by Douglas Reed
The Targams, the rabbinical commentaries on the Law, said: “How beautiful he is, the Messiah king who shall arise from the house of
This passage shows what the Judeans had been led to expect. They awaited a militant, avenging Messiah (in the tradition of “all the firstborn of Egypt” and the destruction of Babylon) who would break Judah's enemies “with a rod of iron” and “dash them in pieces like a potter's vase”; who would bring them empire of this world and the literal fulfilment of the tribal Law; for this was what generations of Pharisees and Levites had foretold.
The idea of a lowly Messiah who would say “love your enemies” and be “despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows” was not present in the public mind at all and would have been “despised and rejected,” had any called attention to these words of Isaiah (which only gained significance after Jesus had lived and died).
Yet the being who appeared, though he was lowly and taught love, apparently claimed to be this Messiah and was by many so acclaimed!
In few words he swept aside the entire mass of racial politics, which the ruling sect had heaped on the earlier, moral law, and like an excavator revealed again what had been buried. The Pharisees at once recognized a most dangerous “prophet and dreamer of dreams.”
The fact that he found so large a following among the Judeans shows that, even if the mass of the people wanted a militant, nationalist Messiah who would liberate them from the Romans, many among them must subconsciously have realised that their true captivity was of the spirit and of the Pharisees, more than of the Romans. Nevertheless, the mass responded mechanically to the Pharisaic politicians' charge that the man was a blasphemer and bogus Messiah.
By this response they bequeathed to all future generations of Jews a tormenting doubt, no less insistent because it must not be uttered (for the name Jesus may not even be mentioned in a pious Jewish home): Did the Messiah appear, only to be rejected by the Jews, and if so, what is their future, under The Law?
What manner of man was this? Another paradox in the story of Zion is that in our generation Christian divines and theologians often insist that “Jesus was a Jew,” whereas the Judaist elders refuse to allow this (those Zionist rabbis who occasionally tell political or “interfaith” audiences that Jesus was a Jew are not
true exceptions to this rule; they would not make the statement among Jews and seek to produce an effect among their non-Jewish listeners, for political reasons).
This public assertion, “Jesus was a Jew,” is always used in our century for political purposes. It is often employed to quell objections to the Zionist influence in international politics or to the Zionist invasion of
The English abbreviation, “Jew,” is recent and does not correspond to anything denoted by the Aramaic, Greek or Roman terms for “Judahite” or “Judean,” which were in use during the lifetime of Jesus. In fact, the English noun “Jew” cannot be defined (so that dictionaries, which are scrupulously careful about all other words, are reduced to such obvious absurdities as “A person of Hebrew race”); and the Zionist state has no legal definition of the term (which is natural, because the Torah, which is the Law, exacts pure Judahite descent, and a person of this lineage is hardly to be found in the entire world).
If the statement, “Jesus was a Jew,” has meaning therefore, it must apply to the conditions prevailing in his time. In that case it would mean one of three things, or all of them: that Jesus was of the tribe of
Race, residence, religion, then.
This book is not the place to argue the question of Jesus's racial descent, and the surprising thing is that Christian divines allow themselves some of the statements which they make. The reader should form his own opinion, if he desires to have one in this question.
The genealogy of Mary is not given in the New Testament, but three passages might imply that she was of Davidic descent; St. Matthew and St. Luke trace the descent of Joseph from David and Judah, but Joseph was not the blood father of Jesus. The Judaist authorities discredit all these references to descent, holding that they were inserted to bring the narrative into line with prophecy.
As to residence,
Judaist authorities, again, hold that this was inserted to make the account agree with Micah's prophecy that “a ruler” would “come out of
The Jewish Encyclopaedia insists that
Thus, the Galileans were racially and politically distinct from the Judeans.
Was this Galilean, religiously, what might today be called “a Jew”? The Judaist authorities, of course, deny that most strenuously of all; the statement, often heard from the platform and pulpit, might cause a riot in the synagogue.
It is difficult to see what responsible public men can mean when they use the phrase. There was in the time of Jesus no “Jewish” (or even Judahite or Judaist or Judean) religion. There was Jehovahism, and there were the various sects, Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes, which disputed violently between themselves and contended, around the temple, for power over the people. They were not only sects, but also political parties, and the most powerful of them were the Pharisees with their “oral traditions” of what God had said to Moses.
If today the Zionists are “the Jews” (and this is the claim accepted by all great Western nations), then the party which in
Religiously, Jesus seems beyond doubt to have been the opposite and adversary of all that which would make a literal Jew today or would have made a literal Pharisee then.
