Monday, December 10, 2007

Matthew's Jesus

When I heard about Mel Gibson’s 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ”, I decided to read the Book of Matthew as background info. I obtained (okay, actually bought) the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, to be sure I got the most accurate translation of Matthew (although the authenticity of any current version of the Bible is at best questionable). Yes, Matthew does quote some beautiful sayings of Jesus. But I found the overall description of Jesus in Matthew pretty distasteful.

In Matthew, particularly in the early part, Jesus comes across as a sort of Wizard of Oz, using magic healing to convince the many doubters that he truly is the Messiah. By my count, Jesus heals or brings back to life 13 individuals. Then, to really drive home his miraculous abilities, Jesus performs at least five large-scale healings (e.g., 4:23, “He went all about Galilee…. healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.”). But Jesus’ “healing” was conditional on belief- he wouldn’t heal the Cananite woman’s daughter till she had professed her great faith (15:21ff). Under those terms, you better believe! And of course Jesus also performs other kinds of magic tricks, including amplifying the loaves and fishes (14:16ff), and walking on water (14:22).

Matthew’s Jesus reminds me of an old-style Atlantic City Boardwalk auctioneer, saying to the crowd: “Still not convinced? Tell you what I’m gonna do,” and then producing other baubles and gewgaws to amaze and confuse them. How could anyone resist the word of someone apparently possessing such broad miraculous powers? But if the multitudes had believed, as we atheists do, that Jesus’ “miracles” were at best magic tricks, it seems highly doubtful that they would have believed his claim to be the Son of God.

Another aspect of Jesus beside the miracles described in this Book rankles me. Early on, Jesus tells his future disciples to just drop everything and follow him (4:18ff). So off the guys go discipling with Jesus, leaving nobody to support their wives and children. In fact, Jesus cruelly forces his followers to choose between him and their families, saying things like “I have come to set a man against his father…” (10:35), and “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…” (10:37). So much for Christian family values!

Well, it was worth reading Matthew to get this information directly from the source. But after reading reviews describing Mel Gibson's movie as a homoerotically violent piece of work, I never did go see the damned thing.


Nobrainer said...

This is top class analysis. I would like to see how a Professor of Christian Theology or Biblical Criticism would wriggle out of it. It takes maturity to overcome the educational brainwashing of religious teaching and see the sentiments like those described in the post for what they really are. Any document that advocates bizarre behaviour by today’s standards needs to be treated with suspicion and be publicly spoken against. Well done.

Devout Atheist said...


Thanks for your generous comment about this post. Unfortunately, a Professor of Theology would probably find some way to wriggle out-maybe by employing the hackneyed "only parables" ploy. But we have to keep plugging away at the dark superstitions with our light-swords of truth.