Monday, January 25, 2010


25 Jan 10

This Blog will present one programme on Jesus in a new series on Channel 4 entitled The Bible: A History. The series started on Sunday evening.

When I was asked to present the programme I was very intrigued. The issues involved have interested me for a very long time. But I am hyper busy with my political duties and with family issues which are very much now in the public arena.

Despite all of this the programme is now almost finished and the Jesus programme is due for broadcast in early March.

I am a Catholic. An Irish Catholic. And despite all the let-downs and scandals that the Church, or at least a section of the Church, has been embroiled in, I remain a member.

When I was asked to do the programme the director Dan Reed appealed to me not to research or study the issues involved. He wanted me to learn on the job. I took that advice. My task was to discover the real Jesus – Jesus the man; the historical Jesus. We know only about one year of his life. Was it possible to look at what came before this? What type of person was he? Did he have siblings? Sisters? Brothers? Girl friends? Children? I was very taken by this challenge.

When I say that I am an Irish Catholic students of Irish history will know that I am not being xenophobic. Catholicism in Ireland for centuries was outlawed, repressed, forced underground by English governments. In my own lifetime Catholics were actively discriminated against in the north of Ireland and until recently Catholics were a frequent target for unionist death squads.

So being an Irish Catholic is distinctly different from being a Catholic in other spheres. This has shaped me and the community I come from and the Church I belong to. The colonisation of Ireland has also affected the Church. The teachings of its leadership have for generations been conservative, more about control that liberation.

When I was a teenager in the 60s there was no Archbishop Tutu or Bishop Romero to publicly campaign for peoples rights and in a changing Ireland the relationship between the faithful and the Church changed. Strictures and denunciations from Church leaders were challenged, particularly by younger people. The failure of the hierarchy to meet these challenges may be excusable but the elitist and judgemental attitude taken against members of their own flock at a time of great trauma – following, for example, the pogroms of 1969 or the killings by British forces were deeply hurtful for many Catholics. What would Jesus have done?

Spirituality or fundamental Christianity, like all the great religions have at their core a belief in human dignity and human rights. The institutional churches are human structures. They bring with them all of the failings of the human condition. In their internal processes and in the myriad maze of man-made rules and regulations, they sometimes lose their core message – the Jesus message.

And of course there is a myth that the conflict in Ireland was or is about religion. So where does Jesus fit into all of this?

As well as trying to discover the real Jesus my remit was to establish who killed him. I also wanted to explore how the Jesus message of love and forgiveness and his extraordinary sacrifice have affected me throughout my life during the conflict and the peace making processes in Ireland.

If Jesus had been Irish what would he have done? He too lived in an occupied country. There were a number of uprisings before, during and after his life. The desire of the Jewish people to be free of imperial rule was very strong. Indeed many of them were waiting for a Messiah to liberate them and to bring back the Kingdom of David. Did any of them see Jesus as a liberator. Is this what the Romans feared?

So I set about talking to experts and scholars here in Ireland. I explored Jesus’ ethical teachings with victims of the conflict. One was a victim of the IRA. The other was a victim of British state violence and collusion.

In the Holy Land I spoke to Jesus scholars from both the Christian and Jewish traditions. I visited many of the sites which feature in Jesus’ public ministry and talked to scholars and archaeologists. I was surprised to learn how Jewish Jesus was. That may seem a ludicrous thing to say but no where in Catholic teaching is that obvious fact clear. Jesus was not about establishing a new religion. He was about modernising a very old one. And many of the practices which Christians, including Catholics see as ours, are rooted in Jewish rites.

It’s long been my view that anti-semiticism is totally unacceptable and abhorrent, like racism and sectarianism. It was the Romans who put Jesus on trial. It was the Romans who executed Jesus. Yet the Jews get the blame?

I discovered that the roots of this lie in the gospel story about the passion of Christ. And that that story was written while the fledgling Christian Church was trying to convert the Romans. Much easier to do that if you weren’t blaming them for killing the Messiah.

I am also a strong supporter of the people of Palestine. I believe that the security of the people of Israel is tied inextricably with the Israeli government’s need to acknowledge and uphold the rights and security of the people of Palestine. I have visited the Palestinian territories before, including Gaza and the west Bank. These visits have saddened me very deeply, particularly the failure of the international community to do what it should to encourage a peace settlement. What would Jesus, the Palestinian do?

This time my visit was non political but we ran into the awful and very visible evidence of occupation and injustice. The tragic irony of all this was sharpened for me by my new and growing knowledge of the ancient history of the place.

I came away from this programme more aware of the relevance of Jesus’ message in these modern times. Not just in terms of forgiveness or peace making but also in social and economic issues. Jesus is about equality. About the poor. And the disadvantaged.

That much I knew before the programme but it was a very special experience to visit the places he lived in, to study his message in those places in a very focussed and protracted way and to talk to the experts. One thing is for certain. The core message of Jesus is relevant in today’s world. It retains the ability to motivate countless billions of people two thousand years after his execution.

