Jesus the Jew?

Recently in an online Christian forum, a couple of people declared Jesus was not a Jew and that he was killed by the Jews.  Now the only time I’ve really ever heard Christ’s ethnicity being questioned, even if it was in a rhetorical sense, was when chapel speakers were trying to push their agenda for Jesus to be black and not white with blonde hair and blue eyes.  (Personally, I have never seen that depiction of Jesus in any church; though I can imagine it in a KKK and neo-Nazi meeting house.)  Other than that most people I’ve come into contact with have generally accepted Christ to be of Jewish descent.  So it was rather baffling to encounter two people were obstinately sure that the Lord was not a Jew.  After a couple of attempts to reason with them, I left them to their own deception.  But it made me wonder, “How many of us take this fact for granted?  Do we know how to back up this claim?”  So that is the purpose of today’s post, to find evidence of Christ’s Jewish background.

Let’s first see if Jesus was ethnically Jewish.  In the first gospel of the Bible, that is the book of Matthew, the very first thing that we read is a genealogy or a list of ancestors and their descendants starting with Abraham and ending with Christ.  While most of the names are unfamiliar to many Christians because we tend to skip over the genealogies in the Old Testament, we can pick few out like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Boaz, and David.  The first three are the great patriarchs and ancestors of the Jewish people.  Judah is the head of an Israelite tribe made up of ethnic Jews.  Boaz and David were both Jews as well.  If Christ descends from them, then it would follow that Jesus was also ethnically Jewish.  Now someone might argue that an ethnic Jew from the Roman territory of Galilee would not have a Greek name like Jesus.  And there is some validity to this argument.  However, it should be pointed out that Jesus is not Greek in origin but a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew name “Yeshua” which we know in English as Joshua meaning “God saves.”  Also the Jewish scriptures at the time were primarily written in Greek, not Hebrew.  Thus Christ’s parents were not giving their child a Greek name, but a Jewish one based on a Greek translation of their Scriptures.

Is there any evidence outside of the Bible that Jesus was Jew?  Well, yes and no.  It isn’t so much that extra-biblical sources explicitly stated that Jesus was a Jew as it is they never seem to question that assumption.  The Talmud references a Yeshua of the 1st century was crucified and was said to be born of a Jewish virgin and carpenter (n.b.: the Talmud does not agree with the virgin birth story).  Josephus calls Jesus a Jewish wise man (n.b.: Josephus didn’t believe Jesus to be the Christ).  And Suetonius records the Emperor Claudius throwing the Jews out of Rome for their heated debates over a man called Christ.  That’s rather odd for the Jews in Rome to do if Jesus was Greek, Trojan, Gallic or Egyptian and had nothing to do with Jews or Judaism.

Okay, so the evidence points toward Jesus being ethnically Jewish.  Was he also an adherent to Judaism?  This is a little more difficult to answer because as Christians we have to assume that Jesus was the Messiah while the Jewish leaders in the New Testament and many Jews today would say that he was not the Messiah.  However there is ample evidence to indicate that he did observe Jewish religious traditions and customs.  He accepted the holiness of the Sabbath, though he declared to be Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-11, Matt. 12:8-12).  He recognized the importance of the Shema (Matt. 22:37-38).  He upheld the authority of the Law (Matt. 5:17-20).  He observed the Passover festival, the festival of tents, and Hanukah (Luke 2:41-42, Mark 14:12; John 7:2-10, 10:22-23).  He compared his death to Jewish symbols, the sign of Jonah and the bronze serpent made by Moses (Matt. 16:4, John 3:14-15).  And when he was tempted by Satan and questioned by the Jewish leaders, he relied on Jewish texts (Matt. 4:1-10, 22:23-32, 22:41-45).  Yet there is an absence in the gospels of Christ rejecting the faith of his parents, his neighbors, or of his community leaders.  And we do not see him giving any credence to Gentile philosophies or beliefs.  Even Tradition supports these things.

Therefore we must conclude that Jesus held the Jewish religion in high regards, going even so far as to say that its prophecies were about him (Matt. 26:52-56).  It is then both unlikely to conclude and absurd to say that Jesus was not a Jew.  He could trace his lineage back to an ancient Israelite king, to the head of his tribe, and to the great patriarchs of his people: Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham.  And he faithfully observed and upheld the faith of his people.  He was not a Gentile born in a Jewish society.  He was not some ancient European invention.  He was a Jew.

Okay, so what?  Does this radically change who Jesus was?

No, not really.

Even if you thought of a Jesus as an American who looked like Marvel’s interpretation of Thor, not knowing that he was Jewish didn’t change the fact that he was God incarnate who died for our sins.  Does this mean that his Jewish identity is unimportant?  No, but it isn’t central to the Christian faith.  Remember even the early Church creeds didn’t emphasize Christ’s ethnicity and religious background.  (Granted, I don’t believe very many questioned if Jesus was a Jew back in those days.)  It is more liking buying a chocolate Easter bunny.  You could get the one that is hollow, or you could purchase a solid chocolate bunny.  Both are still bunnies and both are sold during Easter.  But one is solid while the other is hollow.  A non-Jewish Jesus is a hollow bunny and is okay for those new to the faith.  But as believers, we should all be striving to get a more solid picture of who Jesus is.  As the Apostle Paul teaches, we need to move from baby food to solid substances to nourish our soul and part of that is to recognize the Jewish nature and background that made Christ who he is.