None can say with certainty who or what he was, and these suggestive statements by non-Jewish politicians ring as false as the derisive and mocking lampoons about “the bastard” which circulated in the Jewish ghettoes.
What he did and said is of such transcendental importance that nothing else counts. On a much lesser scale Shakespeare's case is somewhat comparable. The quality of inspiration in his works is clear, so that it is of little account whether he wrote them, or who wrote them if he did not, yet the vain argument goes on.
The carpenter's son from
What is much more significant, he had known no rabbinical schools or priestly training. His enemies, the Pharisees, testify to that; had he been of their clan or kind they would not have asked, “Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works.”
What gives the teaching of this unlettered young man its effect of blinding revelation, the quality of light first discovered, is the black background, of the Levitical Law and the Pharisaic tradition, against which he moved when he went to
The Law, when Jesus came to “fulfil” it, had grown into a huge mass of legislation, stifling and lethal in its immense complexity. The Torah was but the start; heaped on it were all the interpretations and commentaries and rabbinical rulings; the elders, like pious silkworms, span the thread ever further in the effort to catch up in it every conceivable act of man; generations of lawyers had laboured to reach the conclusion that an egg must not be eaten on the Sabbath day if the greater part of it had been laid before a second star was visible in the sky.
Already the Law and all the commentaries needed a library to themselves, and a committee of international jurists, called to give an opinion on it, would have required years to sift the accumulated layers.
The unschooled youth from
This was the exposure and condemnation of the basic heresy which the Levites and Pharisees, in the course of centuries, had woven into the Law.
Leviticus contained the injunction, “Love thy neighbour as thyself,” but it was governed by the limitation of “neighbour” to fellow-Judeans. Jesus now reinstated the forgotten, earlier tradition, of neighbourly love irrespective of race or creed; this was clearly what he meant by the words, “I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil.” He made his meaning plain when he added, “Ye have heard that it hath been said … hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemy.” (The artful objection is sometimes made that the specific commandment, “Hate thine enemy,” nowhere appears in the Old Testament. Jesus's meaning was clear; the innumerable injunctions to the murder and massacre of neighbours who were not “neighbours,” in which the Old Testament abounds, certainly required hatred and enmity).
This was a direct challenge to The Law as the Pharisees represented it, and Jesus carried the challenge further by deliberately refusing to play the part of the nationalist liberator and conqueror of territory for which the prophecies had cast the Messiah. Probably he could have had a much larger following, and possibly
the support of the Pharisees, if he had accepted that role.
His rebuke, again, was terse and clear: “My kingdom is not of this world … The kingdom of Heaven is within you … Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth … but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”
Everything he said, in such simple words as these, was a quiet, but direct challenge to the most powerful men of his time and place, and a blow at the foundations of the creed which the sect had built up in the course of centuries.
What the entire Old Testament taught in hundreds of pages, the Sermon on the Mount confuted in a few words. It opposed love to hatred, mercy to vengeance, charity to malice, neighbourliness to segregation, justice to discrimination, affirmation (or reaffirmation) to denial, and life to death. It began (like the “blessings-or-cursings” chapters of Deuteronomy) with blessings, but there the resemblance ended.
Deuteronomy offered material blessings, in the form of territory, loot and slaughter, in return for strict performance of thousands of “statutes and judgments,” some of them enjoining murder. The Sermon on the Mount offered no material rewards, but simply taught that moral behaviour, humility, the effort to do right, mercy, purity, peaceableness and fortitude would be blessed for their own sake and receive spiritual reward.
Deuteronomy followed its “blessings” with “cursings.” The Sermon on the Mount made no threats; it did not require that the transgressor be “stoned to death” or “hanged on a tree,” or offer absolution for non-observance at the price of washing the hands in the blood of a heifer. The worst that was to befall the sinner was that he was to be “the least in the kingdom of heaven”; and most that the obedient might expect was to be “called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
The young Galilean never taught subservience, only an inner humility, and in one direction he was consistently and constantly scornful: in his attack on the Pharisees.
The name, Pharisees, denoted that they “kept away from persons or things impure.” The Jewish Encyclopaedia says, “Only in regard to intercourse with the unclean and the unwashed multitude did Jesus differ widely from the Pharisees.” Echo may answer, “Only!” This was of course the great cleavage, between the idea of the tribal deity and the idea of the universal god; between the creed of hatred and the teaching of love. The challenge was clear and the Pharisees accepted it at once. They began to bait their traps, in the very manner described by Jeremiah long before: “All my familiars watched for my halting, saying, Peradventure he will be enticed, and we shall prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him.”
