“i was never in egypt,” declares jesus christ
RACHEL Friends of Emisoras Latinas, some of you may find it strange that our radio station has such exclusive contact with Jesus Christ in this, his second coming to earth. You may wonder why I’m the only one who’s being allowed to interview him. What do you have to say about that, Master, I mean, Jesus? Don’t you want to give statements to the press?
JESUS What’s happening, Rachel, is that the other reporters, just like the Sadducees of my time, are probably looking for me in some temple, or on the clouds of heaven, or they’re asking for miraculous signs… It’s the same as always.
RACHEL They tell me that on the esplanade of Jerusalem there are still people waiting for you. And they’re asking when you’re going to arrive, and if you’re going to speak with the Pope from Rome, with the President of the United States, with the European Parliament, with… with…
JESUS With you, Rachel. Aren’t you the one interviewing me?
RACHEL Well, I’ll take advantage of the new opportunity you offer me and … See that donkey? Precisely about that I wanted to ask you something.
JESUS About that little donkey?
RACHEL Not that particular one, no, but about the one on which your parents Mary and Joseph escaped just after you were born.
JESUS My parents escaped? Where did they escape to?
RACHEL You should know. Don’t you remember when King Herod sent soldiers to kill all the boys less than two years of age that had been born in Bethlehem?
JESUS That murderer Herod killed big people, not children. He used to torture people, cut their throats… but it was the people who plotted against him.
RACHEL But when you were born, Herod became extremely frightened; he thought you were going to take his crown away from him.
JESUS What crown was I going to take from him, if I was still nursing at my mother’s breast?
RACHEL Well, that’s what Matthew’s gospel says. Here it is, you can read it yourself.
JESUS Matthew again!… Matthew must have written that to spice up the story a bit.
RACHEL Spice it up? But why? To what end?
JESUS Just like in any story … my parents fleeing to Egypt, mounted on a donkey, in order to save me …
RACHEL But if it was just a story, why did he have you travel so far? He could have had you hide in some corner of Judea…
JESUS Ah, that’s the point. Surely, Matthew must have read the story of that wicked Egyptian pharaoh who killed the Hebrew boys… Remember how the infant Moses was saved by being put in a basket that floated down the river?…
RACHEL That’s the story line of the movie “The Prince of Egypt”. I saw it.
JESUS That’s the story line of the book of Exodus, Rachel. In my case, they couldn’t have me float in a river because here in Palestine there’s not much water… So, I see that they had me get on a donkey with my parents and flee into Egypt… And when Herod died, that was the makings of another story they had me return from Egypt as a way of presenting me as the new Moses, the great liberator.
RACHEL What a gross manipulation…
JESUS No, Rachel, it’s a beautiful comparison. Why not?
RACHEL If I understand you well, then, you never traveled to Egypt, you never saw the pyramids…
JESUS No, I never saw those great marvels. And speaking of travels, where I want to go is to Nazareth! I’m really curious to visit the town where I was born and grew up and see what it’s like nowadays. Perhaps we can travel on this donkey…?
RACHEL No, on donkey, no! How could you think of that? We can take another taxi, like the one that brought us here to Bethlehem. In a few hours we’ll be in Nazareth. What do you think?
JESUS Okay, Rachel, you’re the one in charge here.
RACHEL No, in Emisoras Latinas, the ones in charge are you, the public, a public that is always anxious to learn more. In Nazareth, I am certain, there will be new revelations awaiting us. Keep tuned to our broadcasts, and if you missed some of our earlier programs, you can always find them in the Internet at www.emisoraslatinas.net.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
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Three narratives that are not historical
When Jesus was born, the influence of the Romans was being felt ever more forcefully in Palestine, but the country was still being governed by King Herod the Great, who ruled for forty years with criminal notoriety. Matthew’s gospel makes Herod responsible for the slaughter of children in Bethlehem after the arrival of in Jerusalem of the wise men from the east, and for the consequent flight into Egypt of Joseph, Mary and Jesus.
These three narratives do not respond to historical events. They are catechetical schemas aimed at presenting Jesus to the Christian communities as the new Moses. The texts seek out the parallels between Moses and Jesus: when Moses was born in Egypt, the pharaoh decreed the death of all the male Israelite children (Exodus 1,15-22), and when he was older, Moses had to flee to the south of Egypt, from where he later returned to free his fellow Israelites (Exodus 2,11-15).
We should read the Bible with the awareness that it contains many symbols, myths, legends and traditions of the Hebrew people; we should view all its texts, including those of the New Testament, within the timeframes and the cultural contexts in which they were written.
The Exodus: a metaphor
The central narrative of the Old Testament, which is at the heart of the faith and identity of the Jewish people, is that which recounts the liberation of the Israelites from the hands of the pharaoh, their journey through the desert and their arrival in the Promised Land under the guidance and leadership of Moses. The Exodus is also a metaphor, and its historical basis is being increasingly questioned. The Jewish archeologist Israel Finkelstein, director of the Institute of Archeology of the University of Tel Aviv, has shown this most convincingly in his book, “The Bible Unearthed” (Free Press, New York, 2002).
Finkelstein’s research has revolutionized biblical archeology. According to his studies, the first five books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Numbers and Leviticus), are an ingenious literary and political reconstruction of the genesis of the Jewish people, but they were created 1500 years later than we have always thought. These texts were compiled during the reign of Josiah, who was king of Judea some seven centuries before Jesus lived; this occurred at a moment when Judea, the southern Israelite kingdom, was beginning to grow as a regional power, while Israel, the northern kingdom, was under the control of Assyria. The principal aim of these collected texts was to establish a unified nation founded on a renewed religion which proclaimed: one God (Yahweh), one king, one capital (Jerusalem) and one temple, that of Solomon.
Finkelstein’s research shows that neither Abraham nor Moses were historical figures, that the Hebrew people did not escape from Egypt or cross the Red Sea or wander through any desert or conquer the land of Canaan – because they were already there in Palestine thousands of years before, living from herding and agriculture.
How the Exodus “was born”
This is the way Finkelstein describes the elaboration of Exodus and the rest of the books of the Pentateuch:
Toward the end of the 7th century before Christ there was unprecedented spiritual ferment and intense political agitation in Judea. A coalition of court functionaries was responsible for the composition of an epic saga made up of a collection of historical narratives, memories, legends, popular tales, anecdotes, predictions and ancient poems. This masterpiece of literature – half original composition, half adaptation of earlier versions – went through modifications and editing before coming to serve as the spiritual foundation for the descendents of the people of Judea and for countless communities around the world. The objective was religious. The leaders of Jerusalem harshly condemned even the slightest expression of veneration of foreign deities, which were accused of being the cause of the misfortunes that the Jewish people was suffering. They undertook a campaign of religious purification and ordered the destruction of all local sanctuaries. Starting from that moment, the temple that dominated Jerusalem had to be recognized as the only site of legitimate worship for the whole people of Israel. Modern monotheism was born out of this innovation.
Interview (in Spanish) with Israel Finkelstein at “Periodista Digital”, as of 31 January 2007: http://www.periodistadigital.com/religion/object.php?o=284614