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Did Gerrymandering Kill Jesus?

Friends’ Meeting: The B Sides

#14 Parallels between our society and 1st century Judea

editing note – unfinished near the end – references still needed, and some development.  Perhaps cut as footnotes of examples.

Good morning friends, after reading the Bible through last year, and reading Luke again this year with the spiritual fellowship group, I’ve been thinking about the social, religious and political enivornment in which Jesus lived and died.

As some of my closer friends know when I say that I’ve been thinking, the appropriate response is: “uh-oh, here it comes!”

First off, as we discussed in a forum about our Good Friday Peace Vigil, the Jews did not kill Jesus, the Romans did.  But I’d like to explore that entire picture much further.  Beyond who actually did the killing – the roman soldiers - who wanted Jesus dead?  Who was against him, and who seemed to be open to Jesus’ message and followed his teaching? 

If I had to guess, from what sparse and controversial data is available to me from the protestant canon and elsewhere, it’s possible that the majority of Jews supported or respected Jesus, at least as a rabbi, or a prophet, even if not quite The Messiah.

How can I possibly come up with that conclusion?  Well, it all depends on how you count  people.  I just recently learned that the word statistics originates from the word “state”; statistics started as a way to measure crowds of people for political purposes.  This brings to mind Benjamin Disreali’s quip: “there are three kinds of lies, lies, damned lies and statistics.” Eventually I hope to relate the story of Jesus triumphal entry to Jerusalem and crucifixion to modern political parallels, including gerrymandering, so I hope this keeps your interest.


I think Jesus spent all of his early teaching circuit outside of Jerusalem for the following compelling reasons: he knew at some intuitive level that his new interpretations of Hebrew traditions would bring him on a collision course with the powers that be.  He wanted to have the opportunity to preach to many common men and women, the poor and politically powerless, before heading to the showdown on center stage in Jerusalem, from which he might not return.  He probably wanted to build up his courage, maybe he could build up a popular base too.  Maybe he was learning a lot as he went along.  In other words, he was human, he was not omniscient!

Maybe he was following the voice of God in ways similar to how you or I might follow what I metaphorically call God, or a higher power – by quieting the mind and listening intently within.  Perhaps he had vivid dreams.  Not everyone hears audible voices, and those who do - thinking of William James’ Varieties of Religious experience - don’t necessarily hear them every day, certainly not every minute of the day.  God is not exactly on speed dial.

Back to my question for a moment about self-proclaimed messiahs who turned out to be a disappointment – did Jesus see within his lifetime, or hear about other radical rabbis who traveled the countryside, taught the Torah in new unconventional ways, become credited with healing some sick people, maybe even gather some unwanted attention and get swept along a trajectory of stardom which ended badly? One of my guilty pleasures is to gloat over celebrity train wrecks, so the pattern of Hero to Zero should be quite recognizable.  There are plenty of televangelist celebrity train wrecks too, so Christians shouldn’t get too smug.

Reining my overactive imagination back in for a moment, here’s one corner of the map to tack down: Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt with the crowd of disciples lining the road shouting Hosanna. (Luke 19:37) “A very large crowd” (Matt 21:7), many people spread their cloaks, others spread branches, (Mark 11:8). So we have crowds of people during his triumphal entry – what kind of people? Jewish people.  What kind of Jewish people?  Luke says they are Jesus’ disciples. I guess that raises the question of defining the word “disciple” – veteran roadie or newcomer? It’s plausible to have a mixture ranging from ardent disciples to curiosity seekers.

The other gospels seem to broaden the base of support. John’s account suggests the largest number of people – “the great crowd that had come for the feast… went out to meet him shouting Hosanna” (John12:12) and John clearly connects these people with celebrating the Feast – Passover.  Notice that the draw for these people to come to Jerusalem was the Feast, but when they heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, they are diverted from their original and customary itinerary.