If adhered to there would be no conflict, no hunger and no poverty in the world today. No wonder they crucified him.


Linda Coleman said...

"No wonder they crucified him." That's what I say all the time, that the crucifixion sent a warning to anybody else who dared campaign for elevating people out of poverty, treating prisoners fairly, establishing a system of universal health care. Look at politicians who are persecuted the most today--it's always the ones who want to help the poor, never the ones who uphold the status quo.

I think we can get all of Channel 4's broadcasts in the States via internet. If it is available here, I'll send the link along to my progressive Christians group (see link).

Timothy Dougherty said...

We you surly have put alot on you plate Gerry. You are lucky that Crucifixion is not in use today by your persecuters. It would seem that punishment and social contracts run hand and hand,in Ireland as in the past.This concept of social contracts and effects.In the the social contract,the struggle and the dialogue of people are the transgressor/victim/accused/prosecutor/criminal/executor.This understanding the new standard of conflict between and individual and society.The rights to punish has been turned over to the rights to punish from vengeance of the sovereign to the defense of society.Since truth of man remains tied to social life, the indirect route takes the human sciences through political ideals.It is one thing to value freedom, it is another matter when one extends hope , of freedom without offering any practical means for its realization.Christ did offer hope and the Church has not always met that realization.The theory of contract only can answer this question by fiction of juridical subject power to exercise over him the right himself possesses over them.

B.U. said...

I'm very glad you took on this challenge. God really loves you, Gerry.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you did not realise how Jewish Jesus was - he was a Rabbi after all - however he did reject one of the fundamental tenets of his own religion which was that God was only for a chosen few – this is still the belief today. Whereas Christianity believes that new covenant mediated by Jesus applies to both Jews and Gentiles (we are all the children of God). Other fundamental difference or ‘modernisations’ as you put it are:-
- the replacement of an eye for an eye with love thy neighbour and turn the other cheek
- breaking the generational curse of physical death on all children of Adam who accept it as offered by Jesus
Oh and that Jesus was the son of God, not a false prophet of course. All of the above were enough to get you killed by the state in those days. So killed by the Romans, yes, but probably for religious heresy.

Tibu said...

great comment, Gerry. Thanks for that!
- Paisos Catalans-

Linda Coleman said...

Re: Romans, Jews, rabbis, and so forth; I'm certainly not a religious scholar, but I actually know some religious scholars, so I'll jump in here to share some of the things I've picked up listening to them talk about the relationship between Romans and Jews, and what's meant by Rabbi. Hope I get this right!

First of all, remember Jesus was a carpenter by trade, and was not part of the Jewish establishment of the day. When the disciples called him "rabbi," it didn't mean the same as today, it just meant "teacher." There were lots of "rabbis" in those days; we call them "street preachers," and in those days they were called "prophets." Jesus was one of those guys, preaching outside the Temple, but never conducting services inside.

The Jewish establishment worked hard to maintain a good relationship with the Roman government. As long as they kept the peace, they could worship openly and the Roman government would stay out of their way. The street preachers could preach, everybody's happy--as long as no one created "a scene."

According to one scholar at a round-table discussion I went to recently, Jesus became a problem for the Jewish establishment when he threw the money changers out of the temple. Jesus got angry, started shouting, turned over a bunch of tables, and generally made a "scene." If an incident like that happened today, somebody would call the police, which, in a sense, is what the Jewish establishment did. If they let the incident go, they risked messing up their good deal with the government.

So, no, "the Jews" didn't kill Jesus, but the Jewish church hierarchy--the Establishment--of the day colluded with the Romans to arrest Jesus and make an example of him, so no one else would even think of stirring up trouble like that.

After his death, some Jews continued to practice what Jesus preached, calling it "The Way," which was not "Christianity," but a sect of Judaism. The first books about Jesus were written 200 years after his death, and embellished his story just a bit--but that's a subject for another blog!

Anonymous said...

when is it on Gerry?

Mike B. said...

[xi.xii Forward Jesus of Nazareth by Benedict XVI]
.." But the situation started to change in the 1950's. The gap between the 'historical Jesus' and the 'Christ of faith' grew wider and the two visibly fell apart....
As historical-critical scholarship advanced, it led to finer and finer distinctions between layers of tradition in the Gospels, beneath which the real object of faith - the figure of Jesus - became increasingly obscured and one end of the spectrum, Jesus was the anti-Roman revolutionary working - though finally failing - to overthrow the ruling powers; at the other end, he was the meek moral teacher who approves everything and unaccountably comes to grief.'

"If you read a number of these reconstructions one after the other, you see at once that far from uncovering an icon that has become obscured over time, they are much more like photographs of THEIR AUTHORS AND THE IDEALS THEY HOLD....'