The Pharisees watched him and asked, “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners” (a penal offence under their Law). He was equally their master in debate and in eluding their baited traps, and answered, swiftly but
quietly, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick … I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
They followed him further and saw his disciples plucking ears of corn to eat on the Sabbath (another offence under the Law), “Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day.” They pursued him with such interrogations, always related to the rite, and never to faith or behaviour; “why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders, for they wash not their hands when they eat bread?” “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophecy of you, saying, this people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
This was the lie direct: The Law, he charged, was not God's law, but the law of the Levites and Pharisees: “the commandments of men”!
From this moment there could be no compromise, for Jesus turned away from the Pharisees and “called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”
With these words Jesus cast public scorn on one of the most jealously-guarded of the priestly prerogatives, involving the great mass of dietary laws with the whole ritual of slaughter, draining of blood, rejection of “that which dieth of itself,” and so on. All this was undoubtedly a “commandment of man,” although attributed to Moses, and strict observance of this dietary ritual was held to be of the highest importance by the Pharisees, Ezekiel (the reader will recall) on being commanded by the Lord to eat excrement “to atone for the iniquities of the people,” had pleaded his unfailing observance of the dietary laws and had had his ordeal somewhat mitigated on that account. Even the disciples were apparently so much under the influence of this dietary tradition that they could not understand how “that which cometh out of the mouth” could defile a man, rather than that which went in, and asked for an explanation, remarking that the Pharisees “were offended, after they heard this saying.”
The simple truth which Jesus then gave them was abominable heresy to the Pharisees: “Do not ye understand, that what whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man; but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.”
This last remark was another penal offence under the Law and the Pharisees began to gather for the kill. They prepared the famous trick questions: “Then went the Pharisees and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.” The two chief questions were, “To whom shall we render tribute?” and “Who then is my neighbour?” A wrong answer to the first would deliver him to
punishment by the foreign ruler,
This is the method earlier pictured by Jeremiah and still in use today, in the Twentieth Century. All who have had to do with public debate in our time, know the trick question, carefully prepared beforehand, and the difficulty of answering it on the spur of the moment. Various methods of eluding the trap are known to professional debaters (for instance, to say “No comment,” or to reply with another question). To give a complete answer, instead of resorting to such evasions, and in so doing to avoid the trap of incrimination and yet maintain the principle at stake is one of the most difficult things known to man. It demands the highest qualities of quick-wittedness, presence of mind and clarity of thought. The answers given by Jesus to these two questions remain for all time the models, which mortal man can only hope to emulate.
“Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” (the affable tone of honest enquiry can be heard). “But Jesus perceived their wickedness and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? … Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. When they heard these words, they marvelled, and left him and went their way.”
On the second occasion, “a certain lawyer stood up and tempted him, saying, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In his answer Jesus again swept aside the great mass of Levitical Law and restated the two essentials: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart … and thy neighbour as thyself.” Then came the baited trap: “And who is my neighbour?”
What mortal man would have given the answer that Jesus gave? No doubt some mortal men, knowing like Jesus that their lives were at stake, would have said what they believed, for martyrs are by no means rare. But Jesus did much more than that; he disarmed his questioner like an expert swordsman who effortlessly sends his opponent's rapier spinning into the air. He was being enticed to declare himself openly; to say that “the heathen” were also “neighbours,” and thus to convict himself of transgressing The Law. In fact he replied in this sense, but in such a way that the interrogator was undone; seldom was a lawyer so confounded.
The Levitical-Pharisaic teaching was that only Judeans were “neighbours,” and of all the outcast heathen they especially abominated the Samaritans (for reasons earlier indicated). The mere touch of a Samaritan was defilement and a major “transgression” (this continues true to the present day). The purpose of the question put to him was to lure Jesus into some statement that would qualify him for the major ban; by choosing the Samaritans, of all peoples, for the purpose of his reply, he displayed an audacity, or genius, that was more than human:
He said that a certain man fell among thieves and was left for dead. Then came
“a priest” and “likewise a Levite” (the usual stinging rebuke to those who sought the chance to put him to death), who “passed by on the other side.” Last came “a certain Samaritan,” who bound the man's injuries, took him to an inn, and paid for his care: “which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?”