Here is one critical detail about the following which Jesus mustered – it was big enough to threaten the established political order with meaningful change wholesale.

( Mark 11:18) “the chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this [about Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple] and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching”.

Right here in Mark 11:18 is my understanding of politics in a nutshell:

Privileged elites and their social managers – e.g. teachers and lawyers – rule against the most heartfelt desires of the vast majority of the people. 

The chief priests allow or enable a corruption of the most sacred cultural traditions at the temple and benefit from their cozy relationships with the bookies.  When the will of the people arises, centered around one courageous leader, a leader qualified by his or her uncompromising integrity – the self-appointed leaders of the stratified society must have their opponent co-opted or killed. 

As for co-opting opponents, if you think what I have to say about political leaders then and now is harsh, you should hear what Jesus said. (Matt 23:15) “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are”. If I was trying to rule people who did not want me to rule them, it would make a lot of sense to perform opposition research, to maintain listening posts, and to recruit and divert potential revolutionaries away from associations where they might learn truly disruptive ideologies.

Here’s my overall guess about Jesus’ demographic: most of the Jewish poor, meaning at least 60%, perhaps even 80%, viewed Jesus favorably, which ranges from admiration for his guts to  drive the money changers out of the temple, moved by his sermon on the mount, to a more hard core fan base who speculated about Messiah-ship before the triumphal entry.  So Jesus has the fishermen, farmers, herders and poorer tradesmen behind him.

I don’t think there was a middle class in 1st century anywhere near what I’m used to seeing in 21st century America. Of course, our middle class is disappearing too, but that’s another story!  But as we move closer to the top of the economic and social ladder, Jesus’ message about a new kingdom of heaven which threatens to replace the kingdom and order they’ve already got upsets the oligarchy, and of course the middle class are caught in the middle.  So maybe 40 to 50% of the middle class admires Jesus, but they know their dependence on the wealthy for better business opportunities, and they have more to lose than the poor, who have nothing to lose!

Also – location! location! location! As you move into Jerusalem, the demographic is shifting uptown.  In the rural areas you’ve got more poor, but the city might be the only place any middle class exists.  And of course the oligarchy, the plutocracy, congregate in the city.  Out in the countryside, there might be just one wealthy family in a village of 500 to 1000 people.  But during the 1st century, only in Jerusalem can you get enough rich Jewish men together to support a country club and some Zagat rated restaurants.

(by the way, I’m completely ignoring non-Roman non-Jews, such as Samaritans, basically because the gospels ignore all but a few of them).

Even amongst the Hebrew oligarchy, the Pharisees, I can think of at least 2 members who respected Jesus – Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. (John 3:1) ”Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God’”.  I was taught that Nicodemus approached Jesus at night because he was afraid to be seen with him in the day, which is plausible, and reinforces the theme of political controversy.

(by the way, according to John, Nicodemus’ night class happens earlier than the triumphal entry, but, these gospels seem to jump around a bit in their chronology, placing similar stories at different times.  For that matter, Luke 6:17 indicates that the Sermon on the Mount occurred on a plane: “a level place”.)

 “A rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus”… asks Pilate for Jesus’ body. (Matt 27:57) In Mark (15:43) he’s “a prominent member of the Council”. Which council? The one that pressed Pilate to kill Jesus?  Where was this Joseph when that happened?  Luke 23:51 says that apparently he had not consented.  But how much did he oppose?!  What did that look like?  The most controversial town meeting I’ve witnessed had wrangling over political candidates going to office, not the gallows.

I wish to further examine the top tier of 1st century Hebrew Palestine.  When I’m on top of my  spiritual principle practicing game, I try to put myself in other people’s shoes.  I also try to envision multiple perspectives on an issue when I’m really engaged with a story.  It seems to me that these Jewish oligarchs were caught between a rock and a hard place, or rather between the sword of the Roman empire and their own people’s identity, their tradition.  Giving all of them the benefit of the doubt, I’d bet that they all wanted desperately to live by the Torah.