Now if you excuse me, I need to see if there’s an early Easter sale for chocolate bunnies.

Conservatism vs. Libertarianism

With fewer and fewer people placing their confidence in the ability of the American government and their elected officials to solve their problems and to provide effective leadership around the world, many are looking to new political ideologies and entities for answers.  One of these ideologies is libertarianism which has gained support from many Republicans and not a few Democrats.  Its adherents believe that individual liberty, the greatest good in a society, is inversely related with the scope of government power.  In other words, the more powerful government becomes the fewer freedoms citizens have to enjoy and vice versa.  Understandably this is a rather attractive view to have given the current debates over social issues like gay marriage, legalizing pot, religious liberties for family run businesses, etc.  And considering libertarianism tends to favor a strong laissez-faire market economy, many vocal Republicans have become self-proclaimed libertarians.  So many in fact that there has been talk about that the GOP ought give up on conservative ideology in favor of something new that has supporters outside of the party.

But is this a good idea?

Historically speaking, American parties tend to die when their original goals or principles have been fulfilled or unable to attract a large support of the voters.  Good examples of this include the Federalist and Whig parties.  The former preferred a strong central government that promoted an urban and commercial society.  The latter opposed Jacksonian policies which had limited the central government’s powers and supported states rights and the views of domestic born citizens.  In both cases the parties dissolved because they were unable to meet the new demands which history presented to them.  The Federalists, though by today’s standards the ultimate victors, could not overcome the more populist messages of the Democratic Republicans and lost several elections to the DRs like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  The Whigs, sometimes seen as the predecessors to the modern Republican Party, were both indecisive and divided over the issue of slavery while the Democratic Party enjoyed greater unity among its members.  Even today’s parties are not the same as when they started.  The Democratic Party was once more conservative than it is today while Republicans held more liberal views than their counterparts.  They changed because the needs of and the important issues to the voters had changed.

Therefore, we could surmise that if we’re seeing such a transformation now then we could say that replacing conservatism with libertarianism is just the natural course of American politics.  And we are seeing a transition of values among voters.  While certainly many voting blocs are concerned the moral and social course our country is heading, very few are continuing to hold the same conservative values as their parents and grandparents held.  This is particularly true concerning the gay marriage debate and the “war on drugs.”  Issues which Millenials are more tolerant and liberal toward than their Baby Boomer parents and grandparents.  As time passes, Millenials will begin to take more active and influential roles in society while their elders become more passive and less outspoken.  If the Republican Party wishes to remain politically relevant, it will need to keep these future transitions within the electorate in mind and roll with the changes.  There is already a push for the GOP to become more relevant and inclusive of ethnic minorities.

However, that doesn’t answer the question at the beginning.  Is it a good idea that libertarianism replace conservatism in American politics?

I’d have to say no.

Outside of personal views on marijuana and gay marriage, libertarianism fails to meet purpose of government as set out by the Framers of the Constitution and fails to provide a platform for a very important role of American government.  Think about it.  The Preamble lists six specific goals which the Founding Fathers wished their new government to meet including the need to promote the general welfare.  While I don’t believe this goal had in mind the current entitlement programs and student loans which Democrats are quick to defend, I know it requires some government action to make it possible.  Under libertarianism, it would be every man and woman for themselves because any government action to provide welfare would be seen as interference.  Even if that interference would protect citizens from false advertising or a chance to improve from their current social status.  Granted most libertarians will acknowledge that a few, limited regulations and interventions by government help to minimize the conflict of rights and desires of most individuals.  However, this would raise a serious question to their ideology: is it possible that the greatest amount of freedom does not equal the greatest good?  Conservatism on the other hand does not balk entirely at the premise of government regulation and interference as long as the result of government action helps to cultivate a free political and social environment.

Also, libertarianism does not provide a concrete platform for social issues.  It is because of this, I believe, that many Republicans have not adopted the libertarian mindset.  If the greatest good is to allow the greatest amount of freedom to individuals, then government cannot and should not be allowed to enact policies that would regulate social issues like abortion, drugs, gun rights, religious freedoms, etc.  However very few Americans actually accept a relativist view that makes this part of libertarianism work.  While they may agree that people shouldn’t be told what to do by the government, they don’t all agree that cocaine deals and abortions should be performed on Main Street if at all.  Libertarianism, as an ideology for a political party, is unable to satisfy these types of concerns that voters have.  Conservatism, although, does offer this opportunity for millions of voters including Millennials; though it may need to adjust its positions to better fit the voting demographics.  For example, the GOP could make civil unions the relationship status recognized across the board by government instead of marriage.  This would allow the same sex crowd access to the benefits they want while allowing individuals to define the word within the context of their own communities.  Another possible adjustment would be to promote programs or policies designed specifically for mothers, single or otherwise, that would give them an equal footing in the work place.  Actually getting involved in issues like education instead of shrugging them off to the state local governments would help as well.

And I could go on and on about how conservative ideology could be modified.  However, that would be side the point which is conservatism actually accepts the government’s role in social issues where libertarianism does not.  It is for this reason that libertarianism should not be considered an equal alternative to conservatism for the Republican Party’s ideology.