“i loved to dance,” reveals jesus christ
RACHEL The mobile unit of Emisoras Latinas is now moving further south, to Qumran. On all sides we see a desolate landscape, and just behind us is the Dead Sea. We have wandered around the ruins of the legendary monastery which once housed the Essene monks, who were contemporary with Jesus of Nazareth. You already told us, Jesus, that you were never went to this monastery.
JESUS No, as I already mentioned, only the sons of certain Judean families came here. Besides, I have to admit that I wouldn’t have liked these surroundings much.
RACHEL Because of the isolation and the silence?
JESUS And being far removed from the people.
RACHEL John the Baptist was here, wasn’t he?
JESUS He was, yes. Later on he separated from the Essenes and went into the desert to preach. John was a prophet like the ones of days of old. He fasted, wore camel’s skin, and ate locusts.
RACHEL Didn’t you fast?
JESUS Me? No, I didn’t. And a lot of people were scandalized by that. My fellow Jews were like spoiled children. They were never satisfied with anything.
RACHEL Why do you say that?
JESUS Because when they spoke of John, who neither ate much nor drank wine, they’d said, “He has a demon.” And when they spoke of me, who was always mixing with the people, they’d say, “He’s a glutton and a drunkard.”
RACHEL Did you like to eat?
JESUS Eat? Of course I did. Who doesn’t?
RACHEL But there must have been some forbidden foods.
JESUS None at all. I always said that what sullies a person is not what goes in by the mouth, rather it is the words that come out of the mouth. No food is prohibited by God.
RACHEL Not even pork? What do you think of kosher food?
JESUS I don’t know what that means. But I believe that all animals are good creatures of God. All of them.
RACHEL And wine? Did you also like wine?
JESUS Well, I never ended up like Noah, under the bar, but … the wine of Galilee is very good. Have you ever tried it?
RACHEL For sure that must have been the kind of wine that flowed freely in that wedding feast in Cana.
JESUS Ah, those weddings were marvelous affairs. Whenever there was a wedding, the celebrations lasted seven days, and all of us ate, drank, sang, danced…
RACHEL Did you dance too?
JESUS Of course I did. All my brothers and sisters were excellent dancers. And my mother too.
RACHEL If I were to ask you what’s the thing you like to do most of all, what would you tell me?
JESUS Conversing. I’ve always liked to talk with people, discuss with them. It’s for that reason that these lonely, silent places… Since I was a kid I liked to tell stories. And I was really great with riddles — in what way is the Kingdom of God like a mustard seed? And I told jokes. Do you know the one about the greedy priest?
RACHEL I know the one about the mustard seed, but, off the record… how does the one about the greedy priest go?
JESUS Well, look. Once there was a priest praying to God. “Lord,” he said, “what are a hundred thousand years like for you?” “A hundred thousand?” said God, “the same as a minute.” “Lord,” the priest prayed again, “what are a hundred thousand gold coins like for you?” “A hundred thousand gold coins?” said God, “the same as a penny.” “Then, Lord,” said the priest, “I beg of you, give me a penny.” And God answered him, “Granted. Just wait a minute.”
RACHEL [laughs] What a funny joke! Ahem… Let’s continue our interview. We were talking about the Essenes who lived in this monastery. They lived isolated, far from civilization; they fasted and looked for God. In the present time there are thousands of your followers who are religious, monks and nuns, who do the same thing. But listening to you talk now, I’m wondering if it was really you who counseled them to flee from the world.
JESUS My “counsel” right now is that we go find something to drink. Let’s “flee” from this heat, what do you say? Perhaps we’ll even find a little wine in those shops. Come on, let’s go, Rachel. I know some other jokes that’ll get a good laugh out of you.
RACHEL Friends in our listening audience, we’ll take up that question about monks and religious men and women in our next interview. Meanwhile, from Qumran, with a great view of the sunset over the Dead Sea, this is Rachel Perez, Emisoras Latinas.
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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We know so little
It is surprising how unconcerned the evangelists were with describing Jesus’ personality. We have to piece together and imagine what he was like psychologically on the basis of the scant data the gospels give us about his actions and speech. Like the prophet he was, Jesus must have had a passionate, sensitive personality in the face of the human suffering and the injustices he saw in his society. He must have been impatient, ardent, extremely gifted in human relations and capable of powerful poetic speech, full of conviction.
Jesus was not an Essene
The Essenes were a Jewish sect that arose about 200 years before the time of Jesus; it was founded by priests of the Jerusalem Temple who were critical of the corruption that prevailed in the Temple. Jesus knew about them. There are indications that John the Baptist had relations with them and perhaps even belonged to their community. Scholars have speculated that Jesus also was an Essene, but the sect’s discipline, which included much silence and constant ritual ablutions, was quite alien to what Jesus practiced and preached. The gospels make it clear that Jesus, because of his frequenting feasts and parties and always mixing with the riffraff, was accused by his enemies of being “a glutton and a drunkard” (Matthew 11,19; Luke 7,34).