(as well as I can recall) “Shemah Yisrael Adonai Eluhanu Adonai Ehad” were the first words their parents taught them. In their history their people have always lived in between the warring kingdoms of Egypt and Mesopotamia, having to carefully pick the winning side for temporary alliances to stay alive and maintain some degree of relative independence.  But their great-16-grandparents lost that game in the 400’s BC and they almost did not survive.  They barely managed to return from Persia and rebuild until eventually the Romans conquered everyone in that world, at least as far as their imagination could venture.

No one likes to kowtow.  It’s a learned behavior.  Some learn a lot harder than others.

And some are a little closer to the rewards of kowtowing than others.  Jerusalem, and any other center of material wealth, has Romans taking taxes, and there’s kowtowing going on.  Or perhaps I should call it negotiating, compromise, bargaining, horse-trading.  Everyone says they hate the middle man but sooner or later they all come crying for our help – they wouldn’t have nothing if it weren’t for us – am I right fellas?

I think the Pharisees and / or Saducee’s critical job, which some understood better than others, was to find out exactly how Jewish could Jews still be under Roman rule. How much cultural independence could they keep for their people under a Rome which worshipped the Emperor and his pantheon.  Are we going to let some hayseed itinerant preacher come into our house, talking about some new Kingdom in front of the Romans, putting crazy ideas into people’s heads, stirring up a commotion?

I didn’t see anyone healed, did you? Oh please, there’s always been beggars who play for a crowd like that.  I’m sure I’ve seen the same blind guy see before when what’s-his-name healed him last year.

Jesus manages to point to some principles and Values at the heart of Hebrew tradition (maybe at the heart of every tradition?) and the Pharisees and Saducees, who had sold out and compromised at least part of the store, didn’t like having their covers pulled.

I suspect that some core teachings of Jesus, and the way 1st century Christians lived, threatens hierarchies – period!

Here’s a quick quiz from Acts chapter 2 and 4:

How many of the believers claimed that any of their possessions were their own?

A) all of the believers

B) most

C) some

D) a few


 E) none?

The correct answer is E - None of the believers claimed that any of their possessions were their own, they shared everything in common. From time to time those who owned land sold it and set the money at the apostle’s feet.

That’s communism and socialism.  (FWIW – the centrally planned economy and centrally planned politics of the Soviet Union was never communism, not like this.  For that matter, the US has had a centrally planned economy and politics, not a democracy, and not free markets, since around the 1890s.  and it has not been as different from the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany as some true believers in Americanism would like you to believe.  But that’s definitely another story – and you can start with the Underground History of American Education – look for the Russian words Fordizatsiya and Teilorizatsiya – for Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor’s influence in Russian industry, and the cult of scientific management).

But, as usual, I digress.

I see the lower base of the pyramid of 1st century Hebrew Palestine heavily behind Jesus, at least part of the middle class is going his way, and the oligarchy is somewhat divided.  Of course this interpretation of their culture comes from Christian Gospels, which detractors would point out, are probably trying to overstate their case. See Caveats below.

But something about this situation rings true, sounds familiar.

Today we have an American Empire, following the heels of the British Empire, having won wars against the Japanese and German Empires, and all the way back stratified society goes to the fertile river valleys when hunter gatherers first settled down to predictable farming.  Only there did war, a.k.a. armed robbery, become profitable, because our sessile farming ancestors were the first to actually accumulate any stuff worth investing precious energy into.  Protection may have been necessary, but how long before protection became a protection racket?  My guess is right from the start.

