CLAYTON — Having this considerable nose in a book during childhood fortunately diverted my earlier juvenile delinquent wannabee dreams. Today, reading widely continues to enhance my perspective. For instance, “The Jewish New Testament,” translated by David H. Stern, culturally and ethnically grounds one central figure for me.
How does one contemplate that much-loved, often debated Jewish carpenter of the New Testament? Is the best evidence that He might be the real deal the fact that He’s survived in spite of 2,000 years of Christianity?
Since the late 1950s, I’ve been a Roman Catholic, a Presbyterian and a Baptist — and it seems we practicing Christians need a lot more practice. We haven’t got it right yet. We can too often be so self-righteous, judgmental and competing for “Holier than thou.”
We don’t even have a monopoly on Jesus. Muslims claim Him as one of the three most important prophets of Allah along with Muhammad and Moses.
In Israel today, leading Jewish scholars rank Jesus as one of the most important teachers of Judaism. A million Hindus believe He traveled to India between the ages 12 and 30, returning home with elements of Hindu mysticism. This He incorporated into Judaism, resulting in what we now call Christianity.
“The Gift of the Jews” by Thomas Cahill details the earliest ancient monotheism to survive until today and so many more basic tenets of Western thought.
Jesus never planned to start a new separate religion, telling the Samaritan woman at the well, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). Ancient Rome played the Jews who believed in Jesus off against the Jews who hadn’t heard the Sermon on the Mount. Divide and conquer. Why?
Rome fought a 200-year war of occupation in the Jewish homeland — the only land bridge linking Southern Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor, the three main parts of the empire. The Mediterranean can be a very dangerous sea, as I learned in 1968 while in the Navy. Rome needed to patrol its empire by land with ground troops after losing 270 ships in just one Mediterranean storm. Homer and both Testaments mention those storms.
In the greatest gift to Christians in world history, the Jews gave us Jesus. Rome killed Jesus and successfully blamed it on the Jews. That lie lasted for millennia.
Rome, not the people, chose the puppet high priests by the time of Jesus’s ministry and built a fortress adjoining the Temple, garrisoning 600 to 3,000 Roman troops. No Jew would voluntarily allow that.
There was no democracy, no voice of the people. Rome killed hundreds of thousands during the occupation. We can’t ignore the geopolitical and military realities of the era in which Jesus lived.
Adolf Hitler painted crosses, the symbol of Christianity, on every German war machine while murdering 6 million Jews. Will we who try to live by the words of Jesus today, treat Jews with the gratitude they deserve for giving Him to us? They were almost driven to extinction in the name of the One we claim to follow.
Roland Van Deusen is a Clayton resident. He served in the U.S. Navy and is a retired counselor.