The lawyer, cornered, could not bring himself to pronounce the defiling name “Samaritan”; he said, “He that showed mercy on him” and thereby joined himself (as he probably realized too late) with the condemnation of those for whom he spoke, such as “the priest” and “the Levite.” “Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” In these few words, and without any direct allusion, he made his interrogator destroy, out of his own mouth, the entire racial heresy on which the Law had been raised.
One moderate Judaist critic, Mr. Montefiore, has made the complaint that Jesus made one exception to his rule of “love thine enemies”; he never said a good word for the Pharisees.
Scholars may debate the point. Jesus knew that they would kill him or any man who exposed them. It is true that he especially arraigned the Pharisees, together with the scribes, and plainly saw in them the sect responsible for the perversion of the Law, so that the entire literature of denunciation contains nothing to equal this:
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in … ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves … ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith … ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess … ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness … ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, if we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have partaken with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers …”
Some critics profess to find the last six words surprisingly harsh. However, if they are read in the context of the three sentences which precede them they are seen to be an explicit allusion to his approaching end, made by a man about to die to those who were about to put him to death, and at such a moment hardly any words could be hard enough. (However, even the deadly reproach, “Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers,” had a later sequel: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”)
The end approached. The “chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders” (the
Sanhedrin) met under the high priest Caiaphas to concert measures against the man who disputed their authority and their Law. The only Judean among the Galilean disciples, Judas Iscariot, led the “great multitude with swords and staves,” sent by the “chief priests and elders of the people,” to the garden of
This Judas deserves a passing glance. He was twice canonized in the Twentieth Century, once in
According to St. Matthew, Judas later hanged himself and if he thus chose the form of death “accursed of God,” his deed presumably brought him no happiness. To Zionist historians of Dr. Kastein's school Judas is a sympathetic figure; Dr. Kastein explains that he was a good man who became disappointed with Jesus and therefore “secretly broke” with him (the words “secretly broke” could only occur in Zionist literature).
The Pharisees, who controlled the Sanhedrin, tried Jesus first, before what would today be called “a Jewish court.” Possibly “a people's court” would be a more accurate description in today's idiom, for he was “fingered” by an informer, seized by a mob, hailed before a tribunal without legitimate authority, and condemned to death after false witnesses had spoken to trumped-up charges.
However, the “elders,” who from this point on took charge of events in exactly the same way as the “advisers” of our century control events, devised the charge which deserved death equally under their “Law” and under the law of the Roman ruler. Under “the Mosaic Law,” Jesus had committed blasphemy by claiming to be the Messiah; under the Roman law, he had committed treason by claiming to be the king of the Jews.
The Roman governor, Pilate, tried one device after another, to avoid complying with the demand of these imperious “elders,” that the man be put to death.
This Pilate was the prototype of the Twentieth Century British and American politician. He feared the power of the sect in the last resort, more than anything else. His wife urged him to have no truck with the business. He tried, in the politician's way, to pass the responsibility to another, Herod Antipas, whose tetrarchy included
This was the threat to which Pilate yielded, just as one British Governor after another, one United Nations representative after another, yielded in the Twentieth Century to the threat that they would be defamed in
The resemblance between Pilate and some British governors of the period between the First and Second World Wars is strong, (and at least one of these men knew it, for when he telephoned to a powerful Zionist rabbi in New York he jocularly asked, as he relates, that the High Priest Caiaphas be informed that Pontius Pilate was on the line).
Pilate made one other attempt to have the actual deed done by other hands: “Take ye him, and judge him according to your law.” With the ease of long experience it was foiled: “it is not lawful for us to put any man to death.”
After that he even tried to save Jesus by giving “the people” the choice between pardoning Jesus or Barabbas, the robber and murderer. Presumably Pilate had small hope from this quarter, for “the people” and “the mob” are synonyms and justice and mercy never yet came from a mob, as Pilate would have known; the function of the mob is always to do the will of powerful sects. Thus, “the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.”
In this persuasion of the multitude the sect is equally powerful today.
The longer the time that passes, the more brightly glow the colours of that unique final scene. The scarlet robe, mock sceptre, crown of thorns and derisive pantomime of homage; only Pharisaic minds could have devised that ritual of mockery which today so greatly strengthens the effect of the victim's victory. The road to Calvary, the crucifixion between two thieves:
These Pharisees had taught the people of
Dr. Kastein, in his survey of Judaism from its start, devotes a chapter to the life of Jesus. After explaining that Jesus was a failure, he dismissed the episode with the characteristic words, “His life and death are our affair.”