my twitter feed, and wonder if I am not just perpetuating a system that I claim to despise.  It is so hard for us to trust our own motivations, is it not?  

Perhaps an older, more experienced, more jaded, version of myself will look back on this in ten years and laugh at how foolish and idealistic his younger self was.  Perhaps not.  Only time will tell.  

You might be wondering what in the hell these past few paragraphs have to do at all with a work of religious scholarship by Jack Miles.  “The Messiah, Ironically.”  The Irony of God.  The Weakness of God.  Pretend, even if you don’t believe in God at all, that the traditional Christian belief that God was Incarnate as a poor carpenter from Nazareth in one of the poorest regions of the world in one of western civilization’s most chaotic time periods is true.  

I had an atheist friend who once challenged me and asked why would God reveal himself in such a backward part of the world when he could have revealed himself amongst the more learned Greeks or the more powerful Romans.  Why would God reveal himself to a people who by most accounts had suffered defeat after defeat and who were, according to some secularists, much more backward than the people who surrounded them?  Why would God operate in this way?  

But I cannot fathom God, assuming that God exists, working in any other way.  A God who was truly loving would reveal himself in the poorest of places and give hope to the most downtrodden of his creations.  A God who would reveal himself only to those who were in power, whose ways were the ways that were so responsible for the crushing of the human spirit, would not be God at all, but Satan himself.  And as religion, the political establishment, and the large multinational corporations have grown more and more intwined, it makes you wonder just who they’re serving.

How’s that for irony?  

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8 Comments

  1. 2 things:

    1. The time period that Jesus lived in was the Pax Romana. It was, comparibly, the longest and most peaceful time period that western civilazation had ever seen and would see in antiquity until modern times. Brought about, almost uncontested by scholars, by the benefits of technology and civilization brought by the Romans.

    2. My challenge was twofold. The location of the revelation of god occurred in such a place that even to today there exists such individuals that have not heard of it. If it had happened to the Greeks (who some indeed say it did with Mithras,) or the Romans, or the Chinese, all who had civilazations, organized and comparibly fair systems which studied human activity, rhetoric, and believed in the questioning of all things, then that glorious information and revelation transmitted by Jesus would have spread much faster and helped many more lives than had it occurred in Bronze Age Jerusalem. I assume that would be the goal of any divine being, N’est Pas?

    • “Brought about, almost uncontested by scholars, by the benefits of technology and civilization brought by the Romans.”

      Not to mention brute force. 🙂

  2. I can’t pry myself away from this because you have almost no understanding of the circumstances surrounding Jerusalem during the empires of Alexander and of Rome. This is because you are so attached to your favorite story and religious mythology that you’ve apparently created a false history you subscribe to.

    When Alexander moved throughout the Fertile Crescent the cities he moved through flung to creating themselves as Greek polis . The benefits of doing such are clear: you have more say about what goes on in your city and in your city governance. You get things like a gymnasium and improved infrastructure. You get things like democracy and self governance. All good stuff for folks who’ve been rammed up the rectum by the temple for the last few hundreds years.

    Oh. Unless you’re the temple folk. So then you incite a rebellion, and that’s when you get the Maccabees. Who gloriously saved Jerusalem from the evil influence of the Greeks and restored to the city the traditional family values (an ancient tea party! Yay!)

    Skip forward a little bit, and because of all this neanderthalic behavior, you have the setup of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, Essenes, etc.

    So they start to kill each other and Pompey wonders on the scene and tries to mediate. Civil war benefits no one. So Pompey joins the side of, oh shit, the liberal Pharisees against the temple inhabiting tax drinking Sadducees. Oh shit. Turns out Rome supported the more liberal of the parties in Jerusalem.

    So Rome annexes Jerusalem and begins, as with all of the parts of its empire, to bring infrastructure and trade and whatnot with them. But what’s this!? That smells too Greek to the crazy backwood traditionalists of Jerusalem! Down with Rome! The federal government doesn’t exist! We don’t need all of this infrastructure and spending here! It’s corrupting our values! ( I hope you’re getting the not so subtle references I’m making here.)

    Even worse! They’ve offered our citizens rights of citizenship to the city of Rome if they enlist in auxiliary military service for 30 years. That means that Rome will never send any of their forces here until the Jewish war of rebellion near 70 AD and that all of the forces stations near Jerusalem are actually from the area!! Good heavens we can’t have this! Fellow Jerusalem Jews enforcing Roman laws on us!? Yahweh help us!!!

    So what to do? Oh, I know, let’s incite rebellions. Let’s kill those fellow Jews who are dressed as Romans and fuck with the infrastructure and trade. Let’s also declare ourselves independent and say that our messiah is soon coming to destroy this evil and disastrous power which has come over us and provided us with the means to have clean drinking water and the first semblance of civilization since we kicked those damn Greeks out. Especially before they bring laws stating that women can own property! Surely they’ll just turn a blind eye to that.

    If that ain’t ass backwards then nothing is. You believe whatever you want to, but we’ve had this conversation before and the fact that you still cling to your own version of this particular history as the Romans as the big bad spiked club of imperialism and the poor little Jews as disabled naive receptacles tells me nothing but that you prefer your own fiction as opposed to the actual events. Enjoy it all you can.

  3. Furthermore, the mythos of Jesus has came about that he was crucified as a martyr for his message of love, when it is probably more the case that he was a religious radical who preached insurrection against a power that was supremely more beneficial to the people of Jerusalem than his message. Or the fact that he was a unlucky poor fellow born into a place during a time when his city was tearing itself apart not only against 6 or more factions within the city but also against the power that held control over it and he just lost his mind. Regardless, the typical image of Jesus as a sacrificial sheep like individual preaching love and the social gospel doesn’t square away with the history.

  4. And the whole by force thing is wrong too but I’m too bored now to go into the details of why it’s wrong.

  5. Eli, you do know that your opinion is exactly that, YOUR OPINION. The Bible is not a reference of what happened in that time period, but yet true accounts by several different scholars of that period. It is really disrespectful that you cuss in a reply about God, but thats on you when your final day comes and you face God himself.

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