"All these attempts have produced a common result: the impression that we have very little certain knowledge of Jesus and that only at a later stage did faith in his divinity shape the image we have of him. This impression has by now penetrated deeply into the minds of the Christian people at large...Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air."

[Gerry, you have already been infected by the mis-use of the historical-critical method. Many scholars looking for something knew got it twisted to exploit their own ideologies. That is why the premier theologian and self-taught biblical scholar wrote this book.]

Michael F Brennan
St Petersburg, FL

Anonymous said...

Two aspects (at least) of this program will be very interesting, if they're addressed. The first concerns the immediate family of Jesus and Biblical references to his brothers and sisters, since this directly affects the issue of the perpetual virginity, or otherwise, of Mary, Mother of Jesus. (I believe single-child families were uncommon in those days too, although it is thought that Joseph died when Jesus was still quite young, shortly after the story of the journey from Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 years old.)

The second concerns the fact that Jesus advocated peace, turning the other cheek, and never doing violence to your enemies, even when those enemies kill and maim. I'm really looking forward to seeing how that issue is addressed.

In the meantime, I have to disagree with Linda's comment about the dating of the earliest books about Jesus. The first book is believed to have been written before 66 AD, i.e. around 30 years after Jesus' death (and resurrection!). In fact, the Gospel of John was written by one of Jesus' own disciples, an eye-witness to the events (he was "the disciple that Jesus loved"), so it's very unlikely (!) that he would have been able to write his Gospel 200 years after the event!

Sean said...

in relation 2 the programme im bustin 2 see it, i also am an irish catholic or is that a fenian,(sic), cos the life times and life of JESUS, has always been a great interest 2 me, both as a RC as the card outside my cell door said, and as an irish republican who had 2 forever and still has 2 argue my rite 2 fight 4 my friends and practice my faith, i maintained both with clear conscience, but that isnt why i came on here, i just want 2 say 2 GERRY, i know full well wat it is like 4 you with the family stuff, i went thru identical stuff and done much the same as GERRY did, and with every conversation i had with those in position 2 help us as a family, i said, let there b no cover up here no matter what the outcome, we still in limbo of sorts, so if a new situ came up re the person accused, wud i b guilty of not doin enough, no i wudnt, cos like GERRY, the accusation was denied when i made the approach, so what was i 2 do, go out and tell the world, what if the accused is innocent, thats the delima, my family is ripped apart over this and we r all on eggshells at family times, , people with power in this area were all informed and it is as it is 2 this day, so GERRY, u not alone, and shame on that particular gutter reporter who made a few bob out of the filth they tried 2 stick on you, keep strong mo cara, hold your head high, that way u wont even see them people cos by thier actions they are beneath you, sam futt

Anders Branderud said...

"Historical J....."!?!

The persons using that contra-historical oxymoron (demonstrated by the eminent late Oxford historian, James Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue) exposes dependancy upon 4th-century, gentile, Hellenist sources.

While scholars debate the provenance of the original accounts upon which the earliest extant (4th century, even fragments are post-135 C.E.), Roman gentile, Hellenist-redacted versions were based, there is not one fragment, not even one letter of the NT that derives DIRECTLY from the 1st-century Pharisee Jews who followed the Pharisee Ribi Yehoshua.
Historians like Parkes, et al., have demonstrated incontestably that 4th-century Roman Christianity was the 180° polar antithesis of 1st-century Judaism of ALL Pharisee Ribis. The earliest (post-135 C.E.) true Christians were viciously antinomian (ANTI-Torah), claiming to supersede and displace Torah, Judaism and ("spiritual) Israel and Jews. In soberest terms, ORIGINAL Christianity was anti-Torah from the start while DSS (viz., 4Q MMT) and ALL other Judaic documentation PROVE that ALL 1st-century Pharisees were PRO-Torah.

There is a mountain of historical Judaic information Christians have refused to deal with, at: (see, especially, their History Museum pages beginning with "30-99 C.E.").
Original Christianity = ANTI-Torah. Ribi Yehoshua and his Netzarim, like all other Pharisees, were PRO-Torah. Intractable contradiction.

Building a Roman image from Hellenist hearsay accounts, decades after the death of the 1st-century Pharisee Ribi, and after a forcible ouster, by Hellenist Roman gentiles, of his original Jewish followers (135 C.E., documented by Eusebius), based on writings of a Hellenist Jew excised as an apostate by the original Jewish followers (documented by Eusebius) is circular reasoning through gentile-Roman Hellenist lenses.

What the historical Pharisee Ribi taught is found not in the hearsay accounts of post-135 C.E. Hellenist Romans but, rather, in the Judaic descriptions of Pharisees and Pharisee Ribis of the period... in Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT (see Prof. Elisha Qimron), inter alia.

To all Christians: The question is, now that you've been informed, will you follow the authentic historical Pharisee Ribi? Or continue following the post-135 C.E. Roman-redacted antithesis—an idol?