Chapter 6: Jesus’s Death and the Powers

Cultural Exclusivism (Law)

  • “I will argue that Jesus died because he challenged the main cultural and political Powers of his day — the law, the temple, and the empire.” (AK location 3156)
    • 1. he overtly critiqued the Powers
    • 2. he established alternative social practices that bypassed the Powers’ domination
  • Walter Wink: “The death of Jesus was not ‘necessary’ because God needed Jesus killed in order to save the world. Rather, Jesus was killed because the Powers are in rebellion against God and are determined to silence anyone who slips through their barbed-wire perimeter with a message from the sovereign of the universe.” (AK location 3169)
  • Disagreement with the Pharisees over how to best understand and apply the law.
  • Jesus recognized that the temple had not been part of Mose’s original mediation of God’s will for God’s people. Recognized how it was being used to exploit the Hebrew people.
  • The conflict with the empire seems indirect, but “if we take seriously Jesus’s message of God’s kingdom, we will recognize that he articulated a vision for social life that overturned the values of empire.” (AK location 3191)

Torah and Cultural Exclusivism

  • “The post-exilic existence of the Jewish people was always uneasy, a struggle to sustain their identity without being a nation-state.” (AK location 3249)
  • Out of this struggle came strategies to maintain identity with the establishment of “boundary markers” to make clear who was in the community and who was not.
    • Male circumcision
    • Kosher eating habits
    • Observing the Sabbath
    • Prohibiting marriages between those who were in the community and those who were not in the community.
  • “In the prophet’s view, when boundary markers reminded people of God’s already given mercy and their calling to bless the nations, they would be creative and life-sustaining.” BUT “They could be absolutized, seen to provide a sense that our community’s survival in and of itself matters most.” (AK location 3269)
  • Jonah is believed to be written at about the same time as Ezra. Ezra and Nehmiah portray sympathetically the necessary and creative efforts to sustain peoplehood in the context of colonialism.
    • Grimsrud says the tensions between Ezra and Nehemiah versus Jonah prefigure the tensions we see in the Gospels between Jesus and the Pharisees.
    • Jonah is likely intended to challenge an uncritical tendency to absolutize the boundary markers
    • “The character of Jonah echoes the mindset of Hebrews who think only of their internal life when he rejects the call to share the word of God with outsiders.” (AK location 3279)
      • Not just any outsiders, but the Ninevites lived in the capital city of Assyria, the great empire that plagued Israel and Judah
    • God is way bigger than the boundaries of Israel
    • “This story reiterates the ‘light-to-the-nations’ calling and implies that efforts to sustain the community still need to keep that calling in mind.” (AK location 3290)
    • Jonah concludes with an open question: “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” We are not given Jonah’s answer.

