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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Bingo Gas Station

It is Tuesday of Holy Week. Jesus has had a long day hassling with the authorities. It is recounted in Mark 11:20-13:36. This is what I wrote last time, Shuckin' and Jivin' with the Scribes.

He tells them this parable:

'A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watch-tower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 2When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. 3But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. 5Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. 6He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 7But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” 8So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. 9What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.
In 1972, Robert Downey, Sr. made a really weird film, Greaser's Palace. It is the life of Christ set in the Old West. Here is a review of the film, and the clip for today.


Not every preacher would recommend Greaser's Palace for your Holy Week viewing. I would add that this is not one for the children's Sunday School. Adults, however, would have fun playing with the symbols and motifs.

Bingo, for example, represents God, who Jesse (Jesus) describes as "an evil devil-monster." Bingo wants to "come down here and kill each and every one of you." Jesse believes in the people and comes down to warn the folks of Bingo's wrath and to encourage them to "make this world a better place to live in."

Over the years as I have led Bible studies and what not, I run into an argument by folks (whether "liberal" or "conservative") who say that the God of the "Old Testament" is a god of wrath and judgment and that the God of the "New Testament" (Jesus) is a god of love and forgiveness.

To be sure, this is not orthodox Christian theology, but it is popular Christian theology. It has fueled over the centuries anti-semitism. Holy Week has been an especially dreaded time for Jews as fired-up Christians believing that the "'Jews' killed our Lord," sought their own vengeance on the local Jewish populations.

Even scholarly representations of Jesus have tended to distance Jesus from his Jewishness. I have uncritically believed that Jesus preached a new religion of love over against the legalism of Torah. Jesus was a peace-loving, proto-feminist, free spirit hippie, who showed us a God of love, peace, and beads. Then if you take the opposite of those qualities and apply them to Judaism you see the problem. Jesus' disputes with the Pharisees, scribes, and authorities have often been (mistakenly) seen as disputes between Jesus and a generalized "Judaism."

Many scholars of the historical Jesus and early Christian history are showing us that the historical Jesus was a fully Torah observant Jew to his dying breath. The disputes within the
Gospel of Mark, particularly those in today's reading (Mark 11:20-13:36), are intra-Jewish disputes. They reflect arguments about how to interpret Torah, not whether or not one should follow Torah.

The movements following Jesus took different directions and these tensions are found within the New Testament. Jesus in Paul's writings and in the
Gospel of John, for instance, represent later, painful divisions regarding whether or not the Torah is binding on followers of Jesus. As the character Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar says: "You've begun to matter more than the things you say."

James Crossley argues that the
Gospel of Mark was written early (late 30s or early 40s) before some of the followers of the rabbi Jesus decided the Torah was no longer binding (ie. 50s). Granted, James is going against the stream of what I learned in seminary and what is generally assumed among mainstream scholars who date Mark during or immediately following the Jewish War, 65-75. This is worth a post in itself.

In the meantime, you might want to check out James' book, The Date of Mark's Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity. You can read reviews of this book and James' response here. While I am singing James' praises pick up a copy of Why Christianity Happened: A Sociohistorical Account of Christian Origins (26-50 CE) and his latest, Jesus in an Age of Terror: Scholarly Projects for a New American Century.

If James is right about Mark, I wonder if Mark could be seen as a Jewish text. In other words, not only was the historical Jesus Torah observant, but the author and audience of Mark's treatise would be as well. I am just asking, I don't know. But if so, it seems that we could have a point of commonality and dialogue between Judaism and Christianity that includes the teachings of Jesus and the earliest "Christian" text (which could be considered a "Jewish" text as well).

At the very least this conversation should move us toward dismantling Christian anti-semitism as well as Christian misconceptions of Judaism then and now.
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