There are some people, among them former vice President and Global Warming guru Al Gore, who wonder what Jesus would do had he lived today. It’s a fascinating question, but mostly because of the fact that people bother to ask it at all. The simply truth is that if we try and understand Jesus in his historical context, the answer seems rather obvious: He most likely would be a settler in Hebron.
As everybody knows Jesus was a Jew living under Roman occupation in Judea. The crime for which he was executed was the refusal to accept Roman authority. He declined to answer the questions of Herod, the Roman installed puppet king and he insisted on the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth. Which, coming out of the mouth of a traditional Jew, sounds like a demand for an authentic Jewish monarchy. One that is ruled by Jewish law, not pagan overlords.
Since he is referred to as a messiah, and a messiah is nothing but a person anointed to be king it seems he believed himself to be a contender to the throne. He certainly behaved as one, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as the person anointed to be king traditionally would. But he didn’t come to Jerusalem to play God, his goal was to kick the Romans out and restore Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel.
Does that sound weird, or outrageous? Well, how about the traditional notion that Jesus was a religious figure who claimed he was the son of God, thereby completing Judaism? From the Jewish perspective that is sort of like saying that the essence of Islam is to learn how to eat pig. It is virtually inconceivable that anyone who did not harbor a death wish would go around the Judea of 2000 years ago and claim to be exactly the one thing the Jewish religion rejects: The physical appearance of God.
If you know anything about Judaism you know that its very essence is the rejection of the idea of God as a human being. For a Jew the idea that Judaism somehow culminates in the appearance of a God-man doesn’t make any sense. Plus as mentioned before, in a religious society such claims are not very beneficial for your health. I think it makes much more sense to view Jesus as a traditional Jew who acted in accordance with traditional Jewish values.
As a matter of fact, I think this is also the secret of his success. Christianity spread like wildfire in Europe, a region which like Judea had suffered under Roman occupation. I know we are all taught to admire the Romans as the epitome of civilization, but in the Jewish experience they are destroyers. Sure, the Romans knew how to build roads and coloseums but as Jews we know the truth. They knew how to fight better then anyone else and as victors they rewrote history. We know that they attempted to wipe us out. Not just physically, it wasn’t enough to kill or exile us. They had to rename our cities and our land, and make it appear as if we never had existed in the first place.
Most of the tribes of Europe and the Mediterranean had ancestors who suffered catastrophic defeats by the Romans such as the Gauls and Britons. Others, like the Dacians Carthaginians had been completely annihilated. A religion starring a figure who had rebelled against the Romans like their ancestors did had to resonate amongst these people in one way or another. They probably didn’t care too much about what his message was supposed to be. Important was that he fought the Romans, was killed by them but that his death did not defeat him. Perhaps this story gave them the hope they could overcome the Romans one day as well.
Incidentally this is also the Jewish story. Even though Judea was depopulated and Jerusalem destroyed, the Jews survived the Romans and have returned to Judea and Jerusalem. It happened because there were people willing to risk their lives in order to restore Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel. Even when they weren’t religious, and most of the early Zionists weren’t, they understood they needed to return home. They were crazy people, perhaps, both the cause of the calamity and the reason why the Jewish nation could survive it.
I’m not so sure it was necessary to rise up against to Romans, and then after being defeated by them rebel against them two more times. Just like I am not really sure it is wise to live in Hebron. However a Judaism which accepts Roman occupation, or does not settle in the land of Israel when the opportunity arises would not have the strenght to overcome 2000 years of exile. Imagine there were no settlements, what would that imply about the Jewish connection to the land of Israel? Can you really expect people who believe this land is their land not to go live there?
Well I suppose you can if you believe the appearance of an universal son of God is the logical continuation of Judaism. But it’s not. Neither is logical to deny the figure of Jesus his Jewish roots. He didn’t die for our sins, he died to get the Romans out.