A: Jesus, could you please explain why the brain health of people 2,000 years ago makes a difference to what you’re saying today? Why should people on a spiritual journey care about the question of brain health?
J: Well, there are a couple of different approaches to that question. Many religious individuals don’t care about this question and don’t want to care. These are individuals who are happy with their current understanding of God. They believe they have the correct understanding. Therefore, from their point of view, it’s a complete waste of time to be asking about the brain health of the people I lived and worked with. There’s only one reason a person today would be asking about the brain health of Jesus and Paul and John. Only a person who’s interested in the historical facts about what happened would ask such a question.
A: You mean a person who suspects the Church hasn’t been telling us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing about the truth?
J: Yes. A person who isn’t afraid of asking difficult questions about the past. Questions that can help bring healing into the world today.
A: The same sorts of difficult questions that cultural groups in the 20th century had to ask themselves repeatedly. Questions about the motivations that lay behind crimes against humanity. Questions about personal responsibility and ethical conduct in the face of horrendous mob behaviour.
J: There was no shortage of opportunities for deep soul-searching in the 20th century.
A: Here in Canada we’ve had to address our treatment of First Nations people and ethnic and religious minorities. It isn’t easy to be honest about past mistakes, but it’s in acknowledging our mistakes that we’re able to learn from them and make our society more inclusive, more compassionate.
J (nodding): It’s a painful struggle to bring major change to a society. But it can be done when a sizeable group decides to “get on board.” You need a critical mass of people to bring about effective change. Individual members of a society have to be willing to decide for themselves that change is a good thing. It has to come from within people’s hearts. When the rules are imposed on them from the top down by a small cadre of rulers or leaders, that’s not change. That’s fascism or totalitarianism.
A: Or church authority.
J: Exactly the point I was trying to make 2,000 years ago.
A: Tell me more about that.
J: There was no church at the time, of course. But there was a Temple. Actually, there were lots of temples, because many different religions co-existed in the first century, and most of them built temples as places of worship. I wasn’t interested myself in Greek or Roman or Egyptian temples. I knew about them, had visited them, but my main concern was the Jewish Temple.
A: In Jerusalem.
J: Yes, physically the Jewish Temple was in Jerusalem. But the Temple was more than that. It was a symbol. A powerful symbol. It overshadowed Jewish people no matter where we lived. If you were Jewish, you couldn’t get away from it.
A: Was this a good thing?
J: Sure, if you were a wealthy Sadducee. Or a member of the privileged Jewish aristocracy. Or a wealthy Roman merchant-mercenary.
A: You mean Roman merchants and Roman mercenaries?
J: No, I mean the unique class of Roman culture that was clawing its way up the rigid social class system by making buckets and buckets of money in various mercantile enterprises of dubious ethical merit.
A: Huh. That sounds a lot like some corporations today.
J: There’s a reason the English word “corporation” comes from the same Latin root as Paul’s “one body — corpus — in Christ.”
A: That’s pretty inflammatory.
J: Yes. But accurate. Religion was THE biggest business in the first century. It was intimately linked with politics and power, even more so than people can imagine today. It’s just crazy to pretend that Paul was talking about love and salvation. When you get right down to it, Paul was a businessman. He wasn’t selling relationship with God. He was selling power. Like certain televangelists in recent years who’ve been building market share — along with their own investment portfolios. Same old, same old.
A: And that’s not what you were doing? Building a power base for your own ideas?
J: I was interested in dismantling the power base of the Temple. Brash, crazy, and impossible at the time. But I gave it my best shot.
A: Some political observers would suggest this makes you a Zealot — a first century Jewish political revolutionary. Were you a Zealot?
J: No. The Jewish faction known as Zealots were the equivalent of today’s radical religious fundamentalists. I was as far from religious fundamentalism as it was possible to get.
A: But you also weren’t a religious conservative devoted to preserving the status quo.
J: No. I came from a family of religious conservatives. My mother’s father was a Sadducee. My father was a Roman citizen from Greece who hobnobbed with Roman merchant-mercenaries. As a young adult, I rejected the social values my family taught me.
A: Okay. So you weren’t a Zealot. And you weren’t a Sadducee. What else was left within Judaism at the time?
J: There were the Pharisees. Their influence had been steadily growing for decades. They were highly obedient to the Jewish Law and the traditions of the Jewish Temple.
A: And you weren’t.
A: So you didn’t have much in common with the Pharisees.
J: Not by the time I came to my senses.
A: Which was when?
J: When I realized that the group Josephus calls the Essenes were extremely powerful and dangerous, and that they were influencing the teachings of well-meaning Pharisees. I decided then to stop listening to “factions” within Judaism and start listening to my own heart and soul.
A: So basically all the Jewish religious factions that existed in Palestine in the first century (that we know of) would have considered you a heretic?
J: Damn straight.