Perhaps Hobbes or Locke interpreted social contract theory in a benign way, and could attribute good motives overall to the upper crust.  I’d have to ask what was the nature of the personal relationships between that Upper Crust and Hobbes and Locke!  I suspect that the Russian Proverb, “Whose bread you eat, his songs you sing” accounts for much of Academia.

e.g. John Taylor Gatto -

It is tempting to bash (or worship) Dewey for high crimes (or high saintliness), depending on one’s politics, but a greater insight into the larger social process at work can be gained by considering him as an emblem of a new class of hired gun in America, the university intellectual whose prominence comes from a supposed independence and purity of motives but who simultaneously exists (most often unwittingly) as protégé, mouthpiece, and disguise for more powerful wills than his own. Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski are prime examples of the type in our own day.

Most of the world has always been ruled by Empires, and most indigenous peoples have found themselves in between a rock and a hard place, between a sword and economic ruin. The sword of the U.S.A. is in over 750 military bases circling the globe, and the International Monetary Fund is just another weapon at the “kinder, gentler” end of the spectrum of the US Govt’s arsenal.

A big question I still have is how did Jesus go from Hero to Zero in just a few days around Passover?  What was the time line there?  How did the crowds which had supported Jesus and welcomed him to Jerusalem evaporate and get replaced by the crowds who yelled “crucify him!”

(Matt27:20)  “But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.”  Karl Rove must have gone to school with those guys, because that’s some mighty powerful persuasion going on right there!  Not too long before that, the chief priests had been afraid of Jesus and the crowds on his side.

Persuasion, the manipulation of crowds, survival of the slickest – that’s the heart of the matter.

Survival of the fittest is often thought of as brute strength, and while you definitely must find a way to get enough brutes on your side, it appears that eloquence, persuasion, striking the right bargains with the right people at the right time, is the name of the game.

The more religious members of my family generally explained the turning of the crowds in supernatural and even diabolical terms.  I can understand that manipulation of crowds does seem magical.  Personally, I have difficult persuading a couple friends to watch my choice of movie on a Friday night, never mind getting 100s or 1000s to follow my lead!


The critical importance of deception in handling crowds.

Agent provacatuers.

Be sure to keep your own private army of black shirts.  Henry Ford did.

And see how the GWB admin screened crowds before public appearance.  And used young republicans to intimidate dissent.

Democrats also screen crowds.

The secret service helps maintain the illusion – free speech zones.

Armed Psychological operation in guerilla warfare.

*** a few notables –

Ford organizing his own black shirts.  Prize fighters and ex-cons to beat up would be union organizers.

Define gerrymandering. Give an example.

Hanging chads are not even the beginning – Greg Palast.

Attack Harvard directly – go right after the sacred cow, bite the hand that feeds you.


Cowardice of Harvard law school not supporting the brothers during the McCarthy era – for a simple compelling reason – you have to predict who might win – so you can be seen on their side, or not too objectionable.


Two brothers, Jonathan and David Lubell, both Harvard law students, were politically active against the Korean War. It was the McCarthy era, and the brothers were subpoenaed. They refused to cooperate on the grounds that the subpoena was a violation of the First Amendment.

Harvard Law School immediately began pressuring the students to cooperate with Congress. The other students ostracized them. Pressures from the Dean and faculty turned into threats. Although the Lubells graduated magna cum laude, they were kept off the Harvard Law Review. Their scholarships were terminated. A majority of the Harvard Law faculty voted for their expulsion (expulsion required a two-thirds vote).

Why did Harvard Law School betray two honor students who stood up for the US Constitution? Cockburn concludes that the Harvard law faculty sacrificed constitutional principle in order not to jeopardize their own self-advancement by displeasing the government (and no doubt donors).


Harvard’s shameful treatment of professor who wrote about Isreal’s human rights violations.

Norman Finkelstein.


Tri-lateral commission should reveal certain attitudes antipathy towards what the rest of us consider democracy –

In Zinn’s book – the threat of too much democracy.


