He’s just a man

zeal

Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea during the reign of Emperor Tiberius, must have been about the same age as Jesus. When he ordered the messiah to be crucified alive, the Christian belief is that Pilate felt some kind of remorse. He had a bowl of water brought to him so he could wash his hands, to distance himself from the act. Like Ronald Reagan did, with the Iran-Contra thing.

History however tells us that Pilate had gotten ahead in first century Rome only by an in-born panache for crushing revolt through vicious cruelty. You wouldn’t nail a guy alive to a cross and even have him kept company by two other unfortunates who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, if you were feeling guilty about yourself.

As per the Tacitus, the first century Roman historian, there were over 1200 crucifixions during Pontius Pilate’s gubernatorial stint and he hadn’t developed any long-term side effects like ‘crucifixion fatigue’ that Tacitus had heard of. The first module in the adult education professional diploma course in carpentry those days was how to build a cross that wouldn’t sag and how to look for the appropriate site, like a hilltop or a city gate or market square as a setting, for maximum deterrent effect.

The author states that crucifixions were normally carried out after a perp was already dead and were used to convey a message to the masses to not try to challenge the authority of Rome. To a sadist, that doesn’t make sense. A corpse would be like a sack of potatoes. Why take the trouble of crucifying a dead body? Wouldn’t it be more fun watching the guy on cross with a briar pipe stuck between his lips, stuffed with Garhwali hash, gasping,” Hey, bud, got a light?”

The Bible says that when Christ was brought to him in chains, Pilate asked,” Are you the King of Jews?” The Guvnor hoped Jesus would say no and that would be that and he could simply get back to the Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum board game that he was playing with that nubile nymph he’d carried away from Ethiopia last winter. Or that at least Jesus would sidestep the question diplomatically, like ‘Technically, Sire, no. Those schmucks don’t pay me any taxes and I don’t have my own amphitheater’. Or ‘I was only kidding, Pontydoo.’ Pontius Pilate would have been all too happy to let the messiah go.

Maybe if he had been American (which Americans will swear he was), the messiah could have just taken the 5th if he wanted to and he’d still be alive to fight another day. Who knows, maybe he’d have even converted the great Tiberius himself to Christianity in time. But the illiterate farm boy from Nazareth was still suffering from the trauma of being told that his father wasn’t actually his father and that in fact, nobody really was.

On top of all this, the boss (the Almighty Lord) was downsizing and pressing him to accept a retirement package and martyr himself. Remember how the PPP in Pakistan roared into power after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination or the Congress in India, after Indira Gandhi? Jesus’s martyrdom would positively impact conscription and the Lord needed the numbers. The red guy with the forked tail was too close behind for comfort, running on an inside track those days.

Jesus didn’t want to offend the Lord who by now was claiming to be his father. Browbeaten and bulldozed, he chose to say yes to Pontius Pilate’s question. In Rome those days, the emperor was considered a God-King. Saying you were some kind of a parallel King was sedition and a sure way of getting wacked. Of course those days just about anything was punishable by death, even masturbating in the shower. Boy, am I glad the Roman Empire declined before I took my first shower.

Reza Aslan’s book ‘Zealot – The history of Jesus Christ of Nazareth’ is fun reading and not some theological study. It is an entirely fresh way to look at Christianity without the burden of having to be a believer or faithful. I’m sure there have been many efforts to understand what brought on Christianity, but, Jesus (oops), this is one cool book to read.  Reza Aslan is an Iranian who escaped Iran with his parents when he was a kid, after the overthrow of the Shah. He converted to Christianity in America, the compulsion having more to do with wanting to fit in than any awakening. Having converted, he decided to study the historical side of the advent of Christianity. His book attempts to find out whether there was more to Jesus Christ than what the scriptures said.

The word ‘Zealot’ initially referred to extreme orthodox and militant Jews. Wikipedia has this to say about them – “Zealotry was originally a political movement in the first century, which sought to incite the people of the province of Judaea to rebel against the Romans and expel them from the Holy Land by armed insurgency, most notably during the Great Jewish Revolt of 66AD”. I guess Zealotry was the Jewish intifada of the time.

Christianity, as per the author, paints a benign picture of Jesus as a moderate who was always searching for non-violent, sathyagraha-type diplomatic solutions and not a zealot. To Reza Aslan however, Jesus was in fact a zealot. I haven’t yet reached the point where he sets down to prove his theory. You know how I start writing reviews even before I’ve finished reading a book.

In fact, the author insists that Jesus was actually quite a different personality than what his apostles and close followers depicted him as. They themselves were illiterate peasants and had neither the gift of the gab nor the skills required to leave an accurate historical record, he says and further insists that those who did write the first Bible in Greek, as a Hellenic record of the messiah and his teachings, were those who had never actually met Jesus, nor had they been among his immediate circle. Since they revered him, chances are good that the whole historical record was a fawning one, glossing over his failings.

They didn’t ask Mary Magdelane about a more authentic Jesus, I guess. After all, to her he was ‘just a man’. Don’t look at me. Andrew Lloyd Webber heard her say so.

No one really knows for sure, what Jesus’s take was, for instance, on the Ten Commandments that the Lord handed down to one of his ancestors, guy called Moe, 42 generations prior. 7 of those 10 no-nos are today no longer a big deal. You won’t even get a slap on the wrist from a magistrate for committing them. He’ll instead look at his watch and drawl, “Geerara here, next”. ‘Thou shalt not covet’ was one of those 7 commandments that seem to have become quite irrelevant if you’re familiar with today’s penal codes. Ugh. Thou shalt not covet, okay, but then tell them not ta wear halter tops, Lord.

Was Jesus an ineffective messiah then? And about Jesus taking on the world’s sins is another thing I find difficult to comprehend. Suppose I walked up to you and proposed to take over your sins, like a recycle bin on legs, wouldn’t you want to bind me to a long term sin-pile-on service contract and carry on sinning like there was no tomorrow?

Or was Jesus proposing a one-time write-off of sins with retrospective effect, like those voluntary disclosure schemes that revenue agencies come up with from time to time? Be that as it may, Jesus’s action has obviously not worked. Today? Today greed is good. Stop looking at me. Oliver Stone said so somewhere.

There’s one other thing that Reza Aslan doesn’t throw any light on. Something I’ve been wanting to ask any student of Christology in fact. Jesus impacted, say around 20-30000 folk, in and around Judaea at that time, around 25AD. The population of the world then was estimated to be around 150 million. In all probability, given the times they lived in, tyranny and persecution must have been the norm everywhere, not only Judaea.

So, why did the other poor suckers living elsewhere in the world, not deserve to receive similar enlightenment? Why only the Jews, Lord? Why were they the chosen people? Or was it the world’s first ‘test marketing campaign’ and the Lord just focused on one target audience? Anyway, he must be sick of upstart messiahs questioning him all the time. Perhaps He has started showing symptoms of messiah-fatigue.

I know what I have….faith-fatigue.

I understand that my writing style will offend those of my friends who are passionate believers. To them I want to say that I’m a passionate believer too, in questioning the concept of belief. I too want to be like them and I will, when I see folk starting to get what’s truly coming to them and not what they didn’t deserve. I promise I’ll turn myself into a full-patch member of the believer-network myself then. To demonstrate Newton’s third law in the context of sinning shouldn’t be too difficult for a supreme being who claims to be all-powerful.

It is time for the Almighty to start putting His halo where His mouth is.

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