The Traditions of the Pharisees

  • Jesus did not affirm the Pharisees’ use of the oral law. The Pharisees gave more authority to traditional interpretations that sought to apply Torah more widely.
  • After the Bablyonian exile, the Jewish community sought more faithfulness to Torah. A verse-by-verse commentary known as Midrash was developed.
    • Midrash applied specific laws more directly
    • Midrash was passed on by word of mouth over generations, hence “oral law”
  • A second type of oral law emerged about 200 years before Jesus
    • This second type, the Mishnah, concerned itself with applying Torah to circumstances not spoken of in the biblical writings.
    • A written version of the Mishnah, called the Talmud, was not produced until the 4th century CE.
    • The Mishnah also came to be called the oral law, or as in Mark 7:5 the “tradition of the elders.”
  • “The Pharisees probably emerged around the same time as the beginnings of the Mishnah, and may have understood their role to be the main guardians and appliers of these teachings.” (AK location 3302)
  • “The Mishnah guided religions practice among Palestinian Jews, attempting to speak to all kinds of religious issues that might arise.” (AK location 3314)
    • Can laborers on top of a tree or wall offer a prayer?
    • If one is naked and makes a dough offering from barley in one’s house, does that make the offering unclean?
    • Can a man divorce his wife for burning a meal?
  • “The Pharisees sought to give clear direction to observant Jews concerning how to apply Torah to concrete living.” (AK location 3325)
    • Black and white
  • “Theologically, the calamity of 586 BCE was seen as God’s judgement upon Israel because of its corruption by the practices of the nations.” (AK location 3325, quoting Borg)
  • Mishnah devotes 240 paragraphs to Sabbath behavior, outlining in detailed specificity what could and could not be done.
    • “When the central concern became to sustain boundary markers more than to celebrate God’s mercy, the tone of Sabbath legislation changed.” (AK location 3337)
  • Because the Sabbath had become crucial for a sense of community identity, violation of the Sabbath threatened the entire community.
  • The Mishnah devoted 185 pages to laws of defilement and purity.
    • Kosher eating practices stemmed from a concern about maintaining purity
    • Should a pure person share a meal with an impure person, the latter’s pollution was understood to be contagious.
  • Circumcision stood as a central externally apparent boundary marker throughout the biblical period
    • By the time of the prophets it had become an ambiguous symbol
    • Jeremiah 9:25-26 criticizes Israel, said to be “circumcised only in the foreskin” but “uncircumcised in heart.”
  • “Throughout the biblical tradition we see tensions concerning the use of these boundary markers.” (AK location 3385)

Jesus and the Pharisees

  • Recall the escalating conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees noted in Chapter 5
  • “The similarity between Jesus and the Pharisees — sharing the same tradition, struggling with the same questions, competing for the allegiance of the same people — accounts for the depth of the conflict between them.” (AK location 3421, Borg)
  • “For Jesus to enter the scene as one who rigorously observed Torah and gained a public following but did not join the Pharisees meant he would be seen as a direct rival.” (AK location 3441)
  • Matthew 12
  • Mark 2:27 has a slightly different phrasing behind the meaning of the contrasts highlighted in Matthew 12. “the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.”
    • “One emphasizes that the deeper meaning of the law (i.e., mercy) allows for flexibility in how the details are practiced, as long as we are serving human well-being. The other points more to strict consistency, assuming that each piece of the regulations carries equal weight and that to violate one is to violate the whole” (AK location 3474)
  • “The issue is not law or no law; the issue is how the law is interpreted.” (AK location 3486)
  • “What is at stake in this conflict? Why would the Pharisees conspire to destroy Jesus because of these altercations? We may see at the heart of the Pharisees response, according to these stories, the conviction that the integrity of their purity project might require the use of violence to be sustained.” (AK location 3498)
  • Pharisees core = purity to replicate in their social life the holiness of God by maintaining the holiness to which God has called the people in Lev 19:2
  • Jesus core = forgiveness because he views God as a God of mercy, Luke 6:36
  • “The Pharisees became convinced that they determined who did and who did not have the possibility of gaining God’s favor.” (AK location 3547)
  • “With the covenant community so concerned with its own survival, the original vocation given this community — to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6) — may be pushed to the side.” (AK location 3557)
    • Does this issue sound familiar? The role of women in the church? Sexuality? Biblical authority?

The Law and Retribution Toward Jesus

  • “Jesus and the Pharisees differed sharply over the relative weight to be given to strict adherence to regulations as compared to mercy-oriented flexibility.” (AK location 3557)
  • We see in Matthew 12:1-14 a direct conflict between the forces of cultural exclusivism and the true God.
    • Cultural exclusivism and its reliance on the law understood in a legalistic way proves itself to be a Power in rebellion against the true God.
  • Conflicts with the Pharisees continued. In the years following Jesus death, the Pharisees led violent opposition to Jesus’s followers. (the stoning of Stephen in Acts) The early Jesus movement rejected cultural exclusivism and that led to the inclusion of Gentiles as Gentiles into their version of the covenant community — and ongoing conflicts. (AK location 3606)

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