Saturday, December 22, 2007

Only here: Answering the Judas question at Christmas

From the land of intermittent internet service and in-laws, I suppose I should do a Christmas post. While I try to not to make it a habit to pull deep intellectual questions out of rock operas, the Judas question in Jesus Christ Superstar has always niggled the back of my brain:

Every time I look at you
I don't understand
Why you let the things you did
Get so out of hand
You'd have managed better
If you'd had it planned
Now why'd you choose such a backward time
And such a strange land?
If you'd come today
You could have reached the whole nation
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication


The believer asking why God picked exactly that moment in human history to send his Son to Earth for the redemption of sins, and the non-theist wondering why this one movement that began in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire took off when so many others didn't are both asking the same question.

Why Jesus in Galilee and Judea just then?

Curiously, I think both questions have the same answer, which is--more or less--Roman roads and the Hellenization of Asia Minor.

The Hellenization process that followed in the two centuries after Alexander the Great created an overlay of cultural unification that spread Greek language, ideas, and city-states from southern Italy as far as the Indus River valley. The Romans then moved in on the western part of that Hellenized world and enforced a political unity forged with the pilum and cemented with a network of military roads.

It does not do to forget that the lingua franca of the eastern Roman Empire was always Greek, not Latin.

It is also critical to recall that, in an imperial population of 60 million, about ten percent were Jews, many of them Hellenized (Greek-speaking) and spread out of Judea in the diaspora.

There is considerable evidence within the New Testament (excavated by such critical historians as John Dominic Crossan) that Hellenized Jews were among Jesus' early followers and Christianity's earliest evangelists.

Hellenized Jewish and Gentile culture provided a sufficiently uniform context in which to spread a radically modified Jewish belief system, while the Pax Romanum and those wonderful military roads created both the international stability and the certainty of travel necessary to spread the creed.

For all that, it was a narrow window. Two great modern religions--Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism--originated in the brief interim between the death of Herod the Great and the Jewish Rebellion that ended in 70 AD--during the stable Augustinian peace that people foolishly thought might last forever.

So back to my question (because I could go on for far too long, as it is an interesting subject that has given rise to many quality books):

Why Jesus, then, in Judea under Roman rule?

The answer: that is the earliest possible point in western world history when the necessary matrix of dependable communications, political stability, and widespread cultural coherence existed to allow such movement to spread and institutionalize.

If you're Christian: God sent Jesus into human history at the first moment at which the structure of society would allow the Word to spread.

If you're not: The first global evangelical religion appeared just as soon as the cultural, political, and economic situation permitted it: Jesus (and Paul) just happened to be the lucky beneficiaries of timing.

And what's that all got to do with Christmas, anyway?

Probably not much.

But, hey, I'm a semi-devout Catholic pragmatist Libertarian. What did you expect?

8 comments:

Waldo said...

Julian Jaynes lives!

Steve Newton said...

Now if I can just get the one side of my brain to tell the other side of it (as God) whether or not to respond....

Waldo said...

You've made my year....

Waldo said...

Ron Paul is on Glenn Back this afternoon. Beck sucks up with softball questions to underline that the two of them are "true Libertarians." Beck says the true Libertarian steps over the poor person on the street. Paul says if we cut spending enough we can increase charity to where we once were, where the churches ran the hospitals, not the government.

Of course, if you look around the churches who still run hospitals are looking for legislative permission to deny treatment to those of whom they disapprove.

He says we can eliminate the income tax. How to make up the revenue? Tolls, tariffs, user fees. And cutting services.

If you want to live in 1835, better be born rich. "If you're a Constitutionalist," he says, "you're really a Libertarian." You get to live your life as you want and enjoy the fruits of your labor, and if you have a misfortune, or are less favored intellectually or physically, apparently you get left behind.

I look for Herbert Spencer to rise from the grave and endorse Ron Paul.

OH, asked about the nutters who support him, he complained that he shouldn't have to talk about them. Like everything else in his campaign, they just do their thing and Paul just floats above it.

Steve Newton said...

If you've been reading this blog you will know I have been primarily interested in Paul as a phenomenon rather than a candidate. I put Paul in the same category as Perot, Ventura, Schwarzenegger, and the like: indicators of general unrest rather than statesmen ready and capable of changing America.

Ron Paul has definitely struck a nerve, to the point that many of his supporters do not want to deal with potential negatives.

What is both the promise and the peril of a strong Paul showing during the primary season, is that he brings all sorts of new, libertarian-leaning people into the system that there is no truly organized Libertarian Party waiting to snap up.

Waldo said...

I've been reading, which is why I made the comment. But if I was a party looking for members, after his Meet the Press appearance today, I'd run the other way.

Hube said...

waldo: You got that right. I just wrote a whole post about Paul's "MTP" appearance. It wasn't very pretty.

Waldo said...

Well said, hube. The trouble I find with Paul is he alternates between nuggets of common sense and vast swathes of sheer nuttiness. When you try to pin him on manifestations of the latter, it's always something he doesn't remember, or it's a misquote, or he segues into something he's more comfortable talking about. The Russert interview is a classic of Paul's technique, which is why watching it reveals the nutty side in a way the transcript doesn't.