Who Was Jesus?

EDITORIAL, 26 Dec 2011

#197 | Johan Galtung, 26 Dec 2011 - TRANSCEND Media Service

Alfàs del Pi, Spain, 25 December 2011

The church was not as overfilled as it used to be for midnight mass on Christmas eve.  But the ritual unfolded as it has done for centuries, around John 3:16 “little bible”, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.  And the priest spoke about two parallel Christmases, one spiritual, of the bible, and one material with gifts, food, and licores.

Could there also be two parallel Jesuses, one the Christ, and the other a revolutionary, fighting the Roman Empire and its client elite in the province conquered in 63bC?  Matthias Schulz (Der Spiegel 17 2011) has theologians and historians elaborate that thesis, leaning toward the revolutionary Jesus, disturbingly similar to his look-alike and act-alike Che Guevara two millennia later, also fighting an empire, also killed by imperial clients.

One famous problematic quote from the bible sets the tone for this perspective on Jesus: “Do not imagine I have come to bring peace to the earth.  No, rather, a sword” (Matthew 10,34).

He came from Nazareth in the rebellious province of Galilee and the crucial events took place in Jerusalem, in Judea, where Pontius Pilate was governor–all parts of the Roman Empire.  The version in the bible, as presented by the church and presumably believed in by the world’s 2,2 billion christians (as against 1,6 billion muslims) is the nonviolent Jesus, the son of God, given to the world to take upon himself our sins, cleansing us, giving us a second chance, accused of crimes of which he was innocent, killed on the cross, dying in the ninth hour accompanied by an earthquake opening tombs, waking up the dead.  Like he himself, later.

The Passion story, the logical follow-up of the Immaculate Conception and the gentle sweetness of his mother Maria.

But the bible has ambiguities, and archaeologists-historians have made a lot of discoveries recently.  A short summary:

* Jesus rejected the finance system in the Jerusalem temple;

* Jesus encouraged tax boycott;

* Jesus had disciples-apostles from a caste known for violence.

He enters with the disciples the enormous 262mx262m temple, carefully divided into sections also for non-Jews, only for Jews, also for women, only for men, only for priests and the Most Holy.

He overthrew the tables of the money exchangers, from the roman coins used by the many pilgrims coming for Passover to celebrate the chosen people escaping from Egypt to silver shekel. Moreover, he seems to have propagated a very concrete political message about the Jewish people in a federally structured country, independent of Rome, with apostles as political leaders.

And what about he himself? When asked by Pontius “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “Yes, it is as you say” (Mark 15,2).  INRI (Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum), Jesus from Nazareth, the King of Jews they wrote ironically, but that may have been exactly how he saw himself.

This is politics.  He may also have believed in the parallel story of the kingdom inside us and in the afterlife–like in heaven, so too on earth–as an independence that starts inside us, to be realized later.  He was not the only rebel. They were numerous; today they would have been called “terrorists”.

Read the rebellious acts inside the temple against the money–Mammon!–and spiritual center of power, for a moment with Palestinian eyes, and substitute for Rome Washington and for the top Jewish clergy the top Israeli politicians, and the reading of Jesus becomes very contemporary politics.  Even the federation.

And the method: Jesus encouraged his disciples to sell their clothes to buy swords if they did not have any (Luke 22,36).

After the confrontation with the whole system in the temple the temple police came, and he was arrested in the Gethsemane garden. Less than 24 hours later, he was dead.  First he was interrogated by the high priests, Kaiphas asked him whether he was the Messiah, Jesus confirmed.  Second, in the early morning hours Jesus was handed over to Pontius Pilate as governor of Judea, by the priests.  Pontius is described as a mild governor who left the death on the cross decision to the crowd (of Jews), thereby giving rise to anti-semitism (for having killed Jesus).  To the contrary, research seems to indicate that he was a tyrant and did what he had done elsewhere: brutal killing.  But that truth was hidden in the gospels written long after, when the key concern was to spread the teachings of a gentle Jesus all over the Roman Empire.  As Schulz puts it, the politician Jesus did not succeed.  However, the comforting and compassionate son of god did, up until our days.

How would Jesus have been as a king in a federal, liberated Palestine?  We shall never know.  We know much about Mohammed the politician, ruling the city-state Medina for ten years, from 622 until his death in 632.  However, we mainly know what Jesus was against, not much about what he favored, politically.

Could that be one among many reasons that so many Western movements from below are weak on alternatives?  Take the Occupy Movement; the latter day cleansers of the temples in Wall Street, against the greed of the latter day pharisees and the suffering of the homeless.  They are walking in the footsteps of Jesus.  Moreover, maybe that was one of the crimes of the communists; they knew too well what they wanted?  Where was the kingdom of heaven, the mystery, the unknown to be revealed, the second, parallel Jesus?

The midnight mass came to a close.  Money was collected.  And no future on earth had been revealed.


Prof. Johan Galtung is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU and wrote The Fall of the US Empire–And Then What?, TRANSCEND University Press-TUP, 2009.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 26 Dec 2011.

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4 Responses to “Who Was Jesus?”

  1. David Doerr says:

    My comment was somehow sent before I had amended it. Archelaus (Herod the Great’s son) was so cruel that he was deposed as a ruler by the Romans. “Foxe’s Christian Martyrs” explains that the Roman emperor Tiberius wanted to be adored as God, but the senators refused … Tiberius killed his own mother,his nephews, the princes of the city, and his own councelors. He banished Pilate, under whom Christ was crucified, who then committed suicide. Nero acted against his own family, killing his own mother, sister, wife, etc.
    Who was Jesus? I believe that he was brought forth into the world to reveal the existence of God, (through signs and miracles), and to give us to profess the teaching of Jer 31:34, that everyone would be brought to the knowledge of the existence of God. This Christ did after the Last Supper, when he took the cup of wine and said: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Lk 22:20 – “covenant” was inaccurately translated “testament” by Jerome in the Latin Vulgate.) The new covenant was presented at Jer 31:31-34. The message then, of Jesus, was to “know God”.

  2. […] Prize) 1987. Galtung’s editorial was first published by TRANSCEND Media Service. Go to Original.The opinions expressed here are of the […]

  3. satoshi says:

    For those who think about peace seriously, Jesus of Nazareth is an interesting and puzzling figure. On one hand, he said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.'” (Matthew 10:34-36) On the other hand, he said, “Peace I leave with you.” (John 14:27)

    What was his real intention? To understand his real intention, you need to know who really Jesus was?

    Have a good time in this time of the year! And a happy new and peaceful year, all of you!

  4. David Doerr says:

    Exactly. Herod the Great, and some of the Roman emporers were murdering members of their own families. (Their mothers, wives, sisters, sons, nephews – Whoa! What was Jesus of Nazareth trying to tell us?!)