Saturday, August 13, 2005

Jesus and Jewish Nationalism

In my last post I touched upon the dilemma of Just War Theory versus Pacifism and concluded that I simply was not sure. This prompted a huge number of comments and James Crossely at Earliest Christianity presented a gentle and forthright response. The more I read the Gospels the more I lean towards the pacifist position, which is big for someone who has been on a diet of 'Just War Theory' for quite some time. For me the big influences were also Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God, Marcus Bog's Conflict and Holiness, and Scot McKnight's, A New Vision for Israel.

I see Jesus as responding in many ways to the politicization of national holiness that was breeding, however gradually, an ethos of nationalistic violence. He called Israel to repent, not merely of it's covenantal transgression but also of the idolotrous nationalism that had permeated some groups. Jesus offered a challenge of what it meant for Israel to be Israel and to embrace his way of being Israel which meant being a light to the Gentiles and a kingdom of priests.

Several passages which I think that suggest this are:

1) The parables of Mark 4, esp. George Caird's take on them in his NT Theology. In Mk. 4.30-32, when the kingdom comes Gentiles (birds) would nest in its shade rather than be destroyed.

2) Lk. 13.1-5 warns Israel of judgment if it does not repent of its violence.

3) Q 16.16 is possibly a dig at those who seek to usher the kingdom in with violence.

4) Mk. 11.15-17 (temple episode) can be seen as Jesus as rejecting the temple (among other things) for being a talisman guranteeing victory over the nations. If the quotations are authentic (and I reckon they are!) then the opposite of a house of prayer for all nations is not an economic rip off, but a house that is, in Josephus' words, a charnel house of war!

5) Mark 15 (suspending historical issues) and the release of Barabbas can be understood as symbolic of the choice by some of those within Israel for a kingdom wonover by violence against Jesus' view of the kingdom.

I explore these issues further in an article in an Australian journal called Colloquium.

Furthermore, in case anyone is wondering, I'm not some ultra-right wing, war mongering, Muslim-hating, red-neck - just in case my unguarded remarks in my previous blog gave the wrong impression!!!

On the whole dilemma of developing a theology or view of war, may I reiterate the words of one comment on my previous blog - following Jesus is what matters!


Ted Gossard said...

"On the whole dilemma of developing a theology or view of war, may I reiterate the words of one comment on my previous blog - following Jesus is what matters!"

There is no doubt that the kingdom of God as coming in Jesus does not engage in the warfare of this world. It ultimately ends all such warfare.

At this time the state's role is not only permitted, but sanctioned by God.

I too am not a war monger. I think nations should do everything possible and then some, before going to war.

Maybe I do need to go back to my anabaptist roots on this one. I don't know.

I do believe we must be careful not to expect any national entity ("kingdoms of this world") to fulfill a role that can only be fulfilled by the coming kingdom of God in Christ. In fact the state's role is to do nothing less than punish evil doers and praise those who do well.

Ted Gossard said...

Am I wrong in my last paragraph of my previous post?

Michael F. Bird said...

Ted, I think your last comment is pretty well where I'm at too! I think the challenge is to make for the things that make for piece, but at the same time doing whatever is necessary to protect the innocent and persecuted.

James Crossley said...

Some interesting readings of those passages, Michael. I agree there is definitely something in Jesus opposing some of the violent nationalism.

I would argue for something along the lines of the Craig Evans type reading of Mk 11.15-17 (I too think it is genuine) as an attack on exploitation, just like other Jews were doing around the time. What do you make of that kind of argument?

J. B. Hood said...

Excellent comments all and thanks Mike for being bold enough to throw this out here. This is definitely something all, especially Americans, should ponder (for what it's worth, I can't find a way to make just war theory work in our present situation in Iraq).

I've been pondering one verse in particular in this regard for the past month--Luke 3:14; note what Luke DOESN'T tell the soldiers. Obviously that's not the whole picture and I couldn't agree more with Jesus' rejection of nationalism (I also couldn't agree more with the need to apply that today to our nations and tribes--even our religions, sadly enough).

eddie said...

Hmmm... interesting

Following Jesus is not always as clear as it seems. If Jesus spoke against violence out of Jewish Nationalism, then does this mean no violence at all? Or just that this is not what God wants for his people as a whole, they are not to be a 'nation' again. We need to respect the context.

We must destinguish between followers of Jesus using violence and authorities using violence. Where an authority is a follower, then how should they act? As an authority or as a follower?

We must also decide whether there is a biblical mandate for authorities (Rom 13?). I see no counter-imperial instruction within Jesus' teaching whether violent or not (although our firend at Primal Subverion may disagree).

J. Ted Blakley said...

Michael, Just a short note and perhaps more later on the issue of Just War Theory vs. Pacifism. Might I recommend two books with the same title, *Just Peacemaking*. Both are the products of Glen Stassen, an ethics professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, who was once a nuclear physicist (or some such thing) and whose father was governor of one of the 50 states (can't remember which one).

Anyway, the first book's full title is *Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace* and was written by Stassen and as I recall begins with a chapter arguing for a triadic (vs. dyadic) structure which significantly changes how one interprets what Jesus is calling for, and what Stassen will talk about as transforming initiatives. You can search the book at amazon at The rest of the book talks more practically about how one puts into practice transforming initiatives and includes some examples of how such initiatives have faired in world politics in particular situations.

If you would like a more detailed argument of his take on the Sermon on the Mount, see his 2003 JBL article "The Fourteen Triads of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21–7:12).

The second book's full title is *Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War* and is edited by Stassen. This book builds on the previous but is written by a wide range of people, ethicists, economists, philosophers, etc. with each chapter outlining what Stassen and others have devised in terms of practical steps that individuals and governments can make if they really want to work for peace and justice between peoples and nations. It can be found here

I think Stassen and others offer a viable alternative to the traditional dichotomy between Just War Theory and Pacifism, both in terms of how one thinks about these and related issues and of how one acts with respect to these issues.