July 14, 2007

Mark 14.1-2

It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth, and kill him. For they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be a tumult of the people."

1 Comments:

At 3:13 PM, Blogger forrest said...

We think we understand this perfectly well at first glance; but we need to examine it further, after which we'll see that we did have it basically right all along but it'll make more sense.

The passage is not, of course, anti-Jewish, though it has certainly been taken and used that way. It is the authorities, religious and political, who are up to no good, as usual.

We've got this massive irony here, that Passover is the celebration of the Jews' liberation from slavery. Archeology suggests that the story, as we have it, was written down much later... as if a tv-educated American were to chronicle the Revolutionary War, with battles in Denver and Los Angeles. But the Jews of the time believe it; especially those Jews who are suffering most under foreign domination and literally unsupportable taxation.

And they're coming to town for the festival, all who can make it. [Jesus and his supporters would likely have arrived much earlier; his presence would have been much more appropriate (required!) for the Feast of Tabernacles. If that, and this, are both true, he would have been around the Temple for months, distinctly pressing his luck...]

How do Galilean peasants, chief priests, and scribes, fit together? Galilee is where the ancient kingdom of Israel used to be, the area that revolted against the domination (and forced labor!) of the Jerusalem regime after Solomon. Some of their traditions were included when the Bible we have now was written, but since then the Galileans had carried on just fine without a Temple or tithes for a great many years, and might have been perfectly happy doing it even longer. Currently they are being taxed by Romans and their "own" religious hierarchy in Jerusalem; the poorest of them are falling into debt and losing their land (and ultimately their lives) from this situation. Jesus has responded with compassion and appeals to a local understanding of the Covenant that doesn't find favor with the authorities in Jerusalem or their supporters.

The chief priests are comfortable under Roman rule; they might prefer to run their own theocracy but the Romans have undeniable advantages: they're powerful; they prefer to rule through local clients; they're a convenient scapegoat, bugbear, and magnet for the public hatred that might otherwise fall to said chief priests.

The scribes ("and the Pharisees) are nice people, pious people, doing their best to interpret Torah in a humane and righteous way... but they work (at this point) for the Temple establishment. Roman rule offends their every sense of how things ought to be, but as supporters and interpretors of "the Law" they serve to maintain the system, even while suffering horribly from sporadic conflicts with their rulers. (The Romans find it generally easier to humor their scruples than to try to suppress them or face overt opposition from them.)

Nation-state "independence" as we understand it is not the real issue.

The example of Josephus shows this clearly. Some forty years afterwards, under the instigation of lower ranking priests, Jerusalem revolts. Members of the old ruling families join the movement and are given prominent positions; Josephus for example is assigned to defend Galilee. Neither wanting nor expecting to fight off the Romans, he deserts to their side as soon as possible. Before he takes command of the local forces, they sack the dominant cities in the area--gleefully destroying tax records and records of debts in the process.

The nature of the Jewish government: whether it should maintain the existing hierarchy and division of wealth, or give the survival of the poor high priority, as in traditional customs of debt, interest, and land distribution-- Jesus stands for one side of this; the chief priests and their Roman masters for the other.

 

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