John Taylor Gatto -

Once privy to ideas like those entertained by Inglis, Conant, Ulich, and Kotschnig, most contemporary public school debate becomes nonsense. If we do not address philosophies and policies which sentence the largest portion of our people to lives devoid of meaning, then we might be better off not discussing school at all. A Trilateral Commission Report of 1974, Crisis of Democracy, offered with some urgency this advice: "A program is necessary to lower the job expectations of those who receive a college education." (emphasis added) During the quarter-century separating this managerial proposition from the Millennium, such a program was launched—for reasons we now turn to the historian Arnold Toynbee to illuminate.

The police and national guard work for the wealthy – they kill the poor. 

Rockefeller’s Ludlow Massacre,


Carnegie’s assault on the Homestead strikers,


Ford’s machine gun assault against the River Rouge plant employees. 


Another example of the power of persuasion.  The bonus army. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonus_Army

  Fought against by – none other than more soldiers of the same army.  How exactly do you persuade new US soldiers to fight against their veteran predecessors?!  Tanks, adamsite gas, and bayonets by Major Patton and General Douglas Macarthur.

For even greater irony, Zinn relates the story of the employer who got hired guns to break up strikers who were outraged at not being paid, and then when the strike was broken up – guess how much he paid the hired guns?! Nada.  Now that’s one clever and persuasive dude!  To the victor belongs the spoils.


leading to conclusions -

I can not help but think that most people who get above middle management are just making shit up!

And intuitively the rest of us at the bottom know this.

Nice guys finish last.  The poor are generous.  The wealthy are stingy.  That’s how they got to be wealthy.

Go back and re-read Acts chapter 2 and 4 damn it!  And tell me I’m not on to something here, which is not validated by anything less than the Son of God himself!

Gandhi got shot.  MLK got shot.  Malcolm X got shot.

Bob Marley: “How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?  Some say it’s just a part of it, we’ve got to fulfill the book.  Won’t you help to sing, these songs of freedom? ‘cause all I ever have, redemption songs”



First caveat, I’m going to refer to Protestant Canon, mostly the gospels, but that does not mean that I believe literally everything they say, because for one thing, they’re contradictory. 

Ok, start with “how many women went to the tomb?” One gospel says 1, another says 2, another says 3, another says 5 or more.  Those are mutually exclusive conditions.  Then ask what did they see when they got there – was the tomb open or shut?  Were they men or angels? 1 angel or 2? If you allow yourself to think critically it really goes downhill from there.

Perhaps more importantly I can’t help but feel that the Canon leaves out an awful lot.  I always have more questions about Jesus, the disciples, the common people, the culture, the leaders, the political tensions between the Jews and the Romans, the tensions between the Jews and other non-Romans, etc. etc. 

I will do a fair amount of reading between the lines and I’ll make guesses about 1st century Judaism and Palestine based on my knowledge of human nature in general.

2nd caveat - Of course scholars of archeology, Aramaic and early church history do a much more accurate job of reading between the lines because they’re familiar with archeological evidence and a body of literature available from that time.  Hopefully Bible scholars are able to separate their biases, prejudices and theological agendas from what objective evidence and literature is actually in front of them.  I would expect there to be ongoing debate leaving room for many possible interpretations and scenarios for any given question.  But I do know that Bible scholars are only human, and that followings, movements, religious-political alliances have ways of working their will through everyone and anyone, to make certain answers come out the “right way” – i.e. their way.

To try and sum up my attitude towards Bible scholars, I’ll generally trust individual “experts” to answer technical questions like “how much does an ephah of flour weigh?” or “approximately how many prominent or controversial itinerant rabbis do we know of from around 50 years before Jesus’ time?” That last question really leads to this one: “How many self-proclaimed messiahs might have arisen to gather a following, only to lose their local base of support, and end up executed or run out of town?”  But I generally don’t trust Aramaic language experts to draw conclusions for me of if or how I might live differently today because of such knowledge or opinion, never mind whom to vote for in the next presidential election because of it!

(Trust me, the arm-chair theologians I am familiar with had a complete bill of goods to sell you, you were not allowed to pick and choose.  No line item veto.  They were, after all, evangelists.)




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