The fasting the God desires
For the Jewish people fasting was a way for people to humble themselves before God. It was practiced in order to make prayer more effective, especially in times of danger or tribulation. There were fast days dictated by religious law, when the whole people were to abstain from food, to commemorate the great national calamities or to implore divine aid. Some people also fasted out of personal devotion. In the time of Jesus this practice had assumed much importance in the religion, especially among the Pharisees, who had the custom of fasting twice a week. Because of his Essene connections, John the Baptist most likely encouraged his disciple to practice fasting.
As were other religious practices, fasting was harshly criticized by the prophets of Israel, since it had become a sort of spiritual blackmail: unjust men thought that by fasting they could gain God’s favor while forgetting about what was essential in religion, namely, justice. The prophets made it quite clear what kind of fast God desired: freeing the oppressed, sharing one’s bread, opening the doors of the prisons (Isaiah, 58,1-12).
Jesus did not fast, nor did he recommend that others fast. None of the traditional penitential practices of Christians (fasting, abstinence, flagellation, corporal punishment) had its origin in the counsels or the practices of Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, all such practices are at variance with his basic message, and some of them were discredited by Jesus himself.
Eating or not eating pork
Hogs were domesticated by human beings about five thousand years ago. The prohibition against eating pork appears both in the Bible and in the Koran. Even today practicing Jews and Muslims strictly adhere to the religion norm of not eating pork. Anthropologist Marvin Harris explains that taboos in human societies are the result of “adaptations” to the environment in which they develop. From this perspective he considers that the taboo against eating pork arose because the very hot Palestinian climate made raising hogs rather difficult, while it was much easier and more profitable to raise sheep and goats.
On of the more recent and surprising hypotheses that help us understand this tradition better is offered by the Jewish archeologist Israel Finkelstein, director of the Institute of Archeology of the University of Tel Aviv. He explains that historically the people of Israel actually never lived in Egypt and never conquered a “promised land”. He holds that the Israelites had always lived in Palestine and that it was in that land that they gradually organized themselves, in the course of time, into a people with a distinctive identity.
According to Finkelstein, the proto-Israelites were the only people of that region that did not eat pork, even though hogs were commonly raised there. The proof that they did not eat pork is that no bones of pigs have ever been found in any of the ancient Israelite villages that have been excavated. When Finkelstein was asked the reason why they never ate pork, he answered: We don’t know. Perhaps the proto-Israelites stopped eating pork because their adversaries ate a lot of it, and they wanted to be different. The biblical prohibition comes about 500 years after the practice itself began. For this reason, when present-day Jews observe this prohibition, they are simply perpetuating the most ancient practice of their people’s culture, which has now been verified by archeology.
The pure and the impure, water and wine
Most ancient religions believed that in the world there are persons, things and actions that are impure, and that correspondingly there are persons, things and action that are pure. Both the pure and the impure are “contagious”. Religious impurity does not have to do with external dirtiness, nor does religious purity have to do with cleanliness. Neither do those concepts have to do with morality, with what is “good” or “bad”. Rather, the “impure” is whatever is charged with dangerous, unknown forces, and the “pure” is whatever contains positive powers. Anyone who approaches what is impure cannot approach God. The dichotomy between purity and impurity is essentially a “religious” one.
From very ancient times the religion of Israel had assimilated this form of thinking and had developed a multitude of laws designed to guard against impurity. Such laws had to do with sexuality (menstruation and blenorrhagia were forms of impurity), with death (a corpse was impure), with some infirmities (leprosy and madness made those who suffered them impure), and with some foods and animals (buzzards, owls, and hogs were impure animals, along with many others). Most of these laws are preserved in the book of Leviticus.
As the people evolved from a magical religion toward a religion of personal responsibility, these ideas tended to fall into disuse. Nevertheless, in the time of Jesus some groups insisted on observing them scrupulously; they therefore practiced prolonged and painstaking washings or purifications with water in order to make themselves pleasing to God. Neither Jesus nor the members of his movement practiced such washing rituals (Matthew 15,1-20). Jesus called such customs into question and made it clear that he did not practice them. In fact, the famous “miracle” at the wedding in Cana can be read precisely as a symbol of Jesus’ rejection of such beliefs. Water was the symbol of the interminable purifications which were required by Jewish laws and which tended to equate religion with strict adherence to external norms. And it was precisely water that Jesus transformed into wine, a symbol of feasting and joy and for that reason also a symbol of freedom.
A religion of joy
Religiosity is often closely related with solemnity and seriousness. For many Christians laughter has no place in the house of God. The catechism of years gone by told us that we know that Jesus cried because it says so in the gospels: he cried when gazing on Jerusalem near the end of his life, and also before the tomb of his friend, Lazarus of Bethany. But the same catechism claimed that Jesus never laughed, because no gospel account makes any mention of his laughing. This is an untenable conclusion. Every human person laughs. Laughter and humor are signs of wisdom, and Jesus was a supremely wise human being. There are evangelical groups that consider dances, parties and drinking sinful, but Jesus went to weddings, drank wine, and ate everything. He paid little heed to the puritanism and ritualism of the religious people of his time. And he always compared God’s kingdom at the end of history to a great banquet, to the merriment of a great party.